I was once told that giving and receiving the Sign of Peace at Mass is founded on giving and receiving forgiveness. As I understood it, whoever was at the other end of that handshake was, by default, forgiving you of all wrongs you may have committed against him or her.
I was a lot younger when I was told this and the idea of exchanging forgiveness for a handshake was pretty appealing. You mean I didn’t have to actually apologize? I just briefly grab the other person’s hand, maybe give a quick hug, and that was it?
More than fifteen years have passed, and I have—hopefully—developed a more mature understanding of what it means to give and receive forgiveness. I haven’t heard of this blank-slate forgiveness handshake ever since. But the idea has stuck with me.
That’s a pretty powerful thing, isn’t it, that we could approach the exchange of peace as God approaches us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation—as an all-encompassing, no-questions-asked offering of forgiveness?
What is it we hear at Mass right before we exchange the Sign of Peace?
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you;’ look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.”
Peace and forgiveness are tightly interwoven; one is inseparable from the other. We’re reminded of this each and every time we go to Mass. We recognize that peace starts from within—that we ourselves are imperfect yet loved by God—and that that very same peace is to be extended to every member of our community. We build peace together, but only if we forgive one another—and ourselves. But it is often all too easy to step out of Mass on Sunday as though you’re entering a separate world; what happened in the chapel stays in the chapel.
If we’re called to be salt for the world, then this cannot be so. The world must see that it is not so—each and every person we encounter must recognize us as a person of peace, a person who is motivated and challenged by a God of peace.
In part, this is why I’m fascinated by faith-based peacebuilding. I spend a lot of my graduate school career researching how a religious imagination can impact the common good, and to me, there are fewer places so powerfully open to the role of faith as peacebuilding.
But as a Catholic, I often ask myself: What does my faith tradition offer in this great interreligious effort?
I do not claim to be an expert—I’ve barely scratched the surface of the literature. But in my research I keep coming back to the role of ritual. There is power in ritual, in repetition, in coming together as a community to grapple with the unknowable from the nitty-grittiness of our lived reality.
Those of all religious traditions can attest to this. Certainly, a brief look at tragedies over the last several months will reveal faith communities of all varieties gathering to mourn, to pray, to remember.
When we come together before God in community ready and willing to grapple with mysteries divine and unknown, we must necessarily come together ready to forgive, ready to build peace. How can we allow the People of God—gathered in Christ’s name—to stand and pray together and do anything less?
And yet, we know that so often that all-important Sign of Peace is reduced to something perfunctory, half-hearted, something my younger self might find appealing. I know I’m guilty of this more often than not. How many unrelated, far-from-peaceful thoughts are on my mind as I spin around in my chair in the chapel and shake the hands of strangers?
Peace and forgiveness can begin with the Sign of Peace. But they don’t end there. That first step out of the chapel is not a step away from that Sign of Peace, but a further entering into it.
Ritual is powerful, and there are few rituals quite so unique in the spiritual tools offered to build a more peaceful world than the Mass.
What, then, do we bring to the altar in our own prayer? How do we use rituals of all kinds to build peace, to extend and receive forgiveness? A good piece of Scripture for our reflection might be Matthew 5:23-24:
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
This past winter, as I knelt in prayer at the tomb of the Venerable Elisabetta Sanna, I experienced a great sense of peace. I also felt a profound connection to this holy woman, who is largely unknown in the United States. I was blessed to be in Rome on a pilgrimage with a few great friends during our university’s winter break. Before embarking on the pilgrimage, my thoughts chiefly centered on finishing final exams and looking forward to having the opportunity to pray with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica. This opportunity with the Holy Father ended up becoming a moment I will always treasure. Yet, as I reflect back on the pilgrimage, it is clear that my encounter with the Venerable Elisabetta Sanna in the small Church of San Salvatore in Onda left the greatest mark on my spiritual life.
Born in 1788, Elisabetta Sanna grew up in Sardinia. When only three months old, Elisabetta contracted smallpox, a disease that left her physically handicap for the rest of her life. Despite her disability, Elisabetta married and had seven children. She became well known in her town for devoting herself to the catechetical education of youth. Elisabetta also educated women from the town in basic Christian doctrine. After her husband died in 1825, Elisabetta decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and entrusted her children to the care of her mother and brother. Though she started her pilgrimage, Elisabetta never made it to the Holy Land, instead going to Rome. It was in Rome that she met a humble priest with a bold vision proclaiming that all the baptized were called to be apostles. This priest, Fr. Vincent Pallotti, would become her spiritual director, as well as a saint. He was canonized on January 20th, 1963 by Pope John XXIII. While Elisabetta planned on returning to her children in Sardinia, her physical disability prevented her from travelling back. Hence, while understandably upset, Elisabetta remained in Rome and continued to selflessly serve others in collaboration with Fr. Vincent Pallotti. In addition to performing multiple works of mercy, such as visiting the terminally ill, Elisabetta’s life was rooted in prayer. Both Sacred Scripture and the Holy Mass gave her the ability to be the face of Christ to the marginalized. In other words, Elisabetta’s love for Jesus Christ, which was grounded in her personal prayer, impelled her to the apostolate.
What I find so remarkable and inspiring about Elisabetta’s life is that her path towards holiness appears so un-extraordinary. She was not the founder of a religious community, nor did she author a great theological treatise. Yet, it is exactly the ordinariness of her life that makes her so extraordinary. Elisabetta’s life is important because it demonstrates that God calls each one of us, in whatever place, in whatever situation, to be apostles. If you begin to doubt your ability to do great things for Jesus, look to the example of Elisabetta. I invite you to pray for her intercession and ask her to assist you in living out your vocation to be an apostle.
For more resources on the Venerable Elisabetta Sanna, click here.
I had lived in Baltimore for only a few months when some friends came to town. They insisted we see the Inner Harbor, and so off we went, adventuring on foot.
I’ll be very honest: having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I was still getting used to the number of individuals on the streets asking for money. My instincts always screamed: KEEP WALKING; DON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT; YOU HAVE NO MONEY TO GIVE. And usually by the time my inner voices settled down, I was a block or two past the questioner.
But when my friends and I decided on crepes for lunch, I found myself unable to keep walking past the homeless man who was hunkered down directly in front of the door to our intended restaurant. In my mind, of course, it became a game of lowered eyes, mumbled replies and a quick grab for the doorknob.
Not so, for my friends. While I was shuffling past the man and his quiet request for help, my two friends stopped, asked his name, and shook his hand. “I’ll tell you what, buddy,” my one friend replied. “I don’t carry any cash. But why don’t I buy you a crepe?” The gentleman thought that would be just fine, and so in we all went to place our orders.
I don’t remember that man’s name, what we discussed, or what kind of crepe he got. But I do know that my comfortable, ready-made response to those I encountered on the streets asking for money suddenly became embarrassingly out-of-touch and morally questionable. What’s more, I was awestruck by the knee-jerk reaction of my two friends: where I cast my eyes down, they looked another human being in the face and smiled.
If you hear anything about Catholic Social Teaching, you often hear that it’s the Church’s best kept secret. Why is that? Because we sometimes don’t realize that popes, theologians, saints and everyday Catholics have been thinking, praying, and writing about issues of hunger, war, poverty, and injustice for a very long time. And, as a result, we have a pretty elaborate, intellectually rigorous and philosophically challenging framework within which to address the most pressing issues of our day.
So often, those who are in on this best kept secret are often intimidated because they think they need a degree just to wrap their minds around Catholic Social Teaching. Not so. Certainly don’t miss out on the chance to study these teachings, but prayer is what helps us get at the heart of the matter.
I spent a lot of time over the following weeks reflecting on that encounter between me, my friends, and that man outside the crepe shop. Why was I so struck, so inspired? Could this have been what the disciples saw in Jesus, why they were so attracted to him? Did they see an individual who met the gaze of those in need with a smile and an outstretched hand?
Let us take the person of Jesus—God, who we meet in prayer and life’s daily joys and struggles—and go from there. That’s the heart of Catholic Social Teaching.
We realize that every person we come across in our day—those we intend to meet, and those who stop us for money—are lived expressions of God in our world, opportunities to meet Christ. It becomes a lot harder to ignore them. What’s more, we begin to see that as we encounter Christ in others, we find ourselves drawn deeper into the plight of those most in need. We ask ourselves, “how can such injustice be allowed to exist?” And God responds, “Well, then do something.”
That’s now what I find myself forced to grapple with when I encounter individuals on the street, in the news, wherever. Because if I admit that we are all part of God’s family, that my existence here and your existence there are less about what we’re doing and more about what God’s doing, my perspective has to change. I have a responsibility to act, to live my life in a more intentional way.
At Catholic Relief Services, we throw the word solidarity around like it’s a Frisbee on the beach. But that doesn’t make it any less important. It is, after all, a key element of Catholic Social Teaching. And it calls us to live beyond ourselves, to recognize God in all things and all people and to work for a world that is just and peaceful for all.
And sometimes, that work begins with the guy you passed on the street outside the crepe shop who’s asking for some change.
Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching? Check out these resources:
“May is Mary’s Month,” began the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, in “The May Magnificat.”
For centuries, the Catholic Church has emphasized the month of May as a time of honor and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Parishes and families often celebrate with special pilgrimages, devotions, or placing a crown on a statue of Mary, traditionally called a “May Crowning.”
On April 29, 1965, Pope Blessed Paul VI promulgated his encyclical Mense Maio (“The Month of May”), which promoted May devotions to the Blessed Mother, knowing that, “the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise” (n. 2). Despite being a lesser-known encyclical, its timing and topic are revealing. Released on the eve of the last session of the Second Vatican Council and amid escalating violence and unrest of the Vietnam War and the 1960’s, the help of Mary was “a matter of top priority” considering “the present needs of the Church and the status of world peace” (n. 3). The words of Paul VI are just as relevant today. In our contentious social and political climate, focusing on Mary is not a pious distraction from real issues, but a vital source for grace, truth, and mercy.
A Short History and Practice
May devotions to Mary began in the 13th century, but there is little information to know how it was celebrated. In it’s present form, the practice of May devotions to Mary originated within the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in the 18th century under Father Latomia of their Roman College. Shortly afterwards, devotions were adopted at the Jesuit’s mother church in Rome, the Church of the Gesù, and then began to spread throughout other area churches to the entire globe. (Pope Francis, who is also a Jesuit, has a special devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots, a phrase first attributed to St. Irenaeus of Lyons who said, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by the obedience of Mary”).
The image of Mary wearing a gold crown appears in early Eastern and Western iconography, drawing inspiration from the Coronation of Mary as understood in Catholic biblical tradition based on the passage from Revelation 12:1. Some churches and families participate in a special May Crowning celebration. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) first placed two crowns on the Marian icon called “Salus Populi Romani” in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, but the crowns were later lost. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1838, Pope Gregory XVI once again added crowns in a special rite, officially starting the tradition as it is still performed today.
One reason the devotion has come to extend over the entire month is the abundance of Marian feast days in May: Mary, Queen of Apostles (Saturday before Pentecost – May 14th, this year), Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), Mary Help of Christians (May 24), and the Visitation (May 31).
Mary in May Today
Seeking Peace- Pope Paul VI’s encyclical was especially concerned with peace, invoking the “intercession and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Peace” (n. 10). Amid ongoing persecutions and violence in many areas of the world, turning to Christ though Mary is an important way to pray that May becomes a month of peace.
Honoring the Family- Mary receives an important role in Pope Francis’ recent Exhortation Amoris Laetitia- The Joy of Love: On Love in the Family. He states, “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth” (n. 30). Pope Francis goes on to say, “The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families” (n. 30). Pope Francis reminds us that by honoring Mary, we honor Jesus and our families.
Honoring the Body- Our culture and Church desperately needs the figure of Mary before our eyes as an exemplar of the dignity and uniqueness of women, especially in light of the real and present danger of pornography. The USCCB has also created a pastoral guide regarding pornography “to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms.” This month, ask Mary’s intercession for an end to this destructive force, and healing for those deeply affected.
Honoring Your Mother- For good measure, May also celebrates our biological Mother’s Day (May 8, don’t forget!). Let Mary’s month be a new reason to honor and celebrate your own mother.
There is no lack of reasons to stay close to Mary this month, and throughout our lives. Find ways to honor her with your words and actions by seeking new ways to bring about mercy and peace through our churches into our hurting world.
Tomorrow the Church celebrates St. Catherine of Siena, a 14th century tertiary Dominican and Doctor of the Church, who is renowned for her ardent prayer, peacemaking, and writing. Her life is filled with stories that reflect a transparent faith in the power of God’s intervention, her desire for unity within the Church, and her gifts in healing and touching the lives of others.
I discovered St. Catherine a few years ago when I read this passage. She writes these words with the same devotion and absolute trust with which she lived her life by:
“I don’t want you to yield to weariness or confusion, no matter what may trouble your spirit. No, I want you to keep the good, holy, and true faithful will that I know God in his mercy has given you. Be glad…celebrate! Without any slavish fear take courage. Don’t be afraid, no matter what has happened, no matter what you see coming. Take courage for perfection is very accessible” (excerpt from her Letter to Br. Raimondo of Capua at Avignon).
Whenever I read these words, they indicate to me that St. Catherine must have experienced trials herself and had her faith tested. Don’t we all struggle with weariness or battle the armies of confusion? St. Catherine doesn't want us to get caught up in the messiness of our sins and plights but rather in the will of God that will lead us through our struggles.
The reason we should "be glad and celebrate" is because God's will is there to guide us through the midst of it all. And this, as St. Catherine reminds us, is a wonderful gift of God's great mercy, which is able to penetrate into our past, present, and future experiences.
God’s will can sometimes seem so hard to understand, a mystery that is more hidden than it is found. Many often ponder, "What is God's will for my life? and ask, "Lord, what is your will…what should I be doing?” But St. Catherine knows God's will is more simple and apparent than we think. He doesn't hide it so much as reveal it or deter us so much as lead us to it.
We should “take courage” because God has revealed everything in the perfection of Christ his Son, who lived among us and entered into the human experience. He is so near, so accessible.
What is God’s will for us then except to grow into the perfection of Christ? St. Paul reminds us that, “God has called [us] through our Gospel to possess the glory of Jesus Christ.” (2 Thes. 2:14) Every day we are invited to grow towards sanctity and heaven by rising with Christ in the midst of our circumstances. We are to mature in love so as to become ourselves fully in Christ. If we strive for this first, God will surely lead us down the narrower paths of our lives.
God is always at work in us if only we open ourselves to him. I invite you to think and pray about your own life. How have you grown in virtue over the years? This is evidence of God’s grace alive in your heart and mind! St. Catherine points directly to Christ, the Fountain of Life that is never depleted of its mercy and compassion! In him we really can do anything.
Let us then “take courage” in our lives and “celebrate” Christ and the mercy of God! We need not be afraid!
Thank you St. Catherine for your life and example! Pray for us, that we can fight the good fight and become ourselves fully in Christ. May we experience deeper the reality of God’s great mercy.
For more resources on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, click here.
When I was younger, my family loved to watch the show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” where a family’s home is rebuilt for them and everything is made-over and new. On the last day, the family sees what their house has become in a big reveal. When I think about Lent, I compare it to a time of preparing my heart for the biggest makeover and surprise “reveal” in my faith: Easter Sunday.
Prayer. Something new for me this year is a daily prayer journal of reflections on the readings from each day of Lent. I have found myself able to look forward to this prayer journal each morning, and have even found a special place to reflect and start the day off on the right foot. My hopes are that this daily prayer journal becomes a habit for starting each day with God in prayer and silent reflection. One interesting aspect of this journal is that every few days there is a reflection geared towards women of faith such as Mother Mary, St. Veronica, and St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi. They are a few women who I am excited to reflect upon this Lent. As part of this daily journal exercise, I am meeting with a few other friends of mine who are also on this Lenten prayer journey. We discuss our thoughts, pray for each other's intentions, and encourage each other to be faithful to prayer. I think this community aspect, combined with personal prayer, will help strengthen my resolve for peace and prayer this Lent and “remodel” my prayer life.
Fasting. Every year, people decide what they should “give up for Lent.” Many times, Lent gets combined with a New Year’s resolution or a diet plan. Although taking a “fast” from something is an important way to remove distractions from one’s life and become closer to God, the purpose is often lost when it involves giving up something like desserts and sugar. I have challenged myself this Lent to not only give up something, but also to add something on. For example, I have decided to fast on Wednesdays in an attempt to have a reminder on that day of Christ’s suffering in the desert. I have also added a daily prayer routine to my life in an attempt to form a prayerful habit to last longer than these 40 days. Another example comes from my 11 year old sister, who has decided that she will be giving up the few hours she spends watching TV each day to spend more quality time with the people in her life, like our parents. Her strength is admirable, and if she keeps with it, she will feel “made-over” with love for others.
Almsgiving. This Lent, my class is in charge of distributing CRS Rice Bowls to the school, teaching the school about the purpose behind rice bowls, and collecting them all at the end to donate to CRS. The focus each week of Lent includes a new country to think about, pray for, and learn about in hopes of empathizing with the people there. My 2nd graders have only begun Lent, but some are already starting to understand that others are not as blessed as they are in Washington, DC. On Friday, the topic of severe hunger came up, and some students didn’t realize that other people in the world do not have breakfast each morning, or that some people do not have homes to go back to at night. This empathetic realization from a few students helped them connect and compare their own lives to those of others. This made me appreciate the CRS Rice Bowl project even more, knowing that this operation is happening all over the U.S.—reminding Catholics of how blessed we all are to be living the way we do. This Lent, I have my own personal rice bowl which I intend to fill up with donations and hope to “makeover” by using it to give to others in almsgiving.
For the remaining weeks of Lent, I leave you with this one challenge: you can rebuild, remake, or remodel your life, but the end goal is simple: prepare your hearts. Use these 40 days to pray as Christ did in the desert, fearlessly and fervently. May your actions and habits that help you grow during Lent also transfer into the rest of the year. Aim to give of yourself to others in many different ways, imitating Christ’s sacrifice for the world. Get ready for the “big reveal” when you are “made-over” in His love and are ready to celebrate the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Then we can say, like in the home-makeover show, “Move…That….Rock!”
For more Lenten Resources, please click here.
The presents have been unwrapped, the carols have been sung, and the cookies have been baked and enjoyed. Most, if not all, of the Christmas decorations have been packed away until next year. We have officially entered into Ordinary Time. Why can’t this Christmas feeling of peace and hope, joy and love last all year long? I continually try to instill in those that I work with that their health and wellness is a journey. This journey is filled with peaks and valleys, calm and storm, joyous victory, quiet contentment and fierce struggle. Our faith is no different. Living our faith, living the life of Christ and, more importantly, the life Christ calls us to, is a journey.
In the quiet of the post-Christmas excitement, let’s take a moment to ponder what we’ve recently celebrated. We have just completed a series of liturgies celebrating the Incarnation, the word made flesh. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops defines the Incarnation as “the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature and became man in order to accomplish our salvation in that same human nature. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, is both true God and True man, not part God and part man.” The wonderful thing about this fact is that we know this is only the beginning of the story. Our wonder-counselor came down from heaven to preach and to heal. When He willingly sacrificed himself on the cross He atoned for our sins. Even then, the story is not over! In His rising from the dead and ascension into heaven, He remains with us. The second person of the trinity willingly sacrificed Himself so that we can experience Emmanuel in every moment and breath of our lives. God is no longer in a burning bush. His love, His very presence is burning within our very bodies. Do we truly believe this with all of our mind, body, and soul?
Welcome to Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is when our journey begins. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses for us that “this is the time of conversion,” a time for growth and maturation in living our faith. Where do we need to experience conversion in our own hearts? Where do we need to share our conversion? Perhaps our present journey is meant to be walked alongside someone else. Where is that burning presence guiding you during these weeks of Ordinary Time? The actual season of Christmas may be over, but the journey has only begun. As you ponder and reflect on these questions in your heart, I leave you with these words from the hymn Jerusalem My Destiny.
I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem my destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
This journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone
The journey makes us one.
Composer: Rory Cooney (1990)
My prayer for you during these “ordinary” days and weeks ahead is that you choose to kindle that fire within you daily. I pray that you choose to live the Real Presence with every beat of your heart. As Christ proclaimed to the little girl in Mark 5:41 “I say to you arise!” Let each of us respond to that same call. My friends, arise and journey on!
Each year, I look forward to attending Midnight Mass on Christmas. It is one of those Catholic "hallmarks" that helps us to ring in the celebration of Christmas. This year was no different, and I was able to assist at my Cathedral's celebration of Midnight Mass. As we continue on in the great octave of Christmas, I would like to look back on the readings and texts from the "Mass During the Night," more commonly known as Midnight Mass.
“O God, [you] have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of the true light…” (Collect, Christmas Mass During the Night). Sometimes I scratch my head trying to make sense of the Collect prayer, the “opening prayer,” used during the Mass. The Collect prayer that we prayed during Midnight Mass, though, is quite fitting for this particular celebration of the Eucharist, as the Church throughout the world gathered together in the quiet stillness of the night to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the “infant [found] wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This “most sacred night” is indeed “radiant with the splendor of the true light," the light of Christ, the light that brightens not only the darkness of the night sky but also the darkness of our world, the darkness that often creeps its way into our own lives and our own hearts.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! When we find ourselves in a dark room, or when the sun begins to set at the end of the day, what do we do? We turn on a lamp; we turn on the lights. When we find ourselves in internal times of darkness, what do we do? We should turn to Jesus Christ, who, as we hear so beautifully articulated in the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, is the “eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence…”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! The words that the prophet Isaiah addressed to us in the first reading from this Mass are so filled with meaning for us, especially as we fumble and flounder in the darkness of our world and in our own lives. For upon us all, “a light has shone” (Is 9:1). We often walk in darkness: the darkness of our own worries and anxieties, the darkness of our own sins and shortcomings, the darkness of loneliness and isolation. Whatever burdens us, Isaiah invites us to be brought from darkness into God’s most marvelous light, which is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah tells us that “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 9:1). The light that shone in the time of Isaiah is the same light that shone on the “shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Lk 2:8). As the shepherds were keeping watch, “the angel of the Lord appeared to them” (Lk 2:9). On that holy night in Bethlehem, only the humble shepherds were aware of the Word becoming flesh—of Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary. Today, the whole world knows of the Light of the World, Emmanuel—“God-is-with-us,” “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5)…our “savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness” (Ti 2:14), to deliver us and grant us peace and consolation from all that causes chaos or disorder or stress in our lives.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reflecting on these beautiful words, talks about light—the permeating theme of the great solemnity that we celebrate at Christmas. Our Holy Father says, “The people who walked–caught up in their activities and routines, amid their successes and failures, their worries and expectations–have seen a great light. The people who walked–with all their joys and hopes, their disappointments and regrets–have seen a great light. In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light. … A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives” (Homily of Pope Francis, 25 September 2015).
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! As we continue to celebrate the great Nativity of the Lord—Christmas—we rejoice with Isaiah: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5). The Psalmist invites us to “exult before the LORD, for he comes; for he comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy” (Ps 96: 13).
The Lord is forever faithful. We are called to “[proclaim] the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace” (Homily of Pope Francis, 25 September 2015). We do this by serving as beacons of light amidst the darkness of our world, radiating the light, the “abundant joy” (Is 9:2), the love, the “blessed hope” (Ti 2:13) of Jesus Christ, proclaiming with “great rejoicing” (Is 9:2) the “good news of great joy” (Lk 2:10). “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven” (Entrance Antiphon). Let us join our hearts and voices this Christmas night and proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).
“Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing, Alleluia to our King; Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!” (Stille Nacht, Fr. Joseph Mohr)
Advent, the word in and of itself instills hope and builds anticipation for greatness, joy and peace. What is it are we waiting for?
It seems with the close of the year, we wait anxiously for those intimate times with our family and friends, a break from work and the routine and a time for closeness. Maybe, we are waiting for a Christmas party, presents and the holiday ambience. As a student, I always find it paradoxical that finals would be during the season of Advent. The hectic study and preparation of exams easily muddles the preparation I could be doing in my own heart for the King.
The anticipation, the excess and busyness I find myself in reminds me of the Gospel story where the disciples forget the presence of the Lord in their midst:
“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but [Jesus] was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:23-26).
Looking without eyes of faith, the disciples found themselves in a panic and disarray. With a focus on the storm and on the circumstance that assailed them, the disciples forgot the most essential truth that was right there with them on the boat: the Sleeping Christ. The answer to their cries for help was peacefully present in their situation ready to grace them with a great calm.
What is it, again, that we are waiting for during this Advent Season?
The gift we are waiting for is the sleeping babe, the sleeping Christ, in the manger. The Divine Son, who humbles Himself so greatly that He arrives in the stillness of night, in the quiet with shepherds and sheep alike. The Creator God comes in the stillness. What we are waiting for is the Prince of Peace.
My own hurriedness in finishing all of my papers and exams, finding the perfect gifts for my friends and family, making travel plans and somehow finding time to stop and recognize where I am headed resembles the experience of the disciples. I am awaiting His peace, but my actions reveal otherwise. I must intentionally make the effort to stop and breathe in what I am truly searching for this December.
May the anticipation throughout this Advent season bring us to stop and ponder the mystery of the Lord of the Universe resting in a manger who has come to encounter our hearts. May the peace of the Sleeping Christ invade our hearts, our minds, and our actions so we too may accept the true gift He wishes for us all this season: a great calm (Matthew 8:26).
In a classroom of 25 students, sometimes it gets a little noisy. Just simply saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son…” in my Catholic school can quiet a room faster than the loudest bell or my scariest tone of voice. Students can begin the day with prayer, end it with prayer, and say it before meals. However, prayer in a student’s life can come in many forms.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thes 5:16-18)
In my school, we try and encourage our students to “find God in all things.” This is a beautiful way to appreciate God’s creation and look for Him throughout our lives in the people we meet, places we go, and in everything we do. For second graders, these moments of thankfulness can be tricky to find, but when they discover that it can be as easy as thinking, “Thank you God for the opportunity to be in school today and learn about volcanoes,” the difficulty fades away.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jer 29:12)
Another form of prayer I use in my classroom is silent reflection. Responses vary from boredom to feeling peace. I remind the children that prayer is a chance to talk to God about something or sit in the silence and listen for God talk to them. This quiet peace is what helps us reinvigorate our afternoons for more learning!
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)
Recently, journaling has been my students’ favorite form of prayer. We handed out small prayer journals so that each student could write prayers from the heart to God. Letting them know their writing is private and personal was a crucial part to helping them understand that prayer can be an intimate conversation with the Lord about anything and everything. Children learn about prayer from those closest to them, so for those who have children, I challenge you: be a role model in prayer. Take just a few moments in a day, especially with your child, and pray.
■ The Lord’s Prayer is a good place to start if you don’t know what to say!
■ The Rosary is a beautiful way to ask Mother Mary to intercede for us on a regular basis.
■ The Serenity Prayer is a lifesaver for me sometimes, it helps me think about what things in life I can change and what things I cannot solve! It is a truly beautiful prayer to memorize.
My students may not realize it now, but one day (hopefully soon) this whole “prayer thing” may click for them. All the eye-rolling and goofing-around may one day stop. If only for a moment, my second graders may actually feel the presence of God. For a moment, they might believe God is answering a prayer request they made. They may earnestly thank the Lord for the day they’ve just had. These many forms of prayer that are presented to them throughout the day may click, hopefully in such a way that they might even try to pray on their own.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, please visit http://www.catholicapostolatecenter.org/prayer--catechesis.html.
Like many of you, I have been following Pope Francis’ visit rather closely. Undoubtedly, his presence has impacted each of us in different ways, and I am very excited about the words and actions to come in the days ahead. As I sit here in my office with an unusual lull in activity, I am struck by two ideas our Holy Father has articulated, but are getting very little play in the news.
The first idea comes from his address to the U.S. Congress. While highlighting Abraham Lincoln, he emphasized unity, and Lincoln’s great struggle to bring union, freedom, and peace to a divided and war ravaged nation. Francis named the delicate balance of rejecting fundamentalism that threatens these great virtues that Lincoln fought for, while not sacrificing those same liberties in an effort to defeat these threats.
Within that balance, our Pope names the danger of seeing the world in non-negotiable black and white. I am particularly caught by this because I am often far too quick to judge, especially in a political or theological situation. If people don’t think like me, I reject their ideas as closed-minded nonsense. This line of thinking is all too common in our society. 24-hour news channels that cater to particular political views, blogs and podcasts that target niche groups, and seemingly endless gridlock in Washington reiterates to us constantly that dialogue is overrated, and if you don’t agree with me I have no time for you.
Unfortunately, there is a great danger in seeing things in black and white. When we see things in black and white we claim the moral compass; we claim to know what is righteous and what is sin. And when we get trapped in that line of thinking, there is no more room for anyone else in our lives, not even God. We declare our independence from what we view as wrong only to discover that we can no longer discuss and dialogue with those around us. Nothing anyone has to say is worth listening to.
Here is where the Pope’s message strikes deepest. President Lincoln in his first and primary purpose fought the Civil War to preserve the union, to keep these United States from dividing into isolation. Lincoln chose openness and dialogue, and that is where Pope Francis is calling all of us today. For too long I have looked down on those I disagree with thinking they are not as nuanced or educated as I am. Yet God speaks in history, and if I fail to speak with and be open to my sisters and brothers, how can I hear God? How can I grow? And most importantly, how can I live in union as a member of the Church and as a citizen of this country, if I fail to dialogue and work in communion to realize the Kingdom of God and build a more perfect union?
The second chord that struck me came from the address to the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. While watching the reflection, I was unsure what the Pope was going to say, but I was deeply moved by the compassionate urgency he had while addressing the mission of the church in the United States. He acknowledged the heavy workload, the damaging reality of the sexual abuse crisis, and the corrosiveness of secular culture. However, he made very clear that it was in this context that all of us who minister to God’s people are charged with finding some way to evangelize, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciples.
In my new job I am struggling to engage young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. I have a loose plan, and we are having our first event in a few weeks. However, like anything new, I am having doubts about how successful it will be in bringing young adults back to Christ. I went through all of this training and education and I don’t have a sure answer for how to lead people to discipleship. What if no one shows up?
Through that cloud of doubt, there was the Pope speaking to a cathedral full of bishops, but yet also speaking to my fears. Evangelization is the most important work. We must keep trying. We must keep praying, and we must keep going. Only God builds the Church, but we must keep removing barriers and facilitating encounter, so that the seeds of faith may be watered and eventually produce much fruit.
These last few days have already made for an incredible papal visit. The headlines will undoubtedly continue to be filled with the Pope’s stance on particular issues, and on his discussions at the World Meeting of Families. Through all of that, try to listen to the words surrounding the hot buttoned issues because there Francis is not telling us what to believe, he is rather telling us how to live as human beings. Pope Francis, in his straight talk and unassuming persona, has figured out how to remove those barriers to faith, and in his words over the last few days, I can’t help but feel that Christ has spoken directly to me.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on Catholic How and was reprinted with permission
“Man, I can’t believe I saw the pope today! THE. POPE.” Everywhere I turn, I’m encountering men and women, young and old, believers and nonbelievers who are still in shock, electrified from the day’s events. And what a day it’s been! Months after the initial announcement, after countless preparations, programs, and prayers, Pope Francis was welcomed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the campus of The Catholic University of America. During his homily, Pope Francis called the church to rejoice, to proclaim the Good News to all and to step out of complacency and apathy. "Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable," he said. It’s an experience people following the papal visit won’t soon forget, especially with all the coverage by global news outlets and social media alike. And yet, what will these people take away from the message of the Holy Father? Are they overjoyed to have been in his presence? Will they use the experience as a springboard to launch a new evangelization? Are they simply thrilled to post pope photos on social media in pursuit of as many “likes” and affirmations as possible? Are they annoyed because of the inconveniences brought about from having such a high level of security screen a crowd of tens of thousands of onlookers? What will the world remember from such an event?
“Peace be with you,” the Pope had greeted the crowds, an invitation to set aside any and all of the worries, the disappointments, the troubles, and the restlessness burdening each and every one of those attending the Mass. This may not be one of the famous one-liners of Pope Francis the media picked up on as they ran commentary, but those words have been recorded in Sacred Scripture thousands of years ago and continue to be repeated countlessly each and every day around the world. How necessary is it for us to recognize this great greeting of blessing and to appreciate the call for us to focus on God and His infinite love for us!
While the headlines will tell of Pope Francis’incredible addresses to the United Nations and a joint session of Congress for sure, the Holy Father isn’t as overly impressed by these displays of power. The only power he is awed by is that which radiates from the Cross and which resides perpetually in every tabernacle, which contains our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist. The most incredible action then occurs at every Mass celebrated around the world--
and Pope Francis isn’t the first or only person to perform such a deed!
To those who find the Mass to be boring or unnecessary in their spiritual lives, Pope Francis reminds them that:
“The Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual exercise, it is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus did at the Last Supper…[T]he Eucharist is Jesus himself who gives himself entirely to us. Nourishing ourselves of Him and abiding in Him through Eucharistic Communion, if we do so with faith,transforms our life, transforms it into a gift to God and to our brothers and sisters. Nourishing ourselves of that ‘Bread of Life’means entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his behaviour. It means entering into a dynamism of love and becoming people of peace, people of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of sharing in solidarity. The very things that Jesus did.”
The Eucharist is meant for every person, every nation, and the entire world! Similarly, Jesus is as truly and substantially present on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as on the east portico of the National Shrine here in DC or on the altar in my high school’s chapel in Lincroft, New Jersey.
The mission of the Vicar of Christ, then, is to increase our faith and to bear witness to the love of our Lord and Savior. The Apostolic Visit to our nation is surely a tremendous and needed blessing: the faithful are united in the joy of the visit and are called to share this joy in their everyday lives and encounters with others. The Love realized in the Real Presence is the same which inspires and moves each of us to bring all, no matter their circumstances, to embrace and take part in this Love within the Universal Church.
“Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!” “Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen!” This most wonderful news remains at the core of the dogma and Gospel message of Christianity; yet when it was first proclaimed by Mary Magdalene to the apostles, they thought it was utter nonsense. Even nearly two thousand years of evangelization later, there remain those who have doubts, as the apostle Thomas did, about the Resurrection, demanding hard, irrefutable proof that they might begin to believe. Some reject the Church completely, perceiving it as clinging to outdated moral and socioeconomic beliefs. The persecution of the Church in various forms and intensities continues to this day, with some parts of the world undergoing similar brutality suffered by the earliest Christians. Critics continuously point to and decry the scandals and the perceived subsequent reformation failures harming the Church, referencing various statistics on vocation shortages to the priesthood, the instability of parishes, and any and all catechetical dissent from within. In a world where evil appears to be flourishing and truth is increasingly being perceived as relative, the faithful and nonbelievers alike find themselves wondering: how does the Church continue to endure?
“I believe in Jesus Christ” the Creed declares. Our faith is in God— not the clergy, the laity, nor any others who are susceptible to sin. Christ is and remains the “head of the body, the Church… through whom he extends his reign over all things” (CCC 792). Just as Christ chose imperfect men to be His apostles, He commissions us all to “go and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In doing so, we do not call attention to ourselves but to Christ, whose perfection we strive to imitate in our daily lives. As members of the Body of Christ, we are obligated to hold accountable and care for each other as we strive to remain holy (see 1 Corinthians 12:21-31). When one of us falls along the way, we cannot abandon that person— Christ always remains faithful (see 2 Timothy 2:13)! Everyone has shortcomings, yet our Lord never shied away from them because they weren’t perfect. His perfect love sanctifies the Church and gives her life! This same love should drive us to pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness, and continue to complete our mission of evangelization no matter the challenges facing us.
As we can see in today’s culture, one of the biggest challenges facing the Church is the problem of moral relativism. Like his predecessors, Pope Francis warned how this way of thinking contributed to the “material and spiritual poverties of our time”:
But there is no peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
The slippery slope of moral relativism threatens the stability of society and the integrity of the human person. The Church, to her credit, is set apart from the rest of the world in her pursuit of Truth. The world, like Pilate, retorts, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) to which the Church responds, “[God’s] word is truth” (John 17:17). I take great comfort in the Church’s strong convictions, particularly regarding human dignity, social justice, and the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family— she does not back down because the truth is unpopular or uncomfortable. In spite of persecution, the Church has always and will continue to remain steadfast in calling the world back to God. As the song goes:
Lord, you give the great commission:
“Heal the sick and preach the word.”
Lest the Church neglect its mission
and the Gospel go unheard,
help us witness to your purpose
with renewed integrity;
with the Spirit's gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.
Though evil seems to overshadow the good in the news, evil never has the final word. God can bring good out of evil; after all, Easter Sunday followed Good Friday. We, as Christ’s Body on earth, cannot sit back and wait for it to happen by itself; rather, it is up to us to pray for guidance and grace to aid us in overcoming the challenges that face us in the mission God has specially tasked us to complete. In the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá, “He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed, but he did say you would not be overcome” (see John 16:33, Matthew 16:18, cf. John 15:18-25). We may pray for an increase in faith, that is, “to touch Jesus and to draw from him the grace which saves,” but even the littlest faith is sufficient to do God’s will (see Matthew 17:20-21, Luke 17:5-6)! May the doubting apostle St. Thomas intercede for us as we continue our noble work!
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Some time ago, I wrote about the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. I mentioned how often times we hear that piece performed around Christmastime, although that portion of the Messiah is actually about Easter and the Resurrection. Now that the Nativity has arrived, perhaps it might be interesting to look at what Handel did use to interpret the Birth of Christ.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” is taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah (Is 9:6):
For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government
Shall be upon His shoulder
And his name shall be called
The Mighty God
The Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace
In that one verse, the prophet presents so much insight into the aforementioned Child to be born. He will be a son, he shall reign over a great dominion, and he shall bring peace. Well, only one child fits that description: Jesus Christ.
When Isaiah tells of a son being given to the faithful, he is not just talking about the neighbor’s kid. He foretells of a son presented as a gift to all who believe. And indeed, in Christ, we have not only a child but also the moment when the word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). And through that word, humanity is redeemed. Through Christ, death no longer has power. The gates of heaven are opened to all that would follow he who is called the Son of God.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” declared John the Baptist (Mt 3:2). Yes, we believe that at the end of time Christ will establish his kingdom for all eternity (CCC 1042). But in the meantime, his kingdom exists on earth in the form of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (CCC 763). Founded by Jesus with a mission to manifest the will of God, the Church waits in hopeful anticipation for the establishment of Christ’s eternal reign.
It is very appropriate, then, for Isaiah to foretell a Prince of Peace. Not only would Jesus go on to proclaim a kingdom of love but also, when he returns, establish a heavenly domain that knows no end. At Christmas, we celebrate both a beginning and an end. We celebrate the very beginning of Christ ruling the hearts and minds of the faithful while also looking toward the end when he will come again and his “kingdom will have no end.”
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Today marks one week until a great man comes to visit us, bringing joy to all. Given the nature of this blog, I’m guessing you think I’m talking about the coming of the newborn Jesus Christ. But I’m actually talking about Santa Claus! The jolly old man himself, bringing loads of goodies on his sleigh to the girls and boys on his twice-checked list. Yes, indeed. What else is special about Christmas? It is interesting to see the secular meaning of Christmas intersect with the glorious birth of our Savior to yield a sort-of confused holiday. The world seems to forget that during this season of Advent when Catholics are preparing their hearts to welcome Jesus on the 25th, many are just preparing themselves to welcome elves and anxiety. This year in particular, I have had to take a step back from all the noise and busyness, and enjoy the peace and joy of this Advent season. Can we still find God with us?
The Gospel today helps us anticipate God’s Promise through faith. In Matthew 1:23, Joseph is visited by an angel to fulfill what the prophets had written, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). Joseph had extraordinary faith to believe that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and that he would care for the One who was being sent to save the world. This was no small feat for a simple carpenter, but Joseph understood the importance of Christ’s birth.
This last part of this passage, God with us, caught my ear when I first read it, and reminded me of a Theology class from freshman year in college. We learned that in order to redeem the world from Original Sin, God had to dwell among us on earth. God could only do that by becoming fully Divine and fully Human, and only through a stainless virgin could Jesus be stainless himself. The world has truly been saved because of a small child, born in a stable and laid in manger over 2,000 years ago. Each year we have 4 weeks to ready ourselves for his arrival again. The joy of the season is not packages, ribbons, and bows, it’s realizing that God is here to love us and save us.
In my classroom, we have an elf named Chester who comes to visit during the weeks of Advent. He arrived on the first day back from Thanksgiving break, and we have found him in a new spot every morning. According to the book he brought with him called, Elf on the Shelf, he returns to Santa to relay messages about whether or not the kids in my class were naughty or nice each day. Based on this report, my students will have a visit from Santa on Christmas morning. What if instead of Santa visiting us with things, we visited God with full hearts and open arms? Although Chester the Elf is here throughout Advent and will disappear after Christmas, God is always with us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resources!