I’m writing this blog while sitting on a patio at an AirBnB in Sedona, Arizona overlooking a beautiful landscape of red rocks and green trees. My sister is walking hand-in-hand in the grass with her 10-month-old daughter who just learned how to walk. The sun warms my skin, and the breeze cools my face after a challenging hike this morning. Being immersed by the great outdoors draws my mind to St. Francis of Assisi. I chose him (or some say that he chose me) to be my Confirmation Saint because of my love for peace and creation.
The views of town from this house on a hill remind me of the small mountain town of Assisi. When I visited there, I could feel St. Francis’ presence as I was awestruck by the beauty around me and the peace within me. His tomb is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. The energy of his presence is palpable in that room, and his legacy continues as people flock to where his bones eternally rest in peace.
Energy is a popular term around Sedona since this area is believed to be a “vortex.” A vortex is a “swirling center of energy that can produce a range of physical, emotional, and spiritual effects.” (Sedona.net). According to VisitSedona.com, “Sedona has long been regarded as a place both sacred and powerful. It is a cathedral without walls. It is Stonehenge not yet assembled. People travel from across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks.”
Energy is indeed a scientific reality; all creation gives off a certain energy. A woman has a feminine energy that complements a man’s masculine energy. Someone can either bring enthusiastic energy into a room or suck all the positive energy out of it. The Church embraces science and affirms scientific truth as God’s truth.
St. Francis loved creation and had a deep spirituality. At the front door of a Sedona New Age shop, a St. Francis statue welcomes patrons. The New Age belief is that “there is no spiritual authority higher than personal experience.” St. Francis loved creation because he loved the One who created it all. He encountered God in all things, even though everything is not God.
On one of the main vortexes surrounded by valleys and mountains rests The Chapel of the Holy Cross. It proclaims peace over all who enter. The larger-than-life crucifix is a reminder that Jesus is who we must seek in the heart of all creation.
The Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue released a document in 2003 entitled “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the New Age.” The following is a brief excerpt:
"Gaia, Mother Earth, is offered as an alternative to God the Father… there is talk of God, but it is not a personal God; the God of which New Age speaks is neither personal nor transcendent… belief in cosmic powers and some obscure kind of destiny withdraws the possibility of a relationship to a personal God revealed in Christ. For Christians, the real cosmic Christ is the one who is present actively in the various members of his body, which is the Church."
We all have different ways of praying and experiencing the power of God. If you have a spiritual encounter with nature, give thanks to the Holy Spirit for this beautiful connection to God’s creative energy. St. Francis loved being outside, but he did not make an idol of nature. We should not replace the Creator with creation. The Trinity invites us into a beautiful dance of love that is called “perichoresis.” In a humble attempt to create a metaphor, I could suggest that creation is the ballroom, dance floor, and the music that the Triune God created in order to help us dance with Him more beautifully. Creation brings us joy, peace, and refreshment, but it is not the ultimate source. We need to let God lead.
Like an astonishing view on a mountaintop after an arduous hike, the Chapel of the Holy Cross radiates the message of mercy. Mercy is most beautifully defined as love touching misery. Though we suffer in this life, the love of God is always pursuing us.
After the Feast of St. Francis, we celebrate the Feast of St. Faustina. She was an advocate for Divine Mercy and the Church has embraced her diary. She writes:
“Creation is contained in the inmost depths of the Divine mercy more deeply than an infant in the mother's bosom.” (Diary 421, 1076)
“Rejoice, all you creatures – she wrote – for you are dearer to God in His infinite mercy than a baby to his mother's heart.” (Diary 423)
“Jesus, Eternal Light, enlighten my mind, strengthen my will, inflame my heart and be with me as You have promised, for without You I am nothing.” (Diary, 495)
St. Faustina and St. Francis were both aware that without God they were nothing. Autumn reveals that beauty can come from “falling” or “dying.” As the leaves die and fall to the ground, they fill the sky with beautiful color before landing gently on the firm foundation. As this new season begins, I invite you to go on a walk outside and take Faustina or Francis with you. They are wonderful companions and would love to help you find the love, peace, energy, and mercy of Jesus Christ. Any nature that captures your attention is just a tiny glimpse of the masterpiece that God created in YOU!
Here is a PDF of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures:
Here is a sung version by Donna Cori Gibson:
Beauty transformed my soul—waking it up from the depths of hibernation and shaking loose the layers of grief, bitterness, and resentment which had grown over time. My heart could not resist the lure of cobblestone streets, golden light cascading down narrow alleyways, or the shadows of the towering cathedral. I felt alive during those months abroad in a way I had hardly known was possible. Afternoon jogs on an ancient Roman bridge. Secret courtyards and hidden gardens overlooking the city. Tucked-away alcoves and incense emanating from ancient chapels. A croissant shop with an expansive menu that dared me to try them all.
I did, by the way, try them all. I had goals like that while I was studying abroad. For the first time in many years, the over-achiever A-student was not living for grades and recognition. She was living for experience, for delight, for beauty. And in this was a newfound freedom. I remember sitting in the cavernous cathedral of Salamanca for long stretches between classes breathing in the music that played softly between services and basking in the magnanimous splendor. Moments like this made me long for something outside and above myself, though I could not precisely say what or why. Only later would I come realize it was the Bridegroom Nicholas Cabasilas writes of in “The Life in Christ” calling me to glimpse the eternal I was created for.
Cabasilas explains, “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."
Beauty wounded me that semester in a delightful way. It awakened my heart with a longing to reach for what transcends human experience: the eternal. My experience living abroad enabled me to delight in creation and life in a way people seldom do or ever get the chance to. And this knowledge humbled me profoundly.
“I do not deserve this,” I thought many times throughout my studies abroad. What had I done to earn the experience of such majesty? The short answer: nothing. It was sheer, unmerited gift. I knew almost immediately who the gift givers were. First: my parents, who had spent their lives providing for their children and modeling servant leadership and sacrificial love. It was because of them and their contributions to my education that I was able to study abroad in the first place. The other gift giver: God himself—the author of beauty.
It was in this way that God revealed himself to me personally and began to bring me back to himself.
The famous line from Dostoevesky, “Beauty will save the world” started for me that fall in Spain. Beauty saved me. God, beauty itself, the author of beauty, created us with a desire to grasp at and experience beauty in order to draw us closer to himself.
Beauty is sheer gift—unnecessary by logical standards and not necessarily functional or efficient. It does more than just appeal to our senses: it awakens our soul. It is meant to draw us outside of ourselves with what Cardinal Ratzinger at the time called a “longing for the Ineffable, [a] readiness for sacrifice, [and lead to] the abandonment of self.” Furthermore, “Beauty does not end with us or with our experience, but calls us outward on mission. Artistic beauty provokes interior emotion, it silently arouses astonishment and leads to an ‘exit from self’, an ecstasy” (Pontifical Council for Culture, Plenary Assembly Final Document-The Way of Beauty. section III.2, The Beauty of the Arts).
This was my experience exactly. I came home a different person—one overflowing with gratitude and humility. It manifested in frequent phone calls to my family, much to their concern. The formerly independent, cold, aloof daughter was calling her parents each week to say thank you and to check in. After ascertaining that my mental health was still sound, my mother offered wise advice to her daughter now bubbling with gratitude: spend 5 to ten minutes a day thanking God.
Beauty was, therefore, God’s entry point into my heart. As a result, I turned back to him in praise and thanksgiving. My friends and family noticed the transformation, the newfound peace that overflowed, the eyes now on the lookout for glimpses of the Creator hidden among his creation.
Beauty resulted in action—slow and gradual, but intentional in my remaining college years. I entered the Campus Ministry office for the first time upon my return stateside. I began making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly and sitting in the beautiful mission church of my alma mater for daily Mass. I attended retreats, began participating in service opportunities, and mentored younger students. Beauty drew me outside of myself and into the other—I had received an unmerited gift and wanted to reciprocate the giving.
As Bishop James D. Conley said at an apologetics conference, “When we begin with beauty, this can then lead to a desire to want to know the truth of the thing that is drawing us, a desire to participate in it. And then the truth can inspire us to do the good, to strive after virtue.”
Almost a decade later, as a mother of small boys, often limited to the sphere of my domestic church, how and where can I experience beauty? How can each of us, in whatever vocation we find ourselves in, find and experience beauty?
After a year in which sin, division, sickness, and isolation threatened to obscure the beauty of life and our world, I believe we are called to reclaim this truth and open our eyes to the beauty and wonder of God once again.
Beauty is not reserved for a special place or time, but can be found all around us: in the newborn’s first cry, the child’s wonder, the cicada’s song, the family dinner, the work done well, the priest’s sacrifice, the nun’s contemplative prayer, the humor of a colleague, the glowing of the stars, the dawn of a new day.
Let us allow ourselves to believe and hope in the glimmers of beauty all around us that reveal a greater beauty we are called to. Let us strive to make the world more beautiful with our kind words and gestures, deeds done with love, hope, and joy, with the way we relish life as a gift and inspire laughter, with the way we live our lives authentically—in such a way that others are drawn to the joy of our Gospel message. Why? So that the world can see and come to know him. The ultimate purpose of beauty is redemption—knowing and experiencing Christ himself.
The then-Cardinal Ratzinger put it so well, “We must learn to see him. If we know him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.”
On John Prine’s 1971 debut album, there is a powerful song called ‘Paradise’. The narrator of the song describes an idyllic town in Eastern Kentucky called Paradise. A coal company comes in with “the world’s largest shovel” and begins to dig for coal. It torches the land while calling it the “progress of man.” The son of the narrator asks his father if he will take him to visit Paradise. The father delivers the sad news to his son that they are too late, “Mister Peabody’s coal trains have hauled it away.” As a kid from Scranton, the capital of Pennsylvania’s coal country, I grew up seeing firsthand the damage this kind of “progress of man” can do after decades of coal mining. The landscape and its people have been forever scarred by the unchecked desire for profit. One can see the physical damage, such as piles of coal ash and mine waste, or the collapse of mine shafts that affect buildings and roads. There is not just physical damage, but there are also significant health issues that still threaten residents of coal country. This is just one small example of how environmental issues can impact so much.
These issues of care for the environment and care of people are at the very heart of what we should be celebrating Earth Day, which occurred last week on April 22nd. It is a celebration of not just all the great and wonderful gifts our planet has given to us, but of its people too. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and begin to remove our masks from our mouth and nose, we have the opportunity to remove the mask from our eyes and hearts to the plight of the planet and its inhabitants. Pope Francis offers a fresh view of how we can interact with our natural world in his encyclical Laudato Si'. Drawing inspiration from his namesake and building off the foundations of his papal predecessors, the Holy Father calls on all of humanity to integrate the care for creation into all aspects of our lives. We must do so with our economies, our faith life, our politics, and our daily life. He calls on us to recognize society’s role in the denigration of our environment and to begin the process of healing the earth. He says we can do this by advocating for the poor who are disproportionately affected by climate change, improve the goals of our economies, and take political and personal action to repair the damage done. Pope Francis reminds us that this is all at the heart of our faith. Our love and care for the other must include the environment that our neighbor lives in too.
One of the most striking aspects of this wonderful document, to me, is how deeply Pope Francis ties to our faith this cause of care. He says that this kind of care demands a change of hearts. We must reevaluate our daily lives to see what we can do to improve our earth. Some actions can be as simple as making sure that we are turning off the lights, while others require massive societal change such as the move away from fossil fuels, but both are important. Both can be achievable if we can commit ourselves to each other and to our earth. God will guide us to this grace, for it is through God alone that we can achieve our goal.
“God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all, offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to him!”-Laudato Si', 245
For more resources on Laudati Si', please click here.
“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (2)” – Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
This past weekend in the United States we celebrated Earth Day. Earth Day was founded in 1970 as a call to action to bring greater awareness to environmental issues. It continues to serve as a reminder to us of our place on the earth and our responsibilities as its current inhabitants.
The Catholic Church has taken a strong stance on the importance of preserving our planet and has highlighted the necessity of caring for creation as one of the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. A document of the USCCB teaches that: “To ensure the survival of a healthy planet, then, we must not only establish a sustainable economy but must also labor for justice both within and among nations. We must seek a society where economic life and environmental commitment work together to protect and to enhance life on this planet.”
Pope Francis has also taken steps to highlight the necessity of caring for our environment. In 2015, he released his papal encyclical on the environment entitled Laudato Si’ – On Care for our Common Home. In this encyclical, he points out our moral obligation as Catholics and as humans to care for our environment.
But what can we do as people of faith to preserve the earth? What steps can we take in our daily lives to protect the world God gave us?
Go outside. Experience the beauty of the earth by taking some time to be in nature. Go for a walk in your neighborhood and look at the diversity of the flowers and trees. Spend some time in prayerful contemplation near water, in the mountains, or in your own backyard.
Read Laudato Si’. Pope Francis’s encyclical highlights the ways we are required as Catholics to work to save and protect the environment. He puts into words the importance, particularly at this point in history, of caring for the earth. He highlights specific problems that threaten the environment and offers suggestions for action. The Catholic Apostolate Center has a resource page on Laudato Si’ that includes a general overview of the encyclical, as well as other helpful links, news articles, and documents supporting or explaining Catholic teaching on caring for our environment.
Pray with the Psalms. In particular, I invite you to pray with Psalms 8, 22, 24, 50, 65, and 84. Adding these words of Scripture to our regular prayer will help to inspire a greater desire to do more to preserve our environment.
Turn off your lights and water when you are not using them. Do these and other small actions in your daily life to minimize your carbon footprint.
Learn about St. Francis of Assisi. When he was elected pope in 2013, then-Jorge Bergoglio took the name of Francis because he was inspired by the life and example of St. Francis of Assisi. When writing Laudato Si’, he again took great inspiration from St. Francis: “Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (11)
August 27th marks the feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Monica spent seventeen years praying for the conversion of her son, whose reputation for hedonism and religious skepticism preceded him. St. Monica is said to have wept for her son Augustine every night. Her devotion to him is an example of what it means to love unconditionally, even when it hurts. As a new mother, I have spent many hours reflecting on the mystery of unconditional love and have recorded some of my thoughts below. Let us turn to St. Monica when our hearts are weak and we need help loving as God calls us to love. St. Monica, pray for us.
“This is my body, which will be given for you” (Luke 22:19).
Christ’s words at the Last Supper never fully resonated with me until I became a mother. From the moment of her conception, I gave up my body to my daughter. Baby books, friends, and other women warned me of the physical tolls of pregnancy--the aches and pains, the nausea, the swollen feet, the labor--but I was unprepared for the physical sacrifices afterward. My body is not my own. It is at service to a squirmy, snorty, sweaty being who doesn’t even realize how needy she is. And yet, this physical sacrifice is good and necessary. It has helped me to remember that God wants all of us. Not just our souls and intellects, but our bodies too.
I am an intellectual person by nature and often use my love of study to learn about God. But learning about God and knowing God are not the same thing. Just like reading about how to ride a bike and actually climbing up on the seat are not the same. It is easy for me to pick up another historical commentary on the gospels and feel like I am improving my relationship with God. It’s hard to deny myself a second cup of coffee. It’s hard to place my phone in another room and walk away. It’s hard to lower myself onto my knees to pray, or even to sustain prayer for longer than a minute. These bodily actions are hard because they require sacrifice. And yet, I suspect the sacrifices I make for God are more important to him than whether I know if Jesus was born in cave or a wooden stable.
Motherhood, too, is a bodily commitment and one that can be difficult to embrace with joy. I sacrifice my body in a small way every time I stop what I am doing to nurse my baby, or to get down on my knees and engage her in yet another game of “rub the belly, rub the belly”. Yet, as I commit to these physical tasks, I hope I also die to self a little more each day. With each physical act, with each twinge between the shoulder blades, I remind myself, that--in a much bigger way--this is what Jesus did for me on the cross.
Ironically, it actually was a book that helped me to understand the beauty of bodily sacrifice. No, it wasn’t the Bible, or Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, it was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. The gist of the story is that a tree continues to give and give to a boy throughout the boy's life to make him happy. First she gives him her apples so the boy can sell them for pocket money, then she gives him her branches so that he can build a house, then her trunk so that he can build a canoe. Eventually the tree is reduced to a stump and the boy hasn’t visited her in years. And yet the refrain after each gift is, “And the tree was happy.” By the end of the book, my husband found me lying on my back crying while my daughter kicked her feet unconcernedly next to me. Our conversation went as follows:
“I told you not to read that book!”
“It’s just so stupid! The boy is so ungrateful! The tree gave him everything and he never even said thank you. She literally let him cut down her trunk for him. It’s not fair.”
“Would you do that for Elizabeth?”
My answer was immediate. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s what it means to love unconditionally. And the craziest part is that my bodily sacrifices to Elizabeth don’t even compare to Christ’s sacrifice for me.
Truly, to be loved by Christ is a humbling thing.
Click here for more resources on Marriage and Family.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bl. Pier Georgio Frassati. In reading about him, I also came across St. Kateri Tekawitha as another patron saint of World Youth Day (WYD). I quickly delved into her fascinating life. A woman who defied others to remain true to her beliefs, St. Kateri Tekakwitha has become known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.”
St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and a Christian Algonquin mother in what is now upstate New York, near Albany. While a young girl, Kateri contracted smallpox. Although she survived the disease, she was left with poor eyesight and scars on her face and eyes. Because of this, she was given the name "Tekakwitha," which in Mohawk means, "She bumps into things." When she was 8 years old, her foster family arranged for Kateri to be betrothed, as per Iroquois tradition. Kateri refused to marry, stating that she wanted to dedicate her life to God. At the age of 18, she started to learn more about the Christian faith through Jesuit missionary Father Jacques de Lamberville. Her uncle eventually gave her permission to become a Christian as long as she did not leave the village. Kateri began incorporating aboriginal concepts into her understanding of Christianity, such as the presence of God in nature.
At the age of 21, Kateri was baptized and received First Holy Communion on Christmas Day in 1677. After being rejected by her community for her conversion, she walked to the St. Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal, Canada, to join a community of Native American women who had also converted to Christianity. Kateri, who attributed her name to Catherine of Siena at the time of her baptism, died on April 17th, 1680. Tradition holds that her dying words were "Jesus, I love you” and that after her death, the scars on Kateri’s body began to heal—restoring the radiant appearance of her face. She was canonized on October 21st, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. She has been named the Protectress of Canada and patroness of the environment, environmentalists, Native Americans, and several diocese, to name a few.
As someone who is interested in Native American culture and the environment, I enjoyed learning about Kateri and her dedication to the natural world and her faith. I was also surprised to learn that she was the first Native American saint in the Catholic Church. It was interesting to learn about her dedication and devotion to her faith, even when it meant rejection from her community. Kateri bravely stayed firm to her belief in Christ when she was pressured to reject her faith in Christ and adhere to the traditional native beliefs. She knew that her faith in Jesus was not misplaced, so these demands only reaffirmed her beliefs.
Kateri blended her faith in Christ with a respect for nature. She maintained a deep devotion to nature and its beauty after her conversion. In his second encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis emphasized the imminent need of protecting the environment. I also invite you to imitate Kateri’s respect of nature. I have personally found this greater call of environmentalism to be reinvigorating. As the world’s young people prepare to gather in Poland for WYD, we realize in a special way that we are all on this planet together. We are called to see how our actions affect the world, and that we can work together for a stronger response to protect God’s great gift of creation. The air, water, trees, birds, plants, and other animals are not confined to national borders and neither should our approach to protecting the earth. Kateri inspires me to take action to protect the environment. If we each do our part by recycling, taking public transportation, and keeping vigilant about our energy consumption, then we have a greater chance of protecting our world. In addition, we are called to educate ourselves by reading more about environmental issues. I recommend starting with Laudato Si.
As we pass down our faith from generation to generation, so do we also pass down our responsibility towards this Earth. It can be hard to keep in mind that this is the same Earth that Jesus Christ walked on. Kateri, “Lily of the Mohawks,” combines this love of nature and Christ. It is my hope, as we approach WYD later this month, that we will also consider how we are protecting the environment. May we be inspired by this phenomenal saint.
To learn more about St. Kateri Tekakwitha, click here.
For more information on World Youth Day 2016, click here.
A few years ago, I was backpacking through the desert of northeastern New Mexico. On one particular day, we were going to climb the tallest mountain of our trek, Baldy Mountain, at an elevation of 12,441 feet. As we got higher, the climb became more difficult with thinning air and more challenging terrain. As we neared the summit, I ended up in front of the crew. Just as we reached the summit, our crew leader, Jordan, literally gave me the final push to the top. At that moment, we were on top of the world and gleaming with joy! While on the mountaintop, we could see for miles. As we reveled, I paused and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving. One couldn't help but be amazed at God's great creation. As we rested, having a quick snack and some water, we saw some storm clouds starting to roll in and were forced to descend quicker than anticipated. Eventually, we would finish our 110 mile trek—with Baldy Mountain being one of the greatest highlights.
Whenever I hear the story of the Transfiguration, my mind immediately goes to this time in the mountains. Because of this experience, I feel as though I have walked with Peter, John, and James. At the moment I reached summit, I caught a glimpse of the glory of God. I saw a small part of the transfiguring power of Jesus. I went from a hiker to a pilgrim in a matter of seconds. My trek now had a greater significance. It was no longer just a physical challenge, but one that would cause me to go on a religious quest in God's great creation. This is what I see in last Sunday's Gospel, which is a reminder of the splendor of Jesus. Usually by this point in Lent, I am more concerned about avoiding the things I have given up and less on Jesus. The Transfiguration is a reminder of why we enter the Lenten season: to see the face of Jesus. He helps us transfigure ourselves into being more loving, more merciful, and more perfect humans.
If we look at the beginning of Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus gives his mission to the Apostles. He tells them to go out and proclaim the Good News. It is after the Transfiguration that he reveals more of his glory. We, too, have the same experience. These experiences come in a number of different ways. They are often brief personal moments that can happen anywhere. Personally, I often find them in interactions with individuals. It can be serving the poor, being with a friend during a difficult time, or smiling at a stranger in the grocery store. From the moment of our baptism, we are sent out into the world as apostles and then along the way we consistently experience his glory. This encounter can happen anywhere and at anytime.
I also appreciate Peter's role in this Gospel. Rather than being amazed at the splendor of Christ and the conversation between him, Elijah, and Moses, Peter suggests they pitch tents for the three. Doing so would completely defeat the purpose of the meeting. His transfiguration is an affirmation of his identity as the Messiah and is meant to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I often find that I say something at the wrong place or time. That is exactly what Peter does here. He means well, but doesn't see what is in front of him: the glory that Jesus has revealed. In his humanity, Peter often does this, yet Jesus still loves him. Especially during the Year of Mercy, we need to be reminded that we, too, can be like Peter and that is okay. We often don't see the splendor in front of our eyes. But we know that we are loved by God, who is the Infinite Love. When we invite God to enter our hearts, we can see the spender of God. Like the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, said "Seek God and you find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God in always and you will always find God."
As we go on this week, we should be looking in our own lives to see the transfiguring power of Christ. It may not be a major event, like last Sunday's Gospel, but in the small things. If we keep our hearts open this Lent we will find God anywhere.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, click here.
As I looked from the trail, I saw a beautiful, soft mist that seemed to be gently kissing my face. There was a purple hue on the vast fields of heather ahead; while the surrounding foliage was the brightest green that I'd ever seen. There was a soft breeze that gently traveled through the glen and seemed to be the words of encouragement I needed to keep climbing; to keep pushing. In the distance there was a long loch that seemed to stretch for miles and miles. In the air if I stopped and listened, I swear that off in the distance a lone bagpiper was playing. In this moment, I finally gained appreciation for the country of my ancestors. I was in Scotland, climbing Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the country. I was on a pilgrimage through land of my ancestors. My grandfather's family hails from the northern most island in the Orkney Islands called North Ronaldsay. The Tulloch's were proud members of Clan Ross, and were happy to wear the family tartan. I thought I had found paradise, and I didn't want to leave.
Many years later, I was walking down a cobblestone street and found another paradise. I could hear bells tolling and I could smell another phenomenal dish being served at a sidewalk restaurant. There was a clear, deep blue sky above, even on New Year's Day. It did not take very long to actually hear a musician playing a familiar country tune. I went from church to church walking with the saints. This was the city of Rome, in all its glory. As I wandered the streets with our pilgrimage group, eating gelato, I thought to myself that this place also was paradise and I didn't want to leave.
In a way that's what pilgrimages do. They transport us to a new location, both physically and spiritually. This Saturday is the feast of Saint James the Apostle. St. James was one of Jesus' first disciples, was present for the transfiguration, and it is believed that he was the first apostle to be martyred. After his death, his remains were transported to Spain and he was buried at Santiago de Compostela. This site has become one of the greatest pilgrimage locations in the world called El Camino, The Way of St. James. Pilgrims since the Middle Ages have been making the trek in northern Spain. It can take a pilgrim several months to complete, depending on which route they take, and the pilgrimage is becoming increasingly popular. In 1985, records show that approximately 700 pilgrims made the trek, but by 2010 there were nearly 273,000 pilgrims that set out to complete the Way of St. James. This popular pilgrimage was documented in the 2010 movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written by his son, Emilio Estevez.
Pilgrimages can be anywhere and can take any kind of form. We can travel to distant places, far from home, or we can visit somewhere close to home. Pilgrimages are meant for us to find ourselves and to deepen our relationship with God. When we walk with a friend, we chat and get to know them better, and the same is true when we walk with God. As we move forward in life, we are never done with our journey. When we rejoice, God is there rejoicing, and when we cry, God is there too, comforting us. Pilgrimages remind us of this. If we can seek God in all places then one does not have to be in the Scottish Highlands, in the streets of Rome, or on the Camino to be on pilgrimage. We can go anywhere and we will be on our way to find God.
Patrick Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
To learn more about Martin Sheen and his Catholic Identity, check out this webinar where Sr. Rose Pacette, FSP discusses the faith surrounding this actor and the stories that shaped his Catholic Faith:
Forever and beyond will beauty last upon the fabric of this path we are all on. Life is a journey and a time of change, but the love and beauty that emits from the experience of life will last, will remain, and will persevere. Everything that goes through this life journey we lead as creations of a One, True, Loving Lord adds to the over-abundant beauty that is this light for our feet. From the spectacular of fireworks to the humblest of daily chores, everything holds within it an essence of glory, a glory given by the graces of the awakenings of the Spirit in this life. Such essence of glory protrudes into the days and nights, into our sensual stimulators by one path and one path alone, beauty. Beauty in the form of simple things, grand things, petty things, and profound things. Each passing moment has beauty in it to be recognized. All things bright and beautiful stem directly from our Divine Creator. All beautiful things reflect the love and care of the beautiful Father, abounding in glory and radiant light for all to experience.
Beauty can be seen in everything and everyone, if only we have the courage and wisdom to look hard enough. Such avenues of beauty are the various art forms of life, for example, works of art, music, literature, friendships, emotion, or moments indescribable by words. Art forms are anything that leave an impression on us, for life itself is the grandest of art forms that pours forth in everything it is. It is hard for us all to see the beauty in suffering or in times of darkness, but that doesn't mean it isn’t there, in the wrinkles and the silver linings that radiate beauty in a different light than what we are used to. For life, beauty is there.
The Saints are good examples of the beautiful life, each one leading vastly different lives. Life is beautiful in each human experience, including the suffering and dark stuff. The Saints are good demonstrations of the beautiful human experience, including within it all sides of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast we celebrate today, is quite extraordinary and is a good example of the kind of beauty I am discussing here. Her life, besides her ardent Catholic faith, was normal for a girl in her Native American village. Her life was beautiful in her great faith, in her dealings with her family and those who did and could not understand her reasoning for believing that Christ Jesus was her Savior, and finally in her simple yet profound suffering and eventual martyrdom. She is the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Contemplate the Lily for a moment: the petals, the pollen, the beauty. So simple yet so complex, yet beautiful in its complexity. This is Saint Kateri. She is the lily, the beauty of a life lead in the faith of Christ.
Personally, I have had a special devotion to Saint Kateri ever since fourth grade. My teacher chose then Blessed Kateri to be the one we all prayed for in our daily prayer time. Growing off of that initial, prayerful experience with Kateri, when she was finally canonized, I studied her life and virtues in depth, reflecting and praying intentions through her intercession. For eyes to see the beauty of the world and of everything you experience, pray to Saint Kateri, and like a lily may she blossom in all of us the joy of the beautiful Savior, whose blood painted the most beautiful image of all, our salvation.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Today, the largest pro-life movement in the world will occur as thousands march the National Mall in Washington, DC, peacefully and passionately for the sake and sanctity of human life. Every year, the March for Life occurs on the anniversary of the historic Roe v Wade decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Despite the sorrow that fills the memory of this day, we have been called, as a community of life, to stand with zeal (word choice) for everyone’s right to life, not just this day, but every day of our lives.
I have never participated in the March for Life before, but I am very excited to finally take part in some of the activities that are occurring this week in our nation’s capital. From hosting eager pilgrims coming from Texas to march, to pro-life talks and dinners, and the National Prayer Vigil for Life, it has been an inspiring week so far. The pro-life community is strong and vibrant and it is a joy to be a part of that spirit. However, as I’ve been reflecting on the meaning and beauty of this week, I am realizing the vital call that is bestowed upon us to witness the beauty of life every day of our lives. During this week and beyond, we must take the time to see the value in every life and how we can share that with others.
I want the world to know that the beauty of life is all around us: the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and those in-between. It is in those risking their own life for the sake of others. The beauty of life is all around the world in different races, cultures, and experiences. The beauty of life is in the day to day interactions of our community, at home, work, and school. The beauty of life is in experiencing nature. The beauty of life is in sharing our own lives with others. Most vividly, as Catholics we know that the beauty of life exists in the Church, as Jesus Christ who teaches us how to love perfectly: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To love perfectly is truly selfless. Those committed to a culture of life live as selfless witnesses, caring for the sanctity of each human soul through love. In our culture where instant pleasure and satisfaction are the façade for human happiness, we must teach others that there is authentic joy in protecting and standing for those who may not have a voice of their own.
So many have come before us and instructed us in Christ's example, in the way of life. Blessed Mother Teresa, who devoted herself to the Cross by serving Christ in the slums of India said, “Any country that accepts abortion is the poorest of the poor” and that, “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. "Not only as Americans, but as faithful citizens of the kingdom of God, we are called to protect the preciousness of every life created by God.
These thoughts are my prayers, especially today, as we reflect on the Right to Life, particularly that America and our world will come to embrace a culture of life for all peoples, and I hope that you will live these prayers with me wherever you are marching. Whether you are in our nation’s capital today, at home, or at a march in spirit, know that your witness matters and is essential to stamping out a culture of death and living a culture of life. In order to bring life to the world, we must live in love. Let us ask God to bless this week that He may touch the hearts of many who need to hear his words of love and mercy, and that together we can increase the culture of life.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington D.C.
One late evening on a camping trip in 3rd grade, my dad and a family friend, Mr. Stroude, took my Girl Scout troop out on a nature walk. We weaved along the path through the woods, giggling with our flashlights dancing around the dirt and moss and trees, until the adults stopped us and asked us to turn off our flashlights. As our eyes adjusted, we realized that we had neared the beginning of a long floating bridge across a large marsh. I say “the beginning” because the length of the crossing and the darkness of the Indiana country meant that, even with my 20/20 vision, I could only see to about the middle of the bridge.
Mr. Stroude proceeded to walk out onto the bridge and soon melted away into the darkness at its center. My dad then explained to us that if we wanted to continue, we would have to walk across the bridge individually, without our flashlight, and meet Mr. Stroude on the other side.
“WHAT?!?” More than a little terrifying, Dad!
I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. All of us were frightened of the potentially infinite (but definitely creaking) bridge and the murky water beneath it, but no one really wanted to turn back when others might go on without her and see wonderful sights. Eventually, I mustered my courage and stepped out over the marsh into the darkness.
I am about to step out onto another bridge, the end of which is covered in darkness. I will soon finish my two years in the Echo program through Notre Dame, and I cannot yet see where God is asking me to go. I cannot see whether I will pass the comprehensive exams for my master’s degree at the end of the summer. I cannot see whether I will have a job come the fall, or even what kind of job may present itself. I cannot see where marriage fits into my future. I cannot see how my relationships will hold up when I move to a new city and leave this community behind.
As I pondered all these unknowns, this story from my memory and this prayer from Thomas Merton kept coming forward:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
The process of crossing these bridges was and will be a matter of trust. I trusted that my dad would not have asked me to walk a bridge that would not hold me, and I had to recall that trust with each ominous creak. I will trust that Christ is doing the same. I trusted that Mr. Stroude had walked the bridge before me and had already confronted the fears inherent in doing so, and was waiting on the other side, even if I could not see him. I will trust that Christ is doing the same.
Of course, I found that each time I reached the darkest part of the bridge, it was no longer completely dark, and there were at least a few more steps to see - enough to allow me to keep walking. I will trust that Christ will show me enough of what’s next to let me keep moving towards Him.
Laura Berlage serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ... for now.