For the last two years, my parish has hosted a virtual Lourdes pilgrimage led by the Lourdes Volunteers. This prayerful experience went beyond my general understanding of Mary’s 18 apparitions to St. Bernadette in southern France during 1858. By attending this virtual pilgrimage, I felt the Virgin Mary’s call to learn more about her, and through her, to grow closer to God. A few months after attending my first virtual pilgrimage, I completed a Marian consecration with several friends. Thankfully, the team of volunteers with the Lourdes Volunteers is still hosting virtual pilgrimage experiences via broadcast on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11.
We often think of the physical healing miracles at Lourdes, but emotional healing is also an important part of the message of Lourdes. When I attended these virtual pilgrimage sessions, the lessons of sacrifice that Our Lady shared with St. Bernadette stood out to me most. “I do not promise you happiness of this world, but of the next,” Mary said to St. Bernadette. Mary reminds us that uniting our sufferings to Jesus’ sufferings on the cross is where we find true joy.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot easier said than done!
Prayer is transformative and plays a huge part in helping get us through our earthly sufferings. Choosing love helps make sacrifice endurable. St. Bernadette taught us that suffering passes, but having suffered remains eternally. The physical and emotional sacrifices of this world are temporary compared to the glory of everlasting life in heaven with God.
St. Bernadette famously said, “One who loves does not notice their trials, or perhaps more accurately, is able to love them. Love without measure.” At first, this not noticing of trials seems idealistic. But then I realized that our trials are made more bearable because of our love for another. I think of how mothers go through physical pain and exhaustion for their newborn babies, or how a father stays up at night with a sick child. I think of how husbands and wives sacrifice individual wants for the needs of each other. I think of how a friend puts their own struggles aside to help another friend going through a deep, rough patch.
We can look to Mary and Jesus as examples of how to love while enduring sacrifice. “She spoke to me as one person to another,” said St. Bernadette of Mary. This conversational nature of Mary and St. Bernadette’s relationship shows us that we can easily speak to her and ask for her prayerful intercession as our mother.
At Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette, she revealed herself to be the Immaculate Conception. By allowing God to forgive us of our sins and conduct his work inside us, we are becoming more “immaculate” witnesses to God in the world. Mary emphasized the need for penance and prayer, not just for ourselves, but for the healing of all.
While our travel is limited during this Covid-19 pandemic, we can still embody St. Bernadette by imagining the grotto and going there in our hearts to make a pilgrimage.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. St. Bernadette, pray for us.
The last full week of Lent, before Holy Week begins, has always been a bit of a struggle for me. Usually by this time, I’ve already slipped up on my voluntary Lenten penances once or several times, I’m ready for the Triduum to just be here already, and I’m completely over the color purple. My husband and I jokingly call this spiritual sluggishness or restlessness “the end-of-Lent slog.” It seems like these particular days before Holy Week ramps up are when we are tempted the most to go back to the things we’re fasting from or to just throw in the towel on Lent because we’re “basically done.”
My husband and I pray Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours together, and one of the readings that has resonated with me this Lent comes from St. Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he encourages his readers to imitate well-trained athletes and to “run so as to win.” He continues: “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” When I was a teenager, I viewed Lent as a sprint: choose some really intense or difficult penances, struggle to maintain an unrealistically high level of spiritual rigor, and then after Easter gleefully go right back to doing and eating all the things I had given up while tossing out all the spiritual growth I’d supposedly just undergone. As I matured in my faith, I came to understand that Lent is not meant to be a temporary, intense lifestyle challenge; rather, it is the start of a marathon. It’s a specific time to motivate ourselves to grow deeper in our relationship with God by letting go of the things that keep us from Him and by doing more difficult penances for our sins and vices—preferably by abstaining from them and thus breaking our addictions to or reliance on them.
Like St. Paul says, we ought to treat our spiritual lives the way that athletes treat their sport: they dedicate themselves to it, setting higher and higher goals, training their bodies, denying themselves in order to maintain peak physical performance. And all of this to win a crown of leaves! How much more important, then, are the things we take on during Lent? We are training and preparing our souls for an eternity in Heaven with God, not for gold medals or accolades here on earth. Do we approach Lent as something that we need to win right now, this year? Or as something that trains us and jumpstarts us for the rest of the year—and the rest of our lives? Do we find ourselves fasting from the same things every year because we couldn’t maintain virtuous habits once the Easter bells started to ring? Or have our old Lenten penances and prayers become so incorporated into our daily lives that we can build upon them with each new Lenten season?
Once I realized these things about Lent, all those times I “failed” in my Lenten practices didn’t seem so terrible anymore. I no longer want to “quit” Lent when I accidentally slip up on my penances or when I find myself giving in to temptation. If Lent is meant to jumpstart us on spiritual practices that we continue for months and years afterward, then we have to acknowledge and move past the stumbles and crashes when they come. Our failures to live up to our promises to God are still regrettable, certainly, but when we are in it for the long haul, our stumbles are also much more forgettable. St. Paul shows us that in “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead” we must continue in our “pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” We must acknowledge and repent of our broken pasts and our sinfulness, but we also must look with hope toward the future that Christ has made possible for us. If we allow ourselves to dwell too much on our failures, our concupiscence, our weakness as mortal men, then we can lose sight of the ultimate goal for which we strive: to be with Christ in Heaven. As Lent moves into Holy Week and Eastertide, let us strive to be like Paul’s well-disciplined athletes, winning the marathon of life by training our souls for the eternal prize of Jesus Christ.
For more resources to accompany you throughout the Lenten season, please click here.
Question for Reflection: How can you build on your Lenten practices throughout the liturgical year?
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
We are now over a week into our Lenten journey; the reality has set in. We are questioning our decisions to give up sweets or the snooze button, and we are tired. Perhaps we have even failed a few times. The forty days seem to drag, and the somberness of the liturgical season has made itself known. Yet during the Ash Wednesday service at my parish, our priest was talking about the joy of the season and how our failures are meant to bring us closer to Our Lord. In a word, he talked about the hope of Lent.
As someone who would rather stay in the joy and light of the Christmas season, I was really challenged by Father’s perspective, especially now, after my many failed attempts to give up the snooze button. We often focus so much on the “giving up” aspect of Lent that the words joy and hope do not seem to go hand in hand with this season. This is especially true when I think of the phrase that kickstarts our Lenten journey: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” On a superficial level, this sign on our forehead doesn’t look so good. Where are the hope and joy in having ashes smeared on your forehead?
Throughout his homily, Father also encouraged us to change our perspective on the difficult acts of penance we are attempting and instead to live in the reality that this season could be a time of true conversion of heart. Our Lord desires us to be holy! The acts of penance we choose could be the very means He uses to break us of habitual sin and to bring a deeper level of charity into our hearts. Conversion of heart and holiness? I could get behind that; I can see the joy there!
The priest did not say “if you fail your resolutions” but “when you fail.” This is a reminder of our weakness and utter dependence on Jesus, who will be making His way to Calvary soon, in Scripture, to save our souls. This dependence on Him will assist in our conversion of heart, considering “we can do nothing without him” (John 15:5). So: it’s alright to fail, but run back to Him. Beg Him for more grace!
Now let’s read this sentence from the Ash Wednesday service one more time: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Where is the hope there? Father explained that this is the most hopeful reality yet. Ultimately this reminder of our sinfulness and our death paradoxically represents the life we have in Christ, the Resurrection of Jesus, and the hope we have of entering into the Eternal Reward. Even though the phrase seems bleak, it can propel our hope throughout these 40 days. We have something to strive for, to live for, and to love for.
Though I have failed at my Lenten resolutions more times than I have not, I pray with the hope that my humanity might be resurrected, that Our Lord may convert my sinful ways, and that I may remember that this liturgical season is less about what I do and more about what the Lord is doing in my heart to get me home.
What are ways you need to be renewed in hope and joy? How can you accept the failures that come with penance and run to Jesus this Lenten season?
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, please click here.
The next forty days of Lent are Mother Church’s annual call to intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving oriented towards embracing God as the center of one’s life and repenting of all which distracts us from Him. With the current crisis for the Church in the United States, it seems that the Church could really use a good spiritual renewal, cleansing, and renunciation of sin often focused on during the season of Lent. As parts of the Body of Christ, we are all too aware how an affliction experienced (or caused) by one part affects us all. Recall the words of St. Paul, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep... Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” The Church is suffering but, just as she always has, she will ultimately be restored for the glory of God. As laity, you and I are key to addressing this scourge, along with the Church’s holy clergy and religious, and to affirming God’s presence in our lives not just in the Lenten season, but every day.
Though a time of repentance, Lent is not a time of despair or hopeless suffering; this season reminds us that God, although saddened by our repeated failings, never closes Himself off from offering mercy and love to the broken, the sinner, and the lost. Lent is not a diet, nor a fad of living without something trivial, nor even a temporary spiritual renewal; it must take root—free from the sin which prevents this—and be nourished over the coming weeks to strengthen us throughout the whole year. Above all, Lent prepares us for the celebration of Easter. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again; the Church suffers, the Church is renewed, the Church shall be restored!
The abuse scandal today may cause people to feel abandoned, angry, confused, and sad. “How can this be happening?” is certainly a question in our hearts and homes these days. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ, the same “yesterday, today, and forever,” reigns over the Church. He is omnipotent, divinely good, and eternal; Let us take courage in the truth that our faith is ultimately in Jesus Christ. Because our Lord remains faithful to us and ever close to His bride, the Church, He gives us the strength to recommit ourselves to renouncing the evil in our sight that threatens to drive us away from God and His Church.
Lent is the perfect opportunity to facilitate spiritual renewal, not only for ourselves but also for the greater Church. Following the example of Jesus’ time in the desert before commencing His public ministry, the faithful are invited to reflect on the state of the Church, pray for strength, courage, justice, and healing, and even seek accountability in the governance of the Church. Personal penance can be made for our own failings, but reparation must also be made to address this scandal and to unify God’s people to prayerful and peaceful action in seeking God’s healing grace to move forward.
Over the next 40 days, let us care for the Church by promoting healing among ourselves, supporting the afflicted and needy, addressing sin and divisions, and always proclaiming Christ to each other and the world.
For more resources to accompany you throughout the Lenten season, please click here.
 cf. Lumen Gentium, 33.
 Romans 12:15, 21.
 Hebrews 13:8.
 cf. 2 Timothy 2:13.
January, as the first month of the new calendar year, is for many people a time to start fresh. And January 2019 in particular seemed to be the month of intense home decluttering. This is probably due to the advent of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” I have friends and relatives who had never heard of Kondo’s bestselling book before the streaming show debuted, and yet I have watched them become KonMari method adherents, filling my social media feeds with success stories about the household clutter they are donating or dumping.
Amid all this physical decluttering, I find myself wondering how often we take time to do some spiritual decluttering as well. Especially for myself—I strive to maintain a ruthless-but-not-obsessive attitude about household clutter. But do I regularly declutter my soul outside of going to confession every month or two? And when I do attempt spiritual decluttering, do I approach it with the same kind of enthusiasm about ridding my soul of the things that are holding me back from God?
In this new year’s spirit of decluttering and simplifying, we tend to think about the kinds of things in our homes that we no longer need: toys missing essential pieces, gifts we will never use but feel too guilty to donate, soccer participation trophies from third grade. But we should also think about the kinds of things that make up ‘spiritual clutter’: useless smartphone games that waste hours of our time, social media accounts that just fuel jealousy and resentment toward our peers, junk food binges that disrespect our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. What are the things that our minds, our bodies, or our souls cling to that do not bring us closer to God?
In Luke’s Gospel, Simon, James, and John “leave everything” to follow Christ. We also are called to leave everything and follow Christ. But what does everything mean when we live in the twenty-first century with all of its modern conveniences? We are not all called to join a mendicant order, to become cloistered nuns, or to become missionaries in the far-flung corners of the world. We still need shelter, food, clothing, and dignified work. But along with striving to make our homes oases of calm in a chaotic life, so too should we strive to make our souls oases of peace in a fallen world.
If we really stop to think about it, spiritual clutter is as ubiquitous as and more detrimental than physical clutter. Everywhere we turn, there are bad habits and ill-formed attachments that keep us from deepening our relationship with God. And just like physical clutter, spiritual clutter is a deeply personal thing. We can choose to ignore it, but—like its physical counterpart—spiritual clutter will eventually take over our lives until we dread even peeking into those areas that are the messiest and need the most work. But we must look inward in order to grapple with the things that keep us from following Christ—especially if we dread what we will discover about ourselves.
When the metaphorical pile of spiritual clutter seems insurmountable, it is good for us to remember that we are not alone in our endeavors: God is there beside us, calling us to engage with him in the sacrament of Penance, which itself is spiritual decluttering. With its thorough examination of conscience and its outpouring of God’s grace, going to confession not only absolves us of the sins that clutter our hearts, but it also bolsters us to overcome those temptations in the future. And, with God’s grace, the spiritual clutter that accumulates in our hearts will slowly begin to seem more manageable and less insurmountable, until one day we realize that the things that had once seemed to control our lives are no longer more than a passing temptation.
As the new year continues on and we declutter more of our physical homes, let us remember to give equal attention to our spiritual homes.
Question for Reflection: What are some things that are cluttering your spiritual life?
“I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor” are the words of a humble man. And yet, Pope St. Pius X is venerated not only for his piety, but also for the many accomplishments of his papacy. During his 1903-1914 pontificate, Pius X wrote an incredible defense of the Church from modern era heresies like relativism and religious indifferentism; he eliminated foreign vetoes from papal elections; he created the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (i.e., the group that organizes “Sunday school,” or CCD classes, for the entire Church); he established the production of the 1917 Code of Canon Law; he developed a popular and simple catechism for the laity; he provided permission and financial support to establish the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.; and, perhaps most notably, he lowered the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age, citing the sacrament as “the shortest and surest way to Heaven.”
By lowering the reception age of the sacrament, Pope Pius X hoped to instill in the minds of the young communicants a deeper appreciation for the sacred intimacy of Holy Communion. In his 1994 “Letter to Children,” Pope Saint John Paul II built upon this theme, stating that frequent reception of communion is necessary “in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.” One of the best benefits of Pius X’s invitation to the young is that it renewed a general liturgical emphasis on the Eucharist and encouraged more frequent reception of Christ’s Body and Blood among the faithful of all ages. With people receiving the Eucharist more frequently, there was also a surge of dependence on the Sacrament of Penance so as to receive worthily. Thus, the faithful of all ages were brought more frequently to the Sacraments thanks to Pius X’s pastoral insight.
For me, the spiritual preparation I received for my first Eucharist was unlike any other instruction I was taught in school. Up until the day of my First Holy Communion, my participation at Mass was seemingly limited during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I had questions about everything: Jesus had already died for me, my second-grade self would wonder, so what more is He offering? The answer, I would soon learn, could be summarized in the words of Bishop Barron, “The Cross has saved us, but our participation in that salvation can waver. So, what does the Lord give us? Bread for the journey.” Thinking about the Eucharist as spiritual food was very helpful and comforting, though I would continue to wrestle with the deception of my senses as described by St. Thomas Aquinas (who incidentally was a favorite of Pope St. Pius X) in his Eucharistic hymn, Adore te Devote:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.
The occasion of one’s First Holy Communion is indeed a cause for celebration and thanks to the “Pope of the Eucharist” children are invited to share in the Mystery of the Real Presence. But beyond the photos and party and presents received, the true gift is partaking completely in the sacrifice of the Mass as offered by the priest and then striving to remain worthy to do so again and again at and in between each subsequent Mass. May we – throughout our whole lives - call to mind the significance of this invitation and, in the spirit of St. Pius X’s awe-struck humility, continuously seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord whose Body whose Body we dare to consume. And, as we are strengthened by this awesome spiritual food, let us do what we can to bring others to it. Whether we serve as Eucharistic ministers to the homebound, or volunteer with a First Communion CCD class, or even invite our friends whom we know haven’t been to mass in a while to receive the sacraments with us, let us use Christ’s body in the Eucharist to fuel our spirits as we daily serve as missionary disciples.
“Rejoice! Hidden within your life is a seed of resurrection, an offer of life ready to be awakened.” -Pope Francis
The world in which we live is filled with distraction and noise. I realized this in a deeper way as a new mom nursing my newborn at all hours. During those late night feedings, I needed something to keep myself awake and found myself gravitating towards my phone more and more. It was easy to hold and look at in the dark, and I found it nearly impossible to concentrate on reading a book, let alone holding it open as my newborn moved about. By the time Lent rolled around, I had been watching online TV episodes, checking my various social media feeds consistently, or scrolling through house listing websites. In our culture, this type of electronic consumption is easy to fall into. And while these sites or activities are not necessarily wrong or evil, I felt that I was more and more consumed by things of this world. In prayer, I felt the Lord asking me to be consumed with Him rather than by materialism, technology, or my own desires.
What we consume defines who we are and what we become. What started out as a way to keep myself awake in those exhausting first weeks and months of motherhood had become a small addiction. What if instead, I used those minutes and hours to pray, to be still with my thoughts, to be present to my son?
I had a quiet Lent. Formally, I gave up “scrolling.” I did not look at social media feeds, online shopping websites, or TV shows. I also limited my consumption of music and movies. I felt that I had truly entered a desert and made an ongoing “silent retreat” without completely removing myself from the world. I was becoming a “contemplative in action” and realized that even as a parent and married person, I could still carve out time for Christ each day through silent reflection.
Instead of consuming media, I prayed and I was silent. I used my phone only for Scripture reading or Catholic reflections. I prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I read spiritual books. I thought of all the friends and family that had asked for my prayers. I offered up this media fast for them and for the needs of the world.
This was hard. I noticed how many times my hand gravitated towards the screen. I noticed how much time I had spent behind one. Now that I have emerged from the season of Lent, I can’t help but wonder how I’ve changed.
In his homily at the Easter Vigil this year, Pope Francis spoke of the changed faces of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary after they visited Christ’s tomb. The two brave women ventured out in the early hours of the morning “pale and tearful” and “walked like people going to a cemetery.” They had not yet encountered the Risen Lord. When they arrived, they were met with miraculous, life-changing news: “He has been raised just as he said!”
The women leave rejoicing and run immediately to tell the disciples, to evangelize. Their faces are completely transformed.
This leads me to reflect, “How has my face transformed this Easter season? Have I emerged from the tomb of Lent rejoicing?”
Lent and Easter are about transformation—going from the tomb to new life. Christ is raised from the dead and extends this life to us all. He has opened the doors to our salvation. We don’t have to wait for death to experience this new life. By being consumed by Christ Himself, through prayer and most powerfully through the reception of the Eucharist, we are enabled to become Christ-bearers and share the joy of new life with all we encounter.
Pope Francis invites us to experience and live this transformation in our everyday lives, saying:
The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon. The beating heart of the Risen Lord is given to us, and we are asked to give it in turn as a transforming force, as the leaven of a new humanity. In the resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.
After 40 days of penance and sacrifice, it’s tempting to go back to our old ways—to “carefully constructed ivory towers” and a “compulsive need for security.” “We can grow accustomed to living with the tomb,” Pope Francis cautions.
This Easter season, we must decide to leave the tomb: to stay present, to pray, to choose to be consumed by God. I have learned that in so doing my life is made richer and more meaningful. When consumed by God, I am better able to be present to and love others.
As we continue our victorious journey through the Easter season, I invite you to consider how your life has changed as a result of your Lenten journey. Have you emerged from the tomb? How has your face changed?
For more resources on Lent and Easter, please click here.
If you could only take three things on a desert island, what would you bring?
A common question at parties, dates, and job interviews, it’s not so different from what we might ask ourselves during the season of Lent. Lent, as our Catechism says, is “a span of forty days when the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
Just as the “desert island” question invites us to stop and consider what we really need and want in life, Lent invites us to consider our truest desires, what matters most, when it comes to uniting ourselves to Christ Jesus.
To help us answer this question during Lent, our Catholic tradition gives us three spiritual keys, known as “penitential practices,” namely, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
Before deciding what to “give up” during Lent, first “pick up” a new way to pray. Be specific: pick a time, place, and form of prayer. Don’t commit to more than you can do, but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself some.
Lent primarily focuses on the practice of penitential prayer, humbly acknowledging our sins with sorrow and contrition, and turning our hearts back to God’s forgiveness and mercy. One example found at most parishes is the Stations of the Cross, usually hosted every Friday during Lent as a way of reflecting on Christ’s Passion and death. Other daily spiritual exercises might involve reciting the Seven Penitential Psalms, or making a heartfelt Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition. Don’t forget Lent is a powerful time to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also called Reconciliation, or Confession).
Penitential prayer isn’t meant to leave us discouraged, but should increase our desire to love and serve God. The Psalmist sings, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:2-3). Lent is a kind of “spiritual desert” that highlights our thirst for God, which may lead us to experience what the saints of our Church call “dryness in prayer,” times when we lack feelings of comfort and consolation. Rather than a sign that God isn’t listening, as Mother Angelica and others have described, dryness in prayer can be a gift and invitation to find our deeper satisfaction in God alone. In the words of Msgr. Charles Pope, dry and difficult prayer teaches us to seek not the consolation of God but the God of consolation.
Fasting is the spiritual practice of voluntarily abstaining from food or some other bodily need or pleasure (now we can talk of “giving something up”). Fasting is rooted in our Church’s scripture and tradition, especially in imitation of Jesus who fasted for forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:2). While the Church only asks members to fast from food on occasion, I’m convinced fasting is more relevant than ever as we live in constant temptation of becoming more gratified while less grateful, more satiated while less satisfied.
Fasting can be a practice of slowing down. This can mean we intentionally consume and do less, thus allowing God to speak to our souls with less interruptions from the myriad distractions and lesser goods that demand our time and attention. Fasting works to curb our appetites—for food and drink, yes—but also excess information (news and status updates), noise and visual stimulation (TV, video games), so as to redirect our thoughts and desires for God and restore relationships with those near us. Spend some time in prayer considering what things or activities God is calling you to fast from.
When asked, “How much money is enough” Industrialist and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller famously replied, “Just a little bit more.” The practice of almsgiving, on the other hand, can actually be freeing—showing that we can be happy with a little bit less.
John the Baptist instructed his followers, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11), and Jesus warned his disciples of putting stock in material possessions (Luke 18:18-30).
Almsgiving turns the spiritual fruit we inwardly gain through prayer and fasting outward into material fruit shared with the poor and those in need. One year, I chose one item a day I owned (article of clothing, book, can of food, etc.) to set aside to give to the poor through my local church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society or food pantry. I was shocked (and a little embarrassed) by how much I owned but never used. The point isn’t spring-cleaning or making room in the closet for new summer fashions, but to make room in our heart for the poor and to de-clutter the way that leads to the Kingdom of God.
This Lent, I invite you to pray about incorporating these pillars into your forty-day spiritual journey in the desert.
"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." -St. Augustine
I’ll come right out and say it: I dislike going to Confession. I really do. And so I avoid it like the plague. We all have our struggles in faith, and this is my biggest one.
“Why do I have to seek out a priest, another human, and tell him all the bad things I’ve done? Can’t I just talk to God directly? Doesn’t God hear everything in your heart?” We’ve all heard these questions—challenges, really—about the need for regular visits to the confessional. After all, God does know everything in our hearts. We can talk to him directly, and we should do so often! But we need more than just that internal dialogue with God. Our faith, after all, isn’t one lived alone.
St. Paul tells the Romans, “We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” (Romans 12:5) I may be a toe, you may be an earlobe, but we all, collectively, make up the one Body of Christ in the Church. So if that’s what we truly believe, and one of those parts gets hurt, the whole rest of the body feels that pain. If you stub your toe, the whole of your body stops everything and focuses on that pain. So, too, when we stub our spiritual toe, we create a ripple throughout the rest of the Body.
We could talk at length about the nature and effects of sin, but that’s for another discussion. The point is that each of our sins have an effect, not just on ourselves and on God, but on the whole of the Church, too. And so we have three people or groups to reconcile with when we’ve sinned: ourselves, our Creator, and the larger Body of which we are each a part. And who better to forgive our sins than a priest? He’s a spiritual father, a representative of the Church, and, most importantly, someone who acts “in persona Christi,” or “in the person of Christ.”
By virtue of his ordination, each priest has been given some pretty awesome powers. He can baptize people, he can bless places and things, he can call down the power of God onto simple bread and wine, miraculously turning it into Christ’s Body and Blood. So if he can do all those things, can’t he also exercise the power Christ gave the Apostles after his Resurrection? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23) That’s crazy! But it’s our faith, and it comes from Christ himself. We profess this in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins…”
Now we’re all thinking, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but Confession is still too uncomfortable.” And you’re right! It is. That’s why I dislike going. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I don’t like to acknowledge the messy parts of life, including my own failings and shortcomings. I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong, especially when I keep doing the same wrong thing over and over again. But every time I finally buck up the courage (sometimes after months or years) to walk into a confessional, I’m never disappointed. The result is always the same: God has forgiven me and wiped the slate clean. And I feel so good about it!
It’s not that I’m afraid of God’s mercy. In fact, I crave it. The problem is that I’m too afraid of my own self, of my own fragile and broken humanity, to even ask for this mercy. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe I deserve it. And that’s the thing: none of us deserve it. Not one of us can ever be sorry enough, contrite enough, penitent enough, to make amends for what we’ve done and continue to do over and over again.
We can never fully make it up to God; that’s why he sent his Son. Jesus took the sins of the whole world on his shoulders, beaten and bloodied though He was, until he became sin itself: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took every sin each of us will ever commit, carried them up on the cross, and died as payment for it. He’s already paid the price for us. It’s like a spiritual gift card that never expires, but we have to use it to take advantage of the gift. That’s why Confession is so important: the mercy is guaranteed; we have but to ask for it.
Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we all be honest and courageous enough to do that. Whether you just went to Confession last week or, like me, have been putting it off for way too long, be courageous and just go. Let the Year of Mercy have some personal meaning for you, and let God forgive you for what He’s already paid for upfront.
For more resources on Confession and the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.
When I look at my faith journey and the twists and turns it has taken, I consider the people who have impacted it the most. Many of these people have come into my life and taught me something about my faith or about myself in one way or another, through positive relationships, prayer, and community. In the past couple of years, I have been blessed to get to know a few Catholic young women who have become a faith support system for me. These women from different walks of life have been living as witnesses of loyalty, honesty, and vulnerability on their individual faith journeys and have stood as role models to me in mine. Their witness of Christ’s enduring love inspires me to be the best Catholic woman I can be.
My faith journey has also been inspired by Our Blessed Mother’s “Yes” to God and faithful obedience throughout her life. She, along with many women in the Church, serve as witnesses of faith while living often tumultuous lives on earth. Below is a short summary of five real women with strong characteristics that each can serve as models for us as we move forward on our journeys of faith.
Saint Maria Goretti is remembered for forgiving, while on her deathbed, the man who stabbed her after she refused his sexual advances at the young age of eleven. This Italian saint it often depicted gazing at the Virgin Mother while clutching a crucifix. Maria shows us a not only an intense love of Christ, but also exemplifies forgiveness. She forgave her attacker, a man who later became a Capuchin lay brother. By following her example, we can learn to forgive those in our lives who have wronged us and maybe learn to be forgiven ourselves, which can help our hearts be pure through the Sacrament of Penance.
Saint Clare of Assisi is remembered for her empathy and care for the poor. She was a monastic Benedictine nun who later founded the Order of Poor Ladies in the Franciscan tradition. With a strong devotion to Saint Francis, Clare adopted his faithfulness to the poor and desired to live humbly with her order. Clare shows us how to live in service to others by giving of our time and prayer to people in need. We can imitate her example by donating gently used clothing or volunteering at soup kitchens all year round.
Saint Joan of Arc is remembered for her bravery and leadership. She defied secular norms and led soldiers to victory in France. Joan, who is the patron saint of soldiers and France, lived for Christ through her actions. Her bravery can give us courage to persevere through any vocation God has for our lives. She shows us the importance of following God’s call, whether we are preparing to take vows or changing careers.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is remembered for steadfast devotion to Christ after converting to Catholicism and cultivating a desire to live devoutly for God. In the face of adversity within her family (her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was only four years old) and rejection by her Native American community, Kateri stayed true to her heart and had faith in God. Kateri is the first Native American saint and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
Saint Therese of Lisieux is remembered for her undying love for Christ and ongoing cheerfulness until her death at age twenty-four. Known as the “Little Flower,” Therese lived simply and fully in pursuit of a deep and genuine relationship with God. She became the third female and youngest Doctor of the Church in 1997. Therese once said of her life, "It is impossible for me to grow up, so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short and totally new." She shows us how to stay joyful and childlike by fully opening our hearts to Christ and seeking God in our own little ways.
These women and countless others served God through their words, actions, and commitment to the Gospel. I invite you to take a moment to consider these female saints and hundreds of others who witness to their faith. How can Christ help you be brave, like St. Joan of Arc, or instill in you a burning devotion to the Gospel, like St. Kateri Tekakwitha? In what ways can you give to the poor or exercise other corporal and spiritual works of mercy, like St. Claire of Assisi? How can you forgive others, like St. Maria Goretti, or remain joyful like St. Therese of Lisieux? Let us look to the saints, pray for strength, and learn to live through faith.