My husband and I lingered in the Church a tad longer than usual the last Sunday of Christmas. We were taking in the beauty of the liturgical season—the lights, trees, colors, the Nativity—ultimately basking in the hope that is born from the Word made Flesh who dwells among us. To be frank, we were also lamenting the season of Ordinary Time that was next, followed by the Lenten Season. We were lamenting the transition from the hope-filled season of Advent into the Lenten journey that leads to Good Friday, where the babe in the manger becomes the suffering servant on the Cross.
With Advent lasting for the shortest amount of time this year, and Lent approaching quickly thereafter, I find I am still reflecting on the Mysteries of the prior Christmas season. I suppose I am still sitting in my parish church reflecting on the Wise Men bringing the Child Jesus gifts, reflecting on the idea that a child caused conversion. Highly educated adult men encountered a baby in a stable for animals, and this encounter prompted a change of heart. I would prefer to stay in that time of hope and joy rather than enter into the gore and the sacrifice of the Passion.
A few weeks ago, I was reading a reflection in the Magnificat, a daily Mass companion, about the conversion of the Thief on the Cross. The author mentioned that the thief went through a conversion upon encountering the Lord, bloodied, beaten, on the verge of death. The author asks, “What is it that brought the conversion to the thief?” Jesus was in a position of shame, and yet the thief sought repentance and salvation. How could this be? Jesus as the Messiah would have been hard to believe based on His appearance and vulnerability on the Cross, particularly to a thief who had lived a life worthy of crucifixion.
Jesus as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and Jesus on the Cross have the ability and desire to convert souls. Jesus is Lord in every season. He wants our hearts. Christmas seems so beautifully packaged; it can appear that Jesus as a child is sweeter, warmer, more approachable. Yet the story of the Good Thief shows that Christ can also be approachable in his ability to suffer with and for mankind. The thief’s conversion on the cross invites us to approach the bruised and beaten Lord with our own trials and hardships. I was fearful to head into the darkness of Lent, forgetting that Jesus wants to be with us, in His vulnerability, even in our difficult times. Whether we are fleeing suffering, undergoing trial, or in a stagnant time spiritually, we must not put limits on Jesus’ desire for closeness with us, especially as we enter into the season of Lent.
If you are struggling with the beginning of the Lenten season, desiring to stay back in the light and joy of the Christmas season like my husband and I, remember that Jesus wants to enter into your Lenten journey, into each season of your life. If you open yourself to him as the Good Thief did on the cross, he can and will grab your attention and be present to you during this season of fasting and preparation. Let us pray for hearts that are open to God’s graces during Lent, open to an encounter and conversion with Christ during every season of the heart.
Question for Reflection: Are you struggling to enter into the Lenten season? How can you more deeply invite Christ into your Lenten journey?
Click here for resources to accompany you throughout your Lenten journey.
A little more than 100 miles south of Berlin, Germany, just north of the Ore Mountain Range, lies the small town of Lomnitz. In the early 20th century when millions of Europeans journeyed to the United States in search of a better life, a small group of immigrants from Lomnitz was processed through Ellis Island. To those immigrants, the United States federal government assigned the last name “Lomnitzer.” Just as those from New York are called New Yorkers, so too were those from Lomnitz to be called Lomnitzers.
Although I am not German by blood, there is a special place in my heart for the small town of Lomnitz and the group of Lomnitzers that settled in America. When my paternal grandfather was born, he was left by his biological mother at the doorstep of a convent. The loving nuns found a home for the baby and he was adopted as an infant. He then became Charles Lomnitzer, a beloved member of the Lomnitzer family. It is through the generosity of the Lomnitzers that I, Tyler Lomnitzer, three generations removed, have a wonderful life and continue to bear the family name with honor and gratitude.
The Lomnitzers recognized the dignity of each and every human person. Charles’s biological mother was unable to care for him, but the Lomnitzers nevertheless saw Charles as a gift and blessing to their family. Just as America provided a beacon of hope and the promise of a better life to the Lomnitzers, so too did the Lomnitzers provide a beacon of hope to my grandfather.
I found the story of my family to be a powerful moment of prayer last Thursday, January 18 during the annual Vigil Mass for Life. The Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. the night before the annual March for Life. Packed into the basilica were thousands of Catholics from all over the country who had gathered to pray for the legal protection of the unborn and for an increase in the recognition of the sanctity of life from conception until natural death. We gathered under the leadership of the bishops—Cardinal Dolan from the Archdiocese of New York was the celebrant and homilist—to come together as a Church in fellowship and prayer. It was the nuns’ prayer and commitment to life that found a home for my grandfather and paved the way for my life in this world; it will be the prayer and commitment to life of all those present at the basilica that will lead to (God-willing) thousands of beautiful lives to come. It was also the prayer and commitment to life of the Lomnitzers that allowed them to find room in their home for a little boy who needed parents. The Lomnitzer lineage is my lineage, not by blood, but by love.
Please join me in prayer for all those who need parents, or lack other necessary means of survival.
Question for Reflection: What are some ways that you can touch the life of someone you encounter so that the other might recognize their own life’s gift and sanctity?
“I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give the king.” -The Little Drummer Boy
What do I have to give to the Lord this Christmas? It’s a question I find myself asking as we hum along the Advent season. Amidst the beautiful lights, the Advent wreaths, the Christmas trees, and the dark nights, I turn to different types of Christmas music to help me prepare for the coming of Jesus.
I love the enchanting songs and hymns written specifically to prepare us for this season. I love songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “What Child is This?” and “O Holy Night.”
But lately, as I’ve been reflecting on what I have to give the Lord this Christmas, I think of another of my favorite songs: The Little Drummer Boy.
It’s a simple song. A little drummer boy is invited to meet the Newborn King and offers to play for him. It’s a touching story that has become almost like a Lectio Divina meditation of the birth of Christ for me throughout the years. This song places me easily within the scene: a cold, dark night, the smell of strewn hay, the breath of cattle, a humble couple, a group of shepherds, and then, a manger holding Christ Himself: the Creator, the Savior of the World, the King of Kings.
In my meditation, I take the place of the little drummer boy. He, like Jesus, is poor and humble. Upon seeing the gifts of the magi and the recipient of the gifts, he reflects, “I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give the king.” He has no frankincense or myrrh, no gold or silver. He has only himself and his drum.
Most of us are like the little drummer boy. The question he asks is the question that resounds in each of our hearts. What could we possibly give to the God of everything? What gift could we bring that’s fit to give the King?
The drum of the little drummer boy symbolizes his gifts and talents. It is perhaps his singular greatest treasure. And so, in his humility, with love and tenderness, he offers the Christ Child all he has: a song on his drum. The song almost prefigures the coins of the widow in the Gospel of Mark. The little drummer boy, like the widow, gives his greatest treasure. In response to the widow’s offering, Christ says, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest.” Christ’s smile in the song of the Little Drummer Boy seems to signify the same.
These are the greatest gifts the Lord asks of us: what we hold most dear, the beautiful gifts and talents he has bestowed on us, what makes us ourselves. We love him best, we glorify him best, when we give of ourselves and strive each day to become the man or woman he has created us to be.
What can we give the Newborn King this Christmas? Our hard work, our sleepless nights, our chores around the house, the virtues we’re working to perfect, our acts of faith, hope, and love. We can give him our time in prayer, our offerings at Mass, our acts of service to those around us, our talents in art, business, and sports.
The little drummer boy’s reward for his performance is the smile of Jesus. What a touching, beautiful reward! It has led me to wonder what I can do for God each day to make Him smile. Imagine if this were what motivated each member of the Body of Christ – what a vibrant Church of missionary disciples we would have! May this be our goal during the Advent season: to make the Christ Child smile in the giving of ourselves. As we continue to prepare for the coming of Jesus on Christmas, I invite you to reflect on what you have to give the Newborn King. What is your drum? What can you do throughout this season to honor Christ? What are a few ways you can make the child Jesus smile?
For more resources to guide you through the Advent season, click here.
I distinctly remember a few years ago when I looked a friend in the eyes over coffee just prior to Advent and said, “I’m so grateful that Advent is about to start - I’m ready for other people to be waiting, too.”
The reality is that we spend a lot of our lives waiting - waiting for the light to turn green, waiting for a relationship to be mended, or waiting for the Lord to reveal more of His plan to us. The waiting is inescapable - and yet it is so easy to feel like waiting equals failure. Our world would have us believe a lot of lies about waiting - mainly that waiting means that God isn’t faithful, that He has somehow forgotten us.
There have been so many times in my life where I have believed the lie that God is not faithful in the waiting - that the waiting is wasted. In a season of life that contains its fair share of waiting, I have had to remind myself again and again that He is in the waiting.
As Christians, we know there is such a thing as waiting well— as not only seeking God in the waiting, but knowing that God is seeking us in the waiting. I’m sure that the relief that I experienced in that conversation with a friend a few years ago speaks a lot of truth about the ache of our own hearts - an ache that is lived out during Advent.
The Church gives us the Advent season not only to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord at Christmas, but to also remind ourselves of the beauty in the waiting. The beauty of being a Christian is that we CAN hope in the waiting - we can hope in the waiting because we know Who we are waiting for. “Let us allow ourselves, then,” Pope Francis encourages, “to teach hope, to faithfully await the coming of the Lord, and whatever desert we might have in our life will become a flowering garden.”
This Advent, I am going to breathe another sigh of relief and of gratitude that others are waiting with me, but that we have a God worth waiting for. May we as a Church wait hopefully for the coming of our Lord together, knowing that He is in the waiting. And may the desert of our waiting reveal to us, as Pope Francis said, a flowering garden this Christmas.
Recently, I experienced the end of a long and stressful month filled with travel. I was in and out of airports and cabs while working late on wonderful projects with talented people. Although I enjoyed the opportunity to share my time and gifts with others, I was exhausted physically and spiritually. The constant movement made maintaining a meaningful prayer life difficult. After coming home from my travels, I have worked hard to get back on track with my personal prayer and grow deeper in my prayer life. As I reflected on my own struggles, I began to think of ways to make a prayer routine easier.
Here are some tips I came up with. I hope they help and work for you as well!
Disconnect: We live in the 21st century. It is very difficult to totally shut off from the world. We are constantly being pulled away from prayer by the plethora of available information and the digital world. The majority of us are connected through some form (and, more likely, many forms) of technology and social media. Challenging ourselves to step away from the noise is important for cultivating a healthy prayer life. Even Jesus had to take time away from everyday life to pray (see Luke 5:16, Matthew 4:1, Matthew 14:13). Let us learn from Jesus and remove ourselves from the world from time to time, maybe for a weekend retreat or just for a few moments. Make the effort to be alone with Christ.
Be Intentional: How often do we squeeze a daily prayer in at the end of a long day? Is prayer usually an afterthought or the core of our spiritual life? Our prayer life can be so much more fruitful if we intentionally set aside some time each day for the Lord. I have only been married for 2 years, but something tells me if I only spoke to my wife a few moments at the end of the day, our marriage wouldn’t be as strong as if we intentionally set aside time to be with each other. Look at your schedule to see where and when you can best include some time for prayer and reflection. That time will become invaluable as you grow in your relationship with Christ.
Serve: Sometimes we only think of prayer, or speaking with God, as attending Mass or going to Adoration. Although those are fantastic places to start and continue meeting the Lord, we can also find Christ in our encounters with our brothers and sisters. Look for opportunities to serve at your local parish or diocese. Through these experiences, we have the opportunity to connect with Christ in a new way by helping others. Once a service project or event is completed, do not just put that experience up on a shelf. Reflect on what that experience meant. You will not only learn more about yourself, but also about how Jesus may be calling you to grow in your faith journey.
Having a good, meaningful, and joyous prayer life isn’t something unattainable, reserved only for priests and consecrated religious. It is something that we not only we long for, but that is also willed by God. The Lord wants to be in an active relationship with us. Let us be open and active in keeping God in our everyday lives by cultivating a regular prayer life.
Questions for Reflection: What are some ways you can incorporate prayer into your daily routine? Is prayer something you squeeze in or is it integral to your daily life?
For more information on developing your spiritual life, we invite you to visit our Prayer and Catechesis Resources page by clicking here.
“My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy.” -Christ to St. Faustina Kowalska (Diary, no. 699)
In one of my graduate theology classes, a professor defined mercy as “love which keeps loving in the midst of rejection.” Pope St. John Paul II further elucidates, “And is not mercy love's ‘second name,’ understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and, especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness?” This mercy, this type of love, often seems inconceivable. Christ himself concedes the inconceivable aspect of mercy to St. Faustina. He does not concede the impossibility of mercy, but places no limits on his own. God’s mercy is beyond comprehension. It is characterized by an unending, unfailing love for humanity—a humanity which has rejected him since the garden of Eden. From that moment and until today, God has worked and is working towards our salvation. His fidelity can be seen throughout Scripture and jumps from the pages of the Bible into our very lives. Jesus Christ is the face of mercy.
This Sunday, we especially celebrate the merciful love of the Father on the second Sunday of Easter – known formally as Divine Mercy Sunday since its establishment in 2000 at the canonization Mass of St. Faustina by Pope St. John Paul II.
Divine Mercy Sunday is a powerful celebration of the mercy of a God who sent his only begotten Son in expiation for our sins. We come to know God as the Father who stands in the field awaiting the return of his prodigal sons and daughters, the King who washes the feet of his bruised and dirty children, the crucified Lord who invites us to place our finger in his wounds, to see and believe.
This mercy is life-changing—a truth affirmed in stories such as the woman at the well or even that of the good thief on the cross. God’s mercy inspires us and strengthens us to be men and women on fire with love—to be missionary disciples proclaiming the wonder of salvation and the infinite goodness of God. This mercy affirms that we are loved, called, and chosen. It assures us that we have purpose and meaning, gifts and talents that can be used for building the Kingdom of God.
God’s mercy, however, is meant for more than our own personal benefit. God has shown us his mercy to show us the way back to himself. We are called, therefore, to emulate it. Christ’s mercy is our beacon, our model. We are called to live mercy, to be the face of mercy to our brothers and sisters—an impossible task on our own.
Christ makes the inconceivable conceivable by empowering us through the gift of Holy Spirit as he did at Pentecost, of which we read in this Sunday’s Gospel.
Christ breathes on those in the Upper Room, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Mercy, much like grace, is an unmerited gift of love from God. It is meant to lead us outward in love and mercy toward our neighbor. Christ also says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Therefore, this gift is not meant to be hoarded in the Upper Room, but to be carried out to the nations!
We see the concrete fruits of the Holy Spirit and of lived mercy in the early Church. In the first reading for Sunday, we read, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need.” The early Church was rooted in the understanding of mercy, which resulted in a strong communal life founded on works of charity. The early Church understood well how to be the face of mercy to a broken world.
This can seem like a daunting task. As John Paul II concedes, “It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self.” However, “This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God's love. Looking at him, being one with his fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness.” We love because we were first loved. We are merciful because we have first been shown mercy.
We are called, therefore, to carry this torch of mercy into the third millennium, into the here and now. We are all called to be missionary disciples spurred forth by God’s love. Let us, then, be rooted in “the breaking of bread and to the prayers”—in the Eucharist and prayer—in order to better receive and emulate daily God’s mercy. In so doing, we will have the courage and strength to go out into our hurting world, the field hospital, with the healing balm of God’s mercy. Let us make the inconceivable mercy of God conceivable by the witness of our lives. May our recurring prayer be always, as St. Faustina taught us, “Jesus, I trust in you!”
Question for Reflection: How has God revealed his mercy to you? How can you “be the face of mercy”?
To learn more about Divine Mercy Sunday, click here.
To learn more about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, click here.
Prayer, fasting, almsgiving.
At the heart of these Lenten pillars, we hear a call to go out and, as Pope Francis reminds us, encounter. In our prayer, we lift up the needs of our global family. Through our fasting, we empty ourselves, giving up something to make room for the needs of another. And in our almsgiving, we pour out our own gifts and resources so as to lift up those who are in need, near and far.
Lent is a time to remember that we are all part of God’s one human family, and that means we have responsibilities to one another. And we come to understand and fulfill those responsibilities by building a culture of encounter.
To build a culture of encounter, we must start from within ourselves, from our personal call to discipleship. God knows our true selves, desiring that we, too, discover the person God has called us to be. Through prayer, we encounter ourselves before God; we see ourselves as God sees us. And we realize that God delights in every member of our human family because God is truly present in each of us.
Jesus reminds us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To love another, we must come to know our own selves, our own hurts and triumphs, our own joys and challenges. What begins as an interior encounter necessarily goes beyond ourselves, challenging us to live in solidarity with people we may never meet. How can we hope to go to the margins, to accompany those who are most vulnerable and in need, if we haven’t properly wrestled with our own vulnerability, our own need? Only then can we recognize that each person we encounter can share with us some unique insight about our world, about ourselves and, ultimately, about our God.
We meet Jesus in the desert, a time of introspection and discernment before he begins his ministry. What has he gone there to accomplish? Luke tells us that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” There he fasts and prays—and the Enemy takes that opportunity to tempt Christ with those temptations we each encounter daily: material comfort, honor, and pride.
Jesus responded by trusting in God, by emptying himself of pride and power and ultimately rejecting the invitations of the Enemy.
We, too, can better understand where we are broken and turning away from whom we are called to be by following Jesus’ example and encountering ourselves through prayer and fasting. We may not go into a desert for forty days, but we can and should take the forty-day invitation of Lent as an opportunity to reorient our lives, examining how we are living in relationship with God and our neighbors.
That might mean coming to terms with troubling or disappointing truths. Can we, like Jesus, radically reject the offering of power, of influence? We all want glory, praise, a pat on the shoulder, but as Jesus turned away from the Enemy’s offering, so too must we. And then, where do we turn? We go to the margins with humility and compassion. Only by encountering ourselves can we then encounter our neighbors and build up that culture of encounter.
This Lent, let us commit ourselves to encounter one another anew, to encounter Christ anew. Let us commit ourselves to giving more readily and more freely—whether of our time, our resources, or our finances. Let us commit to forty days of transformation, ready to encounter Jesus in the desert, and to commit to bearing whatever fruits that encounter sows.
Continue reflecting with CRS Rice Bowl by downloading their app or visiting their “Stations of the Cross Digital Retreats” page.
Leadership is essential for a healthy and holy Church. From St. Peter to Pope Francis where would our Church stand today without the great and gifted leaders through the centuries?
Leadership in the Church, including local parishes, is not immune from the kinds of temptations leaders face in any institution. Based on my experience, I’d like to consider three temptations many leaders face framed by J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings series. It is my hope that understanding and being aware of these temptations will lead to a stronger, more unified Church grounded in the love of Christ.
The Pursuit of Power
“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)
Tolkien’s story relies on some rather homely and “weak” characters—hobbits—to carry out a great task: destroying the magic ring to save Middle Earth. We normally identify leaders by their exceptional strengths and talents. We use popular tools like strength and personality finder tests to help us identify our unique gifts. Using our gifts and talents to build up the Body of Christ is prudent and life-giving, but we should not too quickly assume God only wants to use our human strengths to bless or lead his Church. In fact, God often builds up the Church by using our weaknesses. He entrusted the building of His Church, afterall, not to the rabbis and scholars of his time, but to simple men, fishermen. As St. Paul frequently preached, cross-shaped leaders learn to live first out of their weakness and dependency on the power of the crucified Lord:
“Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong… I came to you in weakness… so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:26-27; 2:3,5).
Knowing our weaknesses helps us as leaders to not fall into the temptation of the pursuit of power. Christ is glorified in our human weakness and can transform it for the building up of His kingdom.
The Allure of Ambition
“You are so wise and powerful, will you not take the ring?”
“No!” cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. “With that power I should have power too great and too terrible.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)
The allure of the ring is the promise of control, but the great wizard Gandalf understands the power of the ring inevitably ends up controlling the wearer. True leaders develop habits of cooperation and collaboration in ministry and are quick to deflect praise and thanks onto others. Because leaders are in a position to influence outcomes and events, however, some can be tempted to an unhealthy ambition.
Sometimes, it can be tempting to view parish ministry as a stepping-stone to a bigger, better career in the church or name recognition. Unhealthy ambition can also feed a spirit of competition and criticism between churches that undermines our call to communion.
One of my go-to prayers to combat this attitude is called the Litany of Humility. It is a good practice to periodically check our focus and drive. Does our work stem from a love of Christ and His Church? Are we seeking God’s greater glory or our own?
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
(The Fellowship of the Ring)
I had a friend who out of college was given the responsibility of the youth ministry program at his home church. Unfortunately, early on he made a financial mistake that ruined a popular trip and drew harsh criticism from parents and staff alike. Unable to cope with such treatment, he resigned from ministry shortly after.
Rather than seeing failure or mistakes as reasons to give up, these can be seen as important opportunities for growth and maturation. A young church is surely a sign of a healthy and growing church, but that doesn’t make it a mature church. While the freedom to take risks and make mistakes is an indispensable part of learning, leaders should surround themselves with team members who are varied and diverse in their ministry experience.
For those who are relatively new to working for the Church, I suggest finding a faithful mentor or spiritual director with whom you can share struggles and receive encouragement. As Tolkien notes above, the Church needs wise, mature men and women to walk alongside its young, teaching patience and perseverance in order to grow deep roots.
Thanks to many gifted and faithful leaders, our Catholic Church indeed has deep, strong roots. By knowing and understanding a few temptations leaders can face, we can help our Church become more faithful and stronger. Pray for our church leaders, that God may give them the grace to be wise, humble, gracious, and joyful examples of the call to be more obedient followers of Jesus.
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!
Praise God in his holy sanctuary; give praise in the mighty dome of heaven.
Give praise for his mighty deeds, praise him for his great majesty.
Give praise with blasts upon the horn, praise him with harp and lyre.
Give praise with tambourines and dance, praise him with strings and pipes.
Give praise with crashing cymbals, praise him with sounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD!
- Psalm 150
Back in high school, my primary extracurricular activities were band and drama club. I’ll always remember how our band teacher, Mr. Crocken, would begin every concert by reciting Psalm 150. Before any announcements or accolades, any thanks or congratulations, he would acknowledge the one from whom all our gifts and talents flow. Before all else, he gave a gentle but profound reminder of the importance of thanking God for our blessings at all times, especially through music.
As one would expect in a Catholic school, we began every meeting, whether a class, club, or team practice, with prayer. Our after-school drama club rehearsals were no different. Concluding prayer with the school’s traditional litany to our three patrons, the drama club also always added Saints Genesius and Cecilia, the patrons of actors and musicians. I’d always wondered why Cecilia was patroness of musicians and, since her feast day is today, I finally investigated.
Saint Cecilia, one of the most venerated of the Roman martyrs, is most well known as patroness of musicians. Despite having consecrated her maidenhood to God, she married a man called Valerian. During their nuptial Mass, she sang to God in her heart, asking for an angel to protect her virginity. When Valerian asked his bride for proof that she was protected by an angel, Cecilia sent him to the Appian Way to be baptized. There, he saw the angel and quickly became an evangelist, converting many to the faith before being martyred some time later. Cecilia’s martyrdom soon followed, ministering to the poor even on her deathbed. Since her canonization, Cecilia has been very much defined by that story of her singing on her wedding day. There’s even a musical conservatory in Rome, one of the oldest in the world, named after her.
It’s always struck me how music is consistently referred to, particularly in Church circles, as a means by which to glorify and praise God. When I think of the moments when my soul has been most moved, they frequently involve music. Pieces like Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and especially Schubert’s Ave Maria, move me even to tears more often than not. Why? They are beautiful works of art, to be sure, but the reasons they were written are far deeper. The composers used their craft to elevate the listener closer to God in a way that no other media seems able to match.
Pieces of music like those just mentioned seem to take root in people’s hearts in a very profound way. That’s why they’ve been integrated into everyday life over the ages. From the Gregorian Chant used in the Mass, to folk songs sung at table or around the fire, even to modern popular music, the common thread is that humanity is united by that universal language that speaks directly to the heart. In my own life, Handel’s Messiah is very dear to me. We sang it in choir when I was in college, I listen to it every year while trimming the Christmas Tree and “decking the halls”, and I join a group of friends every December 23rd for a sing-along performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Something about the piece moves me in a way I can’t really explain. But that’s the beauty of music!
St. Cecilia gave thanks to the Lord in her heart and with her voice. This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on the blessings God has bestowed upon us this year, let us follow the example of St. Cecilia and the Psalms and join everything that has breath and praise the Lord.
St. Cecilia, pray for us!
As I wrote this post, the Catholic University of America was preparing to celebrate Homecoming, when over 1,500 alumni and their guests returned to their alma mater. The weekend itself is a joyful occasion, a chance for classmates to catch up with one another and see what has occurred in the time since graduation. While life often takes alumni down different paths, Homecoming offers everyone the opportunity to reconnect with the place that, and the people who, helped launch the next chapter, whether it was one of service, religious vocation, family life, and/or employment. Homecoming itself reflects the willingness of the University to throw open its doors to welcome back all, no matter how long they’ve been gone or why they stayed away.
It’s a tried-and-true model and it’s along these lines that the Church opens her doors to those who might have fallen away, whether because of a poor experience or because of a lack of interest or engagement. Initiatives such as “Catholics Come Home,” or the Archdiocese of Washington’s “The Light is On For You,” and similar diocesan programs nationwide, seek to welcome back Catholics who have been absent from the life of the Church. The projected tone and nature of these programs is of authentic openness and welcome — free of any judgement or bitterness. The goal is to encourage those who have been away to re-encounter the perfect love and understanding of our Lord as manifested and offered by His Church.
The doors of the Catholic Church are open year-round for those seeking something better than what the world offers but there are moments in the liturgical calendar which emphasize and focus on refreshing one’s spiritual life such as Advent and Lent. Similarly, the invitation to participate in or observe the sacraments being celebrated can be an emotional catalyst for one to come back or renew his or her baptismal promise. Emotions, such as the awe of witnessing a reverent First Communion or religious profession, the joy of a marriage, or the hopeful rawness of a funeral, can move one to respond to a previously suppressed or unrecognized call to reconciliation with the Church. These “moments of return” can awaken a longing for an interior peace that only the Lord can provide. As Pope Francis encourages:
Maybe someone … is thinking: my sin is so great, I am as far from God as the younger son in the parable [of the Prodigal Son], my unbelief is like that of Thomas; I don’t have the courage to go back, to believe that God can welcome me and that he is waiting for me, of all people. But God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him… I have always pleaded, “Don’t be afraid; go to him; he is waiting for you; he will take care of everything.” We hear many offers from the world around us, but let us take up God’s offer instead: his is a caress of love.
Archbishop Sheen, the great evangelizer who brought millions around the world into an encounter with the Lord via his weekly TV program, Life is Worth Living, encourages us to seek out those who have everything to gain by entering into Christ’s body on earth but are currently missing out:
What was the first word of our Lord’s public life? That’s the key to preaching. It was ‘come.’ Come. Come to Me. Be enflamed with my Truth. Be on fire with my Love. And what was the last word of our Lord’s public life? It was ‘Go!’ First we come, then we go! (Sheen, “The Art of Preaching,” 1972)
Just as the gift of faith was freely shared with each of us, how enthusiastically, then, we must go and share the Good News with everyone on the highways and byways — we cannot keep it to ourselves! As we begin to prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth during the Advent season in a few weeks, why not invite someone to join you for the beginning of a new liturgical year — and the beginning (or rediscovery) of something deep within that person that can only be the desire to know our Savior. By doing so, by planting the seed of the Word in people’s minds and hearts, by boldly meeting people where they are in life rather than waiting for them to come to us, each of us who are sharers in the Church’s ministry can cause much rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:1-7). Let us embrace those who have been away for a long time, crying out, “Welcome home!”
Our country’s national anthem hails the United States as the “land of the free” in recognition of the many unique liberties and “inalienable rights” afforded to us, her citizens. One of these great gifts is the freedom of religious expression, that is, to be able to live out one’s faith without fear of persecution. Yet, recent times have seemed to cast a shadow over this right, and events of our time such as legal rulings and portrayals in the media would indicate that such freedoms are being curtailed. Throughout his visit to the U.S., Pope Francis encouraged us to nurture, promote, and defend the precious gift of religious freedom. Likewise, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has continued to encourage Catholics, other Christians, and all people of good will to set aside two weeks to reflect on religious freedom.
By the time this post is published, the Fortnight for Freedom will be concluding, having been started on June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. As Donald Cardinal Wuerl describes it, the Fortnight comprises of “fourteen days of prayer, education, and action. It is also a time for us to count our blessings… The challenge to live out our faith, the challenge simply to be who we are may at times seem daunting. But remember we’re a people of hope, we live in faith and we live in hope.” The theme for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.” As Archbishop William Lori noted, the USCCB invites us to look to the examples set in “the stories of fourteen women and men— one for each day— who bore witness to freedom in Christ, such as Bl. Oscar Romero, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Martyrs of Compiègne, and the Coptic Christians who were killed by ISIS last year.”
Each year, dioceses around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. To kick off the fourth annual Fortnight, for example, Archbishop William Lori celebrated the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Each year, the closing Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. with Donald Cardinal Wuerl being the main celebrant and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh serving as homilist. The Fortnight for Freedom reflects an understanding of the People of God that the right of religious expression must be protected against those who would negate it, not just for Catholics, but for people of all faiths.
As the Second Vatican Council noted, although we must respect the just autonomy of the secular, we also remember the truth that there is no aspect of worldly affairs that can be separated from God. On the eve of the first Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, acknowledged that the effort was viewed by many as partisan and exaggerated. He commented:
It is not about parties, candidates or elections, as some others have suggested… In the face of this resistance, it may be tempting to get discouraged, to second-guess the effort, to soft-pedal our message. But instead, these things should prompt us to do exactly the opposite, for they show us how very great is the need for our teaching, both in our culture and even in our own church.
In standing up for our right to religious liberty, let us make prayer a central component of our efforts—prayer not only for ourselves, but for the leaders of our country and its citizens whom we are called to evangelize. These freedoms handed down to us by the Founding Fathers are too important to take for granted. Efforts to scrub any reference to God or the faiths of those who built up this great Nation must be called out and overcome. Finally, throughout it all (and beyond the two weeks), each of us must remember that our strength does not come from ourselves, but that “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). May these two weeks, by the grace of God, help us to grow in wisdom, courage, and love, that we too might be faithful witnesses to freedom.
To learn more about Faithful Citizenship, please click here.
"To let our lives speak a story of evangelization, to live out the Gospel, we must humble ourselves like Mary who lived as a handmaiden of the Lord."
Does your life speak a story of evangelization?
I think about this question, and it is easy to think about the moments where I have really fallen short. I could have been kinder and more loving with a student who really needed me today. I could have been quicker to help a colleague in need. I know that I have missed clear opportunities to be Christ to others. As Christians in the age of the New Evangelization, we have been called more than ever to think about these moments and act with grace to better love God and share his love with others.
The story of the Visitation deeply teaches us about bringing Christ to others. Mary has just learned that she is with child; yet she travels to Judah after she finds out that her relative, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant in her old age. Although Luke does not elaborate on the details, we can only imagine the sacrificial love beaming through this selfless act: Mary, in her first trimester of pregnancy (which is often filled with morning sickness and other trials), gives up time at home to care for a fellow expecting mother. Her heart is filled with joyful love as she physically brings Jesus to Elizabeth and her family. She is the “Theotokos,” or God Bearer. Elizabeth affirms Mary’s faithfulness and the gift of bringing Christ to her:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:41-45
It is clear that Mary’s life speaks a story of evangelization to others.
Mary’s life and witness call us to be God Bearers to others, too. This may manifest in a physical way, as Mary physically brought Jesus in her womb to Elizabeth. During my time as a Catholic missionary for middle school and high school students, we reflected on the Visitation by bringing a friend to kneel with us in front of Jesus in the Eucharist in Adoration, physically bringing those we love closer to Christ. It was so humbling, and deeply moving to physically soak up Christ’s presence by being brought to him by someone you love.
Perhaps Mary’s evangelization story calls you to bring others to Christ physically in the Eucharist, inviting a friend to attend Mass or Adoration with you. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis explained in his Lenten message that “in the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited” (Pope Francis, 2015). Perhaps in your evangelization story you are called to serve those who need to know or be reminded of Christ’s love by your service. Whether directly or indirectly, as Catholics we trust that God makes every gift and sacrifice more perfect when done in his name.
To let our lives speak a story of evangelization, to live out the Gospel, we must humble ourselves like Mary who lived as a handmaiden of the Lord. When we submit to the will of God and “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), surely we make Christ’s presence more known to others.
Today we are called to let our lives speak a story of evangelization, just as the Visitation teaches us. We can entrust ourselves to Mary’s mission of bringing Christ to others, and know that through her patronage and guidance, our attempts to bring Christ to others will bear fruit in more lives than one. Pope Saint John Paul II entrusted his papacy to Mary with the simple prayer, “Totus Tuus,” or “totally yours,” knowing that Mary leads all hearts to her son, Jesus Christ. Let us, too, live in the spirit of the Visitation and follow the great evangelizers who have brought us closer to Jesus through Mary. Let your life speak a story of evangelization.
To learn more about our call to let our lives speak a story of evangelization, visit our New Evangelization Resources page.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C
Miraculously, the end of the school year has arrived. Certainly there’s been many a trial and challenge to endure and power-through, especially as dreaded final exams approached, but the close of a semester affords a unique phenomenon in the spiritual lives of students, beginning with attendance. The regulars, for example, at the late-night on-campus Mass will often be joined by those either taking a break from or just beginning their academic cramming. Of course, new faces are always welcome and, as the presiding on-campus priests would point out, are a particularly beautiful expression of faith.
Recognizing the limits of our gifts and talents, let us petition the One Who perfectly graced each of us individually with these gifts in order to properly apply them towards our endeavors! Rather than only calling upon God when we want His help, our prayers can be made in faith and hope and, no matter the results, comprise of praise and thanksgiving for all God has done for us. However, we cannot pray as if demanding results while doing no work on our own part. In theological terms, grace cooperates with nature. In other words, we do not live as Christians by sheer grace nor by nature unassisted, but in a mysterious way grace— the supernatural gift of God— works unseen and often unknown in our lives. This requires that we prepare ourselves to receive and be moved by grace and that we make sure to then act in such a way as to not squander such a gift.
Something that’s been helpful for me during difficulty or surmounting work is turning to the saints. In such times lies the opportunity for fostering a new devotion, especially to a saint who has faced similar challenges during his or her life. While I would continue to pray for the intercession of St. Joseph Cupertino, patron of students, and St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of the University, shortly before finals week, I was especially blessed this academic year to be able to visit the St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, the Pallottine-conducted nationwide center of St. Jude devotions, to petition the patron of desperate and hopeless cases. After a welcome, lunch, and tour those I was on pilgrimage with and I had the opportunity for private prayer. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity and humbly added my intentions to the baskets full of written prayers that had arrived from devotees across the country. I immediately remembered what was shared with us earlier that day: though the Pallottines could have abandoned the site and moved into a suburban neighborhood, they recognized the need for and pledged to remain and continue to minister from this place of refuge and solace in the inner city. The sheer volume of prayer petitions I saw showed me how important their decision to remain was. I was in awe to see the amount of faith people had to send in all those intentions each day to the shrine and recognized that many of them were actually in dire situations that were being placed at the feet of St. Jude.
As I got up to leave, I recalled the words of the “Memorare” prayer and perpetual promise of maternal love of the Blessed Mother. How surely, I reminded myself, would the Mother of God continue to intercede for me and grant me the strength to endure the closing of the academic year with open arms! Whenever we are weak, our Mother at once flies to our aid when we faithfully call upon her name!
Whenever you find yourself in a difficult or busy time, I invite you to call upon the help of the saints or ask for Mary’s intercession by praying the Memorare below:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help,
or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother;
to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
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.