How much time do we spend fretting about the items on our to-do list? Whether it’s a long-term goal or a set of tasks for the day, the pressure to do all things (and to do them well) seems overwhelming at times.
In tomorrow’s feast of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we see how the Blessed Virgin Mary offers us an alternative to our preoccupation with personal accomplishments. Her response to the angel Gabriel’s message focuses instead on God’s initiative.
The angel greets her saying, “Hail, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28), or in other biblical translations he refers to her as “highly favored.” Gabriel goes on to describe the greatness of the child she will bear: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). If I imagine myself in Mary’s place, I would find it very hard to resist merely contemplating my merits and basking in the divine recognition I had just received. Our Blessed Mother, however, thinks only of her lowliness before the Lord, identifying herself simply as “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).
She knows that her “yes” to the Lord is far from simple. Because she was only betrothed to Joseph, her pregnancy could mean not only shame, but death by stoning. Despite such difficult circumstances and uncertainty as to how this could possibly come about (she asks, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)), she trusts in the power of the Most High. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely within her, she grants her full assent: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She gives no thought to how she can do this, but instead marvels at all that God does. Just a few verses later (Luke 1:46-55), Mary offers her great canticle known as the Magnificat, in which she proclaims the greatness of the Lord and all God’s mighty deeds. In her singular role within the history of salvation, Mary directs all attention to the grace of God that works within her.
What a timely message during this liturgical season! It can be tempting to focus on what we have been doing (or not doing) for Lent. Yet this joyful mystery of the Annunciation prompts us to recognize what God is doing within us. After all, the purpose of a Lenten resolution is not simply to achieve a goal we have set for ourselves but to allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s grace.
Perhaps in prayer over the next few days we might consider:
How has God’s grace been at work in me lately?
How can I entrust myself to the power of the Most High instead of getting bogged down in what I need to do and how challenging it may be?
How can I allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through me?
May our celebration of Mary’s life of charity, hidden sanctity, and faithful fulfillment of God’s will lead us to imitate her example, so that we too may be mindful of the great things the Lord has done in us and for us.
I often find Lent to be a struggle. I’m the sort of person who likes to set goals and achieve them. Typically, this translates into making lofty Lenten resolutions, trying to rid myself of every bad habit, and ending up disappointed and disheartened when I fall short. When I heard the readings on the final Sunday before Lent, they seemed to be calling me to break out of this pattern.
These readings, just a few days before Ash Wednesday, do not issue a challenge to achieve ambitious spiritual goals. Rather, the readings speak to us of growth and fruitfulness. The first reading sets the theme by describing how “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had” (). Similarly, in the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44-45). Sirach 27:6). Similarly, in the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44-45).
This theme of fruitfulness is woven throughout Scripture. In the Gospel of John, Jesus commands the disciples to “go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). Pope Francis describes bearing fruit as one of the identifying characteristics of missionary disciples. His description of the Church as an evangelizing community contains wisdom that can be applied to our approach to Lent:
“An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).
What if instead of thinking about what I should be giving up for Lent or how I’m doing with what I resolved, I reflected on how I can allow this Lent to be a season of growth and lasting fruit? Shifting our focus and directing our attention to the fruit that God wants our lives to bear opens us up to the possibility of new life. It reminds us that this Lenten journey is not about achieving something on our own merits. It is the Lord, the sower, who scatters seed generously and brings forth new life. Pruning all that is unhealthy is an important part of the growing process, yet our focus is not on what we leave behind. When we set our eyes on the good fruits God is bringing about, we maintain a much healthier perspective. Instead of getting caught up in feelings of defeat or failure for missing the mark, Lent can truly prepare us for the newness of life we celebrate in a special way during the Easter season.
Lenten resolutions are a good and worthwhile practice, but we must be careful not to lose sight of their greater purpose. They are not about giving up something as if that were the end in itself. Giving up sweets or putting limits on our binge-watching is not simply about an exercise of willpower. They are meant to open us up something more. Instead of seeing our Lenten resolutions as a “no” to something, we can see them as a “yes” to caring for our well-being, a “yes” to more time for prayer and meaningful conversation with friends and family. These are the lasting fruits toward which such disciplines are intended.
As we continue our Lenten journey, let us not grow impatient at the weeds that crop up and threaten our good intentions. Let us not grumble or overreact when we stumble. Rather than giving in to feelings of defeat and failure, let us allow God’s grace to take root in us and renew us so that we may bear fruit that will remain, no matter how great or small it may be.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I have found myself thinking about sickness lately. From colds, to Covid, to cancer, it’s likely you know someone who is sick, are caring for a sick family member, or are sick yourself.
Being sick is miserable and caring for someone who is sick is no picnic either. It is hard to watch our loved ones suffer.
The Catechism counts illness and suffering among the “gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1500).
The way we respond to sickness can tell us a lot about ourselves. The Catechism describes two different responses: “Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1501).
While possible reactions are not limited to these two, I tend to fall into the first category. I often respond to illness by wallowing in self-pity and self-indulgence. When I contemplate saints who suffered terrible illness without complaint, I feel as though I fall very short.
Can I really live my sickness or that of my loved ones in the presence of God?
If I remain wrapped up in myself, sickness is simply misery. But if I am open to receiving the grace of God, it’s a very different story. Take today’s readings for instance.
On today’s feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, we hear about his reaction to being struck down and left blind, weak, and clueless. How does Saul (later known as St. Paul) respond to his illness? He allows himself to be led by the hand and, under Ananias’ care, recovers his sight and regains his strength.
Ananias’ role in this healing is remarkable. He responds to God’s call to care for Saul, who just before had been “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). Ananias goes so far as to call Saul “my brother” (Acts 9:17) and nurses him back to health, despite having many reasons that might justify doing otherwise. Ananias exemplified Christ’s own compassion toward the sick and his ministry of healing.
“Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’ (Mt 8:17; cf: Isa 53:4)… By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1505).
Though we may sometimes feel abandoned in our illness, Christ is not indifferent to our suffering. On the contrary, he has made it his own, and, through his own suffering and death, Christ has transfigured it. When we respond to illness with a desire “to freely unite [our]selves to the Passion and death of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1499), suffering takes on a new meaning. It can be an opportunity to become more like Christ and to participate in the saving work of Jesus. This in no way downplays or dismisses the difficulties and challenges of being sick, but rather elevates them and transforms them into something greater, something which contributes “to the good of the People of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1499).
Let us allow today’s readings to prompt us to examine our own attitudes towards sickness and suffering, especially if we find ourselves in the position of caring or being cared for.
How can we, like St. Paul, allow ourselves to be taken by the hand? How can we more readily and gratefully accept help in our illness? How can illness serve to draw us closer to God and make us more Christ-like? How can sickness make us more mature and help us to recognize what is essential? How can we be more open to the grace of God which can offer us the strength, peace, and courage to overcome the difficulties that come with sickness?
How can we, like Ananias, respond to God’s call to bring his healing to others? How can we lovingly lead our sick loved ones out of anguish, self-absorption, or despair? How can we imitate Christ in our compassionate care for the sick and suffering?
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Today we celebrate Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, a Jesuit priest who ministered to the Church in Mexico in the 1920s during a time of violent government-led anti-Catholicism. At his beatification Mass on September 25, 1988, Pope Saint John Paul II described Blessed Miguel’s virtue and apostolic zeal:
“Neither suffering nor serious illness, nor the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away (cf Jn 16:22).
Indeed, the deepest root of his dedication to others was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to identify with Him, even in his death. He expressed this love especially in Eucharistic worship. The daily celebration of Holy Mass was the center of his life, as well as a source of strength and fervor for the faithful. Father Pro had organized the so-called ‘Eucharistic stations’ in particular homes, where the body of the Lord could be secretly received every day during the years of persecution.”
Before the firing squad, Blessed Miguel Pro stretched out his arms in the form of a cross and used his last breath to declare, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” meaning “Long live Christ the King!” It is fitting that having just celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the feast of Blessed Miguel Pro offers us yet another opportunity to reflect on what it means to declare Christ as our king and to live our lives as Christ’s faithful subjects.
To profess Christ’s sovereignty is to set aside every other loyalty and to surrender all that we have and all that we are to the Lord. It is to acknowledge that we are living for something greater than ourselves and greater than whatever allegiance we may have to any country, political party, sports team, or anything else. Allowing ourselves to be entrenched in such earthly things often keeps us from true communion with our brothers and sisters, especially the suffering and the marginalized. Yet, acknowledging Christ’s rightful authority over each and every one of us means living in radical unity and solidarity with one another, knowing that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
While the kings of this world seek out self-gain and self-preservation, often forcefully asserting their power, Christ’s kingship of self-sacrifice, self-gift, and rightful authority brings healing and unity to the divisions we have created for ourselves. If we wish to follow Jesus, whose kingdom “does not belong to this world” (John 18:36), we, like Blessed Miguel, must answer the call to take up our cross daily and lay down our lives for him.
Though we may not suffer religious persecution like Blessed Miguel Pro, each of us can learn from his imitation of Christ, his life of generous service, and his love of the Eucharist. Blessed Miguel’s willingness to celebrate the Mass, even at great personal risk, invites us to a greater devotion to the Body of Christ, to detachment from every earthly entanglement, and to foster true communion by making a gift of our very selves in service of others.
As we gather around the Eucharistic table, may we too be strengthened and committed all the more to building up the Kingdom of God in which justice and peace will prevail. May Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro—and indeed all the holy men and women who have given their lives for the sake of the kingdom—intercede for us that we may welcome Christ’s reign by glorifying the Lord by our lives.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55)
In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he makes a bold claim: death does not defeat us, death is not the end. Christ’s death has brought resurrection; through God’s grace, eternal life is ours. Death, a consequence of sin, has been conquered by Christ’s sacrifice and triumph. St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to keep death in its rightful place. That is to say, we are not to take death lightly. Mindfulness of our mortality should motivate us to avoid sin and prepare for our final judgement. But we also should not give death power over us to keep us living in fear.
This acknowledgement of death’s rightful place is illustrated beautifully by the celebration of Día de Muertos in the Latino tradition. While this celebration pre-dates the arrival of Christianity to the Americas, the cultural intuition points toward the Gospel truth that the meaning of death, “is revealed in the light of the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ in whom resides our only hope” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1681). The people of Mexico and Latin America celebrate this feast, not out of a macabre fascination with death, but out of a whole-hearted belief that our earthly life is not all there is.
Día de Muertos is celebrated primarily on the 2nd of November, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (or All Souls’ Day), but also throughout the entire month.
Altars, or ofrendas, are assembled and decorated with sugar skulls bearing names of the deceased, and pictures of loved ones are displayed. The favorite food and drink of the beloved dead are placed prominently on the altar. Families and friends celebrate at cemeteries by eating tamales and pan de muerto (a sweet bread topped with pieces of dough made to look like bones), drinking atole (a hot drink that is thickened with masa and sweetened), and singing along to the music of mariachi. Elaborately cut tissue paper (called papel picado) and brightly colored marigolds (or zempasuchil) line streets, altars, and gravesites. Candles are burned as the vigil is kept. Limericks, poems, cartoons, and jokes make fun of death. All of this is done to put death in its place, to recognize it for what it truly is, and remind us that death does not have the last word.
While we may still mourn, we place our hope in the Resurrection and look forward to reuniting with our loved ones in eternity. Entrusting them to the mercy of God, we pray that “as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead, is deepened, so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength” (Roman Missal, Collect for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed).
From the very earliest days of Christianity, we have honored the memory of the dead with the greatest respect and offered prayers for them. The first martyrs’ places of death, burial sites, bodies, and even possessions (relics) were venerated. Churches were built in their honor, and the accounts of their lives, suffering, and death were proclaimed in celebrations.
Similarly, families gather on Día de Muertos and share about their beloved dead, passing on treasured memories to the next generation. They honor their loved ones, celebrate their lives, and pray for the souls of the faithful departed—a spiritual work of mercy.
This commemoration may not take away our pain or grief, but it does invite us to place our hope in the Resurrection and affirm that death has lost its power. “For even dead, we are not at all separated from one another, because we all run the same course and we will find one another again in the same place. We shall never be separated, for we live for Christ, and now we are united with Christ as we go toward him . . . we shall all be together in Christ.” (St. Simeon of Thessalonica, De ordine sepulturæ, as quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1690). Let us then celebrate today’s feast praising the Lord who “is not God of the dead but of the living” (Mk 12:27).
Birthdays and anniversaries are often occasions of great joy! Many of us count down to and look forward to these meaningful celebrations of life. We invite friends and family members to share in our joy. What if we celebrated our Baptism, the day of our “rebirth,” in the same way?
Pope Francis has repeatedly issued a challenge to do just that: “…[I]f we celebrate birthdays, why not celebrate — or at least remember — the day of rebirth?” (General Audience, April 11, 2018). More than a simple invitation to learn the date of our Baptism, Pope Francis urges us to allow this observance to “reawaken the memory of Baptism.” He tells us that, “To know the date of our Baptism is to know a blessed day. The danger of not knowing is that we can lose awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. Thus, we end up considering it only as an event that took place in the past – and not by our own will but by that of our parents – and that it has no impact on the present… As I know my birthday, I should know my Baptism day, because it is a feast day.” (General Audience, January 8, 2014)
My mother has always made a point of reminding my siblings and me of our sacramental anniversaries. Whether it’s making a special dessert or just telling us stories of the festivities and recounting small details from the ceremony, she makes it feel like a feast day. Now, with my own children, I am trying to imitate her example and make a more concerted effort to mark these events in our family’s life and draw out their significance.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of my son’s Baptism. As we celebrate the occasion, I am hoping to put into practice at least a few of the following ideas:
I hope that my son looks forward to his baptismal anniversary every year with as much excitement as he does his birthday. Even more than that, I pray that he may grow to recognize his Baptism as a formative part of his identity.
I encourage you to learn the story of your Baptism if you don’t already know it. Find out the date on which you were baptized, where you were baptized, and who your godparents are. Mark this day on your calendar and decide how you can commemorate this day each year. It may be as simple as going to Mass, spending extra time in prayer, or gathering with friends for a special meal! No matter what you do, resolve to make it a day of gratitude and celebration for the great gift of God’s grace in your life.
Whether we are marking the occasion of our own Baptism or that of a friend or family member, “Let us, then, ask the Lord from our hearts that we may be able to experience ever more, in everyday life, this grace that we have received at Baptism. That in encountering us, our brothers and sisters may encounter true children of God, true brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, true members of the Church” (Pope Francis, General Audience, January 8, 2014).
When you hear the word “vocation” what comes to mind?
In my last year of college, vocation seemed like a puzzle to be solved. I put a lot of pressure on myself to figure out “what should I do with my life.” I met with a spiritual director and weighed several options, agonizing over how I would know which was the right choice. Although my spiritual director and many other people in my life tried to tell me that I didn’t have to figure out the entirety of my life just yet, I wasn’t listening. I had a very narrow view of vocation as something to be discerned once and only once. I thought, if you’ve done it right, you stick with your choice for your whole life. I imagined that God had my life mapped out for me and there was a very definite direction I should take; I just needed to figure out which it was.
Now, 11 years later, I realize just how much God’s grace has been at work in me in so many ways—especially in broadening my understanding of vocation. I’ve come to really appreciate that discerning one’s vocation is not like completing a task at which we can excel or fail. It’s not a question with a single right answer.
In fact, God’s plan for us is none other than to be holy, and to do so in ways specific to us, “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 19). The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church speaks of this universal and personal call to holiness by saying that “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Each and every one of us has this fundamental vocation, the one that underlies every other particular way in which God calls us to holiness. Holiness isn’t lived out in a single grand way possible for only a select few; “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 14).
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis issues a powerful summons: “You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission” (GE, 23). With this broader view of vocation, I can more readily recognize the multitude of ways in which God has drawn me to himself throughout the course of my life. I can discern how I am being called to holiness in this moment and reflect on how my response in the here and now is part of my greater life’s mission.
Now I understand vocation as more than a single call. It is, rather, living our lives in a constant awareness of and responsiveness to the promptings of the Lord, who draws us to himself. Vocation is not inward looking; it draws us outward to God and neighbor. This redirected gaze allows us to recognize and receive with gratitude the gifts we are given so that we can more freely and truly make a gift of ourselves. Such self-emptying love is what it means to be Christ-like, to be holy. It forces us to reframe our questions. Instead of asking, “What do I want to be?” or “What do I want to do with my life?” (as I kept asking myself in college), we can prayerfully discern “How is God calling me to make a gift of myself?” This certainly applies to my state in life, whether I am called to give of myself in marriage or religious life. But I also respond to this call to self-gift by carrying out my work with integrity and skill in the service of my brothers and sisters, by patiently teaching my little ones how to follow Jesus, by refusing to gossip, and by saying a kind word to the person I encounter on the street (to list a few examples from Gaudete et Exsultate 14- 16).
My life’s journey has taken a lot more turns than I could have anticipated those many years ago. Yet the Lord has made use of each step, big and small, to draw me ever closer to himself.
Click here for more resources on Vocational Discernment.
We may be well-acquainted with Lenten practices and devotions such as giving something up, abstaining from meat, or praying the Stations of the Cross. It can be more difficult, however, to name ways to observe the Easter season.
Yet in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass during the Easter season, we hear:
“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed… Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory…”
What is “paschal joy” and how do we praise the Lord “more gloriously” in the Easter season?
It is unreasonable to expect anyone to will themselves to be happy at any given moment, much less for an entire season. But joy is not the same as happiness, nor is it the absence of sadness. Joy is a fruit of charity. It flows out of love; it results from a participation in goodness. We feel joy in the presence of someone or something we love; we rejoice in the well-being of our loved ones.
If our Lenten observance is focused on charity—particularly acts of charity such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—then joy flows naturally from them. The disciplines that turn our gaze outward to God and neighbor, the sacrifices we make, are all a participation in goodness, an act of love. Paschal (Easter) joy, then, can be seen as the fruit of our Lenten journey.
Our Lenten efforts are not meant to be temporary measures. They are intended to effect lasting change in us, to conform us more profoundly to our Lord who died but has been raised. What can we do then, so that we don’t simply drop our Lenten observance now that Easter has arrived? How can we instead allow these observances to take root in such a way that they enable us to celebrate the Easter season more fully and joyfully?
Consider one or more of the following suggestions to cultivate paschal joy and fill each of the fifty days of the season with festivities and devotions:
Click here for more resources to accompany you this Easter season.
 Preface I-V of Easter, Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 150, no. 152.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 153.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 154.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 155.
 Cf John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday, 30 May 1979