Lent is not a diet program. Yes, the Church recommends the ascetical practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These, though, are meant to help us love God and neighbor more fully. Pope Francis in his homily for Ash Wednesday offered this consideration:
“Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, our entire being. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends. Lent is not just about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed. This is the core of Lent: asking where our hearts are directed.”
Where is your heart directed? Is it a divided heart?
It is easy to compartmentalize. Or so it seems. Eventually, trying to live life in two directions tears us apart. “Our entire being” needs to be engaged, not simply part. We can pray, fast, and do almsgiving, but still be unconverted within. These acts are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. These “little sacrifices” should sharpen our minds and open our hearts more fully to a life directed toward God and neighbor. If they are done simply for us to feel a sense of accomplishment or as a test of our will, then their focus becomes about us.
How do we go forward? By realizing that “everything depends” on God, not on us. Once we do, and cooperate more fully with the grace of Christ, our hearts will be undivided, united in love with God and neighbor.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources to accompany you during your Lenten journey, please click here.
This Lent looks a little different than it has in past years for many reasons. With a little boy starting to walk, it feels like things are changing fast at times and very slowly at others. I’m looking towards speeding things up to get to new milestones like running and talking, but also praying time can stand still enough to savor precious moments and little giggles. In Lent now, we are waiting for Easter and likely wanting to speed through this time of personal reflection, penitence, and prayer. Maybe if we try to slow down and take a moment to reflect, we’ll discover some time we can put into our relationship with God in a meaningful and intentional way.
This Sunday marks the Second Sunday of Lent and there are some really poignant readings to note for our hardened selves. I think they all tell of a hope and light at the end of the tunnel for us in this dark and restless time. The second reading especially tells us to not give up because God has already provided:
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us. (Rom 8: 31b-34)
This line, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” tells us so much about our God. He is always on our side, no matter what. If God is for us, we can build up a broken relationship with him. If God is for us, we can consider our sins in the Sacrament of Penance and be reconciled. If God is for us, we can slow down and take a moment to breathe in and out in mindfulness. If God is for us, we can have the strength to carry on through this pandemic, perhaps alone physically, but never truly alone. We are never truly alone or abandoned because at the end of this Lenten tunnel, Christ is there waiting for us with open arms and a tissue to wipe our tears. There is beauty in the waiting, and we’ll probably regret it if we don’t allow ourselves to vulnerably open our hearts and our lives to Christ.
So how can we build our relationship with God? How do we prepare our hearts for Easter, while still savoring this waiting and dark time before Christ comes? When we are fearful, where can we turn? When we feel exhausted and worn out, how do we go on this Lent? Through prayer.
I teach my students about prayer during Lent because it can be the absolute best tool we have as Christians. Saint Vincent Pallotti knew this to be true, saying, “The best method of private prayer is that which the spirit of the person finds easiest and most fruitful.” He totally understands us! In his wisdom, Pallotti sought to humbly serve God through his actions and be an apostle journeying with others and teaching them about God’s eternal Love.
Private prayer is so important. It can be as simple as we want it to be or as complex. We can talk to God out loud, in our hearts, through journaling, or in memorized prayers, but private prayer is essential to our spiritual lives. In the moments in which you want to slow down, try praying to God. Each time you think about the next thing that is coming and how you just need to get through it, pray. Ask God to remove your impatience and replace it with humility. Humbly putting ourselves aside during Lent can be a fruitful way to grow closer to God. Intentionality and a few personal moments are the only things we really need this Lent, for if God is for us, who could be against us?
For more resources to guide you through your Lenten journey, please click here.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
“Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endure a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.
‘For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come, he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.’
We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.” -Hebrews 10:32-39
We are living in an extremely tumultuous time. For over a year, a virulent sickness has swept over the world and caused havoc with our health, our economies, and the very way we relate to one another. It has separated us from friends, co-workers, extended family, and our church community, to name a few. In battling its transmission, we have been forced into isolation—severely limiting gatherings, celebrations together, and even sharing hugs. We have been stretched beyond our normal mode of living and the equilibrium of our lives has been disturbed, with no end clearly in sight. On top of all this, we have experienced political and social unrest – polarized groups rising against one another, causing great division instead of building unity. For any individual, these circumstances could easily defeat us and have us succumb to despair. I think of the Marty Haugen song many of us sing every year during Advent: “For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in you.” It resounds in my mind and heart as we traverse through such unsettling circumstances.
Amidst all the unknowns and unrest, I have witnessed a beautiful vision that overrides all the devastation of the circumstances we are in. I have seen people sacrifice to care for others and people coming together to celebrate the joy of life in trying situations. I have witnessed God living and walking among us through the selfless individuals choosing to stand tall in faith and do all things in love. As Christians we are taught “God is love.” We were created out of love, for love. We are part of God’s great creation and we belong to Him. He guides, instructs, and protects us always. What a magnificent testament to hope in! We pray in our Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is part of what we profess at Mass before we enter into the liturgy of the Eucharist – which is the source and summit of our faith. We receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord to nourish us in body and spirit. This profession of faith, this gift of communion, allows us to walk through all the adversities of life as joyful people who understand our hope lies not in this world but in heaven, forever.
This living hope comes from being nurtured by the stories from Scripture, being taught prayers and devotions, receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist frequently, singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and practicing acts of kindness daily. What an ironclad defense we have against any evil that would afflict our body or soul! How beautiful it is that as Christians we can be united together in faith wherever we are. This is how I have remained steadfast in hope and overcome fear during these trials that continue to badger us. Surrounding myself with pictures of the Holy Family, the saints, the crucifix, listening to Christ-centered music, praying novenas and prayers, attending Mass often, and sitting in the quiet and listening for God to speak to me are all ways I actively participate in being a person of hope. Even more simply, just keeping my home clean and neat makes it a peaceful sanctuary where I can experience God’s presence.
I have no control over the things of this world that loom large over me, but that is okay. As long as I adjust my spiritual armor and remain grounded in Christ, I have every reason to walk in hope, joyously, no matter the circumstances. My husband I adopted the habit of praying Saint Patrick’s Breastplate each morning before going out into the fray and it has born much good fruit in our lives. I offer it to you as another tool to assist you in the battle against evil.
We are children of light, born of love and destined for heaven. We belong to Him. He made us a community and all around the world, individually and in groups, we profess our faith boldly, we share His message of love constantly, and we support one another in solidarity of His kingdom. It is our job to remain in Him and He will supply all the grace needed to walk tall in hope. As St. Teresa of Avila said: ‘God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.’
For more resources to guide you through the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
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.
"Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that 'they may all be one' (Jn 17:21). The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the Church could realize 'the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her' We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 244).
Over the nine years that I was at St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, I had the opportunity to participate in and then to host an annual prayer service for Christian Unity. It became a very popular celebration and leaders from various Christian communities participated, including the Archbishop of Baltimore. To me, though, the most important people who participated were the people who went week to week to their faith communities in various parts of Baltimore, but never had the opportunity to pray together with Christians from other communities. Prayer is powerful and to underestimate its power to unite us leaves us lacking in the virtue of hope. Such hope is not naïve, but is based on firm trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin on Saturday, January 18th and conclude on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th. Year after year, Christians are invited to pray that “they may be one.” St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, worked diligently for unity in the Church, using the liturgical Octave of the Epiphany in Rome as a means to unite in prayer members of the Eastern and Western traditions of the Catholic community who were rather disconnected from one another. This celebration was held in the city of Rome from 1836 until 1968. His feast day, on January 22nd, is in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Collaboration of all Christians can lead us toward Pallotti’s vision, hope, and prayer that one day we may be “one fold, under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ” (Cf., Jn 10:16)
Since our mission as the Catholic Apostolate Center is derived from the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti, who fervently prayed for such a day, we invite you to pray not only individually, but draw other Christians together in prayer. Prayer, though, is not the only thing that we can do. We can learn more about what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the needed work for building unity among Christians. We invite you to explore the many resources that we have on our new Christian Unity page. May we also take up the call of the Catholic Church spanning from the time of the Second Vatican Council to the appeal of Pope Francis today:
"The search for unity among Christians is an urgent task... We are well aware that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, cultivating the ground of our hearts, so that this great grace may be received" (Address to the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, June 28, 2013).
Please visit our Christian Unity resources by clicking here.
Every year I ponder why we put such great importance on December 31st—why we celebrate the close of one year and herald in the new year with such fanfare. I never have really been one to make such a ‘to do’ about celebrating New Year’s. Isn’t it simply another day on the calendar, the turning over of a number? One day rides into the next on the 31st of December no differently than all the other days of the year. But we have made it a big holiday – a day to reminisce over the past 12 months and to celebrate the beginning of a fresh new calendar year – and we believe in all of its possibilities. Many of us recommit to our mission in life or to a specific goal. With the encouragement of others, we resolve to some greater aspirations and get all fired up about them!
In our Christian walk, it is essential that we take stock of where we are and what we have done, as well as how we can make improvements, grow in holiness, love more deeply, and share the Gospel message more intentionally. We do not have to only do this examination and recommitment on New Year’s Eve: we are called to do this daily. A great time to do it is before we lay ourselves down to sleep. And then each morning, we can arise with the zeal to do our best, be our best in the new day we have been given. New Year’s Eve traditions are wonderful, but let us daily recall our actions and thoughts and celebrate the close of another day to be alive, to walk and talk as a joyful, purposeful child of the Savior, and then arise each morning to usher in a fresh new day to live and work and grow in our mission to build God’s kingdom on earth.
About 3 months ago, as we were continuing to navigate life in this pandemic, I committed to participating in daily Mass with my husband in order to become a bolder Christian, a more loving wife, a more compassionate mother, a more diligent worker, and a more available servant to my neighbor. I honestly see great fruit in these areas because of receiving Jesus daily in the Word and in Sacrament. I have experienced added gifts of grace that help me become a better child of the Most High! During this time, I awoke every morning between 3:00 and 3:45am, just wide awake and raring to go! After a week of this happening, I realized that God wanted something of me. So now I read Scripture and have a nice quiet prayer time, while the rest of my household is asleep. I would not have been able to do this five years ago, or 10 or 20 or 30. I was in the trenches raising six kids and working and managing an extremely busy household! But grace abounds at this time in my life and it amazes me how good God is! This personal reflection, prayer, and evaluation are a day-by-day occurrence, not just practices that occur once a year at the turning of the clock to January 1st.
I encourage each of you to enjoy your New Year’s Eve reflection and New Year’s Day celebration while also recognizing and committing to the importance of reflecting on what is past and committing to what is ahead as a daily activity. We are each here for a purpose. Together, with the graces God bestows, we have much to do to build His kingdom. So, one foot in front of the other, one sunrise and one sunset at a time, let us celebrate each day with the zeal of the first disciples – and God’s will most surely will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
Happy New Year, happy new day!
“God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity.” Psalm 139:23-24
It seems a gross understatement to say that 2020 has brought on more than just a horrible virus. Our inability to visit loved ones can bring on a wave of loneliness, sadness, despair, or depression. If you have a family, the loneliness is a bit less oppressive than if you are single, but it is still there. Your children cannot go play with their friends as freely and your couple friends aren’t able to come over for dinner. If you are single, your options are even fewer. Regardless of your state in life, however, loneliness has not discriminated in this grueling year.
With the promised vaccine on its way, there is room for hope. However, I think it is important to reflect on the movement within our souls this past year. With all of our normal routines and plans taken away, we’ve been stripped to just ourselves or our immediate families. We’ve even been stripped of the sacraments, the Mass, and the community that comes along with parish life. Day after day, many of us have faced the walls of our home and not much beyond that. During this time, we have no doubt experienced bouts of loneliness. I know I have. But has there been an invitation to solitude in there as well?
What is the difference between solitude and loneliness? Loneliness is a very human experience of feeling isolated and desiring community. It is not as easily fixed as it used to be, given all of the current restrictions. However, solitude is an invitation from Our Lord to be drawn into a particular relationship with Him--to be focused only on Him without distractions. If courageous enough to accept this invitation (I find myself coming up with excuses to pretend that I don’t hear this invitation), we may find an even deeper restlessness. As St. Augustine famously said in Book 1 of the Confessions: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” This restlessness may seem exhausting, especially this year, but in reality it is a great gift. We are made for rest in Christ, and so this restlessness drives us to find Him. Restlessness, however, cannot be truly recognized if we do not accept this invitation to solitude. We may feel it knocking on our door and choose to ignore it with various activities or try to cure it some other way. But its remedy is only found in relationship with Christ, who waits for us in solitude--in the quietest place of our hearts.
Some ways that have been helpful for me in growing more comfortable with entering into solitude are finding 15-20 minutes before I go to bed to reflect with God about my day--an examination of conscience of sorts. I think about the parts of my day where God was calling me into deeper relationship-whether that be in a conversation with a friend, 15 free minutes I had where I could have said a rosary but watched YouTube instead, etc. I will imagine that He and I are having a conversation at my kitchen table (it may sound odd, but try it!) and reflect with Him about what happened that day. Most importantly, though, is spending those few minutes before bed in complete silence. This may look different depending on your state in life, but I have found that the silence is what allows me to enter into that solitude with Christ. Once this becomes a regular habit, the loneliness we experience seems more tolerable, because we know that we can enter into solitude with Christ whenever we want to. He becomes our refuge, and we can talk with Him whenever we like.
As I look back on 2020 and look forward to 2021, I hope to more readily recognize when Christ is calling me into this particular relationship and to respond willingly. If we find ourselves lonely and aching for community, I hope we remember that the key to healing our loneliness and restlessness is found in solitude, and the invitation to rest in this solitude with Christ is a standing one.
Question for Reflection: What are some ways we can grow in our comfortability with solitude or that we can respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with him during this time?
For more resources on self-care during this time, please click here.
“God wants to draw close to us, but he will not impose himself; it is up to us to keep saying to him: ‘Come!’ This is our Advent prayer: ‘Come!’ Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us and will come again at the end of time. Yet we can ask what those two comings mean, if he does not also come into our lives today? So let us invite him. Let us make our own the traditional Advent prayer: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev 22:20).” – Pope Francis, Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
We enter today into the deeper portion of Advent, the time of intensified preparation for the coming of the Savior into our lives. It is a time marked by naming in the O Antiphons during Evening Prayer each day one of the titles of the Messiah in the Old Testament. The time can be moved through quickly or we can be distracted by the many things that are occurring in our lives and in our world.
As the pandemic intensifies in the United States and other parts of the world, even with hope of vaccines becoming available, the long winter looms ahead or so it seems. We are not alone, though! Pope Francis reminds us to invite the Lord Jesus into our lives again today and every day. He tell us in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel):
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’” (3).
The joy that Pope Francis is referring to is not manufactured. It is not found in fleeting things but is found only in the eternal God of Infinite Love who loved us into existence, sustains us, provides for us, and gives us hope, peace, and joy.
Let us invite the Lord Jesus more deeply into our lives. We need only ask, and he will come!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
May you have a good continuation of the Advent season and a blessed Christmas. Our prayers are with you.
This has been a year of waiting. Waiting for the pandemic to end. Waiting for results of a COVID test. Waiting to figure out if and when we can go back to work. Waiting to see our friends and family. Waiting for our sourdough starter to be ready to bake. Waiting to celebrate important life events. Waiting to have a graduation or to get married. Waiting to memorialize a loved one who has died. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for everything to go back to how things were before the pandemic hit.
And here we are, this Advent season, waiting. Waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Waiting, as John the Baptist did in the Gospel. He knew what was coming; he knew that Christ was going to follow him.
Our waiting for Christ is a hopeful waiting. A joyful waiting. While we do not know when the pandemic will end, we know that Christ will come to us at Christmas and we know that Christ will come for us at the end of time. We should relish in that joyful waiting while we continue to wait for some semblance of normalcy to return to our daily lives by finding moments of light, of peace, and of personal growth.
Focus on Social Justice:
This Gospel encourages us to look beyond the current situation to what is to come. In the current pandemic, we are called to do something for those around us and for our world. We can do acts of charity by wearing a mask, social distancing, staying home when we can, picking up groceries for an elderly neighbor, making dinner for someone who is sick, reaching out to a healthcare worker we may know to see how we can help them, and supporting local business.
Good and gracious God, we know you are with us in our waiting. Help us to be patient in our time of waiting. Help us to trust in you and your great plan for our lives. Help us to find joy in our time of waiting, both in Advent and in the current world situation. Help us to find peace in our time of waiting when it becomes too much to handle or is overwhelming. Amen.
This week, I challenge all of us (myself, included) to focus your energy of service on yourself in an act of self-care. Self-care is not selfish behavior. It is a way, especially during these trying times, to be able to put our best selves out into the world, to our families, to our friends, to our colleagues, and to those who serve. Take a few moments this week to do an activity that brings you joy, that allows you to appreciate this season of waiting and all of the beauty that comes with that.
This reflection comes from the Third Sunday of Advent Reflection of the 2020 Advent Reflection Guide, a collaborative effort with the Catholic Volunteer Network. To view the rest of the guide, please click here.
Through the halfway point in the fall semester, most any college student could testify to the highs and lows of trying to learn in these trying times. From Internet issues, Zoom exams, and burnout, each class that goes smoothly is a little victory, but some days it is just so hard to focus on classes. My inner biochemistry major wishes that learning by osmosis was possible – a passive learning because our attention is drawn to so much distraction. On the other hand, even though it requires a little more active thought, I know there’ve been some highs so far this semester. Even with social distancing, I have made new friendships and renewed others. Since I serve as a Resident Assistant at my university, where we have just freshmen and RAs on campus, I have gotten to see freshmen build friendships, find their niche, and take on leadership positions in the campus community. Through my personal experience and seeing the freshmen on my campus, a word to describe the semester so far would be “perseverance.”
For me, perseverance has been continuing along the path of learning despite the challenges and difficulties. I have worked to develop four actions into habits during this semester to help build perseverance:
Ultimately, I hope to continue building upon these four actions for the rest of the semester to help strengthen my perseverance and to experience more highs than lows from this abnormal time. To help motivate me to keep going day after day in classes, I wrote this quote above my desk:
“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring” – St. Catherina of Siena
For more resources to grow spiritually during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
One of the things I love about Catholicism is that we celebrate the mysteries of our faith in a physical way.
Going to Mass, kneeling, standing, singing, receiving the Eucharist, hearing and proclaiming the Word of God, experiencing community after Mass or at parish events. Some of our liturgical feast days even emphasize the physical contact between us and the Divine. Think of reverencing the wood of the Cross on Good Friday or participating in a Eucharistic procession on Corpus Christi. Our faith is incarnational, and our bodies are important conduits for worship.
That’s part of the reason the last several months have been so difficult for so many. These physical elements of worship have been—largely—unavailable to us because of COVID-19 and the practice of physical and social distancing. Most of us have also been physically disconnected from our communities of faith, friends, and family. We’ve missed important events like birthdays, retirement parties, and even funerals. The emotional, spiritual, and psychological effects of this separation are very real and very serious.
And it’s been clear from the outset of this pandemic that the Church must take action to alleviate the impact of isolation, despair, and loneliness caused by this pandemic. But who will lead the charge? I find myself asking, what is the Church going to do about it? How will we get through this?
And then I realize, the Spirit is calling me. And, friends, the Spirit is calling you too. We’re not being called to wait around while someone else figures it out. God is calling us to figure this out together.
We must remember that we are the Church on earth, and we are being invited by the Spirit to cooperate with God’s grace to take action and serve others, right now. We can’t simply wait for someone else to help. Those of us who are baptized are called to be missionary disciples and, ultimately, saints. And this call comes with a personal responsibility to recognize that all our lives are interwoven as branches grafted onto the Vine, as various parts of one Body (1 Corinthians 12). We are connected to one another through our baptism into Christ. Paul says, “The body is not a single part, but many.” And because of this interconnectedness, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers. So, we’ve got to do something about that, because we’re called to be “doers”.
We are all suffering in some way during this pandemic. It’s not even possible to downplay that. And we all feel one another’s burdens. We especially feel our personal stresses and anxieties, day in and day out. I believe one of the answers to this anxiety and suffering is the beautiful work of spiritual accompaniment.
The call to spiritual accompaniment is incarnational and based on the love of Christ. Spiritual accompaniment urges us out of our own interior world and presses us to walk with our brother or sister in whatever situation they might find themselves. Pope Benedict XVI says that God’s love for humanity is so strong that “it turns God against himself, his love against his justice” (Deus Caritas Est, 10). How, then, can we demonstrate a reflection of this great, personal love to one another if we can’t be physically present to one another? I believe we must be creative and find ways to communicate our companionship to one another in meaningful ways. We can allow ourselves to be challenged by these questions while we reflect on this topic: Do I have the ability to be present to my suffering neighbor in any way today? Do I have the capacity to do charitable spiritual accompaniment during this pandemic?
I believe one effective way to spiritually accompany others as we remain physically distant is to ask challenging questions of others and engage in honest conversation. Though this may seem simple, “faith sharing” is a powerful way to be witnesses of God’s presence, and we all need to be reminded of God’s presence these days.
I think there are two simple, penetrating questions that can start fantastic spiritual conversations that open our eyes to the great works of God. They are:
The answers to both of these questions reveal our hearts, our spiritual yearnings, our joys, and our sorrows; the answers to both of these questions lead us to recognize God’s presence among us, either by contemplating where we’ve seen God or petitioning His aid through prayer. I want to challenge you to invite a friend or someone you’re close with to consider these questions and then to hear their answers. Perhaps you’ll be surprised at the way the Spirit guides the conversation.
I believe that through this simple practice of spiritual accompaniment, we will grow closer with one another, though distance or politics or ideologies may keep us apart. Loving and holy conversation is one way to begin healing the wounds caused over these last several months, and it is one way to accompany one another on the road as we travel strange, new paths together.
To learn more about spiritual accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to deepen your faith during COVID-19, please click here.
Yesterday we celebrated the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary--a Feast Day that reminds of the important role that the rosary plays in our daily lives. It is a form of prayer that we seek when we are struggling and need the comforting embrace of a mother. It is a form of prayer that is joyful, celebrating our successes with Christ through Mary.
Devotions to Mary have always been an important aspect of my faith. In particular, the rosary has helped me through many tough times in my life and given me the strength to continue forming my life to Christ, but its importance was reinforced in the first few months of my college career when I joined the Knights of Columbus. Upon entering the Order, Knights are given a rosary as a symbol of our devotion to Mary and a reality of our reliance on her example and her intercession with God
But why should we say the rosary? Saint John Paul II gives a clear picture of the rosary’s importance: “The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully formed” in us.” When we pray the rosary, many of us are seeking the warm embrace of a mother, someone who can reassure us in our fears and give us the strength to live out each day for Christ. Mary is our mother in every sense of that word. Christ, moments from death, says to Mary, “Behold, your son,” and to the disciple whom he loved, “Behold, your mother.” With these words Christ gives Mary to all of us as our mother, the Mother of the Church, and with these words we are formed by her just as Christ was.
The rosary does not pull our attention away from Christ, but rather joins us with him through our love of Mary. John Paul II tells us in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, “Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ!” The rosary allows us to participate in that union and calls us to share in the life of Christ through our relationship with his Mother. Each time we pray the rosary we focus on the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, or Luminous mysteries. These are not only drawing us closer to Mary, but to the life of Christ as each set of mysteries is grounded in the Gospel. When we pray the rosary we do not just repeat prayers over and over again, but rather we are given the opportunity to live out a different aspect of the life of Christ with each decade.
Repetition is an important aspect of the rosary, but is it actually repetition? Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his book “The World’s First Love” tells us that it is not repetition for each time we say the rosary, “we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: "I love you, I love you, I love you." Each time it means something different, because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour's love.” Who better to remind us of the Christ’s love than Mary, the Mother of God, our mother, who raised Jesus, formed him, and followed him. Who better to emulate than Mary, who watched her son suffer and die on the cross for our salvation. Each time we say the rosary we are embraced by our mother, we are renewed in our faith, and we are reminded of God’s love.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
*This post was originally published on October 7, 2014.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional from Washington, D.C.
What does it mean to be bicultural? It means that a person can represent and identify with more than one country. I have been given the blessing of representing three cultures at the same time: I am Mexican, Salvadorian, and American. Representing these three cultures has given me the opportunity to see God’s beautiful creation from different perspectives and enriched my understanding of the Church. As I have grown, I’ve encountered Christ who has revealed my vocation and his love for me through this tricultural blessing.
As a child, all I knew about my faith was either through my parents or Sunday school at my local parish. I was taught Bible stories, saint stories, and prayers in Spanish. I was happy to be in that bubble away from the math problems at school, my English cartoons, and anything related to the American culture. These were the only times I could actually learn about who I was as a Catholic Latina. My Mexican and Salvadorian traditions were intertwined with my faith. Being Catholic and part of the Latino community meant we professed our love for God through our actions. Our focus wasn’t reading or studying the faith because that was never in our reach to dive into. Instead, the community learned that their actions were their way to live the mission of Christ in their day to day lives. This was something I learned very early on.
I also learned how important it was to my parents for me to learn about our faith and its traditions. One of my favorite memories will always be the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was always full of color, and the church was filled with the smell of red roses. What I remember the most is staying up past my bedtime, but also being able to see the faith and the love many people had towards our Blessed Mother.
After many years of being in my little Spanish bubble, my parents decided to send me to a private Catholic school. This is where I realized there was way more to my faith than I was taught at Sunday school. I realized that I had to burst my bubble to actually learn more about my faith in English. It was not easy to understand the different prayers in English or to take religion classes in English. My experience in private Catholic school also helped me realize that there was more to my faith than just my Spanish world. I decided to become the student that was always asking different theological questions during religion class. I became obsessed with learning about the different doctrines and about the significance of the church’s architecture. All of this opened a new door to my spiritual life. I could experience Christ through Church teaching as well as serve him through my actions. I became aware that there was no need to separate all three cultures for different aspects of my life! Somehow, all my cultures were blending together in ways I would have never imagined. All of them could work together to strengthen my faith.
Over many years, I have learned that being bilingual and tricultural means I can live out my faith in unique ways. I can discover Christ not only through the combination of these cultures, but also within each individual one. Now, I have no need for different bubbles to live out my faith because God created me to praise him and uniquely evangelize about his love. Each culture has helped me deepen my relationship with Christ. As a lector in the Spanish Mass, I am able to read and analyze the Word of God. Later on, these readings help me have meaningful conversations in my Theology classes at The Catholic University of America. By learning about different resources and reading in class, I have also learned more about how I can help my Latino community. Now as a young adult, I have become more aware that my cultures, traditions, and languages have molded my faith and shaped my way of life as a member of the laity of the Church.
For more resources on cultural diversity, please click here.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21.
The definition of the word “communication” from Webster’s dictionary is: “to share or impart information.” I look at this word and see a whole lot more. Com = come and commune = to communicate intimately. Communication can be defined as people coming together intimately to share information of all kinds. Coming together or communing is a very personal act, requiring the openness of individuals to both share information as well as receive it. This is where the very act of communicating becomes challenging. We are diverse as individuals and have a multitude of ways of perceiving what is communicated, as well as varying ways of imparting our ideas and information. When we speak to another, we do not just simply use words. We use tone, inflection, and body language. Because of all this, we can relay information in a positive or a negative manner. Keeping this in mind, it is essential to be very intentional and aware of how and what we communicate at all times. Ephesians 4:24 is plain in its instruction: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” As Christians, we want to always strive to build up and encourage with our communication.
I’ve found that for communication to be successful, there have to be some ground rules. This requires that we be intentional people of prayer who ask for wisdom and understanding. Praying also helps us to be reverent, respectful, and open. Colossians 4:6 tells us “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” This is a tall order for mere humans, which is precisely why we need God working in and with us. Our words can be blessings or weapons in any of our relationships. God calls us to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves – to serve in humility and love. Our speech has to align with this, the greatest commandment. As Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” What we say and how we deliver it reveals the spiritual battle we are engaged in. Our purpose in speaking should always be for the good of the recipient.
There are so many things we wish to impart to others in our daily lives: instructions, encouragement, advice, exhortation, expressions of love, thanks, concern, correction. The list is endless. However, a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi sums up communication in a beautiful and profound way: “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” What that means is that our goal should be to impart all that Jesus taught us through acts of love and mercy, and when we have exhausted our actions, then use words. I realize it is necessary to speak for many important reasons, but it must always be done in respect of the dignity of the recipient, aware that they are a child of God and always desiring the best for them. Since this is a challenging task, we must seek the help of the Holy Spirit and also holy people who can assist us in learning the best manner of speaking to others in all types of circumstances. It is not something we are just born with the ability to do. It comes with prayerful guidance and lots of practice. James 1:26 reminds us “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”
Another element of communication is discerning when it is appropriate to speak and when to remain silent. I don’t mean ignoring another or refusing to talk. I mean weighing what you ‘feel’ or ‘want’ to say versus what is ‘right’ and ‘necessary’ to impart. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil,” Proverbs 15:28 continues.
This requires each of us to spend a good amount of time in quiet prayer each day in order to be in an open disposition to receive wisdom and understanding about what to communicate. From there, we must pray for the grace to ‘commune’ with the recipient of our information in a loving and Godly manner. When we nurture a consistent prayer life with the Lord, we experience peace that guards our minds and hearts. Because of our woundedness and fallen nature, the world and the devil’s designs, we struggle in this area and need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be communicators that build up, encourage, and love through our words.
In our fractured world, when people are attacking each other on all fronts about every issue imaginable, we as Christians need to be conduits of peace when we communicate. Praying for the desire to express love in everything we do will benefit us when we communicate and when we are receiving communication from others. We must grow in self-control and patience so that our communication will be positive, even in the toughest conversations. As Christians working to build the Kingdom of God, we must allow the love of Christ to flow out of us in all our actions and in every word we utter. We can come together with others and share information in many beautiful ways. God gave us voices for this. Let us always be in deep communion with God who loved us into being and calls us to be relational in order to share His love and build His kingdom on earth! Let Psalm 141:3 be our daily prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.”
To read more about charitable communication and evangelization, we invite you to read Choosing to Believe in Another’s Best Intentions or Communicating Like Chrysostom: Growing Your Skills in Speaking for the New Evangelization.
I must admit – the isolation that comes with social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting me with waves of cabin fever and missing friends and family terribly. I’m incredibly thankful I am able to “quarantine” with my husband and dog, while at the same time I mourn the social engagements of seeing family, friends, and co-workers in person.
My husband and I recently got married in May, and we’ve become parishioners of our local church. With our marriage came a move for me, as we previously had a long-distance relationship. When I’ve moved in the past, I’ve typically sought friendships and activities through my local Catholic church; finding my church family is always my first step in getting accustomed to a new town. Social distancing and canceled or online events make forming those relationships and feeling connected more challenging. It’s hard enough without a pandemic to be the new person!
Many moments throughout the day, I ask myself why I find it so difficult to be away from others. After prayer and reflection, I realized seclusion is hard because God created us for community. God gave Adam a partner and said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (cf Genesis 2:18). We need a support system - the Body of Christ.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When we encounter others, we are assured God is with us. This is especially felt when we have a Bible study, small group, or other faith-sharing activities with our fellow Christians.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” This passage served as a wake-up call to me. I think of how much more I can do to check in on friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, and to find creative ways of showing love.
I want to share a few ideas of some actions that have helped my family and me cope through the isolation that comes with this current pandemic.
1.Call 1-2 People Each Week or Write “Snail Mail” Letters. My mom started calling one to two friends a week from church to check in and see how they were doing. She told me how much she enjoyed catching up with her friends and it meant a lot to her friends as well. I have done the same, and it’s so refreshing to hear my friends’ voices and what they are up to. I’ve also been sending cards for birthdays and ‘thinking about you’ notes or texts as well.
2.Consider Participating in a Virtual Rosary Recitation with Others. Friends of my mom’s invited her to say a daily virtual rosary with them. Together from their individual homes, they pray the Holy Land rosary with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. My mom has shared with me how much she enjoys talking with her friends after the recitations about the holy sites where mysteries of the rosary took place.
3.Make Donations. Many people are still in need of toiletry and food items. Food banks and other charitable organizations are continuing to provide services. Consider calling a local charity to learn about their donation protocols as some are taking items by appointment and need some items more than others.
4.Try Daily Mass. In July I felt very far from God. It had been two months since having the Eucharist at my wedding. I spoke with a friend who encouraged me to try attending daily Mass since fewer people were attending in person compared to weekend Masses. After attending daily Mass, I felt more in communion with God and with my fellow Catholics. My husband and I continue to attend Mass in person on Fridays and now on Sundays. My church, like many, encourages mask-wearing and has employed other precautions, such as seating arrangements, for everyone’s safety. Recently, one of the Brothers of Hope at my church approached us to introduce himself as he hadn’t met many folks, especially young adults like him. By reaching out, this Brother made us feel more connected to our parish and to fellow Catholics.
5.Enjoy Nature or Take a Walk Around Your Neighborhood. My husband and I have been taking our dog for walks in the neighborhood. We see many of our neighbors having socially distanced dates from their driveways, which is encouraging. For a change of scenery, we went to our local botanical gardens and have planned nature trail walks.
6.Aid Elderly Neighbors or Family. Check-in on family members and neighbors who may be elderly or immunocompromised to see if they need help with errands so they don’t have to enter stores. Sometimes, they may just need a friendly voice to chat with on the phone.
7.Have Socially Distanced Friend/Family Dates. If you’re comfortable with the idea, you can still enjoy seeing friends and family in a limited number either at one another’s houses or at a restaurant. Separately, we’ve seen a couple who are close friends with us as well as my husband’s parents about once a month. We keep these interactions socially distanced, wear masks, and use plenty of hand sanitizer.
For more ideas on growing spiritually during COVID-19, please click here.