“Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” -Luke 9:32
Twice in the Gospels we hear of the trio of disciples sleeping at pivotal moments in Christ’s life and ministry: at the Transfiguration – in this Sunday’s Gospel – and in the Garden of Gethsemane during Christ’s Agony. Both times, Christ is in deep prayer. And both times, Peter, James, and John are “overcome by sleep.”
I get it. The group of men have just hiked up a mountain. It would have been normal to rest after such a grueling endeavor. Similarly, in the Garden, Jesus took the three disciples to pray after the Feast of the Passover—a long, filling meal complete with wine. I think of all the times I’ve napped after a holiday meal and sympathize with Peter, James, and John.
In these scenes, they are so human. They become tired and rest their eyes. And yet, because of their physical tiredness, they miss out on God’s glory.
In this week’s Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent, Jesus is transfigured and his three beloved disciples are offered a glimpse of the glory to come—not only the glory of the Resurrected Christ, but the glory that awaits all men and women who allow themselves to be transformed by his grace.
This Lent, I find myself asking, “Am I asleep with his disciples? What’s causing me to shut my eyes to God’s glory?” These questions are what have guided my Lenten journey as I discern how to grow in holiness this season.
Each year, the Church in her wisdom asks us to reflect on what is making us spiritually sluggish and helps us prepare for Easter through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. By ramping up in these three Lenten tenets, we can grow in our ability to see God’s will and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
Had the Apostles been awake throughout the entirety of Christ’s Transfiguration, they would have basked longer in this glory—fear and confusion would not have gripped them. Lent calls us to wake up, to be alert, not only for the Easter celebration, but for God’s invitation to greater holiness throughout our lives.
Pope Francis highlights Lent as the continuation of the “journey of conversion.” This journey is a lifelong one. And yet, seasons such as Lent, which focus on an even greater attention to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, often spur us deeper and further on this journey towards Christ.
As Pope Francis encouraged in his 2019 Lenten message:
Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.
The goal of Lent is not only Easter, but Christ Himself. This Lent, may our participation in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us shake off the drowsiness that shuts our eyes to God’s glory.
For more resources to accompany you throughout your Lenten journey, please click here.
Questions for Reflection: Am you asleep with Christ's disciples? What’s causing you to shut your eyes to God’s glory?”
I remember sharing an odd insight with my fiancé as we walked briskly up to the cathedral where we would soon be married. “This is going to be hard,” I said, referring to marriage.
This might have caught most people off guard. It’s not common for a young, blissful couple about to embark on a lifelong journey of commitment to think about its difficulty. I didn’t know at the time how true these words were, only that they were necessary for understanding some of the implications of any lifelong commitment.
It’s a lot easier, and a lot more enjoyable, to think about all the beauty involved in marriage: visions of your spouse bringing you breakfast in bed, selflessly offering to do the laundry, bringing home flowers “just because,” going on countless adventures, experiencing the thrill of starting a family, buying homes, building careers, and doing it all as a team, forever.
In February, the United States celebrates love on Valentine’s Day. The Church celebrates a form of love as well, with February 7-14 being National Marriage Week in the US and February 10 being World Marriage Day.
Celebrations of love are appropriate and beautiful, but I think we do love and marriage an injustice if we only celebrate what we consider to be positive and only on certain days. My husband and I continue to learn—after three years of marriage and two children—that true love is sacrifice. More romantic to me than any bouquet is my husband getting up early with one of our sons, taking the trash out, or working to improve our almost 100-year-old home. The moments when he gives of himself in quiet ways are what make marriage beautiful. And our journey of learning the selfless love Jesus modeled for his disciples is a lifelong one.
We are learning we must choose to love each other after being woken up 3 or 4 times a night, after 2 hour-long commutes a day, after changing countless diapers, mediating children’s fights, trying to solve the latest home issue, and working on a budget. This--this is what makes marriage hard: the choice to give of oneself in the midst of imperfect and less than ideal circumstances. This is the tip of what I meant that day when I told my husband that marriage would be hard. I didn’t know all the details, just that it was a reality we would need to grapple with in the years to come.
Pope Francis speaks often of the realities of marriage throughout his preaching. He said in one homily that marriage is not fiction, acknowledging that “the path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human…It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life.” I love that he is so down to earth and realistic in his observations. Yes, marriage is sacred and beautiful and designed by God. But it is also hard work, something I think may need to be more addressed in our culture – especially today when this lifelong commitment seems less and less possible.
The fact that marriage is hard is not cause for fear, despair, or surrender. The fact that it’s hard means your marriage is normal and human. Simply because it is comprised of two people with past hurts, wounds, weaknesses, and imperfections, marriage will always be complicated.
But it is within the context of a lifelong commitment that these wounds and imperfections can be transfigured. This is the beauty of marriage: when seen in the light of the eternal, it enables each person in the relationship to be sanctified. What transfigures marriage is prayer, grace, and, yes, hard work. Marriage is the daily choice to give of oneself, to surrender, to submit mutually to one another. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving” (CCC 1609).
Pope Francis has made note of this as well, saying that a healthy marriage requires the mutual gift of self and the grace of Christ. In a dialogue with engaged couples on Valentine’s Day in 2014, Pope Francis advised those present to entrust themselves “to the Lord Jesus in a life that becomes a daily spiritual journey, made up of steps – small steps, steps of joint growth – made up of the commitment to become mature women and men in the faith.” He continued, “The more you entrust yourselves to Him the more your love will be ‘forever,’ capable of being renewed and it will overcome every difficulty.”
As we continue to reflect on love and marriage in our culture, let us remember that this call to love is not reserved for married couples, but for all Christians. Every act of service and sacrifice made for others is the living out a life of discipleship. Love is hard. But the same Christ who knelt before his disciples and washed their feet, the same Christ who multiplied the wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana, enables us to live this love as we pick up our crosses, daily, to follow him. Let us entrust ourselves and our relationships to the Bridegroom who makes all things new.
Question for Reflection: How can you practice the sometimes difficult love Christ calls us to in your life today?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
“Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go.” -Pope Francis
I remember getting up in the middle of the night years ago to try and glimpse a rare, hybrid, solar eclipse. My husband and I camped out at the Lincoln Memorial in the wee hours of the night with blankets and hot chocolate to wait for a rising sun that would be covered by the moon. Rich pink and orange hues danced across the sky, basking the surrounding monuments. Though there were clouds that day, we knew something mysterious and magical was happening above us. We were willing to sacrifice some sleep and wait in the cold just to catch a glimpse of that star.
What did the magi see when they looked up in the sky over two thousand years ago? It was enough not only to make them camp out in wonder, but to set out in haste. Their journey required provisions, logistics, time, and great effort. But something in the sky beckoned them. I imagine it was similar to what Peter, Andrew, James and John saw in the face of Christ calling them on the beach – something so extraordinary and captivating that it called them out of their day-to-day routines to begin a new journey. Both the journey of the magi and that of the first apostles had the same end: Jesus Christ. These journeys show that an encounter with Jesus is life-changing. It sets us in motion: the journey of the magi, the life of discipleship and evangelization.
This past Sunday, the Christmas season continued with the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. The Gospel reading recounted the journey and visitation of the magi to the Christ-child. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. the great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.”
The birth of Christ is the first outward manifestation of the Messiah. Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” is the revelation of God’s plan of redemption. After years of prophecy and expectation, longing and promise, God comes in the midst of his people in the most intimate way possible: as one of them.
This Incarnation is awe-inspiring. So awe-inspiring, in fact, that it even draws strangers. The Messiah foretold was long-awaited by the Chosen People of God—the Israelites. And yet, how many do we see at the birth of our Lord? The Visitation of the Magi foretells the inclusion of the entire world in God’s plan of salvation. He has come not only to redeem Jews, but Gentiles—peoples of every land and nation. As Paul wrote in Sunday’s second reading, “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
What can we learn from the magi? In his homily on the Feast of the Epiphany last year, Pope Francis boiled it down to 3 things:
Let us imitate the magi in our lives of discipleship. They were not complacent, but so observant that they were able to recognize God’s sign: the star. “The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat,” Pope Francis said last year. “They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.” They were vigilant, ready to go when the time came. And their hearts were receptive, disposed to the signs of the times. From there, they set out on a journey which would lead them to Christ himself. This journey required effort, planning, and sacrifice. And finally, they came bearing costly gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They met the generosity of God by reciprocating generosity. Pope Francis continued, “To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.”
As we reflect on the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany, let us look to the example of the magi in our lives of discipleship. Let us look up beyond the distractions of the world in order to see God’s star. Let us take the risk of setting out on our journey closer to Christ with joy. And let us give generously to a world which needs the generous love and mercy of the Christ-child.
Question for Reflection: What are some things in our life that might distract us from seeing God in the everyday?
“What should we do?” the crowds ask John the Baptist in this Sunday’s Gospel. This simple question permeates our earthly lives. What should we do with our time, treasure, and talent? What should we do in school, in our careers, in our community? What should we do with our lives?
As we prepare to celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, we can look to the Scriptures to help us answer this resounding question. In the readings for Sunday, we hear responses that can be boiled down to two words: “rejoice” and “give.” These words can guide not only our Advent journey, but our entire spiritual lives.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” St. Paul writes to the Philippians in the second reading. This is not a suggestion, but a command—one coming from a man who has experienced beatings, stoning, shipwreck, cold, hunger, and robbery. This call comes from a man who, by human standards, has no cause to rejoice. What, then, sets Paul apart from the average human person? A relationship with Jesus Christ. It is this relationship, which nothing can break, that enables us to rejoice regardless of our circumstances.
During this time of year, it is fitting to be merry and to rejoice. Decorations and lights fill stores and homes, festive music plays, and social engagements abound. The world rejoices over the coming of our Savior on Christmas Day. He has already come and opened the doors of salvation, and he continues to invite each generation into this wonderful gift as we celebrate his birth each year.
But what does this rejoicing look like for Christians?
Herein lies the second piece of advice from this Sunday’s readings: rejoice through giving. This, too, is something our culture thinks about during the Advent and Christmas seasons. We participate in “Secret Santa” gift exchanges with friends or colleagues; our parishes collect gifts for families in need; we exchange gifts on Christmas Day with family and loved ones. The prayer attributed to St. Francis says, “it is in giving that we receive.” Do we not feel this in a special way at Christmas time?
The capacity with which we rejoice cannot exist in its fullness without our capacity to give. The more fully our “kindness is known to all,” as St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, the more fully we experience the true joy that comes from Christ. Our acts of service make us more capable of truly rejoicing.
The Christian life is one of both prayer and action. In the Gospel, John the Baptist directs the Jews asking him “what should we do?” to works of mercy--Catholic Social Teaching in seed form.
“Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise…Stop collecting more than what is prescribed…Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages,” he responds to the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers.
These seem like simple, almost obvious, directions. But we need to be reminded of them again and again. This Advent, may we be “filled with expectation” as we rejoice in Christ. As we seek to answer “what should we do?”, let us ask for the intercession of St. Paul and St. John the Baptist to more fully rejoice by modeling kindness through our daily acts of service and charity.
Questions for Reflection: How are you rejoicing this Christmas season? How can you participate in the spirit of giving?
We often associate tree climbing with child’s play—it’s an action that requires flexible limbs and a daring outlook that only winks at the possibility of risk. I can’t imagine it being much different in the ancient world. To see a man quickly climbing up a tree just to get a glimpse of another must have been perceived as childish and perhaps a little embarrassing.
The Gospel today speaks of a short-statured man who grew quickly in the eyes of God. Zacchaeus may be chuckled at for his stature, but he can be looked up to as a model of faith in action. At the time Christ comes to his town of Jericho, Zacchaeus is not an upstanding man. But something about Jesus calls to him, so much so that Zacchaeus is willing to do anything—even climb up a tree—just to catch a glimpse of him. The beginning of the Gospel mentions that Jesus “intended to pass through the town.” However, upon encountering Zacchaeus, he stops, calls him by name, and accompanies him to his home to dine with him. And Zacchaeus’ response is joy.
This joy comes from a newfound generosity blooming in Zacchaeus’ heart. The man who once extorted his community responds quickly and tells Jesus he will give away half his possessions to the poor. Furthermore, he pledges to repay—four times over—anyone he has extorted. The man, called a sinner by the rest of the town, has been called by name by Christ and responds with faith in action. He has experienced conversion, and his actions result in Christ saying, “today salvation has come to this house.”
Is this how we await Christ, so longingly that will we do anything just to glimpse him? Or are we off somewhere else in the town of Jericho, distracted or lukewarm to the knowledge that Christ walks in our midst? What if every member of the Church—the clergy, religious, the laity—awaited Christ with the expectation of Zacchaeus? It is this desire and willingness that has disposed his heart to be receptive to God’s work. It is a small glimmer of the receptivity of Mary when she gave her fiat at the Annunciation. And through this, God can work miracles—the birth of a Savior from a virgin womb, the conversion of a short-statured, greedy sinner.
As a Church, we often go back and forth between roles. We are the sinful people called to encounter Christ and bring his mercy and joy to the world, but we can also play the role of Christ in our work of evangelization. Christ—who calls Zacchaeus by name and is not afraid to dine with sinners. Christ—who changes his plans in order to minister to those right in front of him. Christ—who comes “to seek and to save what was lost.” As Pope Francis said in his closing homily at the end of the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, “That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.” And what are Zacchaeus’ actions if not faith flowering?
This flowering faith is what Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers are reminding the Church of once more as the Synod has come to a close. Almost a month out from this historic event, we are called to ponder deeply the prompting of the Holy Spirit and, like Zacchaeus, seek an encounter with Christ. It is this encounter with a personal God who calls us by name that will enable us to go out, as Zacchaeus did, with generous joy to repay our debts and minister to the poor and lowly.
Let us call our brothers and sisters on the fringes by name. Let us put aside our preconceived notions of ministry and evangelization and answer to the needs of the moment. Let us sit and dine with our brothers and sisters. “Let us ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are capable of becoming neighbours, stepping out of our circles and embracing those who are not ‘one of us’, those whom God ardently seeks.”
Today, let us carry the light of Christ in our hearts and imitate him in seeking and saving what was lost.
For the past few weeks, bishops from across the globe have met in Rome for the XV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. This is a momentous time for the Church, one in which she has paused from her work in order to listen and dialogue with a powerful age group in our world today: young people. In imitation of Christ Himself, who sat down during His ministry and said, “let the children come to me,” the successors of the Apostles are engaging the young people of the world in order to learn from them, engage with them, and better accompany them on their faith journey.
But what does this mean for the rest of the Church? What does this mean for us personally? The Synod is not just an event occurring in Rome, nor a series of documents and pastoral initiatives. Below I have compiled 5 key take-aways from the Synod that we can apply to our own spiritual lives.
1. Invite the Holy Spirit.
In his homily for the opening of the Synod, Pope Francis reminded his brother bishops to call upon the Holy Spirit before embarking on their work. “It is the Spirit,” Pope Francis said, “who ensures that the richness and beauty of the Gospel will be a source of constant joy and freshness.” This is true for each of us. Christ left us with the gift of the Holy Spirit after His Ascension into Heaven; the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and remains with us today, present in our hearts as a result of our Baptism. Before embarking on our work on earth, let us call upon the Holy Spirit in order to guide us and ensure we are faithful to our mission. It was the Holy Spirit who transformed the cowering Apostles into bold missionaries, evangelists, and martyrs. The same Holy Spirit leads us today and helps us fulfill our baptismal call. Invite the Holy Spirit into your life, work, and day to day actions in order to live out the richness and beauty of the Gospel that Pope Francis mentions.
The Synod participants have been encouraged to listen intently to what the young people of the Church have to say. This attitude can only be successful if it stems from a posture of humility, an openness to the other, and a flexibility to adapt our perspective based on what we learn. All of us are called to listen to and accompany those we encounter in our day to day life. This is especially true for those of us working in ministry, but can be applied to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. We live in a culture that seems afraid of listening. Listening is often associated with vulnerability. It opens our minds and hearts to the perspective, ideas, and dreams of the other—whether or not we agree or resonate with these personally. However, “love for the Gospel and for the people who have been entrusted to us, challenges us to broaden our horizons and not lose sight of the mission to which we are called,” Pope Francis said. Listening to another person challenges us to step outside of our comfort zone and acknowledge the truths of the other. Only by listening can we hope to dialogue respectfully with those who might not share our worldview or beliefs.
3. Discern and be silent.
After calling upon the Holy Spirit, we need to create a space of silence where we can listen to God’s promptings. For the first time in a Synod, Pope Francis has instituted 3 minutes of periodic silence for participants to reflect on what’s been shared and on what God is stirring in their hearts. This is a wonderful example of ongoing discernment, which invites God into our life and asks Him to guide us in our everyday actions and decisions. “Discernment is the method and at the same time the goal we set ourselves,” Pope Francis said. “It is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me.” We can also learn from the spirituality of The Society of Jesus, which emphasizes being “contemplatives in action.” This spirit of discernment is radically different from the world of busyness and noise we often find ourselves in, but it also is capable of existing within that world. When we periodically withdraw into the inner room of our hearts and pray to our heavenly Father in secret, we become better attuned not only to His presence in our hearts, but also to God’s presence in those around us.
4. Be flexible.
Sometimes, it is easy to come up with preconceived notions of how things ought to be done or to maintain an attitude of “it’s always been this way.” Throughout his papacy, and once again at the beginning of this Synod, Pope Francis has challenged the Church to be flexible and to shatter our temptation to conform. In his homily for the opening of the Synod, he called the Church to “broaden our horizons, expand our hearts and transform those frames of mind that today paralyze, separate and alienate us from young people.” A healthy flexibility is key to our well-being in whatever vocation we find ourselves. Flexibility also relies on humility and allows us to admit that we don’t always have the right answers. When we as a Church are flexible, we are better able to encounter others and work together to seek the truth of the Gospel.
5. Dare to hope, to dream.
A great gift that young people can give the Church is their ability to dream. Young people have passion, enthusiasm, hopes, and dreams that offer freshness and renewal to our Church and to the world. This is even more important in a world laden with suffering and problems, where it is easy to succumb to a defeatism or a pessimistic attitude. Pope Francis reminds us that “The future is not a threat to be feared, but is the time the Lord promises us when we will be able to experience communion with him, with our brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.” When our faith is rooted in the goodness and beauty of Christ Himself, we are better able to share His joy and hope with the world. Let us learn from the vigor and hope of young people today. May it be contagious, so that others are drawn to ask us for an account of our hope.
As Pope Francis concluded in his Address at the Opening of the Synod of Bishops, “Let us therefore work to “spend time with the future … to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands, and inspire in young people – all young people, with no one excluded – a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel.”
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
“She stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.” -Luke 7:38
My toddler is a prime example of living in freedom. He has no true concept of time and goes about his day living in the present. With only two years under his stretchy pants, he has yet to master social norms and polite behavior. He exhibits raw emotion. Because of this, you’ll hear him scream in a store for no reason, make demands at the dinner table, or wail because it’s time for bed. You’ll also hear his gasp when he sees an airplane or helicopter, a “wow” uttered upon seeing the zebra at the zoo, or uncontrolled giggles when he is playing hide and seek. He lives unfiltered, without a second thought regarding how he is received or perceived. It’s a beautiful and awe-inspiring freedom.
The woman in the Gospel today lives this to a certain degree. She enters the well-furnished room but does not look about. She smells the aroma of delicious food but does not salivate. She comes solely for Christ, to receive the life he has to offer. Her gaze cast downward, she finds his feet and drops to her knees—uncontrolled tears splashing from her eyes, bathing his feet and forming a puddle on the ground. She does not care about her reputation or what others might think of her actions. She knows her identity: a sinner in need of forgiveness. And she runs to Christ, the well of salvation. The sinner bathes the sinless with her tears, and she is saved.
The Church today can learn much from this Gospel passage. We are hurting, broken, and sinful. We do not have to experience crisis to make this statement true, though in times of darkness it becomes more apparent. We debilitate the Body of Christ every time we choose to sin.
How do we respond to sin, our own and that of others? Are we humble and repentant? Are we paralyzed? Are we angry? Do we despair? Do we drop to his feet in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or have we scoffed like the Pharisees? In times of darkness, where do we turn?
I believe we have a lot to learn from the sinful woman. She does not compare her sins to those of the Pharisees dining with Christ. She does not stay in her home, paralyzed by her sin and her grief. She does not continue to live her day to day life while telling herself that her sin is personal and private. And she does not wait outside the dinner party for Jesus to finish his evening. As my toddler would, she barges in, without any nods to social norms, and goes straight to our Lord. When she is convicted, she runs to seek redemption. She acts. She loves. She repents. And this child-like faith, Jesus says, is what saves her.
As we, the Church, move forward in grappling with our sinfulness, let us respond by running to the feet of Christ in humble repentance and by daring to believe in the freedom that he offers. Only he can heal us from within and transform our sinfulness into glory. Let us show Christ great love in our words and deeds: through prayer, through the sacraments, through acts of charity. Let us live in the freedom of his words: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
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?
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2017. Since its publication, the Catholic Apostolate Center has expanded its vision and resources for living as missionary disciples. Please see our "Living as Missionary Disciples" resources page and our 2017 e-book Living as Missionary Disciples: a Resource for Evangelization that was produced in collaboration with the USCCB.
“See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him.” -Exodus 23:20-21
I grew up having a devotion to angels, especially the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow. Because my sister was born on this feast, my parents gave her the middle name Gabriela in honor of my mother and of the Archangel Gabriel – messenger of Good News. When I was a child, my mom often mentioned Raphael the Archangel as one of her favorite saints. She had prayed to him as a single woman because of his role in the Book of Tobit in bringing together Tobias and Sarah. Because of his intercession, she said, she met and married my father. Throughout their marriage, a photo of St. Raphael has always hung in their bedroom. Our devotion to St. Michael was uttered each day as we asked for his protection and intercession in the St. Michael prayer.
Because of my upbringing, I have come to know and love the angels as allies and friends. But what exactly is an angel? Are they ghosts, human beings with wings, or simply fairytales? In a morning meditation in 2014, Pope Francis urged us not to consider the Church doctrine on the existence of angels to be “a little imaginative.” Angels are real and active in the life of the Church and world today. “As purely spiritual creatures,” the Catechism writes, “angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures.” (CCC330). The Church’s teaching on the existence of angels comes from Scripture and Tradition.
Angels are the result of God’s creative work. When we say in the Nicene Creed that we believe in things both “visible and invisible,” we testify to the existence not only of physical creation, but also of spiritual creation. As servants of God, angels appear numerous times throughout Scripture in various roles and capacities. Angels guarded the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve, led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, announced the birth of John the Baptist, appeared to St. Joseph in several dreams, and perhaps most notably, announced the birth of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Scripture also notes that the angels ministered to Jesus after his forty days of prayer and temptation in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, and that Christ was strengthened by an angel during the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Not only did angels exist in Biblical times, but they are also present to each one of us every day. St. Basil the Great taught that "each and every member of the faithful has a Guardian Angel to protect, guard and guide them through life.” The Catechism reiterates this belief, stating, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."
Angels, therefore, were created by God to praise and glorify him, as well as to serve as his messengers and our protectors, instructors, and allies. Our guardian angels are a gift from God to help each one of us achieve eternal life. As we read in Hebrews, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” The beauty of their existence means that, as human beings, we are never alone. We journey through this life with a celestial companion who wills our good and helps us achieve sanctity.
Pope John Paul II wrote that devotion to our guardian angels and the angels overall leads to two outcomes: gratitude to God and peace and confidence. As we know, growth in the spiritual life can be difficult on our own. Each day we are called to overcome many temptations and weaknesses, to be healed, to grow in virtue. In God’s generosity, he not only gave us the gift of the Church and sacraments to receive grace and strengthen us on our journey; he also gives us celestial help through the existence of angels.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Archangels tomorrow, Pope Francis leaves us with pertinent and thought-provoking questions:
“How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: ‘Watch over me when I sleep?’ Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? … We can answer this question today, each of us: how is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven?”
— Pope Francis, Homily, October 2, 2015
“They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm.” -The Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
What psalm did you sing, Perpetua, when you were thrown into the arena to face the wild beasts? I can’t help but wonder as I reread the martyrdom account of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, whose feast we celebrate today. The calm and joy of both women astounds me.
What psalm would one sing in the face of death? And how could one find the courage to even sing?
Martyrdom contradicts everything we are told to value in this world. It entails giving without reserve, sacrificing all, even the greatest good, which is life itself. And yet the martyrs are a stark, beautiful, and perhaps even uncomfortable proof of what sacrificial love can look like. They help us to readjust our eyes to the eternal.
“Who are the martyrs?” Pope Francis asked in his message for the beatification of the Spanish Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. “They are Christians won by Christ, disciples who learned well the meaning of ‘loving to the end’ that took Jesus to the Cross.… Christ goes before us in love; the martyrs have imitated him in love to the end.”
We read in the first letter to the Corinthians just what we are called to when we are called to love. “Love is patient, love is kind,” he begins. But what else does Paul write? That love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” The martyrs, such as Perpetua and Felicity, give testament to this love.
What sets Perpetua and Felicity apart for me is their role in the Church not only as martyrs, but as women, specifically mothers. The account of their martyrdom includes text from Perpetua herself and is one of the few documents we have from the early Church of lay women martyrs. How beautiful that we celebrate the witness of these two women on the same day. Together, they give us a rich portrayal of grace by experiencing suffering with joy and remaining perpetually faithful to Christ. The account of their martyrdom notes that even those who had come to watch the martyrdom shuddered “seeing one a tender girl, the other her breasts yet dropping from her late childbearing.” As a new mother myself, re-reading their account makes their sacrifice all the more visceral. Both Perpetua and Felicity lost everything by human standards to face their martyrdom: family, wealth, possessions, children. Yet both gain everything by God’s standards: eternal life resting in the beatific vision.
Both women live up to their names. Perpetua remains steadfast to her faith. While Felicity, which means intense happiness, joins the Christian martyrs with joy and serenity, praising God for the early birth of her child so that she could join her companions in martyrdom. The example of these women seems baffling to our world. How could a mother give up her child? How could a person give up wealth, possessions, titles, security? Apart from God, these sacrifices make no sense.
So what can we learn from the martyrs? “The Holy Fathers say: ‘Let’s imitate the martyrs!’” Pope Francis continued in his message.
Does this mean we must forfeit our lives, give up everything, if we are to follow Christ? Some have been and still are called to give their physical lives for the Christian faith. However, I think we can all live out martyrdom in many different ways. Pope Francis expands on this understanding. He continues, “We always have to die a bit to come out of ourselves, of our egoism, our wellbeing, our sloth, our sadnesses, and open ourselves to God, to others, especially the neediest.”
In other words, we can join in the sacrifice of the martyrs, and of Christ for that matter, each and every day by offering up our own prayers and hardships—by dying to ourselves first and foremost. While we may not be called to give our physical life for our faith, we are always being challenged to give up anything in our lives that is not love. Lent is a particularly intense time of this dying to self, or mortification, in order to grow closer to our neighbor and to Christ. Additionally, we are called to endure this process of “everyday martyrdom” with joy and hope—something Perpetua in particular models beautifully with her singing.
Let us follow the advice of St. Augustine as we continue our pilgrim journey: “Sing as wayfarers do—sing but continue your journey. Do not grow tired, but sing with joy!”
Question for Reflection: In what ways can you die a little to yourself this Lent?
In my adult years, I have often turned to St. Teresa of Avila as a spiritual mother. I love her courage, her passion, her wit, and her boldness. Throughout her life, she was always on the go. She was a reformer who brought the Carmelite Order back to its original roots. She got things done, founding over fifteen monasteries. And yet she was a great mystic--a woman who received beautiful graces, revelations and experiences of God in profound ways that are hard to tangibly explain. She went into ecstasies as a result of her deep relationship with the Lord and wrote a book called The Interior Castle about the journey of faith leading to union with God. I love the synthesis of the practical and the mystical in her personality. This synthesis becomes more compelling in our lives today, for it reveals that we are capable of a deep interior life and relationship with God in the midst of the busyness of life.
There is a story about Teresa of Avila that has caused me to laugh in genuine appreciation of her character. According to tradition, Teresa fell off her donkey while journeying to visit one of her convents--causing her to land in the mud and dirty her Carmelite habit. With her quick, fiery Spanish temper, Teresa looked up to heaven and said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many.”
I love this story because it beautifully depicts St. Teresa’s humanity and honest relationship with God. It is a raw, unfiltered moment of frankness that I believe is an example of both true prayer and transparency in our relationship with God.
If prayer is ongoing dialogue with God through words, thoughts or actions, what is Teresa’s statement if not prayer? She talks to God with confidence and trust. She is bold about her feelings, knowing that God can handle her honesty. Notably, where does Teresa turn first in her day to day life? To God. He is her crutch, her foundation, even in times of frustration and annoyance. He is at the forefront of her mind.
When I first heard this anecdote, I could completely relate to St. Teresa. Like her, I fall down on the road towards holiness. Furthermore, I often catch myself blaming God for different moments of hardship and frustration. What we sometimes miss as we lie there in the mud is the hand that’s in front of us--the extended hand of Christ that I often imagine in the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus saves from being stoned. God is not the one who pushes us down, but he is the one who picks us up. How quick are we to reach for the outstretched hand? Do we even reach out for it? Or are we too proud, choosing to try to get up by ourselves? What did St. Teresa do? In one of her reflections, she writes, “I praise the mercy of God, for it was he alone who gave me his hand.” (Life, Ch 7, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume One, ICS Publications, Washington D.C. 1987)
Do we turn immediately to God in our day to day lives? This is a question we can all reflect upon. Taking our reflection a step further, do we respond to the situations in which we find ourselves with joy or a sense of humor?
I believe Pope Francis and St. Teresa would have been great friends. In his homily at the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis reminded us of St. Paul’s command to “rejoice always.” If we forget this call, we fall into the temptation of becoming “sourpusses”--to use Pope Francis’ term. We are called to be people of joy in the midst of suffering, not in the absence of it. It is this type of transparency in our relationship with God, this type of outlook on the life of faith, this sense of humor that helps us move forward in answering the universal call to be missionary disciples who witness to the Gospel through their encounter with those around them.
Like St. Teresa, may we always have a sense of humor. May we be bold and honest in our dialogue with God. May we be apostles of joy. And may we join in saying the phrase very often attributed to her, “God protect us from sour-faced saints”!