In the days and weeks leading up to my now 6-month-old goddaughter’s birth and subsequent baptism, I often found myself repeatedly explaining her name. “Zelie . . . she is named after a newly-canonized saint who was a wife and the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux.” That simple statement has paved the way for several conversations about what exactly it was that made Marie-Azélie, lovingly called “Zelie,” a saint.
On this day, July 12th, the Church celebrates (for the first time!) Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin. At first glance, they led ordinary lives. However, it was precisely in the ordinary nature of their lives that they allowed God to do something extraordinary through them. Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin would attend early morning Mass regularly, persevered in faith after the tragic deaths of four of their nine children, and allowed their work to be an opportunity for their sanctification.
During their canonization homily, Pope Francis said, “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.” He continued, “The radiant witness of these new saints inspires us to persevere in joyful service to our brothers and sisters, trusting in the help of God and the maternal protection of Mary.” By saying yes to God in the mundaneness of our daily life and work, as Sts. Louis and Zelie did, we pave the way for courageously saying yes in life’s bigger or more difficult moments.
Upon getting married and starting a family, Sts. Louis and Zelie had no idea that they would lose four of their children or that their youngest child would become a great Doctor of the Church. What they did know – and what remains true for us today – is that hoping and trusting in God’s plan will never leave us disappointed. The witness of Sts. Louis and Zelie shows us that by being faithful to God in life’s seemingly small moments, we can show the world that there is a plan greater than anything we can begin to comprehend.
So what exactly made Zelie and Louis Martin saints? They repeatedly chose to thank God for His many gifts, serve Him in their vocation to marriage and family life, and glorify Him in work. The saints are people who did ordinary things in extraordinary ways, and this is certainly true of Sts. Zelie and Louis. By their witness, we are inspired to live the “extraordinary ordinary” well and one day join them in our heavenly home.
Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!
Summertime in the United States brings about a lot of great traditions. It brings longer days, shorts, flip-flops, trips to the beach, barbecues, and processions. Processions are large public demonstrations of faith and piety that have been handed down from generation to generation. In Italian American communities, processions are filled with music, color, and, of course, great food—lots and lots of great food. We celebrate in this way because our fathers did before us, and their fathers did before them. This summer I've already been able to attend to two processions and I look forward to a few more. I attended the 107th annual Festa Dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvania, and the 112th feast of St. Anthony Italian Festival in Little Italy Baltimore, Maryland. Each has a long tradition and there are as many differences as there are similarities. At the core, each is a faith that is embedded within its community that is rich and deep.
Festa Dei Ceri, or simply St. Ubaldo’s Day, is a tradition that was brought from Gubbio, Italy by immigrants to Jessup, PA in 1909. Tradition states that in the early 1100s, Ubaldo Baldassini, the Bishop of Gubbio, met with Frederick Barbarossa , the Holy Roman Emperor who was on a military campaign in Italy, and convinced him not to invade and to spare the town from destruction. When the bishop returned with the good news, he was raced through the streets on a platform to reassure the town’s safety. The residence commemorated this event by racing a statue of him, along with statues of St. George and St. Anthony, through the narrow streets of the medieval town. Immigrants brought this tradition with them when they emigrated to Jessup in large numbers in the early 1900s. The Running of the Saints occurred from 1914 to 1952, then from 1976 to 1990, and has consistently been held since 2000 after being revived by local high school students. The day begins with the high school marching band waking the town up and calling them to Mass. After Mass, the statues which are about 30 inches tall are placed in 15 foot wooden structures that are designed to carry the saints and weigh about 400 pounds each. The saint statues are then blessed with holy water, first by the parish pastor or the Bishop of Scranton, then by the team captains and carried through the town by three different teams of men. A relic of St. Ubaldo is also processed and venerated with a significantly larger statue of him throughout the town. In the late afternoon, the three statues are then raced through the town at breakneck speed and over steep terrain. St. Ubaldo always wins, followed by St. George and St. Anthony. After the statues are removed and the platforms are disassembled, they are brought back to the church. The whole weekend is an expression of faith, family, and tradition.
A few weeks after that, I was able to attend the St. Anthony Festival in Little Italy in Baltimore, Maryland, which dates back to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. While massive fire raged in parts of the city, parishioners gathered at Saint Leo the Great Church in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore. The parishioners prayed to St. Anthony for the protection of their neighborhood. Luckily, the neighborhood was spared. Many attributed this to the intercession of St. Anthony. The parishioners celebrated his feast day with a Mass, procession, and street fair which has continued ever since. Just five years after the beginning of celebration of the feast, the parish became a ministry of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers. This year, I attended the events along with two Pallottine students in formation. The three of us served Mass and partook in the procession through the streets. Many people came out of their houses and cars to watch us. It was great fanfare with a full band, 4th Degree Knights of Columbus color guard, and a highly decorated statue of St. Anthony. Many people pinned money to strips of cloth tied around the statue as a small offering and prayer to St. Anthony. There was food, music, and an intense bocce ball tournament.
Each of the celebrations has a few core elements that all processions have. Processions are about faith and community. Processions help increase our faith by publically displaying various statues and images. It is a form of evangelization in the streets. At the same time, they help build community by calling all those together for a common cause. They reinforce not only our proud heritage and traditions, but also our faith. They promote our faith being celebrated together. Processions are also about the individuals' participation. Attending a procession invites us to feel that we are a part of the community and reinforces our own faith. When I go to procession, for example, I not only enjoy the fanfare, but am also reminded that my faith is connected to those around me.
I encourage you to seek out processions and bring your friends and family. Pray, eat, and enjoy each other's company. Processions can be beneficial for every group that continues the practice, not just the Italian American community. Ours just happen to have a bit more tomato sauce and wine than most! As the summer goes on, I look forward to many more processions and I invite you to go out and either attend or partake in a procession.
Growing up, I thought little of my home parish as I dutifully climbed into the family car each weekend. Upon pulling into the parking lot, I would scan the cars around me to get a sense of who would be inside and who I would attempt to chat with after Mass. It was a similar situation inside the church and it often appeared that the same people occupied the same pews week after week. While waiting for Mass to begin, I would flip through the weekly bulletin to read my pastor’s notes, read the calendar of upcoming events, and note the changes in the parish pantry and collection amount. After Mass, I’d remain to chat with the celebrant and anyone I knew for a few minutes before going off into the rest of my week. I was surely aware of the opportunities available to me at the destination of my parish, but for me it was little more than just that: a destination.
Now that I’m older and have been blessed to have my faith deepened, I am more mindful of how the impact of being active in the life of my local church has supported me throughout each week. It’s like going through school: day in and day out is a routine, but after finishing, you’re able to look back and see the changes that have affected the rest of your life. At this point in my life, however, I am rarely back in my home diocese. I remain connected to life there through diocesan livestreams and social media. With the embrace of such technology, how easy and effective it has become to share news and coverage of the rich variety of events within the Church!
The ability to electronically minister to and participate in the life of the local church can also be employed to the service of the diocese’s well-being. Recently, I came across the launch video for my diocese’s new “Faith to Move Mountains” endowment campaign. In it, the bishop explained the current state of the local Church and the need to jumpstart a new and rather audacious level of diocesan-wide financial support in order to continue to provide the same or better quality of services to the community: “This is our Church,” he said, looking directly through the camera at me, “This is our home. We are bracing ourselves— getting ourselves ready— for the future.” It was then that I realized how much the diocese depended on each of its parishes, which then depend on the support of their respective congregations (i.e. me) for the fulfillment of its ministries in order to continuously bring about the world’s fruitful encounter with the Risen Lord. For all the good each of our local churches do for us, how can we repay in kind? Certainly by paying attention during Mass and attending the various catechetical, service, or social events advertised in the parish, but these are not givens to be taken for granted and they often incur a cost on the parish. As my bishop observed:
Catholic priests are there for the whole week. They’re there after the sermon is over after the Word is preached. Not just on Sunday mornings. They’re in our schools. They are at our hospital beds all hours of the day and night. They’re listening to our sins in the confessional. They’re counseling people… You won’t believe sometimes what people bring to the priest with the expectation that it’s going to be better when they walk out the door… Preaching the Gospel doesn’t cost a dime. Everything else, however, everything that our parishes need and try to do for you, our parishioners, carries a price.
The life of the Church is so very dependent on the full and active participation of its members. Not only when times are good, but especially when times are tough. Rather than running to the parking lot immediately after Mass, taking the time to personally befriend the priests and staff of the parish, continuing to participate in the charitable works of the church, supporting the businesses that sponsor ads in the weekly bulletin, and inviting others to join in doing so are some effective alternatives to simply cutting a check. Supporting each other through acts of service, stewardship and participate in parish events is at the heart of Christian goodwill. As each of us depends on the Church to guide us into Heaven, so does she look upon us to help her in her most noble evangelical enterprise of preaching the Gospel and serving the poor. I invite you to make your parish more than simply a destination. Do your part to help build a thriving parish community so that, together, you may all say, “this is our home!”
Miraculously, the end of the school year has arrived. Certainly there’s been many a trial and challenge to endure and power-through, especially as dreaded final exams approached, but the close of a semester affords a unique phenomenon in the spiritual lives of students, beginning with attendance. The regulars, for example, at the late-night on-campus Mass will often be joined by those either taking a break from or just beginning their academic cramming. Of course, new faces are always welcome and, as the presiding on-campus priests would point out, are a particularly beautiful expression of faith.
Recognizing the limits of our gifts and talents, let us petition the One Who perfectly graced each of us individually with these gifts in order to properly apply them towards our endeavors! Rather than only calling upon God when we want His help, our prayers can be made in faith and hope and, no matter the results, comprise of praise and thanksgiving for all God has done for us. However, we cannot pray as if demanding results while doing no work on our own part. In theological terms, grace cooperates with nature. In other words, we do not live as Christians by sheer grace nor by nature unassisted, but in a mysterious way grace— the supernatural gift of God— works unseen and often unknown in our lives. This requires that we prepare ourselves to receive and be moved by grace and that we make sure to then act in such a way as to not squander such a gift.
Something that’s been helpful for me during difficulty or surmounting work is turning to the saints. In such times lies the opportunity for fostering a new devotion, especially to a saint who has faced similar challenges during his or her life. While I would continue to pray for the intercession of St. Joseph Cupertino, patron of students, and St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of the University, shortly before finals week, I was especially blessed this academic year to be able to visit the St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, the Pallottine-conducted nationwide center of St. Jude devotions, to petition the patron of desperate and hopeless cases. After a welcome, lunch, and tour those I was on pilgrimage with and I had the opportunity for private prayer. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity and humbly added my intentions to the baskets full of written prayers that had arrived from devotees across the country. I immediately remembered what was shared with us earlier that day: though the Pallottines could have abandoned the site and moved into a suburban neighborhood, they recognized the need for and pledged to remain and continue to minister from this place of refuge and solace in the inner city. The sheer volume of prayer petitions I saw showed me how important their decision to remain was. I was in awe to see the amount of faith people had to send in all those intentions each day to the shrine and recognized that many of them were actually in dire situations that were being placed at the feet of St. Jude.
As I got up to leave, I recalled the words of the “Memorare” prayer and perpetual promise of maternal love of the Blessed Mother. How surely, I reminded myself, would the Mother of God continue to intercede for me and grant me the strength to endure the closing of the academic year with open arms! Whenever we are weak, our Mother at once flies to our aid when we faithfully call upon her name!
Whenever you find yourself in a difficult or busy time, I invite you to call upon the help of the saints or ask for Mary’s intercession by praying the Memorare below:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help,
or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother;
to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
Vivat Jesus! In the proclamation “Jesus lives!” which originates from St. Francis de Sales, the Church finds and experiences for herself the mystery of salvation. This then energizes and animates all her works. Because Christ has risen from the dead, we are assured of a most glorious hope that God loves us and that no trial nor any tribulation can overshadow the truth of such saving grace.
Doesn’t it feel so liberating to once again be able to exclaim, “Alleluia!”, or burst into the Gloria at Mass? That innate feeling of wanting to, needing to, and being compelled to praise God in these ways reflects a deeper desire to share this incredible Good News with others—there just isn’t any room for passivity in the Christian life. Certainly, the Resurrection event gained for us the eternal reward in Paradise that we could not achieve ourselves. But to really benefit from it, the experience needs to change us, that is, to make us marvel at God’s merciful love and then continuously reveal that to all the world. Donald Cardinal Wuerl made this observation back in January for the occasion of the dedication the new altar of the Pallottine Seminary at Green Hill, home of the Catholic Apostolate Center:
In His command, “Do this in memory of Me,” Jesus invites each one of us into the Mystery of His Death and Resurrection. We’re not just going to be passive bystanders who come to know Him. We’re not just going to be someone who looks on the merry-go-round and says, “Isn’t that wonderful?” We’re invited into the Mystery itself.
In doing so, we manifest the glory of the Lord; it is our mission as Christians. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us at his installation Mass, “the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men.”
The Resurrection cannot be confined to a mere moment in history two thousand years ago. All that it accomplished cannot be measured; its effects continue to affect and move us even now. Today we are truly experiencing the great joy that the Risen Lord promised His disciples. And this authentic joy does not fade in times of mourning or despair. Especially in those times, we can look up in hope, knowing the same Risen Christ is with us at every moment to offer courage and mercy. It is in this reality—not mere speech and daydreams—that the Church exists and works from. As Benedict XVI continued, “The Church is alive — she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen.”
As Christians, we bear the Name of the Savior through Baptism. We invite the world to encounter Christ, Whose presence we manifest through the charitable actions of our lives. Just as we share with one another the light from the Paschal candle during the Easter Vigil, so, too, do we share the light of hope and faith with those in darkness. By the grace of God and the support of each other, may we, at every moment of our lives, join with the whole Church and the heavenly host to praise God for His mercy and goodness. As Timothy Cardinal Dolan reminded us “‘Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has destroyed death, and brought us light and life!’ No wonder we [reply], ‘Alleluia!’”
In my 2nd grade class, the students are preparing to celebrate First Eucharist. They are busy learning all they can about their Catholic faith, the parts of the Mass, prayers and responses, forgiveness and preparing their hearts, and most of all: about the Eucharist itself. They are beginning to understand the purpose behind the Mass and why we say certain responses and kneel or genuflect at particular times. My class was recently interviewed by a couple of 8th graders about expectations they have for receiving First Communion. Some responses were priceless, such as:
“I’m nervous to forget to say, AMEN” and “I’m afraid to drop the host.”
There were more practical answers such as: “I am excited to eat in church” and “I’m nervous to have 5,000 eyes on me!”
My students are still learning, and during this time of preparation, I want to be sure they understand how they can reach intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist.
With the Easter Triduum beginning on Thursday at the Last Supper, there is no better time than now to focus on the Eucharist. In both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. Luke 22:19 says, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” In Matthew 26:27-29, the Lord says something similar when he blesses the cup saying, “...and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We learn and believe that in this highest moment of Mass, in transubstantiation, the bread and wine transform into the Body and Blood of Christ. As I teach my students about the Eucharist, this consecration is the pinnacle moment that they must learn about and understand.The consecration in the context of the Last Supper is something we can all look forward to on Thursday.
As Lent draws to a close and the Triduum begins, how prepared are we? My class’s preparation includes the preparation of their hearts through reconciliation. We go to confession as a class at the beginning of Lent, relieving ourselves of the pain and sins we have weighing us down. As we draw nearer to Easter, it is through this penance that we can see God more clearly, grow in intimacy with him, and be ready to receive Christ in the Eucharist. I invite you to consider going to confession before Easter.
Although my 2nd graders will continue to learn about their faith and the Eucharist throughout their whole lives, my hope is to prepare them well-enough to make their First Communion as meaningful as possible. Part of this preparation is encouraging personal prayer for these youngsters. As a class, we are beginning to use more and more prayers for specific times in the day. We pray in gratitude or practice intercession.
Loyola Press offers an Ignatian Examen for reflection each day that has a variety of topics and purposes. They are all calming and peaceful, with background music and an ending prayer.
The Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Glory Be help us learn more about how Jesus taught us to pray and other traditional Catholic prayers to know by heart.
We also have personal prayer, taking quiet time to talk to God and ask him for help or to give strength to someone in pain.
Finally, we will be learning a Communion prayer as we get closer to April and May to prepare the class to receive Christ for the first time.
My Communion Prayer
Dear God, I know that You give me many gifts.
The gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ in Holy Communion
is the greatest of all. How can I ever thank You
enough for this special gift?
At Mass we are called to be like Jesus, by loving
and serving one another in the world.
As I become more like Him, please continue to
help me. Show me the places and ways that
I can bring Your love, kindness, and peace
in my family,
in my neighborhood,
in my community,
with my friends.
(Moment of silent reflection)
Teaching 2nd grade religion has taught me more about my faith than I ever thought was possible. Now, I urge you to use these last few days of Lent and the Triduum to use prayer and penance to grow in closeness to God through the Eucharist. Like one of my students said, “I can’t wait to get communion because then I’m totally part of Mass and I don’t have to just be blessed with my arms crossed.”
At the graduate school I attend, there is a simple chapel on the second basement level. I typically find myself the most comfortable sitting in the back of the chapel for daily Mass. One day, I scooted in a minute before Mass started, leaving the only space for me in the front pew (GASP, I know!). As I settled into the pew, I looked up, seeing the front of the chapel much closer and in a new way. In front of me was the reason why sitting in the back was more comfortable.
I faced His dislocated shoulders, His God/Man shoulders bloody, His bowed head spurned with thorns, His emaciated figure hanging, His flesh slashed, His knees worn from His falls, His side pierced, and those nailed hands, those feet. I could not keep my eyes from Him and I could not comprehend, “Why?”
I get quite used to the pretty crosses, the ones that are bedazzled, the Southern rustic ones, the ornate, or the ones where He is not even present and His suffering can be watered down to a pretty symbol. You could say I get comfortable with them.
The Crucifix in this small, simple chapel does not forget His suffering. No, it is displayed loudly, proudly next to the tabernacle, right next to the Eucharistic Table. His sacrifice is not reduced. The scandal of the King hanging on the cross is revered, and yet I worked hard to keep my eyes from the weight of the cross.
Later in the day, I found myself in the chapel alone. This time, I slowly made my way up to the large Crucifix. I realized my heart was pounding loudly in my chest. I knelt underneath the Crucifix. I looked up to see His head bowed down. I saw His sacrifice for the first time. And mostly, I was in a disposition of responsibility for the first time, and the weight was crushing. I could not hide.
This Lenten season, I am spending more time kneeling in front of this Crucifix, facing my sins and facing my Savior. I encourage you to do the same! You see, by beginning to take in the weight of His sacrifice, the next questions that will arise are, “Why me? Why this sacrifice in this way?” As you ponder His wounds, His shoulders, His crown, His side, His hands and feet, you will hear in a still voice, “Love, Love, Deep Abiding Love for you.”
Taking in the shocking death of the Savior only leads us to grasping the true reason of this Lenten journey: the agape love of the Christ. How can we bear our own crosses, the struggles and weaknesses that are a part of the human condition, if we haven’t grasped the passionate love He has for His children? We may try and hide it, water it down, bedazzle it, but the Crucifix is Divine Love thinking of you.
“Look into My Heart and see there the love and mercy which I have for humankind, and especially for sinners. Look, and enter into My Passion.” –Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary 1663)
For more Lenten resources, please click here.
To learn more about the Year of Mercy, please click here.
Finding love takes patience and time. I am blessed to be in a relationship with someone I have known for over three years. What started as a friendship has become the kind of relationship I used to dream about. We love to do things like going on trips or just grocery shopping - it’s sharing experiences that means the most to us. Sometimes the littlest things are what we appreciate in each other, like how he knows how I like my coffee at any coffee shop. In return, I know that he likes ice in his glass of milk and likes getting homemade gifts for holidays and birthdays. I’ve tried to build both my friendships and relationship on shared experiences. I love getting to know someone, finding things in common, learning their interests, and spending time with that person. As a Catholic, I’ve tried to surround myself with people who support me and share my beliefs and focus in life. I get to wondering though, what is dating like for other Catholics? Where can we start?
Start at the beginning. In 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 it says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This verse is a great place to start. When we appreciate God’s love for us, we can better understand how we deserve to be loved by others.
Pope Francis speaks often about love, and when he visited the United States at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, he said, “Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches.” So whether you are in a relationship or not, here is a list of little things to remember as you persevere in your lives.
For all of you who are dating, see if you are incorporating these tips into your relationship. If not, give some of them a try. For those of you reading this who are not in relationships, some of these tips can really help friendships and even relationships down the road. I’ve found that with patience and effort, the little things will amount to bigger memories. In the meantime, it’s the little things that make a relationship resilient. The “I love you!”s and the laughter can be the little things that take the day-to-day interactions and turn them into months and years spending time with someone you care about.
For resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
Each year, I look forward to attending Midnight Mass on Christmas. It is one of those Catholic "hallmarks" that helps us to ring in the celebration of Christmas. This year was no different, and I was able to assist at my Cathedral's celebration of Midnight Mass. As we continue on in the great octave of Christmas, I would like to look back on the readings and texts from the "Mass During the Night," more commonly known as Midnight Mass.
“O God, [you] have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of the true light…” (Collect, Christmas Mass During the Night). Sometimes I scratch my head trying to make sense of the Collect prayer, the “opening prayer,” used during the Mass. The Collect prayer that we prayed during Midnight Mass, though, is quite fitting for this particular celebration of the Eucharist, as the Church throughout the world gathered together in the quiet stillness of the night to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the “infant [found] wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This “most sacred night” is indeed “radiant with the splendor of the true light," the light of Christ, the light that brightens not only the darkness of the night sky but also the darkness of our world, the darkness that often creeps its way into our own lives and our own hearts.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! When we find ourselves in a dark room, or when the sun begins to set at the end of the day, what do we do? We turn on a lamp; we turn on the lights. When we find ourselves in internal times of darkness, what do we do? We should turn to Jesus Christ, who, as we hear so beautifully articulated in the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, is the “eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence…”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! The words that the prophet Isaiah addressed to us in the first reading from this Mass are so filled with meaning for us, especially as we fumble and flounder in the darkness of our world and in our own lives. For upon us all, “a light has shone” (Is 9:1). We often walk in darkness: the darkness of our own worries and anxieties, the darkness of our own sins and shortcomings, the darkness of loneliness and isolation. Whatever burdens us, Isaiah invites us to be brought from darkness into God’s most marvelous light, which is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah tells us that “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 9:1). The light that shone in the time of Isaiah is the same light that shone on the “shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Lk 2:8). As the shepherds were keeping watch, “the angel of the Lord appeared to them” (Lk 2:9). On that holy night in Bethlehem, only the humble shepherds were aware of the Word becoming flesh—of Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary. Today, the whole world knows of the Light of the World, Emmanuel—“God-is-with-us,” “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5)…our “savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness” (Ti 2:14), to deliver us and grant us peace and consolation from all that causes chaos or disorder or stress in our lives.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reflecting on these beautiful words, talks about light—the permeating theme of the great solemnity that we celebrate at Christmas. Our Holy Father says, “The people who walked–caught up in their activities and routines, amid their successes and failures, their worries and expectations–have seen a great light. The people who walked–with all their joys and hopes, their disappointments and regrets–have seen a great light. In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light. … A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives” (Homily of Pope Francis, 25 September 2015).
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! As we continue to celebrate the great Nativity of the Lord—Christmas—we rejoice with Isaiah: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5). The Psalmist invites us to “exult before the LORD, for he comes; for he comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy” (Ps 96: 13).
The Lord is forever faithful. We are called to “[proclaim] the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace” (Homily of Pope Francis, 25 September 2015). We do this by serving as beacons of light amidst the darkness of our world, radiating the light, the “abundant joy” (Is 9:2), the love, the “blessed hope” (Ti 2:13) of Jesus Christ, proclaiming with “great rejoicing” (Is 9:2) the “good news of great joy” (Lk 2:10). “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven” (Entrance Antiphon). Let us join our hearts and voices this Christmas night and proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).
“Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing, Alleluia to our King; Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!” (Stille Nacht, Fr. Joseph Mohr)
Invest me, O Lord, as a new man, who was created by God in justice and the holiness of truth. Amen.
With this prayer, I and my fellow altar servers finish vesting for Mass. By no means is everything ready: the candles need to be lit, the Missal has to be set, the vessels have to go out to the credence table, and Father has yet to first arrive and then share his personal preferences for helping him throughout the celebration, among other details and roles. Even as an altar server for eleven years, I remain mindful that to assume I know how everything will play out during the liturgy could prove embarrassing. Yet the Mass will continue, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will still be offered, and our Lord will still be present as the community gathers to pray and give praise to God. The presence of an altar server, then, is by no means critical to the ecclesial prayer, but, as the name suggests, is purposed to serve the presider as well as Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest.
For me, the chance to serve at the altar in this capacity affords me the opportunity to participate more fully in the liturgy and so deepen my faith. Beyond the initial excitement of being able to wear a cassock (Galatians 3:27), this ministry requires that I remain more attentive and alert throughout the Mass than if I were among the congregation. At the same time, being in a place of privilege near the altar and the presider helps me to realize firsthand Jesus’ active presence in every liturgy. In my experiences of serving at my home parish, as part of the University’s Campus Ministry, and in the Basilica of the National Shrine, some of the ways this happens is carrying the wood (or metal) of the Cross during the processions (Matthew 16:24), bringing forth the light of the candles (Matthew 5:14), holding (and reading) the prayers in the Roman Missal for the presider, swinging a thurible (Psalm 141:2) and other simple-yet-significant tasks.
Of course, the altar server is not to be the focus of the Mass; if anything, the server must be a reminder for the congregation, when their eyes wander, to conduct oneself worthily, attentively, and devoutly; by every action and example at the altar, the altar server brings glory to God and souls to the Church. Certainly in my experience, there is the temptation for the altar server to feel smug or prideful of being able to contribute to the liturgical life of the Church in this way.
But then I am also reminded that the role of the altar server is to help keep the order of Mass flowing smoothly: there are tasks to complete and to complete well… and there is great pressure to not degrade what Fr. Frederick Faber called “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven” by haste, carelessness, or inattention! The altar server then uses that faithful completion of the work to reflect upon the service of Christ during ministry, to imitate such Love and give oneself totally to others (Mark 9:35).
With all that the altar server does in the presence of the congregation, there is also that which is done out of their sight both before and after Eucharistic celebrations. There is something beautifully intimate about being the only one in a church while setting or cleaning up. In the silence and the stillness, it’s just Christ (present in the tabernacle) and the altar server, the Lord and His faithful servant. How many times have I been able to find comfort in the prayers I silently offered in those moments! Finally, when the priest arrives, it is like welcoming an old friend as we go over the liturgical details for the day before entering into a casual discussion of our lives. By the time Mass ends, the priest and I have deepened a sort of fraternal bond as we participate in so important a celebration. When we get to the sacristy however, we don’t pat ourselves on the back but immediately bow to the Crucifix, remembering how the Mass transcends our individual piety--it is for the benefit of all and for each: Pro sit. Pro omnibus et singulis!
On November 2nd of each year, Catholics observe The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls Day. We are encouraged to pray for the dead and to remember our loved ones who have gone before us. Our prayers for these souls assist in expediting the “process of purification.” The Church recognizes that few people achieve perfection in this life (after all, we are human!), and therefore, go to the grave with remaining traces of sinfulness; a period of purification is necessary to prepare the soul to join God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” This is called Purgatory. It is important to recognize that Purgatory is not a state of punishment, but rather a cleansing very much like our Baptism. Think of it this way: Purgatory makes the soul perfect forever! Our prayers for the deceased put their souls in the HOV lane to complete purification and unity with God—pretty awesome!
In remembering our deceased loved ones on All Souls Day, it is common for people to visit cemeteries and decorate grave-sites. For this reason, this feast day reminds me of my grandfather, Sal, or as I call him, Pa-pa. Pa-pa was not exactly a church-going Catholic until the last year or so of his life, but he religiously honored and prayed for the dead by visiting the cemetery of our relatives and planting flowers, placing wreaths or palm. Today, my mom, her two sisters and their husbands continue Pa-pa’s tradition of visiting the cemetery and decorating the grave-sites of all their loved ones several times throughout the year. I make an effort to join them at least once a year to pay tribute to my relatives and to follow my grandfather’s example of acknowledging those who have gone before us.
I will never know why Pa-pa did not attend Mass with my grandmother for much of his adulthood, but something drew him into church towards the end of his life. Perhaps he knew his time was approaching and he found solace with the Lord. This year, I will be praying for all of my deceased loved ones, but I will be thinking especially of my Pa-pa with great hope.
Be sure to reflect on the memories of your loved ones. If you can, make some time to visit a cemetery, light a candle and attend Mass this All Souls Day.
*This post was originally published here and was used with permission.
During the spring of 2008, I was a freshman at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I was nearing the end of my first year of school, preparing to enter into finals, and attempting to figure out what my plans were for the summer. A few months prior, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be visiting the D.C. during his US Papal visit. Furthermore, he would be speaking at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America in subsequent days. To say I was a little excited for my first Papal Visit is a bit of an understatement. I remember vividly watching him ride in the Popemobile in front of the Basilica on the Wednesday of his arrival, the next day participating in the celebration of the Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in Nationals Park, and finally, seeing him drive near the Catholic University Law School lawn before his talk on the importance of Catholic Education. He greeted the crowds that came to see him. The people present were excited simply to be a part of that moment in history.
As I write this on Sept 15th, Pope Francis will be arriving in the United States in less than a week. That same excitement fills the air of our nations’ capital. That same excitement fills my heart as much as it did over seven years ago. Why is it that we should be excited for his arrival? In the age of computers, smartphones, and the 24/7 news media cycle, everyone can be a witness to Pope Francis and his message all the time. The excitement that I feel about his visiting the United States comes from a sense of honor and pride. Of all the countries in which Catholics live (and there are many), the choice of the Pontiff to visit our country brings a sense of pride to be a member of the nation that is experiencing history. As a note, this is not only Pope Francis’ first visit as pontiff to our country, it is also his first time ever visiting our country.
When Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews, United States Catholics around the country will watch, participate, and attend the events that Pope Francis will be a part of in Washington, D.C., New York City, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. Throughout six days, Catholics around the country have the opportunity to join in welcoming Pope Francis to our country. Whether through attending, participating, watching, or praying, all US Catholics can join in a celebration of the Pope’s visit and (hopefully) pride in understanding the momentous occasion of the event. It will hopefully renew that most perfect love, the love between God and man. In many ways, this visit from September 22-27 will be a great event and moment of potential evangelization.
What will we do on September 28? Will we simply go back to our lives as if this event never happened? This thought leads me back to my spring experience in 2008 because that is exactly what I did after Pope Benedict traveled back to Rome. As important and great as is the visit of a pope to your country, the words and actions of the pope during his visit are what should ultimately serve as a stepping off point in our evangelization journey. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose and over the top. Simple, sustainable acts of charity and prayer are enough to carry on the message of the Pope that was espoused when Francis was here. Fortunately for us, Pope Francis gave us a simple direction in his Apostolic Mission message: Love. Love is our primary mission as Catholics in the United States, and while this can be difficult to do, it is an important mission to carry forth when we watch Pope Francis leave from Philadelphia.
Pope John Paul II, in his homily at the Mass he celebrated at the site of the Brzezinka (Auschwitz II) Concentration Camp in 1979; called St. Maximilian Kolbe “the patron of our difficult century.” Although the dawn of a new century has since come, St. Maximilian remains a strong symbol of Christian charity today. Seventy-four years ago tomorrow, he offered up an ultimate act of charity while knowing it would cost him his own life to save another.
While Maximilian Kolbe was a prisoner at Auschwitz, several men escaped from the camp. In an attempt to deter other prisoners from trying to escape, the officers chose ten men to starve to death. When one of the men chosen expressed his anguish because he had a wife and children, St. Maximilian willingly volunteered to take his place. After two weeks without food or water, St. Maximilian was the only one of the ten still alive. At that point, he was killed by a lethal injection. Although we cannot know for certain what happened while the ten men were held in the bunker, there are reports that St. Maximilian spent much of the two weeks leading the other nine in prayer to the Blessed Mother.
Most of us will not be called to make the same sacrifice as St. Maximilian did for a stranger, but God calls each of us to works of charity and mercy. The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are simple ways to love God and to love our neighbor. This might mean sacrificing your Saturday afternoon to drive an elderly neighbor to her doctor’s appointment or to volunteer at a food pantry. Mercy might take the form of comforting a coworker or classmate (regardless of whether or not you are friends) when you notice them grieving. Mercy means not honking or cursing, but instead offering up a prayer when someone cuts you off in traffic. Mercy could mean not buying another sweater when you already have ten hanging in your closet and instead donating the money to a charity for the homeless. Every act of mercy requires some sacrifice--whether you are giving up time, money, or a bit of yourself--but there is no simpler way to tell God that you love Him.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I remember the day, many years ago, that my pastor came around to the fifth grade classrooms wanting us to sign up for the training for altar servers. He explained that it was a tradition in our parish for the fifth graders to begin assisting with this important liturgical role. Most of the class eagerly signed up and we embraced our new role with gusto. Despite only being 10 years old, we knew that we had an important role to play in the Mass by assisting with the celebration of it. Throughout my time in grade school, I developed a love of serving at Mass. I found that through being involved in the liturgy, I grew in appreciation for the ceremony and tradition that surrounds Mass. I learned the parts of the Mass and was taught firsthand by the priests why we do the things we do at liturgy.
Fast forward 13 years after I first began altar serving, and I am still an active altar server at a basilica in my city. I am fortunate that the staff of the basilica has been extremely supportive of my involvement as an altar server. There is a camaraderie among the liturgical ministers that I have found to be one of the many benefits I have gained from my time as an altar server, and one of the reasons I keep coming back each weekend. Women in the Church today are becoming more involved and fulfilling more leadership roles. We are a crucial voice in today’s Church, and it is important to recognize and appreciate the role women play in the liturgy.
Every time that we go to Mass we must recognize that just the simple act of celebrating the Mass takes place because of the efforts of lectors, musicians, cantors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, sacristans, servers, and countless others. Each of these liturgical ministers finds joy in the role they fulfill at Mass. I encourage you to consider volunteering at your own parish! In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Each time we go to Mass we are given the chance to connect with Christ on a personal level. We bring Him our joys and sorrows, we listen to Scripture, and we become one with Him in the Holy Eucharist. Being involved in liturgical ministries is a way to bring a new dimension to your personal experience of Mass. By serving in various roles at the liturgy, we can come to Christ in a more intentional way.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
This past weekend, I had the honor of attending a beautiful wedding for a couple I have known since my freshman year in college. The two had a lovely Mass followed by a fun reception, and many college-friends and family were there to celebrate them. These two were not the first couple I’ve seen get married this year, and they won’t be the last - in fact, I have 4 more to attend in the next year already! It all got me thinking about how these men and women are such amazing examples of love and devotion for those of us around them.
As millennial Catholics, we have many people to influence us or to learn from, especially in this digital age of constant communication. Our peers who are getting married set a new model for us to follow. These peers are examples of commitment and true love, and are models for us as we discern our own vocation in life. Sometimes, it seems like “everyone” is getting married, and it’s “cool” to have a perfectly Pinterest-ed wedding. We also get pressure from others who note that “It’s that time in your life”. But, there is so much more to the sacrament of marriage than having a trendy reception in a fancy venue. The example of love that we see from those around us can help us look deeper at the love that we, too have with others.
Marriage at any age is a testament to the selflessness and devotion that one person gives to someone else. In the midst of a culture built on so much focus on the individual, it is joyful and inspiring to me for to see so many people devote themselves to another person and to God through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. But it doesn’t stop there! People who are not married, engaged, or still dating still also can follow the example of love given to them by their peers by focusing on their love of God and strengthening their bond and relationship with Him. The single life can be even more of a beautiful and fruitful time for those who serve the Lord. It is a time to build a stronger prayer life, spiritual life, and overall well-being. Discerning the will of God has always been a struggle for people, for instance in Romans 12: 1-2, 9-13, Saint Paul asks the Romans to be selfless and good in their daily lives, his letter still speaks to us today, saying:
"I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. […] Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.”
Millennials like myself are always trying to change things and improve on the old, so this should be an easy task for us: build-on and improve our prayer life and relationships with God. Let us try to find a new and more invigorating way of serving God and others! While many are called to marriage when they answer their own vocation call, others may try a path of holy orders or religious life to improve their personal relationship with God, and still more may just remain open to God’s will for them in their lives each day.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.