“What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you are for him?” Ps. 8:4
In a time such as this, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, many people are tempted to ask questions: Why is this happening Lord? What will become of me? Have you forsaken us? Do you still care for us? As Catholics, we need only to search the holy scriptures to find our answers.
Isaiah 41:10-13 says “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your hand and says to you, do not fear, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious hand.” In the midst of overwhelming craziness, staring down the face of so many unknowns, this verse gives me such comfort! I read it and remember the Israelites wandering in the desert for a very long time, not knowing how or when they were going to be delivered to the Promised Land, and it puts this situation in better perspective. From history, these people were fed and their needs provided for because God promised He would help them. I do not need to know when this specific disease will be eliminated. I do not need to know how long my ‘normal life’ will be turned upside down. I do not need to worry if my basic needs will be provided for. I have a promise from the Almighty. His promise is unbreakable and everlasting.
So where does my anxiety come from? It comes from not leaning on His strength, not trusting in His provision, not resting in His perfect love. I need to spend my time praising and thanking Him for the fact that He cares about every minute detail of my life and has told me He will not abandon me – unequivocally! Upon my rising, I must choose to be grateful for another day to live in service of my husband, my children, and my neighbors. When I begin in gratitude, I can step forward into the day with all it’s uncertainties and live in peace, not in fear. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
When I recall that God cares for each of us with a love that is perfect, this knowledge begins to settle in my heart and permeates my soul. It is an act of surrender – to cast my human weaknesses on Him and go about the duties of my day with a disposition of peace and hope. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the spirit God gives us does not make us timid, but gives us peace, love and self-discipline.” This applies to all of us – not just the people in Ephesus a couple thousand years ago! God’s love is timeless, limitless, and eternal. It is beyond our human comprehension. It requires us to choose to believe and experience Christ’s love within us. You see, we have more important things to be doing than spending our time questioning, worrying, wondering, lamenting, and fearing. He reassures us over and over that He is near, is helping us, and is carrying us.
We have evidence of His care for us in the many selfless people on the front lines serving our medical needs, manning our stores, and delivering our supplies. They are God’s love made manifest in this crisis. It is our choice to decide that we will believe this and trust moment by moment that His promise is true and secure. We don’t have to fully understand it – because we won’t – but in order to live in serenity with a calm mind, we must choose to walk in complete belief. We can accomplish this amidst great trial, because He is our helper and our strength, our strong tower.
As we live in the disposition of faith that God will care for us in all circumstances, we can reach out to those around us and share this magnificent gift. We can be His hands, His voice, or His smile to quell the fear in another. This is our call as Christians – to wholeheartedly believe and to unconditionally share it with everyone. It seems so simple. And it is – when we devote ourselves to prayer and fasting and Scripture reading.
We are afforded so many wonderful ways to do these. We have our Bibles in book form, on our tablets and phones. We can stream Masses being offered in churches all over the world right from our couches. There are numerous holy men and women who speak and write about God’s promises that we can listen to or read. In our progressive digital age, it is amazingly easy to immerse ourselves in material that will strengthen our belief and encourage us in the truth of God’s care for us. How fortunate we are! We can go about our days, in the middle of great strife, with confidence that God is mindful of us, each and every one of us. “Whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
Still, because I am just a mere mortal with lots of frailties that can derail me from the Godly path, I keep reminders on the walls of my home to keep me focused on this truth. A wooden sign that reads ‘Expect a Miracle’ hangs in my family room. The Good Shepherd cradling a sheep hangs in my dining room. Pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary hang over my bed. The face of Jesus hangs in my living room. Crucifixes hang in every room. These are my personal visual reminders of the love of God that help me keep my eyes on Him, my heart comforted, and my mind at peace. I recommend everyone find tangible ways to stay connected to this truth so that we can be disposed to share it with others. It is when I live from this mindset that I can sing with total confidence that it is well, it is well with my soul!
“Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must BELIEVE and not doubt.” James 1:1-8
Who are we that God cares for us? We are His. He thought us into being because He is love and He wants to share His love with us for time and eternity. That is a comfort and a confidence I can rest in! This is the Savior who is mindful of me. Thank you, Lord! Continue to shower me with the grace to walk steadfast in my belief. No matter the trials or circumstances, God is with us and all will be well.
The ashes of our Lenten journey were more pronounced this year—not fading with Ash Wednesday but thickening in the following weeks with the outbreak of COVID-19. Each of the plans we had for Lent—the sacrifices, the resolutions, the acts of charity—were rearranged, making room for more sacrifices than we thought possible.
We sacrificed control, physical freedom, the assurance that our pantries would be stocked or that our bank accounts would be replenished. We sacrificed our physical friendships, birthday celebrations, anniversary milestones, family vacations, date nights. We’ve lost friends, family, or neighbors to a virus that until a few months ago was hardly known about or discussed. We’ve sacrificed our liturgical lives, being able to receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, attendance at weddings or baptisms, pastoral formation, the journey into the Church on Easter via RCIA.
Pope Francis likens this pandemic to the evening storm experienced by the disciples in the boat, saying, “For weeks now it has been evening.”
This evening has been long, dark, full of the unknown. Throughout this “evening,” we have had to confront our vulnerabilities and experience our littleness. We’ve had to realize that without light, we cannot see. Perhaps we’ve grappled with fear in this darkness—a fear of the unknown, a fear of isolation, a fear that the dawn may never come.
Perhaps our minds have been left to imagine: Lord, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
This time of quarantine, social distancing, and pandemic has been our evening storm which,
“Exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules…shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities… [and] lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls.”
We thought “we would stay healthy in a world that was sick,” but the storm has awakened us from our personal slumber. And we need light.
This realization is the seed of faith—a faith which recognizes the need for salvation, for one another, for the light of God. The realization of our littleness, our helplessness, our dependence, our mortality, is the perfect place from which to enter into the Triduum and await the lighting of the Easter candle—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God has provided flickers of hope, reflections of grace, throughout our journey at sea: livestreams of Masses, daily Scripture reflections, broadcasts of Adoration, priests hearing Confessions in drive-thrus, virtual retreats, Pope Francis’ blessing of the entire world.
We have seen a “creativity of love”--the production of ventilators in car factories, the making of masks in workplaces, the donations of money, food, and supplies across the world, the video chats to those in quarantine facing death alone. We see dancing from porch balconies. Teddy bears in windows. Embraces in hospitals. Birthday drive-bys with signs and honking. People on their knees.
Yes, the light of Christ exists even in the darkness. And the darkness has not, and will not, overcome it. It will shine ablaze all the more radiantly this year in the midst of our utter darkness, sparkling in the gloom. The darker the night, the better able we are to see the light. And in the darkness, we look up.
Let us welcome the light of Christ this Easter by first lighting his love in our hearts.
When Christ’s life lives within us, we can enkindle it in the souls of others and set alight all we encounter. “Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons,” Pope Francis reminds us.
Wake up, Lord! The disciples shouted in the midst of the storm.
Wake up, Lord! The world shouts again today.
Let us awaken the Lord through our prayers and service. Through our acts of charity to those suffering, tired, or scared. Through our cries and supplications. Through our fasting in these unwelcome sackcloths and seemingly perpetual ashes.
Cry out with me again this Triduum, “Wake up, Lord! We are perishing.”
Christ’s response to our cries this week is open arms embracing us through nails and scourging. His response to our cries is a head beaten, bruised, and crowned with thorns. His response to our cries is silence to jeers, taunts, mockery, and abandonment. His response to our cries is the relinquishing of his spirit in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
He who cried out to his Father, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” also knows the darkness intimately. He knows what it feels like to be alone and perishing. But by his words do we find the light: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” ….“My Father…not as I will, but as you will.”
Our cries are never unheard. “The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith,” Pope Francis said. “We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”
The goal of our Lenten journey is transformation—to be transfigured. This is also our prayer throughout this pandemic. Yes, we pray that it ends, that healing comes, that daily life can resume, that economies will be restored, and that suffering will cease. But even more than all of that, we pray for transfiguration. Because when we are transfigured by the love and light of Christ, when our faith has awakened and we have realized our need for salvation, then the storm can rage on while we rest knowing we will not perish—for we will know deep in our hearts that with the “dawn there is rejoicing.”
Then, and only then, “In the silence of our cities, the Easter Gospel will resound.”
For more Easter and Lenten resources, please click here.
For more resources and reflections on COVID-19, please click here.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Like many of you, I have been quarantined in my house for the past ten days. I have set up my makeshift home office that moves throughout the day. My wife, on the other hand, is an ICU nurse: three to four days a week, she has been working in the very stressful environment that many of our medical professionals are experiencing. Over our four years of marriage, we have realized setting aside intentional time each day for one another is vital for our marriage. As we endure this pandemic, that intentional time has become even more necessary as we deal with the uncertainty, tension, worry, and fear building up over the day. One of the resources that my wife and I use to structure our time with each other is 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.
Throughout our twelve-year relationship, 1st Corinthians has been something we have continually turned to in both times of joy and struggle. Whenever this passage is read at Mass or during a wedding, I always feel a significant poke in the arm when “love is not rude” is proclaimed. Besides that subtle reminder from my loving wife, this passage always directs us back to our common call to love and support one another, especially during challenging times like today. Every family has had to endure this pandemic differently. However, we all share a call to set aside time to support our spouse, reminding them that our love—when it is centered on Christ and directed towards each other—can endure all things.
Due to the stresses of family life, intentional time for prayer and each other are usually the first activities to go. While we dated across states, we made sure that our relationship included intentional time, eventually becoming a virtue of our relationship. When we married and began living under one roof, we assumed this time would happen automatically, but reality was the opposite. My wife’s schedule as a night nurse and mine as a pastoral associate meant our schedules were never in sync. We noticed our interactions becoming superficial, which caused us to easily become frustrated with each other and unaware of what the other was experiencing throughout their day. It took us almost six months to realize that even though we were living under the same roof, we had to be more intentional about our one-on-one time with one another.
Pope Francis emphasizes couples setting aside this intentional time in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love, “Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one another and gaze in each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a stronger relationship...” (24). For my wife and me, this passage reminds us of how important setting distractions like our phone or TV aside for even 5 minutes, looking each other in the eye, and being able to share the highs and lows of our days is for our marriage. Pope Francis provides every couple the reminder that the love that is shared between spouses is ever-growing and takes the work of both partners to refine it.
This meaningful time is more important during these weeks of quarantine, with the disease’s impact on the nation and our own family and friends, leading us to despair about the future. Too easily, we can let fear get the best of us, causing tempers to flare or directing emotions at our spouse or families. Like my wife and I when we first married, this intentional time will not automatically happen now that we are forced to be under the same roof. I would like to share some resources that my wife and I have personally found helpful throughout our relationship to support each other emotionally and spiritually. Hopefully, they will provide some structure to this time with your families, provide solace during these weeks, and become habits you will carry on after this pandemic passes.
 Francis, Amoris Laetitia,133.
 Gottman, “The Natural Principles of Love,” 15.
Can you believe we are already in the fifth week of Lent? Personally, this year’s Lenten season has flown by for me. While I have not always held fast to the Lenten observances I chose for myself, I can already see the fruits of the changes I have been able to maintain. This year for Lent, I have begun working my way through the Bible using a program which breaks the Scriptures into easily-digestible daily segments from both the Old and New Testaments.
Most of what I’ve read from the Old Testament so far has been very familiar to me—stories from creation to the great flood and Abraham and his successors. But what has struck me, as I’ve slowly progressed through the books of Genesis and Exodus, is the lack of trust that has plagued the human race since its creation.
Reading these Bible passages has often left me pondering why mankind struggles so much to trust God. Adam and Eve fell for the serpent’s lies about the forbidden fruit instead of trusting that God knew what was good and appropriate for them; Abraham tried to jumpstart his promised line of innumerable progeny by having a child with his wife’s servant because his wife was supposedly incapable of bearing any children. Today’s first reading, from the Book of Numbers, continues these themes of distrust. “With their patience worn out by the journey,” the Israelites complain that they were rescued from slavery only to be left to die in the miserable desert, and that even the food the Lord has provided them is disgusting and wretched.
I have found these particular stories from the Old Testament striking because they ring true for my own life; when I find myself in a difficult situation over which I have no control, I don’t always maintain my trust in God. I feel helpless because there is nothing I can do to change things, or I cannot fathom why things are unraveling in the way that they are. And, like hundreds of generations of the human race before me, I turn to the world first for answers instead of coming immediately to God. I usually end up complaining, and often times I prefer to question why He is treating me this way and do not trust that there is some good to come out of it that I cannot yet, and may not ever, see. In fact, I think this may be the heart of mankind’s trust issues: one of the hardest things for us to do is to have faith in God when we cannot see the whole picture, or do not understand what is going on, or cannot understand what God could possibly mean by calling us in the way that He does.
But we do not need to see the whole picture in order to be faithful followers of Christ. We do not need to control the situation in order to get what God promised us. We can use our times of suffering, or times of feeling excluded from God’s plan, to bring ourselves closer to God. Instead of asking God why He has not done more for us, like the Israelites did in the desert, we can ask Him to show us what good our suffering could bring. And instead of trying to put ourselves on a more equal footing with God, like Adam and Eve or Abraham and Sarah did, we can ask God how best we can serve Him.
Today, as we continue to navigate the incredibly difficult situations around us caused by the coronavirus, let us place our trust in God once more and turn to him in our time of need. I pray that this may be a fruitful time of growth in your relationship with God and that we may emerge from this time stronger in our faith, hope, and love.
For more resources to accompany you during this time, please visit our Coronavirus Resource page.
On March 7, my husband threw a surprise party to celebrate my 30th birthday. That would be the last time I would physically spend with many dear friends for at least a month.
It was at the beginning stages of the coronavirus pandemic when the United States seemed to just barely be grasping what was going on across the Atlantic. We were aware but unafraid. The virus was like the flu. It only affected the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It wasn’t a big deal. We would be fine.
But around that time, my family began to take the notions of staying home, social distancing, and self-quarantining seriously. Each day brought more news. So we spent time outside. We tried to stay 6 ft apart. We bought a few more groceries than usual. We began to lay low.
Almost three weeks later, I write from home, having gone “out” less times than I can count on my fingers apart from family walks, romps to open fields, or our backyard. No grocery stores. No movie theaters. No social events. No playgrounds. No libraries. No stores. No Masses.
I haven’t had to “try” to make Lent this year somber or serious. Every day is a fast from something I deemed important to my life: a fast from physical friendship; a fast from community in the way I’m used to living it; a fast from outings, from the sheer independence of being able to step out of my house and go where I want to go when I want to. This fasting has been humbling.
Prayer is the rhythm to my day. It is the breath of my days. The heartbeat.
I watch online daily Masses or reflections on the Scriptures. I pray the rosary by myself or with my husband and children. I sing the Divine Mercy chaplet. I continue a novena. I make a spiritual communion with tears in my eyes. I utter supplications for others throughout the day. I offer my fasts—both the voluntary and involuntary—for our world.
At the beginning of this Lenten journey, I shared how I thirsted to emerge from spiritual mediocrity. Now I thirst for God himself. I yearn to join the Body of Christ once again in the sacraments and receive him at the Eucharistic table. I live Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing in a profound way.
And yet God has been so good. And peace prevails in my heart. I have so much to be thankful for: continued jobs and paychecks, long days of sunshine and warm weather, our health, food on our plates, a roof over our heads, snuggles with my children, reading books in our indoor tent, video calls with friends and family all over the country. In spite of everything, we are together. In spite of everything, God is here. In spite of everything, there is always hope.
Let us continue to “rend our hearts” this Lent by turning to God and giving him everything we are feeling right now: exhaustion, confusion, anxiety, disillusionment, anger, despair, or fear. We can approach the one who became a vulnerable child for us and give him our own insecurities and vulnerabilities. At the manger, we will be met with his never-ending love.
In his homily for the fourth Sunday of Lent, Fr. Mike Schmitz noted that God did not make an unbreakable world. Though he created perfectly, he instilled in mankind the ability to have free will—the ability to break our relationship with God by introducing sin into the human condition. Death, pain, suffering, temptation—all is the result of sin. This pandemic is more evidence of this truth. What matters, however, in the midst of our suffering, is that God does not abandon us to it—nor has he ever. Scripture recounts the story of God’s unfailing love for humanity since the Fall—a story of salvation that continues personally with each of us today.
God does not promise fulfillment on earth, perfect joy, blessing, and comfort. He promises the cross, daily. But he also promises us that he will be with us always—even to the end of time—that he came to give life in abundance, that we can be transfigured, and that there is resurrection. He invites us to complete satisfaction and joy with him in Heaven for eternity.
And in the meantime, as we continue on our own personal journeys in this “vale of tears,” he remains waiting for us at the well. Inviting us on the shore. Looking for our return on the horizon. Feeding us at the table. He remains pouring out all for us on the Cross.
As we continue to navigate this Lenten season, the coronavirus pandemic, and the approach of Easter, let us go to him with humble hearts. “Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk towards Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes.” -Pope Francis (Ash Wednesday Homily, 2020)
When I was an undergraduate student studying Pastoral Ministry, I was privileged to take a class on Vatican II. One of the main documents that our course was devoted to was Sacrosanctum Concilium, or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium is a notable document for many theological and pastoral reasons, including for the allowance of the liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular language of local communities (36), the restoration of the adult baptismal catechumenal process employed in the early Church (64), and also the elevation of Gregorian chant as having “pride of place” in the liturgy (116). Calling it a “sacred action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church” (7), the document distinguishes the liturgy as the principal act of prayer of the Church: “Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (10).
Besides naming the significance of the liturgy for a Church that was struggling to find her place in the midst of the modern world, Sacrosanctum Concilium also sought to form and instruct Catholics in celebrating the liturgy with “proper dispositions” (11) of their minds and hearts. In other words, for many Catholics, the liturgy was often misunderstood, attended only out of habit, or was participated in only half-heartedly. The document sought to remedy this by naming the desire of the Church “that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14). Full, active, and conscious participation was the standard that Sacrosanctum Concilium set for celebrating the Mass as a part of Christ’s body, the Church. In other words, according to the document, liturgy is not a spectator sport.
In the liturgy, we actively remember and participate in the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood for the redemption of the world. When we attend Mass, salvation unfolds before our eyes through the words of Scripture we hear, the prayers we offer for the Church and the world, and the offering of the bread and wine by the priest on behalf of the community. In order to receive the graces of salvation that unfold before us in the liturgy, we must participate in the liturgy fully, actively, and consciously, ensuring that our “minds should be attuned to [our] voices, and that [we] should cooperate with divine grace lest [we] receive it in vain” (11). Though the liturgy is the principal act of the Church, salvation also unfolds outside of it, especially in our daily lives and experiences. Human experience is “a locus for the manifestation and realization of salvation, where God, consistently with the pedagogy of the Incarnation, reaches man with his grace and saves him” (General Directory for Catechesis, #152c). Like the liturgy, salvation unfolds right before us in our daily life; however, have we cultivated the “proper conditions” in order to receive its graces, or to even notice it? How can we apply these principles of full, conscious, and active participation in the “liturgy of our lives”? How might full, active, and conscious participation in our lives move us to a more mature faith?
When someone has asked us for our “full” attention, what comes to mind? We may think of putting aside our cell phones to listen intently, indicating our interest and presence through appropriate body language, or taking the time to ask clarifying questions. In other words, giving full attention is an act of the entire human person—mind, body, and soul. Do we give the grace unfolding in our lives the same attention? Are we ready to put aside the things that may distract us from God so as to focus on God more readily? Does our treatment and use of our own body indicate our devotion to God and our openness to the work of the Holy Spirit? Full participation in our life moves us closer to spiritual maturity because it helps us seek integration. This includes ensuring that our actions, words, disposition, thoughts, and use of our body communicates our devotion to God and “compose[s] a single movement towards doing the will of God” (The Art of Accompaniment, 19). Are we moving with our entire personhood towards the will of God? A life lived with full participation is one that seeks integration.
At certain points in our lives, it is easy to fall into a “maintenance” mindset instead of the mindset of mission. With an endless amount of decisions to make each day, an exhausting pace of life, or the constant struggle to catch up or move ahead, we can often fall prey to settling on surviving in our work, ministry, or lives in general. Additionally, we can be paralyzed by the multitude of paths and options in our lives. However, the work of a disciple is to continue moving forward towards Christ, even amidst uncertainty or doubt. As Pope Francis reminds us, paralysis in our lives caused by anxiety, worry, or exhaustion should not prevent us from living our call to be missionary disciples:
“Anxiety can work against us by making us give up whenever we do not see instant results. Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste. At the same time, we should not be hesitant, afraid to take chances or make mistakes. Avoid the paralysis of the living dead, who have no life because they are afraid to take risks, to make mistakes or to persevere in their commitments. Even if you make mistakes, you can always get up and start over, for no one has the right to rob you of hope” (Christus Vivit, 142).
Though our progress in seeking holiness might not be linear and may involve many mistakes, it is always forward moving as long as we fix our hearts on Christ. A life lived with active participation is one that continually strives forward.
Being attentive to grace in our lives and seeking mature faith requires intentionality. No one seeks holiness by accident; missionary discipleship requires that we make intentional choices each day to follow Christ in both small and large ways. As Pope Francis says, missionary discipleship requires the initiative of “taking the first step”: “The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative—he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19)—and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). In order to take this first step, we must intentionally and consciously choose which way to walk. We must seek to grow in our faith on purpose. A life lived with conscious participation involves being intentional in directing our steps on the pathway towards Christ.
In examining our lives by the standards of “full, active, and conscious” that Sacrosanctum Concilium names, we can bridge the gap between liturgy and life. Like full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy, full, active, and conscious participation in our lives properly disposes us to notice God’s action and cultivate the conditions that will prevent us from receiving the graces of salvation in vain. Like liturgy, our lives are not a spectator sport. If we seek integration, commit to continuing to move forward, and intentionally make choices to walk towards Christ, we can make our entire life an offering to God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” -Psalm 51
This year I find myself anticipating Lent eagerly. I relished the joy and hope of the Christmas season, but when it came to an end, I entered into Ordinary Time and found myself slushing through the seemingly never-ending gloom of winter. You know the season—the small chunk of the liturgical calendar that sometimes feels like an awkward waiting game between Christmas and Easter. Right now, I feel spiritually complacent—mediocre. My prayer life feels as drab as the ongoing winter. I am distracted and bogged down by cares of the world. I don’t have a consistent routine. But now Lent is upon us. And I’m ready to change things.
For Ash Wednesday’s readings tomorrow, we immediately hear the powerful words of the prophet Joel: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord your God.” This is followed in the second reading with, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
There is an urgency in the Scriptures on this day. The tone is serious and I can almost hear St. Paul’s breathlessness while he exhorts the Corinthian church, “We implore you, be reconciled to God.” They ring out to each of us today and serve as a wake-up call to Christians: do not wait until tomorrow to pursue holiness, but start now, this very minute.
The readings begin to awaken me from my spiritual slumber. However, words alone do not suffice in spiritual conversion. They require action—a response. Rather than causing me panic, the readings continue by offering concrete solutions. Christ himself instructs us, telling us to give alms, pray, and fast in tomorrow’s Gospel:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them… When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you.” (almsgiving)
“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (prayer)
“When you fast, do not look gloomy…anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting.” (fasting)
These instructions are God’s response for how to “return to the Lord with your whole heart” this season. We are not left with lofty, unattainable goals, but with action. This is what Lent is all about: responding to God’s grace and promptings in our lives to pursue holiness with greater attention and effort through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Only two times a year does the Church ask us to prepare at so committed a rate: Advent and Lent. The reason for this is because Advent and Lent prepare us for the two most important theological moments of Christianity: the Incarnation of God made flesh in the birth of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection of the Savior after his crucifixion and death.
In order to even begin to grasp, understand, and celebrate the enormity of these events, we need to be spiritually awake. And the best way to wake up and prepare for Easter is through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which the Church invites us to do during the Lenten season. And our spiritual fathers remind us that “now is a very acceptable time…Now is the day of salvation” (emphasis added).
Currently in my spiritual life, I feel a bit like the rich fool in the Gospel. He reached a level of material comfort that led him to build larger barns to store his wealth, only to have his life demanded of him that very night. While I don’t resonate with his material wealth, I feel satiated as he did by the things of the world. As I enter into the Lenten season, I find it hard to concentrate in prayer because I’m thinking of material goods or worldly concerns. It was not the wealth of the man itself that was wrong or evil, but his complacency. He looked at the “many good things” he owned and decided to rest, eat, drink, and be merry. Christ then goes on to say he was rich in treasure for himself but not “rich in what matters to God.” What matters to God is a relationship with each of us (prayer), a life lived in service to others (almsgiving), and occasional self-sacrifice (fasting) that increases our discipline, unites our sufferings to Christ’s on the cross, and increases our reliance on God himself.
So now, as I find myself at the beginning of this Lenten season, I want to emerge from my spiritual complacency and respond to the Lord’s call to return to him with my whole heart.
Will you join me?
For more resources to accompany you through your Lenten journey, please click here.
Recently, my life has changed a lot. I had my first child, Vincent Scott Pierno, on January 31st, and he is the greatest joy I’ve ever known. I never knew that becoming a mother could fulfill my life in the ways it has, and I thank God each day for the happiness, tears, and everything in between that he has brought into my life. As a family, we’ve also started house-hunting and looking for a place to settle within this busy and chaotic Washington, DC area. My in-laws will be moving in with us, and although they’ve already been an amazing help with the newborn, it’s another change to our lifestyle. Finding joy in these changes has been challenging at times, but not impossible through the grace of God. I invite you to join me in reflecting on change in our lives and ways to find joy during times of trial and tribulation.
One way to work through life’s changes is through Scripture. There are so many examples we can look to that give us strength and remind us of the goodness in change. One is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This passage gives me hope. It can be anxiety-provoking to go through so many changes all at once, but Christ gives us strength and we can do all things with his help.
Another verse from Joshua 1:9 that speaks of courage during a hectic time is: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” In Scripture, we look at examples of people who have also found change difficult and needed support from God. This reliance is the definition of faith: trust and dependence on God through all things, even when the end is not in sight.
Another way to work through life’s changes is through prayer. In prayer we can develop a closer relationship with God, and in this dialogue find joy in knowing Christ more deeply. Prayer can be done in many ways: silently, out loud, in reflection, through journaling, and even through participating in the Mass regularly. Since prayer is “both personal and communal,” we can encounter Christ however we feel most comfortable. I’ve found that the most important part of this prayer is not to always ask God for things, but to offer thanksgiving and to listen. The “listening” is the hardest to do. The chaos of a busy and a constantly changing life makes it even more difficult during challenging periods to take time and listen to God. However, it is in those hard times that we can deepen our relationship with Him.
The final way I’d really like to impart is by keeping track of and celebrating joy. In this age of social media and 24/7 news updates, it’s easy to see so much negativity all around us. People gossip about others, worry about things that have nothing to do with them, troll people online for their own enjoyment, and trash talk things that people don’t need to even have an opinion about. This negativity can seep into our daily lives and we can get lost in it. I invite you instead to be a whirl of positivity. As Catholics, we are called to action by being missionaries in the world. St. Vincent Pallotti suggests this in his teachings, and brilliantly states this saying, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.” I find his words timeless.
The deeds that Pallotti refers to can be simple ones, such as celebrating anything good that comes into our lives by posting it on social media or encouraging joy in the lives of others. We could truly create small havens of joy for people to encounter by simply finding the joy that already exists. Share this joy and gratitude with at least one person, whether in-person or online. Some examples from my life include sharing in my son’s new life and looking for the good in being home with him rather than the stress. Even something as easy as a smile could change someone’s day. I invite you to use these hashtags when you post about your joys as we get through this life together in Christian spirit! #joyinChristianaction #findingjoyineverything #discoverjoyfulmoments
One of the great gifts of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical renewal of the twentieth century was the emphasis given to the proclamation of the Word of God at all sacraments, primarily at the celebration of Mass. Popes, bishops, and theologians have all sought to highlight the relationship of the life of the Church in every dimension to the Sacred Scriptures. Scripture is the foundation of all that we do as Catholics, ultimately because Scripture is the Word of God. These divinely revealed truths tell us who God is, what He has done throughout history, and what he continues to do, working in our lives each day.
Pope Francis, in continuing this call for a renewed sense of awe and appreciation of the Word of God, has proclaimed the third Sunday of Ordinary Time as “Word of God Sunday.” This past Sunday, January 26, was the first observance of Word of God Sunday, and so this week is a great time to reflect on the role that Scripture has in our lives as we seek to model our lives on Jesus Christ, the Word of God. In reflection, we can ask how do we allow the scriptures to permeate our lives so that God’s word is alive in us? Maybe we have a favorite passage, one that we return to again and again to meditate on at different stages in our lives. Or maybe we haven’t really spent much time with Scripture, aside from hearing it at Mass or other occasions in Church. This week, this Word of God Sunday, serves as a reminder to take the gift of Scripture and to allow the Word of God to seep into the rhythm of our lives so that we more fully and deeply come to know our Lord and ourselves.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is from the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke following the Resurrection of Jesus. We hear of the encounter that two disciples had with our Lord while walking on the road to Emmaus. These two disciples were stunned at what had taken place and were unsure of what to make of the crucifixion and death of the man they believed to be the Messiah. They were sad that their friend and leader, Jesus, had been so cruelly murdered, and were overcome with grief. When they encounter this man, a man they “were kept from recognizing” (Luke 24:16), he asked them to recount these events. Their almost sarcastic response – “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (Luke 24:18) – shows us how human an experience this was for the disciples. They explained everything to this man and were shocked that he had no idea what had happened. Little did they know, they were speaking with Jesus himself!
So often we focus on one problem or another, are so concerned with our own difficulties, or so caught up in our joys that we forget to consider how the Lord is working in our lives. We don’t always welcome him in and we neglect to see that, in reality, he has been there all along, walking with us on the way. Sometimes, like these two disciples, it is not until later that we see God’s work in our lives, only in reflection. It was not Jesus’ explanation about the work that God has done since Moses and the prophets that opened their eyes to the reality before them. St. Luke tells us, instead, that “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)
Isn’t this our experience today? We come to know about God through study or reading. But it is in and through the sacraments – especially in the Mass – that we come to know God most fully. When we pray with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, we open our hearts to an encounter with the living God. We may not recognize him right away—it may take time or a change in our life to make it clear—but those moments when we have a real encounter with God can show us how much he has done in our lives, how close he has been all along, teaching us, guiding us, and preparing us for the great things he has in store. May this Word of God Sunday be a new invitation to welcome the Lord into our lives through his Word. May our hearing and reading of Sacred Scripture always be an encounter with God.
The arrival of New Year’s Day often brings with it resolutions, goals, and new words or phrases that help us try to shape the next 365 days before us. Things like healthy eating, stricter budgets, more time spent in prayer, and increased amounts of exercise define our drives for self-improvement. We give extra time to turn our focus inward to make ourselves stronger, smarter, holier, and healthier. In an attempt to change our lifestyles, we might separate ourselves from our previous habits, relationships, or preferences so that we can sharpen our focus even more on self-growth. We hone our discipline and increase our self-reliance in the name of improvement. In the new year, our focus is often inward.
While this inward focus isn’t harmful in itself, we might find ourselves stuck in our self-reliance. Now that a few weeks into the new year have passed, many of those resolutions, goals, and mantras might have faded into the background of post-holiday life. At this point, many of us have lapsed in our new practices, or we might have abandoned our resolutions altogether. We might find ourselves isolated in the new patterns we have picked up or starting to flounder due to a lack of support. Even though our New Year’s resolutions may have been made with the best or holiest of intentions, we might find ourselves failing without others to encourage us, support us, or hold us accountable. While the new year is the time when our focus is inward, the weeks soon after, when our discipline begins to wane, give us cause to lean outward.
What would it look like to lean outward in our resolutions in the weeks ahead by seeking others to help us carry them out? Why might allowing ourselves to be helped by others and accompanied by them lead us to a more meaningful and spiritually significant pursuit of our resolutions?
Though as Catholics we frequently hear about accompaniment in a context of explicitly spiritual progression, its fruitfulness is still applicable in non-explicitly spiritual goals in an informal sense. As the final document from the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment reminds us, “accompaniment cannot limit itself to the path of spiritual growth and to the practices of the Christian life” (Final Synod Document, 94). Accompaniment can help us experience transformation in many areas of our lives in addition to our spiritual life, as it “fosters growth in holiness through everyday circumstances and interests” (The Art of Accompaniment, 15). Though on the surface it may look like simply reaching out for the help of a friend, seeking out accompaniment to help us carry out our New Year’s resolutions has a deep theological and spiritual significance. Accompaniment is a form of “bear[ing] one another’s burdens [in order to] fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). When we seek another’s help to bear our burdens, experiences, hopes, and challenges, we open ourselves up to be in communion with someone else; we profess that we were created by God out of love, to love, and to be loved by others. Accompaniment is a simple way by which we actively remember that “The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). When we seek the help of another, we affirm the beauty of being human: we’re not meant to live life completely on our own effort and initiative.
Having a good listener, mentor, or friends helps us to turn our inward focus in our resolutions outward. We no longer remain alone in our efforts, strivings, or discipline. The support of another trusted person helps us remain steadfast in our resolution to be healthier, spend more responsibly, or love more generously. This support can take the form of a quick text from an accountability partner to check in on our progress, or a weekly meet-up with a mentor to discuss our challenges. Similarly, we can seek more formal relationships of accompaniment to help meet our goals. Beginning a relationship with a therapist might help us explore more deeply our relationship with others or just as seeking the help of a personal trainer might allow us to have the added accountability to eat more nutritiously or get physically fit. Relying on others in the pursuit of transforming ourselves reminds us of the beautiful gift of being human: as human beings, we can have a profound effect on one another in providing support, love, and encouragement in growing into the people God has destined us to be.
Whether sought out in a formal or informal sense, accompaniment challenges us to let ourselves be loved by others in the simplicity and complexity of our everyday life. Allowing ourselves to be supported by others, even in something as simple as our New Year’s resolutions, reveals the deep significance of others to our vocation to holiness.
In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare famously asked, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names convey not only an identity, but also one’s familiarity, intimacy, and attention with the subject. We are each taught the names of our surroundings in our infancy so as to be able to associate experiences and qualities with them. And this spirit of discovery continues even today, with great ceremony being performed upon uncovering an unknown celestial body, lifeform, or element. To name something is to also claim dominion over it. In Scripture, for example, Adam was tasked to name the creatures of the earth. In Genesis we read, “So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.” To call something by name implies a relationship with the person or thing named. That is why when Moses asked God Who he should say sent him to free the Hebrews from slavery, the Lord revealed the Divine Name:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
This example illustrates the power of God’s Name. It is how He identifies Himself to the people of Israel and legitimizes their relationship as His Chosen People.
God’s name is also sacred and demands respect. Recall the Second Commandment, as written in the Old Testament: “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. or the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7 and Dt 5:11) The name of God is so holy that the Jewish people dare not even pronounce it out loud. As Catholics, we are similarly taught that God’s name is of the utmost holiness and should only be invoked in one’s speech to bless, praise, or glorify the Lord (cf. CCC 2142-2149). His name must never be abused by careless speech, false oaths, words of hatred, defiance of God, or used in unholy ceremonies. This applies to the name of Jesus as well:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In his 2007 book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observed that God established a relationship with mankind when He revealed His name to Moses. The Incarnation, he continued, was then the fulfillment of the process that “had begun with the giving of the divine name” (Benedict XVI, 144). This relationship did not make man equal to God but “protect[s] the wonderful mystery of his accessibility to us, and constantly assert[s] his true identity as opposed to our distortion of it”(Benedict XVI, 144-145). And Christ Himself underscored the sanctity of His Father’s Name with the inclusion of “hallowed be thy name” in the prayer He taught His disciples. We pray with these words each week in Mass. As we do, have we realized the importance of what we are saying?
To remind us of this truth, the Church has instituted the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (in its current form) as an optional memorial to be celebrated on January 3 of each year since 2002 (but originally established by Pope Innocent XIII on December 20, 1721). How great a gift that the Lord God Almighty has so intimately revealed Himself to us! Unfortunately, in today’s society there is no limit to the number of times when our culture irreverently invokes God’s name in the media, creative works, and everyday conversation. As we begin a new calendar year, how can we better model respect and humility when using God’s holy name? Can we do anything in our classrooms, workplaces, or online profiles to witness a life of respect and reverence for God? As Catholics, we are blessed to be able to pray to and know a personal God who has revealed not only His name, but even sent His only Begotten Son to be among us—something we remember this Christmas season. Let us rejoice in this knowledge and continue to cry out with our lives, “O Lord, our God, How awesome is Your name through all the earth!” -Psalm 8:2
“The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal / And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible. / The angels and shepherds praise him / And the magi advance with the star, / For you are born for us, Little Child, God eternal!” (CCC525)
The quote from the Catechism above references three key players I want to reflect upon at the beginning of this Advent season: Our Lady, the magi, and the shepherds. Today, as we think about the meaning of waiting and watching, upon preparing for Christmas and for the return of the Lord, we can look to these three examples to show us how to look up, set out, and give.
First: It’s important to start off with an understanding of Advent as a liturgical time of waiting and preparation.
I’ve often heard that God has three responses to our prayers: yes, no, or wait—wait being our least favorite of the three. “Wait” seems so indefinite. With a yes or no response, you know, for better or worse, one way or another, what your parameters are. But “wait” requires faith, trust, humility. It requires not knowing exactly when, exactly how, or exactly if.
And that’s one lesson this season can impart: waiting well, waiting in hope. During Advent, we recall the waiting of the world for the birth of the Messiah. The greatest gift from God the Father, the gift of his Son, is coming to us. And in this world which has experienced his coming, we also wait for him to come again.
Each of us awaits something. Perhaps we await a promotion. The completion of a degree. Maybe we long for a spouse or a child. Physical or emotional healing. The answer to our vocational discernment.
In this time of waiting, we are like the Israelites wandering in the desert in pursuit of the Promised Land. It’s there--the Promised Land is there. God is faithful and keeps his promises. But sometimes, we have to wait.
Waiting practically forces us to surrender control and hand everything over to God. It’s a daily practice in humility and faith. It acknowledges that we are not in control and challenges us to trust in the goodness of the One who is. Therefore, waiting has a purpose, an end: God Himself.
And, as with the Israelites in the desert sustained by the descent of manna from heaven, we are fed daily by God himself IF we allow ourselves to be. This means speaking and listening to God in prayer. It means collecting the manna from above, his grace, DAILY. And this brings us to our first point about the Advent season: we need to look up and see.
Mary knew what it meant to look up in prayer. She was so receptive to the word of God that she conceived it through the power of the Holy Spirit.
She was looking up in prayer when the Angel Gabriel announced the Good News of the Messiah.
“Let it be done unto me according to your word.”
These were the words of trust, surrender, and peace--followed by action—the second of our themes today. She looked up and set out in order to give. Immediately after the Annunciation, we read about her going out to help her cousin Elizabeth.
As someone who has experienced the first trimester of pregnancy twice now, I can tell you the last thing I’m thinking about during that time is helping or serving others. I’m usually passed out somewhere trying not to drool.
But Mary has looked up, set out, and given. She was so receptive to God’s word that she was able to fully encounter his message through the Angel Gabriel. Her reception of Christ caused her to set out in haste to see Elizabeth. And finally, to give and serve another by bringing Christ into that home and modeling sacrificial love.
Mary is the perfect example of waiting and being guided by God.
In Scripture, she is described as “pondering things in her heart”—waiting for God to reveal his will and meditating on his work throughout her life. But she is not one who sits on the sideline and fails to engage. She is a contemplative in action—one who treasures the word of God within her (even literally) and yet immediately goes out to Elizabeth in her time of need. Mary brings Jesus to others, from the moment of his conception, wherever she goes and instructs us to “do whatever he tells you,” as at the wedding feast in Cana.
We turn to Mary during this season of Advent because she is an expert at faithful waiting that leads to Christ. So I invite you as we continue our Advent journey to start by spending time with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Re-read the account of the Annunciation and Visitation in Scripture. Ask her help in waiting—faithfully, hopefully, humbly. And invite her to accompany, guide, and prepare you to receive Christ. She always leads others to her Son.
In addition to the example of Mary, the magi can also teach us what it means to wait in hopeful anticipation: to look up and see the star, To set out, To give freely.
The magi, though Gentiles, were not complacent, but so observant that they were able to recognize God’s sign: the star. As Pope Francis said, “The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”
What keeps us this Advent from looking up and seeing the star? Are we busy scrolling through our social media feeds, binging on the latest Netflix series, working late hours at the office, or anxious about the future? Are we paralyzed by grief, bitterness, anger or fear?
The magi were vigilant, ready to go when the time came. And their hearts were receptive, disposed to the signs of the times. Like Mary, they too set out on a journey which would lead them to Christ himself. This journey required effort, planning, and sacrifice. They looked up, set out, and finally, they gave: bearing costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They met the generosity of God by reciprocating generosity. As Pope Francis has also noted, “To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.”
Finally, we can also look to the example of the shepherds. Pope Francis says, “They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.” The shepherds were looking up. After receiving the good news from the angel of the Lord, they go in haste to encounter Christ. And afterwards, they return glorifying and praising God.
In each of these examples, we encounter people who are looking up, setting out, and giving. Mary sets out and gives her time and energy to serve her cousin Elizabeth. The magi set out and give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds set out and give Christ their adoration and praise.
Will we keep watch in the night alongside the shepherds or are we asleep with the rest of crowded Bethlehem, too distracted by our daily lives and concerns to notice the light of the star beaming down on the light of the world? As we await God’s response in our lives, do we grumble in the desert like the Israelites? Do we take things into our own hands and craft a golden calf? Or do we say to the Lord, “Let it be done unto me according to your word?” This season, will we set out in haste to give our hearts to the Lord and our hands to serve those in need?
Perhaps what’s holding us back from entering into the Advent season is something more than distraction, ignorance, or noise. We may hesitate to meet this Christ-child because we feel as the shepherds most likely did, utterly unworthy. We wear the rags of sin, the stench of humanity. Maybe we feel like the little drummer boy in the popular song who says, “I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a king.”
In his humility, the Lord entered into the most vulnerable of human states: infancy. He chose to become little in order to demonstrate that all are able and invited to approach him. As Pope Francis also reminds us, “Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go.”
So let’s get up and go. There is still time to look for the star, to set out, to give.
I invite you to draw close to Mary, look to the example of the magi, spend time with the shepherds. In looking for Christ, encountering him, and serving others, we find Christ born also in our hearts. Only then, as the Catechism says, “when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled” (CCC526).
Let us pray, “I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17)." -Pope Francis
From Amoris Laetitia to Christus Vivit, one of Pope Francis’s greatest gifts to the Church has been his emphasis on spiritual accompaniment. Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to make use of accompaniment in response to sensitive pastoral situations, ailing youth ministries, and even to a humanity suffering from isolation and anonymity. Accompaniment, to Pope Francis, is a way of being in intentional relationship with another in order to lead them “ever closer to God” (EG, 170). In addition to being oriented towards leading others into closeness and intimacy with God, Pope Francis also describes accompaniment as healing, liberating, gradual, encouraging growth, and fostering freedom. Perhaps the most beautiful words that Pope Francis uses to shape the Church’s understanding and practice of accompaniment is an “art…which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (EG, 169).
What does it truly mean to “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” in terms of accompaniment? How does this shape the apostolate of a mentor? A key to understanding this meaning lies in the scriptural story found in: Exodus 3—the story of Moses meeting God in the burning bush. In this story, Moses beholds an awe-inspiring sight, a bush that is on fire but unconsumed by it. He then turns to look more closely at the bush, from which comes a theophany, or an instance of God revealing God’s self to a human person. God calls out to Moses by name, to which Moses responds, “Here I am!” Before Moses can come any closer to the bush and consider it further, God exclaims to him:
“Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father, he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:5-6).
What are we to make of this scripture passage, especially in light of Pope Francis’s understanding of accompaniment? Firstly, the Exodus reference exhorts us to view the other we are accompanying not only with respect, but with reverence. As we begin to accompany others, we must look upon them not as receptacles to be filled with knowledge, passive recipients of teaching, or soft clay to be modeled into our own images and likeness as ministers. Instead, in accompaniment, we are called to witness to another’s belovedness as a child of God. When we enter into a relationship of accompaniment with another, we must have a posture of humility and honor before those we accompany. This posture of reverence is fundamental to a mentor’s practice of accompaniment, rendering them better able to foster a relationship that is truly transformative.
Secondly, the theophany in the Exodus story gives us another clue into understanding more fully the duties of accompaniment. We must respect the accompanying relationship as a legitimate place where God reveals God’s self to both mentor and the one accompanied. Accompaniment takes seriously the fact that human experience is a space where God reveals God’s self; in other words, accompaniment affirms that the life experience of the one accompanied is “a locus for the manifestation and realization of salvation, where God consistently with the pedagogy of the Incarnation, reaches man within his grace and saves him” (General Directory for Catechesis, #152c). In a relationship of accompaniment where a mentor is asked to “remove their sandals before the sacred ground of the other,” mentors must help the ones they accompany interpret their experiences in light of scripture, discern more fully the action of God in their lives, and wait with full anticipation to respond to God’s voice in the midst of their daily life.
Finally, this scriptural passage exhorts mentors to maintain and cherish the mystery of the one they accompany. As Moses hides his face before God present in the burning bush, so too must mentors respect with holy fear that which is mystery in the life of those they accompany. Though we might come to know those who we accompany well or even develop a deep bond with them, they never belong to us completely, but are instead placed in our path for a period of time so that we might help them foster connection and intimacy with God. Though we might have plans, hopes, or desires for those we accompany, we must always ensure that we respect the work of the Holy Spirit in the relationship of accompaniment. Accompaniment cannot be reduced to a neat list of objectives or learning outcomes; rather, it is a “pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery” (EG, 171). True accompaniment wrestles with the intricacies of human life, cautioning mentors that “realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without” (EG, 172). As mentors, we cannot assume that we are the ones that ultimately decide how or why the Spirit moves the way it does in the life of those we accompany. Instead, we must continually reflect on how the person before us in the relationship of accompaniment is being formed not by us, but by the Holy Spirit.
Accompaniment, when contemplated as an “art” that “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other,” calls us to have a posture of reverence before the ones we accompany, regard their human experiences as privileged places for God to reveal God’s self, and maintain a sense of mystery in the relationship of accompaniment. How are we being called to remove our sandals before others in our life and ministry? How might removing our sandals before those we accompany allow us to travel more readily on the journey towards growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ?
As Americans gather around the dinner table for the annual Thanksgiving meal, families have the opportunity to recall and be thankful for the blessings in their lives. The true focus of this national occasion is not simply to marvel at the bounty of food upon the table, but to acknowledge the labors and gifts which directly and indirectly impacted one’s quality of life. As Christians, we know that all thanksgiving is oriented towards God as families join hands and bow their heads in prayers of gratitude. Attitudes of gratitude don’t need to be restricted to the fourth Thursday of November, but can be prevalent in our hearts, minds, and daily lives throughout each year.
True expressions of thanksgiving are rooted in the acknowledgement that nothing in this life should be taken for granted. The blessings of life ultimately come from God’s innate goodness, and Scripture details many occasions of gratitude to God that are often accompanied by offering sacrifices or praise. We read in the psalms, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69) and “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” (Psalm 95) Thessalonians reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances” and Ephesians similarly admonishes us to “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Thanksgiving is a fundamental component of a life of faith. Furthermore, the sacrifices God is interested in include the sacrifice of our pride in favor of humility, the sacrifice of personal desires and wants in favor of trust in His will, and the sacrifice of sinful behaviors in favor of living the life of holiness God has desired for us.
As Catholics, we are infinitely grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and the means God Himself has instituted for our embrace of the gift of salvation. As such, the highest form of prayer on earth is participation in the Holy Mass and the direct reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist (which itself means “thanksgiving”). Thanksgiving disposes our hearts to more fully receive Christ and be transformed by His love. By imitating Jesus, who broke bread and gave thanks to His Heavenly Father prior to his Passion, we are given the strength to similarly give thanks in all circumstances and grow more Christ-like as a result.
Of the many pieces of spiritual advice I’ve been given by priests, the reminder to grow in gratitude for what God has given me is a constant opportunity to realize my utter dependency on His providence. In gratitude lies true joy. This Thanksgiving, I invite you to celebrate an attitude of gratitude that overflows into the new year and the years to come.
O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.