During my fifth year with D.C. United, the team brought in a nutrition specialist. The specialist gave his presentation and then looked toward a table in the middle of the locker room that held about 40 pill bottles of vitamins, supplements, mild pain relievers, gels, powders, and who knows what else. The nutritionist then walked over to the table, looked back to us, and said, “you know, if you just eat well you can throw all of these out. In fact, you’d be better off doing that.” He left the locker room five minutes later and never came back.
For my first five years at DCU, I had been taking those vitamins and supplements at the recommendation of our strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers. Now a certified nutritionist deemed the whole thing a waste of time and had even said they could hinder our performance—I wondered what exactly to do. Who should I listen to?
This memory has stayed with me because it matters a lot for an athlete what you do with your body. It matters how you train, eat, sleep, relax, and recover. You need to know what is helpful for your athletic development and what is unhelpful. I wanted to know if the pills and supplements helped me or hindered me.
This all applies to athletic prudence in the natural realm. Prudence is the ability to judge rightly and act according to that knowledge. It is being able to think through things correctly and then make the right choice. Thus, athletic prudence is the ability to choose and act rightly in the realm of an athletic pursuit.
We make decisions and then act based upon what we have concluded is actually helpful or unhelpful in relation to our goal.
I would like to apply this same line of thinking to the virtue of prudence in the supernatural realm. We should be asking what is helpful or unhelpful in terms of our spiritual lives. Just like the nutritionist condemning our pill vault and making me wonder what was actually helpful for my soccer career, we should ask what in our lives helps or hinders us from going to God. In order for us to do this, of course, we must acknowledge that God is both our goal and a worthy (the most worthy!) goal at that.
When I got to the height of my playing career I was devastatingly depressed for a very concentrated span of time (only several days). For months I pondered why I hit such a low point amidst more success than I had ever expected. Eventually, through the help of the Holy Spirit, I realized that God allowed me to feel the weight of my success without Him. It was an incredible grace—but also one that was difficult to really learn. Over time the truth that my soul was more important than my sport sunk in. I realized that much of what I had made my life about was, in the end, unhelpful for reaching the ultimate Goal who is God.
I started applying my athletic thinking to my spiritual life. I started asking the right questions—is this helpful or unhelpful for my spiritual life? Should I be hanging out with this group of friends so much? Are my weekend habits really bringing joy to my life? Am I living as the person I want to be? Do I know who I want to be?
These questions led—and continue to lead—me to Jesus, and I find myself needing to ask them again and again. Do the decisions I make help me become who I want to be? Or are my decisions hindering me from being that person?
Athletic prudence helps athletes maximize their potential and use their God-given gifts to the best of their ability. This same principle can—and should—be applied to our spiritual lives. Are the decisions, actions, and principles that guide my life helpful? Are they leading me in a good direction?
Prudence, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is the mother of the virtues. You cannot possess any virtue without the virtue of prudence because prudence is what enables us to recognize what is truly good (helpful) and then act according to that good. No athlete can become great apart from athletic prudence because athletic prudence enables the athlete to recognize and act upon what helps him or her become a good athlete. Far more important, however, is the realization that no person can become who they were created to be apart from supernatural prudence. It is not possible to follow Christ without first asking yourself what exactly it is you’re already following—what is it that shapes your decisions? It may be a desire for comfort, power, status, honor, wealth, success, popularity, or any number of things. But they all fall short. To be prudent you must know the end goal. You cannot attain the virtue of prudence in the whole of life without knowing that “it is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness.”
Taylor Kemp is an instructor for the Denver Catholic Biblical School as part of the St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division in the Archdiocese of Denver. He is a former professional soccer player, amassing over 100 appearances over six-years in Major League Soccer (MLS) for D.C. United, and playing for both the youth and full United States Men’s National Team. Taylor holds an MA in Theology from the Augustine Institute and BS in Business Management from the University of Maryland, College Park.
The month of September is ripe with themes of renewal. Schools begin a new academic year. Some businesses start a new fiscal year. The season of autumn is bright with arboreal colors as some trees begin to turn dormant. Fields and gardens are harvested.
Those of us with yards know now is also the time to prepare and reseed our lawns for new grass to grow. For many, it’s a labor of love to cultivate the land. First the land needs clearing. Rocky soil demands aeration. Soil testing will help with fertilizing. And getting the right seed is critical! Furthermore, once planted, the new seed must be constantly watered, watched, and protected from harsh elements and nefarious agents.
Is there a lesson from all this? Yes, great results require great effort, but we are also reminded of the parables of the sower and the weeds (Matthew 13:1-30). What I always liked about these parables was that our Lord Himself explains them so clearly: the Word of God is given to each of us; how it takes root is up to us. The seeds in the parable represent the deposit of faith we have each been entrusted to grow, nourish, and protect as baptized Christians.
For those of us with children, we are especially aware of the great gift and responsibility of entrusting the Faith to our descendants. So precious and critical is this sharing that the Church urges parents to have their children baptized without delay. During the Rite of Baptism for an infant, the priest or deacon says to the parents:
You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
As is the case with any landscaping, the work of spiritual cultivation cannot be underestimated or haphazard. Raising a child in the Faith begins and is centered on the life at home. The environment of faith is so much more than memorizing Scripture or parts of the Catechism; the Faith must be lived! A family that prays together, goes to Mass regularly, is firm in morality and pursuing virtue, and encourages service and charity takes seriously the charge given at Baptism. The deposit of faith is planted at the immersion and anointing of the child during the rites of the sacrament; the family then works and tends to and cares for the germination and growth of this divine inspiration. As good seed sprouts among weeds, so too will the child: he or she will encounter the ways of the world that are ignorant of God; he or she will be tempted by sin; he or she may wander as a lost sheep, though the identity claimed at Baptism never disappears.
As baptized believers, do we understand and appreciate what has been given to us? Do we help cultivate our spiritual lives in a way that fosters growth and true life? Pope Francis has urged us to remember and celebrate our baptism date:
To forget our baptism means to expose ourselves to the risk of losing our memory of what the Lord has done in us. We risk ending up considering it only as something that happened in the past, and not the Sacrament in which we became new creatures and were clothed with Christ, made part of the relationship of Jesus with God the Father. Thanks to Baptism, we are also able to forgive and love those who offend us and do us harm; we are able to recognize in the last and in the poor the face of the Lord who visits us and is close to us. In short, more than a sociological moment that inscribes our name in the parish register, the day of our baptism constitutes a commitment and the identity card of the believer.
The Sacrament of Baptism continues to sustain us through life: we are children of the Most High God! We may go through periods of spiritual drought or darkness, but we can find refreshment and renewal by attending Holy Mass, washing away sin through repentant confessions, and sustaining lives of prayer, faith, hope, and love. Then, having known the fruits of labor initiated by our parents, we can indeed be drawn up as part of the Lord’s bountiful harvest as He Himself has planted: “It [is] very good.”
I watched her curly little head bounce away from me further down the hiking path and around a bend, out of my sight. I knew her older brothers would slow down so she could keep up with them, taking her under their wings. In the midst of a global pandemic, the woods were a safe space, open and free from the danger that seems to lurk everywhere these days. Nonetheless, my heart rate picked up along with my pace. What if a stranger was on the path? What if she fell and got hurt? I couldn’t see the path ahead, and I was afraid.
I hurried along, my anxiety increasing as my steps forward failed to lead me to a view of my children. My thoughts turned dark while the woods around me became bright. Trapped in my own head, I failed to notice the sun breaking through, filtering light through the treetops. Until—there! The sunshine reflecting off of my little girl’s sequin covered sneakers allowed me to catch a glimpse of my babies. “Red light!” I yelled, in our family shorthand for “stop-moving-your-body-immediately.” The birds scattered, startled. My children froze in place as they waited for me to catch up with them. As I knew they would be, the boys were watching closely over their little sister. Taking her by the hand, they coached her through the mud and over the fallen branches.
“See, Mama? Pretty!” my curly little girl exclaimed, joyfully depositing semi-crushed wildflowers into my hands. After rubbing her nose against mine, she joined her brothers on a moss-covered log, not registering my fear for even a moment. Exhaling a sigh of relief, I praised God in joy for great big brothers, my safe little girl, and a Father who is Light, illuminating the way.
In this season of uncertainty, I find myself living that moment on the hiking path time and again: rushing forward, afraid, unable to see what is ahead. My days are filled with research and passionate conversation about schooling, and what the right choice for our family will be this fall. We deliberate over each barbecue invitation and mourn the loss of birthday celebrations that will never come to life. Parenting in a season where change is the only constant is overwhelming.
I’m living that moment on the hiking path again: where I could not see, there was light. Though I was afraid, the Father was before me, protecting my little ones. So now, instead of remaining trapped by my thoughts, I am pursuing His power and protection. I am practicing seeking the light.
In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul reminds us that we can live in joy even in the midst of hardship, and he shows us how: “[We are] strengthened with every power, in accord with His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom[...]”(Colossians 1:11-12).
Joy is a pursuit. By God’s great mercy, we are called out of the darkness and into the light. We are invited to share in the inheritance of the saints, if only we can pursue His power and glorious might instead of depending upon our own. When left to myself, I abandon joy for the hopelessness and despair that seems to permeate the world during this pandemic. However, when I pursue the heart of Christ, I am promised endurance and patience. I am equipped to face the reality of a sick and broken world and to remain unbroken by its weight. In His power alone, joy still abounds.
Joy is a practice. Turning hands full of crushed wildflowers to praise comes with intentionality. So: let us train ourselves to joy. When we feel the dark closing in on us, we are called to joyfully give thanks to the Father and to seek His fingerprints that so graciously mark our lives—to acknowledge His many gifts.
When the trees block our view, let us enjoy the sunshine filtering through their branches. When the path is rocky and unsure, let us acknowledge that He walks alongside us, and before us. When we suffer through sickness, hardship, and isolation, let us hope in God who has overcome suffering once and for all.
This is joy. Grace-filled moments of contentment, happiness, peace, safety, and hope that we open our eyes to experience, even in the midst of the dark. Where happiness is fleeting and circumstantial, joy is ours to keep no matter the circumstance.
Along this path I will stumble and fall. Joy will evade me as I am burdened by fear and uncertainty. But I will allow the Lord to raise me up, seeking the joy He offers me despite my skinned knees.
Like my curly girl, I choose to trust that I am not alone. I choose wildflowers and light. I chase joy.
Music and art can be some of the most comforting outlets the world has to offer in times of uncertainty. They can bring joy, nostalgia, and excitement while reminding us of the best parts of humanity. They point our eyes toward God, beauty itself.
I’m a musician, as are many of my friends. We sing for liturgies, we teach, we perform, we write. While so much of the world gets to work from home, we’re stuck in a sort of limbo. Our talents, our professions, have been shelved because there’s no one to physically perform for. Back in March, when the majority of my engagements had been cancelled indefinitely, I put my music on a shelf. I sat on the couch in a self-pity party. I became stagnant. What was the point of growing in my skill while I was sitting in my house all day? It left me feeling very empty and unfulfilled. Singing for Mass, while it is my job, has also become integral to my spiritual life. When that went away, I struggled to cultivate my spiritual life. Without my work, I felt unseen.
It made me think: if I were never able to perform again for others, would I still make music? My first thought was, “Yes!” After months of feeling invisible and unproductive, I started to see that these were lies. God gave me gifts, and He sees me. When I’m sitting at my piano in my house, God is watching me. He is cheering me on as I practice and struggle and doubt. I realized it wouldn’t matter if no one ever heard me again.
As we are safely and carefully starting to get back to a sense of normal, I am learning to be grateful again for music and art more than ever. They bring us out of ourselves and our struggles and remind us that while things have been bad in the past and may be difficult in the future, there is still so much beauty and goodness present. Our God, pure beauty Itself, is present in all these things. Even though it might seem that creating art, like so many things, has been paused for the time being, it lives on in times of change and crisis. It is shaped and inspired by times like these and by the better, happier times to come.
I cannot wait to sing for Mass again, to perform again, and to create with my friends and colleagues again. But in the meantime, I am comforted remembering that God hears me no matter what. He is still using me for His purpose every time I use my gifts for His glory. Even if it feels fruitless, let us always try to praise God by using our gifts -- God uses all things for good.
Like most of you, my family and I have been in quarantine. When El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele first announced the prospect of a quarantine—before there were any confirmed cases here—our family decided that it would be best to practice physical distancing right away. The public hospital system here in El Salvador is precarious under normal circumstances, and once the virus is at its peak, it won’t matter how much money you have. If you require a hospital bed, you will go where there is one available.
The national convention center in San Salvador is being converted into a 3,000-bed hospital, with 1,000 of those beds designated for intensive-care patients. Our best bet for surviving this pandemic is to stay home and find ways to continue our relationships with the people at our ministries without being physically present—a challenge, but also an opportunity.
My ministry, the women’s cooperative ACOMUJERZA, has come to a screeching halt. We were in the middle of a huge order for the Education Ministry of El Salvador. We are sewing over 3,000 school uniforms as part of a government-funded program. This order is the biggest we have ever been contracted to make, and frankly before this pandemic our members were scrambling to figure out how we were going to sew more than 3,000 pieces in 60 days and how we were going to pay everyone to make all of those uniforms.
ACOMUJERZA applied for a loan from a non-governmental organization that has helped us in the past. We received the preliminary approval for the loan, but with all of the economic uncertainty, the NGO froze all lending for the foreseeable future. ACOMUJERZA members packed up all of the finished uniforms and prepared the building for the beginning of a nationwide mandatory quarantine on Saturday, March 21.
There is so much uncertainty, and yet when I talk to each of our members, they remain positive. The government has promised a government grant of $300 a month to unsalaried workers—those most in need, which applies to some of our members—but that money has not been distributed yet. With 12 days into our quarantine, I worry about how my friends at the cooperative are surviving and if they have enough food to eat.
I spoke with my friend Juanita from the women’s cooperative the other day. She told me that, when she first went home after the president declared quarantine, all she wanted to do was cry. She felt depressed and sad to not be able to go to work and she felt a loss of her freedom. But after a few days, she pulled herself out of her sadness, and she told me about all of the things that she and her daughter decided to do during the mandatory quarantine. They already painted a few rooms in their house, got rid of old clothes, sewed masks and spent time tending to her garden.
“Now the time just seems to be going by quickly, thanks be to God.” she said to me during our last phone call. We chatted a bit longer and before getting off the phone, she reminded me that “we are all called to do our part and, for now, our part is staying at home.”
While checking over my daughter Evey’s daily journal assignment for school, I realized just how I am doing my part. She was assigned to write about what she liked and didn’t like about being homeschooled during the quarantine. She wrote, “I like homeschooling because it is fun and I get to do more fun stuff with my mom.”
Maybe “doing my part” is keeping spirits up among the members of the cooperative, sharing my gifts and talents with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, spending more time with my children and modeling for them how to adjust to an ever-changing reality
This blog post was re-published with permission from Maryknoll Lay Missioners. To learn more about their work and mission, please click here.
To learn about other faith-based service opportunities, please click here.
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into the holiday season. It seems in our secular society as soon as the calendar changes to November that the world begins buzzing with cooking, baking, buying, wrapping, and planning. Our calendars overflow with gatherings and obligations and before we know it, it’s a new year. As Catholics, we know that this time of year tells a different story. However, the loud hubbub of secular holiday cheer swirling around us can make it difficult to proclaim it, even to ourselves.
What would it look like in our daily lives over these next few weeks if we as Catholics challenged ourselves, in this season of frenzied preparation, to prepare ourselves to wait? What might that look like? Here are a few steps that we can take.
We cannot decipher what steps to take if we do not spend the time observing where our current steps are leading. Take some time over these next few weeks to observe your spiritual and physical life. Make note of the areas of your life that you feel you are consistently inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of and those areas in which He has not received an invitation. Notice the time of day or week that anger, frustration, hurt, or anxiety creep into your heart and mind. Where are your moments of joy, praise, and thanksgiving?
How are you caring for your physical body and its environment? Observe how you are fueling your body and your mind. Is the source and substance of that nourishment strengthening your body and mind to be the best version of yourself? Are you spending moments in joyful movement, whatever that may look like for your body, in praise and thanksgiving of the vessel that is fearfully and wonderfully made? Simply take time to observe and collect information on your current state. Try not to put a label or judgment on your observation, but rather work to build your awareness.
Once you have collected your observations, spend some time reflecting on this newfound information and present it at the foot of the Cross. Implore the Holy Trinity to open your eyes and your heart to reveal to you the areas in your life that could be improved or strengthened. Ask for divine intervention to reveal to you the strengths that you possess and the gifts and talents that have been given to you. How might you utilize these strengths, gifts, and talents to bring life and light to those areas of your life that may be lacking? Be patient in your reflection. Do not be afraid of silence! It is often within the quiet of silence that He will make His presence known to you. Allow this prayerful, reflective time to turn your observational information into knowledge.
It’s time to turn that knowledge into a plan. Through your observation and reflection, you will have gathered the necessary tools to be able to move forward in your journey. Carry the strengths that have been revealed to you and humbly face the shortcomings that you have observed. What does action look like for your journey? What steps are required to strengthen areas of your spiritual and physical life that may be lacking? Put your plan into practice and remain vigilant and prayerful of the different ways that you can tweak your plan.
We have spent the remaining weeks of the liturgical year in observation, reflection, and action… and now we wait. As you enter into the Church’s new year and the season of Advent, commit to the action plan you have created and joyfully await the celebration of the birth of YOUR Savior. If you’ve put the work into the first three steps, you will find that your action plan is in fact leading you to prepare for the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5)
Prepare to wait. Prepare the way. Prepare the place and invite Him to take residence in you – body, mind, and soul.
For more resources to accompany you during this Advent season, please click here.
This week is National Vocations Awareness Week. When I tell my vocation story, I usually describe my vocation as a response to the great love that God has shown me throughout my life. I talk about what a joy it has been to fall in love with Christ and to give my whole life to him in a specific way in religious life. And that is absolutely true and beautiful. But if I’m being honest, it’s only part of the story.
I am a novice with the Daughters of St. Paul, a congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelization through the media. Shortly before I entered the convent, I was plagued with a series of doubts regarding my vocation. I had discerned that God was calling me to enter religious life, but suddenly the vocation seemed too big for me.
One time in particular, I went to my spiritual director deeply concerned that I had misrepresented myself to the sisters. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a normal 21-year-old. I’d watched The Office more times than I’d care to admit, had a newly acquired taste for craft beer, and had only kicked my swearing habit a few months before. As I prepared to move to the convent and begin my formation, I was worried that the sisters might be shocked to find out that I was still pretty far from being holy.
“What makes you think that you haven’t been honest with the sisters?” my spiritual director asked me.
“Whenever I visit the convent, I find myself acting like a much better person than I actually am. They’re going to find out the truth once they start living with me,” I explained.
“Well,” he began chuckling, “Your vocation is the very thing that is going to make you into the best person you can be. That means you’re not there yet. But look, it’s already making you holier!”
It can be tempting to think that we need to get our life in order before we respond to God’s call. We want to be perfect before we think that God can work through us. But friends, that day will never come on this side of heaven. And besides, that just isn’t God’s modus operandi.
When we look at who God decides to call, it is never the person whom we would choose. Peter denied Jesus three times. Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out from her. Paul, whom my congregation is named after, literally persecuted Christians. God is not afraid of our weaknesses or our wounds. In fact, it is often the very things that we view as obstacles to his grace that make us into powerful witnesses to his grace!
The truth is, I’m not worthy of being called to be a religious sister. But no one is really worthy of this calling. That’s the beauty of a religious vocation and of the Christian life as a whole: it’s not about us and what we can do for God. It’s about God and what he wants to do in us.
Every sacrifice that I’ve made in these past three years, every mistake, every time I have had to ask forgiveness or forgiven someone has served to make me into the person God wants me to be. So has every hour of Adoration, every Spirit-filled conversation, and every birthday that we’ve celebrated in community. There are these kinds of moments in every vocation where God uses something that seems strangely normal to bring us ever closer to himself.
Vocation is a totally free gift that God has given to us. We could never earn or deserve it. It requires a response, but it begins with the fact that he has first loved us and desires to give us abundant life. That’s the truth about religious vocation— praise God for that.
Silence is an old friend—one I don’t often get to spend quality time with. But when I do, we give each other a knowing glance, a subtle nod, a familiar smile. It doesn’t matter how many days, weeks, or months have passed—we can pick up right where we left off without any sheepishness.
Today, I come in through the front door, take off my coat, and settle into the warm embrace of silence, letting it melt any frost that has accumulated in my heart.
Silence knows I’m not able to visit as often these days, but she doesn’t hold a grudge or look at me disapprovingly. She gives me a tender look and welcomes me with open arms – relishing every moment I give her to rejuvenate my soul. And she can work very quickly—a few minutes, hours, (in this case) a day. Any time spent in her company is restorative. She is generous with herself.
I was reminded of that this past weekend when I attended a Silent Day of Reflection at the Catholic Apostolate Center’s headquarters at Green Hill. This little oasis sits on 14 acres just a few miles outside of the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. and offers ample spaces, both indoor and outdoor, for prayer and reflection.
The theme of the day was The Beatitudes. The schedule was sprinkled with powerful moments of prayer: Mass, Adoration, Confession, a reflection on the day’s theme, and Lectio Divina. There was also time for quiet personal prayer. Participants had the opportunity to walk the grounds, enjoy the gardens, pray in the chapel, journal, color, or simply rest.
The home of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers of the Immaculate Conception Province is a treasure, offering a welcome place of retreat, gathering, and prayer. The Pallottines, as well as the staff of the Catholic Apostolate Center, are pleased to invite and welcome those seeking formation, personal enrichment, rejuvenation, or spiritual refreshment to Green Hill and look forward to continuing to provide opportunities to do so.
As a wife, mother, blog editor, homeowner, and budding gardener, I find my days often blur in the hasty movement of time. I frequently long for silence and reflection, but do not have the time or space for it. The Silent Day of Reflection organized by the Catholic Apostolate Center was an answer to a prayer and a gift for my spiritual life.
After spending the day at Green Hill, I got up from silence’s hearth reluctantly, feeling gently lulled, peaceful, held. It was a refreshing day of encounter with God amidst the beautiful backdrop of nature, and I didn’t want it to end.
Not all have the wisdom to seek silence, to receive the gifts she awaits to impart. We often take her for granted, drown her out, or try to replace her—convincing ourselves she is old-fashioned, irrelevant, unnecessary, extinct.
She awaits all the same, ever ancient, ever new—the immortal gift of her Creator, the vehicle of His encounter, the respite of all souls.
Will you seek her?
To learn more about Green Hill and upcoming events, please click here.
“The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life” (Christus Vivit, 138).
Have you ever experienced the love of Christ in your life? The love of Christ is not something one and done. It is an ongoing experience. Christ is always pouring out his love to us. We are the ones who are challenged to see and believe. The love of Christ comes to us in a particular way through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist—an intimate encounter with Christ who is truly present. Pope Francis describes this encounter:
“Although we are the ones who stand in procession to receive Communion; we approach the altar in a procession to receive communion, in reality it is Christ who comes towards us to assimilate us in him. There is an encounter with Jesus! To nourish oneself of the Eucharist means to allow oneself to be changed by what we receive” (General Audience, March 21, 2018).
Christ is the one who is present and he is the one who is changing us in and through our encounter with him in the Eucharist. We can choose not to see his presence, not to enter this experience of encounter, and not to be changed. That is the freedom that we have. It is the freedom to be indifferent to or reject the love of Christ being freely offered to us. When we experience Christ in the Eucharist, the great gift of his love for us, we become more than we are. We are elevated to a greater love of God and neighbor.
How do we enter more fully into this encounter with Christ in the Eucharist? As Pope Francis notes, Christ “comes towards us to assimilate us in him.” He is already moving, acting, and assisting us to cooperate with his grace. We are called to prepare ourselves well for this encounter by being forgiven of our sins through the Sacrament of Penance, by preparing for our encounter through prayer, by entering into the worship of the community of faith, and by witnessing the love of Christ in our daily encounters with others. Over time, we will be transformed by Christ toward living a “better and more beautiful life.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Recently at Mass, our priest explained the love of God as Father in a way that I had never heard before. As a parent and teacher, I resonated with his words deeply.
In the Gospel, Jesus sent out 72 disciples in pairs to share the good news (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20). They came back rejoicing in all that they could do - like cast out demons - because of the name of Jesus. But our priest reminded us that this is because of God’s glory, not ours. In fact, Jesus didn’t even need the 72 if he didn’t want them. As God, he could share the Gospel on his own to the whole world, in an instant. But instead, he finds it more beautiful and meaningful to have them and us share in ministry. Yes, it is also messy, but love shared is so much more fruitful.
Our priest gave many examples of how a parent lets their child help with chores. I experienced the same “I want to help!” one day as I was cutting strawberries. I could have done it in five minutes by myself, or I could let my two-year-old son help—knowing that this would take much longer, that there would be more to clean up, and that I would have to take a lot more precautions. But I sat him on the counter, and he started taking off stems as I washed the strawberries. He took a turn washing some, too. He let me cut the strawberries, but he said he would put them in the container for me. And what a delight it was to remind him how helpful he was, to have him remind me that “we have to be safe” while using a knife, to see him eat a few strawberries along the way and remark on how yummy they were, and to see the joy on his face when he put the lid on our bowl of cut up strawberries and help put them in the fridge. In the same way, God lets us help him prepare strawberries, too. He delights in our imperfect attempts to help and love, to share in his ministry, wherever it is that he has called us to serve.
As I write this, it is the second anniversary of my son’s baptism. It is not lost on me what a gift and responsibility it is to raise our children in the faith: to be nurturing saints for heaven alongside my husband and how grateful I am to our community near and far who support us along the way. But again, I am reminded that God could raise our children much better than us (just ask me about tooth brushing or navigating toddler discipline). But he lets us do so and he gives us love and mercy and grace to accompany us day after day. This grace is found abundantly in the sacraments. I pray that we teach and model to our children that we can always call upon that grace, and that they have a desire to participate in it. I pray that they may say to God, “I want to help!,” knowing that all is for God’s glory—not theirs – and that through Him all things are possible.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus reminds the 72 to “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). My prayer for my children – and for each of us as we celebrate the gift of our baptisms, is that we always know that we are loved, wanted, and called. May we know that by the gift of baptism, our names, too, can be written in heaven.
To my son, I pray that you’ll always want to help prepare strawberries with me and with God. Thank you for teaching me about childlike faith in a whole new light. Thank you for letting me help God – even though imperfectly – by raising and loving you. It is mine and your father’s greatest joy to serve God through the gift of our children’s lives.
Contemporary Western culture seems to promote nothing but pride these days; it insists that only those who are proud, selfish, and disobedient can effect change or succeed in life. But salvation history and the lives of the saints tell us a different story—namely, that pride is the downfall of mankind, and that humility is what ultimately exalts us.
Humility is a difficult virtue to embrace because it is such a quiet one and is often mistaken for what it is not. In his Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas describes humility thus: “Truly, the virtue of humility consists in this, that one keep himself within his own limits; he does not stretch himself to what is above him, but he subjects himself to his superior.” Being humble does not mean debasing yourself and refusing to acknowledge that you have any gifts or talents whatsoever—and some would argue that in fact, such an attitude is actually hidden pride! The truly humble man understands that he is not the greatest at anything, and that while he is better at something than others might be, his gift ultimately comes from God and is to be used for the glory of God, not for personal accolades. The prime example of this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was a young woman without wealth or powerful connections, and yet her submission to the will of God altered the course of human history and opened the door for the divine Messiah to enter the world He would one day redeem. She did not attempt to argue that she was utterly unworthy of the grace bestowed on her, but rather submitted with her humble fiat, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”
The truly humble man knows his own limitations—he submits to the authority not only of God and of the Church, but also to the legitimate authority of the government and the workplace. A humble man does not go looking for opportunities to gain power and prestige. He dies to himself for the sake of others—he harbors no resentment when others’ work is extolled while his goes unnoticed, and he uses those moments of humiliation to draw closer to Christ. The humble man continues to use his gifts even if no one but God is going to see or acknowledge them. And when his gifts and accomplishments are acknowledged by the world, the humble man turns that praise back to God instead of focusing it on himself. The humble man does not need to project an Instagram-perfect image of his life to the rest of the world: he accepts that he is a work in progress, can admit when he is wrong, and can accept criticism with grace.
Sometimes true humility seems impossible to achieve. Because we are fallen creatures wrapped up in ourselves, we have to constantly work toward selflessness. One method of doing this is by praying The Litany of Humility. This prayer asks Jesus to deliver us from desires and fears fueled by pride—from the desire of praise, to the fear of being wronged. But the beauty of this litany is that it not only asks that we be freed from our pride, but it also asks for the grace to desire that others may be better than we are, loved more than we are, holier than we are. True humility is not downplaying our own roles, but is setting aside our own desires so that others can rise higher and do more for Christ than we ever could. It’s being the Andrew to someone else’s Peter and the Barnabas to someone else’s Paul—calling forth someone to the good or encouraging their potential, even if means that person becomes greater than ourselves.
Matt Maher has his own take on the Litany of Humility in his song “Every Little Prison.” What I like about Maher’s version is that he adapts the prayer to be more recognizable for the modern Christian. Pride takes many forms in this era of Instagram followers, Facebook “likes,” and the 24-hour news cycle—we spend time “wondering if I am relevant and liked” and “wanting to be seen.” Ultimately, humility requires us to turn to God instead of other things and to trust in him, in his mercy and his wisdom, rather than becoming slaves to our fears of being judged, or of not being loved, or of having to let go. By praying for freedom from the prisons created by pride, may we live more confidently in the love of God and in doing his will.
As a nation, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 21st. Does this mean anything special for the Church—for Catholics, even? Catholics have much to learn and celebrate about the Baptist pastor, preacher, and prophet. The more we consider how far we have come as a nation and as a human race since Dr. King met his tragic end on April 4, 1968, the more we sense, I think, just how far we have to go to realize his Dream.
When I think of Dr. King, I think of justice. Biblical justice. To recall a famous quote (King’s paraphrase from Theodore Parker), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” As our nation honors Dr. King in a few days, I think it might be wise to contemplate for a moment the role of justice in our discipleship, which is an integral aspect of our baptismal identity as priest, prophet, and king.
As a pastor and preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. understood deep in his bones the kerygmatic nature (from “kerygma”) of true justice. Justice is a gift of Jesus. Like all gifts and graces from God, it is meant to be multiplied and shared. Even in the most difficult times of persecution, Dr. King proclaimed the gift of justice. In his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King (who earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University) quotes St. Thomas Aquinas in defining an unjust law as “a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law,” and then adds a simple explanation: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1774), the great theologian of the Middle Ages and among the greatest in the history of the Church, defined justice as giving the other what is their due. Thomas Aquinas even defines “religion,” which is a virtue, as a form of justice, because it gives God the worship and adoration that is owed to him.
First, can we ask ourselves where justice is still lacking in our world and in our own Church insofar as it is, alongside its spiritual identity, an institution composed of fallible, sinful human beings? Any lack of justice is a sure sign that we, the Church, have become adept in talking about the Gospel but have yet to take living it just as seriously. In her ongoing task of renewal, the Church must recover a robustly biblical, prophetic vision and conviction that justice is not accessory to the Gospel. Fortunately, in my own observations and ministry, I have seen that many young Christians are mending the gap that seems to have developed between “social justice Christians” and “liturgy and doctrine Christians.” This distinction is foreign to Aquinas and King, and the extent to which we buy into this split is the sign that we have allowed our faith to be compromised by the politics of the day. To offer one way of restoring this divide, in his letter Dr. King writes, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” What if we thought about our baptismal garment, symbolic of putting on the life of Christ, as also the Church’s “garment of destiny”? Salvation and justice are the garment that clothes the body of Christ, the Church.
One way of looking at Dr. King’s quote about the moral arc is to see it as a challenge that is not “way out there” in the universe, but as an invitation to bend and mend our personal lives toward justice. What might it imply to bend our lives? A change of habit or lifestyle, resisting our initial unkind or selfish response or natural inclination, and going out of our way to change the trajectory of our relationship with other people, our nation, and even creation. This is the message of “integral ecology” Pope Francis teaches in his encyclical letter Laudato Si. Dr. King saw God’s providential hand at work on a cosmic level, and as Catholics, we recognize the need as disciples to participate in God’s grace, and that includes justice. Authentic justice takes work, effort, struggle, and at times—as many true prophets in Scripture and history have experienced—persecution. Not all of us are called to create justice in the same way, yet we are all called to create justice in some way.
Question for Reflection: What is one concrete step you can take to help create a more just situation in your family, school, workplace, or other sphere of influence today?
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.
From October 3rd until the 28th, 2018 bishops from around the globe are gathering in Vatican City for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod is an assembly of the world’s bishops who assist the pope by offering insights on important questions the Church is facing in a manner that preserves and promotes her teachings. A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called “Ordinary” if its topic is “for the good of the universal Church” and seems to require the “learning, prudence and counsel” of all the world's bishops. For October’s historic meeting, Pope Francis dedicated the theme to “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Although the young adults invited to participate were not voting members of the Synod, they had the opportunity to address the Order of Bishops as presenters and auditors. It can be useful to consider the gathering as a conversation that included involvement from bishops and small group sessions. These activities were a beautiful continuation of the dialogue and collaboration characteristic of the Second Vatican Council: of a Church embracing renewal throughout the Body of Christ.
Yet the vast majority of the Church was not in the Vatican participating in small groups, sharing experiences, or making presentations. While the meeting has been significant in its own right, it may not be on the forefront of most people’s minds a city—let alone an ocean—away. As we wait for the working documents of the meeting to be finalized and published, we may be asking how we can best support the work of the Synod from afar. As a young person myself, I think it is incredible that this demographic is being discussed and studied at length by the Church. The Synod inspires a unique opportunity to ponder young people’s place in the Church and world.
The typical young person is preoccupied with studies or work, family and social obligations, and sorting out his or her place in an ever-changing world. Thanks to technology, the world is better connected in some senses, though what occurs daily in our physical sphere tends to represent the extent to which a young person may physically engage with the outside world. Why think about faraway gatherings when there is plenty to deal with right in front of you? You may also wonder, Why would anyone care about little ole me and what I do?
But that’s exactly what—and who—the Holy Father is interested in hearing about. Over a year before the Synod was scheduled to meet, Pope Francis released his Letter to Young People and invited youth to “Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.” To help facilitate gathering the input of young people, the Vatican Synod Office launched a special website and survey which invited responses that were incorporated into a working document. Furthermore, Pope Francis issued his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world, which directly relates to the vocational aspects of the Synod.
Seeking for something more concrete? Look no further than your own parish! The walls of a church are not designed to keep persons out, but to gather them in to live more actively in Christ and the Church Universal! Never doubt the awesome power of prayer: interceding for not only the participants of the Synod, but those around you whose needs you may know personally. Go a step further and offer your gifts, talents, time, and presence as a young person and give witness to charity. Show the world that young people are not self-absorbed but active and invested in promoting the good of humanity. Find others who want to make a difference. Invite them to pray with you, to volunteer in service, to catechize, and even just to share in the joys and fun of youth. Demonstrate that youth is not just a period of transition, but an opportunity to channel passion and energy in a meaningful and responsible way for the Church and world.
A lesson from the 2018 Synod is that the Church wants to better minister to young people! Recognizing young people as a treasure not merely for the future, but for the Church here and now signifies their potential and important state in life. Instilling the values of the Faith in young people inspires them to more actively discern God’s call for them in holy vocations. The world is not perfect—neither is the Church—but recognizing the good that can be brought about and the ability to pick oneself up after falling short is a great gift God has uniquely given young people to witness! By growing in our vocation to holiness, we fulfill the mission and dream of this year’s Synod. What a joy it is to see young people take to heart the holiness that God has called them to.
To learn more about the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower/ hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” During my junior year at Chaminade High School, Bro. Stephen Balleta, S.M. drilled these hallowed words of William Blake deep into the recesses of my brain. I’ve kept that stanza from The Auguries of Innocence neatly tucked away, perhaps in the same aisle of my mind as the such and such causes for World War I, the date of the Battle of Hastings and when to use affect as opposed to effect. Trivial though it may have seemed at the time, some six years later these words have finally manifested their power. William Blake, in that short, un-rhyming and jumbled stanza has captured what it means to see the world sacramentally.
The infinite world captured in a grain of sand, the boundless beauty expressed in a wildflower, the gift of holding infinity in the palm of our hand and the paradox of fitting eternity into one hour all capture (to the extent that human speech and thought are able to communicate and conceptualize) – the essence of sacramental nature. A sacramental worldview is less like viewing the world through rose colored glasses and more like journeying through space and time in Dr. Who’s TARDIS; the inside is exponentially larger than its external appearance implies.
Somewhere alongside my knowledge of the Battle of Hastings and World War I is also a (working) definition of sacrament: a tangible sign of the invisible grace of God (cf. CCC 1131). Each of our seven sacraments has a clear and tangible sign (e.g. the bread and wine brought for consecration and the water and oil used in baptism) that manifests that salvific grace which is otherwise beyond the grasp of our senses. A sacramental worldview, however, should extend beyond the liturgical function of our seven sacraments; rather, it should extend the sacraments themselves.
Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things. Furthermore, viewing the world through “sacramentally-tinted glasses” would mean seeing the very world itself as sacramental; it would mean recognizing our lives and everything that they contain as the gift that they are. Indeed, it would mean seeing this world, our fallen world, for what it truly is: a tangible sign of the invisible and salvific grace of God. That being said, the question is not so much what it means to live with a sacramental worldview, but rather how this worldview will change the way we act.
Every grain of sand is a window to the self-giving and creative essence of our God, every wildflower a taste of His beauty; we hold infinity in the palm of our hands before the reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament and eternity in an hour with each liturgy. Perhaps the Brothers at Chaminade knew what they were doing after all.
Patrick J Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.