Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. –1 Corinthians 12:27
I commute to work every day by train through Chicago’s “loop.” It’s the perfect place for
people-watching. Recently, I was on a busy sidewalk when a woman who looked rather tired and disheveled pushed a stroller near the crowd with her child. Behind me were two very elegantly dressed women in a hurry. The woman with the stroller asked the passing crowd, “Can you spare some change for our next meal?” It’s a question that I’ve heard too often downtown. I felt a pang of sadness and guilt. Often, I am unsure how to respond. The women behind me continued on past her and began commenting: “What a horrible mother”; “Of course I’m not going to help her out. Why would I want to give her my money?” Those comments hurt even more than seeing this poor mother and child suffer.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” The mother and her baby, the women behind me, and all those who are a part of my community of friends and family are of one body. As stated in Lumen Gentium, “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body.
In that Body the life of Christ is poured into the believers who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ who suffered and was glorified.” We live as one with Christ and with one another even amidst the poverty, injustice, and messiness we experience.
This letter from Paul to the early Church deepens their understanding of the Body of Christ and its physical makeup. Each person has a function within it which works alongside the other members and promotes the common good. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful.” I often fall into the temptation of removing myself from a group who seems holier than me, those who are more involved in their community or are outspoken in ways that I’m not. I even tend to exclude myself from the community of pedestrians walking down the sidewalk. I forget that we make up the Body of Christ and that if others suffer, I suffer. If others rejoice, I rejoice. I also share a part of myself with each of them. One of my mentors once said, “Our goal is always to connect. Even if it’s uncomfortable, we are made for relationship.” As a Christian, I am called to notice those in the community around me and to connect with them.
Mystici Corporis Christi, the encyclical from Pius XII, also outlines the meaning of being a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. “Each member of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ, if authentic, is integrally bonded in soul, and hopefully in heart, through the Incarnation, by the Spirit, with Jesus, Son of God, and son of Mary, divine and human,” wrote Msgr. Owen F. Campion. We are bonded in soul and heart because of Christ’s physical and spiritual sacrifice as the Son of God. We become whole in him and in relation to others. As members of the Church, we are called to be a family who loves and cares for others, even those outside of our communities.
In all circumstances, the Body of Christ leads me to a holier life. When I am doubtful or uncertain, my faith community allows me to grow. When I’m overwhelmed, others will kindle the fire of faith within me. I fully experience joy when I experience it with others and share the Good News and the love of Jesus. I may do this differently from a trained hand who provides, or a speaker with a gifted tongue, but I’m using my gifts as a member of the Body of Christ. We are called to take part of this community through our unique identity with authenticity.
I paused that day on my commute because of this mystical experience of community. I witnessed the pain of the poor mother and child on the Chicago sidewalk, and the harshness of the response of the two women who were walking near me. I became more aware of this truth in the wounds and challenging emotions I experienced. I feel pain because I am connected to all people in some way. Conversely, I can feel joy if I make small choices to build up the Body of Christ. St. Paul outlines this for us, and we hear it in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, “Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We must pay attention like Jesus would, and love our physical and mystical body.
Questions for Reflection: What unique gifts can I share with others as a member of the Body of Christ? How can I become more aware of the communities I live in?
“Rejoice! Hidden within your life is a seed of resurrection, an offer of life ready to be awakened.” -Pope Francis
The world in which we live is filled with distraction and noise. I realized this in a deeper way as a new mom nursing my newborn at all hours. During those late night feedings, I needed something to keep myself awake and found myself gravitating towards my phone more and more. It was easy to hold and look at in the dark, and I found it nearly impossible to concentrate on reading a book, let alone holding it open as my newborn moved about. By the time Lent rolled around, I had been watching online TV episodes, checking my various social media feeds consistently, or scrolling through house listing websites. In our culture, this type of electronic consumption is easy to fall into. And while these sites or activities are not necessarily wrong or evil, I felt that I was more and more consumed by things of this world. In prayer, I felt the Lord asking me to be consumed with Him rather than by materialism, technology, or my own desires.
What we consume defines who we are and what we become. What started out as a way to keep myself awake in those exhausting first weeks and months of motherhood had become a small addiction. What if instead, I used those minutes and hours to pray, to be still with my thoughts, to be present to my son?
I had a quiet Lent. Formally, I gave up “scrolling.” I did not look at social media feeds, online shopping websites, or TV shows. I also limited my consumption of music and movies. I felt that I had truly entered a desert and made an ongoing “silent retreat” without completely removing myself from the world. I was becoming a “contemplative in action” and realized that even as a parent and married person, I could still carve out time for Christ each day through silent reflection.
Instead of consuming media, I prayed and I was silent. I used my phone only for Scripture reading or Catholic reflections. I prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I read spiritual books. I thought of all the friends and family that had asked for my prayers. I offered up this media fast for them and for the needs of the world.
This was hard. I noticed how many times my hand gravitated towards the screen. I noticed how much time I had spent behind one. Now that I have emerged from the season of Lent, I can’t help but wonder how I’ve changed.
In his homily at the Easter Vigil this year, Pope Francis spoke of the changed faces of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary after they visited Christ’s tomb. The two brave women ventured out in the early hours of the morning “pale and tearful” and “walked like people going to a cemetery.” They had not yet encountered the Risen Lord. When they arrived, they were met with miraculous, life-changing news: “He has been raised just as he said!”
The women leave rejoicing and run immediately to tell the disciples, to evangelize. Their faces are completely transformed.
This leads me to reflect, “How has my face transformed this Easter season? Have I emerged from the tomb of Lent rejoicing?”
Lent and Easter are about transformation—going from the tomb to new life. Christ is raised from the dead and extends this life to us all. He has opened the doors to our salvation. We don’t have to wait for death to experience this new life. By being consumed by Christ Himself, through prayer and most powerfully through the reception of the Eucharist, we are enabled to become Christ-bearers and share the joy of new life with all we encounter.
Pope Francis invites us to experience and live this transformation in our everyday lives, saying:
The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon. The beating heart of the Risen Lord is given to us, and we are asked to give it in turn as a transforming force, as the leaven of a new humanity. In the resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.
After 40 days of penance and sacrifice, it’s tempting to go back to our old ways—to “carefully constructed ivory towers” and a “compulsive need for security.” “We can grow accustomed to living with the tomb,” Pope Francis cautions.
This Easter season, we must decide to leave the tomb: to stay present, to pray, to choose to be consumed by God. I have learned that in so doing my life is made richer and more meaningful. When consumed by God, I am better able to be present to and love others.
As we continue our victorious journey through the Easter season, I invite you to consider how your life has changed as a result of your Lenten journey. Have you emerged from the tomb? How has your face changed?
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Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a wife, mother, and physician who gave the ultimate sacrifice of her life for her infant daughter. She is also one of my most trusted role models as a Christian, wife, and mother.
When I graduated with my master’s degree, my husband gave me a print of a quote of St. Gianna that reads, “Whatever God wants.” It hangs by my bedside table and is often my first short prayer as I get out of bed in the morning. It was very fitting for the journey that we had just begun: my husband and I had been married for almost an entire year and I had just finished a rigorous graduate program. Meanwhile, we were coping with the loss of my father, who had passed 6 months prior. With such joy, stress, and suffering, I often turned to this prayer of St. Gianna as a deep source of hope and consolation to remind me of God’s sovereign love and guidance in my life. I continue to turn to this prayer as God’s will for my life unfolds.
St. Gianna did not say “whatever God wants” with apathy but with joyful submission to Christ’s work in her life and confidence in God’s goodness. At her canonization, Pope St. John Paul II described her witness as a “significant messenger of divine love.” From her writings and letters, we know her love for God and her family was fervent and passionate. In a letter written to her future husband during their engagement, she said she would often pray, “Lord, you see my desire and my good will. Supply what is lacking and help me to become the wife and mother you desire.” Her letters to her husband often express their deep desire to raise a family that would love and serve the Lord with all of their hearts. They would soon have a son and three daughters.
During St. Gianna’s final pregnancy, doctors discovered a fibroid tumor in her uterus. St. Gianna’s life could be easily saved by an abortion or a hysterectomy, or she could undergo a risky operation to remove the tumor and save her baby. St. Gianna chose to save her baby. However, the impending birth could mean life or death for both St. Gianna and her unborn child. She consistently told her husband, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose – I insist – the child.” And indeed, St. Gianna’s daughter who lived due to her mother’s sacrifice is a living testimony to her mother’s deep love for her children and her trust in God’s will.
Of her sacrifice, Pope St. John Paul II said this:
Following the example of Christ, who "having loved his own... loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.
It is clear that her courage and love did witness to her simple prayer, “whatever God wants.”
As life has continued to present new joys, stresses, and sufferings, my husband and I continue to reflect on St. Gianna’s prayer that hangs in our bedroom: “Whatever God wants.” In eagerly awaiting the birth of our unborn son, our hope, like St. Gianna and her husband’s, is that we can raise him and our future children with a deep love for the Lord and total trust in his providence as we pray in confidence, “Whatever God wants.” We hope that through living out our vocation of marriage amidst the ups and downs of life, our love is another witness to our children, family, and friends of God’s faithfulness as we pray, “Whatever God wants.”
“Whatever God wants” is not a prayer of defeat or carelessness. For St. Gianna, it was a prayer of courage, strength, and complete trust in the power of God. May we, too, come to find the joy of this submission and love for Christ.
St. Gianna, pray for us!
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.” – Psalm 51: 19
During my graduate program at The Catholic University of America, I had a chance to take a class on the Psalms. Not only did I learn a lot of information about the psalms, but also my perspective on prayer changed. The professor taught us about the humanity of the psalms: each one is riddled with human emotion and experience. The psalms show us that our prayers to God do not have to be perfect. Rather, our prayers should be honest because we are placing our trust in Him.
This Lent, I decided to pray more with the psalms. Over the past few weeks, I’ve done this by praying the Liturgy of the Hours and doing Lectio Divina. Praying with and contemplating the psalms this Lent has really helped deepen my relationship with God. It has also helped me in my role as a Youth Minister. So far, God has reminded me of two principles that we should remember while reading the psalms: 1) the psalms are a mirror to your soul and 2) You should allow the psalms to be a guide to your life.
One psalm that the Church uses throughout the season of Lent is Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is titled “The Miserere: Prayer of Repentance” and the first two verses tell us that this prayer is the prayer David prayed after the prophet Nathan had told him he had sinned (cf 2 Kings 11-12). By praying this psalm throughout the season of Lent, we are reminded how much we are in need of God’s mercy. No matter what we’ve done or what we will do, God always calls us back to himself. He constantly invites us to repent for our sins and be reconciled with him. God’s mercy awaits us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all sinners. By using Psalm 51 as a mirror to our own souls, we know that we are in need of repentance. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Lord can wash us so that we can become “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:9)
Psalm 51 is also a great prayer to guide a Christian’s life. We are imperfect beings living in a broken world, and we encounter sin every day. It is only through God’s abundant compassion that he blots out our sins. Verse 12 says: “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.” As Christians, we are called to repentance and conversion. God always calls us to allow him to change our hearts to bring us closer to his own heart. By continually offering our own hearts to him, God will do great things throughout our lives. Lent is a time of repentance and turning our hearts back to God to prepare for Easter. Through praying with Psalm 51, we can be reminded of our own brokenness. We can also be reminded to offer our heart to God in every prayer and action that we do in order to allow him to create in us a clean heart.
Question for Reflection: How can you pray with the psalms this Lent? Choose one psalm this week to reflect on.
As we brought our firstborn son in a white gown to the church, I couldn’t help but think of Mary and Joseph - new parents who also came to God’s dwelling place with a newborn child. They were fulfilling the stipulations of the Mosaic law: Mary was completing her ritual purification after childbirth, and the couple was consecrating their firstborn son to God (cf Exodus 13:2). They, like my husband and I, were entrusting their child to God in faith, giving the Lord control over his destiny, reiterating, in a sense, Mary’s surrender in her Magnificat, “may it be done to him according to your word.”
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord which we celebrate today is one of both great joy and great sorrow—a day of paradox. The glory of the Lord in a literal sense returns to the Temple in Jerusalem which had for so many years been vacant of his physical presence. God has come to renew his covenant and relationship with his people. His presence, however, is no longer confined to this Temple. He walks now among his people…as one of them – in this case, in the form of a child. All of Israel’s hopes are fulfilled in this one child. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” the holy Simeon proclaims in the Temple, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The Jewish people’s spiritual exile from God has come to an end.
This child, this sign of hope and restoration of Israel, however, is also a sign to be misunderstood and rejected. Simeon continues, explicitly telling Mary, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce.” God was answering the many prayers and dreams of the Israelites in a way they could hardly comprehend: in the form of a lowly child who would grow up in a foreign country, who would come back to Nazareth and live as a poor carpenter’s son, who would grow to become a great prophet after thirty years and challenge the Jewish people to live more nobly than they could have ever imagined: to love their enemies and persecutors, to eat his Body and drink his Blood, to become sons and daughters of God, calling him “abba,” Father, and ultimately to attain salvation for the entire world.
God often answers our prayer in ways unimagined or seemingly incomprehensible to us. Will we join in Simeon’s proclamation of salvation or will we be among those who reject this sign?
“My eyes have seen your salvation” - this is at the heart of the Christian life. This is evangelization: an encounter with the living God that results in our conversion and proclamation of salvation. As Pope Francis said in last year’s homily on the Feast of the Presentation, “One who lives this encounter becomes a witness and makes possible the encounter for others.”
After encountering Christ, we are able to reiterate the words of Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Are you able to join in these words?
In order to do so, we must prepare our hearts for an encounter with God. What I find crucial to the words of Simeon, which are followed by words of the prophetess Anna in the Gospel today, is the role of prayer and sacrifice to Simeon and Anna’s encounter. Years of fasting, offering sacrifice, going to the Temple, and forming a deep relationship with God in prayer all led to this pivotal moment of encounter in their lives. Furthermore, Simeon enters the Temple after the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He was so receptive to the stirring of God within his heart that he entered the Temple in the very moment he needed to. Both he and Anna were not in the Temple by accident. God had been preparing their hearts for years, and they had done everything in their power to cooperate with his grace through their holy actions: prayer, sacrifice, worship, thanksgiving.
What do we bring to the Lord today as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation? What do we place on his altar every time we attend Mass? Do we join the priest in offering sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, or petition? Do we remember the needs of friends, family, or the world? Do we give God our joys, sorrows, stresses, or work?
I invite you, the next time you go to Mass, to present yourself to the Lord. Spiritually place yourself on the altar, wherever you may be in your faith. Whether you feel a bit distant from God right now, seem to be in a comfortable place in your life, or are overwhelmed with fear or stress or worry—place whatever you have and whatever you carry on the altar this week and ask God to continue to transfigure you. We celebrate, in a sense, the Presentation of the Lord at every Mass—for we are presenting Jesus himself to God the Father in the Eucharist. And we are invited to join in offering our sacrifices to the Eternal Sacrifice of Christ crucified.
Let us join the aged Simeon in saying, “my eyes have seen your salvation!” by imitating his deep life of prayer and sacrifice. And from there, may we proclaim the truth of God’s love to the world!
My Catholic grade school began everyday with students lining up in the gym for attendance and then filing out to class. One morning after Thanksgiving break, our usual routine was interrupted when the principal, a Sister of St. Joseph, came up to me.
She asked, “Would you like to be Mary for an Advent Mass?”
I immediately blurted out an emphatic, “No!”
The other fourth graders shot me shocked stares. It would have been a dream for many of my classmates to receive such an invitation, especially a personal one from the principal! And then, of course, they were astounded that I would dare to say no to the principal herself.
“Are you sure?” she asked me again.
“Well, umm, I just really don’t want to. I’m sorry,” I said. The disappointment spread across her face and I knew then that she was not expecting that answer either. An awkward pause came and went as teachers and students began marching to their rooms.
Finally, I said, “Well, I mean, I guess I could do that for you.”
The principal beamed and listed off a number of details, like who would be St. Joseph, and when we were to arrive to change into costume.
I often think back to that encounter during Advent when I reflect on Mary’s “yes” and Joseph’s sacrifice. Why did I refuse to help with such certainty? It was out of character for my usual fourth grade self.. Maybe that day my stubborn will and insecurities showed their true colors!
There is an irony to saying “no” to playing the part of Mary when her “yes” was prophesied by Isaiah and echoed in the message of the psalmists. The lives of St. Joseph, St. Paul, and the gospel writers were forever changed by that answer. Now, I’m grateful for changing my answer to yes for something simple. Like Mary, I received special graces to live out the big and small yeses to God in my adult life.
The readings for this Fourth Sunday of Advent focus on the message of Emmanuel.They do a good job of showing how even in our wavering human nature, God is with us. Consider the gospel from this week, where a shocked St. Joseph allows God to turn his “no” to a “yes.” I like to imagine St. Joseph’s shock after hearing about Mary’s pregnancy. He responds to the news with a dignified “no,” hoping to protect both himself and his young fiancee, until an Angel shows him the workings of the Holy Spirit in his and Mary’s lives. His sacrifice and hiddenness guides us in family life, work, ministry, and sharing the the gospel message in a noisy world. His “yes” wavered and then seemed to move to a place of confidence and trust. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” (Mt 1:20) What reassurance! God was with him as he transitioned to being the head of the Holy Family, he became the ultimate protector of holiness.
After the Marian story from my fourth grade year to the touch points of this weekend’s Gospel the message of Emmanuel lives. We prepare for Christmas this week with the demands of a commercial culture, family time, the healing of relationships, and the stress of “keeping up”. God is with us, waiting as he did through Isaiah and St. Paul, and the call of St. Joseph. What will we say “yes” to this week? How will God be with us in our moments of “no.”? When your fear or pride brings the word “no” to your lips, remember that God is still with you. As we await our Lord this Advent remember that he too awaits us and our emphatic “yes”.
May your final week of Advent be blessed!
Sophie Lorenzo works in social media marketing for a Catholic publisher in Chicago. An alum of the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame, she enjoys bridging her background in theology with online ministry.
Lately, I have found myself in circumstances of trial and uncertainty, unsure where the Lord is in the midst of everything. The waiting certainly parallels the season of Advent in which we await the coming of Our Lord, the Messiah. Waiting is painful and uncertainty requires trust, both of which my control-hungry self wrestles with.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, is the remedy to our fear and doubt. There’s something unique about the portrayal of Our Lady of Guadalupe: she wears a black belt. In the Aztec religion, a black belt indicates someone who is with child, showing that She too is waiting for Christ in solidarity. She wants to wrap her motherly love and protection over us, to mother us through the waiting, through the anticipation, and straight to Her Son Jesus Christ.
Our Lady came to peoples who were deeply enthralled in the Aztec religion, with angry gods who required sacrifice. She spoke a language they understood. The image left on St. Juan Diego’s cloak for the people of what is now Mexico destroyed the power of the Aztec gods and elevated the glory of Her Son. She wants to do the same for you this Advent season. Look at these words she spoke to Juan Diego, the simple farmer turned saint, “My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains existence.”
In my circumstances, I am comforted to know that I am not abandoned. I have a Mother who will fight for me, exclaiming, “Let not your heart be disturbed. Am I not here who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happy within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not be grieved or disturbed by anything.”
As we wait for the coming of the Messiah, find comfort that Our Lady waits with us. From the moment she encountered the Angel Gabriel, to searching for a place to give birth, to fleeing to the desert, to the painful prophecy of Simeon, to the loss of Her child for three days, to the witness of His persecution, to the foot of the Cross, Mary waited. Mary waited in faith of the Father’s goodness, exclaiming, “be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Just like in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pregnant with Our Lord, Our Lady knows how to wait with peace. She wants to give you Her peace; she wants to speak your language, love you where you are, and guide you to the joy of the coming of the Lord.
August 27th marks the feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Monica spent seventeen years praying for the conversion of her son, whose reputation for hedonism and religious skepticism preceded him. St. Monica is said to have wept for her son Augustine every night. Her devotion to him is an example of what it means to love unconditionally, even when it hurts. As a new mother, I have spent many hours reflecting on the mystery of unconditional love and have recorded some of my thoughts below. Let us turn to St. Monica when our hearts are weak and we need help loving as God calls us to love. St. Monica, pray for us.
“This is my body, which will be given for you” (Luke 22:19).
Christ’s words at the Last Supper never fully resonated with me until I became a mother. From the moment of her conception, I gave up my body to my daughter. Baby books, friends, and other women warned me of the physical tolls of pregnancy--the aches and pains, the nausea, the swollen feet, the labor--but I was unprepared for the physical sacrifices afterward. My body is not my own. It is at service to a squirmy, snorty, sweaty being who doesn’t even realize how needy she is. And yet, this physical sacrifice is good and necessary. It has helped me to remember that God wants all of us. Not just our souls and intellects, but our bodies too.
I am an intellectual person by nature and often use my love of study to learn about God. But learning about God and knowing God are not the same thing. Just like reading about how to ride a bike and actually climbing up on the seat are not the same. It is easy for me to pick up another historical commentary on the gospels and feel like I am improving my relationship with God. It’s hard to deny myself a second cup of coffee. It’s hard to place my phone in another room and walk away. It’s hard to lower myself onto my knees to pray, or even to sustain prayer for longer than a minute. These bodily actions are hard because they require sacrifice. And yet, I suspect the sacrifices I make for God are more important to him than whether I know if Jesus was born in cave or a wooden stable.
Motherhood, too, is a bodily commitment and one that can be difficult to embrace with joy. I sacrifice my body in a small way every time I stop what I am doing to nurse my baby, or to get down on my knees and engage her in yet another game of “rub the belly, rub the belly”. Yet, as I commit to these physical tasks, I hope I also die to self a little more each day. With each physical act, with each twinge between the shoulder blades, I remind myself, that--in a much bigger way--this is what Jesus did for me on the cross.
Ironically, it actually was a book that helped me to understand the beauty of bodily sacrifice. No, it wasn’t the Bible, or Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, it was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. The gist of the story is that a tree continues to give and give to a boy throughout the boy's life to make him happy. First she gives him her apples so the boy can sell them for pocket money, then she gives him her branches so that he can build a house, then her trunk so that he can build a canoe. Eventually the tree is reduced to a stump and the boy hasn’t visited her in years. And yet the refrain after each gift is, “And the tree was happy.” By the end of the book, my husband found me lying on my back crying while my daughter kicked her feet unconcernedly next to me. Our conversation went as follows:
“I told you not to read that book!”
“It’s just so stupid! The boy is so ungrateful! The tree gave him everything and he never even said thank you. She literally let him cut down her trunk for him. It’s not fair.”
“Would you do that for Elizabeth?”
My answer was immediate. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s what it means to love unconditionally. And the craziest part is that my bodily sacrifices to Elizabeth don’t even compare to Christ’s sacrifice for me.
Truly, to be loved by Christ is a humbling thing.
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This year, the Church experienced the collision of a feast day and a day of fasting on March 25. For some, the day was approached with awkwardness, “This is both a Marian Feast Day and the Day of the Cross?” But, as Holy Mother Church exercises her wisdom, She encouraged the faithful to first enter into the solemn day of Good Friday on March 25th, while today, April 4th, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.
The “stacking” of these Holy Days happens irregularly in the Church’s history, and we will never experience them again in our lifetime (unless you live to 2157). Because of the moving of the Feast of the Annunciation, we continue to have the opportunity to soak up all the graces we can from the two days, to ponder the beauty and similarities of the day of feast and the day of fast.
“Hail full of Grace!” (Luke 1:28)
“Hail King of the Jews” (Mark 15:18)
In Scripture, the word “hail” is synonymous with a naming, a giving of a title. As Mary is given the title “Full of Grace,” our Lord is given the title “King of the Jews.” These titles are given to reveal their deeper identity—Mary, as the Mother of Christ; Jesus, as the Savior of all.
Just as Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:28), we too must ask ourselves this question. What does it mean to venerate Mary the Mother of God and Jesus Christ? What do these titles and these identities mean to us as Catholics living in the world today?
“May it be done to me according to your will.” (Luke 1: 38)
“Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Mary’s faith and trust in the Lord carries her to make the journey to a city of Judah to visit Elizabeth. This prayer then carries her to Bethlehem, to the journey to Jerusalem, to the raising of the Child Jesus, to the act of faith at Cana, and to the foot of the Cross. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, too, carries Him to make the journey to Calvary, to make the greatest Sacrifice for the sake of our sins. These prayers of trust in Nazareth at the Annunciation and in the Garden of Gethsemane both find their glory on Calvary.
When we are presented with moments to trust God, do we make that act of trusting surrender or do we run? Imagine if Mary operated out of fear and Jesus rejected His Cross. Let us pray to Our Lady and Her Son to increase in us faith and confidence to walk this journey on earth to our heavenly home.
“The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:34)
“Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
As the Angel of the Lord announces to Mary that the child within her womb will be the Son of God, the centurion at Calvary proclaims that Jesus is “truly… the Son of God.” Mary’s faith in the Lord brings others to the salvific realization that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah! Due to her faithfulness and receptivity to the Holy Spirit, she bears the Son, bringing Jesus, bringing Redemption, to the world. The Angel of the Lord comes to Mary to announce His Divinity. Let us sit with Mary and find Her Son through her receptive heart.
It makes sense that we encountered a bit of awkwardness at the clashing of the Annunciation and Good Friday, but these days reveal the paradox of the Christian Faith. We cannot have one without the other; in suffering comes joy. Let us cling to Mary’s motherly heart and ask her to show us the way to her Son.
As we venerate Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation, may Her faithfulness bring us to a deeper faithfulness in Her Son. As we celebrate the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus Christ, we remember the birth of Holy Mother Church through the flowing of Blood and Water from the side of Jesus on the cross. This demonstrates that Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. These stories, the Annunciation and Good Friday, are actually our own and show how our “yes” can be used by God to bring about the salvation of the world in unexpected ways. May Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan through the Angel Gabriel and Jesus’ “yes” to the will of the Father through the Cross be our joy throughout this Easter Season.
“Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.” This line is chanted three times by the celebrant of the Good Friday service; after each time, a covered cross or crucifix is partially unveiled until after the third time when the full cross or crucifix is exposed. The faithful then are invited to reverence the cross, usually with a kiss.
For many, the most memorable part of the Good Friday liturgy is the reading of the Passion Narrative. We are once more transported back 2,000 years to relive the moment when “[God] gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). The moment that has always stood out to me is the Veneration of the Cross. To me, the simple act of embracing the Cross of Christ is one of the most beautiful things one can experience.
The Veneration of the Cross has been celebrated in Rome since the seventh century and in Jerusalem since the fifth. It has since become a universal practice in the Church. Many can recall the image of a priest, bishop, and even the pope humbling himself before what was once the symbol of oppression, seeing it instead as a symbol of hope and life.
When we embrace the cross and reverence it with a kiss, we in effect adore Christ himself, for the cross is the representation of Christ and his sacrifice. In that act, we then embrace the cross as our own and give ourselves fully to our Lord and Savior. Pope Benedict once remarked, “Entrusting ourselves to Christ, we lose nothing, we gain everything. In his hands our life acquires its true meaning.” Thus, when we embrace the cross, we accept that, through Christ’s sacrifice, we are saved and able to enter into eternal life. We also transform the cross from that instrument of death into the method by which we can now enter God’s heavenly kingdom.
As the phrase used in the Stations of the Cross states, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you…because by your cross you redeemed the world.” In venerating the Cross of Christ, we make those words active in our own lives. We leave the church on Good Friday knowing that we have reaffirmed our faith in the Lord’s redeeming power. We join ourselves with those who were present at that first Good Friday and believed that the story of salvation did not end that day. In fact, it was only the beginning. And so, when the celebrant chants, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world,” let us, with all our heart respond, “Come, let us adore.”
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Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
At the graduate school I attend, there is a simple chapel on the second basement level. I typically find myself the most comfortable sitting in the back of the chapel for daily Mass. One day, I scooted in a minute before Mass started, leaving the only space for me in the front pew (GASP, I know!). As I settled into the pew, I looked up, seeing the front of the chapel much closer and in a new way. In front of me was the reason why sitting in the back was more comfortable.
I faced His dislocated shoulders, His God/Man shoulders bloody, His bowed head spurned with thorns, His emaciated figure hanging, His flesh slashed, His knees worn from His falls, His side pierced, and those nailed hands, those feet. I could not keep my eyes from Him and I could not comprehend, “Why?”
I get quite used to the pretty crosses, the ones that are bedazzled, the Southern rustic ones, the ornate, or the ones where He is not even present and His suffering can be watered down to a pretty symbol. You could say I get comfortable with them.
The Crucifix in this small, simple chapel does not forget His suffering. No, it is displayed loudly, proudly next to the tabernacle, right next to the Eucharistic Table. His sacrifice is not reduced. The scandal of the King hanging on the cross is revered, and yet I worked hard to keep my eyes from the weight of the cross.
Later in the day, I found myself in the chapel alone. This time, I slowly made my way up to the large Crucifix. I realized my heart was pounding loudly in my chest. I knelt underneath the Crucifix. I looked up to see His head bowed down. I saw His sacrifice for the first time. And mostly, I was in a disposition of responsibility for the first time, and the weight was crushing. I could not hide.
This Lenten season, I am spending more time kneeling in front of this Crucifix, facing my sins and facing my Savior. I encourage you to do the same! You see, by beginning to take in the weight of His sacrifice, the next questions that will arise are, “Why me? Why this sacrifice in this way?” As you ponder His wounds, His shoulders, His crown, His side, His hands and feet, you will hear in a still voice, “Love, Love, Deep Abiding Love for you.”
Taking in the shocking death of the Savior only leads us to grasping the true reason of this Lenten journey: the agape love of the Christ. How can we bear our own crosses, the struggles and weaknesses that are a part of the human condition, if we haven’t grasped the passionate love He has for His children? We may try and hide it, water it down, bedazzle it, but the Crucifix is Divine Love thinking of you.
“Look into My Heart and see there the love and mercy which I have for humankind, and especially for sinners. Look, and enter into My Passion.” –Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary 1663)
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Pope John Paul II, in his homily at the Mass he celebrated at the site of the Brzezinka (Auschwitz II) Concentration Camp in 1979; called St. Maximilian Kolbe “the patron of our difficult century.” Although the dawn of a new century has since come, St. Maximilian remains a strong symbol of Christian charity today. Seventy-four years ago tomorrow, he offered up an ultimate act of charity while knowing it would cost him his own life to save another.
While Maximilian Kolbe was a prisoner at Auschwitz, several men escaped from the camp. In an attempt to deter other prisoners from trying to escape, the officers chose ten men to starve to death. When one of the men chosen expressed his anguish because he had a wife and children, St. Maximilian willingly volunteered to take his place. After two weeks without food or water, St. Maximilian was the only one of the ten still alive. At that point, he was killed by a lethal injection. Although we cannot know for certain what happened while the ten men were held in the bunker, there are reports that St. Maximilian spent much of the two weeks leading the other nine in prayer to the Blessed Mother.
Most of us will not be called to make the same sacrifice as St. Maximilian did for a stranger, but God calls each of us to works of charity and mercy. The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are simple ways to love God and to love our neighbor. This might mean sacrificing your Saturday afternoon to drive an elderly neighbor to her doctor’s appointment or to volunteer at a food pantry. Mercy might take the form of comforting a coworker or classmate (regardless of whether or not you are friends) when you notice them grieving. Mercy means not honking or cursing, but instead offering up a prayer when someone cuts you off in traffic. Mercy could mean not buying another sweater when you already have ten hanging in your closet and instead donating the money to a charity for the homeless. Every act of mercy requires some sacrifice--whether you are giving up time, money, or a bit of yourself--but there is no simpler way to tell God that you love Him.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
It has been just over a week since Easter Sunday. Some of you may be enjoying sipping lattes again, hitting the snooze button, reaching for another doughnut or taking warmer showers. Some of you may be looking back on Lent with relief because you got through it. Others may be exasperated by promises broken, while still others rejoice quietly at another season of growth with the Lord. Regardless of how you perceive your Lenten journey, rejoice! We remain in the Easter season! We continue to sing praise and proclaim the victory of the Lord!
We rejoice, despite the traffic jam.
We rejoice, despite fickle weather.
We rejoice, despite the world’s indifference..
We rejoice, despite news of ongoing persecution.
We rejoice, because death is conquered.
We rejoice, because Christ is Risen.
In last Thursday’s Gospel, Christ asks his disciples, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” He poses the same questions to us today. Why are we troubled? We often fret, watching the news, getting up for what seems like another monotonous day, finding a stain on our clothing or cleaning up the fiftieth mess of the day. We are often tempted to wonder if Christ’s Resurrection really has an effect on our day to day lives. Mentally, we understand that this moment in history is what makes our lives possible. It is why we are redeemed, why Christianity has any meaning. But how has the light of the Resurrection seeped into the “ordinariness” of your day? Can you say your life looks different before and after the Lenten season?
The Resurrected Christ, whose glorious body is transformed and yet still pierced, asks us:
What troubles you? Why is your heart wrought with questions? Has not my life, death and Resurrection shown you at what lengths I was willing to go to prove my love for you? Have you not seen I have conquered your greatest foe—death? Rejoice with me, my little one! Your life has been made anew!
Christ’s death and Resurrection were God’s answer to fallen man’s question: “am I lovable?” His answer--spoken in Jesus’ life, laughter, miracles, scourging, Crucifixion--is a resounding “YES.” This is the glory of the Resurrection that gives meaning to the “ordinariness” of each day and makes each moment of our lives something miraculous and spectacular. As Christians, we rejoice always—for we are a people of Resurrection living in the certainty of being loved and forgiven. During the Easter season, we rejoice in a profoundly heartfelt and thoughtful way. We have walked forty days with Christ in a season of prayer, penance and service, and we have crucified our weaknesses and imperfections with Him in order to emerge from this time freer and more beautiful than before. Our steps may have faltered. We may have failed along the way. But our aim this past Lent was to grow closer to Christ, even but half a step closer. And our attempt to do so, even small and imperfect, is cause for rejoicing.
Throughout this Easter season, I invite you to continue to reflect on your Lenten journey in the light of Christ’s Resurrection. Continue to incorporate the spiritual practices you took on or offer up small forms of sacrifice in your day to day lives on the path of holiness. The more we welcome Christ in our hearts, the more his light can penetrate our very being to illuminate the world. Try to “look” different after each Lenten season so that at the end of your life, you may look like Him—the Crucified, but also, the glorified, the Resurrected.
Kate Flannery is pursuing a Master's degree in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver and graduates in May.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Most parents feel incredibly protective of their children and hate to see them hurting. Chances are, if you ask your mom or dad, they would say that watching you break an arm, fall off your bike, or be picked on by a bully was painful for them. Maybe you are a parent who has experienced how hard it can be to see your child in pain. God, who is infinitely perfect, loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son so that we would have a chance at Heaven. God knew that some would chose to reject His love. He knew exactly how painful it would be, for both Himself and the Blessed Mother, to watch His Son suffering on the cross.
On Good Friday, we commemorate the ultimate sacrifice. The Stations of the Cross allow us to journey with Christ the last hours of his life on earth. Even if you are unable to physically move from station to station, it is a wonderful opportunity to mediate on all that Jesus was willing to undergo for our sake.
The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.
The Second Station: Jesus carries His cross.
The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.
The Fourth Station: Jesus meets His mother.
The Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His cross.
The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
The Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time.
The Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
The Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time.
The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His clothes.
The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross.
The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.
The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Imagine how the Virgin Mary must have felt when she met her Son on the way to Golgotha. Her heart must have been breaking watching Him struggle to carry the cross. Her tears must have hurt Jesus’ own heart.
After Jesus fell for the third time, He got back up and continued on. He didn’t grumble or complain. It would have been easy to decide that it was too hard and to just stop. When we carry our own cross, however small that burden, it is incredibly easy to complain to God and to say that we cannot do it. We might not be able to on our own, but with God’s help, all things are possible.
In His last moments on the cross before He died, Jesus was thinking of us. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) God stands ready to give us His unconditional love and forgiveness. He has already done the hard part. Through His suffering and death, He threw open the gates to Heaven. He is ready to give us the graces to get there. All we need to do is ask Him for it.
Jennifer Beckmann is a Staff Assistant for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“There is nothing more holy, more eminently perfect, than resignation to the will of God.” ~ St. Vincent de Paul
When we hear these words we often think of Mary declaring herself the handmaid of the Lord or Jesus crying out on the cross, “Into your hands Lord, I commend my spirit.” And yet, there is another example of complete sacrifice to God that often slips by us, that of Joseph, the silent and steadfast husband and father, who cared for Mary as the Lord commanded and raised Jesus as his own flesh and blood.
“There is nothing more holy, more eminently perfect, than resignation to the will of God.” These are truly words to live by, but not easy words to live by. And yet they give us a powerful image of Joseph, a simple man, a carpenter, a husband, a father, giving himself completely to the Lord. He is a perfect example of someone who wanted to live a simple life, but found more than he could ever imagine when he placed his life in the hands of God. If I had been in Joseph's shoes I would have been afraid, and I am sure that Joseph was afraid, but we know that fear did not guide him. No, “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24). This image of Joseph is a powerful image. As Saint Pope John Paul II tells us in Redemptoris Custos, Joseph was called by God to be the protector of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus. In some ways we can think of him as the ultimate human protector. He gave up his life and dedicated it to his family, to protect Mary and Jesus so that one day his own son might die a criminal’s death on the cross and save the world. He is a beautiful example of what it means to be a father and a husband, giving all of himself so that his family could live out their own call to serve the Lord.
St. Joseph, though often portrayed as a silent figure in the Gospels, remains a beautiful example of fatherhood. Fathers serve in one of the most important and formative roles a child can have. They help us to grow in faith and in love, they teach us the things their fathers taught them, and we look to them for support and guidance, for strength and surety. My own father is one of the greatest men I know. During the last 33 years of marriage he has been a devoted husband and father striving to uphold our faith and me and my three brothers as Catholic gentlemen. He has given his life for his family and God, and I couldn't ask for more. On this feast of St. Joseph the Husband of Mary, it is important for us to remember our own fathers and what they have done for us. It is important to see the sacrifices they have made and how they have guided us to place complete trust in the Lord.
As I continue to prepare for marriage this summer I pray and hope that I can live up to the example of St. Joseph and my father, that I can be the husband and father that God is calling me to be. This path is not easy, but I know that if all of us pursuing marriage and those who are already there give ourselves to Christ through the example of St. Joseph that we will live as God has called us to live, in the example of St. Joseph and the Holy Family.
This Lenten season I invite you to pursue St. Joseph because in his silence, in his steadfast faith and loyalty to God, and in his devotion and love of his family, he calls us even closer to Christ. Sometimes we need Mary our Mother whose embrace is always loving and warm, like a Mother holding her child. But other times we need the strength of Joseph, a father’s steadfast hand guiding us on the path to Christ, a silent witness to those who have given themselves completely to serving the Lord.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional in Washington, D.C.