“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” -cf Genesis 3:19
On Ash Wednesday, people around the world will hear these words while ashes are crossed onto their forehead. While this isn’t the only phrase that ministers can say during the distribution of ashes, it is the one that makes me stop and ponder the most. When I was younger, this phrase confused me. “Of course we aren’t ACTUALLY dust” was my thought. “When I get cut I bleed blood, not dust! I am made out of flesh and bone!”
For years I thought this way, and for years I saw Lent as any other period of 40 days: normal. To me, there was nothing extraordinary about Lent except that it was the time leading up to Easter. Sure, I gave up chocolate and didn’t eat meat on Fridays, but that was it. It wasn’t until high school that I started to realize what exactly the implications of these words are.
“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7
Dust is natural. It exists as the substance of inception of all mankind. By the will of the Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit, we were given life out of the dust. We often think of dust as the substance that flies through the air or sits on our dresser, not the substance from which we come. Yet God, in his Infinite Love, gave it meaning by transforming dust into our very beings, into humanity. As Pope Francis reflected in his homily on Ash Wednesday last year: “The mark of the ashes with which we set out reminds us of our origin: we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust. True, yet we are dust in the loving hands of God, who has breathed his spirit of life upon each one of us, and still wants to do so.” God, infinitely perfect and whole in himself, desired to create because of his love. We were made out of an outpouring of love of the Trinity.
This understanding has changed the way I approach Ash Wednesday. Dust calls us to conversion. It reminds us of our beginning and our end—of our smallness, but also of the greatness of our God. Donald Cardinal Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington reminds us that during Lent “We are invited to see ourselves as dust again, to detach ourselves from the things of this world and empty ourselves so that we might be filled instead with God’s ‘breath of life,’ that is, with his eternal Spirit.” By contemplating our beginning and end, we are better able to focus on the eternal life offered by Christ and the resurrection to which we are called. Therefore, Ash Wednesday sets the tone for our Lenten journey as a particular day of fasting, inviting us into forty days of a desert experience as we prepare for the celebration of Easter. Ash Wednesday, helps us to “empty ourselves” as Cardinal Wuerl wrote, in order to be filled with God and more receptive to his promptings throughout the Lenten season. As Pope Francis said in his 2015 Ash Wednesday Homily, Lent helps us then to reorient ourselves “to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to trust Him and to entrust ourselves to Him.”
The Distribution of Ashes is the only liturgical event of its kind; there is no other time in the liturgical year in which we are called to come forward as a Church and be reminded in such a profound way of our origin, our humanity, and our impending death. This enables us to focus more clearly on the eternal life won for us by Jesus Christ. Cardinal Wuerl continues, “By his Cross and Resurrection, though we be only dust and ashes, we will be made a new creation.” This Lent, I invite you to contemplate the phrase “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” more deeply. How can we let ourselves experience conversion in order to become a new creation?
For more resources during Lent to prepare you for the Easter season, click here.
St. Paul offers us this challenge: “Be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20) (emphasis added). Be thankful “at all times” and for “everything?” “Well that would seem to include suffering and evil. Really Lord – you want me to be thankful for that trial in my life? I'll be thankful for other things but not for that. That's impossible! Lord, at the very least, maybe you could tell me a little bit more about how I can live this radical gratitude? Help my unbelief!”
This is how my prayer dialogue went with God one day as I examined my attitude toward gratitude. I thought to myself, “Do I treat gratitude as just one of those nice pious sentiments that I should do in general, but ignore when it costs me? In other words, do I make gratitude just a platitude?” I know I have treated gratitude in that way and have brushed off the Christian teaching to be thankful 'at all times' as idealistic on more than one occasion. I began to examine my soul more in depth. Why do I do this? “Usually,” I concluded, “it is because of a lack of knowledge as to why something is good for me and because my thoughts are too limited on the topic.” But God wants to break open our limited thoughts and actions. So I pressed on in my search for a deeper meaning of gratitude. Here is what I discovered.
I read a book recently that changed my perspective on gratitude. The author explained that gratitude is not just a good practice to do occasionally to uplift our spiritual lives, but is actually a necessary law of every Christian spiritual life. Gratitude is not an option; it is something we have to practice regardless of temperament, disposition, or circumstance. Based on my reading, I came up with two patterns for our spiritual life: the “cycle of spiritual fruitfulness” and the “cycle of spiritual emptiness”.
The cycle of spiritual fruitfulness begins with trust in God, which is nourished through faithfulness to one’s prayer life. Through prayer, gratitude grows. Gratitude is being aware of God’s many gifts in the daily happenings of our lives. Gratitude then becomes a necessary part of trust, especially in the midst of our suffering because gratitude opens up our heart to God. As we see more of God in our lives, then we give more to God and in turn are better able to receive more of God's love and grace in our life. This cycle, which begins with trust and gratitude, then repeats as we grow in love and become more loving gradually. This can be boiled down to:
Trust through Prayer → Gratitude → Opens Heart → More Love
The cycle of spiritual emptiness begins with a lack of trust in God and a lack of faithfulness to one's prayer life. Negativity focused on our weaknesses, what we lack, and our suffering replaces gratitude, closing our hearts and making us less capable of receiving God's love. We may even sin, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, whose ingratitude ultimately led to the first sin (Genesis 3). If we let this endure too long, then our whole life can become one big storm of sadness and anger. This can be boiled down to:
Distrust through Not Praying→ Negativity → Closed Heart → Less Love
Radical Gratitude Reconsidered
The cycle of spiritual fruitfulness offers us several good reasons for why St. Paul instructs us to be grateful at all times and for everything with no exception. If I want to open up my heart more to the Lord and thereby love more, then I must find a way to be thankful - even for the most difficult suffering. Thankfulness is not an option reserved only for those who describe themselves as sanguine or optimists; thankfulness is a necessary part of holiness. It is therefore no coincidence that the highest Sacrament in the Church, the Eucharist, in Greek literally means “thanksgiving, gratitude.”
With this in mind, I went back to my dialogue with God. I asked God for the grace to be more grateful in my daily life for everything. God, in turn, has asked me when I am tempted to be ungrateful and negative to make an act of trust in the moment and find something to be grateful for – health, the fresh crisp autumn air perhaps, or even more profoundly – my daily Sacrament with my wonderful wife – and thereby to become more aware of His love in my life. Slowly then, I become a little more grateful and a little less negative. Eventually I hope to build a habit of radical gratitude for every occasion in my life.
This gratefulness does not come overnight and does not necessitate a formal act of thankfulness at every moment. As I become more grateful in those little moments, I will not only be able to resist ingratitude in the more difficult moments, but will also be better able to be grateful even for new sufferings. In this way, I am trying slowly to become thankful at all times by committing to a few acts of trust each day through gratitude. Radical gratitude is possible, but only through God’s wonderful grace! Through grace, I have come to learn the importance of radical gratitude and the cycle of spiritual fruitfulness. I choose the cycle of spiritual fruitfulness.
What cycle are you on?
Come Holy Spirit, make all of us more radically grateful!
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?
As we brought our firstborn son in a white gown to the church, I couldn’t help but think of Mary and Joseph - new parents who also came to God’s dwelling place with a newborn child. They were fulfilling the stipulations of the Mosaic law: Mary was completing her ritual purification after childbirth, and the couple was consecrating their firstborn son to God (cf Exodus 13:2). They, like my husband and I, were entrusting their child to God in faith, giving the Lord control over his destiny, reiterating, in a sense, Mary’s surrender in her Magnificat, “may it be done to him according to your word.”
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord which we celebrate today is one of both great joy and great sorrow—a day of paradox. The glory of the Lord in a literal sense returns to the Temple in Jerusalem which had for so many years been vacant of his physical presence. God has come to renew his covenant and relationship with his people. His presence, however, is no longer confined to this Temple. He walks now among his people…as one of them – in this case, in the form of a child. All of Israel’s hopes are fulfilled in this one child. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” the holy Simeon proclaims in the Temple, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The Jewish people’s spiritual exile from God has come to an end.
This child, this sign of hope and restoration of Israel, however, is also a sign to be misunderstood and rejected. Simeon continues, explicitly telling Mary, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce.” God was answering the many prayers and dreams of the Israelites in a way they could hardly comprehend: in the form of a lowly child who would grow up in a foreign country, who would come back to Nazareth and live as a poor carpenter’s son, who would grow to become a great prophet after thirty years and challenge the Jewish people to live more nobly than they could have ever imagined: to love their enemies and persecutors, to eat his Body and drink his Blood, to become sons and daughters of God, calling him “abba,” Father, and ultimately to attain salvation for the entire world.
God often answers our prayer in ways unimagined or seemingly incomprehensible to us. Will we join in Simeon’s proclamation of salvation or will we be among those who reject this sign?
“My eyes have seen your salvation” - this is at the heart of the Christian life. This is evangelization: an encounter with the living God that results in our conversion and proclamation of salvation. As Pope Francis said in last year’s homily on the Feast of the Presentation, “One who lives this encounter becomes a witness and makes possible the encounter for others.”
After encountering Christ, we are able to reiterate the words of Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Are you able to join in these words?
In order to do so, we must prepare our hearts for an encounter with God. What I find crucial to the words of Simeon, which are followed by words of the prophetess Anna in the Gospel today, is the role of prayer and sacrifice to Simeon and Anna’s encounter. Years of fasting, offering sacrifice, going to the Temple, and forming a deep relationship with God in prayer all led to this pivotal moment of encounter in their lives. Furthermore, Simeon enters the Temple after the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He was so receptive to the stirring of God within his heart that he entered the Temple in the very moment he needed to. Both he and Anna were not in the Temple by accident. God had been preparing their hearts for years, and they had done everything in their power to cooperate with his grace through their holy actions: prayer, sacrifice, worship, thanksgiving.
What do we bring to the Lord today as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation? What do we place on his altar every time we attend Mass? Do we join the priest in offering sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, or petition? Do we remember the needs of friends, family, or the world? Do we give God our joys, sorrows, stresses, or work?
I invite you, the next time you go to Mass, to present yourself to the Lord. Spiritually place yourself on the altar, wherever you may be in your faith. Whether you feel a bit distant from God right now, seem to be in a comfortable place in your life, or are overwhelmed with fear or stress or worry—place whatever you have and whatever you carry on the altar this week and ask God to continue to transfigure you. We celebrate, in a sense, the Presentation of the Lord at every Mass—for we are presenting Jesus himself to God the Father in the Eucharist. And we are invited to join in offering our sacrifices to the Eternal Sacrifice of Christ crucified.
Let us join the aged Simeon in saying, “my eyes have seen your salvation!” by imitating his deep life of prayer and sacrifice. And from there, may we proclaim the truth of God’s love to the world!
Whenever I go about my day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I am greeted by the faces of hundreds of saints illustrated in dozens of statues, mosaics, and portraits. Certainly, the focus of the Shrine — and indeed, any Catholic church — is on Christ (in this case through the Blessed Mother), but invariably one notices the honoring of God’s holy ones as well in side chapels and oratories. While one can hardly wander into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica without gazing in awe at the dominating mosaic Christ in Majesty — one of the largest images of Jesus in the world — it’s also impossible to miss the mere fraction of the Communion of Saints honored throughout the space; those who were so moved in their encounters with the Lord that they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Him.
Why does this church (and the Universal Church) assign so much importance to these figures? While the act of adoration and worship is solely reserved for God, the saints (including Mary) are, by contrast, venerated. When properly done, veneration does not interfere with the worship due to God, but rather fosters it. As the Second Vatican Council noted: “Our communion with those in heaven, provided that it is understood in the fuller light of faith according to its genuine nature, in no way weakens, but conversely, more thoroughly enriches the latreutic [what is allowed to God alone] worship we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 51).
Hailing from all walks of life, the saints represent the fervent love of God as he calls them to participate in and enrich the ministries of the Church, whether through charity, scholarship, prayer, catechesis, or apologetics. The saints rejected the status quo of society. They reformed society to be more like Christ’s ministry — sometimes at the cost of their own lives. They met people wherever they were in life in order to bring about a fruitful encounter with the Lord. If we have ever felt that we could not strive for the holiness God calls each of us to, we surely have countless role models to look to in the saints. We might think: “But I can’t possibly attain those standards — I’m a sinner!” But as the recently canonized Mother Teresa reportedly observed, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” Recognizing that their own shortcomings, however frequent, are infinitesimal compared to the love and mercy of God, the saints sought and found comfort in our perfect Lord, rather than wallowing in the imperfect condition of their lives.
In our own struggles for holiness, if we ever feel alone or without guidance, we have only to look to the saints for inspiration. The trials we face, whether they be doubts, abandonment, threats, or scorn were similarly faced by them. Yet the example of Christ’s experiences with these difficulties drove them forward, and so should also motivates us. We need not be intimidated with what is asked of us or the great witness of the saints. Again, in words attributed to Mother Teresa, we have only to concern ourselves with offering God “small things with great love.”
In the Basilica, the bas-relief of the Universal Call to Holiness rests directly opposite of Christ in Majesty, reflecting the theme of Lumen Gentium discussed above. Illustrated in the huge marble slab are people from all walks of life gazing upon and approaching God, the Holy Spirit. As Lumen Gentium, the bas-relief, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all emphasize: “all are called to holiness” (CCC 2013). The saints have embraced this, and not necessarily early in their lives. St. Augustine, one of the Church’s greatest converts, admitted to God in his autobiography called Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new.” God can turn our failures into moments of grace at any point in our lives (Romans 5:20)! The saints did not go about the great evangelical enterprise for their own sake or glory, but to share the Mystery of God’s unceasing love that so moved them to reject what the world offers in comforts and powers. Just as Christ initiated this work on earth during His ministry and the saints have sustained it throughout the millennia, it is now entrusted to us that the light of God’s truth may forever shine bright and call back to Him those who are lost in the world’s darkness.
"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.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” –Colossians 3:16
How do you get to know Jesus the person? How do you get to know God? The Holy Spirit?
As Catholics, we are called into an intimate relationship with Christ. Jesus wants for us to know him, and so he left us with the gift of the Eucharist so that we would never be without his physical presence. God can reach us in the silence of his presence. Even so, sometimes it is hard to know what God is saying to us, and it can be difficult to interpret God’s will for our lives.
One way of building an intimate relationship with God and interpreting his will is by letting the word of Christ dwell richly within us (cf. Col. 3:16). It is in Scripture that we can get to know Jesus the person: his thoughts, his stories, and his deep love for us. The Bible is important because it is where we can study God, get to know him, and understand his will for our lives. He has left us with words of instruction, comfort, welcome, prayer, and love. Knowing the words of God, his Son, his prophets, and his saints can guide us through life’s joys, trials, and periods of stillness. In the Word of God, we can hear God speaking to us in ways that answer our prayers and help prepare us to be apostles.
St. Paul told Timothy that knowing Scripture was essential for living a life of faith:
“From infancy you have known [the] sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:15-17
By “letting the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” we can better know Jesus and become more fully “equipped for every good work.” I think about this and my relationship with Christ, and I realize that Christ knows me better than I know him. I lament to him unceasingly, but I don’t always run to Scripture. As I have been taking the time to study God and his Word, I find that my trust in the Lord has strengthened, and I see his love more fully. When I find Scripture that speaks to me and I cling to it – whether it’s through memorization and praying it to myself, setting a verse as my phone background, or making it visible in my apartment – I am filled with patience and peace because I know I have the Word of God and his Spirit with me.
I want to challenge you to get to know Jesus better through Scripture. I once witnessed a talk where the speaker reminded us that the Spirit of God speaks to us in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). In addition to prayer, the sacraments, or Christian community, Scripture is where Christ himself reaches out to us. If we took just five minutes a day to read from a Gospel, that would be over 30 hours of quality time with Jesus in a year. We could read 10 minutes a day, and that would be over 60 hours with Jesus in a year! Even by starting with baby steps, we can build a relationship and truly call Christ our friend. Jesus himself tells a parable of a sower planting seeds, where he explains “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). For the seed that fell within rich soil, “it produced fruit a hundredfold” (Luke 8:8) and they “are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15). May your heart be open and receptive to the Word of God so that it may bear much fruit in you and in the world!
In Scripture, Jesus says: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Today, I am asking Jesus to let me know him better through his Word as I commit to five minutes of Scripture reading a day. It will require me to be vulnerable and take action, but in doing so, I open myself to the transforming love of Christ that enables us to become better apostles.
If you are not sure where to start, there are many great resources for reading the Church’s daily readings or the Divine Office, which is the Church’s daily prayer comprised of Scripture. When all else fails, just open your Bible and start reading! You can even start by reading the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:4-15!
I pray that God will give you the grace to know his Son through Scripture. May your reading of Scripture lead to a deepened friendship with Christ, creating fruitful soil that bears much fruit!
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, or to read the Daily Mass Readings, please click here.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C.
What do we imagine when we think of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we envision tongues of fire, as the Apostles experienced in the Upper Room during Pentecost. Perhaps we think of a dove, as we read in the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Maybe we think of wind, a ghostly figure, or even a loud gathering of people speaking in tongues or falling to the ground.
Many within the Catholic Church are unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply unaware of the Holy Spirit and His role within our Church. This is perhaps because the Holy Spirit is the least “safe,” “personal,” or “containable” person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was not sent to earth in the form of a person who healed, preached, and died for our sins, as Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is not called “Abba, Father,” and was not the primary face of God in the Old Testament. Though the Holy Spirit has existed since the beginning, cited in Scripture at creation as the spirit of God hovering over the waters, and is referenced throughout the Old and New Testaments through Pentecost and beyond, many find it difficult to define, connect to, or have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
My own relationship with the Holy Spirit did not begin until my third year of college. Recent events in my life had left me profoundly grateful, so I began to spend five to ten minutes each morning simply giving thanks to God and invoking the Holy Spirit. It started with thanksgiving for the more obvious things: a roof over my head, food on the table, family. As I continued, I grew in my perception to see the little moments of grace in each day. I would thank God for a chance conversation with a friend, the insightful part of a particular lecture, or the flower that had blossomed in my neighbor’s yard. I invited the Holy Spirit into my life, and spent the morning in thanksgiving and praise rather than petition.
As a result, I started experiencing a profound, unshakeable joy. It was as though I was seeing the world with new eyes—the eyes of gratitude and grace, the eyes of God. I was becoming more Christ-like without really trying, because my heart was filled with the love of God, the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been called the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit reveals the Father to humanity and enables us to become like Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who was beginning to transform me into a disciple and instilling joy in my heart. We often miss the work of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit “does not speak of Himself…[but] makes us hear the Father's Word”—which is Christ (CCC 687). As Christ himself said to the Apostles, the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears” (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is also consubstantial with the Father and the Son—meaning that the three persons of the Trinity are inseparable while being distinct in their roles. The role of the Holy Spirit is the building up of the Church and her people. The Spirit of Truth guides us to truth (cf John 16:13). He is the person of the Trinity sent by Christ to be most present in the world today—our Advocate. Because of the work of the Spirit, Christ can say, “I am with you, even to the end of time” (Mt. 28:20).
How can we come to know the Holy Spirit? In prayer, the liturgy, the sacraments, Scripture, Church teaching, the witness of holy men and women, and in many other ways (cf CCC 688). As we celebrate Pentecost, I invite you to start spending a few minutes each day with the Holy Spirit. Invite the Spirit into your Scripture reading, asking Him to reveal His wisdom and help you apply it to your own life. Call upon the Spirit in prayer and thanksgiving throughout your day. Learn more about the sacraments, which reveal the inner life of the Trinity, and participate more deeply in them. Read the lives of the saints, men and women who are examples of the holiness made possible by the Spirit.
May these practices lead to a Pentecost and renewal of the Spirit in our own lives. Together, let us say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit!” (CCC 2670-72). May His fire purify our hearts, leaving only the love of God, so that we may in turn set the world on fire.
Forever and beyond will beauty last upon the fabric of this path we are all on. Life is a journey and a time of change, but the love and beauty that emits from the experience of life will last, will remain, and will persevere. Everything that goes through this life journey we lead as creations of a One, True, Loving Lord adds to the over-abundant beauty that is this light for our feet. From the spectacular of fireworks to the humblest of daily chores, everything holds within it an essence of glory, a glory given by the graces of the awakenings of the Spirit in this life. Such essence of glory protrudes into the days and nights, into our sensual stimulators by one path and one path alone, beauty. Beauty in the form of simple things, grand things, petty things, and profound things. Each passing moment has beauty in it to be recognized. All things bright and beautiful stem directly from our Divine Creator. All beautiful things reflect the love and care of the beautiful Father, abounding in glory and radiant light for all to experience.
Beauty can be seen in everything and everyone, if only we have the courage and wisdom to look hard enough. Such avenues of beauty are the various art forms of life, for example, works of art, music, literature, friendships, emotion, or moments indescribable by words. Art forms are anything that leave an impression on us, for life itself is the grandest of art forms that pours forth in everything it is. It is hard for us all to see the beauty in suffering or in times of darkness, but that doesn't mean it isn’t there, in the wrinkles and the silver linings that radiate beauty in a different light than what we are used to. For life, beauty is there.
The Saints are good examples of the beautiful life, each one leading vastly different lives. Life is beautiful in each human experience, including the suffering and dark stuff. The Saints are good demonstrations of the beautiful human experience, including within it all sides of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast we celebrate today, is quite extraordinary and is a good example of the kind of beauty I am discussing here. Her life, besides her ardent Catholic faith, was normal for a girl in her Native American village. Her life was beautiful in her great faith, in her dealings with her family and those who did and could not understand her reasoning for believing that Christ Jesus was her Savior, and finally in her simple yet profound suffering and eventual martyrdom. She is the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Contemplate the Lily for a moment: the petals, the pollen, the beauty. So simple yet so complex, yet beautiful in its complexity. This is Saint Kateri. She is the lily, the beauty of a life lead in the faith of Christ.
Personally, I have had a special devotion to Saint Kateri ever since fourth grade. My teacher chose then Blessed Kateri to be the one we all prayed for in our daily prayer time. Growing off of that initial, prayerful experience with Kateri, when she was finally canonized, I studied her life and virtues in depth, reflecting and praying intentions through her intercession. For eyes to see the beauty of the world and of everything you experience, pray to Saint Kateri, and like a lily may she blossom in all of us the joy of the beautiful Savior, whose blood painted the most beautiful image of all, our salvation.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In my community, I am a member of a young Catholic adult group where there are weekly women and men small groups. During one women’s small group we discussed discernment for everyday actions and decisions. One of the members mentioned Saint Ignatius’ book, The Discernment of Spirits, as interpreted by Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. and how the book helps her differentiate between God’s plan for her and her own wishes and temptations in everyday life. I hadn’t heard of this book before and decided to read the “Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living.”
While recuperating from a leg wound from the battle against the French in Pamplona, Ignatius asked for reading materials, of which he was given religious texts. Gallagher states, “While Ignatius ceases reflecting on the worldly project he finds himself ‘dry and discontented.’ Yet after he has considered the project of imitating the saints, the delight remains. He continues enduringly to be “content and happy.” Ignatius begins to become aware of the differences between bad spirits and the spirit of God. Ignatius then follows the process of becoming aware, understanding and taking action in order to discern what he must do.
Becoming aware means taking notice of what is happening in our inner spiritual thoughts. Gallagher is completely right when he says that, “the goods of the senses are more visible, more tangible, and more readily apparent to us than those of the mind and of the spiritual order… it is no easy task to untangle and identify the innumerable threads in the tapestry of our daily affective and reflective life.” Henry David Thoreau described how fast-paced we live our lives when he said in Walden, “It lives too fast.” The discernment of spirits requires us to focus on spiritual awareness, and not psychological or moral awareness. As our world becomes increasingly filled with technology and having the need to fill every moment with activity, we can easily lose quiet and reflection time required of us to discern what God is calling us to do.
Understanding is the reflection we take on the stirrings we have now noticed that allows us to see what is of God and what is not. In Ignatius’ experience, he notices the differences between the thoughts that leave him happy and those that leave him dry. He reflects upon these and eventually comes to recognize why a thought is of God and the other not. As for our own lives, Gallagher says to ponder if these thoughts affect our lives of faith, hope and love and if they allow us to follow God’s will. If so, than these are of God.
Taking action refers to accepting to live according to what we’ve noticed is of God and rejecting what is not of God. As if the first two steps of becoming aware and understanding God’s call to us aren’t difficult enough, rejecting or accepting a spiritual action requires us to make a decision in following God’s call. In Ignatius’ case, he accepts God’s project: he travels to Manresa to begin a life in imitation of the saints, and makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
There are a total of 14 rules Saint Ignatius describes in his text. Ignatius indicates that these rules are for the person who strives to overcome sin and who is simultaneously growing in the service of the Lord – a dedicated and progressing Christian.
As I continue on the journey of reading and reflecting on the discernment of spirits, I will happily share what I’m learning. Next up – a deeper dive into understanding the 14 rules!
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.
To celebrate the Catholic Apostolate Center passing 50,000 "likes" on Facebook, Communications and Social Media Intern Andrew Buonopane created a list of 50 Ways to Enjoy your Faith. This is the second post in a five-part series where we'll share the whole list. Check back on the first Tuesday of the month for another installment!
#39- Read or learn about Augustine’s Confessions
Did you know that Augustine, a famous Church author and theologian, had a well-documented conversion experience? Take some time to research his story and learn about how he found Christ!
#38- Marriage & Family Resources
Next week is National Marriage Week! Visit the Catholic Apostolate Center’s resource page on Marriage and Family and explore ways to deepen your own marriage or family life!
#37- Renew Faith in the Sacraments
The sacraments are a vital part of our faith lives and aren’t just confined to milestones like First Communion and Confirmation. Renew your faith by increasing your awareness and participation in the sacraments. Go to Confession or consider helping distribute communion to the sick and homebound. As spring brings First Communion masses at your parish, consider attending one and remembering your own!
#36- Discernment of Spirits
Some people have heard of St. Ignatius’ Examen, but have you ever heard of the Discernment of Spirits? If not, take a moment to research more about this fulfilling spiritual exercise!
#35- Private Prayer
Prayer is an important part of our faith lives. But for many people, prayer often occurs in more organized settings such as Mass. Challenge yourself to make more time for private prayer!
#34- Reflect on your day
Our busy lives can sometimes cause us to not be able to stop and reflect. Try and set aside a moment at the end of the day to reflect on how your day went.
#33- Find some good Catholic blogs
Blogs are a great way to keep in touch with your faith. Learning from others experiences and deepening your understanding of the faith are easily attainable through blogs. Check out some of our partner affiliate blogs at the Catholic Volunteer Network or St. Joseph’s College Theology Blog! And of course continuing to follow along to this one!
Fasting is usually associated with the Lenten season, but did you know that fasting can be practiced throughout the liturgical year for a variety of reasons?
Solemnities (which occur throughout the liturgical year) are days of celebration which can include feasting! While feasting doesn’t give you a free pass to eat junk food all day, consider learning more about upcoming solemnities and how you can celebrate them.
To read the previous installment in this series, click here: Part I
Andrew Buonopane is the Communications and Social Media Intern at the Catholic Apostolate Center
A few weeks ago, the Vatican announced the canonization date of two soon-to-be saints. Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II will be declared saints on April 27, 2014 and will join the ranks of thousands of holy men and women who have been declared similarly.
As Catholics, we have a great devotion to the saints. And with good reason: saints are good models for us in our faith. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly claiming that they have practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (CCC 828).
But why do we have a great devotion to the saints? What is it about these holy men and women that inspires and challenges us to live out our faith in God?
From Saints Aaron and Abadios to Saints Zoticus and Zygmunt Gorazdowski, we feel a sense of connection to these men and women because, in many ways, they were a lot like us; regular people following Christ’s example in their lives. Whether they lived a thousand years ago or died just last decade, these holy men and women help us to fashion our lives so we can become better human beings and better disciples of Christ, and strive to become saints ourselves. Blessed John Paul II himself has said: “The Saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.” Who wouldn’t want to follow the way of those men and women?
Who are the saints that mean most to you? What saints have you sought out when you have needed to pray for help or in thanksgiving?
For me, as I’ve written about before, I personally have developed an affinity for St. Monica, my patron saint. Over the years, though, I have often prayed to Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast day is the day after my birthday, as well as to St. Therese of Lisieux, Venerable Catherine McAuley, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Vincent Pallotti – all patrons of schools I have attended or organizations where I have worked. I have learned about each of these saints and have appreciated the role they have in the Church, both on a larger scale and for me personally.
Have you been struggling to find some inspiration in your daily prayer life? Do you want to find out more about saints that you may feel a connection to? Take a look at the Catholic Apostolate Center’s website for resources on Prayer and Catechesis, which includes information about the saints.
Monica Thom Konschnik is the Administration & Finance Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
It is once again that time of year for pastoral leaders to be making their way to the Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC) in Baltimore. Registration fees have been paid, rooms have been booked, and deals on parking spaces have been found. The preparations are well under way for another Congress, and where does my mind go? To the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. That’s right, I am about to compare a gathering of pastoral leaders to The Lord of the Rings. Although the MAC at first glance may not appear to be as epic as Tolkien’s depiction of the Council of Elrond, upon further examination the MAC holds many epic features to it- most notably that of companionship.
The Christian life as we all know is filled with struggles, sorrows, growth, and joy. At times we often feel as Frodo does, torn between the known and the unknown. We may desire to remain in our present scenario although feeling nudged to embrace a challenge that seems impossible. Tolkien portrays this tension when he writes,
“An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo’s side in Rivendell filled all his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice. ‘I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.”’ (The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Rings, 303)
As a young adult working in the Catholic Church, I often find myself saying this very line: “I will take the [insert present challenge] though I do not know the way.” As Frodo and myself have both found, this insecurity is the prime opportunity in which to reach out for another and to experience the value and blessings of companionship.
Upon attending the MAC last year, I was amazed with the incredible spirit of companionship that enlivened the atmosphere of this conference. As I walked through the halls of the conference center, I observed reunions between old friends at every turn and new friendships forged as experiences and stories were shared. Ideas were exchanged on how to approach various problems at the parish, contact information shared for future questions, and the knowledge that you were not alone in your struggles or in your joys brought reassurance.
As for me, I was blessed with the companionship of one of my Echo Faith Formation community members. We would scour through the program to find the most interesting workshops, often splitting up so that we could gather even more information to bring back to our collective reservoir of knowledge. This initial companionship gave us the motivation and encouragement to go off on our own, meet new members of the Body of Christ, and return together strengthened in our own relationship. Throughout this past year, we have often thought back to the MAC, appreciating the connections we made, the friendships we began, and the opportunities that we were blessed to experience.
As the Council of Elrond provides an opportunity for Frodo and the other characters to seek direction and as Rivendell bestows a haven of rest and peace, the MAC grants the time and space to discuss the Church in the world today and a place in which to rest and gain strength to continue the journey. As Frodo set out with eight companions to complete his task, one leaves the MAC with several more companions than one started with. Although there will be bumps along the way, the memory of the joy and the Spirit shared at this unique gathering strengthens one during difficult times (as an added benefit, it also provides a great opportunity to network!). St. Paul captures the spirit of the MAC when he writes, “so that I may come to you with joy by the will of God and be refreshed together with you.” (Romans 15:32) Regardless of your ability to participate in the MAC this year, I pray that as diverse members of the same Body of Christ we may come together with joy and be refreshed so that we may be sent out to continue our own epic story as apostles of Jesus Christ.
Amy Winkler serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ
Without a doubt, the Gospel of John is my favorite book in the Bible. I love the mixture of philosophy and poetry in Jesus’ monologues. It is beautiful how it captures the whole of Salvation History. And it seems that it has quite possibly some of most quotable and recognizable verses in all of Scripture such as Jn. 3:16. Yet the simplest reason is that it contains the profound dialogue that Jesus and St. Peter have post-Resurrection in the 21st chapter.
The scene is simple: Jesus and Peter are sharing a meal on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asks a seemingly simple question especially for a man who is supposed to be the “rock” (Mt. 16:18) of the Church- “Do you love me?” Peter affirms his love for Jesus and then Jesus proclaims, “feed my sheep”. This sequence happens two more times, which shows Jesus’ mercy and sense of humor. As you probably know, Peter denied Jesus three times rather than stand up for his faith and Savior. This is Jesus allowing Peter to make up for his threefold denial with a threefold affirmation.
Unfortunately, the English translation does not fully capture the drama of this story and thus, we must look to the original Greek. The Greeks had three words for our word, “Love”: Philia (Friendship), Eros (Sexual Love), and Agape (Selfless, Gift-Love). In the context of this story, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you Agape me?” In his shame, Peter can only respond, “I Philia you” or “I am your friend.” While Jesus loves Peter with his whole heart, Peter is a wounded human. On the third try, Jesus meets Peter at his level and asks if they are friends. To this, Peter can agree.
From November 5 to 17, 2012, I had the tremendous opportunity to be part of a pilgrimage to the Middle East. What made the trip special was that I got to spend the time with my mom, who has been a great role model and exemplar of sacrifice and faith. And while seeing the Pyramids in Egypt and Petra in Jordan were great, the part that I was most excited for was the Holy Land. One of the places that we went to was the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, where it is said that Jesus and St. Peter had this final conversation as told in Jn. 21.
Like many of the other churches that we went to in Israel, I automatically felt the sacred presence of the Spirit. I went into the Church first to say a prayer and then walked along the shore of the Sea. I was so utterly moved to be standing on the ground and touching the water where Jesus and Peter shared this intimate moment. I was speechless to be present there and just gave thanks for this blessing.
The words that I kept praying were the words of Jesus’ command to Peter: Feed my sheep. All my life, I viewed my Catholic faith as an opportunity to be a role model for others. I participated in parish ministry through the Echo Program and taught high school Religion for two years. Now, I am taking a year off to discern my next step in my life journey and where exactly God is calling me to serve his people, to “feed [his] sheep”. Wherever I end up, I will be grateful and remember the incredible time that I spent on the shore of Galilee. The place that Jesus asked Peter a simple question for all of humanity, “Do you love me?”
Tae Kang has his MA in Theology from The University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Program and has worked both as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in a Parish and as a High School Religion Teacher.
It is no secret that when disaster strikes, human beings band together to take care of each other. Regardless of race, age, gender, or belief system people come together to help rebuild homes and people’s spirits. This held true in the wake of Hurricane Sandy: a hurricane that barreled up the eastern seaboard bringing destruction to parts of New Jersey and New York. Across the country, people held food and clothing drives to try and bring relief to the affected areas. In the midst of a tragedy faith, hope, and love were restored because of the actions of people across the country.
Thankfully, there was no damage done to my home when Hurricane Sandy hit, but some of my other friends were not as lucky. Their homes have been destroyed and all their memories have been washed away with the floodwaters. After talking to some of the people who did lose everything, they said their faith in humanity was restored through the charity of others. When they said it, I didn’t think much about it. But then I began to think of what the word charity and being charitable truly means.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words”. Charity is an action that embodies this idea. When sharing our faith and living out what it means to be a Catholic, we do not have to use words and preach to people. Instead, we can use actions to evangelize and show the world what it truly means to be a Catholic. Actions speak louder than words and this holds true for the New Evangelization. This has been true for years, but I have not seen it displayed as prominently as I have through the hurricane relief efforts. Regardless of age, people are pitching in and donating both time and money. Their actions are showing what it means not only to be charitable but also Christian.
Young adults can use charity and Catholic Social Teaching to live out the New Evangelization not only during a time of crisis but during their everyday life. Catholic Social Teaching provides guidelines that people can use to live a just and moral life. Seven key themes of the Church’s social teaching include: life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community, and participation, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of the rights of workers, solidarity and care for God’s creation. Catholic Social Teaching offers ways to live out our faith in everyday life and helps us in becoming tangible signs of Christ’s love.
I tell my students everyday that what we learn in class does not stop when they walk out the door. We are all walking signs of God’s love and it is our mission to spread it to everyone. Through our actions let us work to restore faith, hope and love in our world and be part of this New Evangelization.
Erin Flynn is a religion teacher at The Mary Louis Academy in New York.