It seems that each day we check the news to discover that another politician, producer, actor, or celebrity figure is being exposed for scandal or abuse. Many of those who have for years been hailed as the main influencers of public opinion, policy, and taste have in a stunningly short span of time lost support or credibility. Many of those who were on top of the world have been, we could say, deflated and dethroned.
I have been pondering this lately as the Church prepares to celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Each Sunday in the Nicene Creed, we profess Christ’s ascension, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The ascension is recounted at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-12). Theologically, we do not envision Jesus ascending like a balloon into the sky, but a king ascending a throne. The Feast of the Ascension celebrates the exaltation and enthronement of Jesus as King and Messiah at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.
As many of us may be scientifically literate and democratically-minded citizens of the twenty-first century, we may think all this talk of thrones and kings and heaven may seem like it belongs to a world that has long passed away. But if our recent headlines have proven anything, what has not passed away is the perennial pursuit of power and our tendency to underestimate our willingness to use it in potentially harmful and self-aggrandizing ways.
Power in and of itself is not an evil thing, and watching people fall publicly is not a cause for celebration. I think instead the present reality invites us to pause and reflect on—in light of God’s reality—the pursuit and exercise of power both in society and in our own lives. In truth, power is not something that belongs only to the powerful. Power exists across any human relationship: husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, boss and employee, and the list is endless. We are influenced vertically by our superiors and horizontally by our peers. Ideally, we work together to achieve the common good and common goals by sharing and exercising power in the right doses and ways. But I think if we’re honest, we all have our own way of being out of balance, tipping the scales. So, what does this all have to do with Jesus, who we call the All-Powerful One?
As exalted King and Messiah, Jesus overthrows the love of power with the power of love. The Ascension is not a power grab that Jesus will use to control people and outcomes. Rather, we hear Jesus tell the disciples that once he has taken his seat on God’s throne, “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As disciples, we are not separated from Christ by a glass ceiling.
Yet as disciples, we have to be careful where and how we exercise this power given to us in the name of Jesus. One of the images in Scripture of the Holy Spirit is fire. It is a great metaphor for power. Our stewardship of God’s power can bring light and warmth, yet it can also burn if used irresponsibly. I suspect today that much of what compromises our evangelizing message of Jesus’s kingship stems from the ways Christians have abused earthly power in the name of God.
The Gospel and St. Paul preach a radically different alternative: the conviction that our human exercise of power more fully manifests Christ when it is surrendered than when it is wielded. So, I propose instead: What happens when we dare to profess Jesus enthroned and exalted, to receive the power of his Holy Spirit, and then lay it down in the service of the Gospel?
Question for Reflection: How is Christ’s example of kingship and power different from what we see in the world?
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.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21.
The definition of the word “communication” from Webster’s dictionary is: “to share or impart information.” I look at this word and see a whole lot more. Com = come and commune = to communicate intimately. Communication can be defined as people coming together intimately to share information of all kinds. Coming together or communing is a very personal act, requiring the openness of individuals to both share information as well as receive it. This is where the very act of communicating becomes challenging. We are diverse as individuals and have a multitude of ways of perceiving what is communicated, as well as varying ways of imparting our ideas and information. When we speak to another, we do not just simply use words. We use tone, inflection, and body language. Because of all this, we can relay information in a positive or a negative manner. Keeping this in mind, it is essential to be very intentional and aware of how and what we communicate at all times. Ephesians 4:24 is plain in its instruction: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” As Christians, we want to always strive to build up and encourage with our communication.
I’ve found that for communication to be successful, there have to be some ground rules. This requires that we be intentional people of prayer who ask for wisdom and understanding. Praying also helps us to be reverent, respectful, and open. Colossians 4:6 tells us “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” This is a tall order for mere humans, which is precisely why we need God working in and with us. Our words can be blessings or weapons in any of our relationships. God calls us to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves – to serve in humility and love. Our speech has to align with this, the greatest commandment. As Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” What we say and how we deliver it reveals the spiritual battle we are engaged in. Our purpose in speaking should always be for the good of the recipient.
There are so many things we wish to impart to others in our daily lives: instructions, encouragement, advice, exhortation, expressions of love, thanks, concern, correction. The list is endless. However, a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi sums up communication in a beautiful and profound way: “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” What that means is that our goal should be to impart all that Jesus taught us through acts of love and mercy, and when we have exhausted our actions, then use words. I realize it is necessary to speak for many important reasons, but it must always be done in respect of the dignity of the recipient, aware that they are a child of God and always desiring the best for them. Since this is a challenging task, we must seek the help of the Holy Spirit and also holy people who can assist us in learning the best manner of speaking to others in all types of circumstances. It is not something we are just born with the ability to do. It comes with prayerful guidance and lots of practice. James 1:26 reminds us “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”
Another element of communication is discerning when it is appropriate to speak and when to remain silent. I don’t mean ignoring another or refusing to talk. I mean weighing what you ‘feel’ or ‘want’ to say versus what is ‘right’ and ‘necessary’ to impart. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil,” Proverbs 15:28 continues.
This requires each of us to spend a good amount of time in quiet prayer each day in order to be in an open disposition to receive wisdom and understanding about what to communicate. From there, we must pray for the grace to ‘commune’ with the recipient of our information in a loving and Godly manner. When we nurture a consistent prayer life with the Lord, we experience peace that guards our minds and hearts. Because of our woundedness and fallen nature, the world and the devil’s designs, we struggle in this area and need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be communicators that build up, encourage, and love through our words.
In our fractured world, when people are attacking each other on all fronts about every issue imaginable, we as Christians need to be conduits of peace when we communicate. Praying for the desire to express love in everything we do will benefit us when we communicate and when we are receiving communication from others. We must grow in self-control and patience so that our communication will be positive, even in the toughest conversations. As Christians working to build the Kingdom of God, we must allow the love of Christ to flow out of us in all our actions and in every word we utter. We can come together with others and share information in many beautiful ways. God gave us voices for this. Let us always be in deep communion with God who loved us into being and calls us to be relational in order to share His love and build His kingdom on earth! Let Psalm 141:3 be our daily prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.”
To read more about charitable communication and evangelization, we invite you to read Choosing to Believe in Another’s Best Intentions or Communicating Like Chrysostom: Growing Your Skills in Speaking for the New Evangelization.
During my fifth year with D.C. United, the team brought in a nutrition specialist. The specialist gave his presentation and then looked toward a table in the middle of the locker room that held about 40 pill bottles of vitamins, supplements, mild pain relievers, gels, powders, and who knows what else. The nutritionist then walked over to the table, looked back to us, and said, “you know, if you just eat well you can throw all of these out. In fact, you’d be better off doing that.” He left the locker room five minutes later and never came back.
For my first five years at DCU, I had been taking those vitamins and supplements at the recommendation of our strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers. Now a certified nutritionist deemed the whole thing a waste of time and had even said they could hinder our performance—I wondered what exactly to do. Who should I listen to?
This memory has stayed with me because it matters a lot for an athlete what you do with your body. It matters how you train, eat, sleep, relax, and recover. You need to know what is helpful for your athletic development and what is unhelpful. I wanted to know if the pills and supplements helped me or hindered me.
This all applies to athletic prudence in the natural realm. Prudence is the ability to judge rightly and act according to that knowledge. It is being able to think through things correctly and then make the right choice. Thus, athletic prudence is the ability to choose and act rightly in the realm of an athletic pursuit.
We make decisions and then act based upon what we have concluded is actually helpful or unhelpful in relation to our goal.
I would like to apply this same line of thinking to the virtue of prudence in the supernatural realm. We should be asking what is helpful or unhelpful in terms of our spiritual lives. Just like the nutritionist condemning our pill vault and making me wonder what was actually helpful for my soccer career, we should ask what in our lives helps or hinders us from going to God. In order for us to do this, of course, we must acknowledge that God is both our goal and a worthy (the most worthy!) goal at that.
When I got to the height of my playing career I was devastatingly depressed for a very concentrated span of time (only several days). For months I pondered why I hit such a low point amidst more success than I had ever expected. Eventually, through the help of the Holy Spirit, I realized that God allowed me to feel the weight of my success without Him. It was an incredible grace—but also one that was difficult to really learn. Over time the truth that my soul was more important than my sport sunk in. I realized that much of what I had made my life about was, in the end, unhelpful for reaching the ultimate Goal who is God.
I started applying my athletic thinking to my spiritual life. I started asking the right questions—is this helpful or unhelpful for my spiritual life? Should I be hanging out with this group of friends so much? Are my weekend habits really bringing joy to my life? Am I living as the person I want to be? Do I know who I want to be?
These questions led—and continue to lead—me to Jesus, and I find myself needing to ask them again and again. Do the decisions I make help me become who I want to be? Or are my decisions hindering me from being that person?
Athletic prudence helps athletes maximize their potential and use their God-given gifts to the best of their ability. This same principle can—and should—be applied to our spiritual lives. Are the decisions, actions, and principles that guide my life helpful? Are they leading me in a good direction?
Prudence, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is the mother of the virtues. You cannot possess any virtue without the virtue of prudence because prudence is what enables us to recognize what is truly good (helpful) and then act according to that good. No athlete can become great apart from athletic prudence because athletic prudence enables the athlete to recognize and act upon what helps him or her become a good athlete. Far more important, however, is the realization that no person can become who they were created to be apart from supernatural prudence. It is not possible to follow Christ without first asking yourself what exactly it is you’re already following—what is it that shapes your decisions? It may be a desire for comfort, power, status, honor, wealth, success, popularity, or any number of things. But they all fall short. To be prudent you must know the end goal. You cannot attain the virtue of prudence in the whole of life without knowing that “it is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness.”
Taylor Kemp is an instructor for the Denver Catholic Biblical School as part of the St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division in the Archdiocese of Denver. He is a former professional soccer player, amassing over 100 appearances over six-years in Major League Soccer (MLS) for D.C. United, and playing for both the youth and full United States Men’s National Team. Taylor holds an MA in Theology from the Augustine Institute and BS in Business Management from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Recently, my husband and I attended a virtual Catholic Marriage Summit called, “Joyful Ever After.” Several of the speakers mentioned the importance of cultivating the virtue of believing in your spouse’s best intentions rather than assuming ill will when a perceived grievance is committed.
I thought back to a time when my husband and I were dating long-distance. He texted me that he would be arriving late to see me, which was very unlike him. I was a bit sassy in my response. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was late because he ran into traffic while buying me a surprise bouquet of flowers.
A podcast I listen to addressed this same predicament when we interpret our children’s actions before we know their true intentions. The mom on the podcast shared how terribly she felt after becoming upset with one of her children for making a mess of crafting supplies only to find out her child brought out the materials to make her a love note.
Encounters like these provide us with opportunities to choose love. Making up stories in our minds that may not be—and most of the time are not—true does more harm to our relationships than good. Assuming good intentions from our spouses, family, friends and co-workers allows us to foster and strengthen relationships.
Doubting someone else is a way of protecting ourselves. God is the one who gives us courage to trust others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Being less defensive makes others more receptive. Opening ourselves up to another allows us to share the hope and joy of the Gospel. We become more likeable, less distracted by imagined problems, focused on the actual issue, and are overall happier. After all, God gives us a second, third, fourth and ultimately infinite chances in response to our shortcomings. As James 2:13 says, “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Training our minds to think of others and the best intentions they have can both help us and improve our relationships. In many occasions, the person we are interacting with may be reacting from a previous interaction that overflows into our relationship with them. By keeping an open mind without judgement, we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts so that we may reach out to the other with empathy and love. This serves as a reminder to us of our own humanity and imperfection.
Believing in another person’s best intentions is an act of faith. To foster this line of thinking in my own marriage, every day I try to share something I’m thankful for about my husband. I try to think about this during prayer as well to help develop gratitude. When I don’t understand something that my husband is doing or has done, I try (very hard!) to ask open-minded questions in order to open dialogue instead of shutting the conversation down or arguing. Some other ways we can seek to see the best intentions in others are: asking for clarification, listening to what’s being said rather than waiting to share our own thoughts, and refraining from editorial comments that could aggravate the situation.
During these unusual times, we could all benefit from more compassion and grace. Let us open our hearts and minds to seeing the best in others.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you through this time of COVID-19, please click here.
Last week, one of my good friends sent me a funny video of a six-year-old girl who was upset at not being allowed to go to the pub. Her father manages a local Irish women’s soccer team that her aunts play on, and they were going to the pub for their Christmas party. The little girl, who feels like the team’s mascot according to the video, wanted to celebrate with her family. After laughing and laughing at the little girl’s arguments, I realized that the impulse to share something that brings such joy is a way the Holy Spirit can work through us, bringing us together even now.
After watching the video, I started thinking about how this little girl's sense of injustice is instructive for us, too, on a deeper level.
In the video, she feels deprived from good times and togetherness.; denied celebration with loved ones; frustrated at restrictions that make no sense to her; and not allowed to make her own choices. Her every plea meets with rejection and her whole world feels wrong. Could this be how many of us are feeling today as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? Are we feeling isolated, lonely, trapped, or frustrated? Do we feel unheard or rejected by God?
What stark contrast we experience right now between this inner despair or frustration and the emergence of spring all around us.
Spring arrives nonetheless, unaltered in its processes. I think too of how Christmas still came to Whoovile in "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"--still it "came without packages, boxes, or bags!" In the movie, Christmas comes in spite of great deprivation and loss, in spite of so many unmet expectations and plans ruined, in spite of the Whos' demonstrated vulnerability. They responded by joining hands and refusing to deny the cause for celebration that they still knew inside of them, something no one or no thing could take away.
We can't literally join hands right now (well, we shouldn't!) but we absolutely can remember that God has always been in control, and will always be in control, of all creation. We can remind ourselves this Easter season that His unbounded love for us remains our source of life here and our destination eternally. We can practice countering the appearance of threats with choosing to believe God walks with us and accompanies us in the midst of our suffering. We can accept His reality as our truth and in those moments that we do, we'll know in our hearts that all will be well. We can dare to trust in the power of the resurrection—the grace and new life that Christ wants to bring into our lives even today.
I'm grateful to be hanging in here with all of you. We're stronger than we know, especially when united in prayer. Although I'd be quite content not to take on any more strength training at the moment, I know that the trust I'm developing is a higher good. I hope you will find that sense as well. May we continue on in hope, inviting the life of the Resurrected Christ to flourish in our hearts and homes
Donna Green resides in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
A few of my staff colleagues and all of our interns at the Catholic Apostolate Center are undergraduate students at The Catholic University of America. We, like university students across the country, find ourselves doing remote coursework, dealing with unresolved goodbyes that were meant for a week of break and not months of uncertainty, and the seniors are facing the reality of a delayed, if not completely cancelled commencement. Jonathan Sitko, Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center, recently wrote a blog post titled “Accompaniment in Isolation” in which he said, “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.” In this time of great uncertainty, I think of my friends, university community members, and all of the college students across the country who are in need of exactly this—of accompaniment.
The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church reminds us that, “Accompaniment is not for a few ordained or specially commissioned lay ministers; it is a call put forth to all the baptized by the Spirit of God.” I hope that our campus ministry programs are finding ways to accompany students in these times through personal communication when feasible, opportunities for virtual community, and streamed prayer opportunities. These are important and stress the nature of community within our campuses and the desire for students to regain a sense of normalcy in a situation that is so abnormal. The efforts of our campus ministries cannot lead us, the baptized- students, friends, and community- to sit passively. The call that we as students receive in this time of crisis is a call to accompaniment, empowered by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, strengthened at Confirmation.
We turn our attention to the dimension of spiritual friendship that the Art of Accompaniment reminds us is, “Like two friends who travel together, this spiritual journey is not undertaken through the sharing of experiences, a character of warmth and tenderness, and involves catching sight of the action of God in the lives of one another.” We are all, in some way, grieving the loss of the life that we once held to be normal; we are all experiencing change, uncertainty, and unrest; and we are called to accompany one another through that. This distinct dimension of accompaniment reminds us that accompaniment is not a hierarchy, that there are not ranks or levels, but that we can accompany in mutuality and reciprocity, as friends, as Jesus calls us to be.
St. Vincent Pallotti believed that in our spiritual weakness, God communicates his infinite mercy to us. But in times of great unease, it can be hard to hear him. Accompaniment allows us to dialogue together so to best hear his voice, to pray together for the greatest needs and hopes that we hold, and to witness hope to one another—hope that springs eternal from Christ himself who is alive, who loves us, and who saves us.
Here are some suggestions for how college students can accompany one another during COVID-19:
For other reflections to accompany you during this time, please click here.
“Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk towards Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes.” -Pope Francis (Ash Wednesday Homily, 2020)
Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Due to COVID-19, we might believe that we have returned to Ash Wednesday and everything is reduced to ash, even our practice of the faith. Our daily lives have changed or are changing in ways never seen before. But we Christians are people of hope. Hope in God who provides.
With the message of the Angel Gabriel that she had conceived the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary changed in a way never known before or since. She trusted, in the love of God that is ever abiding. It gave her the strength to say yes in faith. Love and faith that bore hope, our Hope, Jesus Christ.
Our prayer and support for one another, especially in this challenging time, are ways in which we can show the love of Christ toward others, witness our faith, and live hope. In and through our hope in Christ, we at the Catholic Apostolate Center offer our prayers for you. Unprecedented things are happening. While we are being asked to physically stay apart, we can all be connected through technology, but also through the Holy Spirit who connects us all, especially in our prayer. There are many good opportunities to keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts, minds, and actions. The Center has compiled numerous ways to do so on a special resource page where we are also accepting prayer intentions.
Let us use this time as wisely as we can, whether together with our family or community or in personal reflection. Christ our hope is with us. We are called to follow the example of Mary and have trusting faith in him.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
To listen to this as a podcast, please click here.
“Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will find God always.” – St. Vincent Pallotti
Do we live our lives seeking God or realize that God is seeking us? God is indeed seeking us. In fact, we have been found in our Baptism. We enter into the mission of the Son who was sent by the Eternal Father into the world to save us. We are co-responsible for this mission and are in “holy cooperation” with the Most Blessed Trinity. Therefore, we are sent by Christ as his apostles or missionary disciples into the Church and the world to revive faith and rekindle charity. We accompany other seekers in becoming found in Christ and through his Church.
Today is the 170th anniversary of the death of St. Vincent Pallotti. It is also his feast day. He believed, taught, and lived the ideals of accompaniment, co-responsibility, and holy cooperation mentioned above. His foundation, the “Union of Catholic Apostolate, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is a communion of the faithful who, united with God and with one another in accordance with the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti, promote the co-responsibility of all the baptized to revive faith and rekindle charity in the Church and in the world, and to bring all to unity in Christ” (General Statutes, 1). This means that lay people, those in consecrated life, and clergy are in collaboration with one another, not only in the Union, but also in the Church and with those of good will in the world. Each person has a role. Each person is responsible. Each person shares in the mission of the Church in spreading the Gospel.
Pope Francis recently wrote about this shared mission in his Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit. He was writing about ministry with young people, but these words can be extended to all the baptized.
“Youth ministry has to be synodal; it should involve a ‘journeying together’ that values ‘the charisms that the Spirit bestows in accordance with the vocation and role of each of the Church’s members, through a process of co-responsibility... Motivated by this spirit, we can move towards a participatory and co-responsible Church, one capable of appreciating its own rich variety, gratefully accepting the contributions of the lay faithful, including young people and women, consecrated persons, as well as groups, associations and movements. No one should be excluded or exclude themselves’” (Christus Vivit, 206).
For co-responsibility to be truly a lived reality there is much more work to be done. St. Vincent Pallotti was visionary and prophetic in his understanding, but the work was unfinished. Let us not wait. Instead, let us "remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds and let them be done well."
Blessed feast day of St. Vincent Pallotti!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“Who did you pick as your confirmation Saint?”
“Oh cool, St. Vincent DePaul, that’s great!”
No…not him…St. Vincent Pallotti…”
“Who is that?”
The name game for saints with common names is a frequent and sometimes frustrating occurrence, as is often the case with St. Vincent Pallotti—my patron, confirmation saint, and friend. Pallotti was many things: the friend of popes and cardinals, confessor of many of the religious in Rome at the various colleges, and great supporter of the laity. Throughout his 55 years of life, Pallotti did everything for the infinite glory of God (infinitam Dei gloriam). His life, message, and charism were life-giving and meaningful while he was alive, as well as today.
Many saints can seem out of our reach—St. Joseph of Cupertino is known for flying and St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina received the stigmata. While there are accounts of St. Vincent Pallotti levitating and bilocating, his life and legacy are not marked solely by these acts of mysticism. One of the main reasons that Pallotti’s example resonates so deeply with me in 2020—170 years after his death—is because of how humble and “normal” his life was. Now, “normal” is quite relative, but in comparison to many well-known saints, Pallotti’s life was normal, even boring.
Pallotti’s parents were devout and his love for Christ and the Church was evident from a young age. There are many stories of St. Vincent’s great care for the poor, including a story of him giving away his bed to a beggar. St. Vincent was not a particularly good student as a young boy, and it was not until his mother prayed a novena to the Holy Spirit for his education that Pallotti became a model student. As a priest of the Diocese of Rome, Pallotti spent much of his time hearing confessions. After a cholera epidemic struck Rome in the mid-1800s, Pallotti founded a home for orphaned girls. He set up night schools so that working men could receive an education. He was also a mathematician. In fact, it was in his study of calculus that he came to understand God as Infinite Love. There was no deed too small, no task unworthy of his effort.
To the 2020 Catholic Church in the United States, Pallotti’s great interest in collaboration with and co-responsibility of the laity might not seem outrageous, but in the 1830s and 1840s in Rome, it was. Many of Pallotti’s closest collaborators were lay people, one of whom was Blessed Elisabetta Sanna. He also made sure that the various ministries and apostolates that he established involved the laity not just as pawns or placeholders, but as central actors in the life of the Church.
St. Vincent Pallotti can teach us so much. He struggled greatly with anger and pride; in this we learn that we are not alone in our personal struggles. He lost many of his siblings when he was young; in this we learn that we are not alone in our loss. He turned people’s attention to God when he distributed pamphlets during the Roman carnival, or when he would drop a reliquary from his sleeve so that the Romans who would come to kiss his hand (as was customary to do to priests at the time) would kiss it instead of him. In this, we learn that we too can persevere when the world around us tells us things that are contrary to what we believe.
I learn from St. Vincent Pallotti every day. He is a model for me in perseverance, humility, and devotion to God. When I sin and fall, I remember his personal reminder that he was but “nothingness and sin.” When I look at the apostolic works that I take part in, the ones that are looked down upon or seen as unrealistic, I think back upon Pallotti and the same judgements that many must have made about him. The greatest influence that St. Vincent Pallotti has had on me is the image of God as Infinite Love—that Infinite Love can love me at my best and my worst. The Infinite Love of God is what balances the scale with sin on one side and being the beloved of God on the other; it reminds us who God is in his greatest depth.
My life and my faith have been so greatly touched by St. Vincent Pallotti and I am deeply thankful for him. May he continue to intercede for us all and may we, as we undergo our apostolic works, look to him as a mentor, a guide, and a dear friend.
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
From Amoris Laetitia to Christus Vivit, one of Pope Francis’s greatest gifts to the Church has been his emphasis on spiritual accompaniment. Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to make use of accompaniment in response to sensitive pastoral situations, ailing youth ministries, and even to a humanity suffering from isolation and anonymity. Accompaniment, to Pope Francis, is a way of being in intentional relationship with another in order to lead them “ever closer to God” (EG, 170). In addition to being oriented towards leading others into closeness and intimacy with God, Pope Francis also describes accompaniment as healing, liberating, gradual, encouraging growth, and fostering freedom. Perhaps the most beautiful words that Pope Francis uses to shape the Church’s understanding and practice of accompaniment is an “art…which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (EG, 169).
What does it truly mean to “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” in terms of accompaniment? How does this shape the apostolate of a mentor? A key to understanding this meaning lies in the scriptural story found in: Exodus 3—the story of Moses meeting God in the burning bush. In this story, Moses beholds an awe-inspiring sight, a bush that is on fire but unconsumed by it. He then turns to look more closely at the bush, from which comes a theophany, or an instance of God revealing God’s self to a human person. God calls out to Moses by name, to which Moses responds, “Here I am!” Before Moses can come any closer to the bush and consider it further, God exclaims to him:
“Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father, he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:5-6).
What are we to make of this scripture passage, especially in light of Pope Francis’s understanding of accompaniment? Firstly, the Exodus reference exhorts us to view the other we are accompanying not only with respect, but with reverence. As we begin to accompany others, we must look upon them not as receptacles to be filled with knowledge, passive recipients of teaching, or soft clay to be modeled into our own images and likeness as ministers. Instead, in accompaniment, we are called to witness to another’s belovedness as a child of God. When we enter into a relationship of accompaniment with another, we must have a posture of humility and honor before those we accompany. This posture of reverence is fundamental to a mentor’s practice of accompaniment, rendering them better able to foster a relationship that is truly transformative.
Secondly, the theophany in the Exodus story gives us another clue into understanding more fully the duties of accompaniment. We must respect the accompanying relationship as a legitimate place where God reveals God’s self to both mentor and the one accompanied. Accompaniment takes seriously the fact that human experience is a space where God reveals God’s self; in other words, accompaniment affirms that the life experience of the one accompanied is “a locus for the manifestation and realization of salvation, where God consistently with the pedagogy of the Incarnation, reaches man within his grace and saves him” (General Directory for Catechesis, #152c). In a relationship of accompaniment where a mentor is asked to “remove their sandals before the sacred ground of the other,” mentors must help the ones they accompany interpret their experiences in light of scripture, discern more fully the action of God in their lives, and wait with full anticipation to respond to God’s voice in the midst of their daily life.
Finally, this scriptural passage exhorts mentors to maintain and cherish the mystery of the one they accompany. As Moses hides his face before God present in the burning bush, so too must mentors respect with holy fear that which is mystery in the life of those they accompany. Though we might come to know those who we accompany well or even develop a deep bond with them, they never belong to us completely, but are instead placed in our path for a period of time so that we might help them foster connection and intimacy with God. Though we might have plans, hopes, or desires for those we accompany, we must always ensure that we respect the work of the Holy Spirit in the relationship of accompaniment. Accompaniment cannot be reduced to a neat list of objectives or learning outcomes; rather, it is a “pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery” (EG, 171). True accompaniment wrestles with the intricacies of human life, cautioning mentors that “realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without” (EG, 172). As mentors, we cannot assume that we are the ones that ultimately decide how or why the Spirit moves the way it does in the life of those we accompany. Instead, we must continually reflect on how the person before us in the relationship of accompaniment is being formed not by us, but by the Holy Spirit.
Accompaniment, when contemplated as an “art” that “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other,” calls us to have a posture of reverence before the ones we accompany, regard their human experiences as privileged places for God to reveal God’s self, and maintain a sense of mystery in the relationship of accompaniment. How are we being called to remove our sandals before others in our life and ministry? How might removing our sandals before those we accompany allow us to travel more readily on the journey towards growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ?
When people speak about the work of evangelization or accompaniment, they often speak about going out to the margins, “to the highways and the hedgerows” (Luke 14:23,) to bring the “nones” and the unbaptized into the Church. This is, of course, an essential part of Jesus’ final commission to his apostles to baptize and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).
But I have to wonder: what’s the state of spiritual health in our own parishes? Are the lay faithful aware that their sacramental experience is an encounter with Christ, and do they care about their brothers and sisters with whom they share Communion? Are the people in our pews accompanied by anyone in their journey of faith or are they trying to live their faith on their own?
There are many definitions for spiritual accompaniment, but in the book I co-authored with Colleen Campbell as a resource for the Catholic Apostolate Center, we define spiritual accompaniment as “the apostolate of intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” In general, accompaniment is “a broad term that refers to a relationship between two or more people who share mutuality and reciprocity in the spiritual life” (The Art of Accompaniment). I believe this “apostolate” of accompaniment is essential to a parish’s spiritual health for three main reasons:
First, creating a culture of accompaniment in the parish enables the lay faithful to be who they are called to be by their baptism. In the Rite of Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and we are made members of Christ’s Body. As members of the same Body, we have a responsibility to bring the light and love of Christ to one another. As Paul writes in First Corinthians, the various parts of the body must have concern for one another because we need each other (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). When members of the lay faithful take an interest in one another’s faith journeys, encouraging one another on that journey, they are living their Christian vocation as the Church intends. When members of the lay faithful are not concerned for members of their parish community, they become spiritually stunted and begin to believe that faith does not require community in one Body.
Second, accompaniment helps a parish to become the best ordinary place of encounter with Christ. The parish is the most likely place where an individual begins his faith journey. Churches that sit on familiar street corners appear as safe havens for those who seek the Lord or some other help. The parish must embrace a culture of accompaniment so that when individuals approach it seeking communion, they are met with a warm and welcoming response instead of sacramental hoops or parish boundary restrictions. Accompaniment challenges parish staff and parishioners to “[respect] the dignity of the human person, and [seek] to increase their freedom to respond to the all-encompassing love of God within their life” (The Art of Accompaniment).
Finally, it’s important that we implement a culture of accompaniment in our parishes because one of the goals of accompaniment is liturgical worship, and this can only take place in the parish. Sacramental theology reminds us that the sacraments are how Jesus accompanies and remains with his Church in a physical way (CCC 1088). Accompaniment’s goal is “transformation in the Person of Christ,” and if the lay faithful are serious about accompanying one another, they will encourage one another to seek out liturgical life at the parish, because the sacraments sanctify us, build up the body of Christ, and give worship to the One who Accompanies.
For more resources on Accompaniment, please click here.
To purchase The Art of Accompaniment, please click here.
Today, the Catholic Apostolate Center is celebrating its 8th anniversary of reviving faith, rekindling charity, and forming apostles. We have both had the honor of being a part of this amazing and spirit-filled endeavor since its earliest days and remember fondly what it took to get started. When Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. gathered a small group of committed collaborators together to think about what the Pallottines of the Immaculate Conception Province could do to answer the Holy Father's call to a new evangelization, it was clear that we needed to work with active Catholics. We felt called to meet them where they were on their individual faith journeys. This meant that we needed to engage all that the internet had to offer, to use emerging social media, and to reach people where they were conducting their daily lives.
In the last eight years, the work done by the Catholic Apostolate Center has impacted the lives of thousands of people through conferences and events; hosting hundreds of webinars and Facebook Live events; providing learning and educational opportunities through seminars and speaking engagement; making spiritual posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; developing programs with our affiliated partners; and providing space for collaboration among Church entities.
All the while, our mission is not necessarily to reach the masses, but to reach the one. We work collaboratively to develop our resources – working with the individual gifts and talents that each member of our team and our collaborators possess, always leaving room for the Holy Spirit.
Each of us has grown professionally and personally in an environment that challenges, affirms, and provides us opportunities to share our own gifts through presenting, writing, video production, marketing, management, and administration. We look forward—through the Holy Spirit and God’s Divine Providence—to continuing our mission for another eight years and beyond.
O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.
A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released an article titled “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” Immediately after the study’s release, social media erupted with reactions of disbelief, shock, and anger, as well as theories of how to “fix this,” including greater catechesis and adjustments to our general liturgical practices. Despite the immediate reaction, there is no need for panic, as Christ assures the Church that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, jumping to such dire conclusions after one survey is not necessarily good pastoral or catechetical practice. As the Church examines the status of belief in the Real Presence and how to cultivate a greater understanding of that reality, she is also very aware of the need to deepen our encounter with Christ. As we ponder Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we must ask ourselves if we have truly encountered him. In his encyclical letter Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that we “look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn 1:41).”
In the end, how we catechize and what our liturgical practices are both require deeper reflection and greater discernment as to how God is calling us to use them as methods of ongoing conversion and evangelization. The doctrines and dogmas that we teach, how we celebrate the Mass, how we best serve our fellow man, are all likely to fall on deaf ears if they are not built on a deep and personal encounter with the Risen Christ. To examine this issue of Eucharistic belief, we should first look to chapter 4 of Christus Vivit, where Pope Francis reminds young people (and all of the people of God) that God is love, he saves us, he gives us life, and he is alive! If these four truths, which are expounded upon in good catechesis and experienced in their fullness in the Mass, are not understood deeply and intimately in the heart of every baptized Catholic, then moving forward will be extremely difficult. If I do not know Christ as the one who saves me, who walks with me through my life, as the one who gives me life, then why does it matter if it is truly his Body and Blood that I receive in its fullness at the Mass? Similarly, if we don’t understand the Kerygma—the mystery of the salvific work of God culminating in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—then how can we begin to understand the mystery of transubstantiation (CCC1376), especially when philosophical distinctions like matter and form aren’t in the everyday vocabulary of most Catholics? Pope Francis reminded pilgrims of this reality during a November 2017 General Audience when he said, “Every celebration of the Eucharist is a ray of light of the unsetting sun that is the Risen Jesus Christ. To participate in Mass, especially on Sunday, means entering in the victory of the Risen, being illuminated by his light, warmed by his warmth.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously wrote in his encyclical letter Deus Charitas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I certainly don’t have the “easy fix” answer as to how to increase belief in the real presence in the Eucharist, but I heartily believe that it begins with a renewed sense of the encounter Pope Benedict XVI was writing about. We use the word “renewed” because even those of us who profess our faith in the Risen Lord are invited “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I [Pope Francis] ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii Gaudium). We must witness to the encounter that has given our lives “a new horizon and a decisive direction,” and share that with those whom we meet. When we accompany our brothers and sisters on their journey to know Christ more fully, we help them to encounter him in the way that the Holy Spirit guides them. If that encounter is through theological and philosophical distinctions, through service, through the liturgy, etc. then praise God, because it is through him that those are effective and not because of their own merits. As we continue to wrestle with this recent study and its implications, may we meditate on this: if we believe that the Eucharist changes us, strengthens us, heals us, then we must show it, we must witness to it authentically and humbly in all circumstances.