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.
To become a person of prayer, we need to make every effort to live always in the presence of God. If we so live, there is every reason to believe that our life can gradually become one of ongoing prayer. St. Paul urges Christians to “Pray without ceasing.” The Holy Spirit makes this possible, and such a manner of praying becomes a way of life. If the presence of God is acknowledged through a constant spirit of inner prayer, we should find ourselves ever more prepared to enter into the more structured forms of prayer that are part of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit urges us to pray every moment.
Faith is crucial to our prayer life. I think of the Gospel in which the father of the possessed boy says, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” We should enter into every moment of prayer recognizing our need for deepening our faith and acknowledging that God is Who He is and we are not God. We can pray, “Lord help remove my lack of trust, my lack of faith. If, Lord, you still find an unresolved cause for discouragement within me, some doubt, take it away and instill in me unquestioning faith.”
Each day, my prayer life consists of four forms of prayer: The Divine Office, personal prayers and devotions, a daily rosary, and meditative prayer. I pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mary Immaculate by way of a prayer that truly reflects my devotion to each. My purpose for entering into such prayer is not only to give praise and honor to the person to whom I am praying at the moment, but also to use this time to pray both for people who have asked me to pray for them and also for oly SD people whom I know need prayer. Of course, I pray for myself and my own needs as well. God wants us to take a very personal approach to prayer; in other words, He wants us to be ourselves when we speak to Him.
Meditative prayer asks us to do our best to select an appropriate time and place so that we might move out of the hustle and bustle of our daily routine and give the moment exclusively to God. It invites us to sit quietly in a comfortable position that still enables us to be alert. Choose an appropriate time for meditative prayer by scheduling it when you find yourself ready for a break and for spending meaningful time with God free from distractions. Then, clear your mind of thoughts running through it haphazardly. After all, we are taking a moment to discover Christ who dwells within us. In order to show our sincerity in making this effort, we must first come into conscious contact with and recognize the person we are at the moment. There are no masks allowed in the presence of God. Christ wants to encounter us as we truly are.
Meditative prayer takes practice. We must acquire a taste for it if we are to decide to continue to use it to deepen our relationship with Christ. We will be willing to enter into meditative prayer regularly and consistently if we arrive at the conclusion that it Is truly a worthwhile method to help us grow in our relationship with Christ who calls us “friend.” I have found it helpful for my prayer life to establish a set time and place for prayer according to my living conditions and personal daily schedule. I have also allowed myself to be flexible if these change or if I come to discover a place and/or time more suitable for contemplative prayer.
Try to give at least fifteen minutes to this prayer experience. If you choose to continue with this approach to prayer, you will eventually come to discover that you are better able to freely enter into this prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to pray, accompanies us throughout the prayer experience, and also makes it clear to us when it is time to conclude. I personally find a half hour of quiet prayer to be a meaningful experience. However, be open to praying for shorter or longer amounts of time depending on your conversation with the Lord.
Be aware of your mood when entering into prayer. Again, we are entering into the Presence of the Lord just as we are. It is important to acknowledge our mood and disposition, knowing God see us and accepts us as we are. Furthermore, do not try to rate any meditative experience. It is prayer that we are talking about and not a moment of self- evaluation. God always accepts our effort as a gift as long as it is offered with sincerity.
To begin meditation, I attempt to get in touch with what is going on in my life, placing myself in the presence of God. From there I select a word or phrase from the daily Gospel reading. I tend to read the Gospel passage a couple of times and look to find myself in the reading. It might be that something is going on in my life— a challenge, a problem, a confusing situation, a memory from the past. If so, I try to bring this to the Lord in connection with the Gospel passage. Perhaps at such moments, I will deliberately choose a passage from Scripture that speaks to me concerning the situation at hand. How will Jesus speak to me in and through the chosen text? If you wish to meditate on the entire Gospel scene, one way to do this is to put yourself into the scene and focus on what Jesus is doing and saying and how this speaks to your life.
It is of course true that our power of concentration can be rather limited. We face the challenge of distractions in meditative prayer as we do in every experience of prayer. Once we realize the presence of a distractive thought, we need to let it go and get back to focusing upon
what we hope will lead us to a deepened sense of the presence of Jesus within.
Meditative prayer is our invitation to the Lord to speak to our heart as He would:
“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.“ This element of listening is essential to a proper meditative experience. Otherwise, such prayer can become the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple with the publican, what Jesus called a prayer about oneself to oneself.
By sharing some of my prayer practices above, I hope to have helped guide you deeper into an understanding of the life of prayer that makes every effort to live in the presence of God. Our prayer life is a constant journey of growth in which we seek to spend time with and grow closer to the Lord, already present within us. May we grow this year in our ability to pray without ceasing, and in so doing, embrace prayer as a way of life.
This Easter season, I have been thinking a lot about my late brother Tim, who died in an accident seven years ago - at the age of 24 - while serving as an EMT in Indianapolis, IN. Tim’s death, along with the death of his IEMS partner Cody Medley, left all their friends and families at an inestimable loss.
While I never got to meet Cody personally, I have learned that he was an exceptionally driven and talented young person who also served as a fire cadet before becoming a paramedic. Tim’s story is not much different; he was an Eagle Scout and volunteer EMS before going professional and passing his paramedic certification shortly before he died.
In life, Tim achieved success in almost every field. As a teenager he won academic and musical scholarships and posted regular five-minute miles in outdoor and indoor track. He mastered Mandarin and spent an immersion summer in Shanghai. He participated in a service trip to Jamaica and volunteered back home as a “running buddy” alongside students with special needs in Central Park. These successes, paired with his later commitment to the medical profession, truly made him “A Man for Others” – the Jesuit motto of his alma mater, NYC’s Regis High School.
Only looking backwards have I come to appreciate how brilliant Tim was. Perhaps you have a similar person in your family – someone who is so smart that they are intimidating. Tim was fearless in challenging others (especially those in authority) when he thought they were wrong. I have thought of him throughout this entire pandemic. As a first responder, I know that he would be helping wherever help was needed. As the outspoken person he was, I know he would have choice words for those he felt were ignoring public safety protocols. And most of all, as a cuttingly funny person, I know he would help me laugh during this time.
Tim died three days into Lent, on February 16th, 2013. I have remembered him especially during every Lent and Easter since then. This past Lent was perhaps the most difficult yet. Many say that it takes seven years to heal from losing a loved one. The year 2020 marks seven years for all who loved Tim. To me, I felt healing – which also meant letting my guard down to feel fully the pangs of loss I couldn’t afford to feel in 2013.
The coronavirus situation, if nothing else, has clarified the relationship between life and death. We are all vulnerable humans. This can be a scary thought, but also a freeing one.
This can be a time to meditate on life as what it is – a short chance to grow, love, and serve others. We do not know how long the journey will last. I sometimes think that my brother attacked life the way he did because he might have sensed that he had less time than others. He used to wake me up after midnight, for instance, after I had already gone to bed, and say “Come on bro, get up, let’s make some memories.” At the time I thought he had a screw loose. Now I think he was prophetic.
Recently in the Gospel readings, we hear Jesus tell the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
These words are a balm to all of us who have experienced loss, or who fear loss during these challenging times. As I read this passage, I am touched by the care and concern Jesus shows for his followers. He is also being quite honest with them and reminding them that they will lose him. The promise of peace is made realer by the reality of loss. This is what I receive from today and feel to be true in my own life.
One year after Tim’s death, on Easter Sunday 2014, my family went to Mass in a church we had never been to before. The previous year had been difficult for everyone. Personally, I had not been taking care of myself mentally, physically, or spiritually. In the prior twelve months, I had not felt anything approaching peace. I was experiencing great fear and having awful panic attacks. That morning, sitting in the pews, waiting for Mass to begin, I suddenly noticed all sound around me fade out. I felt a sensation of all the breath leaving my body – and then my next breath was a slow, purposeful breath that was like drinking cool water in the desert. I was able to begin breathing in a deep and rhythmic way. Over the next few minutes, I felt as if warm light was streaming over me, from the head down. It was a feeling of complete release and relief. Ever since, I’ve been hoping to feel that peace again.
Like my brother, I doubted (and still doubt) aspects of my faith. Tim wrestled to understand people who believe that faith and the intellectual life are incompatible. Being the true original that he was, I think he found it difficult at times to imagine a place in Christianity where he fit in. Yet after his death, I learned that some of Tim’s recent writings and reflections expressed the faith of a mature man who trusted in a loving God. I reflect on his words often as I remember my “kid brother” - who responded to numerous life-or-death situations and treated severe injuries which I would be terrified to walk into. Like everything else, Tim’s faith journey happened at a rate and intensity that most of us will never know.
As Easter moves on and we navigate the new normal that is COVID-19, my spiritual suggestion (for what it’s worth) is this: In your prayers, dreams, and doings, try to let fear and hope co-exist. I will try to do the same. If we can hold those two seemingly irreconcilable opposites, we may find that peace can sprout like a flower right in between our hands.
My wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world on February 24th, and we brought her home a few days later on Ash Wednesday. As is the typical newborn parent experience, we’ve endured frustrating, sleepless nights and reveled in joy-filled, playful mornings. Because of stay-at-home, work-from-home orders in Texas, my parental leave has been longer than I anticipated, but I believe this is a blessing. Each moment I’ve had with my daughter has been precious, and as I sit on this (squeaky!) rocking chair holding her in my arms, balancing my laptop on my knee, the recent advice of expert parents runs through my mind and evokes in my heart a fresh understanding of God’s divine fatherhood and my pursuit of sainthood.
In the weeks leading up to our daughter’s birth, one mother of 6 said something to me to the effect of: “The nights are long and the days are short, but the years are the fastest of all.” In these first few weeks of parenthood, I’ve found that my wife is more easily roused during the night. When it’s my turn (opportunity, really) to get up mid-REM cycle, the nights really do feel long. Honestly, they drag. But it’s struck me more than once that getting up in the middle of the night is a very practical way that I can pursue holiness in my vocation. To sacrifice sleep to offer comfort to my child and rest for my wife is not in the same league as answering a burning question for the Summa or calling out a witty line while being burned at the stake, but it is a constant formation in the virtues of humility and charity. I’m led to consider St. Therese’s “little way,” which makes more and more sense each day. Those long nights always do turn into days and, I’m sure, the years will speed by soon.
Many people, including our pediatrician, have said, “Always hold your baby in the first few weeks, even when she’s sleeping. You’re not spoiling her, and you won’t get to do that forever.” As a general rule, I’ve always believed babies are cute and, therefore, worthy of spoiling. But no one warned me that when it comes to one’s own child, evolutionary biology and divine motivation combine to make one certain that one’s own baby is the most perfect, most adorable being on all the earth and, therefore, is automatically deserving of every good thing. When I’m holding my daughter in my arms, and I gaze upon her (perfect) little face with its self-inflicted scratches and baby acne, I’m blown away at how much love I have for her. Then, I’m briefly terrified at the thought that something bad could happen to her.
And isn’t that how it is for our relationship with God our Father? He gazes upon us, loving us with all our imperfections, slightly terrified and sorrowful at the thought that sin and death and temporal pursuits could lead us to ruin. As I adjust this baby in my arms right now, I’m wondering whether God pulls us closer to His bosom in those moments of near separation, gazing upon us all the while, reminding us how beloved we are with, as Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, “all the tenderness and force that love can hold.”
There are many more pieces of advice that have yielded great spiritual reflections for me these last few weeks. Now, I know that I’m not offering any groundbreaking reflections, but maybe the point of this post is not to offer a new thought, but instead to acknowledge that God has spoken these familiar realities of His love and affection for me in a deeper way through the experience of my vocation. I’m encouraged to remind you in these times of distress: God is a loving Father whose sacrificial love turns against all else, even His own justice (Deus Caritas Est, 10) to gaze upon you with all the force that love can hold. Perhaps this is a notion all mothers and fathers before me—spiritual, adoptive, and biological—have come to understand already, but it’s consoling to know that in a time of uncertainty, God still speaks to and affirms His people through personal encounters. Even through a sleeping baby and a squeaky rocking chair.
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Like most of you, my family and I have been in quarantine. When El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele first announced the prospect of a quarantine—before there were any confirmed cases here—our family decided that it would be best to practice physical distancing right away. The public hospital system here in El Salvador is precarious under normal circumstances, and once the virus is at its peak, it won’t matter how much money you have. If you require a hospital bed, you will go where there is one available.
The national convention center in San Salvador is being converted into a 3,000-bed hospital, with 1,000 of those beds designated for intensive-care patients. Our best bet for surviving this pandemic is to stay home and find ways to continue our relationships with the people at our ministries without being physically present—a challenge, but also an opportunity.
My ministry, the women’s cooperative ACOMUJERZA, has come to a screeching halt. We were in the middle of a huge order for the Education Ministry of El Salvador. We are sewing over 3,000 school uniforms as part of a government-funded program. This order is the biggest we have ever been contracted to make, and frankly before this pandemic our members were scrambling to figure out how we were going to sew more than 3,000 pieces in 60 days and how we were going to pay everyone to make all of those uniforms.
ACOMUJERZA applied for a loan from a non-governmental organization that has helped us in the past. We received the preliminary approval for the loan, but with all of the economic uncertainty, the NGO froze all lending for the foreseeable future. ACOMUJERZA members packed up all of the finished uniforms and prepared the building for the beginning of a nationwide mandatory quarantine on Saturday, March 21.
There is so much uncertainty, and yet when I talk to each of our members, they remain positive. The government has promised a government grant of $300 a month to unsalaried workers—those most in need, which applies to some of our members—but that money has not been distributed yet. With 12 days into our quarantine, I worry about how my friends at the cooperative are surviving and if they have enough food to eat.
I spoke with my friend Juanita from the women’s cooperative the other day. She told me that, when she first went home after the president declared quarantine, all she wanted to do was cry. She felt depressed and sad to not be able to go to work and she felt a loss of her freedom. But after a few days, she pulled herself out of her sadness, and she told me about all of the things that she and her daughter decided to do during the mandatory quarantine. They already painted a few rooms in their house, got rid of old clothes, sewed masks and spent time tending to her garden.
“Now the time just seems to be going by quickly, thanks be to God.” she said to me during our last phone call. We chatted a bit longer and before getting off the phone, she reminded me that “we are all called to do our part and, for now, our part is staying at home.”
While checking over my daughter Evey’s daily journal assignment for school, I realized just how I am doing my part. She was assigned to write about what she liked and didn’t like about being homeschooled during the quarantine. She wrote, “I like homeschooling because it is fun and I get to do more fun stuff with my mom.”
Maybe “doing my part” is keeping spirits up among the members of the cooperative, sharing my gifts and talents with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, spending more time with my children and modeling for them how to adjust to an ever-changing reality
This blog post was re-published with permission from Maryknoll Lay Missioners. To learn more about their work and mission, please click here.
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When I made the shift to working from home almost a month ago, I was excited for a change of pace: sleeping in, a 30-second commute from my bed, working in pajamas all day, not packing a lunch. But when it came down to it, I became restless and had trouble settling down. Focusing on work was difficult. Being productive did not come easy, with my mind wandering for much of the workday. I had embraced the idea of a change of pace, but not the realities of what that change really meant.
Prayer, when I remembered to make time for it, was similarly difficult to settle into. It took me some time to realize what was happening, in part because I work in a secular field. Since I don’t spend my workdays in the Church sphere, I don’t have many explicit or subtle reminders that point my day toward God. Meetings don’t begin with a prayer. My daily tasks and conversations with colleagues don’t revolve around Church activities and ministry. I don’t interact with my pastor or bishop over the course of my day. And though I’ve made an effort over the years to weave prayer and reminders of God into my daily life, my routine has been disrupted. So, naturally, my prayer life has gone out the window.
Another piece to mention is that I live alone. Normally, I have a number of social engagements in the evenings and on weekends, often with Catholic friends. Our interactions have a shared Catholic identity baked in and serve as additional reminders of faith. Now that I’ve been largely alone for a month, my days seem to blur together. It's become easy to turn in on my own thoughts and seek out distractions to numb the collective grief we’re all feeling: the loss of normalcy and a sense of security, cancelled plans, and the uncertainty of when we’ll return to some semblance of normal. And in the midst of that, I forgot to pray.
It dawned on me that I’ve been given an opportunity and a challenge: I’ve been thrust into an unchosen solitary monastic existence. I have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to completely re-invent what “normal” looks like for me in almost every way. While I owe the company 8 hours of my day, 5 days a week, everything else is mine to do with as I wish. I have a blank canvas. I don’t have to dress for work, shave, or drive to and from the office. I don’t have a spouse or children to care for, no roommate, and no one to interact with here in my home... except God. If I choose to, I can rebuild “normal” with a different foundation and framework, one centered on God.
But I don’t have to be a full-time hermit in order to do this well. It’s a lesson that came to me in the midst of prayer and reflection during the Paschal Triduum. Something in me tends to go too hard during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, and I feel a need to do as much as I can to enter into the sacrifice of Calvary in solitude. Once the quiet of Holy Saturday came around, though, I realized that in the inner urgency to “do” Holy Week so well on my own, I’d forgotten to “be” in the presence of God. Here I was, waiting for Easter with nothing left to do and no one to do it with. All the prayers and meditations had been said, all the fasting was ended, and all I could do was sit and wait. It was a striking reminder that, oftentimes, we need to just be and make room for God to do some work in our lives.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, in his homily on Easter Sunday, noted how important the concept of time is to the story of our salvation, and that Easter “resets the clocks and calendars of our lives.” It's especially true in these days of being forced to reduce the externals. We have an opportunity and a choice here: to either enter into the quiet and craft something meaningful in our lives, or to just make more noise to drown out the vastness of that quiet.
We’ve been making a lot of noise lately, often without realizing it. Thank God for the recent reminders of the power of the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.” May we all take advantage of this opportunity to hit “reset” and allow God to direct us in those quiet moments. When we re-enter the world in a “new normal”, may we use the lessons from this time of isolation to shape what that normal really ought to look like.
Jay Schaefer is a Professional Engineer in Baltimore, working to maintain and improve the region's transportation infrastructure. He sings in his parish choir and is involved with the Knights of Columbus. Jay is also a former staff member and current collaborator of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
There’s something wonderfully intimate about entering an empty chapel or secluded church and embracing it for personal prayers. Our Lord continuously invites each of us to set aside our daily activities and distractions to spend some time gazing, discerning, and listening to Him who knows each of us better than we could ever understand ourselves. The ancient promise of Christ to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” assures us of the great love freely offered to us when we recall we are always in God’s holy presence. In doing so, the troubles and challenges we face in the world are trivialized and surrendered to God’s holy will so that our focus can be firmly fixed upon worshipping and honoring the One who calls us to Himself.
Whether it was in a parish church during the day, the school chapel in between classes, or even the private chapel of a religious community, my experiences of being able to utilize the simple intimacy and quiet of the moment offered me peace and sanctuary from the world. Of course, the Almighty is not restricted to the tabernacle of a church; His presence is infinite and forever available to us. There is, however, something affirming about entering into a space conducive to prayer and spirituality. The design and furnishing of a sacred space can draw our senses into an experience to better appreciate God’s presence in our lives. The light from outside may reflect colored light from stained glass windows upon the wall, the smell of candles or incense being burned convey that space is specially oriented to a higher purpose than what you just stepped out of, and the silence and lack of technology, advertising, or electronic distractions enable you to be more aware of your surroundings as you seek to hear God speaking to you. Encounters with the living God are not typically a Burning Bush or Annunciation experience; recall that the prophet Elijah sought to encounter God on Mount Horeb and found Him in the “sheer silence” rather than a strong wind, fire, or earthquake.
We are all aware of the daily bombardment of digital content and of the professional, social, or academic obligations and expectations we face. They compete for our time and attention, can wear us down in routines, and force us to prioritize what is important for us to achieve. In our busy lives, we must actively choose to answer God’s constant and gentle call to “Abide in me as I abide in you.” He pours out His love for us freely, even when we are not always actively seeking Him or discerning His will for us. The Christian journey, then, is one of encounter and service; the love God extends to us is to be shared and offered to our neighbors, the marginalized, and even—especially—enemies. No matter our vocation in this life, our ultimate goal must be Heaven in the next. The saints are excellent role models in embracing the love of Christ and committing their lives to bringing that love to others.
And while there is something beautiful about being the only person before the Lord in prayer and adoration, there is an even greater joy in bringing others to share in the experience and to worship God together. We do not walk the Christian way alone. As a wise friend of mine observed:
"[W]e have to remember that the journey to heaven is not a solo trek. You seek to bring everyone with you. If one person falls, you travel to him or her, and help them get up, and you carry along together towards the destination. This is what God has entrusted us to do, to reveal such love as His love. Within our families, jobs, school, or wherever God calls us to be, we must give everything of ourselves in bringing others on the adventure, and helping them endure. Think of the image of exhaustively falling down on God’s doorstep after the journey is over. You look back, and see no one, because the ones traveling with you have gone inside already."
 Joseph Cuda (lecture, Knights of Columbus Council #9542 business meeting, Washington, DC, November 3, 2013). http://knights.cua.edu/res/docs/Knights-Lecture-5-November-3-2013.pdf
A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released an article titled “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” Immediately after the study’s release, social media erupted with reactions of disbelief, shock, and anger, as well as theories of how to “fix this,” including greater catechesis and adjustments to our general liturgical practices. Despite the immediate reaction, there is no need for panic, as Christ assures the Church that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, jumping to such dire conclusions after one survey is not necessarily good pastoral or catechetical practice. As the Church examines the status of belief in the Real Presence and how to cultivate a greater understanding of that reality, she is also very aware of the need to deepen our encounter with Christ. As we ponder Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we must ask ourselves if we have truly encountered him. In his encyclical letter Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that we “look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn 1:41).”
In the end, how we catechize and what our liturgical practices are both require deeper reflection and greater discernment as to how God is calling us to use them as methods of ongoing conversion and evangelization. The doctrines and dogmas that we teach, how we celebrate the Mass, how we best serve our fellow man, are all likely to fall on deaf ears if they are not built on a deep and personal encounter with the Risen Christ. To examine this issue of Eucharistic belief, we should first look to chapter 4 of Christus Vivit, where Pope Francis reminds young people (and all of the people of God) that God is love, he saves us, he gives us life, and he is alive! If these four truths, which are expounded upon in good catechesis and experienced in their fullness in the Mass, are not understood deeply and intimately in the heart of every baptized Catholic, then moving forward will be extremely difficult. If I do not know Christ as the one who saves me, who walks with me through my life, as the one who gives me life, then why does it matter if it is truly his Body and Blood that I receive in its fullness at the Mass? Similarly, if we don’t understand the Kerygma—the mystery of the salvific work of God culminating in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—then how can we begin to understand the mystery of transubstantiation (CCC1376), especially when philosophical distinctions like matter and form aren’t in the everyday vocabulary of most Catholics? Pope Francis reminded pilgrims of this reality during a November 2017 General Audience when he said, “Every celebration of the Eucharist is a ray of light of the unsetting sun that is the Risen Jesus Christ. To participate in Mass, especially on Sunday, means entering in the victory of the Risen, being illuminated by his light, warmed by his warmth.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously wrote in his encyclical letter Deus Charitas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I certainly don’t have the “easy fix” answer as to how to increase belief in the real presence in the Eucharist, but I heartily believe that it begins with a renewed sense of the encounter Pope Benedict XVI was writing about. We use the word “renewed” because even those of us who profess our faith in the Risen Lord are invited “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I [Pope Francis] ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii Gaudium). We must witness to the encounter that has given our lives “a new horizon and a decisive direction,” and share that with those whom we meet. When we accompany our brothers and sisters on their journey to know Christ more fully, we help them to encounter him in the way that the Holy Spirit guides them. If that encounter is through theological and philosophical distinctions, through service, through the liturgy, etc. then praise God, because it is through him that those are effective and not because of their own merits. As we continue to wrestle with this recent study and its implications, may we meditate on this: if we believe that the Eucharist changes us, strengthens us, heals us, then we must show it, we must witness to it authentically and humbly in all circumstances.
“The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life” (Christus Vivit, 138).
Have you ever experienced the love of Christ in your life? The love of Christ is not something one and done. It is an ongoing experience. Christ is always pouring out his love to us. We are the ones who are challenged to see and believe. The love of Christ comes to us in a particular way through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist—an intimate encounter with Christ who is truly present. Pope Francis describes this encounter:
“Although we are the ones who stand in procession to receive Communion; we approach the altar in a procession to receive communion, in reality it is Christ who comes towards us to assimilate us in him. There is an encounter with Jesus! To nourish oneself of the Eucharist means to allow oneself to be changed by what we receive” (General Audience, March 21, 2018).
Christ is the one who is present and he is the one who is changing us in and through our encounter with him in the Eucharist. We can choose not to see his presence, not to enter this experience of encounter, and not to be changed. That is the freedom that we have. It is the freedom to be indifferent to or reject the love of Christ being freely offered to us. When we experience Christ in the Eucharist, the great gift of his love for us, we become more than we are. We are elevated to a greater love of God and neighbor.
How do we enter more fully into this encounter with Christ in the Eucharist? As Pope Francis notes, Christ “comes towards us to assimilate us in him.” He is already moving, acting, and assisting us to cooperate with his grace. We are called to prepare ourselves well for this encounter by being forgiven of our sins through the Sacrament of Penance, by preparing for our encounter through prayer, by entering into the worship of the community of faith, and by witnessing the love of Christ in our daily encounters with others. Over time, we will be transformed by Christ toward living a “better and more beautiful life.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything.” -John 14:26
After two years of dedicated study of theology, I received my Master’s degree. This has always seemed a bit odd to me, because I often feel I still have so much to learn.
This seems like the case for Jesus’ followers as well. After 3 years of discipleship, they didn’t know “everything.” Though they could be considered the “masters” of Christian life–having spent three years walking alongside Jesus—Christ tells them they still need the Holy Spirit in order to learn “everything.” He was explaining to them a fundamental reality of the Christian life: it is a life-long process of learning.
This reality is sometimes daunting, but more often it is comforting. The men that spent three years at the feet of Christ, who witnessed His miracles, heard His parables, and encountered Him after His resurrection, didn’t have it all together. They were not perfect at discipleship and they still needed God, who would now be revealed to them in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Rather than spending physical time with Christ, they would experience something even greater: God dwelling within them.
This intimate and powerful presence of God is something we can experience today. We receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism and physically receive Christ Himself every time we partake of the Eucharist. Furthermore, Christ tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel that He and the Father will dwell within those who keep His word. This comforts me because I have never heard Christ’s voice, seen His face, or shared His food. Though I am generations and millennia removed from Him, He has sent the Holy Spirit to teach me “everything”—what it means to follow Christ and live the Gospel today.
Much like the disciples, I still have much to learn. Though I have grown up knowing about Christ and His teachings, though I have figuratively sat at His feet for more than three years, I still need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind me what it means to be a follower of Christ each day. And in order to cultivate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I must continue to keep Christ’s word.
This is so much more than the study of theology.
As Pope Francis said in a 2015 homily, "We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or – in the words of Our Lord – it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus."
Learning everything, therefore, means knowing and discerning the voice of Jesus. A life of keeping Christ’s word looks different according to your vocation or status in life, but overall, some things that help us recognize Christ’s voice include an active sacramental life, daily prayer, acts of charity, reading Scripture, and living according to Church teaching.
In the nitty gritty of every day, this could mean keeping your cool while driving in rush hour traffic, taking a meal to a family with a newborn, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt, going to Mass each Sunday, or taking a deep breath when your child throws his food on the ground for the third time that day.
It could mean reading the daily readings at the breakfast table, praying evening prayer with your roommates, starting a rosary on your commute, participating in a weekly Bible study. In short, keeping Christ’s word is a lifelong, daily decision to do things that bring you closer to Him and encourage you to hear His voice.
As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost in a few weeks, let us call upon the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate and Teacher. May we have the humility to call upon Him daily as we pursue this lifelong life of discipleship in order to truly hear the voice of Jesus that says, “Come, follow me.”
I can recall from a very young age pondering what it means to be Catholic. We were supposed to somehow be different from secular society by the way we lived our lives, but how or why was that any different than simply being a good, kind, and moral human being? Can “normal” domestic life be holy? Why is the domestic church—the Christian family—so vitally important to our faith?
Throughout my life, this question has been answered in various ways and degrees. However, nothing has been so powerful as what I have witnessed in the past few months. In the late fall of last year, my mother-in-law underwent unexpected surgery and was unable to attend Mass. During our family’s Thanksgiving visits, I witnessed an incredible moment of our faith: my mother was able to distribute the Sacred Body of our Lord to my mother-in-law. Tears fell from my mother-in-law’s eyes as my husband, father, mother, and I encircled her, reciting prayers together in preparation for the distribution of the Eucharist. I was struck by the immensity of this moment: as I witnessed the woman who gave me life distribute the source of eternal life to the woman who gave my husband life, the depth and vital importance of the domestic church began to come into clearer focus for me.
The Christmas season would bring me another unexpected intersection of family and faith and another reminder of the significance of the domestic church. My father was hospitalized between Christmas and New Year’s; I found myself once again in the midst of a family circle of prayer as this time I witnessed my sister ministering the Sacred Body of our Lord to both my father and mother. My husband, nieces, nephew, brother-in-law, and I encircled my father’s hospital bed. Again, I found myself struck by the immensity of the moment unraveling before me; there is something very profound in witnessing the physical, tangible presence of Christ enter into vulnerable family space. I held these moments in my heart and in my mind, reflecting on them as the days rolled by between the holidays and the beginning of Lent.
This year, our parish announced that they are encouraging families to consecrate themselves to the Holy Family. Ah, the Holy Family, the perfect model of the domestic church! It is within the context of the family that we learn about our faith and see examples of faith lived out. Christ Himself was born into a family; it was a vital part of his plan of salvation.
We are each called to sainthood and each of our paths to sainthood will look a bit different. Lent is a beautiful time to really evaluate how close we are to following that path and what we can do in our lives to stay the course. No matter what path our calling leads us on, all paths lead back to the family—whether that be our own family by blood or our brothers and sisters in the faith.
How do we live out each day as a domestic church and bring that holy reverence to our everyday lives? We are called not only to love one another but to LIVE for one another. I witnessed this profoundly over the holidays when I saw different members of my family live for and serve one another. But there are also opportunities being presented throughout our everyday life to grow in holiness and spiritual maturity—especially now during this Lenten season. Lent is not only a time to deny ourselves of those things that keep us from our path to sainthood but also a time to invite the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to opportunities of everyday holiness and saintly domesticity. Christ wants to be a living presence in our homes and in our families, but we have to open the door for Him and invite Him in. I saw the effects of Christ’s presence in my family in those moments when He was brought physically to my parents and mother-in-law. Christ brings unity, service, strength, love. Just as in our physical lives we can manage the stresses and craziness of ever day life better when we fuel our body with proper nutrition and exercise, so too are we called to fuel our spirits and our family bonds with the Bread of the angels and on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
What spiritual exercises can we work through together as a family this Lenten season? How can we work to call one another to a life of saintly domesticity?
For more resources to accompany you throughout your Lenten journey, please click here.
To learn more about Marriage and Family, 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.
My son is just learning to walk. At 15 months, he’s starting to take his first, unsteady steps. He wobbles from chunky leg to chunky leg, looking back at us to make sure everything is alright, and plops on the floor after a few strides. He loves it when we cheer him on, and then he gets back up and begins again.
We, too, are beginning again. We have walked into a new calendar year. This Monday, we will celebrate the end of the Christmas season on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord and enter into Ordinary Time. How are we walking into the new year? As a parent, I know my son is taking his first steps towards walking securely. Little does he know that these steps will prepare him to one day run. I know his trajectory, but the path for him is still unknown. Similarly, God knows our path. He knows what He created us to be and do, what our gifts and talents are. He made us to run, and yet He does not interfere with our free will.
We, like my son, are often walking into an unknown future. We take step after step in faith with God walking alongside us. How do we make our journey? Are we stumbling or walking confidently in God’s grace? Do we look to Him when things seem unbalanced and reach for His hand? Even when things seem steady, do we turn back, like my son looks to his parents, and look for God and His reassuring presence? Do we ask God for His help and guidance?
God walks with us throughout each chapter of our lives. His coming into the world in the Incarnation, which we celebrated at Christmas, is a beautiful and mysterious proof of the lengths God is willing to go to be with us. He wanted to be intimately involved in the human story—and so He became one of us. He interacted with mankind as a man Himself, ultimately taking on the weight of our sin and opening the doors to salvation. God intervened in a radical and beautiful way by physically walking alongside us in the person of Jesus Christ, and He continues to do so through His church, the sacraments, prayer, and our communities.
As we end the celebration of Christmas and enter into the new year and Ordinary Time, I invite you to reflect on how you are walking into this season of life. We have spent the weeks of Advent preparing for and celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ into our midst. But have we left Him in the manger? Have we forgotten to bring the Christ child home with us or kept room for Him in the inn of our hearts? Let us allow God to be intimately a part of our lives throughout this upcoming year. May we walk with Him and towards Him each day, whether we are stumbling or walking confidently, so that we, like my son, may come one day to run.
Question for Reflection: How can you walk more closely with God and toward Him this year?
I recently had the opportunity to attend a marvelous performance of the Sistine Chapel Choir in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This was the first visit of the choir, one of the oldest in the world, to the United States in over thirty years, and was sponsored in part by the National Shrine, The Catholic University of America, and the latter’s new Catholic Arts Council. After I arrived, I noticed that it was not long before the nave of the Basilica was filled to capacity. The time before the performance afforded me the opportunity for private prayer and reflection. As I looked around the church, I was awed by the works of art surrounding me and, despite the growing crowd, could sense the spiritual beauty and ambient serenity characteristic of God’s House.
The concert itself was no less awe-inspiring. While the choir’s reputation and skill preceded it, from the very first note, I found myself enraptured by a beauty like no other. The sacred notes were uplifting yet never overpowering, as if they were directing our focus away to something greater. Listening to the notes being individually pronounced captivated the congregation and invited the audience to be placed in a calming yet spiritually-driven mindset. Each work called our attention to God, His works, and His eternal presence. The Catholic Church recognizes music’s beautiful and historic role in the liturgy as an invitation to participate in the mystery of God Himself. As Pope Francis said in his Address to Participants in the International Conference on Sacred Music, “Sacred music and liturgical chant have the task of giving us a sense of the glory of God, of his beauty, of his holiness which wraps us in a ‘luminous cloud.’”
Think about the psalms prayed at Mass each day. They are ancient prayers the Church has preserved in Her liturgies! In the psalms, the people of God are able to express the full range of their emotions to Him, such as their joys (like Psalms 98 and 100), sorrows (like Psalms 69 and 88), exhaustion (like Psalm 6), uncertainty (like Psalm 23), and even abandonment (like Psalm 22). The psalms are not simply performances; they convey, guide, and evoke an emotional response from the people of God back to Him Who is the focus of the entire liturgy. By extension, the other hymns we sing at Mass should move us to participate more fully in the liturgy rather than passively watch the processions and preparation of the altar—the Mass is not meant to be watched like a secular performance! Pope Francis expands upon this, saying,
[Sacred Music] is therefore firstly a matter of intense participation in the Mystery of God, in the “theophany” that occurs in each Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord manifests himself in the midst of his people... Active and conscious participation consists, therefore, in knowing how to enter profoundly into this mystery, in knowing how to contemplate, adore and welcome it, in grasping its sense, thanks in particular to religious silence and to the ‘musicality of the language with which the Lord speaks to us.’
Hymns have also been recognized by the Church as an effective means of catechizing the faithful, including the youth. Pope Francis continued, “The various key figures in this sphere, musicians, composers, conductors and choristers of the scholae cantorum, with liturgical coordinators, can make a precious contribution to the renewal, especially in qualitative terms, of sacred music and of liturgical chant.” The works that are crafted by their hands can indeed be a beautiful means of engaging those whose ears the notes fall upon. But in order to be truly esteemed as noble and sacred, they must be holy. “In order to foster this development,” Pope Francis said, “an appropriate musical formation must be promoted, even of those who are preparing to become priests, in a dialogue with the musical trends of our time, with the inclusion of different cultural areas and with an ecumenical approach.”
The next time you hear music at Mass, I suggest uniting your voice with the cantor as a prayer to God. The act of doing so invites us to offer to God a part of ourselves that we may regularly try to keep private. Done reverently, it becomes an offering of love to our Lord, as Pope Benedict XVI observed:
The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. “Cantare amantis est”, says St. Augustine, singing is a lover’s thing. In so saying, we come again to the trinitarian interpretation of Church music. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is he who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father.
Questions for Reflection: How can music impact your experience of the liturgy or of God? Can you remember a time when music helped deepen your faith?
“Good morning and welcome to St. Michael Catholic church. Before Mass begins, we invite you to take a moment to greet those around you.”
I was on vacation at the time I heard these words, and thus totally unfamiliar with the parish until I had searched for local Catholic churches. There wasn’t much choice compared to my options in a densely populated city, but I knew Mass was Mass—the same and just as important in the rural diocese I was visiting as it is in the Archdiocese of Washington (and the rest of the Universal Church). I was excited to experience another faith community as a visitor.
After the cantor made the welcome announcement, the parishioners around me turned and exchanged greetings with their neighbors. While there were a number of familiar faces for them, mine was new. Their eyes lit up when they saw me. I appreciated the parishioner’s hospitality efforts, beginning with the first handshake and smile. As Mass began, I could not help but pick up on the small differences in the celebration of the liturgy: the church was smaller and rounder, there was a piano instead of an organ, the servers were past middle-age, and the priest liked to stroll up and down the aisle during his homily. While it was not exactly what I was used to, the actual worship of God and the spiritual nourishment of the faithful was no less authentic or beneficial. The Word of God was proclaimed in the readings and we received the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We sang hymns, exchanged a sign of peace, and participated in the usual liturgical responses, movements, and postures at the appropriate times.
These experiences may very well be shared by anyone taking a vacation this summer or otherwise visiting another parish. The Mass transcends one’s location or liturgical preferences. It is ultimately the gathering and lifting of prayers of praise, petition, repentance, and thanksgiving to God Who blesses us with His grace and True Presence. In Her wisdom, the Church has laid down guidelines for the celebration of the liturgy that must be adhered to in order to be valid. Without them, the Mass would lose its focus on divine worship and partaking in the Sacred Mysteries. While different parishes and cultures may imbue a different spiritual character in the celebration of the sacraments, the Substance (God) remains the same to unite all the faithful, whoever and wherever they may be. This universality reflects that of the Church, instituted to proclaim Christ to all, especially those outside of His Body.
My experience of welcome at this new church during my vacation reflected that very evangelical mission! One does not have to go far to invite another to share in the Sacred Mysteries—all are invited to enter and re-enter the liturgy, and to do so more deeply than before in order to draw more meaning and grace along one’s spiritual journey.
After that morning’s Mass, the church hosted a hospitality breakfast during which I was continually greeted by other parishioners who expressed amazement that I found my way to join them in the Eucharist at such an early hour—and on a weekday! To some, it was refreshing to see not only a new face, but a young one. They were as happy to greet me and share their experiences as I was to be there and form new ones. Before leaving that church to continue on with the day, the members of the faithful drew strength from their reception of Jesus in the Eucharist and from each other in order to sustain them through the burdens and challenges of their lives.
In welcoming newcomers to the Catholic Church, let us strive to extend the same heartfelt message as our Lord to the wearied disciples after His Passion: “Peace be with you!” Doing so will not only help others benefit from the graces and support offered at your home parish, but will also strengthen and enrich the life of the local church as it endeavors to minister to the world spreading the Gospel message.
Question for Reflection: How does visiting different parishes deepen your understanding of the Mass? Have you ever benefitted from attending Mass in a different location or within a different culture?