We find ourselves approaching the end of a year perhaps unlike any other of recent memory. The turmoil and uncertainty of the past months have presented unique challenges—missing out on time with loved ones, in-person celebrations, socializing freely, and carrying out our normal routines. With all this adjustment, perhaps we have had to face challenges to our faith, our hope, and our spirits. Nevertheless, the faithful can assuredly find renewal and peace in the Christmas season as we celebrate God becoming one of us in all ways but sin. While we shall always have to face challenges in life, recent events and how society has responded to them can motivate us to re-evaluate where we look to center ourselves and our priorities in life.
The world celebrates Christmas with music, movies, decorations, presents, and other traditions that set it apart from the rest of the calendar year. With the increasing commercialization of Christmas, the true meaning of the season has become obscured. The bright lights, noise, and pressures of the holiday strongly contrast the stillness and the simplicity of what happened two thousand years ago far away in the town of Bethlehem. The Gospels describe various accounts surrounding the mystery of the Incarnation; especially in 2020 we can be confident that the Christmas story continues to have meaning and reminds us of important lessons to keep in our hearts all year long.
The world our Lord was born into is vividly recalled, during the Vigil Mass of Christmas, with a reading of the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ from the Roman Martyrology. The setting framed by the author details a world under the rule of the powerful Roman Empire, with God’s chosen people, who are forced to pay regular tribute to a ruler they did not select. By that point, the hope for a liberating Messiah by the Jews had narrowed to an expectation that the Messiah would wage a militaristic campaign and preside over an earthly kingdom of God’s people. It was under these circumstances that the Holy Family finally arrived in the City of David, as observed by Fulton Sheen in The Life of Christ:
There was no room in the inn but there was room in the stable. The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.
The adorers who made their way to the Christ-child certainly had their own situations and positions to consider, but they nevertheless left behind their comforts and security to answer a higher calling. The shepherds made haste after the revelation by the angels; the wise men set off on a long journey to seek out the mystery the star guided them to. They came in humility and awe to behold God’s incarnate love in the darkness and stillness of the winter night. The experience was unlike any other in history; they returned to their lives changed by encountering the Lord God Himself.
This Christmas season, we may not have a star to guide us through the chaos of the world to the blissful peace of Christ, but the invitation to do Him homage is not diminished. No matter our state in life or the challenges we face, we can be confident that the Lord calls each of us to Himself, rising above our troubles and beyond any comforts the world could offer. We have cause to rejoice! The God Who ordered the universe and made all things good has humbled Himself and entered into this world to save us from our sins and claim us as His own through our faith. We cannot lose sight of this significant truth: the pilgrimage through the world in this life does not end in pointless suffering or hopelessness but in happy reunion with our God for all time. We liken ourselves to the first adorers who could not understand what had been revealed to them, but were so moved by the experience that they returned praising God and sharing what they learned with all they encounter. May our encounter with the Christ renew our hope, faith, and love to be shared with all nations.
Glory to the newborn King! Forever and ever, Amen.
As we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas, I find myself grateful that the Church has established the liturgical calendar in such a way as to help shake us out of our spiritual complacency. The high-points of the Church year—and the larger Christian experience— are referenced so much in our Faith that we may sometimes find ourselves on spiritual autopilot. Before we know it, we might find that solemnities are immediately upon us (or past us), and we feel that we could have benefited from more spiritual preparation. This year, I was looking for a clear and direct theme I could really focus on as Christmas approached. I came across some writings of Venerable Servant of God Fulton Sheen that called to mind certain details of Scripture that my eyes (and spiritual life) might typically gloss over. Recalling the helpless innocence of the Christ-child ready to be born of Mary, Sheen related Mary and Joseph’s plight in searching for late-night shelter in Bethlehem to the lack of hearts open to God which can offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords a place to dwell and reign:
[W]hen finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest lines of all will be: ‘There was no room in the inn.’ The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is the place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten… The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into His own world through a back door.
With all the seasonal emphasis on gifts and personal generosity, I am especially touched by that first line and the reality that there was no room made available for the arrival of the long-awaited Son of God. How often do we hear calls to be watchful and ready for the Second Coming of Christ; that is, to be repentant of sin and committed to pursuing holiness? This preparation is what the first part of the Advent season is all about. When we are called before the Final Judgement seat of the Most High, and God Himself shows us what we did or did not do for Him in our earthly encounters with the people in our lives, will we say that it was too difficult or inconvenient to take up what we knew was expected of us? All of the baptized are called to be missionary disciples—people who spread the joy of the Gospel by their very lives. We can bring others into an encounter with the Living God—or at least instill a sense of hope, dignity, and love in those who are in need—in the workplace, at home, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes, and within our families. In doing so, we make room in the inn of our hearts for the Christ-child.
Without Christ present in our hearts and at the core of our being, we will find ourselves serving a different master—be it vices, worldly pleasures, fleeting successes or honors, or other vanities. Just as the innkeepers of Bethlehem two-thousand years ago declined to open their doors to the Holy Family, so too do each of us have the choice either to be seduced by the empty promises of the world or to pursue a life of holiness and of speaking the Truth among the doubtful, suspicious, hateful, or unrepentant.
This Christmas season, let us allow Christ into our lives in order to bring him to others. Let us preach the Gospel with our lives and seek to always make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Christmas is a time for celebration! We rejoice that the Lord God Himself took on human nature and was born as a helpless Child into the world He created in order to free us from sin and death and invite us to live with Him forever. The occasion of Christmas encourages each of us to be a welcoming soul to the Lord rather than one who closed their doors to the Holy Family that holy night:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And let it begin with me. Amen.
 Sheen, Fulton. “Life of Christ” (1954).
 cf. Matthew 25:40.
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.
Communicating in an audio format is nothing new. During and after World War I, radio transformed communication in households and across battlefields. Speeches, reporting, and entertainment also utilized this medium for many different audiences and purposes. The Catholic Church has taken advantage of developments in audio communication in order to transmit homilies, catechesis, and words of encouragement for almost a century, the long standing Vatican Radio being one example. Now in the 21st century, a new medium of audio evangelization has formed in the lexicon and zeitgeist: podcasting. A portmanteau for iPod and broadcasting, podcasts are audio files that can be downloaded and listened to. They have reinvigorated the audio sphere for the digital age, with thousands of podcasts and hundreds of hours of content being created every day. What does that mean for Catholics trying to evangelize and move people to mission? How should we as a Church approach new media and new methods of communication?
Many Catholics are trying to answer that question in a variety of ways. During the World Day of Communication in 2014, Pope Francis encouraged the Church to “boldly become citizens of the digital world.” He continued, “The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.” Over the past year, the Catholic Apostolate Center has created podcasts in an effort to evangelize and help others encounter Christ. We started by recording some of our most popular blog posts for people to listen to “on the go,” and we are now launching a new podcast initiative called “On Mission” to discuss important themes and topics for Catholics today. (Keep an eye on www.catholicapostolatecenter.org/podcasts for the forthcoming launch of this series.)
How do we view podcasts as a moment of evangelization? Like any other video, writing, or audio, podcasts enable us to be prophetic witnesses to the faith in a way that’s approachable and encounters people where they are. I think that if we approach podcasts as Archbishop Fulton Sheen approached television over 50 years ago, we will be responding to Christ’s command to “go out to all the nations” and evangelize. Archbishop Sheen used a new medium of communication for the glory of God. Today, podcasts are just one tool we can use in order to more effectively spread the Gospel message.
In many ways, Pope Francis is calling all people to engage in this sort of witness of the faith by utilizing the means of communication at their disposal. During the World Day of Communication in 2014, he remarked on the importance of using media to inspire moments of encounter and to increase solidarity. He said, “In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity.” At the Catholic Apostolate Center, we aim to use the various means of communication at our disposal for that very purpose: to create a sense of unity within the Church and also in the world. How beautiful would it be if all members of the Body of Christ were to be this peaceful and harmonious? It is my belief that we can, as was done with radio or television, offer this sort of peaceful accompaniment to another generation of evangelizers. I would like to conclude with a prayer written by Pope Francis that was inspired by the prayer of peace attributed to St. Francis:
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Questions for Reflection: What are some examples you’ve seen of using media positively in order to build communion? Can you think of others in which media or technology created isolation? How is God calling you to use the tools at your disposal in order to share the Gospel?
To listen and subscribe to our latest podcasts, please click here.
When we think of this time of year, we may call to mind images of a family gathered around the hearth, presents under the tree, and perhaps a nativity set illustrating the upcoming celebration of the birth of Christ—one of the central events in salvation history. We are, however, not quite at Christmas; we are still in the final days of Advent—the holy four-week period of preparation and expectation. Around this time two thousand years ago, the Holy Family was facing the uncertainty of finding shelter before the imminent birth of Jesus Christ. They would not have been thinking of gifts or carols or greetings of the season; all that mattered was securing a safe place for Mary to deliver her child.
In his work, Life of Christ, the Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen observed, “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be, ‘There was no room in the inn.’” While the Roman census had decreased the amount of vacancies throughout Bethlehem, Sheen continued, there would always be accommodations for those who could pay a certain amount. The Holy Family carried with them not merely gold or silver, but the eternal King of Kings; however, all that was offered to them was a back-end stable. What king would ever be born of such humble origins? Jesus came into the world unknown to most scholars, rulers, and other great people, apart from the Magi. Yet His mission was infinitely greater than what the world expected.
In these final Advent days, I invite you to refresh the spiritual hospitality of your hearts. Our hearts are where our Lord comes to dwell in us. We hear the Word of God and see it in action every day, but if we are to build upon that in our lives, we must take steps to ready our hearts to welcome Christ. And since Jesus promised that He would “prepare a place for [us]” in His Father’s house, how faithfully should each of us take the steps to tend to the throne room of our hearts from which He shall reign over our lives?
“Prepare the way of the Lord,” the prophet Isaiah cries out. Spiritually preparing, refreshing, purifying, and maintaining our hearts is a process which endures throughout our entire life. It is a part of the universal call to holiness extended to each of us. Just as the Incarnation of God was first made known to the childlike and foreigners, so too are all people called to prepare their hearts as an inn to receive the Most High God Who humbled Himself and took on our human nature.
Jesus, the Son of the living God, earnestly and lovingly desires to dwell in our hearts. What an unfathomable honor and blessing this is! He will never force His way into our lives but patiently waits for us to invite Him into the place shaped by our faith, words, thoughts, and deeds. We must make room for Him in the inn of our heart. When Christ finally does come may we be vigilant and ready to welcome Him to dwell in our hearts and lives forever.
Deus Caritas est: God is Love. How many times have we heard this simple yet profound theological truth in a homily, story, or teaching? How many times have we taken this for granted? In a world where truth often seems subjective, God’s love remains a refreshing and comforting constant in the Christian life. If this were not so, for what purpose, let alone by what means, would you or I exist? It is this perfect love of God which sustains us each and every moment of eternity. In fact, it’s God’s very nature, so bursting with love, that wills us into being. So too must our love for our neighbors guide and give purpose to our lives.
The liturgical season of Lent is an especially wonderful opportunity for us to reorient ourselves towards God’s love and mercy. As we prepare to celebrate the ultimate expression of love the world has ever known this liturgical season, we may give up something we fleetingly desire in order to be made more aware of our need to depend on the One Love, the True Love, the Infinite Love. Of course, we can do more throughout Lent, but take to heart the suggestion of my bishop:
[T]his Lent, fast and abstain when the Church requires it; give something up to make room for God and his mercy to fill you. Pray more and pray deeply and whenever you can because God listens to you: prayer puts you in touch with God and his mercy. Do something good for someone else every day; resolve to care about someone else every day, because God does, Jesus does and wants you to be like him, loving and full of mercy. Don’t make this Lent a complicated regimen of resolutions and promises that will unravel a week from now. Make it simple. Make it real. [emphasis added]
Lent is not a time of self-pity or bemoaning our spiritual shortcomings. To fail to acknowledge God’s willingness to have mercy and forgive the sinner of his or her faults places sin as the end without further hope of relief, restricts one’s view of God as having limits on his love, and risks committing a sin against the Holy Spirit (i.e. believing that the magnitude of a sin is greater than God’s power— and continuous willingness— to forgive [cf CCC 1864]). While Lent brings to mind the classic images of sackcloth and ashes, the Lord desires something much more personal than just the recognition of our sins—“sincere, heartfelt repentance, change of heart, conversion” is what each of us is called to offer the Lord with the same Love He offered to those He encountered in His earthly ministry and ultimately from the Cross.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” our Lord, echoing the words of the prophet Hosea, declares to the Pharisees during the calling of Matthew (cf. Hosea 6:6) For us today, these words still ring true. Lent is not an easy time, but it invites us to shake us out of our spiritual complacency if we are to answer the Lord’s call to conversion. This may be uncomfortable. Receiving the ashes on our foreheads tomorrow, however, signifies our commitment to God that we will endeavor each day—and not just until Easter Sunday—to change our lives to be (once again) oriented towards God in avoidance of the sin and distractions which lead us away from His love. While we seek forgiveness from God, we are also to freely forgive others, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Even if we fall along the way, the important thing is to pick ourselves up and start again— the Lord is patient!
In closing, let us reflect on a final word from the Venerable Fulton Sheen:
God loves you despite your unworthiness. It is His love which will make you better, rather than your betterment which will make Him love you. … Say to yourself over and over again, regardless of what happens: “God loves me!” And then add: “And I will try to love Him!” (Fulton Sheen, Remade for Happiness: Achieving Life’s Purpose through Spiritual Transformation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), 187, 25.)
As I wrote this post, the Catholic University of America was preparing to celebrate Homecoming, when over 1,500 alumni and their guests returned to their alma mater. The weekend itself is a joyful occasion, a chance for classmates to catch up with one another and see what has occurred in the time since graduation. While life often takes alumni down different paths, Homecoming offers everyone the opportunity to reconnect with the place that, and the people who, helped launch the next chapter, whether it was one of service, religious vocation, family life, and/or employment. Homecoming itself reflects the willingness of the University to throw open its doors to welcome back all, no matter how long they’ve been gone or why they stayed away.
It’s a tried-and-true model and it’s along these lines that the Church opens her doors to those who might have fallen away, whether because of a poor experience or because of a lack of interest or engagement. Initiatives such as “Catholics Come Home,” or the Archdiocese of Washington’s “The Light is On For You,” and similar diocesan programs nationwide, seek to welcome back Catholics who have been absent from the life of the Church. The projected tone and nature of these programs is of authentic openness and welcome — free of any judgement or bitterness. The goal is to encourage those who have been away to re-encounter the perfect love and understanding of our Lord as manifested and offered by His Church.
The doors of the Catholic Church are open year-round for those seeking something better than what the world offers but there are moments in the liturgical calendar which emphasize and focus on refreshing one’s spiritual life such as Advent and Lent. Similarly, the invitation to participate in or observe the sacraments being celebrated can be an emotional catalyst for one to come back or renew his or her baptismal promise. Emotions, such as the awe of witnessing a reverent First Communion or religious profession, the joy of a marriage, or the hopeful rawness of a funeral, can move one to respond to a previously suppressed or unrecognized call to reconciliation with the Church. These “moments of return” can awaken a longing for an interior peace that only the Lord can provide. As Pope Francis encourages:
Maybe someone … is thinking: my sin is so great, I am as far from God as the younger son in the parable [of the Prodigal Son], my unbelief is like that of Thomas; I don’t have the courage to go back, to believe that God can welcome me and that he is waiting for me, of all people. But God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him… I have always pleaded, “Don’t be afraid; go to him; he is waiting for you; he will take care of everything.” We hear many offers from the world around us, but let us take up God’s offer instead: his is a caress of love.
Archbishop Sheen, the great evangelizer who brought millions around the world into an encounter with the Lord via his weekly TV program, Life is Worth Living, encourages us to seek out those who have everything to gain by entering into Christ’s body on earth but are currently missing out:
What was the first word of our Lord’s public life? That’s the key to preaching. It was ‘come.’ Come. Come to Me. Be enflamed with my Truth. Be on fire with my Love. And what was the last word of our Lord’s public life? It was ‘Go!’ First we come, then we go! (Sheen, “The Art of Preaching,” 1972)
Just as the gift of faith was freely shared with each of us, how enthusiastically, then, we must go and share the Good News with everyone on the highways and byways — we cannot keep it to ourselves! As we begin to prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth during the Advent season in a few weeks, why not invite someone to join you for the beginning of a new liturgical year — and the beginning (or rediscovery) of something deep within that person that can only be the desire to know our Savior. By doing so, by planting the seed of the Word in people’s minds and hearts, by boldly meeting people where they are in life rather than waiting for them to come to us, each of us who are sharers in the Church’s ministry can cause much rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:1-7). Let us embrace those who have been away for a long time, crying out, “Welcome home!”
September 13th is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), one of the most celebrated Fathers of the Early Church. Born in Antioch, John Chrysostom chose a simple life as desert monk, but was kidnapped and forcibly made the Archbishop of Constantinople, where he spent much of his life fighting against corruption— especially on behalf of the poor and widows.
John earned the nickname Chrysostom—Greek for “golden-mouthed”—based on his reputation for eloquent speaking and skills in public preaching, which converted the hearts of many listeners. John Chrysostom exemplifies the value of good communication as an element of effective evangelization.
Whether you’re a ham or have speech anxiety like most, at some point or another, you might be called upon to speak publicly—especially if you work or volunteer in the church. Whether you are preparing to deliver a parish talk, a personal witness, or other public presentation, no matter the size, spending some effort crafting your communication skills can be a great benefit to sharing your faith.
Know your Who, What, and Why
St. Paul, a man who described his call “to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,” (1 Cor 1:17), nevertheless frequently found himself speaking in front of crowds as part of his mission as an Apostle and disciple of Christ. Paul speaks very differently to mature Christians and the pagans of Athens (Acts 17:22-34). The audience (“who”) shapes his main points and examples (“what”) and the purpose for speaking to them (“why). Prepare by creating an outline that clearly and succinctly states your “who, what, and why.” Write it down and refer back to it throughout the composition stage.
A Little Humiliation Goes a Long Way
In seminary homiletics courses, preachers-in-training are frequently subjected to the sometimes humiliating exercise of having their practice homilies recorded. They then watch the playback to evaluate their delivery. In some form or another, that can help anybody. It’s probably going to hurt … but you actually get used to it over time and can learn a great deal throughout this process.
Practice in front of somebody. (If you’re too embarrassed at first, use your dog, cat, or an inanimate object.) Exercises like these are designed to help public speakers become more self-aware, not self-conscious.
Pay close attention to your favorite speakers, teachers, or preachers and try to articulate precisely what makes them engaging and unique—not just their content, but things like timing, rhythm, their order of argument, when and when not to use humor, etc. Pope St. John Paul II and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen were masters at this.
As you reflect on how you speak, name gifts and qualities that others identify about your particular style. Develop those. Remember, we are not all called to be rhetoricians and orators, or even great speakers, but faithful communicators of the Gospel. Not all, St. Paul says, are even called to be preachers or teachers (cf. Ephesians 4:11). To advance his kingdom, God has entrusted each of us with a message and a mission and nevertheless promises to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
St. John Chrysostom, Pray for us!
“Don’t forget to call your mother!”I’m often prompted by my family, especially my mom, whenever I call home. In remembering to take the time and effort to do so, I strengthen our relationship through this simple sign of love and reaffirm my devotion to her and the rest of the family. No matter how my life is going at any particular time, it is an immense comfort and relief to be able to call upon her and share with her my struggles and shortcomings that I’m otherwise tempted to keep suppressed within myself. While not everyone is blessed to have such a grounding in their family life, they can always turn to their Heavenly Mother with petitions and struggles, in times of strength or trial. One of the most widely recognized ways of doing this is through the recitation of the most Holy Rosary, traditionally believed to have been devised by St. Dominic after experiencing a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An optional devotion, the Rosary has nonetheless been instrumental for countless Catholics in the formation of their prayer lives and spirituality as a whole. It is wonderfully beautiful, not only as expressed in the many styles a Rosary is made in, but in the simple order of its composite prayers and the non-necessity of having to recite it in a specified space or time. Each decade of the Rosary invites us to reflect on and participate in a mystery in the ever-joined lives of Christ and His Mother--in the words of St. John Paul II, “it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.”
In a culture where having structure and taking one’s time are abnormal, the Rosary makes no sense. I’ve heard it said once that instead of moving us quickly from one end to another end without pause, the Rosary, by contrast, forces us to take our time in our contemplation before ultimately ending up where we started (at the beginning of the circle)! The repetition of each “Hail Mary”is a unique expression of love for our Mother. As Bishop Sheen noted in “The World’s First Love”:
The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in, “I love you.”Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as they did at another time or space. Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, “I love you,”and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the Rosary, we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”Each time it means something different because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour’s love.
Like many others, when I first began praying the Rosary, I was disheartened by its length and repetition and so did not fully grasp all of the spiritual benefits it offered. As I sought to deepen my prayer life, however, I gradually dedicated myself more fully into its recitation, and only then did I start to understand the weight of each word I uttered. In honoring Mary, we honor Christ; through Mary we receive God’s graces and our intercessions pass. Especially during October, the month of the Rosary, let us maintain this great weapon of the Faith in our spiritual battles, keeping it at our side--in our pockets--and praying it with devotion, patience, and humility always.
“God is offering us grace, let us be man enough to accept it!”
- Monsignor Vito Buonanno
I heard this a couple weeks ago at a Knights of Columbus meeting and it has stuck with me ever since. Not only are these words empowering and driving us to seek God, but they also perfectly describe our Lenten journey. We are imperfect, we are lacking, we are human, but God still loves us. He is offering us the grace to seek Him, to journey toward him, to be with Him, let us accept this grace, take His hand, and walk with God!
This is easier said than done. Last week we celebrated Ash Wednesday and many of us made Lenten promises to abstain from sweets, help out a neighbor, or pray a little bit more. And at the beginning of the Lenten season, many of us are most likely already struggling with our Lenten promise. But we cannot focus on those failures, rather we must focus on how to stand back up and continue walking toward Christ. We need to focus on converting ourselves to Christ. In his Ash Wednesday homily in 2014, Pope Francis said, “Once again Lent comes to make its prophetic appeal, to remind us that it is possible to create something new within ourselves and around us, simply because God is faithful, always faithful, for he cannot deny himself, he continues to be rich in goodness and mercy, and he is always ready to forgive and start afresh.”
We have heard similar themes before in Baptism. In Baptism, we talk about beginning anew and starting afresh as we enter into the water, die with Christ, and are reborn in him. Our Lenten journey is a reminder of our Baptismal call to live out the Gospel and in doing so we convert others and ourselves to Christ. The Lenten journey is different for each and every one of us for we all convert ourselves to Christ in different ways. And yet at the center of every conversion has to be prayer. It is only through prayer that we can come to understand all that God is asking of us. It is only through a dialogue with Him that we can form ourselves in His image. It is only through prayer that we are able to examine ourselves, reconcile with Christ, and move forward walking with hope toward the light of salvation.
Prayer is not always easy. Oftentimes I sit down to pray and am bombarded with thoughts about everything that I need to do that day, the things in my life that are worrying me, and the distracting sounds around me. Some people would say to find God in those distractions, to let Him speak to you through them, but that does not always work for me. When I am struggling to pray I turn to formed prayer, to writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Pope Francis, or St. Thomas Aquinas. When I am struggling to pray I turn to Our Blessed Mother and pray the rosary. These things ground me in my faith and when I am finished I am ready to listen. This Lenten season lets us open our hearts to Christ so that He may guide us on this journey to Him. Jesus wants to love us, we just have to say yes!
Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Lenten prayer please check out our Lenten Resources!
Today is Thanksgiving Day! Many of us are spending the holiday in the warm comfort of our homes surrounded by our family and friends, eating amazing turkey dinners, and thanking the Lord for all that he has given us! Each of us have our own family traditions that make the holiday our own. Every year for as long as I can remember, my mom pulls out the turkey, and before stuffing it, comes up with a little jingle and makes the turkey dance. Thanksgiving would not be the same without that little tradition, but while these traditions mean so much to us, we must remember that 2000 years ago God sent his only son to become man, suffer and die on a cross, and be raised from the dead and there is nothing for which we can be more thankful!
Today’s psalm is a wonderful reminder of this: “Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” What a perfect psalm for a day of feasting! However, we need to take care to not confuse ourselves about this wedding feast. This is not a feast of turkey and stuffing, or of wine and champagne, but rather a call to participate at the Eucharistic table where we have been blessed to partake in the feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Greek, the word “eucharistia” means “thanksgiving.” We are all called to this Eucharistic table, this thanksgiving table. We are all called to the wedding feast. Christ made that possible through his suffering and death on the cross. Christ’s sacrifice did not just allow us to be here today celebrating with our families and praising his name. Rather heopened the heavens to us, invited us into the wedding feast, and taught us how to participate in that feast with him.
Is it easy to give ourselves so completely to Christ and the wedding feast? Of course not. Especially at this time of the year when we say “Thank you” one day and are out shopping Black Friday deals the next. This is a season that is a constant struggle between material goods and celebrating the life of Jesus Christ, and yet we persist on. We have to; we have a deep desire for Christ in our lives. During this time of Thanksgiving and as we begin the season of Advent let us take a moment each day to be thankful for Christ’s suffering and death and for his presence in our lives. Thanksgiving gives us the perfect opportunity to begin this dialogue with God! Let us prepare our hearts and minds and give thanks to the Lord!
“Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.” ~Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Nicholas Shields is a young professional in Washington, DC.
Today, on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, we are reminded of the important role that the rosary plays in our daily lives. It is a form of prayer that we seek when we are struggling and need the comforting embrace of a mother. It is a form of prayer that is joyful, celebrating our successes with Christ through Mary. Devotions to Mary have always been an important aspect of my faith. In particular, the rosary has helped me through many tough times in my life and given me the strength to continue forming my life to Christ, but its importance was reinforced in the first few months of my college career when I joined the Knights of Columbus. Upon entering the Order, Knights are given a rosary as a symbol of our devotion to Mary and a reality of our reliance on her example and her intercession with God
But why should we say the rosary? Saint John Paul II gives a clear picture of the rosary’s importance: “The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully formed” in us.” When we pray the rosary, many of us are seeking the warm embrace of a mother, someone who can reassure us in our fears and give us the strength to live out each day for Christ. Mary is our mother in every sense of that word. Christ, moments from death, says to Mary, “Behold, your son,” and to the disciple whom he loved, “Behold, your mother.” With these words Christ gives Mary to all of us as our mother, the Mother of the Church, and with these words we are formed by her just as Christ was.
The rosary does not pull our attention away from Christ, but rather joins us with him through our love of Mary. John Paul II tells us in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, “Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ!” The rosary allows us to participate in that union and calls us to share in the life of Christ through our relationship with his Mother. Each time we pray the rosary we focus on the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, or Luminous mysteries. These are not only drawing us closer to Mary, but to the life of Christ as each set of mysteries is grounded in the Gospel. When we pray the rosary we do not just repeat prayers over and over again, but rather we are given the opportunity to live out a different aspect of the life of Christ with each decade.
Repetition is an important aspect of the rosary, but is it actually repetition? Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his book “The World’s First Love” tells us that it is not repetition for each time we say the rosary, “we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: "I love you, I love you, I love you." Each time it means something different, because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour's love.” Who better to remind us of the Christ’s love than Mary, the Mother of God, our mother, who raised Jesus, formed him, and followed him. Who better to emulate than Mary, who watched her son suffer and die on the cross for our salvation. Each time we say the rosary we are embraced by our mother, we are renewed in our faith, and we are reminded of God’s love.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
Nicholas Shields is a young professional from Washington, D.C.
In today’s first reading, we hear about God’s work in our lives and how it is by His grace that we overcome our faults and our failures. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul lays his own life out before us, yet again, as an example of how we must become apostles of Christ, spread His Gospel, and renew ourselves in Him.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the Apostles,
not fit to be called an Apostle,
because I persecuted the Church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.
(1 Corinthians 15:8-11)
St. Paul persecuted Christians until he heard God’s voice calling him to open his eyes and recognize Christ. He was like us—sinners in a constant battle between temptation and living out the Gospel message. And yet, St. Paul was knocked off of his horse and raised to new life in Christ. He does not attribute his new life and his faith in Christ to his own willpower, but rather recognizes that it is through the grace of God that he is able to enter into the Body of Christ. It is through the grace of God that he is able to preach the life of Christ. As he says so poignantly: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
These are important words to live by. We are often caught up in the traditions, stereotypes, struggles, and joys of our earthly lives. What truly grounds us in our humanity and in our faith in Christ is that, by the grace God, we are who we are. God gives us the grace to go out into the world and evangelize, to spread the Gospel, to live as Jesus taught us. However, by nature of our humanity and by the gift of free will, we have the choice to live as we want to live, to sin, to grow in faith, to make war, to make peace. We, guided by the Gospel and the Church, are called to ask God for the grace to evangelize, the grace to resist temptation, and the grace to live as Christ lived.
We are first opened up to the grace of God through our baptism, a topic discussed in Tuesday’s blog post. We enter the waters of baptism and die to sin, arising to new life in Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we are called to live out Christ’s Gospel message. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Receiving the grace of God is not a one-time thing, we must continue to seek it every day and renew ourselves in Him. It is not a one-time thing and it is not easy, but we have the beautiful example of Mary the Mother of God and all the angels and saints and we must rely on their strength and their intercession in asking for God’s grace.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said , “Mary was not full of grace because she was beautiful; she was beautiful because she was full of grace.” Who better to ask for help than a woman so blessed with the grace of God that she carried His son in her womb for nine months, watched him grow in his ministry, and sat at his feet as he suffered and died for us? The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, tells us that “…in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, [Mary] cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope, and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result she is our Mother in the order of grace.” It is important to examine our consciences and call to mind our sins, asking Mary to intercede for us. We pray that we might be given God’s grace to live our lives as Christ did, to go out and preach the Gospel in the example of St. Paul, and to lead others to Christ.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional from Washington, D.C.
I am really blessed to participate at liturgy each Sunday with an awesome community of believers. As we were engaged in Lent and Easter planning, we discussed decorations and flowers for our worship space. We decided that for Easter, rather than dozens of pots of lilies and other plants, fresh cut flowers that we could arrange ourselves would be much more beautiful for our Easter Vigil and Easter Week liturgies. As we were on the phone with the florist ordering stems of lilies and tulips and roses, I also asked her to send pots of hydrangea and azalea. A cry went up from among the committee. "They're ugly! We don't want pots of plants!" After hanging up, I explained that fresh flowers will wilt and die in week, but we were going to need Easter plants that could last for fifty days.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to quip, "First we fast, then we feast." Indeed, it is very Catholic to fast and then feast. Remember our forty day Lenten observance a few months ago. Recall all the chocolate and Facebook and television we gave up. Recall all of those Fridays when all we wanted was a hamburger and walked away with a grilled cheese. Recall all the corporal works of mercy and prayer we added to our lives. Recall the trash pickups and nursing homes visits and clothing or food drives we participated in. Recall the violet draped churches and chapels (many, nowadays, with veiled statues) in which we prayed. Recall all of the cacti, thorn and stick floral arrangements with swaths of purple fabric all over them. We Catholics are great at fasting. But, the Church suggests that we should feast more than we fast at Easter time. After all, Easter lasts a ten full days longer than Lent!
But sometimes, it's harder to feast. Why?
We tried our best to feast. Yes, we gorged on our favorite candy by Easter Sunday night. Gold banners and flowers replaced the empty pots and violet cloths. The statues in our churches are now unveiled. But, the potted hydrangeas and the azaleas are now dead and we are singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" with a little less vigor than at Easter Vigil.
We forget that violet cloth and the absence of potato chips is not what got us ready for Easter. If our feasting consists only in the superficial things we gave up during Lent, then our Easter Alleluias will never ring more vibrant than the silent vacuum their Lenten absence created.
Continuing the party is difficult when we forget what our preparation was. Easter gives us fifty days to continue visiting the sick, mending broken relationships, naming and fixing the parts of ourselves that need healing, volunteering our time and help, and giving aid to those in need. That's how we show that we are people of Resurrection - by sharing the new life Christ won for us with others, and it's the only way we can continue to celebrate for fifty days.
For Catholics, the reality is that we are an Easter people all year long. That's a lot of party, but the only way we can continue this Easter joy is by sharing the new life that Christ won for us. Bringing new life where there is sadness and death is the constant call of Easter. And it's a call that goes well beyond these fifty days.
David Pennington is the Associate Campus Minister for Liturgy and Worship at The Catholic University of America.