Today we celebrate the 83rd birthday of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray for his continued health and leadership in our Church.
Having a birthday near the holidays must be pretty hard to bear as a child, and maybe even sometimes as an adult. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated, and sometimes they can be overshadowed by other holiday celebrations! My sister has a birthday on Christmas Day and she never seemed to be able to celebrate the same ways I could (my birthday is over the summer). I always felt bad and try to still make it special for her - even now that we are adults. Although we know Pope Francis for his humility and selflessness, I’m sure even he has found it hard to celebrate his special day from time to time. We celebrate birthdays as a way to mark our growing one year older, but I’m sure with a birthday so close to Christmas, his focus has often been on Christ. I would imagine, in his ministry, our pope has reflected on the significance of their birthdays being so close and how he can look to the purpose of the season over his own celebrating.
Let’s also reflect on this now. How can we make Jesus’ birthday especially meaningful this year? In what ways can we strive to “celebrate” with Christ? What implications does Christmas have on my upcoming year as I continue to grow in my faith?
“The reason for the season” is a common phrase we hear at this time of the year— a helpful little rhyme to keep us thinking about Jesus’ birth. The purpose of the Son of God coming to Earth was to save us all from our own sins, yet we so often confuse this time with shopping deals and stressful holiday travel plans. Our Lord doesn’t need any of that. He doesn’t need physical gifts—he needs our hearts. He doesn’t need perfection—he yearns for our humble, raw, and disheveled selves. He doesn’t need displays of lights and blow-up snowmen—he needs us to shine his light in the darkness.
In order to celebrate his birth, we must first put aside the distractions and concerns that keep us away from prayer and peace at Christmas. The meaningful celebrating that we should be doing for Christ isn’t wrapped up with bows and shiny paper, but includes finding time to appreciate and pray about our Lord’s coming. The celebration for an ordinary person may be tied to cake, candles, and presents, but as Pope Francis would likely agree, celebrating Christ comes from the heart.
One way I’ve found to celebrate Christ’s birthday amidst the hustle and bustle of the season is by listening to joyful, instrumental Advent and Christmas music. Something about it makes me feel so peaceful and filled with the joy of Christ that I almost prefer it to lyrical Christmas music on the radio or Spotify! Another practice I’ve found to be helpful is focusing on the giving aspect of Christmas. I feel better giving rather than getting things. My favorite way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is to share the gift of the Christmas story with my young Pre-Kindergarten students. Having been blessed to work in a Catholic school, I’m able to share the incredible birth story of Jesus Christ and to teach those beautiful little minds about God’s promise of love to the world. When I sit back and realize the gravity of my role as a catechist to these children, I feel humbled by it. My heart soars, it prepares my soul for Christmas, and I’m reminded of this holy birthday from so long ago in Bethlehem.
As we look toward a new year, both for Pope Francis and for us Catholics, we are reminded that Christmas is only the beginning of Christ’s work on Earth. His ministry will begin at a wedding as an adult farther down the line, and his death and Resurrection happen even later than that.
We know Christ’s birthday was celebrated by angels sharing the Good News. We know there were shepherds who also heard about Jesus’ birth, and finally three wise men who followed the star to where Jesus was born. This new year has so much faith-filled potential to allow us a chance to listen closely to how the Gospel message tells us to love and to share our love with those we meet. We can show God’s love to all by living out each day as apostles who share the Good News.
So today, on this 83rd birthday of our pope, keep him in your prayers. Pray for continued faithful leadership in our Church at this tumultuous time in our world. Pray for his health, that he may find strength in Christ and remain well.
Feliz cumpleaños, Papa Francisco!
For more resources to accompany you this Advent and Christmas, please click here.
Krissy Pierno is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington.
We have entered the season of Advent and a new liturgical year. Advent offers us an important time for us to watch, wait, and reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ, on our encounter with him. He is encountered in the mystery of the Incarnation, which we represent by Nativity scenes placed in our churches, chapels, and homes. We can stop at the beauty of the artistic scene and not move ourselves into deeper reflection on the fact that God, who is infinite love and mercy, sent his only begotten Son to save us.
Christ is also encountered in the Eucharist, most significantly during the celebration of the Mass. Pope Francis describes this coming of Jesus:
“Mass is prayer; rather, it is prayer par excellence, the loftiest, the most sublime, and at the same time the most ‘concrete’. In fact, it is the loving encounter with God through his Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Lord.” (General Audience, November 15, 2017).
And Christ will come again in all his glory at the end of time. We need to be prepared for this time not simply through passive waiting, but by active watching for the Lord and encountering him in our brothers and sisters who are most in need, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless (Mt. 25:31-46). As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are co-responsible for the mission that he left us until he comes again – for the salvation of souls – not only focusing on eternal life with God, but also on how we are collaborating with the Most Holy Trinity to build the Kingdom of God on this side of life.
Pope Francis reminds us of the connection of the Immaculate Conception to the salvific plan of God.
“In the Immaculate Conception of Mary we are invited to recognize the dawn of the new world, transformed by the salvific work of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The dawn of the new creation brought about by divine mercy. For this reason, the Virgin Mary, never infected by sin and always full of God, is the mother of a new humanity. She is the mother of the recreated world.” (Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2015)
We have not been conceived without sin, but we have been washed clean of Original Sin at Baptism (and all prior sin, if one was baptized as an adult). While we have all sinned since that time, our Baptism offers us a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. Though followers or disciples, he also sends us as apostles, or as missionary disciples, out into our challenging world to witness to him by what we say and do. That is why we are told at the end of each Mass to “Go”. We are sent on mission by Christ and the Church as joyful witnesses of God’s love and mercy.
Our best example of how to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She followed Jesus as his disciple unfailingly during her life and continues from her heavenly home as Queen of Apostles to invite us to encounter her Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
The Catholic Apostolate Center is a ministry of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). The Pallottines and the Center staff will remember you in special prayer on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D.Min. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
As we celebrate the third World Day of the Poor, prophetically established by Pope Francis, I have just returned from a very unique visitation to Columbia and Venezuela. Let me limit myself here to Venezuela, because of some very touching experiences in this country.
Venezuela, as we all know, is one of the resourcefully rich countries of the world, blessed with Petroleum, gold, and many other precious minerals. In the 1960's, this was one of South America’s wealthiest countries, enjoying the highest standard of living; yet today, how different the situation.
1 US dollar is equal to about 30,000 Venezuelan Bolivar. The monthly earnings of a worker is around $5; a medical doctor told me he gets $20 per month, if he even comes to be paid. Just imagine, then, the situation of ordinary people.
Millions are migrating to all parts of the world. If possible, the able bodied men and women escape the country, leaving behind their parents and grandparents. People die not because they cannot be healed, but for lack of ordinary medicines; medicines which are either unavailable, or people are too poor to purchase them.
One woman I met was suffering from skin cancer and heart problems; she can do nothing. This is a true story. Just imagine her plight.
For lack of money or limited transports, children and teachers are unable to go to school. While there are many more examples to narrate, my intention is not to show this wonderful country in a bad way.
Paradoxically, despite all of these hardships, I found the people very affectionate and joyful. I met with so many pastoral groups working in the parishes, and hardly anyone spoke about their hardships, or asked for any sort of help. The people were so nice, and I was really touched by them.
Through Caritas Poland and local aid, our parishes are organizing soup kitchens and many other charitable activities together with the parishioners. As a small contribution from We Are A Mission, I myself went around distributing food items in one of our parishes. It was a very touching experience.
Pope Francis speaks much about the poor, migrants, and the culture of indifference. At times, people get annoyed; why does the Pope keep harping over the poor?
The question is precisely what he posed to us in his homily: “do I have at least one poor person as a friend in my life?”
Have we come face to face with this poverty in our lives as Christians, or are we merely experts on speaking about it; limiting ourselves to words, and not truly encountering this existentially dark reality? Again as the Holy Father has written, “let us set statistics aside: the poor are not statistics to cite. The poor are persons to be encountered; they are lonely, young and old, to be invited to our homes to share a meal; men, women, and children who look for a friendly word.”
Those who lived through the Second World War in Europe will know what it means to survive during and after, yet their grandchildren may not even like to read about those days anymore. It is one thing to speak about poverty, but it is something altogether greater if one has had a real taste of it.
When Venezuela- a country greatly blessed by God with all the necessary riches for a decent living- is reduced to such a level of inhumanity by fellow human beings, can we remain indifferent as though it is only their problem? It’s as good as saying that the Amazonian issue is something of only a few countries of that area. But devoid of Amazon, the rest of us would be gasping for oxygen!
When a family with a couple of small children wake up in the morning with neither food nor money to purchase it, how will the parents control the weeping kids?
When some worry over their health due to overeating, having to count calories after all of the food they consume and walk for hours after they have eaten, it looks so absurd and paradoxical that millions elsewhere starve to death. This is the naked truth that makes us feel uncomfortable.
Many will wash their hands and say that it’s all because of corruption or political anarchy in these countries. That is all true. The sanctions that many countries impose to correct these unjust structures and systems will end up hitting the poorest of the poor, and not those at the top, is another truth. I am not writing these lines with the hope of solving all the world’s problems. Instead, it’s to show that the poor are the blessed.
The poor find their ultimate trust in Yahweh when all other sources of security are vanish. These are the people blessed with a genuine sense of humanity and compassion, as true evangelical joy is found in poverty and simplicity of life. The Lord of the Universe, Master of our History and Destiny, will make the necessary corrections and justice at the end. Until then- like Sunday’s Gospel- patience and perseverance in our trust in HIM, and the goodness in each person, must prevail. The best comes out of us when we are cornered to such a level. The more efforts there are efforts to destroy our humanity and dignity as persons, the greater will be in the interior force to manifest the beauty of freedom and preciousness imprinted upon us as an image and likeness of God.
As we celebrate World Day of the Poor, let us unite ourselves with our Holy Father; kindling a candle of hope for the suffering parts of the world, be it through a smile, prayer, or even a dollar. Who knows, tomorrow we might need them, as this is so much part of our human condition. It is no wonder, then, that the Son of God Himself chose to be born poor to make us rich in divine blessings. “The poor save us, because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”
Fr. Jacob Nampudakam S.A.C. is the Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers) and Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Union of Catholic Apostolate.
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. –1 Corinthians 12:27
I commute to work every day by train through Chicago’s “loop.” It’s the perfect place for
people-watching. Recently, I was on a busy sidewalk when a woman who looked rather tired and disheveled pushed a stroller near the crowd with her child. Behind me were two very elegantly dressed women in a hurry. The woman with the stroller asked the passing crowd, “Can you spare some change for our next meal?” It’s a question that I’ve heard too often downtown. I felt a pang of sadness and guilt. Often, I am unsure how to respond. The women behind me continued on past her and began commenting: “What a horrible mother”; “Of course I’m not going to help her out. Why would I want to give her my money?” Those comments hurt even more than seeing this poor mother and child suffer.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” The mother and her baby, the women behind me, and all those who are a part of my community of friends and family are of one body. As stated in Lumen Gentium, “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body.
In that Body the life of Christ is poured into the believers who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ who suffered and was glorified.” We live as one with Christ and with one another even amidst the poverty, injustice, and messiness we experience.
This letter from Paul to the early Church deepens their understanding of the Body of Christ and its physical makeup. Each person has a function within it which works alongside the other members and promotes the common good. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful.” I often fall into the temptation of removing myself from a group who seems holier than me, those who are more involved in their community or are outspoken in ways that I’m not. I even tend to exclude myself from the community of pedestrians walking down the sidewalk. I forget that we make up the Body of Christ and that if others suffer, I suffer. If others rejoice, I rejoice. I also share a part of myself with each of them. One of my mentors once said, “Our goal is always to connect. Even if it’s uncomfortable, we are made for relationship.” As a Christian, I am called to notice those in the community around me and to connect with them.
Mystici Corporis Christi, the encyclical from Pius XII, also outlines the meaning of being a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. “Each member of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ, if authentic, is integrally bonded in soul, and hopefully in heart, through the Incarnation, by the Spirit, with Jesus, Son of God, and son of Mary, divine and human,” wrote Msgr. Owen F. Campion. We are bonded in soul and heart because of Christ’s physical and spiritual sacrifice as the Son of God. We become whole in him and in relation to others. As members of the Church, we are called to be a family who loves and cares for others, even those outside of our communities.
In all circumstances, the Body of Christ leads me to a holier life. When I am doubtful or uncertain, my faith community allows me to grow. When I’m overwhelmed, others will kindle the fire of faith within me. I fully experience joy when I experience it with others and share the Good News and the love of Jesus. I may do this differently from a trained hand who provides, or a speaker with a gifted tongue, but I’m using my gifts as a member of the Body of Christ. We are called to take part of this community through our unique identity with authenticity.
I paused that day on my commute because of this mystical experience of community. I witnessed the pain of the poor mother and child on the Chicago sidewalk, and the harshness of the response of the two women who were walking near me. I became more aware of this truth in the wounds and challenging emotions I experienced. I feel pain because I am connected to all people in some way. Conversely, I can feel joy if I make small choices to build up the Body of Christ. St. Paul outlines this for us, and we hear it in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, “Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We must pay attention like Jesus would, and love our physical and mystical body.
Questions for Reflection: What unique gifts can I share with others as a member of the Body of Christ? How can I become more aware of the communities I live in?
Sophie Lorenzo works in social media marketing for a Catholic publisher in Chicago. An alum of the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame, she enjoys bridging her background in theology with online ministry.
"On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?" - Pope Francis (Christmas Homily, 2014)
The past year has seen many moments that called out for the "tenderness of God." Challenging moments of war, suffering, natural disaster, and human-caused neglect - seemingly harsh, rather than tender. Some might use the harshness of the world as an excuse to move away from God or render God irrelevant. Yet, there is still a seeking in the human heart given by God who desires to embrace us and draw us close. When we look at the scene of the Nativity, do we see the tenderness of God in the midst of the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph were not shown tenderness in their need, but instead were rejected? The Son of God came into the world in poverty. At the end of his earthly life, he was rejected once again. The Father, though, continued to show mercy, love, and tenderness by raising him up, opening the way to salvation, and leaving us a share in Christ's mission of love and mercy until he comes again.
During this Jubilee of Mercy and beyond, may we go about doing Christ's mission well through living tenderness, reviving faith, rekindling charity - living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These works of mercy are practical ways for us to welcome and share the "tenderness of God."
On behalf of the board, staff, collaborators, and advisors of the Catholic Apostolate Center, may you have a Blessed Christmas and a good New Year! You will be remembered by me at Masses during the Christmas season!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and Provincial Rector of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers).
Tomorrow, we arrive at Christmas Eve. In the rush of all of the “things we must do” do we stop and reflect on the one who is the true must for us, the Incarnate Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ? Stop for a moment and look at a Nativity scene. I mean really look. What do you see? Do you see simply art, or a depiction of a past event, or do you see the one who is the Incarnate Son of God? Our God, who created us, came to us, is with us, is for us, to save us! We are not alone in the vast universe, left adrift. No, our God came to us in a way that we would not expect of one who is all-powerful, he came in the innocent helplessness of a baby. This baby was not born in a palace or even a house, but in a borrowed spot out back where only animals lived. The first people who visited him and his parents were not friends and family, but poor shepherds. The King of Kings came as the Poorest of the Poor. He came to save us not just in the future, but now. We are to assist him in his mission as the third verse of the
Christmas carol “O Holy Night” tells us:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Like the shepherds and all who have gone before us in faith, our encounter with the Prince of Peace offers us the opportunity to be freed from all that oppresses us in life and the mandate to help others to find this freedom. As Pope Francis teaches us:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew… I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1, 3).
This Christmas and always, our prayer as the team of the Catholic Apostolate Center is that your encounter with Christ today and every day brings such joy that you must share it with all!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center