Today is the optional memorial of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, who were twin brothers born in the third century in Arabia. Both Cosmas and Damian became physicians, and in true Christian charity, refused to accept payment from their patients. During the persecutions under Roman Emperor Diocletian, the brothers’ renown in their Christian community made them easy targets. They were imprisoned and tortured by various means in an effort to force them to recant their faith, and after surviving most of these tortures while remaining true to Christ, Cosmas and Damian were finally beheaded.
What draws me to the story of Sts. Cosmas and Damian is not only their adherence to the faith while under excruciating torture, but also their unfailing generosity to those around them. They tended the sick in their community and did so without asking for or taking any monetary compensation. I like to think this was because they were often helping sick people who were also too poor to afford a physician in the first place.
Generosity is a virtue that can easily be motivated by pride—we do good things for others, secretly hoping to get accolades or some kind of reward for being so self-giving. But I think generosity is really about giving to others —material, spiritual, or emotional—because you know the other will benefit, even if there is no compensation for you in return, or if (like Cosmas and Damian) you refuse to take any.
Generosity is not only exemplified by a wealthy man donating money to charitable causes, nor only by going on mission trips to help those in poverty, nor is it demonstrated by showering poor children with gifts at Christmastide. We can cultivate the virtue of generosity in ourselves much closer to home and on a daily basis—just as St. Cosmas and St. Damian did. Generosity is lived out by a talented musician volunteering at his church to worship God in song, or by a mother who prepares and brings home-cooked meals to other families in her parish who have a new baby or have had a recent surgery. There is also spiritual and emotional generosity: being present and available to our siblings, children, parents, or friends as they struggle with transitions or discernment. When we engage in these acts of generosity, we serve Christ by serving others—even if it is not necessarily a sacrifice for us to do so. (Although I know for myself, the sacrifice that comes with being generous is striving to be selfless in my generosity and not to expect or desire reciprocation.) We are called to use anything that we have been given in order to glorify God.
And what about those—presumably poor—people that Sts. Cosmas and Damian healed and treated? Who knows what kinds of generosity they were able to offer to their benefactors as a result of their encounter with the twin saints? Maybe they were generous in their prayer lives and interceded for the physician brothers. Maybe they were inspired by the generosity and faith of the two saints and went on to assist others in their community. Even if we cannot always be materially generous to each other, giving of ourselves in any capacity can cause a ripple effect of generosity throughout our communities.
We can also learn to support and foster the generosity of others by thinking about how we respond when we are offered someone’s generosity, whether we asked for it or whether it was volunteered to us. Personally, I am working on asking for help or accepting generosity with humility. I know that I am less likely to help someone if they repeatedly protest my efforts or insist that I am doing too much, and therefore I try not to protest or downplay the good work that someone does for me. I try to remind myself that by serving each other, we are ultimately serving Christ.
Questions for Reflection: Have you ever been the recipient of an act of generosity that changed your life? How so?
We often associate tree climbing with child’s play—it’s an action that requires flexible limbs and a daring outlook that only winks at the possibility of risk. I can’t imagine it being much different in the ancient world. To see a man quickly climbing up a tree just to get a glimpse of another must have been perceived as childish and perhaps a little embarrassing.
The Gospel today speaks of a short-statured man who grew quickly in the eyes of God. Zacchaeus may be chuckled at for his stature, but he can be looked up to as a model of faith in action. At the time Christ comes to his town of Jericho, Zacchaeus is not an upstanding man. But something about Jesus calls to him, so much so that Zacchaeus is willing to do anything—even climb up a tree—just to catch a glimpse of him. The beginning of the Gospel mentions that Jesus “intended to pass through the town.” However, upon encountering Zacchaeus, he stops, calls him by name, and accompanies him to his home to dine with him. And Zacchaeus’ response is joy.
This joy comes from a newfound generosity blooming in Zacchaeus’ heart. The man who once extorted his community responds quickly and tells Jesus he will give away half his possessions to the poor. Furthermore, he pledges to repay—four times over—anyone he has extorted. The man, called a sinner by the rest of the town, has been called by name by Christ and responds with faith in action. He has experienced conversion, and his actions result in Christ saying, “today salvation has come to this house.”
Is this how we await Christ, so longingly that will we do anything just to glimpse him? Or are we off somewhere else in the town of Jericho, distracted or lukewarm to the knowledge that Christ walks in our midst? What if every member of the Church—the clergy, religious, the laity—awaited Christ with the expectation of Zacchaeus? It is this desire and willingness that has disposed his heart to be receptive to God’s work. It is a small glimmer of the receptivity of Mary when she gave her fiat at the Annunciation. And through this, God can work miracles—the birth of a Savior from a virgin womb, the conversion of a short-statured, greedy sinner.
As a Church, we often go back and forth between roles. We are the sinful people called to encounter Christ and bring his mercy and joy to the world, but we can also play the role of Christ in our work of evangelization. Christ—who calls Zacchaeus by name and is not afraid to dine with sinners. Christ—who changes his plans in order to minister to those right in front of him. Christ—who comes “to seek and to save what was lost.” As Pope Francis said in his closing homily at the end of the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, “That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.” And what are Zacchaeus’ actions if not faith flowering?
This flowering faith is what Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers are reminding the Church of once more as the Synod has come to a close. Almost a month out from this historic event, we are called to ponder deeply the prompting of the Holy Spirit and, like Zacchaeus, seek an encounter with Christ. It is this encounter with a personal God who calls us by name that will enable us to go out, as Zacchaeus did, with generous joy to repay our debts and minister to the poor and lowly.
Let us call our brothers and sisters on the fringes by name. Let us put aside our preconceived notions of ministry and evangelization and answer to the needs of the moment. Let us sit and dine with our brothers and sisters. “Let us ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are capable of becoming neighbours, stepping out of our circles and embracing those who are not ‘one of us’, those whom God ardently seeks.”
Today, let us carry the light of Christ in our hearts and imitate him in seeking and saving what was lost.
The back to school activities of September are a familiar routine for many families. Classes, assignments, extracurriculars and other events resume. Students begin their routines, and hopefully can rely on the enthusiastic support and encouragement of family and friends. Even in times of difficulty and trial, the reassurance and faith of others can help us find a way forward through uncertainty and strengthen us.
I see some parallels for this time in our Church. As the American Church goes through difficulty and trial, I have seen the importance of the involvement of the laity in each parish community. My observations of my parish community have been a great witness to the vitality of the church. Each week, I see families arrive to pray together and those who are involved in whatever ministries or needs the church advertises. Their worship of our Lord is not confined to Sunday Mass but is further expressed in the faithful service and loving charity of neighbors. The organizational structure of the parish furthermore allows the laity to find worthwhile opportunities of ministry. Numerous devotions are promulgated each month. Social calls to action are announced weekly. Calls to assist with the liturgical and musical ministries or volunteer with catechetical programs are ongoing. Pilgrimages are organized. Going beyond any mere routine of spirituality, the parishioners regularly exemplify a living witness to the Gospel: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Even in the storm of ever-changing current events, the Church stands firm upon her foundation, able to weather the most intense battering. Just look to your own parish: the Eucharist will still be confected, Mass will be celebrated, the sacraments will be administered, and the needs of the church will be met through the generosity and charity of its parishioners. Those leading or participating in these activities may change, but the significance of the laity’s participation in the parish never diminishes. Likewise, the constancy of the Gospel message never fails to ring truly or relevantly. Especially when we as a Church are shaken, let us cling to the divine promise of hope: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
The Gospel account of the storm at sea gives me comfort, for even the closest disciples of Jesus had doubts and feared for their lives upon encountering a sudden storm. They accused Jesus of not caring about the present danger. Unfazed, however, Jesus proceeded to calm the winds and the sea. The faith of the disciples had been tested—even when Jesus was physically with them in the boat!
When we find ourselves adrift and at the mercy of the tempestuous world or lost in a great darkness, we may feel powerless and cry, “Where is the Lord?” In those moments, withdraw to a place of calm and remember the sure promise He made at the closing of Matthew’s Gospel account: “Do not be afraid… I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Spend some time re-reading the storm narrative I mentioned above, or other passages from Scripture, like Psalm 23, that bring hope and consolation. How many times in Scripture— and beyond— did Christ bring healing and comfort, asking only for faith in return? Let us ask for the gift of faith during times of darkness and find comfort in the fact that Jesus blessed his disciples upon seeing them in the Upper Room even though they had abandoned Him. “Peace be with you,” he said. Others may also have doubts during this time. I invite you to be there for them just as Christ remains faithful to you.
The Church endures. She has undergone and will continue to undergo all sorts of trials. Yet she is never alone: Christ remains to guard and unite the faithful in Him. Our faith can be bolstered when we continue to engage in the simple daily exercise of spirituality and charity—especially in our parishes. The faithful of the parish are inspiring witnesses as they continue to perform acts of charity, worship together, and care for their neighbors. We as a Church are called to holiness; with God’s help, may we rise to the occasion.
When my husband and I were preparing for marriage, we spent time in reflection and prayer carefully choosing our Mass readings. It was such an exciting decision to make, and we prayed that the readings would reflect and inspire us in our marriage and all whom we would witness to by our marriage. Some of these same readings will be read at Masses across the world on the upcoming feast of the Holy Family, serving as a reminder of how we can live as reflections of the Holy Family in our daily lives.
In the second reading, Paul tells the Colossians, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12). Just like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, we are God’s beloved, chosen and loved by God, and with that, we are called to live by these same virtues that Paul shares with the Colossians. The stories of Mary and Joseph consistently show us their lives of humility and gentleness. I think of Mary’s fiat (Luke 1:38), Joseph’s obedience to the angel of the Lord (Matthew 1:24), or how Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be presented in the temple in this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40). Just like Mary and Joseph, we are called to serve and love God with faithfulness that is radical, but gentle and sweet.
What does this faithfulness look like? For the Holy Family, not only did it manifest in the stories we read about in Scripture, but also in the mundane moments of the every day. Mary nursed Jesus as an infant, Joseph taught him carpentry, and Jesus served his parents and brought them joy! Jesus carried this love in his ministry that nurtured all to whom he preached, and it continues to carry on in the legacy of the Church. These little acts of faithfulness yielded enormous fruits and carried the Holy Family through times of immense suffering.
As I feel overwhelmed with my day to day duties of family life as a wife and mother, or my job as a teacher, I find comfort in knowing that perhaps Mary and Joseph felt these demands, too. They were faithful to their vocations, to each other, and to the Lord. Life is a balancing act, but with “Christ dwell[ing] in you richly,” like the Holy Family, all can be done in love, “do[ing] everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17).
You show faithfulness when you do the dishes, when you submit an assignment for work or school, when you make the bed. You show faithfulness when you play with your children, when you have coffee with a friend, when you stop and pray. You show faithfulness when you show up to Mass. Opportunities for faithfulness, humility, and gentleness are in the every day, both big and small.
Through these opportunities for faithfulness I have learned that God is never outdone in generosity. He wants to bless us and let us know His love, and He does this in the most profound way when we show Him our faithfulness and love, just as the Holy Family has modeled for us. As we continue to navigate the demands of our daily lives, let us cling to the intercession of the Holy Family, that we may be gentle and humble, showing radical faithfulness in all that we do.
Question for Reflection: What are some opportunities to show for faithfulness in your life?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, click here.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C.
This year’s Advent was special for me; I have so much to be thankful for. My husband and I celebrated our first Advent season together, and are experiencing both the chaos and joy of the Christmas season. Joy for us is found in the little moments and in reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Something we found particularly joyful during the Advent season was sitting and writing out Christmas cards. Thinking about each of the people we were writing to and sharing our love with them reminded us of the love we give by spreading the Good News. The Christmas miracles of joy and giving are alive in those cards; and we hope they inspired our relatives and friends. For my husband, opening cards is a moment of celebration because he loves getting mail. That is the joy that we wanted others to experience this Christmas.
As we reflect on this Christmas season, we can recognize the things that foster joy in our hearts. I’ve taken time to consider my own generosity and think of those in need. In the Prayer of St. Francis we hear a reminder of how to live with our hearts open. One of my favorite lines from that prayer reminds us that “it is in giving that we receive.” Those are such poignant words. The Christmas season especially reminds us to give of ourselves. We look to the generosity of God Himself, who became man in order to give us the gift of salvation.
When the world is in disarray, let us look to Christ who came to us in absolute humility on Christmas morning. I imagine the hustle and bustle in Bethlehem as Mary and Joseph went through the hordes of people for the census only to find no room for them. They ultimately found a quiet and humble spot for the most important birth in the world; Jesus brought joy to the chaos. In our lives, He brings joy, too. In the chaos of the holidays, in the midst of our planning and scheduling, travel and seeing relatives, we find that same child. The center of our lives is Christ Himself, welcoming us to quiet peace and joy. As we continue to celebrate this Christmas season, turn to the quiet and find Him for yourself. You will find joy there. Turn to the person in need—you will find joy there. Open your hearts to love and giving and you will find joy in the chaos. Merry Christmas!
Question for Reflection: How can you carve out time each day to "turn to the quiet" and spend time with Christ?
For more resources on Advent and Christmas, please click here.
The story of Christmas illustrates that there are no perfect families (or parishes) but we can hope to be a holy one. Part of becoming a holy family at Christmas means turning our attention to the spiritually lost among our family and friends. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we look to welcome disconnected Catholics to our churches and homes this season.
Make Room for the Lost and Lonely
For some people walking through the church doors, the Christmas season is a difficult and lonely time, a reminder of the families they don’t have. How do we show hospitality to those without a human family? If you are on a church staff or volunteer, slow down and consider the place you are making for those who feel lost and alone. You could, for example, make sure that the elderly and handicapped are able to find seating appropriate to their needs. Or, personally invite those who are alone to join in any parish fellowship that might be happening after Mass. Perhaps you could even invite a few of these people to bring up the gifts during Mass. A special role in the Mass during this important liturgical season can show those who feel unloved how honored we are to have them as members of our parish family. The goal is not to expose or make a scene around these types of parishioners, but to consider their needs and communicate that they are valued.
Make Occasional Visitors Feel Loved, Not Judged
For those coming to church at Christmas for the first time in a long time, many already carry a mild feeling of guilt that they don’t go to church regularly and expect to feel a little judged. Let us welcome these occasional visitors with open arms and encourage them to return by modeling the joy of the Lord through our actions. Joy is persuasive. If we let the love of Christ beam through us this Christmas season it might just be enough to help these occasional visitors desire more frequent encounters with our Lord in the Mass.
Give a Gift to the Poor
The Christmas gift-giving tradition began with St. Nicholas giving a gift to a poor family. While many church budgets are spread thin during this time of year, consider making room in your budget to help the church provide a gift to a local charity or foreign mission. Not only is this celebrating the authentic tradition of Christmas presents, it a sign of generosity that encourages church communities to remember their brothers and sisters whose basic material needs often go unmet. When we demonstrate charity as a parish family, we send a powerful message about what it means to come together on Sundays. Our faith is what is called a “corporate faith,” meaning, that we are all working toward salvation together. For those who have never been to Mass, or haven’t been in a long time, demonstrating parish-wide charity can show how much we as a community care about individual members of the body of Christ who are in need. For those who feel unwelcome or unworthy of joining the Church, communal Christian charity is a great way to demonstrate that we want them with us on Sundays and that we will work together to make sure their needs are provided for.
Evangelize Through Beauty
The Advent and Christmas seasons are rich with light and melody, in both a sacred and worldly sense. Advent is the liturgical season when we encounter beauty in the sparseness and fragility of the barren winter. The Christmas octave and season is full of color and sounds. Beauty has the effect of lessening our defenses and heightening our receptivity to the message of Jesus. What are the elements of beauty present in your church and home? How can you enhance them? Consider playing some soft sacred music in your home during the holidays or decorating your home with a nativity scene or poinsettia plant. It doesn’t take much, just something small to celebrate what a miraculous time Christmas is for all Christians.
Jesus was born in an “irregular” family situation - not a perfect family by worldly standards, but a holy family in God’s plan for the world. Would we Christians today recognize and welcome this same Jesus? He is among us. He is knocking at the doors of our hearts, homes, and churches in the form of family, friends, and strangers in need of peace and hope. Let us welcome Jesus in!
I recently came back from a summer vacation to England and Scotland. Whenever friends and family have asked about my favorite part of the trip, I always say the Scottish Highlands and English Lake District. The beauty of the tall mountains with peaks hidden in the clouds and covered in the brightest green foliage takes your breath away. Peering up at these magnificent stone crags with my head tilted back to face the sky, I couldn’t help but mutter a continuous, “Wow!” The first thought that entered my head was the lyric from the song “Shoulders” by the Christian band For King and Country: I look up to the mountains / Does my strength come from the mountains? / No, my strength comes from God / Who made heaven, and earth, and the mountains.
The entirety of my trip, I saw God in simple things – a sunny day without rain, swans and ducks swimming in ponds, the architecture of a beautiful church, sheep and cows grazing in fields, fellow tourists greeting me with a funny story and smile. It took a plane ride across the Atlantic for me to become refreshed and remember to purposefully think about God’s presence in all things, no matter how ordinary the moment may be. After my trip, I thought about several ways in which I can continue to find God in everyday life.
For more resources on Laudato Si', please click here.
A couple weeks ago, I placed a breakfast order at my neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru. When I went to pay and pick up my to-go bag at the window, the cashier said it was already paid for. I must have looked bewildered as the cashier proceeded to explain that a woman in the store had already paid for my meal. I was overcome with such gratitude and happiness. I immediately offered up my thanks to God and prayed for the woman and her intentions. The rest of my day was so bright and joyful because I kept thinking about the woman who showed such generosity to me.
Later, I could only think of how to repay the woman’s kindness by doing something generous for another person, an act known as “paying it forward.” Since this event, I’ve been to Dunkin’ Donuts twice and no one has been behind me in the drive-thru line for me to be able to pay it forward (or backward, rather). Each day, I feel as though I have a debt that is yet to be repaid. I was sharing this feeling with a friend when she said how the feeling is similar to when we finally understand Jesus’ immense love for us in his crucifixion.
Our debt to God can never be repaid. Psalm 116:12 says, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” We have the answer in verse 13: “I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” There is nothing we can give to God that he doesn’t already have. However, we can give our thanks to him for the graces he has bestowed upon us and ask for more grace so as to show him our desperate need for his infinite love and resources.
The grace God gives us wouldn’t be grace if we were able to give it back. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul says, “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.” Our faith in God is what compels us to act out of goodness for others. These acts of kindness are our ways of being proactive in responding to God’s generosity and love for us.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells the story of a master who entrusted his possessions to three servants. The servants who were given five talents and two talents went off to make more talents. The servant who was given one talent buried it. The master rebukes the servant who buried his talent because he hid it from others. The master says, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). This parable reminds me that God has entrusted us with gifts, be they monetary, skill-related, or time-related. We are to share these gifts with others, and in return for being good stewards of God’s gifts, he will provide us with more gifts. A friend of mine mentioned to me that even as she gave a little of the earnings she made from her first paycheck to God in the form of tithing and good deeds to others, she noticed that she always had enough for essential needs. Over the course of time after monthly charity budgeting, she earned a raise and could give more to charity while maintaining her needs.
The idea of paying something forward to someone else is most powerful when we share with those whom we do not know or wouldn’t naturally help. We have a responsibility to show God’s love to our fellow human beings by loving them through service, random acts of kindness, sharing God’s word, and in our actions and words. We have learned the importance of this already through the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for opportunities to pay it forward.
This Sunday, the Sunday following Easter, the Church recognizes Divine Mercy Sunday, a day that carries an even greater emphasis in this Year of Mercy as announced by Pope Francis. Divine Mercy Sunday is a day that carries a special significance to my family.
In a few weeks, my family will mark the tenth anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, known best to his grandchildren as “Pop-pop.” He was a man of great generosity both to his family and to each of his patients, who he spent his career serving as a cardiologist. He was also a man of great faith, who in his passing left his family with the greatest gift, one of faith in God’s infinite mercy.
In the months before his death, as he gradually grew weaker and his cancer spread, he found a great peace in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He was especially fond of praying the chaplet in song and even when he was too weak to say it himself, family and friends would pray it with him. It was widely known that at 3pm each day the television would be tuned to EWTN so he could recite the chaplet.
Providentially, a local Catholic film producer was filming a new production of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in song, entitled Generations Unite in Prayer and they were looking to film someone elderly with a devotion to this prayer. Despite concerns over my grandfather’s declining health, he was insistent on being a part of this project and doing whatever he could to help spread the message of Divine Mercy. Also known for his sense of humor, on the day of filming,, Pop-pop remarked, “It’s a good thing Jesus is the star of this show, because I don’t look so good” as the crew captured scenes of our family praying the chaplet at his bedside. Following the filming, my grandfather felt a renewed sense of determination: he wanted to live to see one more Divine Mercy Sunday. Although this was still many weeks away, by the grace of God he lived to see that day. In fact, on Divine Mercy Sunday he insisted on getting out of bed and kneeling before the image of Divine Mercy that hung by his bedside to offer a prayer of thanksgiving with the intercession of St. Faustina. He passed away two days later.
I was first introduced to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy when my grandfather was ill and still today I take great comfort in its words, particularly the words to the closing prayer:
Eternal God, in whom Mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your Mercy in us that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.
When facing personal trials I’ve found a great sense of hope in this simple prayer. Hope that whatever challenges I may be facing, God will grant me the peace and perseverance to see it through. Hope that despite my imperfections as a sinner, that I too may share in the glory of the resurrection. And the prayerful hope that death did not have the final word on that April day ten years ago, and that one day our family will join Pop-pop in his eternal reward.
Many hope to journey through Lent having experienced a true transformation in their spiritual life. But sometimes, innocently enough, we don’t take full advantage of our time when we give up something that we have every intention of picking right back up (or indulging in on Sundays). Don’t get me wrong—it can be spiritually edifying and purifying in a lasting way to give up normally enjoyable things (e.g., chocolate, Netflix, alcohol) for just a period.
A few years ago though, inspired by centuries-old Catholic theology I learned from some introductory college classes, I tried a different approach to Lent. I found the saints were all talking about Lent as a time to grow in virtue. In the Catholic tradition, a virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (CCC 1803). You might think of virtues as character traits that describe a holy and happy life. Here are some of the “human virtues” that play a prominent role in the Catholic life:
The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude.
The Cardinal virtues have a special role in the Catholic tradition, and make possible other important virtues like…
The Capital Virtues: Humility, Generosity, Chastity, Meekness, Temperance, Kindness, and Diligence.
The seven Capital virtues are meant to counteract the Seven Capital Vices, or ‘Deadly Sins.’
One of the best teachers about virtue is the famous Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived from 1225-1274. Growing in virtue helps us grow more like Christ, so we can, in St. Thomas’ words “recover the completeness and distinction of mind” that gets lost through sin and vice (Meditations for Lent, 22).
Lent is also a great time to focus on developing a virtue that has become weak in your life. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that we grow in virtue by forming good habits and receiving grace.
Habits are important because they tend to shape our overall character and moral decision-making process, and therefore have a role in our relationship with God, others, and our self. Lent is an excellent opportunity to form new habits that we can then carry forward into Easter and beyond. In order to grow in virtue, we need to develop good habits, and we develop habits through repeated actions (See also CCC 1810).
Repeated good action --> Good habits --> Virtue
It’s a little simplistic here, of course. And although it’s a simple concept, admittedly, it’s not always easy in practice. Building good habits can be difficult because we often find ourselves already stuck in bad habits (vices) that may be tough to break. That’s why giving something up isn’t always enough; we need to replace it with a good action.
It also takes focus and developing discipline, which is exactly what we see in the desert experiences found in Scripture as well as the Early Church (CCC 1434).
Interestingly, contemporary psychology reinforces to some degree what theologians have understood about habits. Scientists report that it generally takes between 21 and 66 days to turn a new behavior into a habit. So over the forty days, why not consider choosing a Lenten practice that’s not just temporary, but one you hope will stick?
Take some time in prayer before Lent begins to identity one specific virtue that will help you draw closer to God. Then, consider some actions can you take toward growing in this virtue.
Think in terms of the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For example, fasting can help transform habits associated with our appetite for things, the virtue of temperance. An appetite doesn’t necessarily mean food or drink, though it may. It really covers anything we use to fill our mind and body, like TV and the Internet. Lent is a desert experience where we learn to pursue and subsist on the Word of God rather than our perceived needs.
Or maybe you want to grow in the virtue of kindness. Commit to going out of your way to doing one kind action each day by giving of your time, talent, or treasure. Or you might pray for someone you don’t get along with.
At its heart, Lent is not a course in self-improvement; it is a disciplined journey toward deeper communion with our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Ultimately, the help we need to grow in virtue comes from God’s gratuitous gift of grace. We say yes to this journey as we respond by developing habits of holiness.
For more resources to help you develop your Lenten habits, please click here.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ … God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:26-28, 31).
From this exaltation we begin our reflection on Father’s Day. Many countries set aside the third Sunday of June in honor of both fathers and fatherhood. It’s usually the time when dads are shown the appreciation of their families for all their love, protection, devotion, guidance, caring, wisdom, teaching, entertainment, discipline (ouch), cooking, support, shuttling around, mentoring, coaching, and/or generosity. It’s a totally fair trade-off but also no secret: fatherhood demands much of a man. Unfortunately, not all are blessed to have a father in their lives, and there are many circumstances which contribute to this.
Thankfully, God Himself has provided a model for human fatherhood, someone who He entrusted His own Son to during the crucial formative years of Jesus’ human life: St. Joseph. We look to Saint Joseph as the perfect example of paternity, as he was given the honor of being the guardian of the Holy Family. St. Joseph is not directly quoted in scripture, but what about his actions? Do they speak louder than his words (or lack thereof)? It seems that Joseph’s most frequent biblical deed besides traveling is something men can easily relate to— sleeping before taking action (see Matthew 1:20 and 2:13)... but surely there must be more to being a father than this!?
Of course there is! To me, being a true (Christian) father means being a Christ-like man who bears witness to the perfect love of God, and who is a virtuous man to his children, spouse, and to all he encounters. We hear a lot about Mary’s hugely consequential “Yes” (see Luke 1:38) to the Father’s will at the Annunciation and how this is the Blessed Mother’s complete giving of herself to God. In his own soft-spoken way, though, Joseph also gave his own “Yes” and similarly submitted himself to the will of God. Even with the extraordinary circumstances of his betrothed’s pregnancy, Joseph, in the end, places his trust in the divine will and accepts the paternal role God offers him as part of His plan. Like Mary, Joseph selflessly placed whatever desires and plans he had for his future second to what he had now been called to become— Jesus’ guardian and protector. It is this obedience that makes Joseph such a worthy role model for all men. Being righteous (see Matthew 1:19), Joseph knew he did not have all the answers; let alone the experience, for the fatherhood he was being called to. Instead, he stepped aside in faithful acceptance of God’s will. As Saint John Paul II so beautifully put it:
What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith. Joseph of Nazareth is a “just man” because he totally “lives by faith.” He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God. We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man. (St. John Paul II, Daily Meditations)
This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, and whether the father in our lives is a biological one, a father figure, or wears a Roman collar, take the time this week to personally thank both he and God for the impact he’s had on your life. Fatherhood is no easy task and is not for everyone, but the love that flows from this holy calling comes directly from Abba God, “our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13)! May we be obedient to and cherish these men at all times!
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy.