Today, August 8th, is the feast day of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans.
St. Dominic was born around the year 1170, and he came from a noble and devout family. After studying at the University of Palencia for ten years and becoming a priest, Dominic eventually went to southern France to fight the Albigensian heresy. While there, he determined that a return to the preaching style of the Apostles in the time of Christ—to engage with individuals, to go where the Spirit led them, and to live simply—would most effectively preach the Gospel message and bring heretics and converts back to the faith.
After spending several years evangelizing and preaching, Dominic had acquired a small band of followers. With them, he founded a religious order, basing it on the Rule of St. Augustine and giving it the mission of “preaching and the salvation of souls,” with an emphasis on the importance of spiritual and intellectual formation. The Order of Preachers was officially recognized by Pope Honorius III in late 1216.
In a time when opposing sides often resorted to violence, St. Dominic chose to combat the Albigensian heresy through open dialogue rather than bloodshed. By having a deep understanding of Scripture, tradition, and philosophy, and by engaging with individuals on an intellectual and moral level, he was able to bring back into the faith many of those who had fallen into error. The Order of Preachers that he founded continues to embrace these principles by preparing preachers who are “intellectually informed and pastorally competent.”
St. Dominic chose to settle the first members of his order in university cities so that they could gain the intellectual training they would need to become engaging and morally compelling preachers of God’s word. The Order of Preachers, to this day, still heavily emphasizes the importance of spiritual and intellectual formation in preparation for their pastoral work. The Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. continues in the Dominican tradition of establishing communities of Dominicans near universities. Dominicans residing at the House of Studies teach at nearby at The Catholic University of America, assist with Masses at parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, and produce a journal.
Reading about the origins of the Dominicans and their continued success reminds me of the important place that religious study ought to hold in even the layman’s spiritual life. While we cannot all get degrees in theology, feeding the intellectual curiosity about our faith can lead us deeper into our relationship with God and to a better understanding of his truth.
Reading more about our faith, or about the lives of the saints we wish to emulate, can also better equip us to evangelize when the opportunity arises. While we may not be reading the Summa Theologica or the Catechism cover to cover, there is a plethora of material—from papal encyclicals and the core documents of Vatican II, to letters and diaries of the saints—available for us to deepen our own understanding of the faith and to be able to share it with others.
I myself have been inspired by reading about the life of St. Dominic de Guzman and the work of the Order of Preachers. As a result, I have decided to further engage my faith through more rigorous spiritual reading. I think a good place to start is with a course of study on one’s vocation—for me, that means marriage and parenthood, and thus my “to read” list includes Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen and the papal encyclicals Castii Conubii and Humanae Vitae.
What will you read to engage more deeply with your faith?
Question for Reflection: How can the life of St. Dominic and his emphasis on intellectual formation help you deepen your spiritual life?
In 1964, the Second Vatican Council affirmed in the document Lumen Gentium, “that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” The Catholic Apostolate Center continues to promote this truth in the 21st century by providing active Catholics the tools and resources to share Christ’s loving message of salvation.
In this way, the Center’s mission focuses on reviving faith, rekindling charity, and forming apostles who give witness to this fullness of the Christian life by embracing their baptismal call.
Father Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., Director of the Center, explains, “The Catholic Apostolate Center is rooted in the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti, who believed that all are called to be apostles and to be co-responsible for the mission of Christ and his Church.”
Founded in 2011 as a ministry of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines),Immaculate Conception Province, the Catholic Apostolate Center develops resources that the faithful, particularly those in ministry, can use to aid in their own evangelization efforts. The Center responds to the current needs of the Church through developing, in collaboration with dioceses and other institutions and organizations, formation programs for the New Evangelization.
It assists pastoral leaders in deepening collaboration with one another and provides formation opportunities for members and collaborators of the Union of Catholic Apostolate.
The Center accomplishes this bold mission through online resource pages, webinars, podcasts, and blogs, as well as through the partnerships with organizations like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Volunteer Network, and St. Joseph’s College of Maine, among others. Furthermore, they host seminars, webinars, and presentations as well as providing consulting services.
“While we do produce our own material, and have a large amount of no-cost digital resources, the Center collaborates with many national and international Catholic organizations, dioceses, and the USCCB on a variety of projects to assist active Catholics in living as missionary disciples,” Donio said. In the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti, the Center equips Catholics to “go out” empowered with the resources and knowledge to propagate the faith for the New Evangelization.
St. Vincent Pallotti founded the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an association to revive faith and rekindle charity among Catholics and propagate the faith to all. St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged collaboration among the clergy, religious, and the laity in the 1800s at time in history when many thought the work of the Church should be left to priests and religious.
The Catholic Apostolate Center looks to the life of St. Vincent Pallotti for inspiration as it strives to form collaborative relationships with more organizations, further develop its formation resources, and ultimately, empower all the faithful - clergy and lay - to live out their baptismal call.
The Catholic Apostolate Center specifically entrusts its work of forming apostles to Mary,
“Queen of Apostles” because of her invaluable role in building the early church and encouraging the first apostles. The Center looks to the Blessed Mother as the perfect model of discipleship, apostolic work, and charity as we strive to lead Christ’s followers closer to her Son.
Formation leads to action - this is a core belief that influences the work of the Center. Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has reminded us to be comprised of both action and word, to encourage a spirit of accompaniment and encounter.
“Go out,” he says. “Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask.” By forming the laity to “go out,” the Catholic Apostolate Center hopes to empower the Body of Christ to collaboratively carry out the mission entrusted to the Church by Jesus Christ.
This article was originally published at CruxNow.com and can be viewed here.
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Chris Pierno is the Advancement and Marketing Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
"This encouragement to holiness is renewed and takes on particular resonance – we love to repeat it – in this year of the Council, it highlights the note of holiness and apostolate of the church."
– Pope St. John XXIII, Homily during the canonization of St. Vincent Pallotti, Rome 1963
For a city that has seen the rise and fall of emperors, dictators, generals, politicians, popes, saints, and sinners over the millennia, it's hard to imagine that a humble priest from the peasant-filled mountains of Bergamo, Italy could make such a difference in the world. On a moonlit night in October 1962, Pope St. John XXIII stood on his balcony in Rome and addressed the people below:
I hear your voices. Mine is only a single voice. But what resounds here is the voice of the whole world; here all the world is represented. One might even say that the moon rushed here this evening. Look at her high up there to behold the spectacle. This is how we close a great day of peace. Glory to God and peace to men of goodwill. (Discorso della Luna)
And so began the Discorso della Luna, or “Moonlight Speech” by Pope St. John XXIII. Earlier that day, he opened the Second Vatican Council. Knowing he needed inspiration, this humble Bishop of Rome looked to another simple priest of Rome, St. Vincent Pallotti.
A year later, Pope St. John XXIII declared Vincent Pallotti a saint. During the canonization, he called on the intercession of Saint Vincent Pallotti for himself, priests, laity, and the council and actually went to the body of St. Vincent Pallotti to pray before him. Before the election of St. John XXIII, popes rarely left the confines of the Vatican. Pope St. John XXIII himself made few official outside trips and only did so under great consideration. Because of this, one can only imagine the gravity of a visit from the Pope to pray before the body of St. Vincent. At St. Vincent Pallotti’s canonization, Pope St. John XXIII once again implored the crowd to follow this new saint’s example both in life and indeed. One month later, while visiting the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary (the seminary of the diocese of Rome) he also begged the students to follow St. Vincent Pallotti. The pope went as far as to call him his own "choicest guide". He called St. Vincent a wise custodian 'of pastoral spirit' and a source 'of teaching and encouragement for all times!'
The spirit of Saint Vincent Pallotti can be seen throughout the Council and the work of the council. Pope St. John XXIII shared St. Vincent's vision that we are all called to holiness – that the universal call to holiness is open to the laity too, not just priests and bishops. He had a vision that Christ’s love needs to be accessible to all believers. Pope St. John XXIII demanded that the Church teach that Christ came for all! The concept of the universal call to holiness was written into multiple documents of the council, such as Lumen Gentium.
Though Pope St. John XXIII did not live to see the completion of this important council, his spirit and the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti helped to guide its direction. One of the key documents of the council was Apostolicam Actuositatem, or, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. It emphasized the role of the laity within the Church:
They should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life, and they should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit ... They should also hold in high esteem professional skill, family and civic spirit, and the virtues relating to social customs, namely, honesty, justice, sincerity, kindness, and courage, without which no true Christian life can exist. The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. (Apostolicam Actuositatem)
The title “Mary, Queen of Apostles” was one that was revived by St. Vincent Pallotti. This was an ancient title that had fallen out of use. During his ministry, St. Vincent Pallotti invoked this title to demonstrate that all were in the Upper Room, not just the twelve apostles. He had a portrait commissioned showing the number of woman and men at the moment of Pentecost. Like the symbolism behind the painting suggests, Apostolicam Actuositatem forever enshrined the notion that all people are called to be apostles of Christ. This document had two main writers: Fr. William Mohler, S.A.C. Rector General of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers and the youngest bishop in attendance, Karol Wojtyla. Fr. Mohler and the future Pope St. John Paul II wrote into this document the shared vision of two humble priests John XXIII and Vincent Pallotti. We must follow these examples in our lives. Let us strive to bring the gospel to all, just as St. John XXIII and St. Vincent Pallotti did.
Our country’s national anthem hails the United States as the “land of the free” in recognition of the many unique liberties and “inalienable rights” afforded to us, her citizens. One of these great gifts is the freedom of religious expression, that is, to be able to live out one’s faith without fear of persecution. Yet, recent times have seemed to cast a shadow over this right, and events of our time such as legal rulings and portrayals in the media would indicate that such freedoms are being curtailed. Throughout his visit to the U.S., Pope Francis encouraged us to nurture, promote, and defend the precious gift of religious freedom. Likewise, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has continued to encourage Catholics, other Christians, and all people of good will to set aside two weeks to reflect on religious freedom.
By the time this post is published, the Fortnight for Freedom will be concluding, having been started on June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. As Donald Cardinal Wuerl describes it, the Fortnight comprises of “fourteen days of prayer, education, and action. It is also a time for us to count our blessings… The challenge to live out our faith, the challenge simply to be who we are may at times seem daunting. But remember we’re a people of hope, we live in faith and we live in hope.” The theme for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.” As Archbishop William Lori noted, the USCCB invites us to look to the examples set in “the stories of fourteen women and men— one for each day— who bore witness to freedom in Christ, such as Bl. Oscar Romero, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Martyrs of Compiègne, and the Coptic Christians who were killed by ISIS last year.”
Each year, dioceses around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. To kick off the fourth annual Fortnight, for example, Archbishop William Lori celebrated the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Each year, the closing Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. with Donald Cardinal Wuerl being the main celebrant and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh serving as homilist. The Fortnight for Freedom reflects an understanding of the People of God that the right of religious expression must be protected against those who would negate it, not just for Catholics, but for people of all faiths.
As the Second Vatican Council noted, although we must respect the just autonomy of the secular, we also remember the truth that there is no aspect of worldly affairs that can be separated from God. On the eve of the first Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, acknowledged that the effort was viewed by many as partisan and exaggerated. He commented:
It is not about parties, candidates or elections, as some others have suggested… In the face of this resistance, it may be tempting to get discouraged, to second-guess the effort, to soft-pedal our message. But instead, these things should prompt us to do exactly the opposite, for they show us how very great is the need for our teaching, both in our culture and even in our own church.
In standing up for our right to religious liberty, let us make prayer a central component of our efforts—prayer not only for ourselves, but for the leaders of our country and its citizens whom we are called to evangelize. These freedoms handed down to us by the Founding Fathers are too important to take for granted. Efforts to scrub any reference to God or the faiths of those who built up this great Nation must be called out and overcome. Finally, throughout it all (and beyond the two weeks), each of us must remember that our strength does not come from ourselves, but that “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). May these two weeks, by the grace of God, help us to grow in wisdom, courage, and love, that we too might be faithful witnesses to freedom.
To learn more about Faithful Citizenship, please click here.
“May is Mary’s Month,” began the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, in “The May Magnificat.”
For centuries, the Catholic Church has emphasized the month of May as a time of honor and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Parishes and families often celebrate with special pilgrimages, devotions, or placing a crown on a statue of Mary, traditionally called a “May Crowning.”
On April 29, 1965, Pope Blessed Paul VI promulgated his encyclical Mense Maio (“The Month of May”), which promoted May devotions to the Blessed Mother, knowing that, “the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise” (n. 2). Despite being a lesser-known encyclical, its timing and topic are revealing. Released on the eve of the last session of the Second Vatican Council and amid escalating violence and unrest of the Vietnam War and the 1960’s, the help of Mary was “a matter of top priority” considering “the present needs of the Church and the status of world peace” (n. 3). The words of Paul VI are just as relevant today. In our contentious social and political climate, focusing on Mary is not a pious distraction from real issues, but a vital source for grace, truth, and mercy.
A Short History and Practice
May devotions to Mary began in the 13th century, but there is little information to know how it was celebrated. In it’s present form, the practice of May devotions to Mary originated within the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in the 18th century under Father Latomia of their Roman College. Shortly afterwards, devotions were adopted at the Jesuit’s mother church in Rome, the Church of the Gesù, and then began to spread throughout other area churches to the entire globe. (Pope Francis, who is also a Jesuit, has a special devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots, a phrase first attributed to St. Irenaeus of Lyons who said, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by the obedience of Mary”).
The image of Mary wearing a gold crown appears in early Eastern and Western iconography, drawing inspiration from the Coronation of Mary as understood in Catholic biblical tradition based on the passage from Revelation 12:1. Some churches and families participate in a special May Crowning celebration. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) first placed two crowns on the Marian icon called “Salus Populi Romani” in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, but the crowns were later lost. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1838, Pope Gregory XVI once again added crowns in a special rite, officially starting the tradition as it is still performed today.
One reason the devotion has come to extend over the entire month is the abundance of Marian feast days in May: Mary, Queen of Apostles (Saturday before Pentecost – May 14th, this year), Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), Mary Help of Christians (May 24), and the Visitation (May 31).
Mary in May Today
Seeking Peace- Pope Paul VI’s encyclical was especially concerned with peace, invoking the “intercession and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Peace” (n. 10). Amid ongoing persecutions and violence in many areas of the world, turning to Christ though Mary is an important way to pray that May becomes a month of peace.
Honoring the Family- Mary receives an important role in Pope Francis’ recent Exhortation Amoris Laetitia- The Joy of Love: On Love in the Family. He states, “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth” (n. 30). Pope Francis goes on to say, “The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families” (n. 30). Pope Francis reminds us that by honoring Mary, we honor Jesus and our families.
Honoring the Body- Our culture and Church desperately needs the figure of Mary before our eyes as an exemplar of the dignity and uniqueness of women, especially in light of the real and present danger of pornography. The USCCB has also created a pastoral guide regarding pornography “to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms.” This month, ask Mary’s intercession for an end to this destructive force, and healing for those deeply affected.
Honoring Your Mother- For good measure, May also celebrates our biological Mother’s Day (May 8, don’t forget!). Let Mary’s month be a new reason to honor and celebrate your own mother.
There is no lack of reasons to stay close to Mary this month, and throughout our lives. Find ways to honor her with your words and actions by seeking new ways to bring about mercy and peace through our churches into our hurting world.
If you attended an Easter Vigil Mass this year, then you participated in what St. Augustine called the “mother of all holy Vigils”(Sermo 219)—the day the Church receives many new Catholics through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
The newly baptized, or “neophytes,” (a Greek word meaning “new plant”) begin a fourth and final period of formation called mystagogy, which lasts the Easter Season until Pentecost. If you haven’t personally participated in the formal process of becoming Catholic as an adult (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, in parishes), chances are you haven’t heard this word recently… or maybe ever.
What is Mystagogy?
Our faith needs mystagogy first and foremost because of one simple reason: we celebrate and proclaim a mystery.
As evangelists and catechists, I think it is important to recognize that for some people, the idea of religious “mystery” prima facie, conjures up images of a Da Vinci Code-esque Church shrouded in secrecy, New Age spiritualism, or even a pre-scientific belief in “magic.” But the sacraments do not initiate us into a special club or secret society. Through them, we are made participants in the life of Jesus Christ.
Faith begins and ends in mystery, most especially the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . the source of all other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). In the scriptures, liturgy, and sacraments, we truly encounter and participate in the Triune life of God. But no matter how intelligent or insightful we are, we will never fully wrap our minds around God’s glory or totally experience it with our five senses.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” (CCC 1075). Mystagogy leads us from the external signs and rituals of the liturgy to the inner, spiritual meaning of the divine life they signify. Mystagogy is the form of catechesis that helps us unpack and explore the spiritual treasures contained in the sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance in our personal lives of faith.
Mystagogy was the way the early Church Fathers embraced and trained new Christians in the practices and beliefs of the faith. Perhaps the most well known teacher of mystagogy was St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 CE), who delivered a famous series of sermons, known as “mystagogic catecheses,” during the time of Lent through the Easter Octave. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revitalized this ancient practice, especially in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But mystagogy isn’t just for the newly baptized; it is the way every Catholic can continually deepen their relationship with Christ by daily drawing on the grace of the sacraments.
Significance for our New Evangelization
Just as Catholics are rediscovering the importance of the “kerygma” (Greek for “proclamation”) for evangelization, mystagogy is incredibly important in our approach to catechesis in the New Evangelization. John Paul II wrote, “Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma is gradually deepened . . . . and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and the world” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 25), specifically the form of mystagogy. Additionally, mystagogy serves as a trustworthy guide when reflecting on ways to improve our catechetical methods.
Living the Mystery Daily
Ongoing mystagogy is important because our relationship with the sacraments change as we grow and mature as individuals and meet new life challenges and circumstances. In turn, the sacraments really change us. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated” (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 64). By reflecting regularly on the sacraments, we access an incredible strength for our daily tasks.
Developing a practice of Eucharistic mystagogy can combat the routinization that often sets in to our receiving communion. For those who are married, or preparing for marriage, there is a mystagogy of marriage. With ongoing mystagogic reflection, you may discover new fruits of that sacrament in every season of life.
Studying theology and the Bible is often an undervalued way of developing our spiritual life. Learning about someone or something is a sign of love, and we truly become what we behold (cf 2 Cor. 3:18). Reading the great books and sermons of Catholic authors and theologians greatly expands our hearts and minds to experience the truth and depth of our faith.
The great Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel is attributed as stating, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Mystagogy is the path leading Christians to learn to live the mystery of our faith. I encourage you to follow the path trod by St. Cyril up through popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in making this incredible tradition and gift called “mystagogy” a part of your life.
To learn more about Catechesis, please consider reading the General Directory for Catechesis or the National Directory for Catechesis.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
It was the Second Vatican Council which decreed, "From the very beginning of the church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in their own way leading a life dedicated to God." It is on this observation that I write in commemoration of the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on November 30, 2014 (the First Sunday of Advent) and concluded on February 2, 2016 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple). Addressing all consecrated people in an Apostolic Letter, His Holiness expressed three aims for this great year: first, “to look to the past with gratitude;” second, “to live the present with passion;” and third, “to embrace the future with hope.” Similarly, he called upon the laity, “who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission,” and the whole Christian people to become more aware of the gift of consecrated men and women, “heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.”
Growing up, I was blessed to have been taught, mentored, and befriended by a number of consecrated religious, namely the Sisters of the Resurrection and the Lasallian Brothers. When I arrived at The Catholic University of America, however, my exposure to consecrated religious expanded to include the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and the Pallottines (and their Apostolate Center!), to name a few! As I got to know each of them, I became more aware of the joy and the grace inherent of their living out their respective Order’s charisms and spirituality, be they involving education, service, contemplative prayer, or dogmatic theology. In spite of the differences between each order and the varying reasons each member had for professing, there remains one commonality: desiring to follow Christ and seeking to imitate Him more closely in a life dedicated to God. Of course, there are many ways of doing this— each religious order accomplishes this in accord with its unique spiritual character and gifts— as St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
How one discerns entering religious life does not mean one has to force a change in his or her lifestyle; rather, it an acceptance of who one is and surrendering that to the God so loved since Baptism, thereby consecrating him or herself “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” (CCC 931). In my own discernment, I have found great relief in this understanding— that I can give myself to God as I am in love and He will help me to focus and purify that love in my heart which is to radiate from every action of Christian living. Similarly, the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed the relationship between discernment and the discerner:
Discerning vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
As the Year of Consecrated Life concludes, let us remember that it concerns not only consecrated persons but the entire Church! Where would the Church be without the examples set by Saints Francis and Augustine, Ignatius and Dominic, or Vincent Pallotti and (soon-to-be-Saint) Mother Teresa and repeated in their respective Orders? The Church would no doubt be less effective in its charity and evangelization, as Blessed Pope Paul VI observed, “the ‘salt’ of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization.” Let us then respond to Pope Francis’s call to give thanks for the incredible work done by religious around the world and for their fidelity to their respective charisms while seeking to draw close to them in times of joy and trial and assisting them in their holy endeavors. Finally, let us continue to pray for God to send more numerous vocations among their ranks: may their discernments be a model for our own, that we may echo the words of the great Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “At last I have found my vocation: My vocation is love.”
I am a social monastic. On the Myers-Briggs test, I score almost evenly as an extrovert and introvert. I need my personal, quiet time of reflection, as well as quality time with family and friends. Those who know of my profound love of all things monastic chuckle over my role as the Social Media Coordinator at the Catholic Apostolate Center, while those who know my social side nod their head in understanding. It is this relationship between my introvert and extrovert sides that I feel can be deepened and strengthened in order to promote effective communication and evangelization as the Church envisions them in our world today.
In our modern world of social media and globalization, silence and communication seem to be at odds. The two, however, are completely intertwined. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “silence is an integral element of communication.” This connection between silence and communication is beautifully portrayed by the fact that we spend nine months in our mother’s womb—in silence and yet in continual communication. It is here that we begin to learn the meaning of communication and what it means to be human. Pope Francis went as far as saying that the womb “is the first ‘school’ of communication.”
Anthropology then, shows us from the beginning of our existence that silence is fundamental to communication. Silence enables us to communicate with God, within ourselves, and with the outside world. Our communication must include these three aspects if it is to be effective and fruitful. Pope Francis wrote that the modern world needs “to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.” If we are called to dialogue as witnesses of the Gospel, we must be effective listeners. We must be able to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our day-to-day lives, to listen to the stirrings of our hearts within us, and to listen to the needs, fears, hopes, and joys of the people around us.
May silence and the practice of listening be our foundations for promoting a culture of encounter! This encounter is the entire point of the Christian life, of what it means to be human. In a word, “communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God,” Pope Francis wrote. We cannot live closed in on ourselves, but must be open to encountering the gifts of those around us.
As the Social Media Coordinator at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I believe that social media and technology can help us bring the Gospel literally to all the ends of the earth. Social media fails, however, if it foregoes encounter, if it diminishes dialogue. Our achievements in the world of media are inadequate if they do not call to action, stir hearts, promote dialogue, or champion the true, the good and the beautiful.
On January 24th, we received Pope Francis’ message for the 50th celebration of World Communications Day. This day was established by Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council and is celebrated each year on the Sunday before Pentecost, which falls on May 8th this year. This day is meant to help us ponder the significant role of communication, technology, and social media in our world today. It is the fruit of a Church that is willing to read the signs of the times, step outside of itself and engage with the modern world—all of which are embodied in a special way in the papacy of Pope Francis.
The Holy Father challenges us to use our communication efforts and channels as bridges that create unity and a space for encounter. He writes:
“Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way. The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”
Let us go forth boldly!
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I have been taught lectio divina in the past, which I practiced fervently at one time and set aside as I pursued other spiritual interests. Lectio divina, though, has never been put together for me quite the way Fr. Chris Hayden (a New Testament scholar, author, and a priest in the Diocese of Ferns, Ireland) was able to do when I recently attended his seminar “Praying the Scriptures.” As a result, I have refreshed my own spiritual life and have reincorporated lectio divina into my spiritual repertoire. My point here is not to relay new facts but (as Fr. Chris would say) to rehearse what we already know – to cement who we are as a people who want to pray, who want to grow in the spiritual life.
Lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”) was not something new to Christians but flowed out of the Hebrew method of studying the Scriptures, haggadah, or learning by the heart: “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deut 30:14). While many Church Fathers stressed the prayerful reading of the scriptures, Origen is credited with the first use of the term “lectio divina” in the 3rd century: “While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures” (Epistle to Gregory 4). Traditionally, lectio divina is a Benedictine practice of praying the scriptures that consists of reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating God’s Word in order to grow in our relationship with God. Saint Benedict first established it as a Monastic practice in the 6thcentury in which the four parts were not so much steps but rather moments prompted by the Holy Spirit. During the 12th century, the Carthusians formalized a scholastic approach (“the Monk’s Ladder”) of lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation/reflecting), oratio(prayer/responding), and contemplatio (contemplation/resting).
We distinguish lectio divina from reading the Bible for enlightenment or encouragement, which we may do individually or together as in a Bible study group, and from praying the scriptures in common. Lectio divina is a practice that uses thoughts, images, insights, and inner silence to enter into a conversation with God. There are varying approaches to lectio divina, but in reality, simplicity is at the heart of the practice. After Vatican II and the document Dei Verbum that encouraged lay people and priests to use lectio divina, there has been a resurgence in its exercise. When we read Scripture, we should be doing so not just as an intellectual activity but also as a means of gathering its intention and meaning for our lives. Lectio divina will transform you for transformation is at its core – whether you realize that transformation consciously or not, and whether you reflect that transformation visibly or not.
To appreciate fully lectio divina, we must understand prayer as a relationship between God and ourselves. Through prayer, we enter into the abiding relationship of unconditional love of the Holy Trinity. Three key underpinnings of our prayer life should be humility, heart, and listening. In prayer, we enter into humility, deflating our egos, realizing we are not God. Our humility helps us discern the true self from the false self. We continue to pray in order to break open our hearts to God, to realize what is going on inside ourselves for the heart of prayer is not what we get but rather what we become. We all know we should be receptive to God heeding the advice of Eli to Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:1-10), but many of us might prefer to tell God in prayer, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!” As anyone who has been successful with Christian meditation or contemplative prayer will attest, we need to make time and spaces for silence so we can listen.
What should we do, though, if our prayers seem to be unanswered? Fr. Chris offers five guides or reasons to continue in prayer (he admits, certainly, there is not just five, but I find the five he presented crucial) even when our prayer life seems to be in a drought:
Because we have the Bible, the living Word of God, our spirituality is not a set of speculations. The Bible is our story – our metanarrative. Our metanarrative unites all of our individual stories into a collective under the overarching theme of God’s eternal love. We find today that the separate designations of yours and mine drive our society; today’s society is certainly no metanarrative, no uniting of us all. Within the Biblical texts, however, we find our collective and individual stories in which we participate along with Christ in the Trinitarian love. We can break our metanarrative into four acts: Act I: The beginning; Act II: The Fall; Act III: Redemption; and Act IV: Fulfillment. Our story begins with life (the “Tree of Life” in Genesis) and ends with life (the “New Order” in Revelations as found in Christ.) We find ourselves living in the drama between Acts II and III, that constant struggle of our lives that tugs between our disobedience and our obedience as we reach for that time of fulfillment.
With this acceptance of the Bible as our metanarrative and our understanding of prayer, especially the reasons for continuing in prayer when our prayer life is dry, we can appreciate the power of praying the scriptures to transform our lives. Lectio divinabecomes, in reality, so simple.
Fr. Chris told me not to give him credit, but I must at least thank him for traveling to Great Falls, Montana, for sharing his joy of the faith, and for his stimulating way of presenting prayer, scripture, and the ancient art of lectio divina that inspired me to take a fresh look at how I pray the scriptures. I hope I have given him due credit by relaying the simplicity of lectio divina and its importance in helping us live out our shared metanarrative of God’s love.
With Fr. Chris’ inspiration, I renew myself to the simplicity of lectio divina, enhancing my spiritual life, and I pray: God help us live our story, our metanarrative, as we pray for our transformation in You, our destination.
Fawn Waranauskas teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on May 27th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
Every family gathering, I look forward to catching up with my relatives over good food, interesting stories, and lively table talk. Inevitably in my family, the conversation transitions to religion. It’s a heated discussion given that my immediate family is Catholic, whereas the rest (on my mother’s side) is Coptic Orthodox. From then on, our respective faith traditions are more or less pitted against each other as theological matters are analyzed and debated. Of course recognizing that at the core we are Christians united to our Lord through our baptism, we continue to respect each other’s beliefs (cf. Galatians 3:27). We still pray and hope for unification, too, though there are disagreements among us as to how this might occur. In any case, these opportunities to evangelize are enjoyable, as each of us advocates for the faith that has shaped our lives and beings.
“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” This first sentence of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Decree on Ecumenism is still surprising to many Catholics. It set the stage for the last fifty years of Catholic dialogue and conversation with our Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican brothers and sisters in the Faith. The Decree gives “Catholic Principles on Ecumenism.” Even Jesus, at the Last Supper, prayed for unity, that His disciples be one (see John 17:21). Ultimately, Christian unity is God’s will and the work of the Holy Spirit rather than solely our own. The Decree nevertheless urges all Catholics to participate in the noble work of Christian unity (#4). This work— our conversation, dialogue, and service with others— calls for complete honesty. We must represent the position of others with truth and fairness and never be dismissive or ignorant of the other traditions. By not pointing fingers and recognizing that any blame for schisms in the Church is shared by all, a heartfelt and meaningful dialogue can be achieved.
Ecumenical dialogue, rather than making us less Catholic, makes us more so. By searching within our own faith, we are made aware of the commonalities that we share with our fellow Christians. As for the divergences that we also discover in doing so, it is the Holy Spirit who will help us to overcome them; ecumenical conversation leads us back to prayer: “This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name ‘spiritual ecumenism’” (#8). To engage others, then, a spirit of humility, honesty, patience, and gentleness is needed. After all, the Church is stronger when its members are open to and inclusive of all traditions. How can the Church, being commissioned to spread the Truth to all, fully honor her call if she does not communicate well with fellow Christians (see Matthew 28:19-20, cf. 1 Corinthians 10-15)?
Though we may not agree on every theological point, Christians of all traditions continue to work towards the unification and the strengthening of Christ’s body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We worship the same Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sacrificed Himself for all without distinction. We answer the same call to evangelize and offer ourselves in loving service to all. The holy sacrifice of the Mass offered and the reception of the sacraments by Christians each day are the same gifts and sources of grace from God. And the ultimate witness of martyrs for their belief in Christ across the world and time further lead us on the road to unity. The Church continues to face uncertain times, just as she always has; Christ, likewise, remains steadfast in His promise to stand by her (see Matthew 16:18, John 16:33).
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
One month ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the altar above the tomb of St. John Paul II. Our small pilgrimage group had requested a Mass at one of the altars, either in the crypt or in St. Peter’s Basilica itself. We never expected that we would be given this particular altar, and all in the group were rather excited. One of my friends, who is an American serving on the general council of his religious community, asked me how we had arranged it. He had been trying for months through various contacts in the Vatican. I told him how we asked simply for a Mass in the basilica. Of course, he was very surprised that no special arrangements had been made. I was simply thankful to the Holy Spirit for arranging it and giving both the pilgrims and me such an important spiritual opportunity. As we made our way to the altar of St. John Paul, we went by the tomb of St. John XXIII. I hope someday to celebrate a Mass on the altar above his tomb as well. Both are personal heroes of mine because of their efforts to expand the role of all in the Church, especially the laity, which was so central to the charism of the founder of my religious community, St. Vincent Pallotti. In his homily for their canonizations, Pope Francis spoke about the efforts of these two popes in this regard:
John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.
The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, is central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II. This work continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially in the Synod on the New Evangelization, and is finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. All of them, along with Blessed Paul VI, the teaching of the Council, and Church leadership in general, have called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
When Pope Francis canonized St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II together, various pundits, both in Church and secular media, were quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of the message that he was trying to convey. If there was any “message”, I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renewal of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth into the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, “Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor” (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler, S.A.C. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortationChristifideles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ – Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King – continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission’” (14).
Sharing in the mission of Christ is not simply staying within the confines of the church building. Instead, especially in this time of the New Evangelization, all of the baptized are called to recognize that they are followers of the Christ who are sent on mission by him. In fact, Pope Francis even calls the baptized, in Evangelii Gaudium, “missionary disciples” (120).
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on February 4th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
This week (January 18-25) is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We are invited to pray for the unity of the Christian Family. Celebrated for more than 100 years, unity is more than just an ideal, for the Christian it is an obligation to be carried out in prayer and in shared commitment to building the kingdom of God.
The roots of praying for unity are fixed in Jesus’ prayer, near the time of his death, “… so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21). The Catholic Church’s participation in ecumenical endeavors took new shape in the Second Vatican’s Council’s commitment to build stronger ties across Christian communities. Building on the work of the Council, St. John Paul II called the church to make unity an exercise of spiritual ecumenism, noting that the disunity of Christians weakens the credibility of the Gospel.
In an address to the church in Oceania he reflected “In the work of ecumenism, it is essential that Catholics be more knowledgeable about the Church’s doctrine, her tradition and history, so that in understanding their faith more deeply they will be better able to engage in ecumenical dialogue and cooperation. There is a need too for ‘spiritual ecumenism’, by which is meant an ecumenism of prayer and conversion of heart. Ecumenical prayer will lead to a sharing of life and service where Christians do as much together as is possible at this time. ‘Spiritual ecumenism’ can also lead to doctrinal dialogue or its consolidation where it already exists” (Ecclesia in Oceania, 23).
This reflection of St. John Paul echoes in the theme for this year’s celebration which is “Give me a drink.” Taken from John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), it emphasizes the importance of encountering one another in dialogue and celebrating that all Christians drink from the common well of the life-giving waters of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In our encounter with Christians, in our dialogue, in our shared ministry of charity we learn the richness of one another’s tradition and we more easily see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus; who we are and who we can become. In the Decree on Ecumenism, written at the Second Vatican Council, the unity that can be found in Christ magnifies the invitation of this year’s celebration to drink of the water Our Lord has to offer.
Before the whole world let all Christians confess their faith in the triune God, one and three in the incarnate Son of God, our Redeemer and Lord. United in their efforts, and with mutual respect, let them bear witness to our common hope which does not play us false. In these days when cooperation in social matters is so widespread, all men without exception are called to work together, with much greater reason all those who believe in God, but most of all, all Christians in that they bear the name of Christ. Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant….All believers in Christ can, through this cooperation, be led to acquire a better knowledge and appreciation of one another, and so pave the way to Christian unity.
Decree on Ecumenism, 12
Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is also an adviser to the Catholic Apostolate Center.
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The call to holiness and the mission presented to the Church from Jesus Christ is certainly a challenging one. The fact that God created us with the ability to freely choose not only between right and wrong but between varied truths allows the members of Christ’s body, the Church, to live out the freedom given by God by our birth and baptism. The Catechism defines freedom as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility ... Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (1731). The ‘mission,’ so to speak, of Catholics in this day and age is to live the Gospel message and to promote a New Evangelization.
This does not mean that everyone is called to any particular vocation. However, everyone is called to a vocation. It is up to the individual, because of their freedom, to choose and discern where they are being called by God and for what purpose. Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, eloquently puts it:
Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.
Concrete personal reflection has never come easy for me, and there is a reason that people tend to hide their emotions. Reflecting on the meaning of vocation and what God is calling me to do conjures up memories of high school retreats of discovering where God is found in daily life. While structured experiences of faith exploration and formation are important in shaping the broad spectrum of faith, I have learned that is not all of what my faith encompasses.
At the very first meeting with my spiritual director, he asked, “Who is Alex?” I began to spew answers such as student, friend, brother, and the like. What I wanted to avoid was the internal reflection on the self because I didn’t want to have to address the underlying feelings regarding vocation and personal identity. If we are indeed called to shape our own identity, then we very often have a choice. This could be a choice between choosing the truth over a falsehood or even between particular vocations. In discernment, it is my task to look forward, to look to the future. If I dwell on the things of the past, I will never adequately be able to say that I have done what God is calling me to do, whatever it may be. It is the Christian’s responsibility, my responsibility, to discern this vocation, whatever it may be, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
If we must seek the Creator “spontaneously,” as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it, on their own accord and out of impulse, then it becomes clear that the mission of the baptized Christian is to seek God always and in all things. The Italian priest Saint Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, wrote, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things, and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.” I have often found consolation in this prayer of Saint Vincent. It serves as a reminder to attune my heart and mind to God, in all things and at all times. Out of this freedom of choice and seeking comes a responsibility to act out of instinct and to lead others closer to Jesus Christ by first seeking the very God who created us.
Alex R. Boucher is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.
To learn more about vocations, please see our Vocational Discernment Resource Page!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on January 15, 2012
In today’s first reading, we hear about God’s work in our lives and how it is by His grace that we overcome our faults and our failures. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul lays his own life out before us, yet again, as an example of how we must become apostles of Christ, spread His Gospel, and renew ourselves in Him.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the Apostles,
not fit to be called an Apostle,
because I persecuted the Church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.
(1 Corinthians 15:8-11)
St. Paul persecuted Christians until he heard God’s voice calling him to open his eyes and recognize Christ. He was like us—sinners in a constant battle between temptation and living out the Gospel message. And yet, St. Paul was knocked off of his horse and raised to new life in Christ. He does not attribute his new life and his faith in Christ to his own willpower, but rather recognizes that it is through the grace of God that he is able to enter into the Body of Christ. It is through the grace of God that he is able to preach the life of Christ. As he says so poignantly: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
These are important words to live by. We are often caught up in the traditions, stereotypes, struggles, and joys of our earthly lives. What truly grounds us in our humanity and in our faith in Christ is that, by the grace God, we are who we are. God gives us the grace to go out into the world and evangelize, to spread the Gospel, to live as Jesus taught us. However, by nature of our humanity and by the gift of free will, we have the choice to live as we want to live, to sin, to grow in faith, to make war, to make peace. We, guided by the Gospel and the Church, are called to ask God for the grace to evangelize, the grace to resist temptation, and the grace to live as Christ lived.
We are first opened up to the grace of God through our baptism, a topic discussed in Tuesday’s blog post. We enter the waters of baptism and die to sin, arising to new life in Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we are called to live out Christ’s Gospel message. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Receiving the grace of God is not a one-time thing, we must continue to seek it every day and renew ourselves in Him. It is not a one-time thing and it is not easy, but we have the beautiful example of Mary the Mother of God and all the angels and saints and we must rely on their strength and their intercession in asking for God’s grace.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said , “Mary was not full of grace because she was beautiful; she was beautiful because she was full of grace.” Who better to ask for help than a woman so blessed with the grace of God that she carried His son in her womb for nine months, watched him grow in his ministry, and sat at his feet as he suffered and died for us? The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, tells us that “…in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, [Mary] cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope, and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result she is our Mother in the order of grace.” It is important to examine our consciences and call to mind our sins, asking Mary to intercede for us. We pray that we might be given God’s grace to live our lives as Christ did, to go out and preach the Gospel in the example of St. Paul, and to lead others to Christ.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional from Washington, D.C.
“Wow, you got your hands full.”
If you’re a parent, it’s possible that you have heard this statement thrown in your direction before. My wife and I, as we approach our seventh wedding anniversary, have three children. I find it amazing when people say “you got your hands full” when I am only holding one of my children. Imagine if they saw me when all three were climbing on me at the same time, or when they’re hungry and in a seemingly rehearsed chorus they ask for different foods in harmony.
With the Third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops set to meet this Fall, Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will be discussing issues related to marriage and family life. I believe that the Catholic Church’s vision for married life offers a fresh and engaging perspective for our contemporary world. St. John Paul II declares, “The communion of love between God and people, a fundamental part of the Revelation and faith experience of Israel, finds a meaningful expression in the marriage covenant which is established between a man and a woman” (Familiaris Consortio 12). The approaching synod has caused me to reflect on how I live my vocation to married life.
In his book Divine Likeness, Cardinal Marc Ouellet suggests that since Vatican II and St. John Paul II, “the theology of marriage has been developed in terms of ‘gift’…” (Ouellet 150-151). Men and women are created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). One of the great theological insights of Vatican II was the idea that “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). Only through a gift of self can people find their true purpose and meaning in life. This is because a total self gift both participates in and manifests the divine life to which we’re invited.
Many of us are familiar with St. John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences which have become what we call the “Theology of the Body.” The giving of oneself in marriage, including in the conjugal act, is discussed in terms of a total gift of oneself. In a marriage covenant, husband and wife can manifest Trinitarian love, and the communion to which all people are drawn. For a husband or wife to hold back anything would be a betrayal of the communion which they’re guided by the Holy Spirit to manifest.
Cardinal Angelo Scola in The Nuptial Mystery draws from St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and describes how the perichoresis of the Triune God is based on total self-giving. This is described beautifully in the following:
Communio personarum exists in its perfection in the Three in One, because the Father gives himself completely to the Son without keeping anything of his divine essence for himself… The Son himself gives back the same, perennial divine essence. This exchange of love between the two is so perfect as to be fruitful in a pure state: it gives rise to another person, the Holy Spirit (donum doni) (Scola, 131).
The Father completely gives everything He is to the Son; the Son completely gives Himself back in totality to the Father. Their self-giving love is so total and so perfect that it is fruitful and a third Person arises, the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Scola makes the connection between this Trinitarian relationship and the relationship between husband and wife. A husband and wife can give a total gift of self, offering all that they are, and in the context of the conjugal act, it is possible that a new person can be created. But Cardinal Ouellet also mentions that whether or not a new child is conceived, the love of the spouses is fruitful in that they are manifesting the Trinitarian gift of self (cf. Ouellet 172).
There is an element of sacrifice involved here. The spouses freely commit to each other, accepting the new life if God should bless them with a child. However, if a couple experiences difficulty in conceiving, they also accept the sacrifice associated with not being able to bear children. In both cases, the spouses who completely give of themselves in love have the opportunity to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord (cf. Romans 12:1) and to participate in the economy of salvation by manifesting Trinitarian love through a gift of self.
So my response to my interlocutors should be “Yes, I have my hands full: they’re full with my gift of self to the Lord. I give Him all that I am in loving surrender in an act of self-emptying gift-giving aimed at being drawn deeper into the mystery of the Trinitarian communio personarum, and this participation in the divine life penetrates who I am, giving me the grace and love to offer myself as a self gift to my wife.” Do you think that would get their attention?
Either way, what is essential to remember is that God invites us to participate in His very own divine life and we can experience true love through sincere acts of self gift.
Edward Trendowski is Coordinator for Catechetical Resources for the Diocese of Providence and teaches pastoral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online