The Advent and Christmas seasons are some of the most important times in our Church. We are celebrating the arrival and birth of Jesus, our Savior! As we go through these seasons, families have different traditions that they partake in throughout this special time. These traditions help to bring us into a preparatory state for the birth of Jesus. If you want to implement some additional practices into your family's Christmas preparations and traditions, here are some ideas that can get you started.
These small practices not only highlight the importance of the Advent and Christmas seasons for your family, but they can also create lifelong traditions that can be carried on through your family. Some of my fondest memories of Christmastime are from the Vigil Mass, participating in the Christmas pageant, and making cookies with my family. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Advent and Christmas and find time to joyfully anticipate and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Thanksgiving is one of the most quintessential American holidays. Eating turkey and stuffing, watching football, and spending time with family are some of the most prominent themes throughout the holiday. Yet, with all the stress of cooking, the big game, and holiday travel, we can sometimes find ourselves missing the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
I know, for me, with all the stress of the holidays, it feels like the only time I can think about the things for which I am thankful is during grace at the dinner table. An entire year's worth of gratitude is simmered down to two minutes of frantic thinking when my turn arrives from around the table. I am trying to incorporate more time for grappling with this question of thankfulness throughout the year and not just at the holiday season. For example, it can be so routine and easy in prayer to ask for something from the Lord or to barter with Him (Lord, if you do this, I will do that). It is something that we all do, yet how often are we thanking the Lord in our prayer? Not just thanking Him for an answered prayer but also for the little moments throughout our lives: thanking Him for a quick commute home, for a found car key, or even for a really good cup of coffee after a sleepless night. It is these little moments that I found bring me the greatest gratitude, these little moments that make up such a small part of my life but greatly impact the cadence of my day.
In a similar way, I have tried to find saints whose patronage may align with something that is going on in my life or with whom I feel a connection. The Catholic Apostolate Center’s Feast Day site is a wonderful resource for looking into some saints that may interest you. From there, I can ask these saints for their intercession in my daily life and thank them for their prayers. Feast days are a great time to give thanks to the specific saints that mean a lot in your life. When saying grace at mealtimes, it may be nice to include a “shout out” to special saints in your life on these days to give gratitude to them.
I’ve also tried to bring a similar technique into my friendships. I have found that since graduating college and after the COVID-19 pandemic, I am even more grateful for spending quality time with my friends. I’ve made it a sort of habit to try to message those who mean the most to me and thank them for our quality time together. It can be as simple as “Thank you for listening to me today,” or “I really enjoyed spending time with you today.” When doing so, I find myself reflecting on the time that I spent with my friends and enjoying the memories of our time together.
In prayer, I have found myself trying to be more present in the moment, more thankful, and more reflective in my thoughts. I try to write down the moments when I find myself needing grace and the moments when I am thankful for the most mundane things, and then I keep a record of them either in a physical journal or on the Notes app on my phone. When going into prayer, I like to call on this list and let it inspire my prayer of thanksgiving for these moments. I also like to look at this list when I’m feeling down or upset, as it helps me to refocus on the positive moments in my life.
Gratitude does not need to be a big thing that only happens once a year. It can be practiced daily through prayer and throughout our daily activities. Finding five minutes a day to practice gratitude exercises, work on gratitude journaling, or call a loved one can fill our hearts with joy this Thanksgiving season and can be implemented throughout the year to keep our spirits high.
Growing up as an Italian-American, I always knew about our culture’s special connection with Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pius of Pietrelcina. We always prayed to him, images of him were scattered around family members' houses, and I could feel his presence around us. Yet it was not until I grew older that I became interested in learning more about Padre Pio’s life and ministry, not just knowing him as someone to whom we prayed for his intercession.
In learning more about his story and road to sainthood, I was inspired by his perseverance through adversity. I began reflecting on his stigmata, the five wounds that were miraculously given to him by God as a way of sharing in the salvific suffering of Christ crucified, and the controversy that surrounded it as some even called him a fraud. Yet throughout these public outcries, he stood firm in his faith and allowed many investigations into his condition. It would have been so easy for him to shut the doors, draw the curtains, and live out the rest of his life behind closed doors. But not Padre Pio: he held Masses that lasted for hours, endured poking and prodding from medical professionals, and suffered immense pain and humiliation. In a letter, he writes about the suffering he faces and says:
“Will he (the Lord) at least free me from the embarrassment caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation."
Being put out of your comfort zone by someone else is something that I think most people would not enjoy—I know I certainly don’t—but for Padre Pio, he saw that it was God who was putting him out of his comfort zone in such an extreme way and allowing him to experience such immense pain for a greater purpose. St. Padre Pio was so incredible because he saw this suffering as coming from God and as a manifestation of God working through him to accomplish something great. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to be facing the realities of his stigmata and mystical experiences as well as dealing with the public’s reaction to the abilities he was given by the Lord. What a cross it would have been to bear! Yet Padre Pio continued on and was focused on helping bring about the healing of others—what a reminder to all of us to do the same.
In the summer of 2016, my family and I took a trip to Italy, which is where my mother grew up. We were extremely fortunate to be only about a two-hour drive from The Shrine of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. This is both a shrine and the church where Padre Pio lived, served, and died. When we decided to visit the shrine, I was unsure of what to expect. On our long car ride through the Italian countryside, I looked out the window, wondering what the day would turn out to be, but it ended up being one of the cornerstones of my faith formation. It truly was an amazing experience. We got to go on a tour of the shrine, pray in the same space that Padre Pio once did, and visit his tomb. It was such an immersive way of experiencing who Padre Pio was as a person, the steps he took every day, and a glimpse into his reality. The few hours that we were there felt like just mere minutes, and I found myself trying to soak in every last second that I could in the sacred space.
From the gift shop, I got a small bracelet with a Tau cross in between a row of small colorful beads to commemorate that day. Out of all the wonderful souvenirs I got from my month in Italy, this simple bracelet may have been my favorite. I wore the bracelet every day throughout my freshman year of college, which began in the fall of 2016, and found myself using it as a prayer object during times of uncertainty. It helped me not only feel connected to Padre Pio and his intercession but also to feel connected to my culture and my family back home, as my freshman year was filled with feeling homesick.
While I no longer wear the bracelet (it got misplaced somewhere in moving out of my dorm), I still feel connected to and interested in Padre Pio and his life and dedication to helping others. I am so grateful for his presence to me, to my family, and to my culture.
“On the way of wisdom I direct you, I lead you on straightforward paths. When you walk, your step will not be impeded, and should you run, you will not stumble.” - Proverbs 4:11-12
Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are those with my dad. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I remember mulling around the Cape for a beach day, going into Boston to catch a game, or running to whatever sporting event I had that weekend. Being an only child, I was extremely close with both of my parents. We were a little trio, and did everything together. When I think of my dad, I not only think of all the fun memories we had, but I also think of all the life lessons I learned along the way—three of which I will go into detail about.
From a young age, I saw the work ethic and determination my father had and looked up to him for that. Being a CPA, he was always working late hours and working on weekends. We knew when tax season hit that he was at his busiest. Despite this, my dad never missed a school concert, a soccer game (or even a practice for that matter), or a dance recital. If it was important to me, it was just as important to him. I can still remember him saying to me sternly, “Never, never, never give up”. No matter what was going on in my life, how upset I may have been, or how frustrated I was, that phrase was said many, many times throughout my life and I still call upon it during moments of doubt. Through crying at the dinner table trying to complete math homework, going through a rough patch with friends, or struggling through college applications, my dad would always remind me to never give up, that the Lord would always show me what was right for me.
As I continue to reflect on phrases I learned from my dad, the other one that always pops into my mind is, “knowledge is power.” He used this phrase so much that he even has it engraved on a bookmark! While education and schooling were extremely important to my childhood, I knew he meant this phrase more broadly. We always talked through current events, explored new sections of the library, and tried to learn as much about anything and everything as possible. This allowed me to stay curious about the world around me, to never be satisfied with one answer, and to always search out the next. I think it’s also probably why I became a history major, as I have always loved to research. After a long week of work, my parents would wake up very early every Saturday morning and drive me an hour into the North End of Boston to take Italian language lessons. Thinking back on that now, I can see their commitment and self-sacrifice (instead of choosing to sleep in on a Saturday morning) to my global knowledge and taking every opportunity to learn something new.
Another large aspect of my childhood revolved around faith. I can remember being a young child and not enjoying going to Mass. I was too young to understand the importance of what was going on in the Mass. While most of my friends were not Catholic, I couldn’t understand why I had to go. Instead of making me sit there and pout, my family tried to make the weekly Mass have some “fun” aspects to it. Whether it be squeezing hands at the end of the Our Father, getting Dunkin Donuts’ together at the end of Mass, or having me put our weekly donation into the basket, these fun little moments allowed my four-year-old faith to begin to grow. A man of great faith, my dad made sure I never missed a weekly Mass or a CCD class and remained involved in our Church community. My dad remained positive through all facets of life - often reminding me that God always had a plan, a path for each of us, and to follow in His guidance.
Looking back, I am so grateful for the memories that I have made with my father over the years, and I am looking forward to the new memories that we will make now and in the future. I will always cherish the moments that we share together and will take his life lessons with me through every step of my life.
To learn more about different facets of fatherhood, we invite you to visit our Year of St. Joseph Resource Page.
Walking into the Catholic University Career Fair in the Fall of 2019, I had no idea the impact that it would have on my life. I remember seeing all these scientific and engineering firms and feeling totally lost and defeated as a history major, when then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a table for the Catholic Apostolate Center. I remembered the organization from a friend of mine who was working at the Center and I decided to go up and learn more. A few months after going to the Center’s table, I began as a marketing intern for the Center and I really enjoyed learning and collaborating with my fellow staff members.
During my internship semester, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything was moved online. I was so anxious about my internship. I saw a lot of friends losing their jobs, positions, and internships due to the pandemic, but the Center was able to quickly adapt to remote work and I was able to keep my internship. I was thrilled! During a time of uncertainty, my work as an intern was one constant in an ever-changing world and it felt great to be able to rely on the Center during those difficult times. The staff would virtually gather weekly in prayer and in lighthearted conversation throughout the pandemic which allowed for some much needed interaction in a newly virtual world.
I was so impressed with how the Center was able to not only adapt to the pandemic, but also grow and continue to put out amazing content for our audience. The Center provided thoughtful and helpful resources, podcasts, and webinars surrounding the pandemic such as adapting to telework, anxiety surrounding the pandemic, providing virtual mass links, and other spiritual resources to allow the Lord to guide us through these unforeseen circumstances. These not only were helpful to me as a staff member, but as a college senior who was struggling with the loss of my final semester of school, leaving my friends, and returning home to virtual classes.
My time with the Center continued after graduation as I continued to work part time as a program associate throughout the summer and fall of 2020. It was wonderful to be able to rely on the support of the Center and be able to aid in the creation of new programs and resources. I would work my 9-5 job, eat dinner, and then complete my Center work at night. I still felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself and my work and that I was contributing to helping others.
Now working full time for the Center, I have been even more blessed to continue working for such a wonderful organization. In my two years working for the Center, I have seen myself grow from a shy intern, to working part time, and now being able to embrace the Lord’s call in my work. Not only have I seen this growth in myself, but I have also seen this growth in the Center as an organization. From partnering with other organizations, to holding new and exciting webinars, creating and updating resource pages, growing our Ad Infintium blog, and an increased social media presence, the Center continues to be a place where all can grow spiritually.
With this New Year, we have once again seen an uptick in the number of COVID cases throughout the world. I know that throughout these continued challenging times, the Catholic Apostolate Center will continue to be a source of fruitful conversation, evangelization, and growth throughout the pandemic, 2022, and for many years to come just as it has been for the past ten years. I am so thankful and grateful to be a part of this team and I cannot wait to see what the Lord has planned next for us.
To visit our COVID-19 Resource Page, please click here.
2020 was a difficult year for so many people; it is safe to say that we all were impacted in some way. To me it felt like the entire world stopped and everything started moving in slow motion. March 2020 was my senior year of college—what was supposed to be the best semester of my life, the beginning to the end, the start of a new chapter. Yet, there I was, driving back to my family home in Massachusetts to study and then graduate in the home that I grew up in. I felt so crushed, defeated, and overwhelmed.
I remember that Easter, only a few weeks into the pandemic, feeling so overjoyed that some of my friends and parish community decided to come together and celebrate our Risen Lord. We had a drive-by celebration in the parking lot where our pastor blessed each of us and we waved at our friends from the safety of our car. I felt so overjoyed to see their faces and to get a glimpse of normalcy. I remember that Easter morning being filled with joy, possibly the Lord’s way of showing us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, around that same time, we found out that school was cancelled for the rest of the semester and Zoom became our new normal. I remember thinking, “The last time I stepped into a classroom was the day before spring break and all I wanted to do was get out of there, but now, I’ll never be able to go back.” While that may have been a bit dramatic, it truly was a time where my faith was the only thing that was able to guide me.
While I was upset over the loss of my senior year and the loss of long-anticipated memories, I was so thankful and blessed to have my health, my family, and my faith. There were so many people grieving the loss of family members, enduring financial difficulties, and risking their lives on the frontlines of the pandemic. It was hard not to laugh at myself for crying over my difficulties when faced with the reality of what was going on throughout the world.
The Lord guides us on a path. Though we may not know where or how it ends, we know He is there. I knew this time in my life would already be difficult—saying goodbye to friends, trying to find a “real” job, and trying to balance new responsibilities. Adding to that the uncertainty of a pandemic only exacerbated the overwhelming anxiety I knew was around the corner. I kept repeating this phrase over and over in my head: “it is all part of God’s plan.” The phrase kept rekindling faith in my heart when things began to feel difficult. It can be seen as a silly, trite phrase. But for me, the impact it had on my life was so important. It helped me to have a conversation with the Lord daily—whenever things felt tough or I felt defeated or just lost. After repeating the simple phrase over and over in my head, I felt the Lord’s presence like a hand on my shoulder continuing to guide me throughout life. I couldn’t help but exhale.
Graduation came and went. I wore my cap and gown in my childhood living room surrounded by my parents trying to figure out how to set up Zoom on the T.V. It was an underwhelming experience compared to the grand festivities I had imagined, yet I was very thankful to be able to celebrate with my parents.
Trying to navigate through “adult life” during the pandemic proved to be difficult within itself. It felt so easy to isolate myself from those around me and to disconnect from everything. Everything seemed big: applying for jobs, getting my first apartment, living in the city. It often felt easier to give up when things got difficult. But that is exactly the opposite of what the Lord calls us to do. The Lord wants us to call upon him during the difficult times and to remember that everything is part of his plan. He is there to walk with us through the ups and downs and invites us to lean upon his strength in times when ours fails.
While the road ahead seems uncertain, there is one thing that we can count on - the love and support of the Lord. Over the past year, what I have found is that everything is part of His plan; every small step we take, every thought that enters our mind, every mundane task—it all will fall into place.