I have friends that host an annual Epiphany party where each guest is gifted a word for the year. The word I received this year was wonder. “What a great word to carry through the year,” January-me thought. But, as we begin to make our way from summer to fall, I’ve all but forgotten about this word, let alone pondered it in prayer.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines wonder as “rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one's experience.” There is something about newness and mystery that captivates us. We meet a child that has just been born after staying hidden in the womb for nine months or watch a sunset over the mountains and are struck anew by the splendor of God’s creation. However, it isn’t every day that we’re meeting babies or hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains. When we get swept away in the activity of everyday life the opportunities for and objects of wonder can feel few and far between. I doubt many of us would describe the tasks that make up our daily lives as “awesomely mysterious,” let alone “new.” Yet, wonder isn’t meant to be reserved just for special occasions.
One of my favorite things about children is the sense of wonder that they naturally possess. Despite the ordinariness and repetition of their days, their lives are marked by wonder. As children go through the simple events that make up their days, they are able to see the awesome newness all around them: a colorful beetle in the garden, a new color made when mixing paints, sounding out a new word for the first time. It is true that as adults there may be fewer things for us to discover and learn; we've figured out how most things work and generally know what to expect from an event or situation. But, what if we still let ourselves be open to the wonder around us and approached situations with more curiosity? When we have conversations with friends, we can marvel at their goodness and how God is working in their lives. When we take the dog for a walk, we can leave our phone at home and soak in the sights and sounds around us. We can take time to cultivate a hobby or learn a new skill. These events might not be novel, but they can offer us an opportunity to slow down and see what newness God may be speaking into them.
This sense of wonder can be cultivated in our spiritual lives, too. God wants us to wonder at Him, to be captivated by Him, to enter the mystery of His presence among us. The great mysteries of the Church aren’t matters to be solved or rationally understood; rather, they are truths meant to be pondered ever more deeply. What better disposition than one of wonder with which to enter into these mysteries? We can give our “rapt attention” and “astonishment” to Jesus’ True Presence in the Eucharist or to contemplating the ways God has worked in the lives of people throughout scripture. Like children encountering the newness right in front of them, we can ask God to fill us with a spirit of wonder when we go to pray or experience the sacraments. In this way He can transform the parts of our spiritual lives that may just feel routine and ordinary into moving encounters of His perpetual newness.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Paul II, a saint of our times! He is remembered for many things, including his passion for the arts, outdoors, youth, and families. St. John Paul II also had a deep devotion to Mary, and in what I know of St. John Paul II’s life and loves, we can bring no greater joy in celebrating his sainthood than by honoring our blessed Mother.
St. John Paul II’s favorite prayer was the Rosary, and I too, have developed a fondness for praying it. I stumbled upon a recording a couple of years ago in my desire to pray it intentionally. As I would listen and pray along in my car every morning before work, I discovered a love for each mystery and the fruit they bear, as like Mary, I “pondered them in [my] heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). The mysteries of the Rosary invite us to contemplate the life of Christ through the memories of Mary. St. John Paul II says remembering these mysteries “were to be the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §11). In this remembering, the account of the Gospel from the eyes of Mary are timeless, “not only belong[ing] to ‘yesterday’; they are also a part of the ‘today’ of salvation” (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §13). In this, St. John Paul II reminds us that the Rosary is an invitation to participate in Christ’s divine life, and it is relevant across time to the faithful of all ages.
Recently my routine for praying the Rosary has changed as I am now on maternity leave and spend the day taking care of my newborn daughter. Instead of rushing to get my two-year-old son into the car and dropped off at daycare before work and enjoying my prayer time alone in the car, we have the opportunity to hop in the stroller and walk to daycare, spending time together saying hi to neighbors and marveling at the changing of seasons before he starts his school day. Despite the enjoyment both my son and I get from these walks, in the transition of summer at home with mommy to school, and the transition from being an only child to living the realities of being a big brother at only two years old, for quite a few weeks my son was not happy about leaving home for the day. Although my son loves school, he was hating drop off, and his anxiety (and let’s be honest, mine, too) crept in the closer we got to school each day.
One morning as I was trying to get him excited for the day, I asked him if he wanted to pray the Rosary with me, telling him it always brings me calm and comfort, and he said yes. I told him I would let my recording play, and I would tell him the stories of each mystery. Thus began a new routine for us each morning. As the Joyful Mysteries play, I tell him about how much Mary loved God that she said yes to being Jesus’ Mommy, and how we pray that we can love God like her and say yes to Him when he needs us to. When the Luminous Mysteries play, I tell him about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, and that through Mary, she will lead us to Jesus and help us see the miracles he’s performing in our own lives. In praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, I am very closely brought to tears as I think about explaining death to a toddler, and moved by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, telling my son that no sin stops Christ’s love for us. We pray to be good people and follow the will of God. And when we pray the Glorious Mysteries, I get to teach my son about the glories of the Holy Spirit and Heaven, praying for our ultimate happiness with Jesus, Mary, and all the saints. In praying these, I am in awe of how parenting is transforming my heart, teaching me to be like a little child, loving Jesus without abandon like my son does. By the time we’ve prayed our Rosary for the day, we’ve arrived at daycare. Filled with his spunky confidence and newfound graces, my son hops out of his stroller and says “let me give you a kiss for the road,” and sends me off on my way. Each day, he runs off to the playground to play with his friends, and I am amazed by the graces we’ve both received by praying the Rosary together.
In his great love for both the Rosary and the family, St. John Paul II called families to pray this prayer together, acknowledging how its graces unite the family:
Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.
Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §41)
From daycare drop-offs to contemplating our family’s deepest sorrows and joys, we too as a family have found this hope and strength of the Rosary to be true and timeless.
On this Feast of St. John Paull II, I invite you to honor him and our Blessed Mother by taking the time to pray the Rosary, finding twenty minutes of your time to devote to contemplating the face of Jesus. St. John Paul said, “a prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community… I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §43). Know of my unending prayers for you as you begin this rediscovery of the Rosary for yourself, as with Mary, you too ponder these mysteries in your heart and recognize their fruits in your life.
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
“I looked into my deepest wound and was dazzled by your glory.” – St. Augustine of Hippo (attributed)
My favorite Gospel passage has always been Mark 3:2-5: “And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”
Why did Jesus ask this man to stretch out his hand? Didn’t He know there were people around who would be able to see what was probably this man’s greatest insecurity? Didn’t He understand that this man had been judged and ridiculed enough throughout his life? That his deformed hand—and himself—was looked upon with disgust? Why would Jesus ask him to stretch it out, being all the more visible to the crowd around him? Jesus could have easily healed his hand while it was still hidden. Why cause more pain?
Of course, Jesus was aware of the people around him who could see this man’s deformity. In this moment, however, the man with the withered hand probably felt like the only person in the room. What was happening between him and Jesus was the creation of an eternal bond, a divine exchange.
This man wanted to be healed; who wouldn’t want the Divine Healer to rid us of our imperfections? But Christ asks the man to stretch out his hand so that he could participate in his healing. So that, in essence, he would tell Christ, “Here is my wound. I want to be healed.” So that it would be the work of Creator and created, an exchange of love, a sign of trust, a unification of suffering.
Our redemption as Christians is comprised of many things, but the two I see most often are the participation with Christ in our healing by uniting our suffering to His on the Cross and the offering of our suffering for the benefit of another. In each way, we are actively engaging with the Divine Healer to find His strength through our pain and confidence in the midst of our flaws. When we invite God into our wounds, he transforms them. As St. Augustine said in the quote above, we can be dazzled by the glory we find there.
As Catholics, we often hear in regards to suffering the phrase “offer it up.” I think this can sometimes belittle what is truly going on. When we sit before God and say “here are my wounds, here is my pain, hurt, and suffering—heal me,” something supernaturally transformative occurs. We are unifying our wounds to Christ’s wounds on the Cross and, wound for wound, are transforming our suffering into an act that is redemptive. When we participate with Christ in our own healing through suffering, Christ takes that free act of love and can use it to not only heal you, but to transform you to be more like Him and help others to also be transformed.
How can actively participating in your healing transform others and lessen their suffering? Well, I think it is mostly a mystery. But allow me to unpack what I think occurs. Each amount of suffering offered up is like a quarter being placed in a jukebox. Once inserted, it enables the rest of the room to hear the music. The whole room is transformed. So too by offering your suffering to God, your fellow man can receive the sweetness of your pain and be converted by the beauty of your love freely given.
Each contribution to this divine economy enhances the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ. The heavens move, the saints and the angels engage, and the supernatural world comes in contact with the natural, bridging the gap between heaven and earth just a little more. By inviting God into our hurt, giving our suffering to Him for the sake of others, and by showing it boldly like the man with the withered hand, we can participate with our Creator in becoming whole.
This is the beauty of our faith—that our suffering is not our end, but rather the avenue by which we grow closer to Christ.
When I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was to read about the lives of the saints. My family had tons of little books geared towards children with a one-page summary of the saint’s life, what they are patron of, and a little prayer to them. For me, it was fascinating to see the many different paths to holiness that God has given us as examples to follow. There is no one way to live out a life centered on Christ.
Saint Bridget of Sweden is one of these saints whom I find fascinating. She lived in Sweden in the 14th century, was born into a wealthy family, and was a daughter of a governor. She was married at age 14 and gave birth to eight children (Fun fact: one of her daughters is a saint as well – St. Catherine of Sweden!)
After the death of her husband, Bridget set out to begin a religious community, which is now known as the Order of the Most Holy Savior, or the Brigittines. The order was eventually confirmed by Pope Urban V, after the papacy made its return to Rome.
St. Bridget was a mystic, having her first vision, at age ten, of our Lord hanging on the cross. She continued to have visions throughout her life, including ones of Purgatory. In one of her visions, St. Bridget asked Jesus how many blows he suffered, to which he responded, “I received 5480 blows upon My Body. If you wish to honor them in some way, recite fifteen Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Mary’s with the following Prayers, which I Myself shall teach you, for an entire year. When the year is finished, you will have honored each of My Wounds.” These prayers, also known as the “Fifteen O’s,” became widely recited during the Middle Ages, promising indulgences as well as the release of souls from Purgatory among other graces.
St. Bridget died at the age of 69 and was canonized just 19 years after her death by Pope Boniface IX. She is co-patroness of Europe, along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of the Cross.
It is so rare and beautiful to be able to look to a saint who was a wife, mother, and religious sister. Regardless of her state in life, St. Bridget kept her eyes fixed on Christ crucified, and lived her vocation for Him.
“O Lord, make haste and illumine the night. Say to my soul that nothing happens without You permitting it, and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort. O Jesus, Son of God, You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers, restrain my tongue until I find what I should say and how to say it. Show me the way and make me ready to follow it. It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward. Answer my petition and show me the way. As the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid, so do I come to You. O Lord, give Your peace to my heart. Amen.” – St. Bridget of Sweden
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” - Luke 3:1-6
Isaiah, whose words the evangelist Luke repeats in this week’s Gospel, prophesized a beautifully uncanny world. According to the prophet’s vision, no valley would be too deep, no mountain or hill too high, no road too long or path too rough for God’s salvation to reach. When we understand this word, we recognize that the saving presence of God has no limitation. God’s revelation arrives everywhere and to all life wherever it may be. No one life stands below or above another in that radically horizontal and unfamiliar world. God disregards human hierarchies, borders, and definitions. This season, we celebrate, meditate upon, and commit ourselves to our world’s greatest mystery—God incarnate and among us in Christ. Just like those along the Jordan who were invited by John the Baptist, we are invited to work for the world to which Christ, the salvation of God, arrived. The world in which we recognize God is with us and in each one of us. The world whose mystery we know capable to reveal itself anywhere and at any moment of the day. The world in which each person enters in community without prejudice or judgement but with mutual respect because we know every person to be equally chosen and beloved by God.
FOCUS: Simple Living
When I reflect on what prevents us from treating each other as kin and caring for each other and our common home, indifference appears as our greatest challenge. Today our politicians run campaigns based on hatred, prejudice, and the blatant disrespect of other cultures. Today so many of us deny scientific facts and disregard how our planet is suffering while we choose to continue to live numb and blind. Preoccupied primarily by our economic wellbeing, we tolerate injustice and accept apathy. Simple living this Advent must mean making space for God and others in our hearts by ridding our lives of the material goods which make us apathetic to and complicit in others’ suffering.
Just and compassionate God, whose incarnate word reveals itself to the tender and humble hearted, we pray for healing from the hurtful divisions that human hierarchies, borders, and definitions impose. Send your Spirit to renew a world divided and suffering. May bigotry shake in the path of Your love and prejudice fade in Your understanding presence. You, good guardian, know each one of us to be Your chosen and beloved. Bless and protect us as we work for reconciliation, peace, and justice.
Opening our hearts to the arrival of God begins with an honest reflection on what in our lives encourages our cultural indifference to the suffering of our planet and its most marginalized peoples. This Advent, think of the moral demands of our faith and analyze whether your life habits or practices adequately demonstrate your commitment to God, all God’s people, and all God’s creation. What will you do to reflect more of the light of Christ today?
**This reflection is from the 2018 Advent Reflection Guide, a collaborative effort between the Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network. To see the whole guide, please click here.
Kevin Ruano, Franciscan Mission Service DC Service Corps
Angels are mysterious beings. Our culture has a lot of misconceptions about angels--what they are, who they are, and what they do. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), an angel is a being of pure spirit; that is “what” they are. St. Augustine tells us that the word “angel” is actually what they do: they are messengers and servants of the Most-High God.
There are three archangels named in the Bible: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. These messengers served God’s people at different times and had different purposes. They had vastly diverse missions, each corresponding to their very identity and being. Let’s take a look at them now.
St. Michael is known as the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts and the defender of God’s people. According to the Catholic Bible Dictionary, Michael means “Who is like God?”. In the Book of Revelation, “Michael and his angels” battle the dragon, an ancient symbol of the devil, and throw him and his followers out of heaven. Christianity honors him as a patron of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people of the Old Testament. Today, Michael is still thought of as a guardian of the Church, God’s people of the New Testament.
St. Raphael is mentioned in one book of the Bible—the Book of Tobit. His name can be translated as “God will Heal.” In the Book of Tobit, God sends Raphael to answer the prayers of two people: Tobit, who was blinded by bird droppings, and Sarah, who was harassed by a demon who killed any man she married. These two, on the same day, prayed to God for death. God answered their prayers by sending Raphael, who brought together Tobias, Tobit’s son, and Sarah. He also banished the demon that stalked Sarah and healed Tobit’s blindness in the same journey.
St. Gabriel appears once in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament. His name means “God is my warrior” or “God is strong.” First, he is sent to the prophet Daniel in the time of the great exile to interpret visions concerning the coming of the Messiah. Second, he appears to Zechariah to foretell the birth of John the Baptist. St. Gabriel is best known, however, for appearing to Mary and announcing the birth of the Messiah, Jesus.
The names of these angels tell us their missions. Michael (Who is like God) reminds us that there is no one like our God who deserves and desires our love. Raphael (God Heals) reminds us that it is only through the power of the Divine Physician that our wounds can be healed. Gabriel (God is Strong) reminds us that it is in God and the proclamation of his Word that we find our true strength.
What can these three messengers tell us about our missions? Our own name gives us our mission. I’m not necessarily thinking about our personal names, as those meanings don’t always correspond to a call from God. Through our baptism, we have been named Christians. In the early Church, the term was used in reference to those who followed Christ and were persecuted for the faith. This name gives us our truest identity as those who belong to and follow Christ. It also gives us a mission: to continue his work in our world today. We are called to be the face, hands, feet, and heart of Jesus to all we encounter. Let us live out of this identity as authentically as we can so that others may come to know Jesus through us. As St. Ignatius of Antioch, who lived in the generation after the apostles, said, “Let me not merely be called ‘Christian’; let me be one.” May the angels and archangels help us to live up to our identity and mission as followers of Christ on our journey towards heaven.
NOTE: Definitions of angels’ names found in the Catholic Bible Dictionary edited by Scott Hahn.
My husband and I lingered in the Church a tad longer than usual the last Sunday of Christmas. We were taking in the beauty of the liturgical season—the lights, trees, colors, the Nativity—ultimately basking in the hope that is born from the Word made Flesh who dwells among us. To be frank, we were also lamenting the season of Ordinary Time that was next, followed by the Lenten Season. We were lamenting the transition from the hope-filled season of Advent into the Lenten journey that leads to Good Friday, where the babe in the manger becomes the suffering servant on the Cross.
With Advent lasting for the shortest amount of time this year, and Lent approaching quickly thereafter, I find I am still reflecting on the Mysteries of the prior Christmas season. I suppose I am still sitting in my parish church reflecting on the Wise Men bringing the Child Jesus gifts, reflecting on the idea that a child caused conversion. Highly educated adult men encountered a baby in a stable for animals, and this encounter prompted a change of heart. I would prefer to stay in that time of hope and joy rather than enter into the gore and the sacrifice of the Passion.
A few weeks ago, I was reading a reflection in the Magnificat, a daily Mass companion, about the conversion of the Thief on the Cross. The author mentioned that the thief went through a conversion upon encountering the Lord, bloodied, beaten, on the verge of death. The author asks, “What is it that brought the conversion to the thief?” Jesus was in a position of shame, and yet the thief sought repentance and salvation. How could this be? Jesus as the Messiah would have been hard to believe based on His appearance and vulnerability on the Cross, particularly to a thief who had lived a life worthy of crucifixion.
Jesus as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and Jesus on the Cross have the ability and desire to convert souls. Jesus is Lord in every season. He wants our hearts. Christmas seems so beautifully packaged; it can appear that Jesus as a child is sweeter, warmer, more approachable. Yet the story of the Good Thief shows that Christ can also be approachable in his ability to suffer with and for mankind. The thief’s conversion on the cross invites us to approach the bruised and beaten Lord with our own trials and hardships. I was fearful to head into the darkness of Lent, forgetting that Jesus wants to be with us, in His vulnerability, even in our difficult times. Whether we are fleeing suffering, undergoing trial, or in a stagnant time spiritually, we must not put limits on Jesus’ desire for closeness with us, especially as we enter into the season of Lent.
If you are struggling with the beginning of the Lenten season, desiring to stay back in the light and joy of the Christmas season like my husband and I, remember that Jesus wants to enter into your Lenten journey, into each season of your life. If you open yourself to him as the Good Thief did on the cross, he can and will grab your attention and be present to you during this season of fasting and preparation. Let us pray for hearts that are open to God’s graces during Lent, open to an encounter and conversion with Christ during every season of the heart.
Question for Reflection: Are you struggling to enter into the Lenten season? How can you more deeply invite Christ into your Lenten journey?
Click here for resources to accompany you throughout your Lenten journey.
“Good morning and welcome to St. Michael Catholic church. Before Mass begins, we invite you to take a moment to greet those around you.”
I was on vacation at the time I heard these words, and thus totally unfamiliar with the parish until I had searched for local Catholic churches. There wasn’t much choice compared to my options in a densely populated city, but I knew Mass was Mass—the same and just as important in the rural diocese I was visiting as it is in the Archdiocese of Washington (and the rest of the Universal Church). I was excited to experience another faith community as a visitor.
After the cantor made the welcome announcement, the parishioners around me turned and exchanged greetings with their neighbors. While there were a number of familiar faces for them, mine was new. Their eyes lit up when they saw me. I appreciated the parishioner’s hospitality efforts, beginning with the first handshake and smile. As Mass began, I could not help but pick up on the small differences in the celebration of the liturgy: the church was smaller and rounder, there was a piano instead of an organ, the servers were past middle-age, and the priest liked to stroll up and down the aisle during his homily. While it was not exactly what I was used to, the actual worship of God and the spiritual nourishment of the faithful was no less authentic or beneficial. The Word of God was proclaimed in the readings and we received the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We sang hymns, exchanged a sign of peace, and participated in the usual liturgical responses, movements, and postures at the appropriate times.
These experiences may very well be shared by anyone taking a vacation this summer or otherwise visiting another parish. The Mass transcends one’s location or liturgical preferences. It is ultimately the gathering and lifting of prayers of praise, petition, repentance, and thanksgiving to God Who blesses us with His grace and True Presence. In Her wisdom, the Church has laid down guidelines for the celebration of the liturgy that must be adhered to in order to be valid. Without them, the Mass would lose its focus on divine worship and partaking in the Sacred Mysteries. While different parishes and cultures may imbue a different spiritual character in the celebration of the sacraments, the Substance (God) remains the same to unite all the faithful, whoever and wherever they may be. This universality reflects that of the Church, instituted to proclaim Christ to all, especially those outside of His Body.
My experience of welcome at this new church during my vacation reflected that very evangelical mission! One does not have to go far to invite another to share in the Sacred Mysteries—all are invited to enter and re-enter the liturgy, and to do so more deeply than before in order to draw more meaning and grace along one’s spiritual journey.
After that morning’s Mass, the church hosted a hospitality breakfast during which I was continually greeted by other parishioners who expressed amazement that I found my way to join them in the Eucharist at such an early hour—and on a weekday! To some, it was refreshing to see not only a new face, but a young one. They were as happy to greet me and share their experiences as I was to be there and form new ones. Before leaving that church to continue on with the day, the members of the faithful drew strength from their reception of Jesus in the Eucharist and from each other in order to sustain them through the burdens and challenges of their lives.
In welcoming newcomers to the Catholic Church, let us strive to extend the same heartfelt message as our Lord to the wearied disciples after His Passion: “Peace be with you!” Doing so will not only help others benefit from the graces and support offered at your home parish, but will also strengthen and enrich the life of the local church as it endeavors to minister to the world spreading the Gospel message.
Question for Reflection: How does visiting different parishes deepen your understanding of the Mass? Have you ever benefitted from attending Mass in a different location or within a different culture?
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."-John 6:51
This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the feast commemorating the institution of the Eucharist.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus says the words above after performing the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. When he states these words, Jesus has already been preaching and healing as part of his ministry for some time. He has performed many miracles and healed many people. He has taught in synagogues and given the Sermon on the Mount. He has accrued a steady following and fostered great interest throughout Judea and Galilee. Now, Jesus takes his teaching to the next level by beginning his discourse on his real presence in the Eucharist.
In this discourse, Jesus says exactly what he means. He does not haphazardly preach or simply say what the people wish to hear. Jesus is not concerned about whether his teaching will offend others or be misinterpreted—so much so that he does not recant his words even after many of his followers decide to abandon him because of this teaching. When he is questioned about his words, rather than hastily coming up with an explanation or saying that he is only speaking figuratively, Jesus instead becomes even more precise in his language.
In order to ensure that those around him fully understand the seemingly baffling words he has just stated, Jesus reiterates and continues more solemnly, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” If those listening to him had any misconception or misunderstanding, Jesus makes his point abundantly clear. The same God who created the world through the Word now speaks words that will ultimately form a new creation: bread and wine transformed into his Body and Blood. As St. Ambrose asks, “Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before?” (CCC 1375)
Why did Jesus institute the Eucharist, which we celebrate today?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that he did so “in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet 'in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'"
Christ’s words come before the sacrifice on the Cross but are meant to instruct his followers regarding God’s promise of salvation. Just as Adam and Eve fell by the consumption of food, we are saved by the consumption of food—bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It’s a beautiful similarity. Although his Passion completely took on the burden of sin and opened the doors of heaven back to mankind, Jesus loves humanity so much that he cannot bear to “leave us orphans” (cf John 14:18). As a result, he remains with us in the Eucharist, which renews his sacrifice on the Cross at every Mass and allows us to consume him. Christ knows that, “Besides physical hunger, man experiences another hunger, a hunger that cannot be satiated with ordinary food. It’s a hunger for life, a hunger for love, a hunger for eternity.” He appeases this hunger for life by giving us life itself, this hunger for love with love itself, this hunger for eternity with eternity itself. We need God himself in order to be satiated.
Pope Francis said in his Corpus Christi homily in 2014 that, “The Eucharist communicates the Lord’s love for us: a love so great that it nourishes us with Himself; a freely given love, always available to every person who hungers and needs to regenerate his own strength.”
This communication of love for us is abundant and humbling. Christ gives us himself every single time we attend Mass or visit the Blessed Sacrament in order to regenerate our strength on the journey towards heaven. Having taken “the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” Jesus knows the struggles and hardships of mankind. Jesus knows our hunger (cf Phil 2:7). And so he feeds us, sustains us, and nourishes us with himself.
“The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love,” John Paul II wrote in Dominicae cenae. Will you meet him there? Will you allow him to satiate your hunger?
Let us close with this prayer from Pope Francis:
Jesus, defend us from the temptation of worldly food which enslaves us, tainted food; purify our memory, so it isn’t imprisoned in selfish and worldly selectivity, but that it may be a living memory of your presence throughout the history of your people, a memory that makes a “monument” of your gesture of redeeming love. Amen.
Question for Reflection: What are some worldly foods that may be preventing you from more fully receiving Jesus in the Eucharist?
"Good morning and welcome! Today, we celebrate the Xth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Please stand and join in singing hymn number…"
Most of us will hear these words, or words very close to them, for over thirty Sundays a year. After the joyful season of Christmas, it can seem too ordinary, almost boring, to return to Ordinary Time in the Liturgical Year. Instead of the extraordinary stories of Christ's birth in the Incarnation, we've gone back to the Jesus stories many of us grew up hearing: Jesus healing lepers, chastising Pharisees, and preaching to crowds.
While Jesus’ ministry is anything but ordinary, our familiarity with the stories of the Gospel often desensitizes us to their extraordinary depth and power. It’s much easier to see the seasons of Christmas and Easter, as well as Advent and Lent, as extraordinary. They're special seasons of the Liturgical Calendar, set aside to celebrate and reflect on the greatest mysteries of our faith: the Incarnation and the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. These liturgical times make us feel our faith in a more visceral way. There's nothing like the gut-wrenching Passion narrative or the beautiful story of the Nativity to set our hearts ablaze for Christ!
But if our experience of the Christian faith was nothing more than an emotional high, we would never be able to see Christ in anything but the heavily emotional experiences. That's what Ordinary Time gives us: it sustains our faith between the emotional highs and lows of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. It reminds us that God is often most present to us in our ordinary humanity. May we not forget that Christ himself lived ordinarily for thirty years as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth.
It's in Christ's day-to-day ministry that He meets people where they are and experiences the human condition with them. When He forgave the woman at the well, it wasn't at a big celebration, but in the very ordinary act of gathering water. When He called Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree, all He wanted to do was share a meal. When He flipped the moneychangers' tables at the Temple in anger, He was there for the weekly observance of the Sabbath.
Ordinary Time isn't about the humdrum monotony of life. It's about the slow, incremental action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It's about, as St. Vincent Pallotti said, seeking God in all things. Just as we get up every day and go to work, we are called to use Ordinary Time to get up every day and give our best to God.
So what can we do to live Ordinary Time well? The options are endless!
—Maybe you like studying Scripture, but don't know where to go deeper? Take a look at the
practice of Lectio Divina.
—If you feel a strong draw to the Liturgy, try attending Daily Mass once a week or following the Liturgy of the Hours.
—Do you sense a call to serve more with more intentionality? Explore the needs in your community. It doesn't have to be a Church ministry to be service! After all, we're given the instruction to "Go forth!" at the end of every Mass.
The beauty of our faith is that there are so many ways to experience God in our lives, to connect with Him and bring His message of love to the world. It doesn't matter which way we choose to work on our relationship with Him, so long as we do so with intention. A healthy challenge for us all might be to pick just one practice to begin making into a habit during Ordinary Time. May we invite God to shift our perspective on the “ordinary” and help us see His extraordinary presence and grace in our journey of faith!
For many of us, the “infancy narratives,” from Matthew and Luke are well loved, but also well worn. Gabriel’s visit to Mary, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the birth of Our Lord in Bethlehem — not only do we ponder these events every year during Advent and Christmas, but also every time we pray the Joyful mysteries of the rosary. We know the stories, we know what they illustrate, we know why they’re important. But knowing the basic bullet points of the New Testament is not enough. We are called to know our Lord more deeply, more intimately.
Dei Verbum compares the gift of Scripture to the gift of the Incarnation: “for the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men” (13). The Holy Spirit has bundled the immensity and perfection of God into our limited and imperfect human language. Like Christ contained himself in human form, so too has the Father contained himself in our human tongue. This Advent, let us return to the infancy narratives with fresh eyes. Recognizing that, like St. Ignatius advised his Jesuits to do while on mission, we can use the Word to ignite our senses, engage our collective memory as the people of God, and to understand our Lord as both father and friend.
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) is one moment from the infancy narratives that can prepare us in a special way for the coming of our Lord this Christmas. It provides us with a snapshot of Mary as a loving servant who is familiar with the Scriptures, bubbling over with joy, and confident in the promises of her God. Her example is one we can imitate even today. Spend some time with the narrative here and then consider Mary’s threefold approach to Advent:
Amidst the flurry of shopping, visiting, and end-of-year work activities that will surely fill our Advent calendars this season, take five minutes a day to spend time with God in prayer. If you struggle with prayer and don’t know what to say, read the Magnificat. Imagine a young, triumphant Mary, glowing before gray-haired Elizabeth and try to imagine the feelings of joy and wonder Mary must have felt in those moments. Then ask the Lord to help you channel that wonder as you prepare a place for him in your heart. Let your soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord this Advent, through joy, Scripture, and service.
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.
If you attended an Easter Vigil Mass this year, then you participated in what St. Augustine called the “mother of all holy Vigils”(Sermo 219)—the day the Church receives many new Catholics through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
The newly baptized, or “neophytes,” (a Greek word meaning “new plant”) begin a fourth and final period of formation called mystagogy, which lasts the Easter Season until Pentecost. If you haven’t personally participated in the formal process of becoming Catholic as an adult (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, in parishes), chances are you haven’t heard this word recently… or maybe ever.
What is Mystagogy?
Our faith needs mystagogy first and foremost because of one simple reason: we celebrate and proclaim a mystery.
As evangelists and catechists, I think it is important to recognize that for some people, the idea of religious “mystery” prima facie, conjures up images of a Da Vinci Code-esque Church shrouded in secrecy, New Age spiritualism, or even a pre-scientific belief in “magic.” But the sacraments do not initiate us into a special club or secret society. Through them, we are made participants in the life of Jesus Christ.
Faith begins and ends in mystery, most especially the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . the source of all other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). In the scriptures, liturgy, and sacraments, we truly encounter and participate in the Triune life of God. But no matter how intelligent or insightful we are, we will never fully wrap our minds around God’s glory or totally experience it with our five senses.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” (CCC 1075). Mystagogy leads us from the external signs and rituals of the liturgy to the inner, spiritual meaning of the divine life they signify. Mystagogy is the form of catechesis that helps us unpack and explore the spiritual treasures contained in the sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance in our personal lives of faith.
Mystagogy was the way the early Church Fathers embraced and trained new Christians in the practices and beliefs of the faith. Perhaps the most well known teacher of mystagogy was St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 CE), who delivered a famous series of sermons, known as “mystagogic catecheses,” during the time of Lent through the Easter Octave. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revitalized this ancient practice, especially in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But mystagogy isn’t just for the newly baptized; it is the way every Catholic can continually deepen their relationship with Christ by daily drawing on the grace of the sacraments.
Significance for our New Evangelization
Just as Catholics are rediscovering the importance of the “kerygma” (Greek for “proclamation”) for evangelization, mystagogy is incredibly important in our approach to catechesis in the New Evangelization. John Paul II wrote, “Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma is gradually deepened . . . . and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and the world” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 25), specifically the form of mystagogy. Additionally, mystagogy serves as a trustworthy guide when reflecting on ways to improve our catechetical methods.
Living the Mystery Daily
Ongoing mystagogy is important because our relationship with the sacraments change as we grow and mature as individuals and meet new life challenges and circumstances. In turn, the sacraments really change us. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated” (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 64). By reflecting regularly on the sacraments, we access an incredible strength for our daily tasks.
Developing a practice of Eucharistic mystagogy can combat the routinization that often sets in to our receiving communion. For those who are married, or preparing for marriage, there is a mystagogy of marriage. With ongoing mystagogic reflection, you may discover new fruits of that sacrament in every season of life.
Studying theology and the Bible is often an undervalued way of developing our spiritual life. Learning about someone or something is a sign of love, and we truly become what we behold (cf 2 Cor. 3:18). Reading the great books and sermons of Catholic authors and theologians greatly expands our hearts and minds to experience the truth and depth of our faith.
The great Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel is attributed as stating, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Mystagogy is the path leading Christians to learn to live the mystery of our faith. I encourage you to follow the path trod by St. Cyril up through popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in making this incredible tradition and gift called “mystagogy” a part of your life.
To learn more about Catechesis, please consider reading the General Directory for Catechesis or the National Directory for Catechesis.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
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 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”!