I’m always skeptical when I hear others describe instances of suffering as “blessings in disguise.” Can you imagine breaking your arm and having a friend say, “That’s a blessing in disguise!” – while you’re still sitting in the ER? Sure, they might be right eventually; but in that moment you would be in too much pain for their words to be helpful. You might even consider deleting that friend’s phone number.
The events of the last year have made it even harder to recognize such hidden blessings. Amidst universal confusion, we are thirsting for straightforwardness. Maybe that’s why today’s Gospel reading is hitting me differently.
In this passage, we receive a clear and radiant report of Jesus’ person and ministry: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
In these words, we find Jesus directly offering Himself and extending His invitation to each one of us: believe and trust me. He is unmasked, undisguised. Now, will Jesus’ straightforwardness give me the courage this Lent to step out from behind my own disguises?
Focus (Social Justice):
Today’s Gospel suggests that darkness is part of the human experience. When I reflect on the world, the United States, and even my city of Washington, D.C., there is surely darkness preventing us from achieving equality and equity for all. This darkness is within me too, in the moments when I doubt change is possible.
God acknowledges this darkness by sending his light and messengers into the world. Their examples help guide us and strengthen us. Is there a particular messenger who inspires your own prayers and actions this Lent?
God, thank you for this life and journey. Please help me along the way. When the world seems dark, please help me remember the hope and humor you’ve placed in my heart. When my own darkness attacks me from within, please help me to reach out beyond myself to others. You have placed good friends in my life – help me to remember they are there for me! Please help me to be a friend and helper in return. Amen.
This Lent, reach out and call or Zoom each week with someone in your life who you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. You may help to reduce the isolation that person may be feeling during this lengthy pandemic.
This reflection is from the 2021 Lenten Reflection Guide. To access the complete guide, please click here.
If someone were drowning, whether you knew how to swim or not, would you save them?
This is one of the sayings that Irena Sendlerowa’s father told her to remember and use as a model for her life. As a young Catholic social worker living in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, “Irena Sendler” made this question her life’s testament by saving Jewish children and orphans from the Warsaw Ghetto.
January 27 is designated by the U.N. as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day of remembrance is appropriate for National Sanctity of Life Month. We may first think of respecting life in terms of the unborn, but being pro-life means honoring life in all stages. The horror of the Holocaust violated a respect for life. Many Catholics during this period of time understood the threat anti-Semitism brought to humanity. It’s not surprising many Catholics aided in protecting Jews and other targets of the Nazi Party.
Irena Sendler was not a commonly known hero of the Holocaust until nearly a decade ago when four high school girls from rural Kansas created a 1999 National History Day (History Fair) performance focusing on the heroine. “We saw a 1994 U.S. News & World Report that was five years old [at the time we read it] with a clipping entitled, ‘Other Schindlers,’ and Irena Sendler was listed as saving at least 2,500 children,” said Megan Stewart-Felt, one of the four students who created Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project. “ ‘Irena Sendler’ received one hit on Google in 1999,” said Felt. “Today I type in her name and have more than 767,000 hits.”
Sendler’s work in saving Jews didn’t start with her efforts in saving children in the Warsaw Ghetto. As a young university student, Sendler made false documents for Jewish friends and others in the Warsaw area from 1939 to 1942 before she joined the underground Zegota, a Polish underground group to assist Jews.
“Life in a Jar” describes perfectly the actions Sendler used to save Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto. Sendler, along with 10 others under her direction, implemented various tactics of getting children past Nazi guards. Several of these tactics included Sendler posing as a nurse taking “sick” or “dead” children out of the ghetto, smuggling a five-month-old baby in a carpenter’s box and using a barking dog to conceal the crying children, hindering Nazi guards from thoroughly examining the cargo vehicle.
Sendler then adopted the children into homes of Polish families or hid them in Catholic convents, orphanages, and parish rectories. Priests and monks provided some Jewish children and adults with false baptismal certificates to pose as Catholics. AmericanCatholic.org quotes Szymon Datner, a Jewish historian, as saying about Catholic nuns, “No other sector was so ready to help those persecuted by the Germans. This attitude, unanimous and general, deserves recognition and respect.” To ensure the children would one day discover their true identity, Sendler made lists of the children’s real names and family information and concealed them in jars she buried in her garden.
Nazi’s did capture Sendler. She was beaten severely and even scheduled for execution, but the Polish underground bribed a guard to release her and she entered into hiding. Sendler passed away at the age of 98 on May 12, 2008. Just one year before, Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway for her courage and valor in saving Jewish children. Additionally, Yad Vashem recognized Sendler in 1965 as Righteous Among the Nations.
During National Sanctity of Life Month and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it’s important to reflect and gain inspiration from everyday heroes, such as Irena Sendler, whose actions saved many lives, often at great risk to their own.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
"With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life."
When I was first hired to teach at my high school and was told I was going to be teaching social justice, I was very excited. I had learned a lot from different teachers over the years about social justice issues plaguing our society and I wanted to ignite a fire in my students that they could make a difference and impact society. I knew it was going to be a challenging topic to teach, especially to high school students, but I never realized the toll it would have on me. Halfway through my first year of teaching, one of my students handed me a post it note with Proverbs 4:23 written on it. The interpretation she had written was “Above all else, guard your heart. For everything you do flows from it.” It took me some time to realize what she was trying to tell me through this passage, but once I realized what she meant it changed my thinking and my outlook on what I was teaching and the world around me.
Some of the topics we cover are racism, prejudice, and poverty. I very quickly realized that in order to make the girls aware of the problems in the world around them, I had to bring in real world examples. At the beginning of every class, my students were invited to bring in news articles or experiences of their own that related back to the topic. I would also research different events or issues myself. After reading and hearing somewhere around 100 different examples of where our society has gone wrong and how we are hurting each other, I began to get a sense of hopelessness. My heart began to hurt because we have so many solutions on how to make our society better, and still nothing ever gets done. It reached a point that I didn’t think society would ever change and I started to stop believing in what I was teaching.
Every morning we wake up and turn on the news and see news report after news report of our society tearing each other apart and forgetting the value that each one of us has. That kind of destruction and hurt takes a toll on you; especially your heart, and can make you feel helpless. My student recognized what was happening to my heart and saw me breaking after every news report and life experience I heard in class. She left me this note to remind me that despite the world we are living in, we have to guard our hearts because that is where your drive and spirit comes from. She showed me that if I protect my heart and keep faith and hope in God and the world he created, things could get better.
It is really easy to lose faith and hope and have your heart get hurt if you don’t guard it. Once you lose hope and your heartbreaks, everything in your life is affected. Your heart is the center of everything and it drives your life and your passion. If you don’t guard it and keep it safe, you can’t be the best version of yourself.
Erin Flynn serves as a high school religion teacher in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.
In the shadow of last week’s election we are reminded that our citizenship does not exist in a vacuum of universal or unwavering agreement on social issues. Instead, we are empowered to raise our voices in opposition of or in agreement to any trending issue. You may be partisan, or not; controversial, or not; patriotic, or not. As Catholics, we are empowered to exist from a platform of universal participation in the human experience. We are reminded and called to be a Church of faith in action.
As Catholics we are given the gift of grace while at the same time inheriting the responsibility of caring for one another. Each day our lives are filled with many people, but how many of these people that surround us do we love fully? Can we say that we are truly pursing love with depth that Christ has given us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church challenges us that, "To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren" (no. 1397). This week, as we find ourselves in the midst of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, we are challenged to rekindle this charity that Christ models for us in the Paschal Mystery.
Our inheritance in the kingdom of God and our lineage among the community of saints ask us to live charity in all that we do. But, I find myself asking, how can any one person love so completely, tirelessly, and compassionately? How can anyone ask this of an impatient waitress-social worker-jogger-cat owner-caffeine dependent- graduate student? As an individual, I cannot love like that. In the past day alone, I have acted without love more times than I am willing to admit. Why do I act so constantly without the intensity of love I was born to fulfill? First, I should drink less coffee: it agitates me and makes me much less loving. But second, we cannot alone achieve this life of charity.
The Bishops remind us that, “Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.” God asks all of us to love with unending depth. It is only through working with one another, serving one another and celebrating one another that we may live and love in the depths for which we have been so created. With this great love, we will share our human experience. It is then that we will doubtlessly uncover the answers to our growing social inequities and ideological rifts and discover the underlying nature that connects us all.
This week as we join with our nation to raise awareness of those most marginalized, let us rekindle charity and come to know Christ in our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. May we strengthening our spiritual lives in hopes of having a conversion of heart and begin to truly love another as God loves us.
Samantha Alves is working toward a M.S.W. at Boston College and currently works for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
A major contention that many people – both young and old – have with the Church is that it is an institution of “Thou Shalt Nots” and other moral imperatives that have little or no relevance in the modern world. In essence, the Church is seen as little more than an outdated social services agency, or even worse, a dismal and ahistorical museum perpetuating a false sense of reality. This emerging perception of the Church parallels a larger cultural shift from the acceptance of objective truth toward a secular relativism.
In a recent address to a group of U.S. bishops in Rome for their ad limina visit, Pope Benedict XVI proposed that the Church’s response to this “eroded” perception of reality is one of the greatest “spiritual and cultural challenges of the new evangelization.” Because of the Catholic Apostolate Center’s commitment to being an instrument of the new evangelization, this bears much significance on the direction of our work. But what impact does – or should – this emerging situation have on our daily lives?
In the words of the Holy Father, “the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering”. As Catholics, we are called to uphold the perceptive vision of reality that has been gifted to us by the Holy Spirit through Divine Revelation. It is only through upholding this vision that we can ever hope to accurately understand our place in the world around us and “the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.”
As Catholics, we are beneficiaries of an astonishing intellectual legacy that was developed over the course of two millennia by scholars who examined these mysteries through the complimentary lenses of faith and reason. Contrary to popular opinion, the Church’s moral teaching is not merely a hodge-podge of archaic prohibitions, but a doctrine that is congruent with the logical nature of reality and informed by Divine Revelation. As the Pope explained in his address, the moral teaching of the Church “is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a ‘language’ which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.”
If we are to succeed in being apostles of the New Evangelization, then one of our most critical objectives should be to proclaim the beauty, consistency, and relevance of the Church’s moral teaching, without which we would be left with an incomplete view of our own humanity. Informed by this teaching, it is also important that we serve as prophets in the public sphere of these truths. As Pope Benedict XVI emphasized, “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” Even more pertinent to the work of the Catholic Apostolate Center, the Holy Father went on to say that “the preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.”
Blessed John XXIII was once quoted as saying the following: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” The New Evangelization is not concerned with re-presenting a forgotten memory from the past, but with re-proposing the living and eternal truth of Jesus Christ that continues to sustain His Church. The Church’s moral teaching is just one part of this truth, but as the Holy Father makes clear, it is an essential part to humanity’s self-understanding.
Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Audio of the Holy Father’s address available here.
CNS Report about the Holy Father's address.