Today we celebrate the 83rd birthday of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray for his continued health and leadership in our Church.
Having a birthday near the holidays must be pretty hard to bear as a child, and maybe even sometimes as an adult. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated, and sometimes they can be overshadowed by other holiday celebrations! My sister has a birthday on Christmas Day and she never seemed to be able to celebrate the same ways I could (my birthday is over the summer). I always felt bad and try to still make it special for her - even now that we are adults. Although we know Pope Francis for his humility and selflessness, I’m sure even he has found it hard to celebrate his special day from time to time. We celebrate birthdays as a way to mark our growing one year older, but I’m sure with a birthday so close to Christmas, his focus has often been on Christ. I would imagine, in his ministry, our pope has reflected on the significance of their birthdays being so close and how he can look to the purpose of the season over his own celebrating.
Let’s also reflect on this now. How can we make Jesus’ birthday especially meaningful this year? In what ways can we strive to “celebrate” with Christ? What implications does Christmas have on my upcoming year as I continue to grow in my faith?
“The reason for the season” is a common phrase we hear at this time of the year— a helpful little rhyme to keep us thinking about Jesus’ birth. The purpose of the Son of God coming to Earth was to save us all from our own sins, yet we so often confuse this time with shopping deals and stressful holiday travel plans. Our Lord doesn’t need any of that. He doesn’t need physical gifts—he needs our hearts. He doesn’t need perfection—he yearns for our humble, raw, and disheveled selves. He doesn’t need displays of lights and blow-up snowmen—he needs us to shine his light in the darkness.
In order to celebrate his birth, we must first put aside the distractions and concerns that keep us away from prayer and peace at Christmas. The meaningful celebrating that we should be doing for Christ isn’t wrapped up with bows and shiny paper, but includes finding time to appreciate and pray about our Lord’s coming. The celebration for an ordinary person may be tied to cake, candles, and presents, but as Pope Francis would likely agree, celebrating Christ comes from the heart.
One way I’ve found to celebrate Christ’s birthday amidst the hustle and bustle of the season is by listening to joyful, instrumental Advent and Christmas music. Something about it makes me feel so peaceful and filled with the joy of Christ that I almost prefer it to lyrical Christmas music on the radio or Spotify! Another practice I’ve found to be helpful is focusing on the giving aspect of Christmas. I feel better giving rather than getting things. My favorite way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is to share the gift of the Christmas story with my young Pre-Kindergarten students. Having been blessed to work in a Catholic school, I’m able to share the incredible birth story of Jesus Christ and to teach those beautiful little minds about God’s promise of love to the world. When I sit back and realize the gravity of my role as a catechist to these children, I feel humbled by it. My heart soars, it prepares my soul for Christmas, and I’m reminded of this holy birthday from so long ago in Bethlehem.
As we look toward a new year, both for Pope Francis and for us Catholics, we are reminded that Christmas is only the beginning of Christ’s work on Earth. His ministry will begin at a wedding as an adult farther down the line, and his death and Resurrection happen even later than that.
We know Christ’s birthday was celebrated by angels sharing the Good News. We know there were shepherds who also heard about Jesus’ birth, and finally three wise men who followed the star to where Jesus was born. This new year has so much faith-filled potential to allow us a chance to listen closely to how the Gospel message tells us to love and to share our love with those we meet. We can show God’s love to all by living out each day as apostles who share the Good News.
So today, on this 83rd birthday of our pope, keep him in your prayers. Pray for continued faithful leadership in our Church at this tumultuous time in our world. Pray for his health, that he may find strength in Christ and remain well.
Feliz cumpleaños, Papa Francisco!
For more resources to accompany you this Advent and Christmas, please click here.
Krissy Pierno is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington.
How can we implement the Gospel? Although this is a difficult question, it is a very important one to answer. For us Christians, it is not enough to hear the Gospel. We are called to put it to action in our own life. Sometimes it is difficult to take action. How should one do it? The good news is that we are not alone in answering this question. We have examples of many who have asked it themselves and used their lives to answer it. Every time the Catholic Church declares a person blessed or a saint, she gives us an example of how the Gospel can be lived. Blesseds and saints are role models for our faith journey. Even if every one of us has to find out individually what God is calling us to and how to live the Gospel, the blesseds and saints can help us learn how to answer this call. How can the soon-beatified Pallottine Father Richard Henkes, S.A.C. be an example for our life and for our quest for God? When I read Fr. Henkes’ biography, I learned that he tried to live out the Gospel even when it seemed inconspicuous and less effective. Three situations in his life illustrate this.
The first event took place when Father Henkes was a teacher at a Pallottine school. At this time, Nazi idealism had become stronger in Germany and ultimately reigned the country. Father Henkes saw the faith as a guide for young people who were confronted with the race theory that claimed the superiority of one people over others. Father Henkes knew that even small actions could have a big impact, for better or for worse. As a teacher, he gave the whole class a punishment for laughing at a child who used a Czech word; at this time, the Czech language and the Czech people in general were looked down upon. This might be a small incident, but Father Henkes saw it as his responsibility to intervene for the rights of the child and for the equality of human beings: he used his position as a teacher to go against inhumanity and injustice and brought the Gospel to life.
Furthermore, Father Henkes used his work as a pastor to combat injustice. In his homilies, he spoke clearly against the Nazi ideology and their contemptuous acts, and he even got several warnings from the authorities about his preaching. In 1935, Father Henkes had confrontations with the Gestapo (secret state police) because he said in his sermon that the Nazi image of humanity was wrong. He knew that, if he continued, the government would prosecute and punish him. Though he may have been afraid, he did not stop because he was sure that he had to say and do whatever was possible against the Nazi regime. In his eyes, it was not right to stay indifferent to inhumanity, injustice, and murder, and to believe at the same time in God and God's infinite love for all people. Therefore, he continued to criticize the Nazis in his homilies, to speak publicly, and to encourage the people who agreed that the Nazis were wrong. Because of this, Father Henkes got arrested and deported to the concentration camp in Dachau.
Finally, once in the concentration camp, Father Henkes also cared for the sick. When the war was almost over and the concentration camp was close to being freed, a typhoid epidemic broke out. Father Henkes volunteered to care for the infected people, most of them Czech. He did not have to. He was not forced to do it and he willingly experienced the inhumane conditions because he saw the care of the sick as his duty. It is clear that he lived the Gospel in the concentration camp: he brought a little bit of humanity and compassion into that hellish place.
Father Richard Henkes is a role model for me because he was moved by God in such a way that the Gospel poured out into his daily life. He did not wait for a big opportunity to preach the Gospel; he did what he could in particular moments of his life. He did not stop hate after he punished the class in the school where he taught. He did not prevent or stop the war by preaching against the Nazis. He did not free those in the concentration camp by caring for the sick. But I really believe that he brought the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to people around him in every one of these incidents. He cut the circle of cruelty for the one pupil in the school, his parishioners, and the sick in the concentration camp. Not all of us are a teacher, priest, or nurse. But all of us are called to do what is needed in the situations we are given, according to our capabilities. In doing so, the Gospel will become reality.
To learn more about the beatification of Father Richard Henkes, S.A.C. please click here.
Marcus Grabisch, S.A.C. is a German Pallottine student. He holds a Masters in Theology and has been in the U.S. for 10 months studying English and collaborating with the Catholic Apostolate Center.
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.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington, D.C.
On May 31st, our Church celebrated the Feast of the Visitation—that hallowed moment when Elizabeth was greeted by her cousin Mary and when Scripture tells us that the infant leaped in her womb. We hear that the very first thing that Mary did after she was visited by the angel Gabriel was go and visit her cousin Elizabeth.
The line that always sticks out to me from this Gospel account of the Visitation is: “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste.” Mary did not just travel to visit her cousin - to celebrate the faithfulness of God and what He had done for her – but she traveled immediately, quickly, and with haste.
Not only did Mary know that the good news of the Incarnation - of God dwelling in her very womb - was too good to keep to herself, but she also knew of the importance of showing up for those whom she loved most. One of the things I believe most firmly about our lives as Christian disciples is that when we encounter the faithfulness of God (either in our lives or in the lives of those around us) we are called to share it with others.
It can be all too easy to think that the stories of Mary and Elizabeth - one conceiving by the power of the Holy Spirit and the other receiving the gift of a child after being called barren - is some far off story that happened 2,000 years ago and not something applicable to us. We must ask ourselves: Where have I experienced the faithfulness of God in my life? Where have I seen it around me? Where am I being called to share it? Am I making haste to get there?
I was lucky enough to attend a school called Visitation High School; as you drove up the main drive to our school building, there was a beautiful statue of Mary and Elizabeth embracing. Every day I was reminded of the great joy that they shared with each other and ultimately the peace that came by believing that what was promised to them would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45).
In our hurting, broken, and messy world, we could use more moments of making haste. Making haste to show up for a friend that we know is suffering. Making haste to share the good news of Jesus with a family member or friend. Making haste to celebrate our loved ones even while we experience sorrow or hardship.
It is the great privilege of the Christian to make haste like Our Lady, to show up and to share the good news that,“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:49).
Lauren Scharmer holds her Masters of Social Work from the Catholic University of America and currently serves as the Director of Youth Ministry for Saint Louis Life Teen.
"Christmas is joy." -Pope Francis
What is the joy of Christmas? It is the joy of our encounter with Jesus Christ! There is plenty of manufactured joy that is fleeting, especially during the Christmas season. The joy that we experience in the love of Christ, though, is eternal. It is not simply happiness in a thing or a moment. Our joy is the Good News of salvation in Christ, the Incarnate One, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Look at a scene of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. In that humble moment, God comes as an infant child for one reason and one reason only, for us to have the opportunity for salvation.
The rarely sung third verse of the Christmas carol, O Holy Night, reminds us of the joy and freedom that come from Jesus Christ:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His Holy name!
Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!
We at the Catholic Apostolate Center pray that you may experience the joy, freedom, love, and peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at Christmas and always!
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D.Min. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
A few years ago, I was backpacking through the desert of northeastern New Mexico. On one particular day, we were going to climb the tallest mountain of our trek, Baldy Mountain, at an elevation of 12,441 feet. As we got higher, the climb became more difficult with thinning air and more challenging terrain. As we neared the summit, I ended up in front of the crew. Just as we reached the summit, our crew leader, Jordan, literally gave me the final push to the top. At that moment, we were on top of the world and gleaming with joy! While on the mountaintop, we could see for miles. As we reveled, I paused and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving. One couldn't help but be amazed at God's great creation. As we rested, having a quick snack and some water, we saw some storm clouds starting to roll in and were forced to descend quicker than anticipated. Eventually, we would finish our 110 mile trek—with Baldy Mountain being one of the greatest highlights.
Whenever I hear the story of the Transfiguration, my mind immediately goes to this time in the mountains. Because of this experience, I feel as though I have walked with Peter, John, and James. At the moment I reached summit, I caught a glimpse of the glory of God. I saw a small part of the transfiguring power of Jesus. I went from a hiker to a pilgrim in a matter of seconds. My trek now had a greater significance. It was no longer just a physical challenge, but one that would cause me to go on a religious quest in God's great creation. This is what I see in last Sunday's Gospel, which is a reminder of the splendor of Jesus. Usually by this point in Lent, I am more concerned about avoiding the things I have given up and less on Jesus. The Transfiguration is a reminder of why we enter the Lenten season: to see the face of Jesus. He helps us transfigure ourselves into being more loving, more merciful, and more perfect humans.
If we look at the beginning of Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus gives his mission to the Apostles. He tells them to go out and proclaim the Good News. It is after the Transfiguration that he reveals more of his glory. We, too, have the same experience. These experiences come in a number of different ways. They are often brief personal moments that can happen anywhere. Personally, I often find them in interactions with individuals. It can be serving the poor, being with a friend during a difficult time, or smiling at a stranger in the grocery store. From the moment of our baptism, we are sent out into the world as apostles and then along the way we consistently experience his glory. This encounter can happen anywhere and at anytime.
I also appreciate Peter's role in this Gospel. Rather than being amazed at the splendor of Christ and the conversation between him, Elijah, and Moses, Peter suggests they pitch tents for the three. Doing so would completely defeat the purpose of the meeting. His transfiguration is an affirmation of his identity as the Messiah and is meant to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I often find that I say something at the wrong place or time. That is exactly what Peter does here. He means well, but doesn't see what is in front of him: the glory that Jesus has revealed. In his humanity, Peter often does this, yet Jesus still loves him. Especially during the Year of Mercy, we need to be reminded that we, too, can be like Peter and that is okay. We often don't see the splendor in front of our eyes. But we know that we are loved by God, who is the Infinite Love. When we invite God to enter our hearts, we can see the spender of God. Like the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, said "Seek God and you find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God in always and you will always find God."
As we go on this week, we should be looking in our own lives to see the transfiguring power of Christ. It may not be a major event, like last Sunday's Gospel, but in the small things. If we keep our hearts open this Lent we will find God anywhere.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, click here.
Pat Fricchione is the Research & Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“Deeds done well.” Note the emphasis that St. Vincent Pallotti places on how things are done. Too often there are many deeds that are not done well. They are done in a half-hearted, almost mechanical way. This is a “maintenance” mentality, as noted by the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. A missionary mode of operating, as emphasized by the Synod and by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, was at the core of the actions of St. Vincent Pallotti. Today is Pallotti’s feast day. As founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an association of lay people, consecrated persons, and clergy, a part of which is the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers), he understood the need for all Christians to be people of action, apostles of Christ.
Today in Washington, D.C., thousands and thousands of people are taking to the streets in a show of action for life. One of the things that characterizes this effort is the joy that those who participate show in witness to life. Sometimes people of action, including Catholics, do not show joy in their actions. Joyful action will draw others, invite others, unite them, and send them forth to collaborate for the good of the Church and for the world.
As we celebrate today the feast of the Patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, I invite you to reflect on the the words of St. John Paul II and to do many deeds to make them a reality:
“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world” (Homily of June 22, 1986).
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Fr. Frank Donio S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
"The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it."
These words come from the opening lines of the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem), one of the nine decrees that come out of the Second Vatican Council. They are quite moving and powerful documents that were handed down to us by the council fathers. This particular document on the laity shows that the Church is dependent on the apostolate of all people. But the term “apostolate” seems so daunting; clearly the word is rooted in the idea of being an apostle. I tend to think back to the Twelve Apostles, which creates a certain amount of anxiety. How can I even think about living up to the great examples of these twelve? Yet they are our example, and our apostleship is essential to the life of the Church.
In the Church we tend to use the word apostle quite a bit and in many different ways. It appears in terms such as: apostolic, apostolate, and apostleship. To find a secular answer, I looked up the word “apostle” in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. In using a dictionary, my hope was that I might come to a better understanding of what it means to be an apostle. The first definition that I came across for apostle was "one sent on a mission." This first meaning really helps expand the idea of the New Evangelization in simple terms. The discovery of this definition led me to formulate the following question: "What is our mission as baptized Catholics?" This is a very important question that has been the subject of major debate. A simple answer is that we are called to go out into the world around us and proclaim the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ. How this is accomplished is a decision that must be made by each one of us. We must find our own niche in the greater mission of Christ. We have been given a divine mission that we must go out and complete.
An interesting dilemma of this universal apostolic call is that for some reason people tend to shy away from it. I think that people tend to think that they are not worthy of such a calling or that they are not holy enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have all been given the necessary gifts from God to be able to be an apostle. These gifts are not always automatically known to us. Because of this, it is essential that we go out into the world and discover what our God-given talents are. Once we have become aware of our gifts, the task at hand becomes more manageable and attainable.
Personally, I have found that being an apostle in the world today can be quite difficult. Through my active search and prayer to recognize the gifts and talents God has given me, I have discovered that I am someone who is easy to talk to. In response to this realization, I make myself available for people, especially my close friends, and I make sure that I both listen and give general advice when necessary. Doing this, however, can be difficult because there are many instances when time is limited, and I need to make a decision about what to put on hold. This can be difficult, so I stop to think about the things on my agenda versus the needs of the person seeking my counsel. Taking this time to reflect makes the decision quite clear.
I developed a series of questions that has helped me in this process. I’ve found it very beneficial to go over them every now and again, particularly during the Lenten season. The questions are: Do I understand what it means to be a true apostle of Christ? Do I have an understanding of my mission at this current time in my life? Am I making decisions that help in my mission? Do I understand the gifts that God has given me to fulfill my mission? Do I thank God for these gifts and abilities?
My hope is that you find these questions as helpful as I have. Mary, Queen of the Apostles, pray for us!
Pat Fricchione is the Research & Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.