As a child, I played a favorite game with my friends called “follow the leader” where everyone did exactly as the name suggests – followed the leader. If you didn’t do what the leader did you would be eliminated from the game. This game correlates to the Christian life: when we follow Jesus and do what He did, we reach our heavenly destination. We are wise to remember and heed Matthew 18:3-4: “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” How important it is as an adult Christian to always have the willing mindset of a child – to follow the leader with joyful expectation and simple trust. This reminds me of a remarkable event in my life that illustrates this concept.
Several years ago, when our four youngest children were still living at home, we embarked on one of our family camping vacations. Having a large family, we had chosen camping as a way to enjoy a vacation together while on a budget. It removed all the distractions of our life of modern conveniences and afforded us time in the great outdoors to relax and build memories. This particular adventure took us to Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, a glorious place high in the mountains with astounding stargazing at night and amazing hiking trails during the day. One day we chose to traverse the Waterfalls Trail. The sign at the trailhead read “Steep grade ahead, use caution. Stay on marked path.” That should have been my moment of truth, my opportunity to bail and choose to sit on a bench and enjoy the 1780 ft vista and await my family’s return. But I ignored the queasiness in my stomach and forged ahead with them as they vivaciously marched down the canyon on a slim, winding trail. My stomach began to ride higher into my chest, my breathing was becoming fast and bordering on gasping and my feet were becoming heavy and unsure on the many twists and turns. After we passed under an enormous rock overhang, my body halted and I literally could not take another step.
I was paralyzed with fear. Did I forget to mention, I’ve suffered from overwhelming fear of heights ever since I was a teenager? It was alive and acutely crippling on this day. As I watched my children bounding ahead and walking precariously near the rim of the steep trail, the fear gripped me to the point of panic. My husband kept telling me to look ahead, not down, and to follow his footsteps so that I would be safe and secure. The more I thought about moving forward, the stiffer I became. Moving at all in this way was sure to make me more apt to stumble. On my own steam, I could not go any further. I was at an impasse. With wisdom and child-like trust, my husband gathered our children all around me and asked each of them to lay their hands on me and to pray for all fear to cease so that I could be free to walk with joy and confidence. They did not want to leave me behind or to turn around and abandon the hike to the waterfalls. After several minutes of prayer, my breathing slowed to normal, my heart stopped racing, I unclenched my fists, and my legs relaxed. I felt a distinct release of tension in my body and my mind – so much so that I knew that I could resume the hike without fear. It was a healing miracle I claim to this day, as I can now hike steep mountains and enjoy magnificent views from heights that I could not before.
My husband and children were instruments of faith who infused the peace of Jesus into me so that I could follow the leader and enjoy the boundless beauty nature had to offer on that hike. Later that night, my husband commented that Jesus healed me and gave me sure feet to traverse the steep path with assurance. I will never forget that manifestation of God’s love for me and I am willing to continue to follow the leader on all the paths He takes me because I know He will give me strength and guidance every step of the way. I am comforted by the instruction in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” As humans, we cannot find and walk this path on our own.
We need a leader, but we also need to be aware of all the people God places in our lives who provide guidance and leadership when we need it. It is part of the mystery and beauty of living in community with others in this life. If I had not yielded to the assistance of my family, I would have remained in bondage to crippling fear. I received help to navigate off the wide road of self -doubt and irrational panic that is destructive. With simple child-like trust and prayer, I was able to stay on the narrow path that led to a glorious adventure and freedom! My prayer is that each of us practices the obedience of following the leader so we can navigate the path that leads us to eternal peace. It is certain to be rough, but instruction is always available to us. We have to be humble and have child-like trust to adhere to the direction He provides.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matt. 16:24
Susan A. Fowler was born and raised in Maryland and has been a lifelong Catholic actively involved in parish ministries for over 43 years. She has been married for 40 years, raised 6 children with her husband, and currently resides in Georgia.
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed for opportunities to leave the home, one of the most meaningful greetings which welcomed my return to Mass were the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” The calming presence of the parish priest eased the troubles of my mind, soothed the restlessness of my heart, and enlivened my soul to sing, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord!” While the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion immediately made up for the lost time during the pandemic, there were other reminders that we had been away: new priest assignments, reminders to exchange the weekly offering envelopes, many parishioners enthusiastically greeting each other in happy parking lot reunions, our pastor sporting a new beard, and someone even observing, “You’ve lost some weight, Father!”
The place our parish priests hold in our hearts is a treasured one. We depend on them to teach us through homilies, expose the Blessed Sacrament, listen to our sins and offer absolution, preside over the nuptial Mass, baptize our children, anoint the sick, and console us through times of death. And that’s just the minimum. While the rest of us are busy at work, school, or caring for our households, our parish priests are meeting with the church leadership, making rounds at schools or hospitals, organizing retreats and special services, offering spiritual guidance, and working at the rectory.
But caring for the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners does not end at 5 PM. Starting from the sacred occasion of ordination, a priest is always on-call. Who rushes to the side of the dying, cares for those who have lost everything, counsels those in conflict, or ministers through any number of crises? Who faces the mounting expenses and bills of the parish, limited Sunday collections, possible stagnation of new family registrations, and who perhaps lacks as many helpful hands as he would like to keep the place running smoothly? Especially through this pandemic, the parish priest again and again is called to bring us into an encounter with Jesus Christ as best he can with whatever resources are at his disposal. If caring for our household’s needs presents a challenge, just imagine how the parish priest feels overseeing his parish!
As the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, we can see how so many of the priests in our lives emulate the example of the Curé d'Ars, who himself followed the example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The French Revolution resulted in an increase of the population’s ignorance of and indifference to religion. As a result, St. John Vianney went about his priesthood by spending at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional in the winter; longer still in the summer. The simple piety of this holy priest not only brought about many conversions for the Church, but reinvigorated the faith in areas where secularism had long dominated the culture. Likewise, by immersing themselves into the daily lives of our communities, our parish priests “serve ‘in the trenches,’ bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in [their efforts] to care for and accompany God’s people.”
Pope Francis continued, in his 2019 letter to priests commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, to express his closeness and solidarity to priests. He also expressed personal gratitude “for your fidelity to the commitments you have made… [and] for the joy with which you have offered your lives.”
The Holy Father concluded his letter by praising the witness of their shared vocation:
For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new.” … May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
Let us strive to show the priests in our lives our gratitude and support. May many men continue to discern and answer the call of our Lord to the sacred work of ordained ministry. As we answer the universal call to holiness in our own lives, may we also support those who have dedicated their lives to answer, “Here I am. I come to do Your will.”
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Thomas Wong is a young professional in Washington, DC.
This Easter season, I have been thinking a lot about my late brother Tim, who died in an accident seven years ago - at the age of 24 - while serving as an EMT in Indianapolis, IN. Tim’s death, along with the death of his IEMS partner Cody Medley, left all their friends and families at an inestimable loss.
While I never got to meet Cody personally, I have learned that he was an exceptionally driven and talented young person who also served as a fire cadet before becoming a paramedic. Tim’s story is not much different; he was an Eagle Scout and volunteer EMS before going professional and passing his paramedic certification shortly before he died.
In life, Tim achieved success in almost every field. As a teenager he won academic and musical scholarships and posted regular five-minute miles in outdoor and indoor track. He mastered Mandarin and spent an immersion summer in Shanghai. He participated in a service trip to Jamaica and volunteered back home as a “running buddy” alongside students with special needs in Central Park. These successes, paired with his later commitment to the medical profession, truly made him “A Man for Others” – the Jesuit motto of his alma mater, NYC’s Regis High School.
Only looking backwards have I come to appreciate how brilliant Tim was. Perhaps you have a similar person in your family – someone who is so smart that they are intimidating. Tim was fearless in challenging others (especially those in authority) when he thought they were wrong. I have thought of him throughout this entire pandemic. As a first responder, I know that he would be helping wherever help was needed. As the outspoken person he was, I know he would have choice words for those he felt were ignoring public safety protocols. And most of all, as a cuttingly funny person, I know he would help me laugh during this time.
Tim died three days into Lent, on February 16th, 2013. I have remembered him especially during every Lent and Easter since then. This past Lent was perhaps the most difficult yet. Many say that it takes seven years to heal from losing a loved one. The year 2020 marks seven years for all who loved Tim. To me, I felt healing – which also meant letting my guard down to feel fully the pangs of loss I couldn’t afford to feel in 2013.
The coronavirus situation, if nothing else, has clarified the relationship between life and death. We are all vulnerable humans. This can be a scary thought, but also a freeing one.
This can be a time to meditate on life as what it is – a short chance to grow, love, and serve others. We do not know how long the journey will last. I sometimes think that my brother attacked life the way he did because he might have sensed that he had less time than others. He used to wake me up after midnight, for instance, after I had already gone to bed, and say “Come on bro, get up, let’s make some memories.” At the time I thought he had a screw loose. Now I think he was prophetic.
Recently in the Gospel readings, we hear Jesus tell the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
These words are a balm to all of us who have experienced loss, or who fear loss during these challenging times. As I read this passage, I am touched by the care and concern Jesus shows for his followers. He is also being quite honest with them and reminding them that they will lose him. The promise of peace is made realer by the reality of loss. This is what I receive from today and feel to be true in my own life.
One year after Tim’s death, on Easter Sunday 2014, my family went to Mass in a church we had never been to before. The previous year had been difficult for everyone. Personally, I had not been taking care of myself mentally, physically, or spiritually. In the prior twelve months, I had not felt anything approaching peace. I was experiencing great fear and having awful panic attacks. That morning, sitting in the pews, waiting for Mass to begin, I suddenly noticed all sound around me fade out. I felt a sensation of all the breath leaving my body – and then my next breath was a slow, purposeful breath that was like drinking cool water in the desert. I was able to begin breathing in a deep and rhythmic way. Over the next few minutes, I felt as if warm light was streaming over me, from the head down. It was a feeling of complete release and relief. Ever since, I’ve been hoping to feel that peace again.
Like my brother, I doubted (and still doubt) aspects of my faith. Tim wrestled to understand people who believe that faith and the intellectual life are incompatible. Being the true original that he was, I think he found it difficult at times to imagine a place in Christianity where he fit in. Yet after his death, I learned that some of Tim’s recent writings and reflections expressed the faith of a mature man who trusted in a loving God. I reflect on his words often as I remember my “kid brother” - who responded to numerous life-or-death situations and treated severe injuries which I would be terrified to walk into. Like everything else, Tim’s faith journey happened at a rate and intensity that most of us will never know.
As Easter moves on and we navigate the new normal that is COVID-19, my spiritual suggestion (for what it’s worth) is this: In your prayers, dreams, and doings, try to let fear and hope co-exist. I will try to do the same. If we can hold those two seemingly irreconcilable opposites, we may find that peace can sprout like a flower right in between our hands.
Mike McCormick serves as the Outreach Coordinator at the Catholic Volunteer Network in Washington, DC.
“What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you are for him?” Ps. 8:4
In a time such as this, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, many people are tempted to ask questions: Why is this happening Lord? What will become of me? Have you forsaken us? Do you still care for us? As Catholics, we need only to search the holy scriptures to find our answers.
Isaiah 41:10-13 says “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your hand and says to you, do not fear, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious hand.” In the midst of overwhelming craziness, staring down the face of so many unknowns, this verse gives me such comfort! I read it and remember the Israelites wandering in the desert for a very long time, not knowing how or when they were going to be delivered to the Promised Land, and it puts this situation in better perspective. From history, these people were fed and their needs provided for because God promised He would help them. I do not need to know when this specific disease will be eliminated. I do not need to know how long my ‘normal life’ will be turned upside down. I do not need to worry if my basic needs will be provided for. I have a promise from the Almighty. His promise is unbreakable and everlasting.
So where does my anxiety come from? It comes from not leaning on His strength, not trusting in His provision, not resting in His perfect love. I need to spend my time praising and thanking Him for the fact that He cares about every minute detail of my life and has told me He will not abandon me – unequivocally! Upon my rising, I must choose to be grateful for another day to live in service of my husband, my children, and my neighbors. When I begin in gratitude, I can step forward into the day with all it’s uncertainties and live in peace, not in fear. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
When I recall that God cares for each of us with a love that is perfect, this knowledge begins to settle in my heart and permeates my soul. It is an act of surrender – to cast my human weaknesses on Him and go about the duties of my day with a disposition of peace and hope. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the spirit God gives us does not make us timid, but gives us peace, love and self-discipline.” This applies to all of us – not just the people in Ephesus a couple thousand years ago! God’s love is timeless, limitless, and eternal. It is beyond our human comprehension. It requires us to choose to believe and experience Christ’s love within us. You see, we have more important things to be doing than spending our time questioning, worrying, wondering, lamenting, and fearing. He reassures us over and over that He is near, is helping us, and is carrying us.
We have evidence of His care for us in the many selfless people on the front lines serving our medical needs, manning our stores, and delivering our supplies. They are God’s love made manifest in this crisis. It is our choice to decide that we will believe this and trust moment by moment that His promise is true and secure. We don’t have to fully understand it – because we won’t – but in order to live in serenity with a calm mind, we must choose to walk in complete belief. We can accomplish this amidst great trial, because He is our helper and our strength, our strong tower.
As we live in the disposition of faith that God will care for us in all circumstances, we can reach out to those around us and share this magnificent gift. We can be His hands, His voice, or His smile to quell the fear in another. This is our call as Christians – to wholeheartedly believe and to unconditionally share it with everyone. It seems so simple. And it is – when we devote ourselves to prayer and fasting and Scripture reading.
We are afforded so many wonderful ways to do these. We have our Bibles in book form, on our tablets and phones. We can stream Masses being offered in churches all over the world right from our couches. There are numerous holy men and women who speak and write about God’s promises that we can listen to or read. In our progressive digital age, it is amazingly easy to immerse ourselves in material that will strengthen our belief and encourage us in the truth of God’s care for us. How fortunate we are! We can go about our days, in the middle of great strife, with confidence that God is mindful of us, each and every one of us. “Whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
Still, because I am just a mere mortal with lots of frailties that can derail me from the Godly path, I keep reminders on the walls of my home to keep me focused on this truth. A wooden sign that reads ‘Expect a Miracle’ hangs in my family room. The Good Shepherd cradling a sheep hangs in my dining room. Pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary hang over my bed. The face of Jesus hangs in my living room. Crucifixes hang in every room. These are my personal visual reminders of the love of God that help me keep my eyes on Him, my heart comforted, and my mind at peace. I recommend everyone find tangible ways to stay connected to this truth so that we can be disposed to share it with others. It is when I live from this mindset that I can sing with total confidence that it is well, it is well with my soul!
“Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must BELIEVE and not doubt.” James 1:1-8
Who are we that God cares for us? We are His. He thought us into being because He is love and He wants to share His love with us for time and eternity. That is a comfort and a confidence I can rest in! This is the Savior who is mindful of me. Thank you, Lord! Continue to shower me with the grace to walk steadfast in my belief. No matter the trials or circumstances, God is with us and all will be well.
Susan A. Fowler was born and raised in Maryland and has been a lifelong Catholic actively involved in parish ministries for over 43 years. She has been married for 40 years, raised 6 children with her husband, and currently resides in Georgia.
"Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy" (Diary, p. 132).
Here we are, with Divine Mercy Sunday this weekend, and instead of being in our churches with our communities, we are at home figuring out how to make this day still sacred. What do we do? Have we entered into the joy of this holy Easter season in the Church, or are have we fallen into despair that we remain in this time of “shelter in place”? Maybe it’s both?
For me, I was sort of giving God an ultimatum during the Lenten season: “Lord, we will endure Lent separated from our communities, but shouldn’t you show your power and end all of this when Easter comes?” I have truly wrestled with embracing our new normal at home and fully entering into the joy of the Resurrection—the joy that comes from knowing I have been freed from the bondage of sin and death although it’s completely undeserved. We know this physical separation during the coronavirus pandemic is a way to love our fellow man, and we embrace it for the sake of love. Yet still, have our hearts embraced the message of Divine Mercy?
When the message of Divine Mercy was given to Sister Faustina (and then to the world), the world was in a terribly dark place: war, hatred, and brokenness abounded. Jesus knew the world needed hope, a reminder of the infinite love He has for humanity, and to trust in His Mercy. And now, here we find ourselves in a different kind of darkness—a darkness of disease, isolation, blame, and fear. And still in this time and in this place in which we find ourselves separated from our communities, away from our physical Churches, and isolated in our homes, the Lord has gifted us the beautiful message of Divine Mercy. As Bishop Robert Barron said, “Into all the dark corners of our human experience, God’s mercy has come.”
The message of Divine Mercy reminds us that no matter how dark it is, or how deep our sin runs, Jesus’ great love for us is greater still! He has defeated sin and DEATH. What more can we fear? He desires to be with us, for us to embrace Love itself.
Divine Mercy is summarized by Jesus’ first words to His disciples after returning from the dead: “Peace be with you” (John 20: 19). After greeting his disciples this way, he says it again: “Peace be with you” (John 20: 21). The disciples, like us, needed to embrace the message Jesus brought, a command of peace and trust.
When we trust, surrendering our hearts and lives to the one we are meant for, true peace reigns. Peace that cannot be stolen by disease or fear but that is rooted in our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the one who can conquer all things, even death.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, may we surrender ourselves to Jesus, embracing the message of Divine Mercy— that His love on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His love for me and for you can truly reign over our world in a time of uncomfortable uncertainty. Let us shout with joy, “Jesus we trust in you!” and allow His peace to rule in our hearts once more.
Elizabeth Bigelow received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado.
This current COVID-19 crisis has shaken up the end of the semester even more than most students could have even imagined. Since my university went online through the rest of the semester, so much has changed: events and programs that were being planned since last school year have been canceled; fun outdoor adventures with the onset of spring are postponed; classes have transitioned to completely online settings. The way I would best sum up this time is unexpected significant change. But this change can lead to many ways of unexpected growth while adjusting to this new normal for the foreseeable future.
These couple of weeks adjusting to the world of online classes has allowed me to take some time and reflect on the past, present, and future. In college, time seems to fly and changes that occur over time sometimes just seem to pop up. Yet in these weeks of change, time hasn’t been flying by, and things aren’t happening as smoothly, but that’s okay – it’s perfectly fine if adjusting to this new normal takes longer than it may have at college. In my reflecting, a few thoughts stuck with me as particularly helpful in this unexpected journey:
From the time this COVID-19 pandemic first began to alter life in February, one particular prayer has been an unending source of peace for me. It is called the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Jonathan Harrison is a Program Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center and a student at The Catholic University of America studying biochemistry and theology with a certificate in pastoral ministry.
On March 7, my husband threw a surprise party to celebrate my 30th birthday. That would be the last time I would physically spend with many dear friends for at least a month.
It was at the beginning stages of the coronavirus pandemic when the United States seemed to just barely be grasping what was going on across the Atlantic. We were aware but unafraid. The virus was like the flu. It only affected the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It wasn’t a big deal. We would be fine.
But around that time, my family began to take the notions of staying home, social distancing, and self-quarantining seriously. Each day brought more news. So we spent time outside. We tried to stay 6 ft apart. We bought a few more groceries than usual. We began to lay low.
Almost three weeks later, I write from home, having gone “out” less times than I can count on my fingers apart from family walks, romps to open fields, or our backyard. No grocery stores. No movie theaters. No social events. No playgrounds. No libraries. No stores. No Masses.
I haven’t had to “try” to make Lent this year somber or serious. Every day is a fast from something I deemed important to my life: a fast from physical friendship; a fast from community in the way I’m used to living it; a fast from outings, from the sheer independence of being able to step out of my house and go where I want to go when I want to. This fasting has been humbling.
Prayer is the rhythm to my day. It is the breath of my days. The heartbeat.
I watch online daily Masses or reflections on the Scriptures. I pray the rosary by myself or with my husband and children. I sing the Divine Mercy chaplet. I continue a novena. I make a spiritual communion with tears in my eyes. I utter supplications for others throughout the day. I offer my fasts—both the voluntary and involuntary—for our world.
At the beginning of this Lenten journey, I shared how I thirsted to emerge from spiritual mediocrity. Now I thirst for God himself. I yearn to join the Body of Christ once again in the sacraments and receive him at the Eucharistic table. I live Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing in a profound way.
And yet God has been so good. And peace prevails in my heart. I have so much to be thankful for: continued jobs and paychecks, long days of sunshine and warm weather, our health, food on our plates, a roof over our heads, snuggles with my children, reading books in our indoor tent, video calls with friends and family all over the country. In spite of everything, we are together. In spite of everything, God is here. In spite of everything, there is always hope.
Let us continue to “rend our hearts” this Lent by turning to God and giving him everything we are feeling right now: exhaustion, confusion, anxiety, disillusionment, anger, despair, or fear. We can approach the one who became a vulnerable child for us and give him our own insecurities and vulnerabilities. At the manger, we will be met with his never-ending love.
In his homily for the fourth Sunday of Lent, Fr. Mike Schmitz noted that God did not make an unbreakable world. Though he created perfectly, he instilled in mankind the ability to have free will—the ability to break our relationship with God by introducing sin into the human condition. Death, pain, suffering, temptation—all is the result of sin. This pandemic is more evidence of this truth. What matters, however, in the midst of our suffering, is that God does not abandon us to it—nor has he ever. Scripture recounts the story of God’s unfailing love for humanity since the Fall—a story of salvation that continues personally with each of us today.
God does not promise fulfillment on earth, perfect joy, blessing, and comfort. He promises the cross, daily. But he also promises us that he will be with us always—even to the end of time—that he came to give life in abundance, that we can be transfigured, and that there is resurrection. He invites us to complete satisfaction and joy with him in Heaven for eternity.
And in the meantime, as we continue on our own personal journeys in this “vale of tears,” he remains waiting for us at the well. Inviting us on the shore. Looking for our return on the horizon. Feeding us at the table. He remains pouring out all for us on the Cross.
As we continue to navigate this Lenten season, the coronavirus pandemic, and the approach of Easter, let us go to him with humble hearts. “Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk towards Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes.” -Pope Francis (Ash Wednesday Homily, 2020)
Kate Fowler is the Blog Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute.
A month ago, I thought I would be balancing returning back from a service immersion trip and student leadership interviews. Today I sit in my makeshift home office preparing for my next Zoom call, trying to keep in check my own anxieties while still ministering to my students. To be honest, the first week was not easy, and I have still not mastered ministry from home and social distancing. As the days continue, I have progressively realized my need to change my mindset of survival to finding peace, stability, and hope. I went to Thomas Merton and St. Teresa of Avila, my two go to’s when needing to be reminded of where to find God. As I read the words of this Trappist monk and Carmelite nun, it dawned on me that in midst of darkness, fear, and chaos, I have been given an opportunity to create an inner monastery. The lives of these monastic friends of mine shed light on three aspects that I trust and can incorporate into my social distanced day-to-day in order to give me peace and calm my anxieties.
I invite you to share in the wisdom of the monastics and find the opportunity during these challenging times to create within our homes and families an inner monastery. Fears, sickness and hardship won’t be removed, but the insights of our brothers and sisters who have lived this life before us can help us to “recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
If you find it helpful, here is my Inner Monastery Routine. Finding balance will look different for each person, so take what works for you and make adjustments to fit your needs.
Pam Tremblay is the Empowered Campus Ministry Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center and Director of Service Immersion and Social Justice at Providence College. She graduated with a Masters in Theology from the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program.
Today we celebrate the 83rd birthday of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray for his continued health and leadership in our Church.
Having a birthday near the holidays must be pretty hard to bear as a child, and maybe even sometimes as an adult. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated, and sometimes they can be overshadowed by other holiday celebrations! My sister has a birthday on Christmas Day and she never seemed to be able to celebrate the same ways I could (my birthday is over the summer). I always felt bad and try to still make it special for her - even now that we are adults. Although we know Pope Francis for his humility and selflessness, I’m sure even he has found it hard to celebrate his special day from time to time. We celebrate birthdays as a way to mark our growing one year older, but I’m sure with a birthday so close to Christmas, his focus has often been on Christ. I would imagine, in his ministry, our pope has reflected on the significance of their birthdays being so close and how he can look to the purpose of the season over his own celebrating.
Let’s also reflect on this now. How can we make Jesus’ birthday especially meaningful this year? In what ways can we strive to “celebrate” with Christ? What implications does Christmas have on my upcoming year as I continue to grow in my faith?
“The reason for the season” is a common phrase we hear at this time of the year— a helpful little rhyme to keep us thinking about Jesus’ birth. The purpose of the Son of God coming to Earth was to save us all from our own sins, yet we so often confuse this time with shopping deals and stressful holiday travel plans. Our Lord doesn’t need any of that. He doesn’t need physical gifts—he needs our hearts. He doesn’t need perfection—he yearns for our humble, raw, and disheveled selves. He doesn’t need displays of lights and blow-up snowmen—he needs us to shine his light in the darkness.
In order to celebrate his birth, we must first put aside the distractions and concerns that keep us away from prayer and peace at Christmas. The meaningful celebrating that we should be doing for Christ isn’t wrapped up with bows and shiny paper, but includes finding time to appreciate and pray about our Lord’s coming. The celebration for an ordinary person may be tied to cake, candles, and presents, but as Pope Francis would likely agree, celebrating Christ comes from the heart.
One way I’ve found to celebrate Christ’s birthday amidst the hustle and bustle of the season is by listening to joyful, instrumental Advent and Christmas music. Something about it makes me feel so peaceful and filled with the joy of Christ that I almost prefer it to lyrical Christmas music on the radio or Spotify! Another practice I’ve found to be helpful is focusing on the giving aspect of Christmas. I feel better giving rather than getting things. My favorite way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is to share the gift of the Christmas story with my young Pre-Kindergarten students. Having been blessed to work in a Catholic school, I’m able to share the incredible birth story of Jesus Christ and to teach those beautiful little minds about God’s promise of love to the world. When I sit back and realize the gravity of my role as a catechist to these children, I feel humbled by it. My heart soars, it prepares my soul for Christmas, and I’m reminded of this holy birthday from so long ago in Bethlehem.
As we look toward a new year, both for Pope Francis and for us Catholics, we are reminded that Christmas is only the beginning of Christ’s work on Earth. His ministry will begin at a wedding as an adult farther down the line, and his death and Resurrection happen even later than that.
We know Christ’s birthday was celebrated by angels sharing the Good News. We know there were shepherds who also heard about Jesus’ birth, and finally three wise men who followed the star to where Jesus was born. This new year has so much faith-filled potential to allow us a chance to listen closely to how the Gospel message tells us to love and to share our love with those we meet. We can show God’s love to all by living out each day as apostles who share the Good News.
So today, on this 83rd birthday of our pope, keep him in your prayers. Pray for continued faithful leadership in our Church at this tumultuous time in our world. Pray for his health, that he may find strength in Christ and remain well.
Feliz cumpleaños, Papa Francisco!
For more resources to accompany you this Advent and Christmas, please click here.
Krissy Pierno is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington.
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
Thomas Wong is a young professional in Washington, D.C.
O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute.
This coming Sunday’s readings address the issue of wordliness in the many forms it takes and remind us not to get caught up in the world but instead to focus on God.
The first reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes, includes the oft-repeated words, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” It addresses vanity not only in the prideful sense, but also vanity in the pointless sense: “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” What good is being anxious and sorrowful, never being able to rest because we worry so much about the things of this world and about things we cannot control?
In the second reading, St. Paul admonishes the Colossians thus: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” These are the flip side of the anxiety coin, namely, a sort of hedonism that fights sadness by seeking immediate and often fleeting pleasures—declaring them the highest human good.
The problem with these two extremes is that neither acknowledges that mankind was created for something more than this world: both the anxious and hedonistic are so caught up in earthly things that they fail to see beyond the scope of their own lives. St. Paul reminds his Colossian readers to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Similarly, in the Gospel reading, Christ tells a member of the crowd to “take care against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
The Scripture readings could just as easily be addressed to modern-day people living in the developed world. Anxiety, greed, and hedonism abound and creep into our souls. Our lives are a series of wants: “I want that new iPhone,” “I want to follow all the fashion trends,” “I want the biggest slice of cake,” “I want a prestigious education for my children.” We are greedy for praise and for the love of our fellow man. We are anxious about bills to be paid and potential promotions at work. We seek to define ourselves through our professions and our possessions, as though the ideal job or the ideal amount of material goods will bring us peace.
In my own struggle against wordliness, I resemble most the anxious man from Ecclesiastes. I worry whether I am setting a good example to my children, how long it will take to afford that home improvement project, whether my family will be misfits, whether anything I do in this life will ever amount to anything. I’ve even had trouble falling asleep because I started envisioning scenarios of the crosses my children will have to bear when they’re grown—which will not be for nearly two decades!
Our Christian faith calls us to something so much greater than getting bogged down in the things of this world. Our faith shows us that there is no true peace on earth except through God. Anxiety, greed, hedonism—each in its own way seeks to fill a hole in our hearts that can only be satisfied by the love and mercy of God. When we think about our daily lives and whether we live too much in the world, we can ask ourselves how we want to be remembered after we die. Will we be remembered because of our insatiable need to have all the latest gadgets and to fill our houses with all the best stuff? Will we be remembered as complainers who spent so much time worrying about nightmare scenarios and wishing we had what other people have, never accepting our lot in life or striving to serve God in all things? Or will we be remembered because we embraced the love of God and it imbued us with the grace to live out exemplary lives of heroic virtue? Embracing this alternate worldview, the one that finds its satisfaction in God and heavenly things, will enable us to live in the world while not being of it. It is in this that we find true peace.
Helena Romano is an Editing Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
The Apostles had been sent out by Jesus and reported back all that they had done (Mark 6:30). He knew that they needed to care for themselves, so they set out in the boat to go and rest. But, what did they find when they arrived? Over 5,000 people waiting to be fed both spiritually and physically. Despite their probable fatigue, they continued to minister to the needs of the crowd. Their rest was not long, but they did have time together in the boat away from the crowds. They also rested in the Lord as he spoke to them and the crowds. Self-care, therefore, does not mean long periods of time, but that which is needed to move us into fuller service for Christ.
When moments of self-care such as prayer, study and spiritual reading, appropriate times of rest and relaxation, or time with friends and family are neglected, living as an apostle who accompanies others into deeper life in Christ can become challenging. Self-care is not self-focus; it is not self-serving. Very often caregivers, especially of the elderly or infirmed, become ill themselves because they have not set apart time for self-care. It is understandable. They want to give fully to their loved ones. Those in ministry or the apostolate want to do the same for the beloved of Christ. In both instances, though, great damage can come to the caregiver—leaving them unable to care. Self-care is meant to assist in becoming more other-focused, more self-giving.
In many ways, the great founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict, whose feast day is today, understood well what is at the heart of Christian self-care – ora et labora – prayer and work in the context of a stable community life. When either are neglected, then one is not able to give fully for the Lord. Life in community, whether in a religious community such as a monastery, or in the community of faith, gives one a stable place to be accompanied, to grow in the spiritual life, and to rest with Christ, especially in the Eucharist. Relationships can be built in trust and burdens can be shared. Peace that comes from the Prince of Peace can then be found. It is this peace, love, and mercy that we share with others as his apostles.
In the last months, a former student of mine discerned that he is called to live as a Benedictine, another discerned that he is called to the Dominicans, another as a diocesan priest, and two others that they are called to marriage. Prior to these decisions, there was much prayer, but also a bit of a lack of inner peace. Accompanied by many, these young adults came to peace in their decisions as their way to follow Christ as his apostles. Please pray for them. Pray also for those, especially in ministry and apostolate, who are not properly caring for themselves. May we accompany them to care for themselves so that they may better care for the People of God.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources on Self-Care in Ministry, please click here.
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D.Min. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” –St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of Prayer
Perseverance always sounds nice; you hear the word and think “yes--I can do this!” Lately, I’ve been struggling to persevere in prayer. To combat this, I’ve found my American industriousness kicking in—resulting in my desire to impose on myself a strict prayer routine akin to that of St. Teresa’s (“If I just work hard enough, I’ll be levitating like St. Teresa in no time!”) only to wonder why it all seems to fall apart after 2 days. Discouragement soon follows, and I feel like I’m back at the beginning.
I have fallen into this trap several times since I started taking my spiritual life seriously a few years ago. At the beginning, persevering in prayer and good spiritual habits can seem daunting. But the need for perseverance is a normal part of our spiritual journey. Sometimes prayer comes easily, sometimes we struggle to quiet our minds. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “As the flames of your first enthusiasm die down, it becomes difficult to advance in the dark. —But that progress is all the more reliable for being hard. And then, when you least expect it, the darkness vanishes, and the enthusiasm and light return. Persevere! (Furrow No. 789)”
It wasn’t until I heard the same advice from my spiritual director for the 100th time, combined with many Catholic podcasts and YouTube Videos, advice from friends, and books, that it finally dawned on me: you can and should tailor your spiritual life to fit your state in life and your personality! In doing so, you will find the strength to persevere.
I made the mistake of thinking that the only way to grow in holiness was to follow the exact path of my favorite saints, only to end up frustrated as to why it wasn’t working or giving me any peace. After this struggle, I’ve learned four simple tips that have helped me develop better habits and persevere (and grow!) through a better spiritual routine.
As St. Francis de Sales also said, “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Get to know yourself, what spirituality works for you, and persevere!
For more resources to deepen your spiritual life, click here.
Mary DePuglio is a government contractor living in Yorktown, Virginia. She holds a Master's Degree in Russian Language and Area Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is applying to the Augustine Institute for the Fall 2020 Academic Year.
The Feast of Pentecost occurs on the seventh Sunday following Easter Sunday. On this day, we commemorate the occasion of the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples of Jesus, marking them each with “tongues of flame,” and allowing them to speak and proclaim in different tongues, or languages.
To describe this moment in early Church history as a “tipping point” would be an understatement. Pentecost signifies a unique outpouring of God’s love and spirit upon those first men and women to follow Jesus Christ, empowering them to expand and carry His message of salvation to all nations. Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles depicts this anointing of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that has inspired numerous works of music, literature, and art – including some artwork appearing here at the Catholic Apostolate Center!
As I reflect on the mystery of Pentecost, and ponder what it could mean for us in this current day, I am drawn to these particular passages from today’s Scriptures:
Reading 1: ACTS 2:1-11
“And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.”
Have you ever been in a room that was particularly quiet – and then suddenly, for no discernable reason, your senses sharpened dramatically? When I read today about the “strong driving wind” filling the entire house where the disciples were, this sort of heightened awareness is what I imagine the disciples could have felt right before the Spirit arrived and the tongues of flame appeared.
Especially in this season following the Paschal mystery, I view this reading as an invitation to seek and contemplate God in the quiet places with an open heart to what may come.
Reading 2: 1 COR 12:3B-7, 12-13
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.”
At Pentecost, the flames parted and “came to rest on each one of them [disciples].” I find this so encouraging! This past Lent, we read about Moses and the burning bush, from which God calls out, “Moses! Moses! ...Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
Now, at the historical moment of Pentecost, fire is actually sent and bestowed upon each follower. God is still a mystery, as is the Holy Spirit – but a mystery that comes to us and rests upon us. We should not be afraid to be humble like Moses (removing our sandals before God) while at the same time accepting with joy and utilizing with courage the gifts the Spirit may bestow to each of us, according to our unique natures.
Gospel: JN 14:15-16, 23B-26
"I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you."
This age of instant communication is hopeful and perplexing all at once. On the one hand, technological advances have made worldwide communication easier than ever – truly a remarkable gift! On the other hand, we have all experienced how shorthand communication styles can misconstrue intended messages and cause confusion or even lasting harm. To me, the promise of Pentecost speaks directly to these challenges. Through the Holy Spirit, we may learn to genuinely and faithfully connect with one another despite all of our perceived differences.
There is a definitive continuation of the Easter message contained in today’s Gospel when we are told of “The Advocate… who the Father will send in my name.” We are not alone, even though we live long after the age of Christ. Perhaps this is what is meant when He once said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” or “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
I believe that the Holy Spirit does blow through the rooms of our houses and within our hearts, even today. And while we may not see with human eyes the flames and the dove from this narrative, I believe that we are all surrounded by people who possess the flame within and have allowed The Advocate to work through them – helping them to become little advocates, little flames, and little doves, living among us, bringing peace.
Mike McCormick serves as the Outreach Coordinator at the Catholic Volunteer Network in Washington, DC.