Have you ever made a bargain with God? I have—I do it all too often!
“Listen Lord, I promise to pray every day and spend more time with you if you would just please fix… (fill in tough situation here).”
I have come to the realization that I do this without being so explicit. I expect, subconsciously, that because I strive to be a “good” Christian my life’s outcome will be perfect, without suffering or challenges. I wrongly think that if I finally start walking in my identity as a beloved child of God then all my human sufferings will dissipate and my time on earth will contain a storybook ending. It’s a results-oriented mentality: if I put in good work, then I will get a “good” outcome, almost like a math equation.
This realization was spurred from walking with friends who have been enduring profound suffering: childless friends who want the gift of a child, friends who have lost babies, friends who are waiting ever so patiently for their vocations, and friends who have been persevering faithfully through physical and mental trials. I have been wondering during prayer why these good people are getting such poor results. “This is not how it should work, Lord, they are good people, and they love you,” I tell Him. The problem with a results-oriented Christianity is that it typically results in disappointment—disappointment in yourself, and ultimately even doubt in God’s infinite goodness and love.
Enter Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who completely destroys this toxic thinking. A few of her titles are: Mother Most Pure, Virgin Most Powerful, Morning Star, Mother Most Chaste, Mother Most Faithful, Mirror of Justice—the titles continue, but the point is that she is the perfection of humanity. She is without sin. She prayed perfectly. She said “yes” to the Lord with total trust and love. In her goodness, Mary teaches us how to be good, how to be more like Her and Her Son.
I used to struggle with Mary. I mean, she’s perfect. She’s called the Morning Star, for crying out loud! It’s a tad intimidating to attempt to imitate Her. Then, I pondered Her life’s “result” and Her humanity seemed more relatable. Though perfect, she experienced emotion, and she experienced deep suffering—from losing Her Son in the Temple, to standing at the foot of the Cross as Her Son gave the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me. I cannot imagine the pain Her Immaculate Heart suffered. The Mother of our Lord shows us that the Christian life is not one that lacks suffering—rather that the Christian life is one of faithfulness during times of joy and hardship.
In her book Cause of Our Joy, Mother Mary Francis, a contemplative Poor Clare nun and spiritual writer, expounds on another Marian title, Mary Inviolate, meaning “being without violation.” One might look at the result of Mary’s life and see many “violations,” but her peace, trust, and humility in the Father’s Goodness surpassed any fear of suffering. Mother Mary Francis says, “With [Mary’s] help, I will not let every little thing that happens to me disturb me, break in on the peace of my heart, make fissures in my prayer, make cracks in my relationship with Jesus … She could suffer without being violated, so that she could go forward in her life inviolate, unassaulted, nonfissured, with no fortifications destroyed ... Only our reactions assault us. Other things can merely invite us to suffer with the Man of Sorrows and Our Lady of Sorrows” (Francis, 30). Suffering is always an invitation to grow closer to the Lord—to realize that we’re never alone. If we pray, trust, and hope through suffering like Mary did, then we start to move away from a results-oriented Christianity, where we treat our relationship with the Lord like a math equation, and toward true discipleship, where we follow wherever the Lord leads us.
When we next encounter suffering—which is inevitable in the Christian Life—may we say “yes” as Mary always did. When we struggle through our suffering, may we go to Her open Heart that has suffered so greatly and there find the understanding, peace and love that only a Mother can tenderly bestow.
Question for Reflection: Do I turn to God and His Mother like I would a beloved friend or family member when I suffer? Do I pray only for an alleviation or my suffering? Or do I “talk through” my struggles like I would with a friend or family member? How can I approach the Lord and His Mother like I would these confidants I have on Earth?
We live in a world where social media creates a narrative of perfection and curated happiness. The constant pursuit of success, fulfillment and precision fuel our actions. We confuse modern ideals of self-interest, pleasure and minimalism with happiness. This false sense of happiness leads to a severe sense of discontent with our culture of appearances and deception. This, in turn, gives rise to the importance placed on truth and authenticity. Beneath the discontent we all feel is a shared desire to witness and live authentic lives.
In a new film, “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word,” we watch the story of a man who practices what he preaches. In the movie, we hear from a religious sister who says that God gives us a pope who is a reflection of what we need in the current times. In a global society that is starved for genuineness, sincerity and truth, Pope Francis provides the world with simple, bite-sized snippets of profound wisdom that are easily understood.
In one of those snippets of wisdom, our pope urges us to “Talk little, listen a lot.” As 1 John 3:18 says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Pope Francis shows us through his actions – washing the feet of inmates, providing a kind touch of prayer to sick children – that tenderness is strength and not weakness. I work in communications and in my profession we have a common phrase that says, “show, don’t tell.” Our culture yearns to see others living out honest, genuine values through action, not words. Pope Francis is an example of someone who shows us how to love and that love is a choice.
Love is at the core of Jesus’ message. His teachings are those of love in action. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” However, in order for us to love like Jesus, we must be free to give of ourselves to another. Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever we want, when we want, where we want; it’s the ability to choose what is noble, true and right.
Sometimes it seems that as a society we have lost our identities as free beings created by God to love and be loved. We forget that God placed the sense of longing for happiness in our hearts so that we may love him, ourselves and others. This yearning is designed to bring us closer to God and ultimately provides our fulfillment.
Questions for Reflection: Who are the people in your life that show you how to freely love others? How can you show love for others in your own way using the gifts bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit? What are some simple steps you can take to live out your life authentically?
Everyday Holiness (Part 2): 10 Quotes from Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation to Help You Be Holy in Today's WorldRead Now
On April 9, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Pope Francis released his latest Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad): On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World. This is the third Apostolic Exhortation of his papacy, following Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World and Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family. What was his goal? “To re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities" (GE 2). Without delving too much into a theological or heady definition of holiness, Pope Francis invites us simply and straightforwardly to open ourselves to the specific and unique mission God has created us for. In this, he says, lies true joy and freedom. Our Holy Father takes us back to the Source of Holiness, Jesus Christ, and encourages us to look to the Beatitudes as guides for holiness. Below, I’ve compiled some of my favorite quotes and key take-aways from this approachable, yet profound, exhortation.
1.“A person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity.”-GE 37
It is tempting to leave the task of holiness to theologians, the clergy, or those who work for the institutional Church. Here, Pope Francis reminds us that holiness is not all about intellectual knowledge, our ability to quote the latest Church document, or the Catechism. While knowledge of the Faith certainly is important, our holiness is measured by the amount of love with which we infuse all of our actions. I can’t help but think of St. John of the Cross’s quote: “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.
2. “Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card…In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.” -GE 63
I love that Pope Francis ultimately leads us to Scripture and to Jesus Christ Himself as the model and teacher of holiness. It can get overwhelming trying to be holy and define holiness in our modern world. The Beatitudes, Pope Francis says, are like a “Christian’s identity card.” They point us directly to holiness and guide us along the way. Spending time reflecting on each of the Beatitudes will help us to better understand what it means and looks like to be holy.
3. “It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love. Our worship becomes pleasing to God when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.” –GE 104
Here, Pope Francis is reminding us that our prayer must lead to action. We cannot be holy in a vacuum, but are called to live out holiness amidst our brothers and sisters. Service to the world, as promoted by Catholic Social Teaching, is crucial if we are to be true followers of Christ. While our relationship with God always comes first, this relationship turns our gaze outward in order to foster and build relationships of love, service, and communion with our brothers and sisters.
4.“Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit.” -GE 122
Holiness leads to joy – this is the true fruit of our living a holy life. As Christians, we are called to exude the joy of the Resurrection and of the Gospel in the midst of a world plagued by sin, brokenness, and suffering. While holiness is joyful, is does not exist in an alternate reality, but embraces the truth of the world in which we live. Pope Francis says that this holiness is “realistic” and allows us to engage the world while still looking beyond it to the glory of eternal life.
5. “God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded... God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14). So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find him there; indeed, he is already there.” –GE 135
The theme of going outside our comfort zone has been one Pope Francis has promoted since the beginning of his papacy. He calls us as Christians and as the Church to wake up, open our doors, and shake the dust off ourselves by imitating God who is “eternal newness.” Holiness, therefore, means being active, bold, and unafraid. It means meeting Christ in the fringes of society and finding him outside the confines of our Church walls.
6.“Let us allow the Lord to rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia. Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord.” –GE 137
Here, Pope Francis continues to invite the Church to an examination of conscience. Are we doing things out of habit, because we’ve always done something a certain way, or are we open to the promptings and workings of the Holy Spirit as we approach our task of holiness and evangelization? The example and word of Jesus Christ should always “unsettle” us to some degree. We do not achieve perfect holiness at some point in our life and then rest on our haunches! The journey lasts throughout our lifetime.
7.“Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.” -GE 151
I love this passage from Gaudete et Exsultate. Pope Francis takes on a more reflective tone here and invites us to be prayerful along our journey to holiness. He gets to the heart of holiness by asking us some profound but unavoidable questions. Essentially, he’s asking if we have truly encountered Jesus Christ and his infinite love. This is fundamental to holiness, for our encounter with Christ’s love is what will carry us forward on our journey and sustain us. Take some time to pray with these questions and ask the Lord for a deeper encounter with his love.
8.“For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach. If we become careless, the false promises of evil will easily seduce us.” –GE 162
As with any journey, we will encounter setbacks and temptations as we strive for holiness. Pope Francis devotes a section of his exhortation to the reality of evil and our need to acknowledge it. Pursuing holiness also means engaging in spiritual combat. We not only face our own weaknesses or the sins of others, we also face an actual opponent: the devil. Here, Pope Francis encourages us to count on “the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us.” We are not alone as we face evil, but find our strength in the Church, the sacraments, our brothers and sisters, etc.
9. "Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems and make crucial decisions. It is a means of spiritual combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully. We need it at all times, to help us recognize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow." –GE 169
Discernment is a way of life. It means inviting the Lord into our actions and decisions and asking for his guidance as we go about our day. Pope Francis reminds us that discernment is not reserved only for major life decisions such as a move, our vocation, a job opportunity, etc. Discernment should be engrained into our spiritual life and helps to ensure that we are living our lives according to God’s plan rather than our own.
10.“Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us.” -GE 176
We cannot pursue holiness without looking to the perfect model of human holiness: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Francis concludes his exhortation by inviting us not only to look to Mary, but to go to her and build a relationship with her. She always guides us closer to her Son. Mary is a gift to us given by Christ himself to journey alongside us on the path to heaven, don’t forget to use her as a resource!
**This is part two of a two-part series of quotes from Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate.
For more information and resources on Gaudete et Exsultate, please click here.
Questions for Reflection: How does Pope Francis challenge your idea of holiness? Do you agree with the Holy Father’s definition? Where do you see holiness being lived out today?
Today we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In these short years, Pope Francis has done much to continue the work of his predecessors in building a culture of evangelization and inviting each member of the Church to live out their baptismal call as missionary disciples. Several important Church documents have been released throughout his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, Laudato Si’, the encyclical on Care for our Common Home, and Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family. Pope Francis has participated in two World Youth Days, made roughly 22 international apostolic visits, and has canonized 885 saints. He called for the Jubilee Year of Mercy from 2015-2016. I would like to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his election by sharing some quotes that characterize his papacy and capture its tone.
1. A Church on Mission
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving. -Evangelii Gaudium, 49
Pope Francis envisions a missionary church—one with open doors to welcome people in, but also for each of us to step out and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. As Christians, it can be tempting to remain within the safety of our parish and Church community. However, Jesus calls us to “go out to the nations” and encounter the hurting world. Pope Francis reminds us of this evangelizing spirit entrusted to us by Jesus Christ and challenges us to be a Church on mission.
2. The Inherent Dignity of Mankind and Creation
“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” -Laudato Si, 84
About two years into his papacy, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, focusing on our responsibility as stewards of creation. No other pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to the care of creation. In doing so, Pope Francis reminds us that all of the created world helps us to glimpse and better know God Himself. Mankind is the pinnacle of creation, made in God’s image and likeness. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us of each person’s inherent dignity, made with his or her own purpose, gifts, and mission.
3. The Transformative Power of Christ’s Love
“Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness…He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others.” – Homily at Plaza de la Revolución during his Apostolic Journey to Cuba
At the heart of the Christian life is an encounter with Jesus Christ. His love is transformative, life-changing. We encounter Christ in prayer, the sacraments, the parish, in one another. However, we cannot overestimate the importance of our prayer life—of moments throughout each day in which we enter into dialogue with God, offer up our work and sacrifices, remember the needs of others, or give God praise. When we carve out time each day for prayer, we are better able to know the look of Christ that goes beyond the worldly way of seeing things into our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
4. The Role of the Church in the Christian Life
"We cannot understand Christ without his Church, just as we cannot understand the Church without her spouse, Christ Jesus, who gave his life out of love, and who makes us see that it is worth the price.” -Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia
I love this quote because it sums up the relationship between Christ and His Church. We cannot know Christ apart from the Church, just as the Church cannot exist without Christ. Christ founded the Church in order to be a place of encounter with Him through the sacraments and through one another. We come to more fully know the love of God in the life of each parish. How can we create communities of encounter in our various parishes? Is the light of Christ truly shining forth in our communities?
5. The Messiness and Joy of Family Life
“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.” -Amoris Laetitia, 57
Pope Francis speaks realistically of human life and love. The family, the domestic church, is not perfect. We are called to learn and grow in love throughout our entire lives, just as we are called to learn and grow in holiness. The family is the place where love is mastered and refined. It is the foundation of society and of the Church. Pope Francis calls families to journey joyfully on the path of love. He invites us not to fear our imperfection, but to keep moving forward in hope and joy.
6. Not Letting Fear Impact Vocational Discernment
“The work of discernment identifies our fears and can then help us to overcome them, opening us to life and helping us to calmly face the challenges that come our way. For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God… and in life!” -Message for World Youth Day Panama
In preparation for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment and World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Pope Francis spoke of the process of discernment, especially for young people today. Fear is often at the heart of our actions—or inaction. Christians, however, have no cause for fear. As we discern God’s call for our life each day, let us place our trust in Him and act with courage and boldness. God has created us for a unique mission that only we can fulfill in His Church. Let us discern his will for us, as Pope Francis encourages, “trusting that he will lead us to a good end.”
7. The Importance of Contemplating and Encountering God’s Mercy
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.” -Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy
Starting in 2015, Pope Francis instituted the first Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. Throughout this time, he invited the Church to contemplate once more the merciful gaze of the Father and experience God’s mercy in our lives. We cannot be merciful without first having personally experienced the mercy of God. I loved that as a Church, we dedicated a year to contemplating this great mystery. We know God as Father, Savior, Creator, Just Judge, and many other titles. But how often to experience His mercy, as evidenced in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the story of Jesus meeting the Woman at the Well?
8. Our True Identity
“That is our real ‘stature,’ our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity…God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind…God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess…In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.” -Homily at World Youth Day Mass in Krakow
At World Youth Day in Krakow back in 2016, Pope Francis reminded youth and young adults of an incredible universal truth : that our identity lies in being God’s children. In a world so often focused on our careers, material possessions, prestige, or online presence, Pope Francis gets to the heart of our identity as being completely loved by God. It’s easy to forget that we are loved simply because we exist. We all hold a valuable and irreplaceable space in God’s heart. By being most authentically ourselves, we are better able to fulfill our mission within His kingdom and become the saints He wants us to be.
9. Using Technology and Social Media Wisely
“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society…Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world.” -World Day of Communication 2016
We live in a world saturated by social media, technology, and widespread communication. Used irresponsibly, these can isolate and distract mankind. Pope Francis encourages people today to use technology and social media in order to promote a culture of encounter and accompaniment. He challenges us to be “digital citizens” who are not afraid to use technology to spread the Gospel.
10. Being People “For Others”
“Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.” -Message for the First World Day of the Poor
In 2017, Pope Francis called for the first World Day of the Poor—a day in which we act not only in word, but in deed in order to alleviate poverty and accompany those on the margins of society. Pope Francis encourages the world to give and not to count the cost, to love as God first loved us. In a culture of consumerism, we can easily forget to think about our neighbor or those less fortunate than ourselves. Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of giving freely, drawing near to the poor, embracing them, and being transformed through that process. Click here for free resources on Catholic Social Teaching.
Question for Reflection: Do you have a favorite quote from Pope Francis’ papacy that’s not listed above? Share it in the comment section below and let us know why it’s powerful for you.
This Lenten season, I’m trying to be intentional with my prayer. In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray the Our Father. When I read this passage to my students, they were really excited to make the connection to Jesus’ teaching and to a prayer some of them had heard before. Their little faces lit up and hands shot into the air to share about their experience with the Our Father.
In a 2016 homily, Pope Francis explained that the concept of “Father” in the Our Father is the cornerstone of prayer, for it gives us our identity as sons and daughters of God and as a family. Prayer is a way to connect with God, talk to him, and deepen our relationship with him. In prayer, Pope Francis said that if we do not begin “with ‘Father’ and with the awareness that we are children and that we have a Father who loves us and knows all of our needs,” we can sometimes find ourselves in our most vulnerable place: alone. It can be hard to be open and listen for God’s voice in the midst of worrying about ourselves and our concerns. This Lent, I invite you to use prayer to help deepen your understanding of your identity as the son or daughter of God and to put aside distractions and focus on Christ. In prayer, we can discover a deeper sense of self and of others. We can also take a moment to consider our failures and better understand God’s forgiveness.
In the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us and pray that we can find strength to forgive others. That strength can be found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in making amends to those whom we have wronged. This deepens our relationship with God and with others. Pope Francis continued, “If you go to pray and say only ‘Father’, thinking of the One who gave you life, who gives you your identity and loves you, and you say ‘our’, forgiving everyone, forgetting offences: this is the best prayer that you can make”. Throughout Lent, I want to deepen my prayer life and model for my students and my husband that God is truly at the center of my life. During Lent, I’d like to challenge myself to sit in the chapel some mornings before school starts and pray in silence before God. I’d also like to plan my morning around a daily Mass. Throughout Lent, I will look to the Our Father as a centering and reflective prayer. Jesus taught us to pray with it, and I intend to use these simple but transformative words to guide my life. Just as my students continue to learn about prayer, I too will continue to allow myself a chance to start over and prepare my heart for God’s love this Lent. As we continue on our Lenten journey, I invite you to reflect on the following questions asked by Pope Francis in his homily:
“Do I see God as Father, do I feel that He is my Father? And if I do not feel that He is, do I ask the Holy Spirit to teach me to know this? Am I capable of forgetting offences, of forgiving, of letting things go and asking the Father: ‘they are also your children, and they treated me badly, please help me to forgive?”
For more Lenten and Easter resources, please click here.
The call to evangelize is at the heart of our Christian faith. We are evangelizers at our core; it makes up our very identity. And yet, if I were to ask most people sitting in the church pews at Mass if they are evangelists, they would probably shake their heads and identify themselves in other terms: vocation, occupation, role in the family, country of origin.
A professor of mine in graduate school put it starkly when he said most of the laity are experiencing an “identity crisis.” We do not know, or have forgotten, who we are as members of the Body of Christ and what our role is within it. Today, Pope Francis echoes his predecessors in reminding the laity of their call to become missionary disciples. This is a call that originates from God Himself, with the Risen Christ saying to his beloved disciples before ascending to the Father, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” These words reverberate ever more powerfully for us today.
Though the universal call to holiness and a greater emphasis on evangelization has roots in the papacy of Pope Paul VI and within the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis calls the concept of sharing our encounter with Jesus Christ using the means available to us “missionary discipleship.” It is a profound concept that Pope Francis assures us is relatively simple. “The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized,” he writes in Evangelii Gaudium. “Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” Once we have encountered Jesus Christ and His merciful love, we are called to bring that encounter to others, therefore playing a unique role in salvation history.
Several of my colleagues from the Catholic Apostolate Center and I were honored to discuss “The Call to Missionary Discipleship” at the Catechetical Day hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington in late October. We discussed that, as baptized Christians, we have been given the grace of Jesus Christ in order to respond to the both daunting and exhilarating call to “go out to all the nations.” This understanding of evangelization subsists not only on our personal encounter with God’s transforming love, but also on our proclamation of it. It is not enough to encounter Jesus Christ for ourselves. Like the woman at the well, we must go forth telling anyone who will listen, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.”
Below are five practical tips we came up with for living out the call to be a missionary disciple. What are we missing? Feel free to add to our list by commenting on our post below!
If we are to be missionary disciples, we must be people of collaboration. This does not mean that we attend endless meetings, join committees, or fill every moment of our schedule. We propose collaboration from the beginning, which means a willingness to begin an endeavor communally with others—recognizing the valuable role each person has. Collaboration must happen among, for, and with those in our parishes and organizations. It requires openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, humility, dialogue, and flexibility. How can you learn from others in your community, parish, family, workplace, or neighborhood? How might God use the gifts and talents of a diverse group of people to strengthen His kingdom on earth?
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to use the tools of this present age in order to re-present the Gospel to our world in a way that is innovative and re-invigorated. A major tool today that can be used to spread the Gospel message is technology, especially the internet. We can share digital content that is valuable, such as Scripture, the Catechism, and Papal and Conciliar documents, in order to become better informed about our faith. Technology can also create a new type of community, enabling us to connect with others and share information in a way that is cost-effective and not limited to physical proximity. What are some ways you can use technology to spread the Gospel and help build a civilization of love?
3. Community/Parish Life
We do not exist in isolation. As Christians, our work of evangelization will not bear much fruit if we do it alone. Our community, especially our parish, strengthens us and equips us to go outside our church walls in order to evangelize. It is within the parish that we receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which gives us the grace of Christ Himself. In order to be effective as missionary disciples, we are called to have a vibrant sacramental life strengthened by our communities. How does your parish community strengthen you for your mission of discipleship?
Relationships outside of the parish are also crucial to missionary discipleship. As mentioned above, we do not exist in isolation. Do we have a mentor or spiritual guide helping us to grow in our faith life? Do we have relationships or friendships that hold us accountable and push us to become better witnesses of faith? By developing faith-filled relationships and surrounding ourselves with mentors and guides, we ensure that we continue to grow in our role as missionary disciples.
Prayer is crucial not only to a life of missionary discipleship, but to the Christian life overall. Prayer is the foundation for our relationship with God, inviting us to get to know ourselves more deeply through his gaze of love and mercy and helping us to better understand our specific mission in building up the Body of Christ. Prayer can, and should be, both personal and communal. God speaks in the silence of our hearts, as well as through others. Are we carving out time in silence to converse with God and hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Do we read Scripture, pray the Rosary, journal, sing hymns, or reflect? By having an active prayer life, we will be better equipped to become fruitful missionary disciples.
The call to missionary discipleship is both daunting and exciting, and we can live it out at any time. As Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” Above, I’ve listed a few tips to fulfilling our call to become missionary disciples. What would you add to the list?
To learn what the Catholic Apostolate Center is doing to form missionary disciples, click here to learn about Apostles on Mission.
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. –1 Corinthians 12:27
I commute to work every day by train through Chicago’s “loop.” It’s the perfect place for
people-watching. Recently, I was on a busy sidewalk when a woman who looked rather tired and disheveled pushed a stroller near the crowd with her child. Behind me were two very elegantly dressed women in a hurry. The woman with the stroller asked the passing crowd, “Can you spare some change for our next meal?” It’s a question that I’ve heard too often downtown. I felt a pang of sadness and guilt. Often, I am unsure how to respond. The women behind me continued on past her and began commenting: “What a horrible mother”; “Of course I’m not going to help her out. Why would I want to give her my money?” Those comments hurt even more than seeing this poor mother and child suffer.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” The mother and her baby, the women behind me, and all those who are a part of my community of friends and family are of one body. As stated in Lumen Gentium, “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body.
In that Body the life of Christ is poured into the believers who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ who suffered and was glorified.” We live as one with Christ and with one another even amidst the poverty, injustice, and messiness we experience.
This letter from Paul to the early Church deepens their understanding of the Body of Christ and its physical makeup. Each person has a function within it which works alongside the other members and promotes the common good. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful.” I often fall into the temptation of removing myself from a group who seems holier than me, those who are more involved in their community or are outspoken in ways that I’m not. I even tend to exclude myself from the community of pedestrians walking down the sidewalk. I forget that we make up the Body of Christ and that if others suffer, I suffer. If others rejoice, I rejoice. I also share a part of myself with each of them. One of my mentors once said, “Our goal is always to connect. Even if it’s uncomfortable, we are made for relationship.” As a Christian, I am called to notice those in the community around me and to connect with them.
Mystici Corporis Christi, the encyclical from Pius XII, also outlines the meaning of being a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. “Each member of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ, if authentic, is integrally bonded in soul, and hopefully in heart, through the Incarnation, by the Spirit, with Jesus, Son of God, and son of Mary, divine and human,” wrote Msgr. Owen F. Campion. We are bonded in soul and heart because of Christ’s physical and spiritual sacrifice as the Son of God. We become whole in him and in relation to others. As members of the Church, we are called to be a family who loves and cares for others, even those outside of our communities.
In all circumstances, the Body of Christ leads me to a holier life. When I am doubtful or uncertain, my faith community allows me to grow. When I’m overwhelmed, others will kindle the fire of faith within me. I fully experience joy when I experience it with others and share the Good News and the love of Jesus. I may do this differently from a trained hand who provides, or a speaker with a gifted tongue, but I’m using my gifts as a member of the Body of Christ. We are called to take part of this community through our unique identity with authenticity.
I paused that day on my commute because of this mystical experience of community. I witnessed the pain of the poor mother and child on the Chicago sidewalk, and the harshness of the response of the two women who were walking near me. I became more aware of this truth in the wounds and challenging emotions I experienced. I feel pain because I am connected to all people in some way. Conversely, I can feel joy if I make small choices to build up the Body of Christ. St. Paul outlines this for us, and we hear it in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, “Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We must pay attention like Jesus would, and love our physical and mystical body.
Questions for Reflection: What unique gifts can I share with others as a member of the Body of Christ? How can I become more aware of the communities I live in?
Although I recently graduated from The Catholic University of America, I frequently find myself back at my alma mater for various events and activities. Even more frequently, as I look around, I am reminded that the usually vibrant and bustling campus is now much more subdued and calm: it is summer in Washington, D.C. and the university seems to be an empty nest. As a former student, I’m free of the academic schedules and obligations that have dominated my life until now. I sometimes feel as if I’ve taken on a new identity. I am more conscious that the direction of my life rests squarely in my hands.
This is especially true as I begin to look for a new parish community and cultivate my faith as an adult. In order to benefit from all the Church offers spiritually, personally, and materially, I need to actively seek out and choose opportunities to continue to grow in my faith each and every day. While my time as a student was blessed with high exposure and easy access to the various ministries of the Church around campus, now that I have graduated I must seek new sources of spiritual nourishment closer to home or work. As disciples, this is something we are all called to do. Ministries and resources for adult faith formation, such as those found at the Catholic Apostolate Center or in our local parishes, ensure that we continue to grow in our faith. The places where I grew up remain open for me to return to, but now I look to places that are more cohesive with my current location and daily schedule. It might be unsettling having to look for and choose a new spiritual home. As is the case for starting at a new school or moving to a new neighborhood, the process of making friends, learning the culture, or finding support systems begins anew. While potentially uncomfortable, doing these things is a necessary step to adapt and thrive while laying down new roots.
The same goes for the spiritual life. Finding ministries to join in a new parish will be necessary in order to make the most of a new spiritual home. As stated in Christefideles Laici, “the parish is called to instruct its members in hearing God's Word, in liturgical and personal dialogue with God, in the life of fraternal charity, and in allowing a more direct and concrete perception of the sense of ecclesial communion and responsibility in the Church's mission.” It is within the context of the parish that we are able to continue to grow in our faith.
There is much diversity in the Catholic church resulting in differences in the parishes and ministries around you. Perhaps the atmosphere in one parish is more subdued or the community in another is less tightly-knit that what you’re used to. That’s okay! The life of the parish depends on the contribution of its spiritual family. We are all called to participate in the life of our parish. As we read in Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, “As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.” Do not be shy to attend a new Mass time with a different liturgical or musical character. Parishes offer many resources to the best of their ability, not just to the local church, but the greater community; the Christian life is not one of isolation! By taking advantage of the spiritual treasures of a parish, you not only learn more about yourself and your spiritual needs, but you’ll inevitably meet others seeking to do the same. Introducing yourself and taking the time to share ministerial or social experiences (and contact information) will help you to be a more fulfilled and involved member of the parish.
These are just a few of the many ways to plant new spiritual roots after a transition. A good place to start a more detailed search can also be done on a diocesan website. The bishop and his staff, as well as the parish offices, do not need to be distant or removed from your daily life, but can help you become comfortable and connected in the local church. In my own search, I began by looking for parishes near my apartment and work before reviewing their websites for a snapshot of the life there. I would venture out for a Mass I could attend and get a feel for how vibrant the congregation worshiped with, served alongside, and supported each other. Above all, I needed to feel welcome! My search eventually ended, but my life as a member of my new parish is just beginning. Now it falls to me to make others feel welcome and engaged in this spiritual family of ours. Just as the Christian life is not lived for the self, so too must we always strive to serve wherever there is a need and encounter others wherever they are in life. By remaining involved in the life of the parish, may each of us continue to grow in faith and so better respond to the dismissal at the end of Mass to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
Question for Reflection: How can you use your gifts and talents to participate in or start a ministry in your parish? What can you do to make others feel welcome?
Click here to read more from Thomas about making others feel welcome in the Church.
You may have heard this phrase or a deviation of it before: while St. Ignatius referred to, “Seeking God in all things,” St. Vincent Pallotti taught, “Seek God in all things, and you will find God in all things.” Both convey the same message. While this message can be an easy one to remember, putting it into practice is a different story—even Jesus’ disciples had trouble with this! If we look at the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it was only after Jesus had traveled along the road with them, sat down, and broke the bread that they recognized Him (cf Luke 24:13-32). If the disciples could struggle to recognize Christ, how many times in our lives have we also failed to recognize Him in a person, place, or event?
This past summer, I undertook the great challenge of attempting to recognize Christ in my everyday life. Having been blessed with the opportunity to attend World Youth Day in Poland, I, for the first time, felt like I was truly experiencing a culture that was authentically Catholic. Everywhere I went, I found myself able to identify Christ present in my surroundings. Throughout the trip, I worried that the enthusiasm with which I found it easy, even second nature, to exhibit my faith would go out like a lamp when I landed and departed from my group in the US. I knew it did not have to, nor should be that way, but in the back of my mind this was how I felt. I was compelled to not make this happen. I knew I needed a community in which I could sustain and share the joy of seeking Christ in all things.
Enter the Knights of Columbus Council of Catholic University. Having been recently elected Grand Knight of the Council, I knew I had many decisions to make, one of which included coming up with a theme for the upcoming fraternal year. While flying home from Poland, it dawned on me: what better theme than what I had just experienced? After making my suggestion to the chaplain and a few others, the theme of “Seeking Christ in All Things” was announced to the Council during our first business meeting in the fall semester.
Following this announcement, the Council sought to incorporate the new theme into its fraternal programs, beginning with the reflection shared by the Council’s Lecturer and continuing with our Chaplain’s reflections. There was much discussion about our theme, “Seeking Christ in All Things.” Discussion is important, but as Knights, we must also give witness to our faith. The Knights at The Catholic University of America have sought Christ in our lives and invited others into this encounter with Him in various ways.
Some examples that come to mind center around our weekly “Knights Mass” where, together with our campus community, we attend daily Mass once a week together. Afterwards, we pray the rosary together and invite others to join us.
Knights from our Council also lead and are involved in numerous activities through our university’s campus ministry. These programs include a weekly homeless food run, tutoring at a local after-school program, and countless liturgies on campus and in our neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In addition, several members of our Council will be doing international and domestic mission trips during our spring break.
You do not need to be a Knight of Columbus to encounter Christ or bring people closer to Him. As we begin Lent, I invite you to take the time to look for Christ in your life. Strive to pray wherever you are, not just in church on Sundays. Go volunteer and recognize Christ in those whom you serve. Look for the unconventional places that Christ may in your life. Find the beauty that is there and never let it leave your sight.
Daniel Hackenjos serves as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Council of Catholic University where he studies elementary education as an undergraduate.
Some of the extensive spiritual formation programming of the CUA Knights is in the March 2017 edition of Columbia, the official magazine of the Knights of Columbus.
Whenever I tell people, “I am the Wellness Coordinator for Saint Patrick’s,” I usually get the same reaction: “You are the what?” Although there are various churches that hold wellness or exercise classes in their facility, we are not aware of any actual positions that exist for this purpose. So, I was given a title, an office, and some general guidelines and responsibilities. Then, I was given the freedom to create. I would like to take a moment to share with you some of my beginning experiences in creating and building a ministry to meet a need that our pastor, Father Forrey, recognized in our community. It is my hope that you can use some of my experiences to either assess, re-invent, or create whatever ministry field it is that you are being called to.
We are blessed in our parish to have an outdoor track and Parish Activity Center with a multi-purpose gymnasium and various meeting rooms. Recognizing the potential of the functionality of such a space, Father Forrey wanted to be able to provide our parishioners with wellness and exercise activities. When we first began to look at this idea, we asked ourselves not only what our need was, but also how we could meet it in a way that would lead our parishioners to a deeper community with one another, as well as a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and their Catholic faith. There are many places in our area to attend wellness and exercise activities. Why come to the church?
What is the need you are meeting?
It’s important to first identify the need your ministry or program is hoping to address. In our case, we wanted to focus on the health and wellness of the whole person. As a society, many know that a healthy lifestyle is good for us. And, for the most part, we know the general steps that we need to take to attain that lifestyle. Yet, the majority of our population is still struggling with body image and maintaining a healthy weight. What is missing? As Christians, we know we are called to no longer be slaves to sin and temptation. We are free to offer our bodies as weapons of righteousness for God (cf Romans 6:13). The Catechism teaches us that, through the human body, the elements of the world are summed up and brought to perfection, thus freely praising the Creator. (CCC, 74) Do we truly believe and live this notion? When we exercise, when we eat, when we move our bodies, are we realizing that this, in and of itself, is a form of praise to God? Ah! This is the key! We can create a positive, spiritually uplifting environment where our exercise and our health become a form of praise and thanksgiving. The saving truth of the resurrection and the belief of BODY and soul being raised on the last day--that is what we can offer. Working from this truth is what sets our ministry apart from other wellness and exercise activities.
What is your mission?
Once we identified our specific need, it was time to create a mission statement to assist us in keeping the work of our ministry focused. A mission statement is especially important when considering new program or class offerings. If your ministry is no longer in its infancy, I encourage you to re-asses your mission. Are you still ministering to the same demographic and meeting the same need, or has your scope of work and use of talent shifted? The mission of your ministry should be your compass – make sure it is pointing north. After identifying the need that we were striving to meet, we knew that it was important that our mission reflected the need to minister to the health and wellness of the whole human person. Therefore, our mission is to provide the tools and support necessary to foster a healthy community through five aspects of wellness: Physical, Mental, Social, Emotional, and Spiritual. Every time we have an idea for a program or class offering, we use this compass to make sure that we are staying true to our intended path. Having a mission statement and using it as a compass will also ensure that your program or ministry continues to meet the needs of your community.
In the second part of this series, we will look at how research, collaboration, and networking can help to build a sustainable foundation in order to build and carry out your ministry. Be sure to read part 2 of this series in early June!
A few years ago, I was backpacking through the desert of northeastern New Mexico. On one particular day, we were going to climb the tallest mountain of our trek, Baldy Mountain, at an elevation of 12,441 feet. As we got higher, the climb became more difficult with thinning air and more challenging terrain. As we neared the summit, I ended up in front of the crew. Just as we reached the summit, our crew leader, Jordan, literally gave me the final push to the top. At that moment, we were on top of the world and gleaming with joy! While on the mountaintop, we could see for miles. As we reveled, I paused and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving. One couldn't help but be amazed at God's great creation. As we rested, having a quick snack and some water, we saw some storm clouds starting to roll in and were forced to descend quicker than anticipated. Eventually, we would finish our 110 mile trek—with Baldy Mountain being one of the greatest highlights.
Whenever I hear the story of the Transfiguration, my mind immediately goes to this time in the mountains. Because of this experience, I feel as though I have walked with Peter, John, and James. At the moment I reached summit, I caught a glimpse of the glory of God. I saw a small part of the transfiguring power of Jesus. I went from a hiker to a pilgrim in a matter of seconds. My trek now had a greater significance. It was no longer just a physical challenge, but one that would cause me to go on a religious quest in God's great creation. This is what I see in last Sunday's Gospel, which is a reminder of the splendor of Jesus. Usually by this point in Lent, I am more concerned about avoiding the things I have given up and less on Jesus. The Transfiguration is a reminder of why we enter the Lenten season: to see the face of Jesus. He helps us transfigure ourselves into being more loving, more merciful, and more perfect humans.
If we look at the beginning of Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus gives his mission to the Apostles. He tells them to go out and proclaim the Good News. It is after the Transfiguration that he reveals more of his glory. We, too, have the same experience. These experiences come in a number of different ways. They are often brief personal moments that can happen anywhere. Personally, I often find them in interactions with individuals. It can be serving the poor, being with a friend during a difficult time, or smiling at a stranger in the grocery store. From the moment of our baptism, we are sent out into the world as apostles and then along the way we consistently experience his glory. This encounter can happen anywhere and at anytime.
I also appreciate Peter's role in this Gospel. Rather than being amazed at the splendor of Christ and the conversation between him, Elijah, and Moses, Peter suggests they pitch tents for the three. Doing so would completely defeat the purpose of the meeting. His transfiguration is an affirmation of his identity as the Messiah and is meant to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I often find that I say something at the wrong place or time. That is exactly what Peter does here. He means well, but doesn't see what is in front of him: the glory that Jesus has revealed. In his humanity, Peter often does this, yet Jesus still loves him. Especially during the Year of Mercy, we need to be reminded that we, too, can be like Peter and that is okay. We often don't see the splendor in front of our eyes. But we know that we are loved by God, who is the Infinite Love. When we invite God to enter our hearts, we can see the spender of God. Like the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, said "Seek God and you find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God in always and you will always find God."
As we go on this week, we should be looking in our own lives to see the transfiguring power of Christ. It may not be a major event, like last Sunday's Gospel, but in the small things. If we keep our hearts open this Lent we will find God anywhere.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, click here.
“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring Good News” (Romans 10:15-17)! With these words of Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warmly greeted the cardinals, bishops, and educators assembled at The Catholic University of America during his April 2008 apostolic visit to the United States. Seven years later, Pope Francis will be following in the footsteps of his predecessors as he brings the Good News to our nation. He is the fourth pontiff to do so. While the good news of Christianity itself hasn’t changed in two thousand years, its Argentine messenger is certainly electrifying the faithful with his personality of joyous humility, simplicity, and compassion evident in the course of his evangelization--specifically renewed calls to holiness and having an unreserved love of neighbor. And yet, it is all too easy to become lost in the so-called “Francis effect” (and attempts to get a papal selfie) and forget to pay attention to the message of His Holiness. A visit by the Vicar of Christ is certainly a rare occasion to be celebrated, but when it comes down to it, are we honoring the man visiting us or the One who authored the Good News in the first place?
I remember first reading the interview published by America magazine conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. with the newly elected Pope Francis, desiring to hear from the man himself instead of the wild speculations and analysis drawn up by the media. To answer the first question of “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” the pope candidly responded, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” I was deeply touched to be able to identify with the earthly head of the Church in this way, thinking, “The Holy Father is a sinner… like me?!” But remaining a sinner is not what we are called to be as Christians. Accepting his election as pontiff, Pope Francis replied, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” These words are truly fitting for the “Servant of the servants of God”: a humble acceptance of God’s will and the call to give witness to His love by carrying one’s cross and serving others in imitation of Christ.
We frequently see the Holy Father’s simple and charitable acts of love in global headlines. In a world so unfamiliar with loving one’s neighbor, it’s really no wonder why people find this shocking and out of the ordinary. But each of us, no matter our status, is called to give the same loving witness in our daily lives— love is our mission, after all! Remember that these acts, no matter how small, are an especially meaningful aspect of our Faith:
Because Christ is the source of all our good works and is himself the truth of our faith, there is an indissoluble union between truth and love. It is the truth of our faith that guards our charitable works from becoming empty philanthropic endeavors. Our faith makes our charitable works building blocks of the Kingdom of God here on earth, blocks that can be used to build the Church on the cross of Jesus Christ. Our charitable work, on the other hand makes our faith visible and a real part of the world in which we live. The living truth of faith makes our works really good, and our good works reveal a true and living faith. (To see the full text, click here.)
His Holiness is certainly aware that the eyes of the world are fixated upon his every deed. Instead of accepting the praise and lauds, he quietly continues to make each an opportunity for evangelization in the hopes of inspiring others to begin to tend to their neighbors.
When Pope Francis arrives in the United States next month, remember to take the time to pray for him as he spreads the Good News, that God may grant him the strength, courage, and wisdom needed to touch hearts and that our Lady may grace him with her continued protection. Especially take the time to worship and adore the Author of Love who perpetually resides in the tabernacle of your local church— drawing near to Him requires no special security clearance, rank, or ticket, simply an open heart and a willingness to listen. Finally, pray that once Shepherd One (the name for the Air Italia plane the pope flies in) has departed for Rome, the seeds planted by His Holiness will grow to inspire us to continue the mission of love which has been entrusted to each of us.
For more information on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the U.S., please click here.
Much has been made of the so-called Francis Effect in the public relations game the secular media plays with the Church. At first, it seemed a boon to the Church, though the jury is still out as to its lasting impact. But even Pope Francis himself would agree that it is not the Francis Effect that we want in our lives. It is a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We want the Jesus Effect.
The name Jesus means “God saves”. We hear these phrases often – “Jesus saves” or “You must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” And these things are true. Jesus does save us from the power of sin, and he is very, very personal. He knows each one of us intimately, and longs for us to know him just as well.
In coming to know Jesus, we come to know our true selves. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We know this God has revealed himself to be nothing other than LOVE itself. God is love – we read it in John’s Gospel. We are made in the image and likeness of LOVE. When you look in the mirror, do you see LOVE looking back at you?
We all try to be loving people. And we know from experience that when we love, we are happier. If we are made in the image of LOVE, then, when we love, we are being our true selves. This is why the more we get to know Jesus, the more we come to know our true selves. We are made to love. We are made to love and to be loved. We are always loved by God – this is what enables us to know how to love others (and to actually do it!). The power of this love is far more powerful than the power of sin. Both powers are more powerful than we are. We easily become “slaves to sin” because, without the power to overcome it, we can only give in to it. But with the power of love – AH. We are no longer slaves – we are free to love, free to be our true selves. You can see why it is so important to be in relationship with Jesus always, to seek him out, and to value every encounter with him.
I struggle to find words that adequately describe the power of this love experienced in an encounter with Jesus. Powerful, yes. Safe and secure. Energizing. Liberating. I think depending on where we are in our lives and what challenges we are facing, this love will have a different effect on us. It is interesting to look at some examples from the Scriptures of people who encountered Christ, and ponder the Jesus Effect in their lives.
John the Baptist first encounters Jesus while both are still in their mothers’ wombs! When Mary arrives for her visit to Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb – he leaps for joy. He recognizes the presence of Jesus, and is happy – so happy he can’t control himself. He wants to come out and play with Jesus. The joy present in that moment is immense.
Can you think of a moment when you encountered Jesus and simply experienced pure and utter joy?
This same boy who recognized Jesus from his first encounter becomes the one who facilitates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the world. John was baptizing people as they acknowledged their sins, but he was always fully aware that he was merely preparing people for their encounter with Jesus – calling them to repentance so that when the One who could forgive sin and conquer it –really take its power away – arrived, they would be ready to hand over their sins and be purified with love. John knows that Jesus does not need to be baptized for the sake of forgiving his sins – Jesus doesn’t have any! But Jesus tells him to do it anyway. The humility of John to do as he is told by Jesus, even without understanding, is rewarded with the voice of God affirming Jesus’ identity. His encounter with Jesus resulted in a trust in his way.
Can you think of a moment when you did something you felt God was calling you to do, even though it didn’t make any sense to you?
In our baptism, we die and rise with Christ – united to his Paschal Mystery. Our original sin is washed away – our lives controlled by sin dies, and a new life – freed by love – rises. Our dying and rising is united to Jesus’ death and resurrection – our lives become witnesses to the power of love over sin. Baptism is first a personal union with God – but in becoming personally united to God, we become joined to all the others who are united to God, and we love who are not yet united to God as God loves them. We desire that they, too, will come to know the love of God that we know. We become a community; we become church.
Now, just because we are baptized does not mean we are all loving and never sin. We know that’s not true! But God’s love for us is so great that he gives us many opportunities to become reunited to him. The most powerful opportunities are those we are given by participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Baptism brings us into the loving embrace of our God – the rest of the sacraments sustain us in that love. They are genuine encounters with Christ, and they have a Jesus Effect on us.
The Jesus Effect is not always one of joy. In Luke’s gospel, we meet someone who encounters Jesus and, instead of leaping for joy, breaks down in tears.
The Pardon of the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50) is one of my favorite Scripture passages. Imagine what it must have been like to meet Jesus while he walked the earth. This woman’s response to meeting Jesus was one of utter humility and repentance. The two go hand in hand. You can’t really be repentant without being humble first. Humility enables us to acknowledge that we are not perfect. Humility is the greatest form of honesty, I think. We acknowledge who we are in front of God – not in front of anyone else, not compared to anyone else. It is just our true self – and how well we are being that (or not). Her response to Jesus was so beautiful because in it, she is saddened by her own sinfulness, while being completely overwhelmed by the forgiveness offered to her. Her focus is completely on Jesus. She is not distracted by the others present who speak ill of her. The power of the love of Jesus is so strong that it overshadows their sneers. Imagine that!
Can you think of a moment when you encountered the love of God so strongly that it silenced all the negative voices around you, at least in your ears? Now – can you think of a moment when you were that love of God to another?
The sacrament of reconciliation is an intense moment of this kind of love, and the season of Lent of a perfect time to encounter Jesus in this way. We can bring anything to confession, and Jesus will give us graces to overcome these temptations. He judges us only to save us – he judges what it is in our lives that is keeping us apart from him – and he tells us to stop doing these things – AND he gives us the grace to do so. He doesn’t leave us hanging. He wants to be intimately united to us. He gives us all we need to do it. This is the Jesus Effect – and it is everlasting.
Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on February 11th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
The call to holiness and the mission presented to the Church from Jesus Christ is certainly a challenging one. The fact that God created us with the ability to freely choose not only between right and wrong but between varied truths allows the members of Christ’s body, the Church, to live out the freedom given by God by our birth and baptism. The Catechism defines freedom as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility ... Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (1731). The ‘mission,’ so to speak, of Catholics in this day and age is to live the Gospel message and to promote a New Evangelization.
This does not mean that everyone is called to any particular vocation. However, everyone is called to a vocation. It is up to the individual, because of their freedom, to choose and discern where they are being called by God and for what purpose. Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, eloquently puts it:
Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.
Concrete personal reflection has never come easy for me, and there is a reason that people tend to hide their emotions. Reflecting on the meaning of vocation and what God is calling me to do conjures up memories of high school retreats of discovering where God is found in daily life. While structured experiences of faith exploration and formation are important in shaping the broad spectrum of faith, I have learned that is not all of what my faith encompasses.
At the very first meeting with my spiritual director, he asked, “Who is Alex?” I began to spew answers such as student, friend, brother, and the like. What I wanted to avoid was the internal reflection on the self because I didn’t want to have to address the underlying feelings regarding vocation and personal identity. If we are indeed called to shape our own identity, then we very often have a choice. This could be a choice between choosing the truth over a falsehood or even between particular vocations. In discernment, it is my task to look forward, to look to the future. If I dwell on the things of the past, I will never adequately be able to say that I have done what God is calling me to do, whatever it may be. It is the Christian’s responsibility, my responsibility, to discern this vocation, whatever it may be, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
If we must seek the Creator “spontaneously,” as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it, on their own accord and out of impulse, then it becomes clear that the mission of the baptized Christian is to seek God always and in all things. The Italian priest Saint Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, wrote, “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 always find God.” I have often found consolation in this prayer of Saint Vincent. It serves as a reminder to attune my heart and mind to God, in all things and at all times. Out of this freedom of choice and seeking comes a responsibility to act out of instinct and to lead others closer to Jesus Christ by first seeking the very God who created us.
Alex R. Boucher is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.
To learn more about vocations, please see our Vocational Discernment Resource Page!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on January 15, 2012
This past Sunday, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On this solemnity, the Church recalls the sovereignty of our Lord over the universe and in our hearts. We are called to look forward to the “definitive and eternal kingdom of Christ”, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI identified as “the ultimate goal of history”. Having been with the Father at the very beginning, when the world was “without form or shape” will fully manifest His lordship at the end of time (cf Genesis 1:2). This past Sunday’s reading from St. Matthew’s gospel presents the great scene of this final judgment, where He who “sits upon His glorious throne with all the nations gathered before Him” will separate the “sheep from the goats”, that is, identify those who have recognized and accepted the Word of God and its messengers and those who rejected it (Matthew 24:31-32). The point of the Gospel, is not so much identifying who are the sheep and who are the goats, but, as Pope Francis noted, determining whether we live our lives in “imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which He brought about His kingdom. “
Christ’s reign is unlike any earthly notion of kingship (cf. Matthew 21:1-11). He completely identifies Himself with the poor, the sick, and the afflicted. He does not ignore the weak, the needy, or the marginalized. Christ’s kingdom is one of love, service, and Truth, not one built up by weapons, violence, or a lust for power. Unfortunately, Christ’s contemporaries frequently misunderstood the kingdom being preached as an earthly, political one. After the multiplication of the loaves, for example, the masses were so enthralled by the miracle that they wanted to declare Jesus as their king on the spot to overthrow Roman rule. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, a zealous Peter begins to fight those who came to arrest Jesus. Both times, Jesus knows the will of His Father must be completed: He withdraws to pray in the first instance, and, after rebuking Peter, submits to the mob in the second. Hearing of a new kingdom and servants, the Pontius Pilate has Jesus presented before him, but is taken aback at what he sees: the one who dared to challenge the might of Rome has been abandoned by his followers, and his enemies are crying for a most humiliating execution (cf. John 18:37). The Roman governor asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). In spite of the injury and insult He is suffering, Jesus clarifies the nature of His kingship, which is no worldly power but a Love which serves. He states that His kingdom is in no way to be confused with a political reign: “My kingship is not of this world… is not from the world” (v. 36).
The kingdom that Christ inaugurates is universal. It is not confined to political borders or a single ethnic group but rather, it is universal and communal by being present among those who love as He loved, and serve as He served. In seeking the Kingdom of God, one only has to look towards those who are suffering hardship in their lives. How can one hope to enter the Kingdom based on justice, love, and peace, if that person turns a blind eye to the needs of his neighbors (cf. Luke 10:25-37)? Mother Teresa addressed this hypocrisy:
It is not enough for us to say, “I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.”… How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live?
How, then, can we prepare for this Kingdom? Our Faith is not one we keep to ourselves, but something we are meant— and commanded— to share and give witness to every moment of our lives (cf. Matthew 28:19). We can bring others to Christ by our love, our service, and our humility, placing the needs of others, especially the marginalized, above our own. In doing so, and by forgoing the allures of worldly power and riches, we make ourselves ready for the greater Kingdom and Glory that Christ has promised us. And when each of us stands before Him at the Final Judgment and renders an account of the life we spent in imitation of our Lord, we can hope to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant! ... Come, share your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:21).
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
For more information on bringing Christ’s love to others, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s New Evangelization Resource Page!