The National Day of Prayer formally began in 1952, but the United States has a history of prayer going back much further. There was much controversy between the founders of our nation about the scale, matter, denomination, and exercise of religion in the public sphere. We do not live in an explicitly Christian nation. Our Founding Fathers were a diverse group of people whose spirituality and religiosity fell on a spectrum ranging from explicitly religious to the more ambiguous. Most were Deist, meaning they believed in a God, but that he was a distant being who did not interact with his creation. Like the idea of the clock-maker, who builds a piece, sets it, and lets it run its own course. As Catholic Christians, we believe in a personal God; a God who wants to be so involved with us and our lives that he became flesh and dwelt among us. But what does that mean for us as American Catholics?
I think we are called to be Catholics who live out our faith in the context of an American culture, just as Catholics in France live out their faith in the context of French culture. The virtues our society recognizes, such as care for the poor, can be lived out in a deeply Catholic manner. When we are asked why we care for the poor, our response as Catholics is that humans have an inherent dignity which makes them worthy of care. Our national pride in education and scholarship can be purified with a holistic understanding of the true, good, and beautiful. The love of nature by many in our culture can be viewed as the encounter of the person with the Creator of nature. As Catholics and as citizens, we are called to own our responsibility, our duty of stewardship, to this country in which we live.
The concept of stewardship is an ancient tradition in the Church, but is often rarely mentioned beyond the context of tithing and parish finances. The USCCB begins their page on stewardship with this passage from 1 Peter: "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace." We as Catholics have been given gifts that other Americans, our fellow citizens, may not have. We have a history and a tradition of prayer, of calling upon God for guidance and protection collectively and personally. We have a community that encourages us to live out the love of Christ for our neighbor. As Catholics, we are called to lead the way in helping those in need, such as young women facing unexpected pregnancies, veterans with mental health issues, and our youth who have a deep longing for the truth in their hearts.
Our National Day of Prayer is a day set aside for peoples of all faiths to come together and ask the Almighty for guidance. And our Father is a good Father who cares for his children. It is through his people, the Church, that he acts. As Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?”I know we live in what feels like a deeply turbulent time in our country and world, but if we let fear rule us then we have no room for love. Is it really the large institutions that determine our national fate, or the many actions or inactions of everyday people in ordinary situations? In The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien had Gandalf remind us, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” Let us go forth in prayer, with Christ in our hearts, and love our neighbors as He taught us.
Question for Reflection: How can your faith infuse your daily life and inspire the way you live and act?
For more resources on Faithful Citizenship, please click here.
I spent much of my young life unintentionally (and, if I’m being honest, at times intentionally) ignoring the Holy Spirit. I recognized that the Holy Spirit existed, was the third part of the Trinity, and was an important enough part of our faith that we referenced Him every time we made the sign of the cross.
As I grew in both age and maturity, I began to recognize that there were countless places in my life where the Holy Spirit was prompting, guiding, and protecting me; yet I also began to recognize how often I missed it. We live in a world bogged down by noise, pride, and distractions that offer us false freedom.
The reality is that the Holy Spirit is constantly pursuing us. He is pursuing us through our relationships, in our work, and, most especially, in our prayer. The Holy Spirit is breathing life into what we thought to be dead and is equipping us to receive Him as what Jesus promised us— the Advocate. It is the Holy Spirit that encourages us to be bold in speaking truth and compassionate in listening to those that need it most. Most of all, the Holy Spirit is offering us— and calling us to—a life of freedom.
For the Christian, we know that there is true freedom offered to us that the world does not understand. More than anything, God desires for us to first experience the Holy Spirit and subsequently live a life filled with fruits of the Holy Spirit. In a 2014 address, Pope Francis said: “Let yourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, in freedom; and please, don’t put the Holy Spirit in a cage!”
When we put the Holy Spirit in a cage, we are missing out on the freedom that God wants for us. As men and women seeking to follow God in a world that seems so devoid of Him, may we be found ready to be pursued by the Holy Spirit, ready for a life of true freedom.
Question for Reflection: How do you see the Holy Spirit pursuing you throughout your life up to this point?
Last week a friend and I were watching football together and we started talking about how unprecedented of a year 2016 has been. At that moment it seemed like anything was possible—the Cubs were headed to the World Series, a feat that last happened in 1945! My friend even joked that maybe the Bears would win the Super Bowl! Well the Cubs have won the World Series, first time since 1908, and the Bears still look dubious for the Super Bowl. There are countless examples of how different this year has been, but none more so than our current presidential election. This long and winding election will finally be over and our Facebook newsfeeds will return to their usual mix of cat photos and recipe videos. During this election cycle I have often been asked by a lot of my friends what a Catholic is supposed to do. Some people have made up their minds completely independent of the magisterium of the Church, while others have decided to completely remove themselves in the process by not voting.
As faithful Catholics, participating in our electoral system requires a formation of conscience. It demands that one know and understand the different issues and the Church's teachings of various issues. It is not something that can be broken down into a simple check box format, but demands an understanding of the teachings of the Church. In response to this situation, the bishops of the United States have written a pastoral letter, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship outlining several key teachings that are important to today's political climate. We at the Catholic Apostolate Center have created a special portal dedicated to this document. I highly recommend visiting the page and exploring its various topics. Exploring these issues and positions is critical to making an informed decision. The document goes into detail regarding the very nature of Catholic involvement in our politics. This process includes a formation of oneself both as an apostle and a citizen. A few months ago, Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, wrote about this formation. Saying "It is for this reason that the central foundation for an ethic of discipleship in voting for the Catholic community in the United States today lies not in the embrace of any one issue or set of issues but rather in a process of spiritual and moral conversion about the very nature of politics itself."
The other common thing I hear from some people is that "so many people vote, mine can’t possibly matter." These individuals are choosing not to participate in their right to vote as a citizen of this country. Everyone has that right to not participate, but before making this decision there are things to consider. One should remember that the Church encourages our participation. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington expanded on this further last week in a column in The Catholic Standard discussing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship "Civic participation is not a simple task for faithful citizens It requires a willingness to listen to Catholic social teaching, and then conscientiously apply it to the political sphere. We must pray for guidance in our civic choices so as to uphold the dignity of all life and the common good. We must learn about the issues and where candidates stand. We must vote in recognition of the important contribution that every voice makes on Election Day, and we must remain engaged to build a civilization of justice, peace and caring for one another.
Tonight, we should know the results of the election and a portion of the country will be disappointed. Whoever is elected will have the enormous task of unifying this country and moving forward. That task will not be an easy one, but is possible. One only needs to look at the example Pope Francis gave last week in Sweden. He traveled there to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and spoke of the hope for reconciliation between Catholics and Lutherans: “We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” Catholics in the United States are also called to similarly work hard to build bridges to our neighbors. I have no doubt that this country will unify but it will take understanding, prayer, and time.
“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle . . .” I can distinctly remember hearing these words for the first time when I was at daily Mass several years ago. My first thought was, “That’s a little intense for a Tuesday!” quickly followed by, “I wonder what prayer that is?” Little did I know that years down the line that startlingly intense prayer would become my go-to in times of trouble.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Archangels – Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael. Although they all have different roles to play in the course of salvation history, all three serve as constant reminders of God’s providence and majesty. St. Michael, in a particular way, is our “heavenly help” in this world that is so riddled with pain and evil.
When invoked, St. Michael not only protects us from our daily struggles with sin and evil, but by the power of God, he also allows us to more effectively share the Gospel of life. When invoked, he strengthens our ability and freedom to conquer sin and temptation, enabling us to more effectively share the good news of Christ. In this prayer – and St. Michael’s intercession – I have found great comfort in my daily life. I pray it after Mass when I know a loved one is fighting a particularly difficult battle, and most especially when I’m frightened.
When consecrating the Vatican to St. Michael the Archangel in 2013, Pope Francis said, “St. Michael wins because in him, there is the God who acts . . . Though the devil always tries to disfigure the face of the Archangel and that of humanity, God is stronger, it is His victory and His salvation that is offered to all men. We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life. ”
One only has to turn on the news for 30 seconds to see that our brothers and sisters, both domestically and across the globe, are hurting – hurting for authentic love, for peace, and for a purpose greater than the world offers. And not only is the world hurting and disfigured, we are in a battle – a battle between good and evil, authentic truth and moral relativism, selflessness and selfishness.
Although the battle is difficult, the reality for Christians is that we know the war has already been won. We have victory in Christ – victory in His cross, victory in His triumph over death, and victory in the promise of eternal life. This victory is ours not only to claim, but also to live and share. But we can’t do it alone. Let us call upon St. Michael – and one another – to fight these battles together.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!
Our country’s national anthem hails the United States as the “land of the free” in recognition of the many unique liberties and “inalienable rights” afforded to us, her citizens. One of these great gifts is the freedom of religious expression, that is, to be able to live out one’s faith without fear of persecution. Yet, recent times have seemed to cast a shadow over this right, and events of our time such as legal rulings and portrayals in the media would indicate that such freedoms are being curtailed. Throughout his visit to the U.S., Pope Francis encouraged us to nurture, promote, and defend the precious gift of religious freedom. Likewise, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has continued to encourage Catholics, other Christians, and all people of good will to set aside two weeks to reflect on religious freedom.
By the time this post is published, the Fortnight for Freedom will be concluding, having been started on June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. As Donald Cardinal Wuerl describes it, the Fortnight comprises of “fourteen days of prayer, education, and action. It is also a time for us to count our blessings… The challenge to live out our faith, the challenge simply to be who we are may at times seem daunting. But remember we’re a people of hope, we live in faith and we live in hope.” The theme for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.” As Archbishop William Lori noted, the USCCB invites us to look to the examples set in “the stories of fourteen women and men— one for each day— who bore witness to freedom in Christ, such as Bl. Oscar Romero, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Martyrs of Compiègne, and the Coptic Christians who were killed by ISIS last year.”
Each year, dioceses around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. To kick off the fourth annual Fortnight, for example, Archbishop William Lori celebrated the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Each year, the closing Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. with Donald Cardinal Wuerl being the main celebrant and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh serving as homilist. The Fortnight for Freedom reflects an understanding of the People of God that the right of religious expression must be protected against those who would negate it, not just for Catholics, but for people of all faiths.
As the Second Vatican Council noted, although we must respect the just autonomy of the secular, we also remember the truth that there is no aspect of worldly affairs that can be separated from God. On the eve of the first Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, acknowledged that the effort was viewed by many as partisan and exaggerated. He commented:
It is not about parties, candidates or elections, as some others have suggested… In the face of this resistance, it may be tempting to get discouraged, to second-guess the effort, to soft-pedal our message. But instead, these things should prompt us to do exactly the opposite, for they show us how very great is the need for our teaching, both in our culture and even in our own church.
In standing up for our right to religious liberty, let us make prayer a central component of our efforts—prayer not only for ourselves, but for the leaders of our country and its citizens whom we are called to evangelize. These freedoms handed down to us by the Founding Fathers are too important to take for granted. Efforts to scrub any reference to God or the faiths of those who built up this great Nation must be called out and overcome. Finally, throughout it all (and beyond the two weeks), each of us must remember that our strength does not come from ourselves, but that “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). May these two weeks, by the grace of God, help us to grow in wisdom, courage, and love, that we too might be faithful witnesses to freedom.
To learn more about Faithful Citizenship, please click here.
Whenever I tell people, “I am the Wellness Coordinator for Saint Patrick’s,” I usually get the same reaction: “You are the what?” Although there are various churches that hold wellness or exercise classes in their facility, we are not aware of any actual positions that exist for this purpose. So, I was given a title, an office, and some general guidelines and responsibilities. Then, I was given the freedom to create. I would like to take a moment to share with you some of my beginning experiences in creating and building a ministry to meet a need that our pastor, Father Forrey, recognized in our community. It is my hope that you can use some of my experiences to either assess, re-invent, or create whatever ministry field it is that you are being called to.
We are blessed in our parish to have an outdoor track and Parish Activity Center with a multi-purpose gymnasium and various meeting rooms. Recognizing the potential of the functionality of such a space, Father Forrey wanted to be able to provide our parishioners with wellness and exercise activities. When we first began to look at this idea, we asked ourselves not only what our need was, but also how we could meet it in a way that would lead our parishioners to a deeper community with one another, as well as a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and their Catholic faith. There are many places in our area to attend wellness and exercise activities. Why come to the church?
What is the need you are meeting?
It’s important to first identify the need your ministry or program is hoping to address. In our case, we wanted to focus on the health and wellness of the whole person. As a society, many know that a healthy lifestyle is good for us. And, for the most part, we know the general steps that we need to take to attain that lifestyle. Yet, the majority of our population is still struggling with body image and maintaining a healthy weight. What is missing? As Christians, we know we are called to no longer be slaves to sin and temptation. We are free to offer our bodies as weapons of righteousness for God (cf Romans 6:13). The Catechism teaches us that, through the human body, the elements of the world are summed up and brought to perfection, thus freely praising the Creator. (CCC, 74) Do we truly believe and live this notion? When we exercise, when we eat, when we move our bodies, are we realizing that this, in and of itself, is a form of praise to God? Ah! This is the key! We can create a positive, spiritually uplifting environment where our exercise and our health become a form of praise and thanksgiving. The saving truth of the resurrection and the belief of BODY and soul being raised on the last day--that is what we can offer. Working from this truth is what sets our ministry apart from other wellness and exercise activities.
What is your mission?
Once we identified our specific need, it was time to create a mission statement to assist us in keeping the work of our ministry focused. A mission statement is especially important when considering new program or class offerings. If your ministry is no longer in its infancy, I encourage you to re-asses your mission. Are you still ministering to the same demographic and meeting the same need, or has your scope of work and use of talent shifted? The mission of your ministry should be your compass – make sure it is pointing north. After identifying the need that we were striving to meet, we knew that it was important that our mission reflected the need to minister to the health and wellness of the whole human person. Therefore, our mission is to provide the tools and support necessary to foster a healthy community through five aspects of wellness: Physical, Mental, Social, Emotional, and Spiritual. Every time we have an idea for a program or class offering, we use this compass to make sure that we are staying true to our intended path. Having a mission statement and using it as a compass will also ensure that your program or ministry continues to meet the needs of your community.
In the second part of this series, we will look at how research, collaboration, and networking can help to build a sustainable foundation in order to build and carry out your ministry. Be sure to read part 2 of this series in early June!
It was the Second Vatican Council which decreed, "From the very beginning of the church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in their own way leading a life dedicated to God." It is on this observation that I write in commemoration of the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on November 30, 2014 (the First Sunday of Advent) and concluded on February 2, 2016 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple). Addressing all consecrated people in an Apostolic Letter, His Holiness expressed three aims for this great year: first, “to look to the past with gratitude;” second, “to live the present with passion;” and third, “to embrace the future with hope.” Similarly, he called upon the laity, “who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission,” and the whole Christian people to become more aware of the gift of consecrated men and women, “heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.”
Growing up, I was blessed to have been taught, mentored, and befriended by a number of consecrated religious, namely the Sisters of the Resurrection and the Lasallian Brothers. When I arrived at The Catholic University of America, however, my exposure to consecrated religious expanded to include the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and the Pallottines (and their Apostolate Center!), to name a few! As I got to know each of them, I became more aware of the joy and the grace inherent of their living out their respective Order’s charisms and spirituality, be they involving education, service, contemplative prayer, or dogmatic theology. In spite of the differences between each order and the varying reasons each member had for professing, there remains one commonality: desiring to follow Christ and seeking to imitate Him more closely in a life dedicated to God. Of course, there are many ways of doing this— each religious order accomplishes this in accord with its unique spiritual character and gifts— as St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
How one discerns entering religious life does not mean one has to force a change in his or her lifestyle; rather, it an acceptance of who one is and surrendering that to the God so loved since Baptism, thereby consecrating him or herself “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” (CCC 931). In my own discernment, I have found great relief in this understanding— that I can give myself to God as I am in love and He will help me to focus and purify that love in my heart which is to radiate from every action of Christian living. Similarly, the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed the relationship between discernment and the discerner:
Discerning vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
As the Year of Consecrated Life concludes, let us remember that it concerns not only consecrated persons but the entire Church! Where would the Church be without the examples set by Saints Francis and Augustine, Ignatius and Dominic, or Vincent Pallotti and (soon-to-be-Saint) Mother Teresa and repeated in their respective Orders? The Church would no doubt be less effective in its charity and evangelization, as Blessed Pope Paul VI observed, “the ‘salt’ of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization.” Let us then respond to Pope Francis’s call to give thanks for the incredible work done by religious around the world and for their fidelity to their respective charisms while seeking to draw close to them in times of joy and trial and assisting them in their holy endeavors. Finally, let us continue to pray for God to send more numerous vocations among their ranks: may their discernments be a model for our own, that we may echo the words of the great Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “At last I have found my vocation: My vocation is love.”
“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (Pius IX. Ineffabilis Deus).
With these words, Pope Pius IX declared ex cathedra the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; only twice in recent history has this occurred (the other being Pius XII’s declaration on the Assumption). For centuries, the faithful have commemorated the belief that Mary, from the moment of her conception, by a loving act of God, was free from sin. This, of course, does not mean that Mary was exempt in some way from Jesus’ redemption of humanity. Rather, as Blessed John Duns Scotus put it, she acquired the greatest of redemptions through her special role in Salvation History (Lectura III Sent., 119).
Many who do not agree with the doctrine argue that if Mary was not born with Original Sin or did not sin at any point in her entire life (as Church teaching proclaims), then she could not have been fully human. Therefore, if the Blessed Mother had never been born into sin and never sinned in her life, how could she have been truly human? Some reason, how could she have experienced what humanity really goes through if she didn’t live with sin? Basically, how could she have been truly free to be a person, struggling with the temptations, the ups and the downs, the “messiness” that is life? The concept of a sinless life, to many, seems boring and totally reliant on some higher being. How can one be totally dependent on God’s love?
In one of his earliest homilies as Pope, Benedict XVI answered these questions quite definitively. He stated, “The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself.” Indeed, many of us feel reluctant to fully give in to the love and mercy of God for fear that we would be giving up our ability to choose to be whomever we want to be. In that case, we rely not on God’s love, but on our own powers and abilities. This may sound preferable to some, but the Pope-Emeritus reminds us, “Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited.” Our knowledge and abilities as humans are but a speck in comparison to God’s love. Therefore, in choosing not to live in accordance with what is right and true, we actually limit ourselves from fully living.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the prime example of total abandonment to God’s love – she is truly free. Though she was sinless throughout her life, Mary still faced the temptation to sin. However, because she lived in complete openness to the Lord’s will, Mary did not choose sin, but rather, chose God. In his homily, Benedict notes, “The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people…The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.” Sinless, she was the pure vessel, the new Ark of the Covenant, through which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) She is the mother of God, and thus, the mother of Love itself, for God is Love. (cf 1 Jn 4:8) Living in that love, she calls out to us: “Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness!...so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!”
Today, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis has proclaimed the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Please visit our Year of Mercy resources by clicking here.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
After the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States, the Catholic Apostolate Center would like to share some of our favorite quotes from his time here. This is a two-week series where we will share 10 quotes each week. We invite you to use these quotes and images as you “Move forward! Siempre adelante!” in your journey of faith.
1. "Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love." (Homily, Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
St. Therese of Lisieux championed the “little way” of attaining holiness by doing small things with great love. Today, Pope Francis reminds us that it is in doing little things with great love that we can achieve sanctity. Try this week to incorporate the “little way” mentality into your work, your home, your parish or your school.
2. "I encourage you to be renewed in the joy of that first encounter with Jesus and to draw from that joy renewed fidelity and strength." (Homily, Mass with Bishops, Clergy and Religious, Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul)
It is the personal encounter with Jesus Christ that is at the heart of our journey to holiness. All of us are invited to have the “for me” moment of Mary after the Annunciation, who proclaimed to her cousin Elizabeth, the “Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). This “for me” statement is the result of God’s work in our personal lives—it is the distinct relationship that each person has with God himself. Spend some time reflecting upon your personal encounter with Christ. When did it happen in your life? What great things has the Lord done for you? If you feel like you haven’t yet encountered Christ personally, ask him to open the eyes of your heart so that you may know how much you are loved.
3. “What about you? What are you going to do?” (Homily, Mass with Bishops, Clergy and Religious, Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul)
In his homily during Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis talked about the story of St. Katharine Drexel when she spoke to Pope Leo XIII about the needs of the missions.
After listening to her, Leo XIII wisely asked her, “what about you? what are you going to do?” Rather than pointing out the needs of your community, parish or school to others, why not try to fill the void or start a positive change yourself? What if we contributed constructive ideas and did some of the hard work instead of pointing out weaknesses or problems in our institutions? Many in our world today misunderstand Catholicism and the Church. Pope Francis asks us the same question today, “what about you? What are you going to do?”
4. "We are sought by God; he waits for us." (Homily, Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
Sometimes, we may feel lost or abandoned. Friends, family members or co-workers may let us down. Our lives may seem plagued by suffering, loss or confusion. In whatever situation you may find yourself in today, you are sought by God. You are loved. You are pursued. You are waited for. God, who is greater than time, is completely present to you and your life. He awaits only for your invitation. You are sought by God. Today, we invite you to seek him in return.
5. "Jesus seeks us out." (Visit to detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility)
Jesus seeks us out personally. We see this in a very real way in the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus goes to the well and waits for the woman there. She goes in the middle of the day, the hottest time, in order to avoid other people in her community because she is living a life of sin. At first, the woman is defensive and even rude to Christ, but by the end of their dialogue, she proclaims that he is the Messiah and goes off to tell the whole town. Jesus is not scandalized by our sin in the sense that he will never abandon us to it or fail to seek us out in the midst of it. Christ seeks you out today at whatever well you find yourself standing by.
6. "May you make possible new opportunities; may you blaze new trails, new paths." (Visit to detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility)
We are given our mission at Baptism. This mission leads us down news trails and new paths that are meant to bring us back to God and bring others along with us towards him. All of our lives have a divine purpose. We can change and sanctify the world from wherever we find ourselves. These words from Pope Francis are made more powerful given their context: he is speaking to detainees in prison. What Pope Francis is reminding them of is the importance and dignity of their lives. Regardless of the fact that they are behind bars, they can still blaze new trails and new paths. They can still pursue holiness and make new opportunities. They can still sanctify the world by their actions. Pope Francis says these words also to me and you.
7. "Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face." (Address for the Meeting for Religious Liberty at Independence Hall)
We are a people of Resurrection, a people called to join in the victory of Christ. If you’re going through hardship, you’re not alone. Everyone is impacted by sin, suffering and death—but Christ has given us the hope of eternal life and joy. After his Passion, when the Resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples, he told them, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27). He promises peace that the world itself cannot give. If you’re feeling discouraged, ask Christ today for his peace. It is the peace that surpasses all understanding, but it is peace that remains despite sin, suffering and death.
8. "Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom." (Address for the Meeting for Religious Liberty at Independence Hall)
Freedom entails serving the common good. What frees us completely is self-sacrificial love. For this reason, Jesus was completely free, as was his mother Mary. They were unencumbered by selfishness, living instead for others. Our nation was built on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Pope Francis reminded the United States of this foundation in his address at Independence Hall, calling us to preserve and cherish freedom. We do this day by day when we imitate Jesus and Mary by living for others.
9. "Go out, again and again, go out without fear, go out without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people." (Mass at Madison Square Garden)
We are called to be witnesses of the joy of the Gospel daily. One act of love or service is not enough. We can often get complacent with our good deeds and actions—a temptation the Pharisees fell into. Instead, we are called each day to ask, “what more can I do for Christ? How can I continue to grow? Are there people that need my love, respect or attention?” Pope Francis’ words revitalize us. Go out again and again in hope, with joy and with courage to proclaim the of Christ.
10. "Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side." (Mass at Madison Square Garden )
Part of the good news is that God walks at our side. We are never alone in proclaiming the Gospel or in pursuing holiness. God is with us—giving us everything we need through other people, prayer, his grace, the sacraments. When we fall, he picks us back up. When we are weak, he carries us. We live in the joy of knowing we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (cf Philippians 4:13). This joy impels us to proclaim this good new to others.
For more resources from Pope Francis' Papal Visit to the United States, please visit http://www.papalvisit2015.us.
Like many of you, I have been following Pope Francis’ visit rather closely. Undoubtedly, his presence has impacted each of us in different ways, and I am very excited about the words and actions to come in the days ahead. As I sit here in my office with an unusual lull in activity, I am struck by two ideas our Holy Father has articulated, but are getting very little play in the news.
The first idea comes from his address to the U.S. Congress. While highlighting Abraham Lincoln, he emphasized unity, and Lincoln’s great struggle to bring union, freedom, and peace to a divided and war ravaged nation. Francis named the delicate balance of rejecting fundamentalism that threatens these great virtues that Lincoln fought for, while not sacrificing those same liberties in an effort to defeat these threats.
Within that balance, our Pope names the danger of seeing the world in non-negotiable black and white. I am particularly caught by this because I am often far too quick to judge, especially in a political or theological situation. If people don’t think like me, I reject their ideas as closed-minded nonsense. This line of thinking is all too common in our society. 24-hour news channels that cater to particular political views, blogs and podcasts that target niche groups, and seemingly endless gridlock in Washington reiterates to us constantly that dialogue is overrated, and if you don’t agree with me I have no time for you.
Unfortunately, there is a great danger in seeing things in black and white. When we see things in black and white we claim the moral compass; we claim to know what is righteous and what is sin. And when we get trapped in that line of thinking, there is no more room for anyone else in our lives, not even God. We declare our independence from what we view as wrong only to discover that we can no longer discuss and dialogue with those around us. Nothing anyone has to say is worth listening to.
Here is where the Pope’s message strikes deepest. President Lincoln in his first and primary purpose fought the Civil War to preserve the union, to keep these United States from dividing into isolation. Lincoln chose openness and dialogue, and that is where Pope Francis is calling all of us today. For too long I have looked down on those I disagree with thinking they are not as nuanced or educated as I am. Yet God speaks in history, and if I fail to speak with and be open to my sisters and brothers, how can I hear God? How can I grow? And most importantly, how can I live in union as a member of the Church and as a citizen of this country, if I fail to dialogue and work in communion to realize the Kingdom of God and build a more perfect union?
The second chord that struck me came from the address to the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. While watching the reflection, I was unsure what the Pope was going to say, but I was deeply moved by the compassionate urgency he had while addressing the mission of the church in the United States. He acknowledged the heavy workload, the damaging reality of the sexual abuse crisis, and the corrosiveness of secular culture. However, he made very clear that it was in this context that all of us who minister to God’s people are charged with finding some way to evangelize, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciples.
In my new job I am struggling to engage young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. I have a loose plan, and we are having our first event in a few weeks. However, like anything new, I am having doubts about how successful it will be in bringing young adults back to Christ. I went through all of this training and education and I don’t have a sure answer for how to lead people to discipleship. What if no one shows up?
Through that cloud of doubt, there was the Pope speaking to a cathedral full of bishops, but yet also speaking to my fears. Evangelization is the most important work. We must keep trying. We must keep praying, and we must keep going. Only God builds the Church, but we must keep removing barriers and facilitating encounter, so that the seeds of faith may be watered and eventually produce much fruit.
These last few days have already made for an incredible papal visit. The headlines will undoubtedly continue to be filled with the Pope’s stance on particular issues, and on his discussions at the World Meeting of Families. Through all of that, try to listen to the words surrounding the hot buttoned issues because there Francis is not telling us what to believe, he is rather telling us how to live as human beings. Pope Francis, in his straight talk and unassuming persona, has figured out how to remove those barriers to faith, and in his words over the last few days, I can’t help but feel that Christ has spoken directly to me.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on Catholic How and was reprinted with permission
The call to holiness and the mission presented to the Church from Jesus Christ is certainly a challenging one. The fact that God created us with the ability to freely choose not only between right and wrong but between varied truths allows the members of Christ’s body, the Church, to live out the freedom given by God by our birth and baptism. The Catechism defines freedom as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility ... Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (1731). The ‘mission,’ so to speak, of Catholics in this day and age is to live the Gospel message and to promote a New Evangelization.
This does not mean that everyone is called to any particular vocation. However, everyone is called to a vocation. It is up to the individual, because of their freedom, to choose and discern where they are being called by God and for what purpose. Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, eloquently puts it:
Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.
Concrete personal reflection has never come easy for me, and there is a reason that people tend to hide their emotions. Reflecting on the meaning of vocation and what God is calling me to do conjures up memories of high school retreats of discovering where God is found in daily life. While structured experiences of faith exploration and formation are important in shaping the broad spectrum of faith, I have learned that is not all of what my faith encompasses.
At the very first meeting with my spiritual director, he asked, “Who is Alex?” I began to spew answers such as student, friend, brother, and the like. What I wanted to avoid was the internal reflection on the self because I didn’t want to have to address the underlying feelings regarding vocation and personal identity. If we are indeed called to shape our own identity, then we very often have a choice. This could be a choice between choosing the truth over a falsehood or even between particular vocations. In discernment, it is my task to look forward, to look to the future. If I dwell on the things of the past, I will never adequately be able to say that I have done what God is calling me to do, whatever it may be. It is the Christian’s responsibility, my responsibility, to discern this vocation, whatever it may be, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
If we must seek the Creator “spontaneously,” as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it, on their own accord and out of impulse, then it becomes clear that the mission of the baptized Christian is to seek God always and in all things. The Italian priest Saint Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, wrote, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things, and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.” I have often found consolation in this prayer of Saint Vincent. It serves as a reminder to attune my heart and mind to God, in all things and at all times. Out of this freedom of choice and seeking comes a responsibility to act out of instinct and to lead others closer to Jesus Christ by first seeking the very God who created us.
Alex R. Boucher is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.
To learn more about vocations, please see our Vocational Discernment Resource Page!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on January 15, 2012
“Lead me in your justice, Lord” is the response from today’s responsorial psalm. It is a fitting tie-in, as we are days away from the conclusion of the Fortnight for Freedom, an effort sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to encourage all U.S. Catholics to not only recognize the freedom we already enjoy as citizens but to also recognize that there is still progress to be made.
Yesterday, a crucial step was taken towards the protection of religious liberty in the United States, as the Supreme Court released its decision in what has been known as the “Hobby Lobby” case. The court ruled yesterday that “closely held,” for-profit, corporations have the ability to opt out of the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate which was instituted as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act. This ruling protects the rights of private citizens to follow their religious beliefs and not be forced to violate them in their businesses. In a sense, this is exactly what the Fortnight for Freedom is all about, and it is appropriate that the decision was released in the middle of this Fortnight.
The focus on religious liberty can often get lost in the heavily politicized nature of these debates. Many people forget that contraception is not the heart of the issue, but rather protecting the right of employers and religious institutions to follow their own beliefs. This is a polarizing issue, one which many people have strong opinions on. We hear the cry of religious liberty constantly and while it is imperative to continue the fight for this religious liberty, we as Catholics must remember that we are working to defend our right to make these important (and often controversial) decisions ourselves, through our own faith-formed conscience.
The conclusion of the Fortnight for Freedom will be on July 4th, Independence Day. This is a time for us as a nation to come together to celebrate the country that we live in, imperfect as we often may be. We must remember the news reports which are filled with stories of religious persecution and humanitarian tragedies, and recall that we are blessed to enjoy the freedom we do have, the freedom that is one of the principles that this country was founded on. During these last few days of the Fortnight for Freedom, take some time to recognize what freedoms you are especially grateful for, and take a moment to pray the Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty:
O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome--
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us--
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
As a catechetical leader in a parish, this is my first experience being involved in a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. I am a cradle Catholic, born and raised in the Church, and have had no personal acquaintances go through the RCIA. This year, I have participated on a leadership team to observe how the RCIA is done catechetically. Now that the Easter Vigil has passed and the candidates have been fully initiated into the life of the Church, they are moving into mystagogy, a time where they will process what they have just gone through.
During this time studying the mystery of Christ and his life within us, I cannot help but see how God has formed me this year. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “You who are soon to be enlightened, already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns” (Catechetical Lectures, Prologue, 1). St. Cyril recognized that those who are initiated into the Church learn of Christ’s life within them through initiation at Easter. The “mystery” that we study during mystagogy is not up to us to be solved or remain unsolved. Rather, it is a mystery that we can continue to grow into throughout our lives. I, a lifelong Catholic, a member of the RCIA team, and graduate student in Theology, am still trying—with the grace of God—to weave my heavenly crown alongside those who have just joined the Church. We can all continue to grow in the mystery of our life in Christ.
Much of St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures to the neophytes have to do with turning away from sin, and choosing a heart of stone over a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). St. Cyril writes, “If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption” (Lecture 2). St. Cyril is not just addressing the newly baptized, but everyone in the congregation. Why should God forgive us who continue to sin? Why do we deserve such a freedom? How can we be adopted by God? What kind of love could overpower the sins I have committed? These are the mysteries that we reflect on in mystagogy. While candidates have a new-found life through baptism in Christ, we all renew our baptismal promises at Easter. We are all called to continue to reflect on the answers to those questions.
My experience as a team member with the RCIA has showed me that in bringing others into the Mystery, Christ is also calling me back to remember the Mystery of God’s love in my own life. Easter provides us the time to remember and renew our baptismal promises. In that renewal, we can remember that mystagogy is not just for the newly initiated, but for everyone. We can all grow in knowledge of the Mystery of Christ that we experience in the church at Easter and in our everyday lives.
Thomas Coast currently serves as an Apprentice Catechetical Leader in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire. He is currently working on his Master’s Degree in theology through the University of Notre Dame’s Echo Program.
This past Tuesday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This feast, which commemorates the moment Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce the plan of salvation God intended to bring forth, can seem a bit odd to celebrate during Lent. The Annunciation is a moment that we would usually associate with Christmas, as it introduces us to the official incarnation of God as Man. While March 25th is exactly 9 months before December 25th, I believe that celebrating the Annunciation during this time has more meaning than simply the significance of 9 months to December. In this post, I hope to share with you my thoughts on a few of the many beautiful features of this event in Christianity and how it pertains to our mission in the Liturgical season of Lent.
The Annunciation emphasizes both the importance of Mary and how the Annunciation brings the Incarnation of God into the realm of human history. I have noticed that people, when discussing this crucial event, typically compartmentalize these two aspects while forgetting their interconnectivity. I also find that this can result in one compartmentalizing their relationship with Mary and their relationship with God, failing to recognize how the two are woven together. I say this because I am certainly guilty as charged! Seeing the beautiful harmonization of the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) can help us better understand the correct approach to bringing our hearts closer to God during Lent.
You might then ask how this interconnectivity between Mary and the Incarnation occurs. Yes, Mary did give birth to Jesus, and many people stop there. However, I believe the harmonization is more than the mere act of Mary giving birth. This is where the Annunciation comes into play, as Mary agreed to submit herself fully to God’s will. The nature in which such agreement is founded on remains an open question. With this, however, I have found that the best answer to this question (in the span of my short, and continuously developing spiritual journey) lies in the spirituality that is the source and foundation of the Catholic Apostolate Center. In a blog I wrote some while back, I talked about God as Infinite Love, and I reference this again because I am referring to a spirituality of collaboration, where the Love of God is a collaborative invitation to participate in His will, which subsequently leads to being one with His love. We walk on our journey together with God, and this connectedness is why such a harmonization between the role of Mary and the Incarnation of Christ exists.
The answer to how this harmony exists lies in the gift of free will. I mention free will because of it is important in the understanding of a collaborative relationship with God, one where we are free rather than forced to conform to His will. Another way of saying this is that God could have entered humanity, without our consent, into a new order where the original graces and gifts would be restored. However, God wanted us to love Him, and such love requires an act to freely choose Him while simultaneously rejecting something else (i.e. sin, worldly pleasures, and so forth). If God were to redeem humanity through the Incarnation of Christ, it would then be by human consent, in order that our dignity is maintained and we are ably to participate in this Infinite Love of God, and that God would offer the Incarnation (and therefore the opportunity to regain access to full participation in such Love) by means of collaboration with humanity. It is only through such collaboration that participation in the Love of God can occur.
This is where our Blessed Mother, Mary, enters into the conversation. In the Annunciation, Mary is asked by the Angel Gabriel if she would freely consent to God’s plan to take humanity out of the abyss and to let him be completely enraptured by God’s Love (See Luke 1:26-35). Her response was the greatest act of liberty the world has ever seen: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). This freedom is perfect because her Son was willed, and not merely accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. There was no element of chance, but a desire of the Father to enact His will of salvation by means of collaboration. Mary, having full faith and love for God, essentially said “yes, I am willing to collaborate with Your will in order that I may participate in your Love.” Her willingness to collaborate is an act of harmonization, one that we cannot ignore in our lives of prayer and charity.
With this being noted, how does this pertain to our journey of faith during the Lenten Season? Like Mary, we are called by God to collaborate with His will in order that we may grow in holiness and be ravished by His Love. The Annunciation reminds us that we have this gift of freedom to participate in such collaboration. After all, it would not be collaboration if we were forced to participate! We are shown that we can choose God and reject the things that keep us away from Him. This choice is deeply rooted to the extent that God would offer such a choice pertaining to our very own salvation, the Incarnation of His very own Son. Fortunately, we have an example, a role model who perfected this very act of freedom. That role model is Mary, as she collaborated with God’s will. Because of such a harmonization between Mary and God’s plan, the same harmonization can occur with us and God. We can pursue this harmonization with God by asking for Mary’s intercession. She can then us respond to such an invitation by saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
Last week’s post talked about wounds and how they can help us to grow, and lead us to a closer relationship with God. Recently, I’ve come to experience this in a much more significant way. Today, February 11th, marks three weeks since one of my best friends was killed in an act of senseless violence. There are no words that can help make sense when something like that happens. In the weeks since his death, I have struggled to understand. The usual questions come to mind: Why did this happen? Why to someone so young, with so much life in front of him? At the end of the day, all I’m left with is one word: why. I’ve spent countless hours in prayer, trying to understand, trying to figure out the why.
When we lose a loved one, asking why is a common reaction. Oftentimes, the why can be seen easily. Death can be the end of a long journey, a welcome end to suffering, the culmination of a life well lived. I have experienced this type of loss before, but now, experiencing death in a completely different way, I’m struggling to find the why. When death is sudden, unexpected, and especially when it happens to someone so young, the why is hard. It is now especially that I am learning to accept that this life is so much bigger than me, than all of us. I remember all the joy and love my friend brought to all of us who were blessed to know him. A few nights after he died, I had a fortune cookie, which contained the following fortune:
“It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years that count”
Now, I am not one to take advice from Chinese fortune cookies, but on that night, at that time, that piece of paper was the reminder I needed. Pain and sorrow and evil are all inevitabilities that come from God’s gift of free will. God does not want evil in the world, but rather He permits it because He gave us free will. I know that my friend led an amazing life, and lived it to the fullest. He was a friend, a brother, a son, a cousin, and so much more. He would have been an incredible husband, father, and impacted the lives of many others. Although he never made it to that point, because of the actions of another, he did experience so much in his short life.
We ask why, hoping to make sense of the hard things that happen in our lives. Sometimes we get answers but often we don’t. It is in those hard times that we must learn to trust in God. Loss is hard, pain is hard, but there is a comfort in laying all of our pain in front of God, a reminder of Christ’s suffering on the Cross. We all go through difficult times in our life; the important thing to remember is that we are not alone in our suffering.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.