The Easter season is an incredible time of celebration and joy for the Church. Jesus Christ, after being tortured and publicly executed, has resurrected from the dead and restored us to the heavenly communion from which sin had kept us. Death, solitude, and fear no longer have the last word; eternal life for the faithful is no longer impossible thanks to God’s great sacrificial love. And yet, death is still a certainty for each of us. At times, it can be difficult to cope with the death of a loved one, especially if it is unexpected or tragically sudden. How can one reconcile death with the elation with which we celebrate death’s demise at Easter?
I like to recall the words of Reverend Paul Scalia at the funeral Mass of his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “It is because of [Jesus Christ], because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend [the deceased] to the mercy of God.” While Christian funerals themselves can be somber occasions, their focus is not on the end of the departed’s life, but rather on the hope of his or her reception of God’s mercy and sharing in the eternal victory of Jesus. This is not to say that grief and other emotions have no place through the final committal—they are very real and should be allowed to fully run their course—but as Christians we unite any sufferings in this life to Christ’s and so recognize their redemptive values and purposes. The annual celebration of Easter, then, recalls the impossible achievement of Christ’s resurrection, “the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint.” As Saint John Paul II quoted St. Augustine, “We are an Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!”
If you look at the Order of Christian Funerals, you can see this hope so wonderfully imbued in the liturgical norms. Always calling to mind the merits and glories of Christ’s Resurrection, the celebrant leads the congregation in recalling the baptismal promises of the deceased: dying to self and the rejection and repentances of sin results in being raised like Christ in the merciful goodness of God on the last day. And it doesn’t end there. As Saint Ambrose preached, “We have loved them during life; let us not abandon them in death, until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord.” We should continue to pray for the dead. The Mass, as Reverend Scalia reflected, is the best way of doing this:
Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever… this is also the structure of the Mass—the greatest prayer we can offer for [the deceased], because it’s not our prayer but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past— to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection— and it makes those mysteries and their power present here, on this altar. Jesus himself becomes present here today, under the form of bread and wine, so that we can unite all of our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself, as an offering to the Father. And all of this, with a view to eternity— stretching towards heaven— where we hope to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see [the deceased] again, and with [them] to rejoice in the communion of saints.
The Church, has always upheld the merits of praying for the dead, especially for the souls undergoing final purification of venial sins in purgatory. As the Catechism notes, the sacrifice of the Mass transcends time and space to unite the faithful on earth, in Heaven, and those in Purgatory to Christ in Holy Communion (cf. CCC 1391-1396). In praying for the dead, much good can thus be done for them who otherwise might not be remembered beyond the grave!
As we continue to praise Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, remember to intercede for those who await being raised up themselves. Just as we implore the saints to pray for us, so too do the souls in purgatory desire to be prayed for as they undergo final preparation for Heaven. Just as the Universal Church links the faithful of God across earth, so too does this Heavenly Communion unite believers in Christ’s love as celebrated at Mass and recalled in His Passion and crucifixion. May the glories of Easter move us to rejoice in God’s eternal victory over the grave and prepare to reunite us to those who have gone before us in Faith.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Question for Reflection: Did you know that praying for the dead is considered a spiritual work of mercy?
I am often struck by the Gospel call and invitation to have no fear. It seems liberating and intriguing, but often unrealistic as I look around at the situation of the world or confront my own littleness. As a wife and mother, the quietness or anonymity of my days can sometimes seem mundane or insignificant in a world marked with suffering.
Then Christ’s words echo in my heart, “Be not afraid!”
Be not afraid.
So powerful is this message that it permeates Sacred Scripture. Pope St. John Paul II even began his pontificate with it. “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ,” he said. “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.”
A large portion of my adolescence was dominated by fear: the fear of rejection, of not fitting in, of failure. I had not opened the door to Christ and instead relied on my own devices rather than accepting his power, as the pope suggested. I found that fear is enslaving.
This changed with various experiences throughout my college years. I remember being on a retreat, as a senior, where we were asked to meditate on the Annunciation and the Visitation. I walked to a hill overlooking the mountains of Northern California and began to re-read and reflect upon a passage I had heard countless times.
As a spunky middle child, I had never much affiliated with the Blessed Virgin Mary. She seemed too pristine for my rambunctious, sporty, and mischievous personality. I couldn't relate.
This particular reading of Mary’s assent to God’s plan, however, was different. No longer did I see a dainty girl who only radiated perfection, but a strong and bold woman who accepted God’s will without fear. I read her response of surrender, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” not as a feeble “OK, sure, whatever you say, Lord” but as a “Yes, Lord! Together, let’s do this!”
Mary had opened wide the door for Christ. Her response was whole-hearted, even joyful. She was not afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.
“What a bold answer,” I remember thinking. What freedom! Up to that point in my life, I couldn’t recall ever responding to God in that way. I wanted what Mary had, a life without fear. Moments later, I repeated those immortal words, having finally embraced them as my own, “May it be done to me according to your word.” My life has never been the same since.
Mary’s experience of trust in the Lord is what we are all invited to. Her lack of fear is completely possible for Christ’s followers. This does not mean lack of uncertainty, lack of stress, lack of hard choices or suffering. It means overarching faith and trust in God’s plan of goodness over our own.
Mary did not have all the answers. In fact, she asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” as he shared God’s plan of salvation. I can imagine Mary repeating this question years later in the silent recesses of her heart throughout Christ’s torture and crucifixion, “Lord, how can this be?”
This is a question I often find myself asking throughout my day. How can this war be going on? How can this life be ending? How can this poverty be?
God typically answers our questions not with a detailed explanation of his plan, but with himself. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid,” he tells his shaken disciples as he walks on water during the storm. In doing so, he does not belittle or ignore our questions, but redirects them. God alone suffices. It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II began his papacy by inviting us to “welcome Christ and accept his power” over our own. It is when we turn inward, relying on our own strength or power, that we become paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. It is when we turn inward that we forget who we are.
Pope John Paul II poignantly stated, “So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair.”
How many people do you know for whom these words are true? Pope John Paul II’s prophetic words strike at the heart of many of the issues of our society, issues that we ourselves face daily.
Mary did not know this fear, this uncertainty, this despair. She never forgot who she was in God’s eyes, for she never knew herself apart from him. As we continue to live each day in our various jobs, ministries, and vocations, let us look to Mary as our model of liberation—a model of a life of freedom rooted in God, a life without paralyzing fear. May we repeat, until it becomes the prayer of our heart, “let it be done unto me according to your word.” May we open wide the doors for Christ in order to go out, as Mary modeled for us in the Visitation, to our fearful and suffering world, bringing the light and love of Christ to all we encounter.
Be not afraid!
Question for Reflection: What fears keep you from placing your trust fully in God? This week, ask Mary to help you say “let it be done to me according to your word.”
Deep Breath In, Deep Breath Out
Have you had a chance today to think about God’s love? No? Well, do this with me… Deep breath in. Deep breath out. With every breath we take, we know we were made for here, for right now, this time, this century, not by accident, but for a purpose.
The first paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully explains, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, and to love him with all his strength.” (Emphasis added.)
Did you read what the Catechism reminds us? God draws close to man! Can you believe this? No? Hey that’s ok! It’s hard for me to comprehend too, but do this with me…
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
It is unnerving that we, His children, can go day-to-day and not really live out of the understanding that we were made by love, for love, to love.
At the graduate school I attended, the chaplain for our program would constantly remind us of this fact. On days when my mind was worn down, when I was struggling with anxiety or doubt, I would stumble into his office and explode the complexities of my mind onto him (poor fellow). Ever so gently, he would stop me in my rambling and say, “deep breath in, deep breath out.” He explained to me that the mere fact that we can breathe is a clear sign of the Father’s love, “because if He forgot about you for a millisecond, you would not exist.” He is loving us into existence with every breath we take.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Do we really live as though the creator of the universe, the creator of love, the Father of heaven and earth has made us, loves us here? If I lived in this simple, yet mind-blowing truth, I think the day-to-day would be less burdensome and my exterior circumstances would not define my level of contentment. My life would be colored with purpose because I was made for love, by love.
Are you stressed? Does the state of our world or society bring you fear? Are you looking for fulfillment? Do you desire to be loved? Are you waiting for your vocation? Do this now…
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
You were made for here, you are necessary for now, and you are loved into existence because the Father loves you.
“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of is necessary.” –Pope Benedict XVI
There’s a fear that’s crippling our call to discipleship today: The fear of failure.
Let me just say, this is hard as Americans. We love success. We’re taught from a young age to dream it, pursue it, seize it. We value success stories; we want to have a greater impact, to change the world, to maximize results. If we can achieve this in our faith and ministry, even better, right?
Well, maybe. This might be the message written into the American narrative, but it’s not necessarily the Gospel. Our assumptions start sounding odd alongside the Beatitudes Jesus gave his followers, and his promise to the disciples foretelling persecution and rejection (Mt 10:16-23).
Moreover, St. Paul claimed to be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ” (2 Cor 12:10), and even instructed the Thessalonians, “to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands” (1 Thess 4:11). St. Paul’s suggestions are not exactly the keynote themes we have come to expect at most high-energy church conferences these days.
Not surprisingly, we are simultaneously inclined to relish the failure of others. As much as we love the success of a celebrity, we equally revel when the mighty fall. When this happens to church leaders, we assume they are fakes, phonies, or just not very gifted.
What doesn’t easily capture our imagination is the struggle that happens in between — the daily living and dying to self that occupies the majority of time and energy in pastoral ministry. Resolving petty conflicts, preparing talks for kids who probably don’t care, assisting the odd homeless woman who keeps knocking at the door — if only we could eliminate these distractions and move on to the real work of the Gospel! Meanwhile, we eat up sensationalized stories of success and failure in an escape from what is real, and ultimately, redemptive.
Success and failure actually have less to do with the size or location of a church than what values and expectations shape the content of our discipleship. When we inadvertently conflate American pragmatic principles for Gospel virtues, we risk making disciples who measure their faithfulness by a standard of fruitfulness foreign to the Gospel, thus creating a ministry model unhealthy for our souls and our churches.
Failure is not fun or romantic. It’s not something to rejoice, or even proof of our faithfulness. But it prepares the ground for fruitfulness. Fruitful soil is rich with dead and decaying stuff — our failures — that ultimately make us ready to plant the seed of the Kingdom of God. Recovering a “theology of failure,” as Pope Francis and others have spoken of, may be an important step for renewing our Catholic imaginations and acquiring the heart of Jesus.
In order to “ready this soil” there are a couple of things we can do to change the way we think about and approach our daily ministries.
Ministry is a Process, not a Product
When we measure a ministry’s effectiveness, we often desire quantifiable results steadily increasing along a straight line on a graph. There’s definitely a place for this kind of analysis in running a church or ministry. But doing God’s work often follows a slow progression passing through unanticipated hills and valleys. We look at a person’s life and say, “Here’s where Jenny lost her job and had to cut back time and money at church, but here’s where her small group members provided babysitting and cooked meals.” The Church and her members rise and fall by the logic of the death and resurrection of Jesus, not by the laws of the stock market.
Seek Balance, not Efficiency
When we elevate efficiency above balance, disciple making resembles an assembly line that aims to produce predictable outcomes in the shortest amount of time. One corrective measure we can take is to remember to keep holy the Sabbath. Is our ministry bringing us peace of soul, or are we burned out and burdened with too much stuff at church? It’s possible we need to pursue more effective systems or strategies, but maybe what we really need is to recover rest in God’s redeeming love.
Share Stories of Redemption
In the gospels, the opposite of failure isn’t success, but redemption. Pay more attention to stories of redemption than stories of outward success. I love the story of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a 20th century monk and martyr who lived amongst the Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert, sharing in their daily joys and struggles while representing the love of Jesus. His story and spirituality inspired others, but only years after his death (see his Prayer of Abandonment).
As part of our task for the New Evangelization, I suggest we revisit what we call success and failure and begin pursuing ends not so focused on winning in a religious market, but embodying the example set by our savior, Jesus Christ. In some way, I think we come closest to understanding our ministry in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, i.e., when we are in the valleys our world labels “failure.” In these valleys, we throw ourselves upon the power of the Resurrection, knowing we cannot rise again on our own.
“…we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
A few weeks ago, during our celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, this portion of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans was read to faithful Catholics throughout the world. I had the privilege of attending a bilingual Mass that weekend with my girlfriend, Kara, in a high school gymnasium. The different setting, unfamiliar language, and unusually large number of altar servers hardly crossed my mind as we participated in Mass at Most Holy Trinity Parish, on this, their solemnity. It was a beautiful liturgy to say the least! What struck Kara and me most about our experience, however, were these lines from the second reading:
How many of us know someone who is afflicted? We all have family members, friends or colleagues that are struggling with cancer, unemployment, depression, etc. In the daily news - local, national and international - we hear about gun violence, war, natural disaster, and famine. Even more simplistically, we each have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days.’
St. Paul reminds us that affliction is not something to run from because ultimately, we “boast in hope of the Glory of God” (Romans 5:2). His ‘flow chart of hope’ is a reassuring message of what true faithfulness yields and how God makes His love present to each of us in our struggles.
The alternatives to hope (sin, despair, discouragement, impatience, fear, anxiety, guilt…)_ when left unchecked, are a rejection of God’s invitation to deeper communion with Him. Very basically, this reading offers us a roadmap to understand how affliction does not have the final word; hope does!
Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at Nationals Stadium during his 2008 Apostolic Visit to the United States speaks to this point: “It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross.”
We are able to endure our own afflictions because of the hope promised to us by God. Pain, suffering, and struggle are not pleasant, especially when they are affecting someone we know and love. As people of faith, though, we believe God is with us, united in our affliction and made present to us in the love we experience. This faith, this hope, and this love, offer us momentary comfort and strength as we journey to the ultimate glory of complete communion with God.
We have a common call to share this hope with those around us, especially with those who find it difficult to endure in times of struggle. This simple reminder of the universality of the Church also reminds us that through prayer, “we become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others” (Spe Salvi, 34).
And so, as we are confronted with affliction, our prayer should be one of hope. As others struggle with affliction, our response should be one of hope. And as we begin to question why affliction affects our lives, we must remember that affliction yields hope; hope in the love of God.
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”
St. Teresa of Avila, The Exclamations of the Soul to God, 15:3.
Jonathan Jerome is the Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on June 13, 2013
They bought into the lie—that nothing had changed, that their dreams were stifled, that death prevailed. The locked doors reflected their locked hearts. Like anyone, they were afraid, inconsolable, at the point of despair. Save one—a virgin. She continues to model to us today what it means to live faith, what it looks like to be a disciple.
The fear of the disciples in the upper room is understandable. They had abandoned the man whom they had left everything to follow for three years. The same man they had pledged to follow unto death had been tortured and killed as their backs were turned, as they cowered for their own lives. Their hopes of a restored Jewish kingdom, a glorious king from the line of David, freedom from Roman rule and the return of God’s presence to the Temple seemed to be nailed to a cross on Golgotha, laid in a tomb hewn from rock. They had yet to see God’s plan amidst the perceived failure. How could this be God’s plan? It was so unlike their own.
Their fear is our own. It is the fear of unmet desires, of unworthiness, of death, of uncertainty, of perceived silence. Like the disciples, we often fail to see God’s plan in our lives. We look around in despair and sense that He is silent. We live the reality of death, confusion and suffering and say, “nothing good can come from this.” But as the disciples quickly realized, our ways are not God’s ways. Our wills are not yet one. Much stands in the way: selfishness, greed, egoism, materialism, pride. All changes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What makes a law-abiding Jew abandon his persecution of Christians in favor of joining them and proclaiming the Christ to Jerusalem and Rome?
What makes uneducated fisherman leaders of the universal Church and martyrs for the faith?
What makes the son of a wealthy Italian merchant the begging founder of a religious order and a friend of the poor?
What makes a cloistered nun in Lisieux a Doctor of the Church?
What makes a German priest in Auschwitz volunteer to die in place of a father?
What makes a modern day Italian mother and doctor offer her life for that of her child?
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the game changer for the Church—what will now set the disciples apart from the whole world and what continues to set Christians apart today. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of conversion in man, the third person of the Trinity who opens up the Scriptures and sets our hearts on fire. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live our mission. The Holy Spirit, God’s love, is the difference between the fearful men in the upper room and the on-fire disciples of Christ preaching the Gospel and converting thousands in a single day.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane while also speaking directly to you and me. He prays for something seemingly impossible: “that they may all be one” as the Trinity is one. Christ speaks these words not to frustrate his followers but to call them to a perfection possible through God alone. He utters these precious words knowing he will be sending the Holy Spirit to enable man to do this. The goal is outward. This communion—the call to unity—must lead to mission: “that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them.” God’s love is efficacious. It cannot be contained but must be proclaimed to the world. Only God could deign to give man so dignified and impossible a call. And only God could enable man to fulfill it.
This high priestly prayer of Jesus (which encompasses John 15-17) is one of my favorite parts of Scripture. It is so imbued with Christ’s love for us. The purpose of the Incarnation is about to be revealed. Christ is living his last moments and wants to remind his followers, you and me, why he came: to reveal the Father, to invite man to eternity with Him and to assure man of his lovable-ness in the eyes of God. This love of God is meant to abide in us and reach out from our hearts to the hearts of others. This is only possible through the Eucharist, which physically is Christ’s love present in us and which is made possible through the Holy Spirit. God himself calls us, but God himself equips us…with Himself. It is astounding to what we are called: to holiness, divine love. This is the Christian destiny, but not our inclination. Like the disciples, so quickly do we turn inward. So quickly do we lock the door in fear. God calls us to sanctity, which can only be achieved after an experience of the fire of God’s love. We call this Pentecost, the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. The same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive every Sunday in the form of the Eucharist.
Are we being transformed by this grace or do we remain in the upper room? I challenge you to go back to your own story, your own moments of conversion. When did you fall in love with God? Have you? Only armed with the certainty of being loved will we be able to love others and live out the communion and mission Jesus calls us to. And so we call upon the Holy Spirit, the love of God Himself, who was breathed out upon the disciples at Pentecost in tongues of fire. We ask the Holy Spirit to breathe new life within us, within the Church. We ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the fire of God’s love.
This results in unlocked doors, an empty room.
The disciples emerged, transfigured. Will you?
Kate Flannery is pursuing a Master's degree in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver and graduates in May.
We celebrate Pentecost on June 8th, 50 days after Easter, to commemorate the Holy Spirit’s descent on Christ’s disciples after His Ascension. We are, in many ways, celebrating the birthday [E1] of the Church and our individual commitments to God.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to share our faith, to have the ability to open our hearts in understanding one another and God’s message. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord), we become fully alive in our personal relationship with God so we can give better witness to His message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “…the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity” (CCC 738).
We can use Pentecost as an opportunity to make our faith our own while sharing God’s word. By utilizing our individual talents and volunteering in some aspect of our church, we strengthen our faith and build community.
I remember wanting to be an altar server after receiving my first Holy Communion in second grade. I began altar serving and continued to do so until I received Confirmation. Serving during the Mass allowed me, as a young girl, to better understand my Catholic faith. My parents remember me saying how I enjoyed altar serving because I had to pay attention (and stay awake) during 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. Assisting the priest on the altar, I began to fully understand and celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist every Sunday. I attended Catholic school and was able to make connections between Religion class and weekly Mass by serving during church service. Once confirmed, I continued to volunteer in my church as a lector as well as taught religion education to grade school children. Actively participating in my church allowed me to fully engage in my Catholic faith and grow spiritually.
No matter our age, the Catholic Church encourages us to be active participants in Mass and in our Church. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can come to discover where the Church needs us and how we can best share the time, talent, and treasure God has given us. My parish hosts a ministry fair each year, which gives parishioners an opportunity to see other ministries within the Church and where we can best serve God and our community.
Pentecost allows us to renew ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis asks us in his daily Mass homily on May 19th this year to question ourselves: “What kind of heart do we have? … Is my heart fixed upon everyday gods or is it a heart fixed on the Holy Spirit?” It is easy for us to get wrapped up in life’s habitual tasks at home, work, with family, colleagues, etc. Pope Francis encourages us that the Holy Spirit “gives us strength, gives us the steadiness to be able to move forward in life in the midst of many events.”
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
Transitions can sometimes be the hardest part of our lives. Often, transitions are filled with hope and anticipation, but other times they are filled with fear and anxiety. The transitions I’m currently thinking of include moving, new jobs, graduation, marriage, children, losing a loved one, and many more. Everybody's lives change, both in good times and in more difficult ones; the key is figuring out how to maneuver through those changes and create new beginnings.
Transitions often change our faith-based routines. Prayer, Mass times, and proximity to a Church are the top contenders for what may be lost or overlooked in these fearful times of anticipation and uncertainty. What we forget is that prayer and dependence on Christ are the most important things to hold onto. As Psalm 77: 1-2 says, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord…” When we are afraid or in trouble, God is there. He is there in the easy and joyful transitions, too, waiting for gratitude and recognition. Our faith is the vehicle by which our lives are maneuvered. All of life’s stop signs and road blocks, in each pit stop and flat tire, in every new paint job and deep clean, Christ is there as our GPS if we let him. No matter how long it takes to recalculate our journey through transitions, God is with us and wants us to ask for guidance.
I have recently graduated from college, a time that brings many changes. In our commencement address, we received one solid takeaway: nunc coepi, which is Latin for, “Now I begin.” I’m realizing, as did our incredible Catholic speaker, that in all of life’s transitions, nunc coepi is applicable. If during life’s stop signs, we say, “nunc coepi,” we can continue with our job searches. If at a financial roadblock, we say: nunc coepi, recognizing that God will provide and make sure the bills are paid. It can be a simple phrase that helps us recognize the blessings, and continue on with whatever God’s plan for happens to be. The faith behind the phrase nunc coepi shows faith in God’s plan for each of us, and through each of life’s transitions.
My favorite verse in the Bible comes from the moment that Gabriel tells Mary that she has been chosen to be the Mother of Jesus, and says in Luke 1: 37-38, “Fear not! For nothing will be impossible with God.” And then Mary responds with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy Word.” Like Mary’s response to her own life-changing moment, can we say “Yes” to God? Can we, in our own transitions, continue to say, nunc coepi? Now I begin.
Krissy Kirby is a graduate of The Catholic University of America with a degree in Early Childhood Education.
Last week’s post talked about wounds and how they can help us to grow, and lead us to a closer relationship with God. Recently, I’ve come to experience this in a much more significant way. Today, February 11th, marks three weeks since one of my best friends was killed in an act of senseless violence. There are no words that can help make sense when something like that happens. In the weeks since his death, I have struggled to understand. The usual questions come to mind: Why did this happen? Why to someone so young, with so much life in front of him? At the end of the day, all I’m left with is one word: why. I’ve spent countless hours in prayer, trying to understand, trying to figure out the why.
When we lose a loved one, asking why is a common reaction. Oftentimes, the why can be seen easily. Death can be the end of a long journey, a welcome end to suffering, the culmination of a life well lived. I have experienced this type of loss before, but now, experiencing death in a completely different way, I’m struggling to find the why. When death is sudden, unexpected, and especially when it happens to someone so young, the why is hard. It is now especially that I am learning to accept that this life is so much bigger than me, than all of us. I remember all the joy and love my friend brought to all of us who were blessed to know him. A few nights after he died, I had a fortune cookie, which contained the following fortune:
“It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years that count”
Now, I am not one to take advice from Chinese fortune cookies, but on that night, at that time, that piece of paper was the reminder I needed. Pain and sorrow and evil are all inevitabilities that come from God’s gift of free will. God does not want evil in the world, but rather He permits it because He gave us free will. I know that my friend led an amazing life, and lived it to the fullest. He was a friend, a brother, a son, a cousin, and so much more. He would have been an incredible husband, father, and impacted the lives of many others. Although he never made it to that point, because of the actions of another, he did experience so much in his short life.
We ask why, hoping to make sense of the hard things that happen in our lives. Sometimes we get answers but often we don’t. It is in those hard times that we must learn to trust in God. Loss is hard, pain is hard, but there is a comfort in laying all of our pain in front of God, a reminder of Christ’s suffering on the Cross. We all go through difficult times in our life; the important thing to remember is that we are not alone in our suffering.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“Do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” - Luke 12:11-12
“Moses, however, said to the LORD, ‘If you please, LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.’" - Exodus 4:10-12
I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to characterize myself “slow of speech and tongue” as Moses does, but I do face certain insecurities when it comes to speaking out (about the faith or any topic). I am a perfectionist. I often hold back from evangelizing out of fear that I will say the wrong thing, or even the right thing but not do it justice. This fear is the reason I prefer writing; I can revise until the text says (almost) precisely what I want. However, I am finding more and more that I am being thrown into situations which do not have space for revision. How can I be sure to respond in a way worthy of my baptismal call?
When we volunteered together on a recent Confirmation retreat, my friend gave an eloquent reflection on the person of the Holy Spirit as a gift and an advocate to us and for us.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit - including those which precede eloquent speech, such as knowledge and understanding - are truly the gift of the Holy Spirit, the person of the Trinity. We are given God, whom we can call to our side to provide us with whatever strength we currently need... even when we’re unsure what we truly need. St. Paul points out that “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26).
My friend, who is a high school teacher, found that on the days when he remembered to pray to the Holy Spirit before class, the class had the most fruitful discussions. University of Notre Dame President Emeritus and civil rights champion Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, repeats the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit” hundreds of times throughout the day, in immediate preparation for every situation. If that prayer is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
While comforting, the Spirit's guidance does not excuse us from all responsibility in developing the coherent response of the Church to the world. St. Peter reminds the faithful that we must "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15). Even with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, preparation is necessary. I must be disciplined and conscientious in my study for my upcoming comprehensive examinations. I must continue to grow in prayer, as well as increase my knowledge of my faith and I must be aware of my witness to the faith in word and deed with each person I encounter
Yet once the critical moment of speech or witness arrives, just breathe a call to the Holy Spirit and take God’s own Word for it: Do not worry about what you are to say (Lk 12:11).
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.
Laura Berlage holds a M.A. in theology from the University of Notre Dame and currently works as a Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO.
The story of the Blind Bartimaeus is one of the most telling encounters between Jesus, our Savior, and our broken humanity so critically in need of salvation. The truth is we are all Bartimaeus’; we all deeply desire to receive the sight or “insight” only the Lord can provide.. But what is it that we long so much to see? And, what keeps or blinds us from seeing it?
I believe, as experienced in my own life, we all long to see that which all other sight is meant for, the Way. That is to say, we all long to see the way to our healing, our happiness, our security, but most of all we all truly long to see He who is the Way to our salvation.
So what keeps us from seeing Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6)? My own sight has often been blinded by the fears and anxieties brought on by the brokenness of my own human condition and triggered by the brokenness of a fallen world, itself so desperately in need of seeing the way of salvation. This anxiety that so many of us struggle with can lead to a type of spiritual blindness with, perhaps, more drastic consequences than any Bartimaeus’ physical blindness had caused. This spiritual blindness is the type that can challenge or even cripple the strongest of faiths. Yet, like many of the paradoxes found in scripture, this blindness can, through the Grace of God, serve to open our senses to what we must hear: the footsteps of the One who approaches.
And if, like Bartimaeus, we come to courageously trust our Lord and learn to turn away from the surrounding fear that disables our discernment, what we really come to hear is His voice calling us; giving us our vocation to come and follow him: “On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, he is calling you."(Mark 10:47-49) When I hear the story of the blind Bartimaeus I can’t help but reflect on my own encounter with the living Savior, especially as He passes through my mind and heart amid the pangs of a hostile and blinding crowd of anxious emotions.
Another particularly telling part of the story is how Bartimaeus, the “son of honor” repeatedly calls out to our Lord the, “Son of David”. King David was a man, much like Bartimaeus, who was destined for honor and dignity. Yet, he was blinded by his own brokenness and crippled by the powerlessness he felt against his own humanity. King David, like Bartimaeus, in Psalm 51 cried out to God with an unwavering confidence in God’s Divine Mercy. My own battle with anxiety has led me to cherish a deep sense of humility. I am not in control, I don’t have all the answers, I often cannot endure on my own, I need others, I need communion, I need Christ.
Moreover, we hear the words of the prophet “be not afraid, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). And again, we continue to hear the words of St. Paul and all the martyrs who boasted of their weaknesses which won for them the strength of Christ (c.f. Cor. 12:9-10). So let us cry out! With all humility and confidence and faith in the words of another one of Christ’s redeemed…Domine, si vis, potes me mundare! “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:2)
Bart Zavaletta is a Theology teacher at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, NE.
There’s a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that pops in my head from time to time. Nothing seems to prompt it. The line just comes: “Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart.”
As I sit with the words now, I notice why they speak to me. A lover of math and physics, questions of science have engaged me from the very beginning. At first it was dinosaurs, fossils, rocks, mountains, stars, planets – big, physical, earthy things. As I grew and learned through the complicated processes of science, the whole world became an infinitely complicated, continuously unfolding window into God’s creative mind. From the quantum entanglement of paired photon particles to the unimaginably long process of creation through evolution that could selectively form the creatures of this mysterious and complicated world, I stand in complete, utter fascination.
Yet, as captivated as I am by science, its questions are not enough. For me, asking the probing questions of science isn’t about head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge. The created world and all its mysteries, when uncovered and understood, stir in me deeper mysteries, mysteries of a different category and question. At some point I moved beyond asking what and how to asking why and what does it mean.
As we celebrated Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded that the gifts we have been given are of both head knowledge and heart knowledge. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, strength, piety, and fear of the Lord – these challenge and equip us to probe deeper, scientifically and metaphysically, into the mystery of being.
Of all the gifts, fear of the Lord might sound the most antiquated, but it may also be the most relevant for today’s ongoing conversation with secularism. Understood as “wonder and awe”, rather than fear, this gift certainly explains my shift in focus from science to faith. And, I’m certain, explains the drive of so much scientific research today.
Wonder is the starting point for two difficult conversations – one between science and fundamentalism and the second between faith and active secularism. Both the agnostic physicist and the pious mystic share the gift of a profound wonder and awe at the created world, whether or not they both believe the world had a creator.
As we celebrate the gift of Pentecost, and as we give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s continued work, let us take time to wonder with someone about the intricacies of creation – whether it be through the eyes of science or the eyes of faith – and let us hope that this gift of wonder can begin a creative conversation of a different sort.
Mark Bartholet is the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC.