If you’re used to communicating with others via text message, then you’ve probably, at some point, received a message and interpreted it out of context. A curt reply with a period at the end could be misinterpreted as either passive aggressive or as an irritated response. This happens to me occasionally, and I always have to remember that without hearing a person’s message verbally, it can be difficult to understand what they’re really saying or implying. Maya Angelou’s quote rings true here: “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
Our voices add a unique depth and fullness to our communications by revealing emotions, nuances, and subtle meanings more sharply than words alone can communicate. On this feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, I am struck by St. Augustine’s words from this morning's Office of Readings: “Today we remember that Zechariah’s ‘tongue is loosed because a voice is born.’”
St. John the Baptist was born to be the final prophetic voice who proclaimed the Word made flesh. Like the Old Testament prophets, John foretells the coming of the Messiah and calls sinners to repentance with words that cut to the heart (Luke 3:1-29). But, unlike the Old Testament prophets, John identifies the Messiah for the first time in salvation history. John points Jesus out and encourages his followers to pursue him (John 1:29-37). He is confident that his cousin is the foretold Christ, and by his proclamation John fulfills the mission of all the prophets as he straddles the boundary of the Old and New Testament.
John’s historical mission of giving voice to the Word is also our mission. At our baptism, we were anointed as a priest, prophet, and king. We share uniquely in Jesus’s ministry, and we are called to be lay prophets who proclaim the good news of repentance and redemption. We must, like John the Baptist, spend time coming to know the promises of the Messiah so that we can recognize Him when we see him. And when we see Him present in the sacraments, or when we encounter Him as we are accompanied by a spiritual mentor, or when we experience Him through the fullness of our prayer, we must point Him out for all to see. To fulfill our baptismal call to be prophets of the Gospel of Christ, we must give voice to our experiences of God. John’s words must be our words to the world, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
Can you believe we are already in the fifth week of Lent? Personally, this year’s Lenten season has flown by for me. While I have not always held fast to the Lenten observances I chose for myself, I can already see the fruits of the changes I have been able to maintain. This year for Lent, I have begun working my way through the Bible using a program which breaks the Scriptures into easily-digestible daily segments from both the Old and New Testaments.
Most of what I’ve read from the Old Testament so far has been very familiar to me—stories from creation to the great flood and Abraham and his successors. But what has struck me, as I’ve slowly progressed through the books of Genesis and Exodus, is the lack of trust that has plagued the human race since its creation.
Reading these Bible passages has often left me pondering why mankind struggles so much to trust God. Adam and Eve fell for the serpent’s lies about the forbidden fruit instead of trusting that God knew what was good and appropriate for them; Abraham tried to jumpstart his promised line of innumerable progeny by having a child with his wife’s servant because his wife was supposedly incapable of bearing any children. Today’s first reading, from the Book of Numbers, continues these themes of distrust. “With their patience worn out by the journey,” the Israelites complain that they were rescued from slavery only to be left to die in the miserable desert, and that even the food the Lord has provided them is disgusting and wretched.
I have found these particular stories from the Old Testament striking because they ring true for my own life; when I find myself in a difficult situation over which I have no control, I don’t always maintain my trust in God. I feel helpless because there is nothing I can do to change things, or I cannot fathom why things are unraveling in the way that they are. And, like hundreds of generations of the human race before me, I turn to the world first for answers instead of coming immediately to God. I usually end up complaining, and often times I prefer to question why He is treating me this way and do not trust that there is some good to come out of it that I cannot yet, and may not ever, see. In fact, I think this may be the heart of mankind’s trust issues: one of the hardest things for us to do is to have faith in God when we cannot see the whole picture, or do not understand what is going on, or cannot understand what God could possibly mean by calling us in the way that He does.
But we do not need to see the whole picture in order to be faithful followers of Christ. We do not need to control the situation in order to get what God promised us. We can use our times of suffering, or times of feeling excluded from God’s plan, to bring ourselves closer to God. Instead of asking God why He has not done more for us, like the Israelites did in the desert, we can ask Him to show us what good our suffering could bring. And instead of trying to put ourselves on a more equal footing with God, like Adam and Eve or Abraham and Sarah did, we can ask God how best we can serve Him.
Today, as we continue to navigate the incredibly difficult situations around us caused by the coronavirus, let us place our trust in God once more and turn to him in our time of need. I pray that this may be a fruitful time of growth in your relationship with God and that we may emerge from this time stronger in our faith, hope, and love.
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Spiritual accompaniment has been discussed greatly today within the Church and is an important theme of Pope Francis’ papacy. While accompaniment is manifested throughout the Old Testament and in Christ’s ministry, it is important for the Church to consider how best to implement it in modern times. What does accompaniment look like today? How do we best accompany others along their spiritual journey in deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ? The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church, a Catholic Apostolate Center resource developed by Colleen Campbell and Thomas Carani, assists in the growth of true accompaniment within the Church today. Below are ten quotes from The Art of Accompaniment that summarize some of the major points of this important resource in order to introduce you to accompaniment and its role for Christians today.
1. “Since the creation of human beings, God has communicated his love through a relationship with humanity…The Old and New Testament reveal the Trinitarian God to be a God who accompanies.”
God models accompaniment for humanity in his self-revelation and relationship with his people throughout salvation history. After the Fall, God revealed himself in his various relationships with important figures such as Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament, culminating in the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world. God Himself is the first model of accompaniment. We look to His example in order to understand and implement accompaniment in the Church today.
2. “Spiritual accompaniment is the apostolate of intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.”
Colleen and Tom define accompaniment succinctly: spiritual accompaniment does not happen by accident, but is the result of an intentional decision made by two people. The goal of spiritual accompaniment is a deepening in one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in personal holiness that transforms both the mentor and the person being accompanied, as well as those they encounter.
3. “To remain committed to this deliberate choice of discipleship, a mentor is an active participant in their own spiritual formation, deliberately choosing the path of discipleship as their everyday way of life.”
A mentor never ceases to pursue holiness, personal development, and spiritual formation. These are life-long endeavors to which the mentor and the person being accompanied dedicate themselves.
4. “Listening is a crucial practice of the mentor because it not only creates space for openness between mentor and the one accompanied, but also makes room for an awareness of the presence and action of God.”
An important part of the spiritual life that Pope Francis has emphasized is the art of listening. We must be silent in order to hear the voice of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The ability to listen well is also incredibly important to the art of accompaniment. When a mentor is adept in the art of listening, he or she affirms the dignity of the person being accompanied and humbly leaves room for the voice of God to be heard and acknowledged.
5. “Discernment is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit and useful in coming to identify the movements and actions of God in daily life.”
Both the mentor and person being accompanied must grow in their ability to discern the work of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. While there are many resources within the Church that help form a person in their understanding of discernment, it is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit. By praying for clarity, understanding, and wisdom, and by approaching the accompanying relationship in a posture of humility, both the mentor and person being accompanied create an environment in which the actions of God are received and acted upon. Ongoing discernment is crucial to spiritual accompaniment.
6. "Mentors are formed by the community as a result of encountering diverse groups of people, listening to different perspectives, seeking guidance from others, and worshipping and seeking Christ amongst the family of the children of God."
The spiritual life does not and cannot exist in a vacuum; the same is true with accompaniment. Both the mentor and person being accompanied are formed by their parishes and communities. The beauty of our relational existence is that our communities of faith are comprised of all sorts of people. This diversity within our parishes enriches each member of the Body of Christ and deepens compassion, understanding, and a spirit of inclusion that helps the mentor better accompany another person.
7. "As they share the journey of the Christian life with the one accompanied, the mentor evangelizes the accompanied by fostering an encounter with Christ in their daily life, drawing connections between the Gospel message and their everyday experiences, and encouraging them toward ongoing conversion to Christ through the relationship of accompaniment."
An important aspect of accompaniment is that it is a mutual journey towards Christ. Accompaniment does not happen only in Church settings and does not only address topics of faith—it encompasses an entire life. Our faith life also does not occur in a vacuum, but should impact and inform every aspect of our existence. As a result, accompaniment helps both the mentor and the one being accompanied to draw connections between the Gospel and everyday life.
8. "Those accompanied are open to formation and display their willingness to be formed by authentically seeking holiness, collaborating with their mentor, remaining humble in the midst of difficulty, and giving thought and prayer to challenges or new ideas…they must seek faith formation through study, catechetical ministry through parishes or Catholic institutions, and their own personal learning."
Humility is a crucial component of an accompanying relationship—especially for the one being accompanied. The person being accompanied acknowledges the need to walk alongside a mentor and to be formed by them in order to grow in holiness and a relationship with Christ. Therefore, the mentor is an authority figure that respectfully and lovingly informs and collaborates with the one being accompanied, as well as with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the one accompanied also seeks personal formation in other trusted places.
9. "In the relationship of accompaniment, the marginalized are provided a space in which they can come to deeply know the love of Jesus Christ through friendship, guidance, and authenticity with a mentor."
No one is exempt from an accompanying relationship—it is an important part of the spiritual life that all are invited to. A relationship of accompaniment results in the greatest treasure on earth: friendship with and love of Jesus Christ. A mentor is more than an authority figure. He or she is a friend, helper, and guide who affirms a person’s dignity and walks alongside another to build up the Body of Christ.
10. "The inspiration and model for the apostolate of accompaniment is Mary…In Mary, the Church has a model and intercessor for the apostolate of accompaniment."
We cannot have a vibrant and lasting life of faith and thriving relationship with Christ without looking to and having a relationship with His Mother, Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary always leads us closer to her Son. By looking to her and seeking her guidance and intercession, we can be sure that our efforts to accompany and be accompanied will bear much fruit.
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In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare famously asked, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names convey not only an identity, but also one’s familiarity, intimacy, and attention with the subject. We are each taught the names of our surroundings in our infancy so as to be able to associate experiences and qualities with them. And this spirit of discovery continues even today, with great ceremony being performed upon uncovering an unknown celestial body, lifeform, or element. To name something is to also claim dominion over it. In Scripture, for example, Adam was tasked to name the creatures of the earth. In Genesis we read, “So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.” To call something by name implies a relationship with the person or thing named. That is why when Moses asked God Who he should say sent him to free the Hebrews from slavery, the Lord revealed the Divine Name:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
This example illustrates the power of God’s Name. It is how He identifies Himself to the people of Israel and legitimizes their relationship as His Chosen People.
God’s name is also sacred and demands respect. Recall the Second Commandment, as written in the Old Testament: “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. or the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7 and Dt 5:11) The name of God is so holy that the Jewish people dare not even pronounce it out loud. As Catholics, we are similarly taught that God’s name is of the utmost holiness and should only be invoked in one’s speech to bless, praise, or glorify the Lord (cf. CCC 2142-2149). His name must never be abused by careless speech, false oaths, words of hatred, defiance of God, or used in unholy ceremonies. This applies to the name of Jesus as well:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In his 2007 book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observed that God established a relationship with mankind when He revealed His name to Moses. The Incarnation, he continued, was then the fulfillment of the process that “had begun with the giving of the divine name” (Benedict XVI, 144). This relationship did not make man equal to God but “protect[s] the wonderful mystery of his accessibility to us, and constantly assert[s] his true identity as opposed to our distortion of it”(Benedict XVI, 144-145). And Christ Himself underscored the sanctity of His Father’s Name with the inclusion of “hallowed be thy name” in the prayer He taught His disciples. We pray with these words each week in Mass. As we do, have we realized the importance of what we are saying?
To remind us of this truth, the Church has instituted the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (in its current form) as an optional memorial to be celebrated on January 3 of each year since 2002 (but originally established by Pope Innocent XIII on December 20, 1721). How great a gift that the Lord God Almighty has so intimately revealed Himself to us! Unfortunately, in today’s society there is no limit to the number of times when our culture irreverently invokes God’s name in the media, creative works, and everyday conversation. As we begin a new calendar year, how can we better model respect and humility when using God’s holy name? Can we do anything in our classrooms, workplaces, or online profiles to witness a life of respect and reverence for God? As Catholics, we are blessed to be able to pray to and know a personal God who has revealed not only His name, but even sent His only Begotten Son to be among us—something we remember this Christmas season. Let us rejoice in this knowledge and continue to cry out with our lives, “O Lord, our God, How awesome is Your name through all the earth!” -Psalm 8:2
“The word of God nourishes both evangelizers and those who are being evangelized so that each one may continue to grow in his or her Christian life” – National Directory of Catechesis
Over the last 40 years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has especially recognized the importance of catechists in the process of evangelization by reserving the third Sunday in September as “Catechetical Sunday.” Catechetical Sunday commemorates and celebrates the ministry of formal catechesis, which is the systematic teaching of the tenets of the Catholic faith in order to help others know more about God and his Church. This ministry has had a significant role in my life over the past four years and across two different dioceses. There is something amazing about trying to explain the Old Testament prophets to a group of 6th grade students, a majority of whom has never heard the likes of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, etc. I love seeing the excited faces of students that either know or are interested in the subject of my teaching, while the blank ones challenge me to find compelling ways to make the faith a living part of their lives.
On Catechetical Sunday, parishes, including where I have served, have a particular ritual: before the recessional at the end of Mass, the celebrant asks all who are called to serve as catechists to stand and receive a blessing for their work throughout the year. This serves two purposes: it helps the catechist understand the importance of their teaching role in the parish and also serves as a moment of reflection for the rest of the congregation.
The influence of a catechist on a young life cannot be understated. Below are a few tips I’ve learned throughout my time as a catechist that can help those interested in pursuing the ministry of catechetical formation.
Catechetical Sunday reminds us of our individual roles in the evangelization of the baptized. In our small way, my fellow catechists and I—men and women from all walks of life and individual faith journeys—try to sow the fruits of faith for the next generation of disciples. Pulling from my toolkit, I will leave you with a blessing for catechists:
source of all wisdom and knowledge,
you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to live among us
and to proclaim his message of faith, hope, and love to all nations.
In your goodness
bless our brothers and sisters
who have offered themselves as catechists for your Church.
Strengthen them with your gifts,
that they may teach by word and by example
the truth that comes from you.”
This year seems like a year of baby announcements for me! Just as I have prepared for the parade of invitations and happy save-the-dates for graduations and weddings, I’ve been preparing in my own way for the arrivals of friends’, parishioners’, and family’s little ones. With the arrival of spring, so too comes the arrival of brand new family members.
At Mass recently, the choir began singing “What a Beautiful Name” during the Eucharistic procession. I couldn’t help but picture the new names and faces that would fill stories from now on. With each birth announcement came the first, middle, and last name along with weight, length, and time of birth. These surely were moments that changed so many lives forever! I could hear the parents and families singing this song for the new baby boy or girl. As I pictured the new names and faces, I prayed using the name that changed humanity–Jesus.
Each verse of “What a Beautiful Name” builds upon the last. Jesus’ name is beautiful, wonderful, powerful. The melody and harmony invite you into a transformative reality. Jesus–who is the King, Savior, Son of God, Prince of Peace–knows your name and is present to you in the Eucharist (CCC 432).
You didn't want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we learn about the significance of names and the process of naming. Some names change as different Biblical figures embrace a new mission or vocation: like Abram, Jacob, and Simon. Listening to this song led me to reflect on those figures in Scripture and on Jesus’ Paschal Mystery in light of the birth announcements. His is the only name through which humanity is saved—the name “above every name.” I hope to witness the love of Christ in these babies and in their unique names that are so meaningful. These names are written on the palms of His hand and show God’s unconditional love for His people and the love for His Son, Jesus.
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names
This spring and Easter Season calls me to slow down and pray with the name of Jesus. I pray in thanksgiving for new life and new names. I pray for the hearts of these little ones and hope that they come to know and witness the beauty, wonder, and power in Jesus’ name.
Question for Reflection: Try praying the simple prayer of Jesus’ name. Think of the history and significance of names in your life, the lives of family members, the saints, and scripture. How have each of these names influenced your faith?
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.
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"When you read God’s Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, 'It is talking to me, and about me.'"
– Soren Kierkegaard
This past fall, while on a retreat, I took a long walk with a friend. As we enjoyed the fresh air, we talked about our spiritual goals and areas for growth. For me, my area for growth seemed clear: I needed to refresh my relationship with the Bible and better use it for meditative purposes. Then my friend, who isn’t Catholic and has what my housemates call “a good Baptist Bible,” said something that made me both chuckle and cringe: “Yeah, I didn’t really know that Catholics don’t really use the Bible too much until I met so many this year.”
Cue record-scratch sound. Cue cartoon eyeballs popping out of my head. Cue fumbling words.
“Um well, that’s not really true…” I went on to say some jumble of words to correct her and explain the Catholic perspective. The truth is, the Scripture has a deep place in the heart of the Church. As a Catholic, I grew up hearing Old and New Testament alike each week at Mass, and as a (life-long) Catholic school girl, I not only heard and prayed on Bible stories but studied them. I am very grateful for my education; even if I can’t quote chapter and verse, I have a good understanding of the Bible’s history & context, as well as its eternal Truths. Yet clearly, my failure to embrace Scripture as a meditative and prayerful tool more closely looked to some (particularly non-Catholic Christians) as a general ignorance or dismissal of it. One thing you learn quickly in Bible-belt Kentucky is that people love and KNOW their Bibles. My friend’s comment made it clear: The Bible is important, and I needed to get my stuff together and meet God’s word more personally.
So I did. I started a plan to read a little of the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament each day. Two months into this plan, I realize that while it is the story of God’s revelation to us, God’s people, it is also a revelation of myself, of who I am in relation to God. While for many, the Bible brings them close to know God, I find that reading it makes me stop and go, “Just who are you, God?! And how are you calling me?” (I imagine God hears this and chuckles, thinking It’s working!) But as a housemate reminded me, the Bible wasn’t made to be an easy read. I won’t ever “finish” it and be done, and God won’t give me a “Good Christian Award” just for reading it cover to cover.
Though I already knew many of these stories and words well, they feel new to me. When I read it with a prayerful mind, and not an analytic, academic one, I see myself in the stories: my own failings, my own desires, my own questions. I won’t be able to quote chapter and verse at the end of this year; nor will I have a “good Baptist Bible” covered in ink and Post-It notes. But I’m learning to approach Scripture less like Martha (“Did I do it right? Am I on schedule?”) and more like Mary, simply by being with it.
Then again, ask me how I feel in a few weeks when I get to Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Katherine Biegner recently graduated from Assumption College and is currently serving as a tutor and mentor in the Christian Appalachian Project in rural Kentucky.