Through the halfway point in the fall semester, most any college student could testify to the highs and lows of trying to learn in these trying times. From Internet issues, Zoom exams, and burnout, each class that goes smoothly is a little victory, but some days it is just so hard to focus on classes. My inner biochemistry major wishes that learning by osmosis was possible – a passive learning because our attention is drawn to so much distraction. On the other hand, even though it requires a little more active thought, I know there’ve been some highs so far this semester. Even with social distancing, I have made new friendships and renewed others. Since I serve as a Resident Assistant at my university, where we have just freshmen and RAs on campus, I have gotten to see freshmen build friendships, find their niche, and take on leadership positions in the campus community. Through my personal experience and seeing the freshmen on my campus, a word to describe the semester so far would be “perseverance.”
For me, perseverance has been continuing along the path of learning despite the challenges and difficulties. I have worked to develop four actions into habits during this semester to help build perseverance:
Ultimately, I hope to continue building upon these four actions for the rest of the semester to help strengthen my perseverance and to experience more highs than lows from this abnormal time. To help motivate me to keep going day after day in classes, I wrote this quote above my desk:
“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring” – St. Catherina of Siena
For more resources to grow spiritually during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
One of the things I love about Catholicism is that we celebrate the mysteries of our faith in a physical way.
Going to Mass, kneeling, standing, singing, receiving the Eucharist, hearing and proclaiming the Word of God, experiencing community after Mass or at parish events. Some of our liturgical feast days even emphasize the physical contact between us and the Divine. Think of reverencing the wood of the Cross on Good Friday or participating in a Eucharistic procession on Corpus Christi. Our faith is incarnational, and our bodies are important conduits for worship.
That’s part of the reason the last several months have been so difficult for so many. These physical elements of worship have been—largely—unavailable to us because of COVID-19 and the practice of physical and social distancing. Most of us have also been physically disconnected from our communities of faith, friends, and family. We’ve missed important events like birthdays, retirement parties, and even funerals. The emotional, spiritual, and psychological effects of this separation are very real and very serious.
And it’s been clear from the outset of this pandemic that the Church must take action to alleviate the impact of isolation, despair, and loneliness caused by this pandemic. But who will lead the charge? I find myself asking, what is the Church going to do about it? How will we get through this?
And then I realize, the Spirit is calling me. And, friends, the Spirit is calling you too. We’re not being called to wait around while someone else figures it out. God is calling us to figure this out together.
We must remember that we are the Church on earth, and we are being invited by the Spirit to cooperate with God’s grace to take action and serve others, right now. We can’t simply wait for someone else to help. Those of us who are baptized are called to be missionary disciples and, ultimately, saints. And this call comes with a personal responsibility to recognize that all our lives are interwoven as branches grafted onto the Vine, as various parts of one Body (1 Corinthians 12). We are connected to one another through our baptism into Christ. Paul says, “The body is not a single part, but many.” And because of this interconnectedness, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers. So, we’ve got to do something about that, because we’re called to be “doers”.
We are all suffering in some way during this pandemic. It’s not even possible to downplay that. And we all feel one another’s burdens. We especially feel our personal stresses and anxieties, day in and day out. I believe one of the answers to this anxiety and suffering is the beautiful work of spiritual accompaniment.
The call to spiritual accompaniment is incarnational and based on the love of Christ. Spiritual accompaniment urges us out of our own interior world and presses us to walk with our brother or sister in whatever situation they might find themselves. Pope Benedict XVI says that God’s love for humanity is so strong that “it turns God against himself, his love against his justice” (Deus Caritas Est, 10). How, then, can we demonstrate a reflection of this great, personal love to one another if we can’t be physically present to one another? I believe we must be creative and find ways to communicate our companionship to one another in meaningful ways. We can allow ourselves to be challenged by these questions while we reflect on this topic: Do I have the ability to be present to my suffering neighbor in any way today? Do I have the capacity to do charitable spiritual accompaniment during this pandemic?
I believe one effective way to spiritually accompany others as we remain physically distant is to ask challenging questions of others and engage in honest conversation. Though this may seem simple, “faith sharing” is a powerful way to be witnesses of God’s presence, and we all need to be reminded of God’s presence these days.
I think there are two simple, penetrating questions that can start fantastic spiritual conversations that open our eyes to the great works of God. They are:
The answers to both of these questions reveal our hearts, our spiritual yearnings, our joys, and our sorrows; the answers to both of these questions lead us to recognize God’s presence among us, either by contemplating where we’ve seen God or petitioning His aid through prayer. I want to challenge you to invite a friend or someone you’re close with to consider these questions and then to hear their answers. Perhaps you’ll be surprised at the way the Spirit guides the conversation.
I believe that through this simple practice of spiritual accompaniment, we will grow closer with one another, though distance or politics or ideologies may keep us apart. Loving and holy conversation is one way to begin healing the wounds caused over these last several months, and it is one way to accompany one another on the road as we travel strange, new paths together.
To learn more about spiritual accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to deepen your faith during COVID-19, please click here.
As a child, I played a favorite game with my friends called “follow the leader” where everyone did exactly as the name suggests – followed the leader. If you didn’t do what the leader did you would be eliminated from the game. This game correlates to the Christian life: when we follow Jesus and do what He did, we reach our heavenly destination. We are wise to remember and heed Matthew 18:3-4: “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” How important it is as an adult Christian to always have the willing mindset of a child – to follow the leader with joyful expectation and simple trust. This reminds me of a remarkable event in my life that illustrates this concept.
Several years ago, when our four youngest children were still living at home, we embarked on one of our family camping vacations. Having a large family, we had chosen camping as a way to enjoy a vacation together while on a budget. It removed all the distractions of our life of modern conveniences and afforded us time in the great outdoors to relax and build memories. This particular adventure took us to Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, a glorious place high in the mountains with astounding stargazing at night and amazing hiking trails during the day. One day we chose to traverse the Waterfalls Trail. The sign at the trailhead read “Steep grade ahead, use caution. Stay on marked path.” That should have been my moment of truth, my opportunity to bail and choose to sit on a bench and enjoy the 1780 ft vista and await my family’s return. But I ignored the queasiness in my stomach and forged ahead with them as they vivaciously marched down the canyon on a slim, winding trail. My stomach began to ride higher into my chest, my breathing was becoming fast and bordering on gasping and my feet were becoming heavy and unsure on the many twists and turns. After we passed under an enormous rock overhang, my body halted and I literally could not take another step.
I was paralyzed with fear. Did I forget to mention, I’ve suffered from overwhelming fear of heights ever since I was a teenager? It was alive and acutely crippling on this day. As I watched my children bounding ahead and walking precariously near the rim of the steep trail, the fear gripped me to the point of panic. My husband kept telling me to look ahead, not down, and to follow his footsteps so that I would be safe and secure. The more I thought about moving forward, the stiffer I became. Moving at all in this way was sure to make me more apt to stumble. On my own steam, I could not go any further. I was at an impasse. With wisdom and child-like trust, my husband gathered our children all around me and asked each of them to lay their hands on me and to pray for all fear to cease so that I could be free to walk with joy and confidence. They did not want to leave me behind or to turn around and abandon the hike to the waterfalls. After several minutes of prayer, my breathing slowed to normal, my heart stopped racing, I unclenched my fists, and my legs relaxed. I felt a distinct release of tension in my body and my mind – so much so that I knew that I could resume the hike without fear. It was a healing miracle I claim to this day, as I can now hike steep mountains and enjoy magnificent views from heights that I could not before.
My husband and children were instruments of faith who infused the peace of Jesus into me so that I could follow the leader and enjoy the boundless beauty nature had to offer on that hike. Later that night, my husband commented that Jesus healed me and gave me sure feet to traverse the steep path with assurance. I will never forget that manifestation of God’s love for me and I am willing to continue to follow the leader on all the paths He takes me because I know He will give me strength and guidance every step of the way. I am comforted by the instruction in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” As humans, we cannot find and walk this path on our own.
We need a leader, but we also need to be aware of all the people God places in our lives who provide guidance and leadership when we need it. It is part of the mystery and beauty of living in community with others in this life. If I had not yielded to the assistance of my family, I would have remained in bondage to crippling fear. I received help to navigate off the wide road of self -doubt and irrational panic that is destructive. With simple child-like trust and prayer, I was able to stay on the narrow path that led to a glorious adventure and freedom! My prayer is that each of us practices the obedience of following the leader so we can navigate the path that leads us to eternal peace. It is certain to be rough, but instruction is always available to us. We have to be humble and have child-like trust to adhere to the direction He provides.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matt. 16:24
Susan A. Fowler was born and raised in Maryland and has been a lifelong Catholic actively involved in parish ministries for over 43 years. She has been married for 40 years, raised 6 children with her husband, and currently resides in Georgia.
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed for opportunities to leave the home, one of the most meaningful greetings which welcomed my return to Mass were the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” The calming presence of the parish priest eased the troubles of my mind, soothed the restlessness of my heart, and enlivened my soul to sing, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord!” While the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion immediately made up for the lost time during the pandemic, there were other reminders that we had been away: new priest assignments, reminders to exchange the weekly offering envelopes, many parishioners enthusiastically greeting each other in happy parking lot reunions, our pastor sporting a new beard, and someone even observing, “You’ve lost some weight, Father!”
The place our parish priests hold in our hearts is a treasured one. We depend on them to teach us through homilies, expose the Blessed Sacrament, listen to our sins and offer absolution, preside over the nuptial Mass, baptize our children, anoint the sick, and console us through times of death. And that’s just the minimum. While the rest of us are busy at work, school, or caring for our households, our parish priests are meeting with the church leadership, making rounds at schools or hospitals, organizing retreats and special services, offering spiritual guidance, and working at the rectory.
But caring for the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners does not end at 5 PM. Starting from the sacred occasion of ordination, a priest is always on-call. Who rushes to the side of the dying, cares for those who have lost everything, counsels those in conflict, or ministers through any number of crises? Who faces the mounting expenses and bills of the parish, limited Sunday collections, possible stagnation of new family registrations, and who perhaps lacks as many helpful hands as he would like to keep the place running smoothly? Especially through this pandemic, the parish priest again and again is called to bring us into an encounter with Jesus Christ as best he can with whatever resources are at his disposal. If caring for our household’s needs presents a challenge, just imagine how the parish priest feels overseeing his parish!
As the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, we can see how so many of the priests in our lives emulate the example of the Curé d'Ars, who himself followed the example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The French Revolution resulted in an increase of the population’s ignorance of and indifference to religion. As a result, St. John Vianney went about his priesthood by spending at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional in the winter; longer still in the summer. The simple piety of this holy priest not only brought about many conversions for the Church, but reinvigorated the faith in areas where secularism had long dominated the culture. Likewise, by immersing themselves into the daily lives of our communities, our parish priests “serve ‘in the trenches,’ bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in [their efforts] to care for and accompany God’s people.”
Pope Francis continued, in his 2019 letter to priests commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, to express his closeness and solidarity to priests. He also expressed personal gratitude “for your fidelity to the commitments you have made… [and] for the joy with which you have offered your lives.”
The Holy Father concluded his letter by praising the witness of their shared vocation:
For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new.” … May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
Let us strive to show the priests in our lives our gratitude and support. May many men continue to discern and answer the call of our Lord to the sacred work of ordained ministry. As we answer the universal call to holiness in our own lives, may we also support those who have dedicated their lives to answer, “Here I am. I come to do Your will.”
To learn more about Holy Orders, listen to our latest podcast here.
Thomas Wong is a young professional in Washington, DC.
To become a person of prayer, we need to make every effort to live always in the presence of God. If we so live, there is every reason to believe that our life can gradually become one of ongoing prayer. St. Paul urges Christians to “Pray without ceasing.” The Holy Spirit makes this possible, and such a manner of praying becomes a way of life. If the presence of God is acknowledged through a constant spirit of inner prayer, we should find ourselves ever more prepared to enter into the more structured forms of prayer that are part of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit urges us to pray every moment.
Faith is crucial to our prayer life. I think of the Gospel in which the father of the possessed boy says, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” We should enter into every moment of prayer recognizing our need for deepening our faith and acknowledging that God is Who He is and we are not God. We can pray, “Lord help remove my lack of trust, my lack of faith. If, Lord, you still find an unresolved cause for discouragement within me, some doubt, take it away and instill in me unquestioning faith.”
Each day, my prayer life consists of four forms of prayer: The Divine Office, personal prayers and devotions, a daily rosary, and meditative prayer. I pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mary Immaculate by way of a prayer that truly reflects my devotion to each. My purpose for entering into such prayer is not only to give praise and honor to the person to whom I am praying at the moment, but also to use this time to pray both for people who have asked me to pray for them and also for oly SD people whom I know need prayer. Of course, I pray for myself and my own needs as well. God wants us to take a very personal approach to prayer; in other words, He wants us to be ourselves when we speak to Him.
Meditative prayer asks us to do our best to select an appropriate time and place so that we might move out of the hustle and bustle of our daily routine and give the moment exclusively to God. It invites us to sit quietly in a comfortable position that still enables us to be alert. Choose an appropriate time for meditative prayer by scheduling it when you find yourself ready for a break and for spending meaningful time with God free from distractions. Then, clear your mind of thoughts running through it haphazardly. After all, we are taking a moment to discover Christ who dwells within us. In order to show our sincerity in making this effort, we must first come into conscious contact with and recognize the person we are at the moment. There are no masks allowed in the presence of God. Christ wants to encounter us as we truly are.
Meditative prayer takes practice. We must acquire a taste for it if we are to decide to continue to use it to deepen our relationship with Christ. We will be willing to enter into meditative prayer regularly and consistently if we arrive at the conclusion that it Is truly a worthwhile method to help us grow in our relationship with Christ who calls us “friend.” I have found it helpful for my prayer life to establish a set time and place for prayer according to my living conditions and personal daily schedule. I have also allowed myself to be flexible if these change or if I come to discover a place and/or time more suitable for contemplative prayer.
Try to give at least fifteen minutes to this prayer experience. If you choose to continue with this approach to prayer, you will eventually come to discover that you are better able to freely enter into this prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to pray, accompanies us throughout the prayer experience, and also makes it clear to us when it is time to conclude. I personally find a half hour of quiet prayer to be a meaningful experience. However, be open to praying for shorter or longer amounts of time depending on your conversation with the Lord.
Be aware of your mood when entering into prayer. Again, we are entering into the Presence of the Lord just as we are. It is important to acknowledge our mood and disposition, knowing God see us and accepts us as we are. Furthermore, do not try to rate any meditative experience. It is prayer that we are talking about and not a moment of self- evaluation. God always accepts our effort as a gift as long as it is offered with sincerity.
To begin meditation, I attempt to get in touch with what is going on in my life, placing myself in the presence of God. From there I select a word or phrase from the daily Gospel reading. I tend to read the Gospel passage a couple of times and look to find myself in the reading. It might be that something is going on in my life— a challenge, a problem, a confusing situation, a memory from the past. If so, I try to bring this to the Lord in connection with the Gospel passage. Perhaps at such moments, I will deliberately choose a passage from Scripture that speaks to me concerning the situation at hand. How will Jesus speak to me in and through the chosen text? If you wish to meditate on the entire Gospel scene, one way to do this is to put yourself into the scene and focus on what Jesus is doing and saying and how this speaks to your life.
It is of course true that our power of concentration can be rather limited. We face the challenge of distractions in meditative prayer as we do in every experience of prayer. Once we realize the presence of a distractive thought, we need to let it go and get back to focusing upon
what we hope will lead us to a deepened sense of the presence of Jesus within.
Meditative prayer is our invitation to the Lord to speak to our heart as He would:
“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.“ This element of listening is essential to a proper meditative experience. Otherwise, such prayer can become the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple with the publican, what Jesus called a prayer about oneself to oneself.
By sharing some of my prayer practices above, I hope to have helped guide you deeper into an understanding of the life of prayer that makes every effort to live in the presence of God. Our prayer life is a constant journey of growth in which we seek to spend time with and grow closer to the Lord, already present within us. May we grow this year in our ability to pray without ceasing, and in so doing, embrace prayer as a way of life.
Fr. Louis Micca, S.A.C. is a member of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. Over his 52 years of priesthood, he has served as a parish priest, Shrine director, formator, and teacher.
“According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated.” – American Psychological Association. This is a report from 2019 about the rising levels of social isolation and loneliness experienced in the United States. It is not something new, and as days and years progress, it is likely to get worse if we do not act now. So how does the Catholic Church respond to such increasing levels of isolation?
Fortunately, the Church has discussed accompaniment as a solution for a very long time. Most recently, it has been discussed at great length throughout the papacy of Pope Francis and in the recent synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. As recently as last year, Pope Francis in Christus Vivit talked extensively about the Church’s role in preventing loneliness in young people. Still, as the study above shows, loneliness is not something that only young people experience. Pope Francis talks about the untethering and uprootedness of people in this way:
“We need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming to young people since so many have a real sense of being orphaned. … To all these orphans – including perhaps ourselves – communities like a parish or school should offer possibilities for experiencing openness and love, affirmation, and growth. Many young people today feel that they have inherited the failed dreams of their parents and grandparents, dreams betrayed by injustice, social violence, selfishness, and lack of concern for others. In a word, they feel uprooted.…The experience of discontinuity, uprootedness, and the collapse of fundamental certainties, fostered by today’s media culture, creates a deep sense of orphanhood to which we must respond by creating an attractive and fraternal environment where others can live with a sense of purpose.” (Christus Vivit 216)
So what does this mean for our parishes or for us as Catholics? Each one of us is called to accompany others on the journey of faith. Christ himself modeled this with his disciples and has charged us to do the same. Accompaniment is fundamental to Christianity. It means building an “intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” To begin, I would suggest first taking a look at your immediate circle of connections. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. should be your first group to encounter and accompany because they are the people you organically have relationships with each day. These are the people most likely to open up to you if they are experiencing troubles. Even then, it is essential to listen and provide a connection to Christ and the Church community. The role of accompaniment in giving someone a link to the broader Catholic community is vital, and acknowledging every baptized person’s role in this calling is essential. As the Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church discusses, accompaniment can serve as a powerful avenue to welcome and keep someone in the Church in ever uncertain times and events in someone’s life. It can lead to a deeper connection to Christ, a fuller integration into the world at large, and a more authentic sense of their mission to serve Christ and the Church (Art of Accompaniment, 19).
Every day there are more and more people who are experiencing isolation, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. This has only been exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic. Current events, personal circumstances such as their health, and many other factors can contribute to feelings of isolation. During this time, I invite you to pray about different ways you can accompany those who are feeling lonely. The Catholic Church can be a refuge in this storm of isolation and meet people where they are. Even if someone is lonely, as one of God’s children, they are never alone, and it is our job as Catholics to remind them of that fact.
For more resources on accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you during the coronavirus, please click here.
Jonathan Sitko is the Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Church Management from Villanova University.