I must admit – the isolation that comes with social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting me with waves of cabin fever and missing friends and family terribly. I’m incredibly thankful I am able to “quarantine” with my husband and dog, while at the same time I mourn the social engagements of seeing family, friends, and co-workers in person.
My husband and I recently got married in May, and we’ve become parishioners of our local church. With our marriage came a move for me, as we previously had a long-distance relationship. When I’ve moved in the past, I’ve typically sought friendships and activities through my local Catholic church; finding my church family is always my first step in getting accustomed to a new town. Social distancing and canceled or online events make forming those relationships and feeling connected more challenging. It’s hard enough without a pandemic to be the new person!
Many moments throughout the day, I ask myself why I find it so difficult to be away from others. After prayer and reflection, I realized seclusion is hard because God created us for community. God gave Adam a partner and said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (cf Genesis 2:18). We need a support system - the Body of Christ.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When we encounter others, we are assured God is with us. This is especially felt when we have a Bible study, small group, or other faith-sharing activities with our fellow Christians.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” This passage served as a wake-up call to me. I think of how much more I can do to check in on friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, and to find creative ways of showing love.
I want to share a few ideas of some actions that have helped my family and me cope through the isolation that comes with this current pandemic.
1.Call 1-2 People Each Week or Write “Snail Mail” Letters. My mom started calling one to two friends a week from church to check in and see how they were doing. She told me how much she enjoyed catching up with her friends and it meant a lot to her friends as well. I have done the same, and it’s so refreshing to hear my friends’ voices and what they are up to. I’ve also been sending cards for birthdays and ‘thinking about you’ notes or texts as well.
2.Consider Participating in a Virtual Rosary Recitation with Others. Friends of my mom’s invited her to say a daily virtual rosary with them. Together from their individual homes, they pray the Holy Land rosary with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. My mom has shared with me how much she enjoys talking with her friends after the recitations about the holy sites where mysteries of the rosary took place.
3.Make Donations. Many people are still in need of toiletry and food items. Food banks and other charitable organizations are continuing to provide services. Consider calling a local charity to learn about their donation protocols as some are taking items by appointment and need some items more than others.
4.Try Daily Mass. In July I felt very far from God. It had been two months since having the Eucharist at my wedding. I spoke with a friend who encouraged me to try attending daily Mass since fewer people were attending in person compared to weekend Masses. After attending daily Mass, I felt more in communion with God and with my fellow Catholics. My husband and I continue to attend Mass in person on Fridays and now on Sundays. My church, like many, encourages mask-wearing and has employed other precautions, such as seating arrangements, for everyone’s safety. Recently, one of the Brothers of Hope at my church approached us to introduce himself as he hadn’t met many folks, especially young adults like him. By reaching out, this Brother made us feel more connected to our parish and to fellow Catholics.
5.Enjoy Nature or Take a Walk Around Your Neighborhood. My husband and I have been taking our dog for walks in the neighborhood. We see many of our neighbors having socially distanced dates from their driveways, which is encouraging. For a change of scenery, we went to our local botanical gardens and have planned nature trail walks.
6.Aid Elderly Neighbors or Family. Check-in on family members and neighbors who may be elderly or immunocompromised to see if they need help with errands so they don’t have to enter stores. Sometimes, they may just need a friendly voice to chat with on the phone.
7.Have Socially Distanced Friend/Family Dates. If you’re comfortable with the idea, you can still enjoy seeing friends and family in a limited number either at one another’s houses or at a restaurant. Separately, we’ve seen a couple who are close friends with us as well as my husband’s parents about once a month. We keep these interactions socially distanced, wear masks, and use plenty of hand sanitizer.
For more ideas on growing spiritually during COVID-19, please click here.
In high school we had a religion teacher, named Mr. Matthews, who used to tell us not to worry about memorizing anything from his class but these words: “Love God with your whole mind, heart, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
He would say, “If you come back and see me twenty years from now, I’ll be happy if those words are all you remember.”
Mr. Matthew’s motto was inspired of course by Matthew 22:34-40, which happens to be today’s Gospel reading for the [Optional] Memorial of Saint Louis of France. In this text, Jesus clarifies that love of God and love of neighbor are the two greatest commandments on which everything else depends. To put in another way – without love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians).
The pandemic has shown just how much we need this love in our world. And while it may be challenging to connect with one another right now, there are still ways we can share love with others from wherever we happen to be.
Three Small Ways of Loving God
Three Small Ways of Loving Neighbor
Remember also, we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself.” During this unique and challenging time, are you taking care of your own spiritual, emotional, and physical needs? If you aren’t sure, it may be worth spending some time today writing down a short list of ways you can practice healthy self-care.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out “Living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy During COVID-19” and “Mental Health and Coronavirus.”
What image comes to mind when you hear the word conversion? To many, the words of those who encountered Jesus in his earthly ministry may come to mind. Conversion may sound like the cry of the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). Perhaps Caravaggio’s The Conversion on the Way to Damascus rises to the surface, an expression of a dramatic scene illustrated with a few artistic liberties. Still, we may associate conversion with a story like St. Augustine: a turning from a former life of debauchery or sin to a life lived in pursuit of God.
Because of the art that is important to our faith, cultures, and families, we may assume conversion to be a dramatic, “lightning-bolt” moment: brief, intense, supernatural, and immediately transformative. While our tradition does speak of the reality of dramatic conversions, conversion itself is often more gradual and organic. For those of us whose lives have not yet become hagiography, what does conversion look like? More particularly, what does conversion look like for us in this particular moment, in our current context of history and life?
First of all, what is conversion? Conversion, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace” (CCC, #1431). It is “first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him,” and is not “aim[ed] first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion” (CCC #1432 and #1430). In other words, conversion is a movement away from sin, a re-ordering of priorities with Christ re-categorized as the center of our lives. It is something that occurs through supernatural grace and the initiative of the Holy Spirit, first changing our hearts and minds, but through our cooperation, manifests itself in everyday actions or “visible signs” (CCC #1430).
The process of conversion, for most of us, is not instantaneous; rather, it usually a slow, gradual process that involves daily recommitment and practice. In a 2017 audience, Pope Francis reflected on the gradualness of conversion this way: “Avoiding evil and learning to do good: this is the rule of conversion. Because being converted doesn’t come from a fairy who converts us with a magic wand: No! It’s a journey. It’s a journey of avoiding and of learning.” As Pope Francis highlights, conversion can be as simple as learning something new. It involves openness to re-orienting our priorities, changing our opinions, reconsidering our worldview, and engaging with the truth. However, the gradual process of conversion doesn’t start and end with us; it is always oriented towards the building up of humanity and being brought more deeply into right relationship with God and one another. Conversion always has a social and relational impact. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one's brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness” (#1435). Our actions towards our neighbors, God, and the world around us is where our conversion is realized and bears “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Conversion has both vertical and horizontal dimensions to it; it calls us to recognize ourselves as Beloved children of God, and, at the same time, recognize this Belovedness in our neighbors more clearly as a result of the transforming love of God. We are called to learn more, think more deeply, and consider more thoroughly, especially when the common good of our neighbor is at stake: “It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life ‘related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good.’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 182).
When we say that the Christian life is one of on-going conversion, we simply mean this: we are called to learn of our and our neighbors’ Belovedness over and over again and re-commit to it each day. This learning is not merely intellectual, but is also a deep education and formation of the heart and soul that spills over into our concrete lives. In our period of history and social context, conversion may be less dramatic and more gradual for most of us than some of the saints and figures of our faith. However, that does not mean that it is any less exciting! Our personal process of conversion can start as the size of a mustard seed, and grow into a deeply authentic faith that changes the world: “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it” (Evangelii Gaudium, 183).
What is going on in our world and in the lives of our neighbors that is calling us to conversion? What new things or viewpoints are we being called to learn or unlearn to realize our Belovedness and the Belovedness of our neighbor? How can we be more open to living a life of ongoing conversion?
“If we are truly animated by the spirit of love, we shall always treat all with love, look on all with love, think of all with love, and speak of all with love.” –St. Vincent Pallotti.
On this Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are offered an opportunity to reflect on the Infinite Love of God poured out to us in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and his continued love and closeness to us as our Risen Lord. Many people are struggling with loneliness, isolation, and anxiety. Others are suffering from illness, prejudice, and oppression. Often, people do not experience in their lives the healing love of Christ. Instead, maybe they have experienced from religious people neglect, apathy, judgment, condemnation, and hate. How can this ever evangelize? In fact, it de-evangelizes.
Our experience of the love of Christ needs to be shared with anyone we encounter. The love or charity of Christ moves us outward, beyond ourselves and those we are comfortable with, to those who might be seen by us as a challenge, a burden, or make us uneasy. As we deepen our encounter with Christ in and through care and love of others, our hearts are opened wide by his Sacred Heart. As our hearts widen, so too do our minds. We can no longer think in narrow ways and categories, but only understand each person in all humanity, as Jesus does as our neighbor. A neighbor we are called to love as we would our very selves (Mark 12:31).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“What can I do?”
The question reverberates within us while we stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To stay home often implies inaction, disengagement, fear. However, staying home during this unprecedented time is one of the most charitable actions we can make. To stay home is not to surrender or turn inward, but to care so much for the greater good that we are willing to make sacrifices to our daily life in order to protect our neighbor.
This calls for a radical mentality shift. As human beings, we have a tendency toward action. Even on a scientific level, the world is constantly in motion. Human beings want to do something with the hands given us and the breath in our lungs. We want to act. And in times of crises, we want to help. Perhaps this is more urgently felt by people of faith; it is intertwined in our very identity as baptized persons and is a living, breathing part of our spiritual life. We live out of the reality that “faith…if it does not have works, is dead.”
So during a time when one of the greatest acts of charity we can physically do is stay at home, we still find ourselves asking “what can I do?”
The good news is, we can still “do” a lot. With the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a guide, I’ve compiled a list of ten ideas for alleviating suffering and spreading the Gospel during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
There are many ways we can live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy during this outbreak of COVID-19. What are some others ways you have shared the Good News and brought love and joy to others during this time?
Click here to learn more about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
I would like to begin this monthly recollection talk by stating the reason why I was chosen as the preacher. Owing to the current situation of the Coronavirus pandemic, the preacher chosen for this monthly retreat, Fr. Louis Caruna SJ, Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome), was unable to come. Incidentally, two weeks ago, I had written - in Polish - an article on Pallotti's commitment during the cholera epidemic in Rome in 1837. The rector of our community had obviously seen it, and had probably read it, so he asked me to develop it a bit more and then deliver it for the recollection. Thus, I now stand as the ‘extra cog’ – a cog as significant as the real cog for any machine, even for the machine called ‘the community.’
The following four texts served as the main sources for my reflection. They are: Francesco Todisco, San Vincenzo Pallotti: Profeta della Spiritualità di Comunione; Francesco Amoroso, San Vincenzo Pallotti: Romano; the ancient but the excellent Dizionario di Erudizione Storico-Ecclesiastica by Gaetano Moroni; and the letters of Pallotti.
The 1830’s, especially the years between 1835 and 1837, were years of great suffering for Europe because of the cholera epidemic, which was then known as the ‘Asian epidemic’ because it had originally come from India (part of today’s Iraq).
In previous centuries, epidemics spread from city to city starting from port cities such as Civitavecchia, Genoa and Naples. The cholera epidemic began differently when it reached some Baltic countries, such as Poland, as early as 1831. Then in 1832 the epidemic reached England; in 1833 it was brought to Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands. It then spread to France in 1835. As the epidemic was spreading, it left behind a long trail of death (Moroni, 233-243).
The spread of the disease was quick. In Italy, the first epidemic deaths occurred on September 13th, 1835. As a preventive measure to preserve the Eternal City from the disease, Pope Gregory XVI ordered, without any delay, the exposition of the most distinguished Christian relics for the common veneration in the churches where they were present. Here I want to specify the relics considered to be important for common veneration both in times of solemn and difficult occasions in 19th century Rome. These details are taken from Moroni’s book (Dizionario di Erudizione Storico-Ecclesiastica). They were:
· The skulls of the apostles Peter and Paul in the Lateran Basilica;
· The holy face of Veronica and the finger of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica;
· The body of St. Pius V in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major;
· The Wood of the Cross and the Thorn of the Crown in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem;
· The scourging pillar in the minor Basilica of St. Praxedes (Basilica di San Prassede);
· Two celebrated crucifixes – one in St. Lawrence in Damaso (a minor basilica) and the other in the church of St. Marcello al Corso;
· The imprisonment chains of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains;
· The arm of St. Roch, the protector against the plague in the church of St. Roch in Lungotevere, Ripetta;
· The arm of St. Francis Xavier in the church of Gesù (the mother church of the Society of Jesus);
· The bones of St. Sebastian in the minor basilica of St. Andrew of the Valley (San Andrea della Valle).
Pope Gregory XVI also ordered the celebration of an extraordinary novena to be held from August 6th-15th, 1835 in all the fifteen churches dedicated to Mary [in Rome] in preparation for the feast of the Assumption of Mary,
By July 31st, 1835 the Cardinal Vicar Odescalchi had published a decree L’invito Sacro (The Holy Call), which was fixed on the doors of all the churches. However, this document does not have much in common with the decrees issued by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis (also posted on church doors) on March 8th, 12th, and 13th, 2020. The decree signed by Cardinal Odescalchi reveals the 19th century mentality regarding the epidemic. I will cite a few lines:
A fatal disease, which for the obscurity of its origin, for the extravagance of its progress, for the uncertainty of its attacks, appears for the believers, to have the features and signs of a scourge. Will Rome be immune from it (dispensed from it)? Oh! Romans, do not delude yourselves! Yes, Rome has failed its duty. The Holy Name of God is trampled on; feasts and solemnities are desecrated, and with what an insolence the vice roams the streets of the Holy City! So if Rome has failed its duty, it must again be scourged. Oh! Unhappy Rome, only with MARY covering the city with her mantle, the arm of the Angel of End Times that is waiting to empty the poisonous cup on the poor guilty children, can be held back. So, let us all turn to MARY.
Cardinal Vicar Odescalchi had some concrete proposals. On the positive side, there was the announcement of an extraordinary novena for the occasion of the feast of the Assumption of Mary in all the fifteen churches dedicated to her. On the negative side, many public gatherings were also forbidden. Specifically, during the period of the novena, taverns, places selling alcohol and most other places of entertainment were all closed. The one exemption was coffee shops. The great Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachhino Belli composed numerous sonnets expecting to exorcise the city of the impending arrival of the virus. Some of the letters of Pallotti from this period of time reveal that he was committed to promoting the initiatives announced by Cardinal Odescalchi.
Another preventive and interesting initiative started by Pope Gregory XVI was the procession with the icon of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani - that is "Salvation of the Roman People" (some translate as "Protector of the Roman People"). In fact, the pope had ordered that on September 8th, 1835 the icon of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani should be carried in procession from the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) to the Vatican Basilica (San Pietro). This is the famous icon, the icon par excellence of Rome (The icon of the Eternal City), that Pope Francis kneels in front of as he starts and ends each of his apostolic journeys. The icon Salus Populi Romani has a very close connection to the history of the Eternal City and the Supreme Pontiffs. It is believed to have been painted by the St. Luke the Evangelist and it was seen as the reason for victory against epidemics and plagues as well as the reason for many other miracles.
Il Diario di Roma, a periodical of the time, explained that the pope had ordered the procession to “assure the souls of the powerful protection of the great Mother of God who regards with delightful eyes this Seat of Christianity [Rome].” Unfortunately, the procession in which the pope walked barefoot was accompanied by such bad weather that this icon of the Virgin Mary was forced to stay for eight days in the New Church (Chiesa Nuova also known as Santa Maria in Vallicella). The return journey of the icon from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Basilica of St. Mary Major was also disrupted by bad weather. In its return journey, the icon Salus Populi Romani had to stay for a long period of time in the Church of Gesù. It finally reached the Basilica of St. Mary Major on September 30th, 1835.
The Spread of the Epidemic: The Report of the Physicians, Newspapers and the Church:
In Rome, the medical practitioners exhorted people not to be afraid and not to worry. They also forbade the public from talking about deaths and burials, believing as if optimism and joy fortified people against the attacks of cholera. In addition, the medical practitioners urged people to keep their homes very clean. The General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Jan Roothaan (whom Pallotti knew very well), had personally vowed to celebrate the feast of The Immaculate Heart of Mary every year if the Jesuits in Rome who had given themselves generously for the care of the sick and were in the frontline fighting the contagion, were spared from the disease.
Despite all these attempts, by July 1837 the fear of the epidemic had penetrated all social levels. On July 5th Fr. Vincent Pallotti began a Triduum of prayers with a particular intention seeking favors for the people of Naples, the port city where the epidemic had already penetrated. In the Triduum, Pallotti also blessed the food eaten by infected people so that they may be protected by God.
On July 29th, Il Diario di Roma launched an attack on its front page on people who were spreading news about the cholera epidemic. It declared itself the right authority on the news pertaining to the spread of the epidemic and said: “[We] deny completely the ill-founded rumor already spread in Rome, that some individuals in the Capital had contracted the Asian cholera.”
But the people knew better. They gave little credit to the journals. They knew very well that the newspapers and journals only intended to avoid panic in the city. On August 6th, 1837, the icon of the Virgin (Salus Populi Romani) was again brought in procession to the Church of Gesù. This event was recorded by Il Diario di Roma. According to the report, a squad of soldiers on horseback went before the procession and the procession itself was led by the pupils of the Apostolic Homes and Orphanages. Following them were members of the clergy with candles or torches. The clergy also took turns reciting the rosary. Next in the procession was the icon surrounded by some Jesuits. Everyone else was shut off by the Swiss Guards. The procession went around Via Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale. Pope Gregory XVI, the College of Cardinals and the senator of Rome (Prince Orsini – Duke Domenico) joined in the procession as it reached Via del Quirinale. Together, the procession moved slowly towards the Church of Gesù where the Madonna was received by the General and members of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus. The litanies were then sung, and the pope concluded the procession with the final blessing.
On August 15th, a grand procession was organized from the Church of Gesù to bring the image of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani back to the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore). Acting on the exhortation of the Cardinal Vicar, Fr. Vincent Pallotti workedt to organize a sizable group of clergymen who would walk barefoot with him in the procession. The group started its journey from the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans located in Via Giulia.
To organize this group of religious and diocesan clergy, Pallotti made the best use of all his acquaintances. Pallotti wrote to Fr. Efisio Marghinotti, one of his friends and collaborators: “I ask you humbly, if possible, to inform many clergy of tomorrow’s barefoot procession. Also inform the Abbot Bianchini that even if he could not walk barefoot he could at least direct [the procession]. Tell everyone to get at least twelve others or more [for the procession]. We meet in the Church of the Holy Spirit.” (OCL II, p. 199)
In spite of the efforts, the situation in Rome was not good. It is said that fear is the mother of all excesses. This was proved right. On the evening of August 14th, an English Language teacher was killed by a crowd of people near Piazza del Campid’oglio because the victim was believed to be an "anointer" who spread the disease by anointing people and things.
The optimism advised by the medical experts was not of much use. Neither could the prayers contain the natural course of the epidemic! Finally, on August 19th, 1837 Il Diario di Roma admitted what was already evident. It said that according to the opinions of the medical doctors, the Asian Cholera had entered Rome.
By the beginning of September, the Count Antonio Maria Plebani, who was residing in the region of Marche but whose son was studying in Rome, had already sent a letter filled with grievances to Pallotti. In the letter, he affirmed that there were reasons to worry this time: “cholera, earthquakes, wars, hunger …” Fr. Vincent Pallotti replied saying: “Let us seek God. Let us seek Him always and in all things. And we will find Him and in Him we will all be saved.” (OCL II, p. 206)
Meanwhile, in the same period of time, Giovanni Marchetti, a married lay person and a collaborator of Pallotti from Gubbio, wrote to Pallotti asking how he could escape the epidemic. Pallotti replied advising him not to escape from God, but to look for a way to not merit punishment of God. Pallotti wrote: “Hold firm to the maxim that there is no escaping from the Divine scourge. In order to not deserve it, it is better to attend to one’s proper duties.” (OCL II, p. 208)
Pallotti’s Response to Cholera:
Let us now look at the response of Pallotti to the cholera epidemic. Inside the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitansthere is a plaque with an inscription bearing the works undertaken by Pallotti as the rector of the church. The inscription reads: “From 1835 to 1846, St. Vincent Pallotti, the Roman priest, was the rector of this Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans:
· He founded the Union of the Catholic Apostolate.
· He founded a College for the Foreign Missions.
· He celebrated the First Epiphany Octave.
· He celebrated the Marian Month of May for the clergy and the faithful.
· He animated the spiritual conference of the clergy.
· During the cholera epidemic of 1837, the people of Rome recognized in him a holy priest and in his work ‘an apostolate of charity’.
In fact, during the cholera epidemic, the action of the clergy in general was exemplary. Pope Gregory XVI, who himself was old, made visits to hospitals, thus setting an example for the clergy. We should not be surprised, therefore, that during the epidemic, the charity of Fr. Vincent Pallotti and the members of the Union emerged in a special way to assist the needy in every part of the city. Already by August 19th, Pallotti requested the ministerial faculties for the forgiveness of reserved sins for his collaborators Melia and Michettoni. He asked for them in order: “to satisfy the multitude of penitents, who in the current circumstances approach the Holy Tribunal of penance in the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans.” (OCL II, pp.200/201)
Fr. Vincent Pallotti was fully committed – among many things - to assisting the sick and helping their families and also spending many hours in the confessional. Sr. Maria Colomba (a future Pallottine Sister) testified in this regard: "Several times I have seen him [Pallotti] in surplice and stole following the hearse that carried the dead." Here is another example: shortly after the end of the epidemic, Pallotti wrote to Mr. Cassini Tommaso apologizing that he was not able to visit a certain prisoner. Mr. Cassini Tommaso had asked Pallotti to visit the prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo (The Mausoleum of Hadrian). Pallotti could not visit the prisoner because of the other works necessitated by the epidemic. “When at last I went – writes Pallotti – the person was no longer there.” (OCL II, p.234)
In order to respond to the numerous appeals that Pallotti received, he divided the city into sectors, and entrusted the sectors to the members of the Union of the Catholic Apostolate. He wrote shortly after: "In the time of cholera, The Pious Society placed a small box at the entrance of the sacristy of the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans. And it was accessible to all the poor. It was enough that the poor person wrote in a small piece of paper the name, the surname, the place of residence, the name of the parish, and the person’s need and placed it in the box. Then, two by two, the priests went to the place of the poor and cared for their needs.” (OOCC V, 139/140)
The members of the Union sought to help according to the need of the place or person; some helped with clothing and others with coupons for bread and meat; some helped bring lemons to cholera patients since lemons were then considered to be the most suitable medicine for cholera. Pallotti had noted this: “The priests of the Pious Society, night and day, went to the assistance of the cholera patients. The distribution of coupons for bread and meat had been a practice since the beginning of the Union in 1835, and continues even to this day.” (OOCC V, 139-140)
At last, on October 12th, the epidemic had been contained and it was declared that the epidemic had been defeated. Rome alone reported 5,419 deaths out of the population of 156,000. Among the deaths were some people who were very close to Fr. Vincent Pallotti. One such person, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, died of cholera on June 9th, 1837. In spite of her popularity, many medical doctors did not participate in her burial. They did so in order not to infect other people with the disease. In a letter written on June 9th, 1837, Fr. Vincent Pallotti communicated the following to Fr. Felice Randanini in Vienna: “In Rome, yesterday died in secret a great Servant of God, who had been showered with many extraordinary gifts.” (OCL II, p.183)
The father of Pallotti, Peter Paul Pallotti, passed away on September 15th. He had gone to the New Church (Chiesa Nuova) to pray. There, he collapsed on the ground in front of the altar of St. Philip Neri. He was immediately rushed to his home. Even before Fr. Vincent Pallotti could arrive, he died. That same day, Fr. Pallotti dispatched three letters asking for suffrages in favor of his father "to whom I owe so much" (OCL II, 206/207)
As the year 1837 ended, two other deaths marked the life of Fr. Vincent Pallotti. First was the death of Fr. Bernardino Fazzini, Pallotti’s confessor for thirty years, on December 25th (Christmas Day). Second was the death of Fr. Gaspar del Bufalo, Pallotti’s friend and collaborator, and the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood on December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
A few days later, in a letter to Randanini, the Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Vienna, Pallotti wrote: “Today, it has been nine days since the death of the great missionary and the canon Fr. del Bufalo, and twelve days since the death of the Chaplain of the Apostolic Hospice of St. Michael a Ripa [Fr. Fazzini]. Two great saints! Pray for me that I may gain from the examples, advices, and exhortations that they gave me with their lives.” (OCL II, 232/233)
The Conclusion: The Monthly Retreat – Preparation for the Good Death:
And finally, I would like to highlight a theme: the preparation for death. How many of you, today, ask yourselves about the purposes of a monthly retreat? When you do that, you will find that a monthly retreat is:
· A nutritious aliment for prayer
· A renewed self-dedication to God
· A perfect and generous push into the apostolate
· A growth in fraternal love
They are all true and right, but traditionally, the monthly retreat had also been thought to be, among many other things, an exercise in preparation for death. Pallotti also speaks of it in the Rule of our Congregation. In other words, we can say that the objective of a monthly retreat is to prepare our mind and heart to face death, the undeniable reality! Firstly, we need to acknowledge it! Not just acknowledge, but we also need to overcome the fear of death. Thus, when death approaches, we will be better equipped to face it. Besides, acknowledging death would help us to appreciate our daily living by providing it with more meaning and richness. We give two examples.
The First Example:
It is taken from a letter written by Pallotti to a lay person, Luigi Nicoletti. Nicoletti was two years younger than Pallotti and like Pallotti, a Roman. But Pallotti had high respect for Nicoletti. Nicoletti died in 1851, just a year after St. Vincent Pallotti’s death. On September 20th, 1822 during his stay in Monte Compatri with the Carmelites, Pallotti had addressed a letter to Nicoletti. I now cite a large passage from the same letter:
Yesterday, as the sun was about to set, the Spirit by the infinite Mercy of God led me on a high solitary mountain [probably the 773 meter high Monte Salomone [a mountain] that is located along the road that leads from the town of Monte Compatri to the town of Rocca Priora]. Isolated from human association, looking towards heaven, I lost myself in prayer. And as I prayed, I remembered you distinctly. In fact, God had shown me that you had not gained much from the letter that you received last year from the well-known, caring and considerate Jesuit. From the letter, it was quite frightening to know that your death was close. But it was not God’s intention that you always had the thought of death on your mind so that you lived every day as the day of your death. I humbly ask you, with my face on the ground, to promise me not to spend any day without having at least for a few moments meditated on the great Principle of Death. Do not believe that this means that your passage to Eternity is near, but I say this, so that by responding to the grace of God, you will increasingly enrich yourself with the merits for Eternity. (OCL I, pp.155/156)
The Second Example:
As the cholera epidemic was spreading, the anxious and apprehensive Fr. Felice Randanini, the Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Vienna, wrote to Pallotti several times. He felt that he had contracted the disease (cholera). But Fr. Vincent Pallotti reassured him writing: “Look for cholera as much as you want, but you will not be able to find it because it is not for you.” (OCL II, p.139) The other times when the young secretary was caught up in fear, Pallotti eased his fear by foretelling that he would see the secretary again in Rome. Pallotti wrote: “About the fear of your death, I tell you: I wait for you in Rome.” (OCL II, p.138). Pallotti wrote another time: “Be calm: cholera will not find you.” (OCL II, p.140) The secretary, accustomed more to the diplomatic language and less to the prophetic language, wondered at the certainty with which Pallotti had spoken. Once the immediate danger was over, Pallotti asked him to humble himself and to seek forgiveness for his fears and his weaknesses in the time of distress. Pallotti wrote: “Always and in every situation, you must live and should be able to say with that spirit and with that firm belief with which the Apostle Paul said: Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord. Pray that the Lord grants me the same grace even though I am not worthy of it.” (OCL II, p.143)
You, [dear friends] certainly remember these famous sayings of Pallotti: “Time is precious, short, and it never comes back. I would like that time is given a high regard. I would like to insert in the faithful the highest regard for the time.” (OOCC X, 594); “Time is precious, short and irretrievable. I would like that with the grace of God I made good use of the time like a person who had come back to life from death used it to redeem the past.” (OOCC X, 553)
Dear confreres, the reactions in the face of death are varied and diverse. Some confuse awe with fear as Cardinal Ravasi said very recently, “and this is the most serious mistake one is likely to commit in this time of Coronavirus”. We need to distinguish between the fear and the awe in the presence of the Lord (‘Fear of God’). What is the difference between fear and ‘Fear of the Lord’? We can very well say that fear and ‘Fear of the Lord’ are not synonyms. “The thing I fear most is fear,” said the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne. He also defined fear as the ‘bad advisor.’ ‘Fear of the Lord’ on the other hand is ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Prov 1:7). “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Ps 34:11) To describe the success of the early Church, St. Luke writes in The Acts of the Apostles: “The church had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31). In fact, ‘Fear of the Lord’ actually brings about peace. And the paradox goes even further – ‘Fear of the Lord’ exists along with love. We read similarly in the Book of Deuteronomy: “So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart with all your soul.” (Deut 10:12) Fear, on the other hand, cannot be interwoven with love. Thus writes the Apostle John in his first epistle: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment…” (1 John 4:18) On the contrary, ‘fearful respect’ for God is the source of great trust and thus wins over the fear.
It is now up to you (up to all of us) to allow this teaching to transform each one of us personally and to transform the life of the community.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
For more resources on the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
“According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated.” – American Psychological Association. This is a report from 2019 about the rising levels of social isolation and loneliness experienced in the United States. It is not something new, and as days and years progress, it is likely to get worse if we do not act now. So how does the Catholic Church respond to such increasing levels of isolation?
Fortunately, the Church has discussed accompaniment as a solution for a very long time. Most recently, it has been discussed at great length throughout the papacy of Pope Francis and in the recent synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. As recently as last year, Pope Francis in Christus Vivit talked extensively about the Church’s role in preventing loneliness in young people. Still, as the study above shows, loneliness is not something that only young people experience. Pope Francis talks about the untethering and uprootedness of people in this way:
“We need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming to young people since so many have a real sense of being orphaned. … To all these orphans – including perhaps ourselves – communities like a parish or school should offer possibilities for experiencing openness and love, affirmation, and growth. Many young people today feel that they have inherited the failed dreams of their parents and grandparents, dreams betrayed by injustice, social violence, selfishness, and lack of concern for others. In a word, they feel uprooted.…The experience of discontinuity, uprootedness, and the collapse of fundamental certainties, fostered by today’s media culture, creates a deep sense of orphanhood to which we must respond by creating an attractive and fraternal environment where others can live with a sense of purpose.” (Christus Vivit 216)
So what does this mean for our parishes or for us as Catholics? Each one of us is called to accompany others on the journey of faith. Christ himself modeled this with his disciples and has charged us to do the same. Accompaniment is fundamental to Christianity. It means building an “intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” To begin, I would suggest first taking a look at your immediate circle of connections. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. should be your first group to encounter and accompany because they are the people you organically have relationships with each day. These are the people most likely to open up to you if they are experiencing troubles. Even then, it is essential to listen and provide a connection to Christ and the Church community. The role of accompaniment in giving someone a link to the broader Catholic community is vital, and acknowledging every baptized person’s role in this calling is essential. As the Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church discusses, accompaniment can serve as a powerful avenue to welcome and keep someone in the Church in ever uncertain times and events in someone’s life. It can lead to a deeper connection to Christ, a fuller integration into the world at large, and a more authentic sense of their mission to serve Christ and the Church (Art of Accompaniment, 19).
Every day there are more and more people who are experiencing isolation, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. This has only been exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic. Current events, personal circumstances such as their health, and many other factors can contribute to feelings of isolation. During this time, I invite you to pray about different ways you can accompany those who are feeling lonely. The Catholic Church can be a refuge in this storm of isolation and meet people where they are. Even if someone is lonely, as one of God’s children, they are never alone, and it is our job as Catholics to remind them of that fact.
For more resources on accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you during the coronavirus, please click here.
We often hear that the saints must have been uncomfortable to be around. Their tendency to get straight to the point, to stop in the middle of a conversation to pray, to ask pointed, personal questions, to inquire about your relationship with God, and to be sincere about it all, might cause most people to be uncomfortable. Around these people who are striving to live authentic lives, you might find yourself itching to break eye contact, and to maybe talk about something a little lighter like the new TV show you’re watching or how it is supposed to be sunny all weekend.
Though we may not all have encountered saints, many of us can point to people striving to live authentic lives. These people are often unrelenting. Uninterested in frivolities, they are interested in your soul. They want to get to the real you - the you that God made. The you without all the defenses, insecurities, wounds, and fears. But if they find those things, authentic people are also gentle in dealing with them.
This is why a saint or an authentic person might make us uncomfortable. Truly authentic Christians allow the light of Christ to shine through them. And Christ is in the business of loving people. So when you are around these people, you are facing Christ through them and, all of a sudden, your real self—the one you have been avoiding and hiding—comes to the forefront. And there is a reckoning.
This is what it felt like for me when I watched the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is based on the true story of the journalist Tom Junod (known as Lloyd Vogel in the movie). Lloyd, who is portrayed as a cynical and unkind workaholic, is assigned to profile Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s Mr. Rogers for the magazine Esquire. The relationship that unfolds between them is a beautiful example of what happens when you let an authentic person into your life. I think all of us have at least one of these people in our lives; and if we don’t, we routinely search for, or try to become one.
Throughout the movie, Lloyd, who comes from a broken family, struggles in his job of interviewing Mr. Rogers. Due to his cynical nature and a very strained relationship with his own father, he assumes that Mr. Rogers’s on-screen personality is just an act. He spends most of the movie resisting Mr. Rogers’s probing questions and his father’s attempts at reconciliation. Many of the scenes portray an awkward dialogue, with Lloyd becoming frustrated at Mr. Rogers for asking him so many questions!
The story continues and the climactic scene shows Lloyd and Mr. Rogers in a restaurant, where he asks Lloyd to spend one minute “thinking about all of the people who have loved you into being.” Here, for a full minute, the camera pans to Mr. Rogers’ face, where he’s looking straight at you. For 60 full seconds you feel completely seen and known.
After this moment, Lloyd lets down his guard and lets Mr. Rogers into his family brokenness. He comes to grips with himself, his past, and how all of that will affect his future. What happens is completely transformative. Once he forgives his father, he then accepts his identity as a father himself, and becomes more available to his wife and more supportive to his sister. The film quite beautifully shows that forgiveness has a ripple effect—once you forgive the cause of your largest wound, you experience healing, the people around you are unified, and everyone is able to love others better and more authentically.
Lloyd was able to do this after he came to understand what Mr. Rogers was doing all along: searching for and loving people for who they really are, and engaging with that person, no matter how many walls they put up. Being seen and loved in this way then enables you to forgive quickly, heal faster, and love more. By following the example of Mr. Rogers, we can create families and neighborhoods that are more unified.
Mr. Rogers, a beloved figure in American culture, understood what it meant to see, know, and love people at their very core, just as Christ and the saints did. People felt understood by Mr. Rogers and loved him in return. At the beginning of the movie, Lloyd felt uncomfortable with Mr. Rogers’ piercing gaze, personal questions, and spontaneous prayer; but as a result of Lloyd’s friendship with Mr. Rogers, Lloyd and his entire family came to experience healing and joy. In these ways, Mr. Rogers imitated Christ, who accompanied men and women throughout his ministry and encountered them in the midst of their brokenness and sin. Christ healed others by stepping into their brokenness with a love that inspired them to change and lead lives of holiness themselves.
As we enter into the New Year, what changes can we make to better love our neighbor? How can we follow Christ and the example of Mr. Rogers and see, know, and love people in the midst of their brokenness?
There’s something wonderfully intimate about entering an empty chapel or secluded church and embracing it for personal prayers. Our Lord continuously invites each of us to set aside our daily activities and distractions to spend some time gazing, discerning, and listening to Him who knows each of us better than we could ever understand ourselves. The ancient promise of Christ to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” assures us of the great love freely offered to us when we recall we are always in God’s holy presence. In doing so, the troubles and challenges we face in the world are trivialized and surrendered to God’s holy will so that our focus can be firmly fixed upon worshipping and honoring the One who calls us to Himself.
Whether it was in a parish church during the day, the school chapel in between classes, or even the private chapel of a religious community, my experiences of being able to utilize the simple intimacy and quiet of the moment offered me peace and sanctuary from the world. Of course, the Almighty is not restricted to the tabernacle of a church; His presence is infinite and forever available to us. There is, however, something affirming about entering into a space conducive to prayer and spirituality. The design and furnishing of a sacred space can draw our senses into an experience to better appreciate God’s presence in our lives. The light from outside may reflect colored light from stained glass windows upon the wall, the smell of candles or incense being burned convey that space is specially oriented to a higher purpose than what you just stepped out of, and the silence and lack of technology, advertising, or electronic distractions enable you to be more aware of your surroundings as you seek to hear God speaking to you. Encounters with the living God are not typically a Burning Bush or Annunciation experience; recall that the prophet Elijah sought to encounter God on Mount Horeb and found Him in the “sheer silence” rather than a strong wind, fire, or earthquake.
We are all aware of the daily bombardment of digital content and of the professional, social, or academic obligations and expectations we face. They compete for our time and attention, can wear us down in routines, and force us to prioritize what is important for us to achieve. In our busy lives, we must actively choose to answer God’s constant and gentle call to “Abide in me as I abide in you.” He pours out His love for us freely, even when we are not always actively seeking Him or discerning His will for us. The Christian journey, then, is one of encounter and service; the love God extends to us is to be shared and offered to our neighbors, the marginalized, and even—especially—enemies. No matter our vocation in this life, our ultimate goal must be Heaven in the next. The saints are excellent role models in embracing the love of Christ and committing their lives to bringing that love to others.
And while there is something beautiful about being the only person before the Lord in prayer and adoration, there is an even greater joy in bringing others to share in the experience and to worship God together. We do not walk the Christian way alone. As a wise friend of mine observed:
"[W]e have to remember that the journey to heaven is not a solo trek. You seek to bring everyone with you. If one person falls, you travel to him or her, and help them get up, and you carry along together towards the destination. This is what God has entrusted us to do, to reveal such love as His love. Within our families, jobs, school, or wherever God calls us to be, we must give everything of ourselves in bringing others on the adventure, and helping them endure. Think of the image of exhaustively falling down on God’s doorstep after the journey is over. You look back, and see no one, because the ones traveling with you have gone inside already."
 Joseph Cuda (lecture, Knights of Columbus Council #9542 business meeting, Washington, DC, November 3, 2013). http://knights.cua.edu/res/docs/Knights-Lecture-5-November-3-2013.pdf
“The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life” (Christus Vivit, 138).
Have you ever experienced the love of Christ in your life? The love of Christ is not something one and done. It is an ongoing experience. Christ is always pouring out his love to us. We are the ones who are challenged to see and believe. The love of Christ comes to us in a particular way through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist—an intimate encounter with Christ who is truly present. Pope Francis describes this encounter:
“Although we are the ones who stand in procession to receive Communion; we approach the altar in a procession to receive communion, in reality it is Christ who comes towards us to assimilate us in him. There is an encounter with Jesus! To nourish oneself of the Eucharist means to allow oneself to be changed by what we receive” (General Audience, March 21, 2018).
Christ is the one who is present and he is the one who is changing us in and through our encounter with him in the Eucharist. We can choose not to see his presence, not to enter this experience of encounter, and not to be changed. That is the freedom that we have. It is the freedom to be indifferent to or reject the love of Christ being freely offered to us. When we experience Christ in the Eucharist, the great gift of his love for us, we become more than we are. We are elevated to a greater love of God and neighbor.
How do we enter more fully into this encounter with Christ in the Eucharist? As Pope Francis notes, Christ “comes towards us to assimilate us in him.” He is already moving, acting, and assisting us to cooperate with his grace. We are called to prepare ourselves well for this encounter by being forgiven of our sins through the Sacrament of Penance, by preparing for our encounter through prayer, by entering into the worship of the community of faith, and by witnessing the love of Christ in our daily encounters with others. Over time, we will be transformed by Christ toward living a “better and more beautiful life.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Lent is fast approaching. Ash Wednesday will arrive with the usual crowds to mark its beginning. Even though it is not a holy day of obligation, many Catholics feel the need to participate in a Mass or service and have ashes imparted upon them. Several of the same, even if they do not go to Mass on a regular basis, will take up the various Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but particularly fasting in the form of “giving up” something. It is important to consider that there is something stirring spiritually within these brothers and sisters. Those who are very active in the life of faith can either dismiss them or accompany them into deeper life in Christ, in and through his Church.
How? By using well the tools of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – as ways in which we can witness Christ more authentically to our brothers and sisters and deepen our encounter with him. In his Lenten message last year, Pope Francis made this invitation once again,
“Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.” (2018 Lenten Message)
The “enthusiasm” that comes from prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is not of our own making. It is the work of God and one in which we cooperate. The disciplines of Lent are not ends in themselves. They are means to an end, greater communion with Jesus Christ. We are challenged by these practices to focus our attention not on ourselves, but more fully on God and neighbor.
A focus on our neighbor returns us to those who are spiritually searching and arrive on Ash Wednesday or “give something up” for Lent. It means less attention on ourselves and more prayer for them, uniting our fasting with and for them, and giving of our time to them, especially to listen and accompany them back into living more deeply the life of faith. Not an easy task, but a sacrifice that, if lived well and authentically, could assist others in coming to Easter joy!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For resources to accompany you throughout the Lenten season, please click here.
Just before Advent, the Holy Father was leading his usual general audience when a six-year-old autistic boy, Wenzel, escaped from his family and wandered towards the pope. Blissfully unaware of the attention he was now attracting, young Wenzel scurried about Pope Francis and interacted with his surroundings—including a Pontifical Swiss Guard standing at attention nearby. After the boy’s mother explained the situation to the Holy Father, Pope Francis encouraged her to let him continue to play and then offered a beautiful teachable moment to the thousands gathered in the Paul VI audience hall:
This boy can’t talk, he is mute but he knows how to communicate. He knows how to express himself. He has something that made me think: He is free. An undisciplined freedom… but he is free. It made me think, “am I also free like that before God?” When Jesus says that we have to become like children He tells us that we have to have the freedom that a child has before his father. I think [Wenzel] preached to all of us.
In referencing the call of our Lord to “become like children,” Pope Francis affirmed the unique dignity of even the youngest of human persons, namely their innate innocence, senses of wonder and curiosity, and free-spirited (and sometimes seemingly limitless) energy. Rather than characterizing the source of the “disruption” as having to be managed or handled—perhaps as parents of autistic children are all too familiar with in social situations—the pope celebrated the liveliness of the circumstances and explained that the faithful could spiritually benefit from imitating the blessed boy before them.
Children are unconcerned with headlines, deadlines, schedules, requirements, and the expectations or the judgements of others. They often simply have wants they seek to fulfill and they set about observing and learning from their surroundings. They do not immediately know everything they should, and they recognize many of their needs require receiving help from another. When our Lord first called upon His disciples to become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, He had called a child to Himself before those gathered around. I imagine the adults immediately thought to themselves, “What could I possibly gain from becoming a foolish, helpless youth? I am successful now, I know so much now, and not because I kept thinking or acting like a child!”
Adults are all too susceptible to pride, be it of power, status, wealth, or knowledge. We get caught up in what the world (i.e. bosses, politicians, friends, and peers) expects of us in order to attain some level of temporal success. We entangle ourselves in the circumstances of situations, the reasons to do or not do something, and we may let too many external influences affect us unnecessarily. While intelligence or critical thinking itself is not a bad thing, adults may overthink certain situations a child would otherwise address head-on. For example, wanting to charitably help the less fortunate may tug at the heartstrings of a child to engage with that person; an adult, however, may become distracted from the needs of that person before him or her with personal judgements (or those of others around), embarrassment, selfishness, or any number of reasons to not offer assistance. Becoming like a child, then, would seem to be more pure and innocent.
Think of the demands of Christianity: love God more than yourself, care for your neighbors, avoid sin and sacramentally repent whenever you fail, faithfully go to church, generously give to the needy, pray for your enemies, and serve others humbly before yourself. These commands are not meant to be burdensome or harsh except to whatever pride or selfishness we cling to. Adults may overthink their capabilities to do good and avoid evil when evaluating circumstances and how to act. To children, however, these acts are simply directives they should obey and not question or “situationalize.”
This Christmas, let us renew our childlike faith by freeing our hearts and minds of prejudice and overcomplicated justifications. Our lives should be spent ministering and witnessing to God Who made each of us. In mirroring the innocent freedom of children, we can enhance our goodwill and loving charity towards others and increase our devotion and faith in God. Let us remember that our Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally: so much so that the Almighty sent His Son to dwell among us as a helpless Child.
Questions for Reflection: Why did Christ say we must become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Have you ever learned an important truth or lesson from a child?
For more resources to accompany you on your Advent journey, please click here.
We live in a world where social media creates a narrative of perfection and curated happiness. The constant pursuit of success, fulfillment and precision fuel our actions. We confuse modern ideals of self-interest, pleasure and minimalism with happiness. This false sense of happiness leads to a severe sense of discontent with our culture of appearances and deception. This, in turn, gives rise to the importance placed on truth and authenticity. Beneath the discontent we all feel is a shared desire to witness and live authentic lives.
In a new film, “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word,” we watch the story of a man who practices what he preaches. In the movie, we hear from a religious sister who says that God gives us a pope who is a reflection of what we need in the current times. In a global society that is starved for genuineness, sincerity and truth, Pope Francis provides the world with simple, bite-sized snippets of profound wisdom that are easily understood.
In one of those snippets of wisdom, our pope urges us to “Talk little, listen a lot.” As 1 John 3:18 says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Pope Francis shows us through his actions – washing the feet of inmates, providing a kind touch of prayer to sick children – that tenderness is strength and not weakness. I work in communications and in my profession we have a common phrase that says, “show, don’t tell.” Our culture yearns to see others living out honest, genuine values through action, not words. Pope Francis is an example of someone who shows us how to love and that love is a choice.
Love is at the core of Jesus’ message. His teachings are those of love in action. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” However, in order for us to love like Jesus, we must be free to give of ourselves to another. Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever we want, when we want, where we want; it’s the ability to choose what is noble, true and right.
Sometimes it seems that as a society we have lost our identities as free beings created by God to love and be loved. We forget that God placed the sense of longing for happiness in our hearts so that we may love him, ourselves and others. This yearning is designed to bring us closer to God and ultimately provides our fulfillment.
Questions for Reflection: Who are the people in your life that show you how to freely love others? How can you show love for others in your own way using the gifts bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit? What are some simple steps you can take to live out your life authentically?
Two weeks ago, I was walking from my cozy warm apartment in the Northeast part of Washington, D.C. to Union Station to meet up with a friend for dinner. It was 18*F (-7*C) outside and the wind was just starting to pick up. There were forecasts of snow in the next few days. I was bundled up with a wool sweater, socks, jacket, scarf, and gloves. About ten minutes into my walk, I started to regret my decision to walk and wondered if I should’ve called a cab. As I approached Union Station, I could see the Capitol building lit up in the distance. It was there that I saw 8 people lying on the streets completely covered with layers and layers of clothing and blankets. I immediately forgot my own brief and temporary plight. It was a stark and chilling reminder of the great poverty that still exists not only in other countries, but right here in the United States in our capital city.
Each January, the Church in the United States recognizes Poverty Awareness Month and takes up Pope Francis' challenge “to live in solidarity with the poor.” Last year, Pope Francis called for the observance of the very first World Day of the Poor. This call was not just for faithful Catholics, but for people of all nationalities, creeds, and socioeconomic backgrounds. As he said in his message for the first World Day of the Poor, “Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.” The church and world responded with countless acts of charity and kindness to the poor.
Poverty is a massive issue with far too many heartbreaking statistics for us to consider it on only one day each year. It is a concern that needs constant attention and awareness that we can cultivate on a daily basis. Poverty does not simply come in the form of homelessness, but can manifest itself in many different ways. It can be manifested in our neighbor who has to choose between buying prescriptions or groceries, or in the child who cannot focus on school because they have not eaten the proper food they need. It can be manifested in the single mother who cannot afford childcare while she works.
Each of us can work towards helping to alleviate poverty. Here at The Catholic University of America, we run a large number of different programs throughout the year that highlight various forms of poverty and ways to help. Twice a year we have massive service days during which we send nearly 900 students to help local organizations that serve the poor. Every week we have twenty opportunities for students to serve the poor across seven different service sites. Some of these include going to soup kitchens or after-school centers and volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity. One of the most highly attended opportunities is a recurring homeless food run in which students take food and supplies to areas of D.C. with large homeless populations. The students do not simply pass out food, but sit and talk with the homeless. They get to know poverty on the most human level possible. They offer their resources, time, and love to those in need.
These types of efforts enable us not only to give the poor material goods and the gift of our time, but also help us personally grow. Walking in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and encountering them leaves us transformed. As Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them…” Throughout the year, I encourage you to consider participating in or making your own outreach to help those in need—and to bring a friend. Let us allow ourselves to be evangelized by the poor, live in solidarity with them, and work to alleviate their suffering. As St. Vincent Pallotti, the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, reminds us, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.”
Questions for Reflection: What are some concrete ways you can help alleviate poverty? Has a personal encounter with the poverty of another ever impacted your spiritual life?
This past September, a colleague and I traveled to three cities in the U.S. to discuss with local ministry leaders ways in which Catholic Relief Services (CRS) could engage young adults. Our basic question was this: How can CRS contribute to the conversations folks in their 20s and 30s are already having around issues of peace, justice, and global solidarity?
Two very clear, and slightly discordant, ideas emerged. The first: folks in their 20s and 30s want to offer their time to serve those in need. The second: we as Church might do better to shift from doing good for a world in need to being good for our world.
What do I mean by this? The instinct to do good—to be a service to others, to give of ourselves, to respond in charity to the Gospel invitation to love our neighbor—is something to be applauded. In fact, integrating service into young adult ministry was a priority we heard time and again during our conversations.
But not all world-changing, do-good ideas are created equal. In fact, some can be quite harmful. (For one example from some of CRS’ work that illustrates this general point, check out our Changing the Way We Care initiative on orphanages.)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t dedicate time, talent, and treasure to helping those in need—both in our own communities and around the world. But we should challenge ourselves to be intentional about our initiatives, to investigate the real impact of our efforts—both intended and unintended. We should also ask ourselves who we are really serving: our own sense of self-worth or the real common good.
I write all this by way of reflection on Pope Francis’ calling for a World Day of the Poor, the first of an annually recurring day that begins November 19, 2017. (Click here to read about it in the pope’s own words.) When we think of poverty, our knee-jerk reaction may be to rush to the nearest shelter with old clothes in hand. It may be to donate to a worthy cause. It may be to jump on a plane and fly across the world ready and able to build a house for a family without one.
None of those things are bad, right? People need and deserve clothing and shelter, and charitable donations fuel so many organizations like my own. But intentionality demands that we challenge our own assumptions. Is the local shelter looking for the kinds of clothing I’d like to give, and do they have capacity to sort through them? Does that distant country need me to build a house, or is there a local engineer who is better able to accomplish the job? Do I know what percentage of donations an organization puts toward actually helping those in need?
These are questions I myself have had to wrestle with, and the answers are different in every situation. But they must be asked. Why? Because they help me remove my own ego from the situation and instead make room for the true needs—and solutions—of others.
Pope Francis challenges us to go beyond the doing—which is unmistakably important—to inhabit a new way of living: “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”
So, then, as we reflect on this first World Day of the Poor, I challenge all of us to not simply do good, but to be good—to integrate God’s vision for humanity not simply into our acts of charity but into our daily choices, our lifestyles, and our long-term goals.
Question for Reflection: How can you follow Eric's advice and not only do good, but be good?
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