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.
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.
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.
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).
Today is the feast day of St. Matthias, the only Apostle not chosen directly by Christ. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that after Christ’s Ascension, Peter stood before a crowd of disciples and declared that they needed to choose a disciple to replace Judas the betrayer in order to restore the number of Apostles to twelve. They chose two men who had followed Christ since his baptism, drew lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. Thereafter he was included among the twelve apostles. Beyond this brief mention, there is nothing conclusive known about St. Matthias—nothing about where he went to preach the Good News or whether he was martyred or where he died.
Minor figures in history have always piqued my interest—especially those who are barely mentioned but who nevertheless mattered enough to get mentioned at all. And St. Matthias, as a minor but thought-provoking figure in the New Testament, has always intrigued me for two main reasons. First, he reminds me of the dozens of followers of Christ who never get face time in the Gospels. After the Ascension, at the gathering when Matthias was chosen to be the twelfth Apostle, there were well over a hundred people in attendance. And out of that crowd there were several men who had followed Christ from the beginning—men whose names and occupations we will never know, but who, like Matthias, embraced Jesus’ mission and accepted even the most difficult of His teachings. They might have gone on to be martyred in the persecutions of the early Church or they might have only brought Christianity to their loved ones and neighbors as they quietly lived out their ordinary lives. The unnamed disciples, from whom Matthias was chosen, remind me that most of us are called to be the same—historically insignificant followers and witnesses of Christ whose lives may not be recorded in history books but whose work is more important than worldly accolades and technological advances.
The second thing I find interesting about St. Matthias is that his role among the Twelve could not have been easy for him to assume. Surely no one doubted Matthias’s loyalty to Christ, for Matthias had followed Him from the very beginning and had never been put off by any of Christ’s actions, as so many others had. But Matthias was suddenly elevated from a regular disciple to a leadership position; was that something he was prepared to take on, or did he feel out of his depth and intimidated by the Eleven, unworthy to be counted among men who had had such an intimate relationship with Jesus? Did the Eleven embrace Matthias as one of them immediately, or was there some friction because, although he was now counted among the Twelve, he had not had the same experiences of Christ’s earthly ministry? Was it difficult for Matthias to be replacing the one who had betrayed Christ—did he feel that he needed to prove himself? The Bible makes no mention of St. Matthias protesting his selection—He presumably embraced the burden and honor of the role given to him under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If I had been in Matthias’s shoes, I probably would have been reluctant to accept such a role of leadership in the fledgling Church, and I certainly would have wanted to prove myself somehow better or more worthy than my predecessor.
St. Matthias must have known the difficulties inherent in becoming the twelfth Apostle. He was effectively making himself a target for the enemies of Christianity, he was pledging himself to a difficult life of evangelization, and he would be leading alongside men who had known Jesus better than he ever had. Matthias must have known that his chances for suffering would greatly increase if he accepted God’s will; I know in my own life, I sometimes avoid doing things I am called to do because I can see that the graces I receive will come with a period of struggle or suffering—mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Especially on his feast day, I think most of us can reflect on how we could strive to be more like St. Matthias: we are all capable of greatness – if only we could follow Christ and accept what is asked of us without question.
"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!
Evangelization is a timeless vocation for all Christians. In our modern world, secularism surrounds us and sometimes it feels as though our Church can barely get in a word. Because of this, the current Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment could not have come at a more needed time.
Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” Isaiah responds, “Here I am…send me!”
As the youth of the Catholic Church, we are the present and future of the Church. We are called to exclaim “Send me!” and to spread the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and always! However, it would be foolish if we thought that every young person innately felt and understood this call.
The secular world has had an impact on my faith, beginning in my own home. Not every member of my family is a practicing Catholic, which has given my mother and me the opportunity to evangelize in our own house. A prime example of this is praying before meals. I was taught to pray before meals in high school and I continue to do so in college. When I came home for the first time during my first year of college, I struggled to pray before meals because I feared someone noticing me or judging me. Eventually, God gave me the strength to begin to share this prayer with my family and now it is a tradition that we have established together.
When he addressed young people at a meeting in the beginning of October (which I attended), Pope Francis said, “Make your way. Be young on the move, looking at the horizons, not the mirror. Always looking forward, on the way, and not sitting on the couch.” Our Holy Father reminds us in these words that our time is now to be consistent in our faith, live the Beatitudes, and serve one another in an effort to help each other grow.
“How can I do this?” you might ask. As Pope Francis said, the Synod Fathers will—and have already begun—to answer you. In the synodal document Instrumentum Laboris under the section titled Beyond Secularization, the Synod Fathers speak about the changing view of religion in the secular world. Quoting a Bishops’ Conference, the document states, “Many young people declare that they are looking for the meaning of life, pursuing ideals, searching for their own personal spirituality and faith, but they rarely turn to the Church.” Recognizing that every young person’s path towards the Church is different, the Synod Fathers propose that we focus on the “changed attitude towards religion,” moving away from a “liquid” form of faith to a more concrete belief.
Pope Francis uses the same metaphor in his response to the young people at the Synod rally I attended. He said, “Every road you make, to be reliable, must be concrete.” He continues, reminding us that “concreteness is the guarantee to move forward.”
Every day, we have concrete encounters with our surrounding world. How can we as Catholics take our faith and make it concrete to those around us? This call from Pope Francis reminded me that my everyday experience of studying in Rome (only a short walk from the Vatican) can be used in my own acts of daily evangelization, especially when I return to the United States. Sharing a concrete experience is “making a gift of oneself and participating in the proclamation of the Good News,” as the Preparatory Document for the Synod states.
We, as young people, are the present and future of the Church. She needs us to go out and make a difference. The salvation offered by Christ enables us to rejoice in this world, and the best way to do that is to spread His glory. Be concrete in your faith and you shall “renew the face of the earth.”
For more resources on the ongoing Synod, please click here.
To learn what it means to be a missionary disciple, please click here.
This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday (September 16th) is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” This day is a reminder that all of the baptized play a role in the mission of sharing Christ with others, whether that be through formal or informal ministry.
This mission seems pressing today. In Bishop Robert Barron’s 2018 message for Catechetical Sunday, he says we are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. In a Pew Research report, we see that Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics make up about 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This group of religiously unaffiliated individuals, or “nones,” is mostly concentrated among young adults, and the median age of unaffiliated adults continues to get younger. Of this population, those who describe themselves as agnostic or “nothing in particular” cite their top reason for not affiliating with a religion is that they question a lot of religious teachings. Having questions is actually an essential part of learning about and understanding the Catholic faith; only when we question can we begin to move beyond a lack of understanding and come to learn the truth of the Gospel. God desires for us to use our intelligence to come to know him before acting upon our faith.
The majority of young adults and “nones” find value in meaningful relationships over institutionalism and in authenticity over authority (Halbach). This shows us that the Church can engage the “nones” by forming relationships in order to accompany them along the journey of life. In the mission to bring Christ to others, we serve as authentic witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel through our lives. The Church needs the active participation of the laity to conduct outreach efforts in the everyday moments of our lives, both inside and outside of the Church. We were created to be social beings who can form relationships with others that will lead them to Christ and to the Church.
Much of this relationship building happens organically in our communities and parishes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my parish young adult group heard that the grandmother of one of our new members had passed away. After hearing this news, we wrote and signed a sympathy card to mail her. By this small act of love for our fellow sister in Christ, we were able to show our genuine care for her and our desire to welcome her back to church after her travels for the funeral.
As missionary disciples, we know that there is no one “right” path to building these relationships and caring about those around us. This allows us to share our innate gifts creatively with others in order to build authentic relationships. Furthermore, sharing our own faith stories of personal encounters with Christ helps us to accompany others on their faith journeys as well. We must show others that we love them through our actions rather than our words. Christ enlists us as his witnesses. This Catechetical Sunday, how can you respond to his call?
Questions for Reflection: Are we open to questions about our Catholic faith in helping ourselves and others come to know God? Are we preparing ourselves to be able to answer questions from others about the faith in a rational manner? What are some ways you can begin to build authentic relationships with others in your community or parish? How are you building personal relationships with others in context of your faith journey?
To learn more about living as missionary disciples, click here.
“GO, GONZAGA, G-O-N-Z-A-G-A!”
In recent memory, the basketball arena at Gonzaga University has been filled with that chant every season. Students and alumni alike gather together to celebrate their team, especially in March. People are excited—as they should be! Gonzaga is a Jesuit University in Spokane, Washington that is very well known for its basketball team. Every time they’ve made it to March Madness, there are always some commentators who ask, “Is it pronounced Gone-ZAY-ga, Gone-ZAH-ga, or gone-ZAG-uh” (it’s the latter, by the way). While Gonzaga is a great university and a great team, something that is often overlooked about the university is the great man for whom it is named. A man who, assuredly, would find it madness how many people are chanting his name every March.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, or “Luigi,” was born in Spain to an aristocratic family. As the first-born son, Luigi was raised to eventually inherit the entirety of his father’s fortune. Everything provided for him already, he was not required to work for a living. Instead, he was sent to the royal court at age ten to prepare for a life in the aristocracy. Yet, while serving the court, he saw the ways of nobility—filled with backstabbing, sex, and so many more things—and they seemed to him disgusting and vile. Exposed to and repulsed by these things, he vowed to God to never sin again.
Little Luigi began to read in the family chapel at court about the lives of the saints. At the age of 11, he read a book about the Jesuits, who brought the Gospel to India. Luigi felt invigorated. He too wanted to bring the Good News to India or Africa with the Jesuits. Even with the aristocracy all attempting to convince him to stay, and his father threatening violence, Luigi left home at 17 to go to Rome and join the Society of Jesus. Six years later, he was dead. Luigi had been sent on mission—but not to India, or Africa, or even anywhere outside of Italy. He died after being sent to help the people, plague-ridden and dying, on the streets of Rome.
While he was never ordained a priest, the epic journey of preaching the Gospel that Aloysius Gonzaga had dreamed about as a child did happen for him on the streets of his adopted home. Although young Luigi dreamed of serving the Lord in faraway, impoverish nations, the Lord showed him that even the people right outside of our windows need the Gospel. When we strive to live the Gospel, we must ask ourselves: have I shown the love of Christ to those around me? To my housemates and family members, to my neighbors a couple doors down? To those in my community? Not all missionary disciples are called to board a plane and serve abroad. Where ever our vocation takes us, we are called to be missionaries of Christ throughout our daily lives.
Aloysius Gonzaga was beatified fourteen years after his death for his heroic virtue, which he demonstrated through his chosen life of simplicity and trust in the Lord. Maybe it is appropriate that we chant his name every year—and maybe we can all imitate the Gonzaga who gave up his servants to be one himself.
A second wind is often an unexpected gift. Whether it is discovered during a run, study session, or some other activity demanding intense focus and effort, what at first seems daunting and impossible to achieve suddenly becomes possible thanks to newfound strength and endurance. A second wind, while surely appreciated physically or mentally, can also be applied spiritually. As the Church celebrates her birthday on Pentecost Sunday, we can reflect on the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit who was sent by God Himself to provide the fledgling Christian faith a much needed second wind as apostles prepared to bring the Good News of Christ to the entire world.
One of the Gospel readings for Pentecost details our Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples. In an earlier related chapter from John’s gospel, Christ Himself walks with the disciples and predicts His own Passion. He assures the disciples that they will not be abandoned as orphans, but will share in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity (John 14:15-31)! The consolation and comfort Jesus brought to those gathered in the Upper Room after His death and resurrection surely reminded them of this though He ordered them to not leave Jerusalem until “the promise of the Father” had been sent (John 20:19-23). It would not be until after Christ’s ascension, that the Holy Spirit would be sent upon the disciples and so enable them to carry out the Great Commission of our Lord, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” While Christ had sent out the disciples to evangelize before (see Luke 10:1-20, cf. Matthew 10), these efforts were limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Proselytizing the rest of the world would take place after the rejection of our Lord and would require grace to sustain the disciples through this incredible evangelical endeavor.
Today, the faithful are not only entrusted with this mission, but have also been baptized and confirmed with the same Holy Spirit as was promised to Christ’s first followers! The Holy Spirit is truly God and is inseparable from the Father and the Son. Though Christ is seen, it is the Spirit who reveals Him. Thus, both are on a “joint mission” to reveal the visible image of the invisible God (see CCC 689). The Holy Spirit invites us to better know the Father and Son. Each person of the Trinity more fully deepens our understanding of God. As the Catechism says:
Now God’s Spirit, who reveals God, makes known to us Christ, his Word, his living Utterance, but the Spirit does not speak of himself. The Spirit who “has spoken through the prophets” makes us hear the Father’s Word, but we do not hear the Spirit himself. We know him only in the movement by which he reveals the Word to us and disposes us to welcome him in faith. The Spirit of truth who “unveils” Christ to us “will not speak on his own.” (CCC 687)
The Holy Spirit continuously reveals Christ to us when we make an effort to listen. Similarly, when we recognize and cooperate with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we are better able to contemplate Christ’s teachings and the great Mysteries of Faith. When we face discouragement or are unsure of a decision we must make, we are in similar circumstances to those waiting in the Upper Room. The gifts of the Holy Spirit strengthen our faith and helps us to judge our situations prudently. The courage to continue Christ’s mission and not be defeated by discouragement or rejection is not only an incredible witness to the Church, but also a recognition that the Holy Spirit continues to work among us wherever we are in our journey of faith! Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord at His baptism to start His mission on earth, so too did Christ send the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the Upper Room as they began their ministry. Like the disciples, let us dare to be open to the Holy Spirit’s activity in our daily lives as a much needed second wind as we continue our Lord’s work so that at the end of our days, we may hear spoken to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant ... Come, share your master’s joy.”
Question for Reflection: Can you recall a moment when the Holy Spirit gave you the courage to continue through a difficult trial?
This year’s Advent was special for me; I have so much to be thankful for. My husband and I celebrated our first Advent season together, and are experiencing both the chaos and joy of the Christmas season. Joy for us is found in the little moments and in reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Something we found particularly joyful during the Advent season was sitting and writing out Christmas cards. Thinking about each of the people we were writing to and sharing our love with them reminded us of the love we give by spreading the Good News. The Christmas miracles of joy and giving are alive in those cards; and we hope they inspired our relatives and friends. For my husband, opening cards is a moment of celebration because he loves getting mail. That is the joy that we wanted others to experience this Christmas.
As we reflect on this Christmas season, we can recognize the things that foster joy in our hearts. I’ve taken time to consider my own generosity and think of those in need. In the Prayer of St. Francis we hear a reminder of how to live with our hearts open. One of my favorite lines from that prayer reminds us that “it is in giving that we receive.” Those are such poignant words. The Christmas season especially reminds us to give of ourselves. We look to the generosity of God Himself, who became man in order to give us the gift of salvation.
When the world is in disarray, let us look to Christ who came to us in absolute humility on Christmas morning. I imagine the hustle and bustle in Bethlehem as Mary and Joseph went through the hordes of people for the census only to find no room for them. They ultimately found a quiet and humble spot for the most important birth in the world; Jesus brought joy to the chaos. In our lives, He brings joy, too. In the chaos of the holidays, in the midst of our planning and scheduling, travel and seeing relatives, we find that same child. The center of our lives is Christ Himself, welcoming us to quiet peace and joy. As we continue to celebrate this Christmas season, turn to the quiet and find Him for yourself. You will find joy there. Turn to the person in need—you will find joy there. Open your hearts to love and giving and you will find joy in the chaos. Merry Christmas!
Question for Reflection: How can you carve out time each day to "turn to the quiet" and spend time with Christ?
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“See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him.” -Exodus 23:20-21
I grew up having a devotion to angels, especially the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow. Because my sister was born on this feast, my parents gave her the middle name Gabriela in honor of my mother and of the Archangel Gabriel – messenger of Good News. When I was a child, my mom often mentioned Raphael the Archangel as one of her favorite saints. She had prayed to him as a single woman because of his role in the Book of Tobit in bringing together Tobias and Sarah. Because of his intercession, she said, she met and married my father. Throughout their marriage, a photo of St. Raphael has always hung in their bedroom. Our devotion to St. Michael was uttered each day as we asked for his protection and intercession in the St. Michael prayer.
Because of my upbringing, I have come to know and love the angels as allies and friends. But what exactly is an angel? Are they ghosts, human beings with wings, or simply fairytales? In a morning meditation in 2014, Pope Francis urged us not to consider the Church doctrine on the existence of angels to be “a little imaginative.” Angels are real and active in the life of the Church and world today. “As purely spiritual creatures,” the Catechism writes, “angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures.” (CCC330). The Church’s teaching on the existence of angels comes from Scripture and Tradition.
Angels are the result of God’s creative work. When we say in the Nicene Creed that we believe in things both “visible and invisible,” we testify to the existence not only of physical creation, but also of spiritual creation. As servants of God, angels appear numerous times throughout Scripture in various roles and capacities. Angels guarded the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve, led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, announced the birth of John the Baptist, appeared to St. Joseph in several dreams, and perhaps most notably, announced the birth of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Scripture also notes that the angels ministered to Jesus after his forty days of prayer and temptation in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, and that Christ was strengthened by an angel during the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Not only did angels exist in Biblical times, but they are also present to each one of us every day. St. Basil the Great taught that "each and every member of the faithful has a Guardian Angel to protect, guard and guide them through life.” The Catechism reiterates this belief, stating, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."
Angels, therefore, were created by God to praise and glorify him, as well as to serve as his messengers and our protectors, instructors, and allies. Our guardian angels are a gift from God to help each one of us achieve eternal life. As we read in Hebrews, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” The beauty of their existence means that, as human beings, we are never alone. We journey through this life with a celestial companion who wills our good and helps us achieve sanctity.
Pope John Paul II wrote that devotion to our guardian angels and the angels overall leads to two outcomes: gratitude to God and peace and confidence. As we know, growth in the spiritual life can be difficult on our own. Each day we are called to overcome many temptations and weaknesses, to be healed, to grow in virtue. In God’s generosity, he not only gave us the gift of the Church and sacraments to receive grace and strengthen us on our journey; he also gives us celestial help through the existence of angels.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Archangels tomorrow, Pope Francis leaves us with pertinent and thought-provoking questions:
“How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: ‘Watch over me when I sleep?’ Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? … We can answer this question today, each of us: how is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven?”
— Pope Francis, Homily, October 2, 2015
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!”
"During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 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 1:39-45
Year after year, we hear this reading in the days leading up to Christmas. As we prepare for the day on which we celebrate the Son of God entering the world, we tend to hear this passage and focus on Elizabeth’s words: “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” and “blessed are you who believed.” Rightfully so, we concentrate on Mary’s fiat and, thus, the beginnings of the life of the one who would save us all. However, we may tend to overlook another thing Elizabeth exclaimed: “the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”
John the Baptist would go on to be the great “forerunner of Christ.” As we commemorate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, we remember that it was he who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. John preached the coming of the Kingdom of God to the thousands that flocked to the desert to hear his preaching. It was he who baptized Christ in the Jordan, thus anointing him for his ministry. John the Baptist’s own ministry goes back to the moment when John, in his mother’s womb, hears the voice of Mary calling. That voice is not just that of a young woman, but a young woman who is the Mother of God. Thus, John, leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, seems to be recognizing and acknowledging the fact that the Lord Himself is present in Mary’s womb.
Several years ago, then-Pope Benedict XVI made a comparison to John’s leap for joy: “Mary, expecting the birth of her Son Jesus, is the Holy Ark that contains the presence of God, a presence that is a source of consolation, of total joy. John, in fact, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, just as David danced before the Ark.” Benedict reminds us of the scene in 2 Samuel 6 when David dances excitedly as the Ark of the Covenant is brought into Jerusalem. In both cases, the Word of God is physically present. Before John, the Word is Jesus in the womb of Mary. Before David, the Word is in the form of the Ten Commandments within the Ark. For them, being in the presence of the Lord was not something they took lightly. They were not afraid or saddened, they were filled with a joy so immense and so uplifting that the only way they could express themselves was by jumping and dancing.
These Biblical events point to the line at the heart of Pope Francis’ exhortation: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Faith in Jesus, who is the Word of God incarnate, is not something that should bring us down. It is not something that should feel like an overwhelming burden. When we go to a sports game or another competition, for example, we sit on the edge of our seats, waiting and hoping that our side will come out on top. When our team scores, we jump to our feet and cheer loudly. We clap and sing and even shed some tears. How much more, then, are we call to be excited when we are in the presence of God in the Eucharist or spreading the Good News to those we encounter?
We are invited to witness to our faith gladly, for we believe in a God who loved us so much that He gave His only son to die for our sins so that we might be able to have eternal life with Him (cf Jn 3:16). That kind of love reminds us to live our life of faith happily. Pope Francis once commented, “I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile.” He was correct. How could a true believer exemplify the love of God with a frown? Let us follow the examples of David and John the Baptist who show us that true faith does not bring about sadness or dread, but instead brings us joy and peace. When we encounter someone who may challenge our beliefs, do not yell and scream back, but face that opposition with grace and a smile. When we go to Mass and notice that those around us may be mumbling their way through the hymns, I invite you to sing loudly and proudly, remembering that you are glorifying God. And when we get tired in our faith lives, let us be reminded of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us and, like John the Baptist, “leap for joy” ourselves.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Vivat Jesus! In the proclamation “Jesus lives!” which originates from St. Francis de Sales, the Church finds and experiences for herself the mystery of salvation. This then energizes and animates all her works. Because Christ has risen from the dead, we are assured of a most glorious hope that God loves us and that no trial nor any tribulation can overshadow the truth of such saving grace.
Doesn’t it feel so liberating to once again be able to exclaim, “Alleluia!”, or burst into the Gloria at Mass? That innate feeling of wanting to, needing to, and being compelled to praise God in these ways reflects a deeper desire to share this incredible Good News with others—there just isn’t any room for passivity in the Christian life. Certainly, the Resurrection event gained for us the eternal reward in Paradise that we could not achieve ourselves. But to really benefit from it, the experience needs to change us, that is, to make us marvel at God’s merciful love and then continuously reveal that to all the world. Donald Cardinal Wuerl made this observation back in January for the occasion of the dedication the new altar of the Pallottine Seminary at Green Hill, home of the Catholic Apostolate Center:
In His command, “Do this in memory of Me,” Jesus invites each one of us into the Mystery of His Death and Resurrection. We’re not just going to be passive bystanders who come to know Him. We’re not just going to be someone who looks on the merry-go-round and says, “Isn’t that wonderful?” We’re invited into the Mystery itself.
In doing so, we manifest the glory of the Lord; it is our mission as Christians. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us at his installation Mass, “the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men.”
The Resurrection cannot be confined to a mere moment in history two thousand years ago. All that it accomplished cannot be measured; its effects continue to affect and move us even now. Today we are truly experiencing the great joy that the Risen Lord promised His disciples. And this authentic joy does not fade in times of mourning or despair. Especially in those times, we can look up in hope, knowing the same Risen Christ is with us at every moment to offer courage and mercy. It is in this reality—not mere speech and daydreams—that the Church exists and works from. As Benedict XVI continued, “The Church is alive — she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen.”
As Christians, we bear the Name of the Savior through Baptism. We invite the world to encounter Christ, Whose presence we manifest through the charitable actions of our lives. Just as we share with one another the light from the Paschal candle during the Easter Vigil, so, too, do we share the light of hope and faith with those in darkness. By the grace of God and the support of each other, may we, at every moment of our lives, join with the whole Church and the heavenly host to praise God for His mercy and goodness. As Timothy Cardinal Dolan reminded us “‘Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has destroyed death, and brought us light and life!’ No wonder we [reply], ‘Alleluia!’”