It’s that time of year where students set off for college, some for the first time and some going far away from home. These students take on the challenge of continuing towards adulthood and the process of making their faith their own. This can be a difficult road filled with numerous temptations, stresses, and other challenges.
As someone who attended Catholic school for most of my life, I found the transition to college difficult, especially when it came to my faith. I attended a large public university where few practiced Catholicism, and I felt very isolated. The people who I attended Mass with at the beginning of the year began to slowly drift away – going to other churches or becoming too busy with academic commitments. With my class schedule it was hard to make it to the Catholic Student Union events and join the camaraderie. While I adjusted well to college life, I felt alone in my faith.
Everyone has different experiences when it comes to the transition into colleges. Whether you are entering college for the first time, a current student wanting to get more in tune with your faith, or even a parent or relative of a college student(s), I’ve compiled some tips about keeping up with your faith life that can be helpful:
1. Make friends who challenge you to be your best self
Make friends wherever you go on campus, but remain close friends with those who continually challenge you to be your best. Many of my closest friends at college weren’t Catholic, yet they held me to remain true to my faith and myself without peer pressure. Just as a spouse is to help his or her partner grow in faith, so too should your friends.
2. Get Involved
Whether you join the Catholic Student Union or other groups on campus, make sure you are busy. Becoming involved lessens homesickness and other temptations. Enjoy your college experience!
3. Go to Mass every Sunday
Mark it on your agenda. Make sticky notes. Do whatever you need to do so that you attend Mass each week. Experiencing Christ every week in the Eucharist renews us and gives us strength. Fortunately, as Catholics we usually have a variety of Mass times to attend, so take advantage of that!
4. Challenge yourself and set goals
Regularly make short-term and long-term goals, and then try to stick to them. These can be anything from attending adoration regularly, going to daily Mass, setting aside prayer or Bible-reading time, or even studying abroad, trying new foods, and accomplishing a certain academic achievement.
5. Find time every day to pray and appreciate the beauty around you
Doing this helps strengthen your personal relationship with God. Plus, you gain a better appreciation for life and develop practices that will stay with you after college. It’s not easy, but it matters that you try.
6. Call your family and your close friends one or more times a week
These people are important foundations in your life. Keep them updated on your life in college and be honest with them. Your family and friends are a support system when things aren’t easy.
7. Find a Mentor
Your mentor(s) can be an academic, club advisor, older student, or religious. These individuals in your life can help you navigate college, your future, and strengthen your faith. (Plus letters of recommendation and internship/job advice are certainly helpful!)
8. Talk to people at your local church and get involved in the Mass
Become a part of your new parish community at college. Get to know others around you to have that “home away from home.” This will help you make good life-long friends. Plus, getting involved in the Mass helps you become ingrained in the community while deepening your faith.
9. Search for a church you feel most comfortable going to
Feeling at home in your college parish is important. Find a church that makes you want to go to Mass. The nearest church may not be your favorite – so explore! My favorite parish in my college town was about 15 minutes away and felt just like my home parish.
10. Find people to go to church with you
Having someone to go to church with incentivizes you to go to Mass. Plus, it’s always fun having a buddy. Keep each other accountable! Make it a group event and have brunch or dinner after Mass, too!
*This post was originally published on September 8, 2014.
Sometimes sanctity feels like an impossible goal. I can admire and love the holiness of the saints but, like the achievement of the professional athlete or Nobel prize winner, I know that it is not something readily within my reach. It seems to be a rare gift or a special privilege, so it is easy to console myself with the seemingly humble admission of how far I fall short of such a lofty ideal.
Being a saint is a gift and a privilege, so we would be right to attribute such holiness to God’s grace! But drawing closer to the saints themselves reveals something more about holiness and the quiet daily struggle of love. Saint John Eudes, whose Memorial we celebrate today, is remembered chiefly for his devotion to the hearts of Jesus and Mary. But this devotion wasn’t an abstract concept or merely a personal predilection. It was a concrete way of expressing God’s transformation and transfiguration of humanity through the event of the Incarnation. And in the image of the heart, the fullness of human sanctity is revealed.
Saint John Eudes, like so many other saints, wrote many wonderful spiritual works. What stands out in his thought, however, is the intertwining of a meditation upon the holiness of Christ’s life and the necessary holiness of life to which all Christians are called. If I feel intimidated by the holiness of the saints, then I feel infinitely more intimidated by the challenge of truly imitating Jesus’ life! And yet that is exactly what Saint John Eudes encourages us to do. Union with Christ through faith and the sacraments is not a nice sentiment or empty metaphor, but rather a concrete connection to the reality of his Incarnate life. Taking inspiration from Saint Paul’s affirmation that “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church,” (Col 1:24), Eudes argues that every Christian is joined to Christ’s life in a similar way through grace:
“Thus, when a Christian prays, he continues and accomplishes the prayers of Jesus Christ. When he works, he continues and accomplishes Christ’s laborious life. When his relations with his neighbor are inspired by charity, he continues and accomplishes Christ’s public life. When he takes his meals or his rest in a Christian fashion, he continues and accomplishes the subjection to these necessities that Christ willed to have in Himself.” (The Life and the Kingdom of Jesus in Christian Souls, pg. 6)
Like Saint Paul, Saint John doesn’t mean to imply any deficiency in Christ’s earthly life or the efficacy of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Rather, he reminds us that Jesus’ true humanity sanctifies ours in a radical and comprehensive way. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us” (§521).
Does this make holiness seem any more achievable? Saint John Eudes, while still recognizing the difficulty, saw it as a means of drawing the ordinary in our lives (prayer, work, meals) into the realm of Christ’s true human life of ordinary holiness. In his further meditations and exercises, Eudes encourages all Christians to sanctify every action of each day, each week, each month, and each year. Every moment of our lives is changed by Christ’s life, because Christ is truly human and truly divine, the “Word made flesh” in all the specificity of what it means to “dwell among us” (John 1:14). Every moment of our lives is potentially transfigured because God has lived our life even in its quiet struggles and hidden joys.
This is sometimes hard for me to remember, when life seems too complicated, too busy, or too ordinary. But drawing close to the saints reminds me of their humanity and, through them, the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Saint John Eudes teaches us, this shouldn’t be a way of excusing our sinfulness and limitations as merely human. Instead, it should be a way of seeing even the least things in ourselves as a continuation of Christ’s transfiguring love.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began and so much seemed outside of my control, I turned to prayer as a source of comfort, nourishment, and stability. Favorite Catholic podcasts, powerful homilies, Gospel-inspired music, Scripture reading, and devotions like the Rosary kept me grounded in a higher reality than the confusing, dark, and humbling one I faced.
Perhaps I felt the need to overcompensate in a time when I couldn’t physically receive the Eucharist. The lack of physical Communion meant I searched for spiritual, mental, and emotional communion with the Lord in other ways I found fruitful. In this way, times of trial can bear much fruit—suffering sharpens our eyes to the eternal and true. It is sobering. Surrendered to God, suffering can be the most direct path of conversion and redemption.
As the pandemic continued and I was able to adjust to my new “normal,” my sense of emergency slowly began to fade. I found ways to be comfortable and to continue meeting needs like friendship, worship, and rest. No, everything was not as it had been. Life was still a shadow of its former glory. And yet, I had found ways to cope.
As this trajectory continues with the reopening of society in many ways, I have begrudgingly found that my deep prayer life has slowly faded. Becoming more of a checklist than a time of renewal, my prayer time is filled with distraction and noise.
I’ve come to realize that I would rather fill my time with the noise—albeit good noise—of a Catholic podcast or homily instead of turning everything off and filling my time with God Himself. I’m more comfortable hearing others talk about God and their spiritual insights than talking to God. I’m also more comfortable talking AT God than WITH Him. I have a lot to say, but am not spending time listening or receiving. Finally, once I do settle down to pray, my tasks, chores, and rambling thoughts bombard me. My prayer time is filled with noise and distraction.
Why is it easier for me to scroll through a newsfeed of beautiful images and consumer goods than to thumb through my Rosary meditatively? Why is it easier to respond at all moments to the latest texts in a never-ending group thread than it is to respond at all moments to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Why is my heart more easily captured by the words of the media than by the Word of God?
For perhaps the millionth time, I must face again a thorn in my side that prevents me from greater holiness: noise.
“Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires,” says the demon Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters. He continues, “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.”
Lately in my life, it seems like Screwtape and his friends are succeeding. I’m having trouble hearing the melodies of Heaven amidst all the noise. And can’t we all admit to knowing this deep down—that much of our lives is an endless stream of noise and distraction threatening to drown out the still small voice inside?
I reflect on these things once again while reading a powerful book and meeting virtually with other women--This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. Elizabeth, through the author Claire Dwyer, is shaking me from my complacency and passing through the distractions to help resurrect my heart. This young French Carmelite nun who lived over a hundred years ago mastered the interior life of prayer and encourages all to do the same—regardless of their vocation in life.
I know I am called to more than what I’m filling myself up with; an hour of scrolling through items on sale or watching a home renovation show will never compare to fifteen minutes of virtual Adoration or a few decades of the Rosary. Any time consecrated to God is not returned unsanctified.
In times of greater stability, comfort, or complacency, I’m also reminded of the Scripture passage about the wise virgins at the gate. We are called to fill our lanterns with oil as we await the Bridegroom so that we will be prepped and ready for His return. I have personally found that my preference for news feeds, shows, or internet browsing fills my lantern with something akin to water rather than oil, and so I am using this season of Ordinary Time to recommit to a quieter, more fruitful prayer life.
Below are a few things I have found helpful for overcoming spiritual distraction and ensuring daily prayer:
As the world continues to reopen in ways that give us hope, I invite you to reflect on your prayer life throughout the pandemic months and set goals for yourself during this season of Ordinary Time. In the end, may we find that the melodies and silences of Heaven triumph over the noise of the world.
One of the things I love about Catholicism is that we celebrate the mysteries of our faith in a physical way.
Going to Mass, kneeling, standing, singing, receiving the Eucharist, hearing and proclaiming the Word of God, experiencing community after Mass or at parish events. Some of our liturgical feast days even emphasize the physical contact between us and the Divine. Think of reverencing the wood of the Cross on Good Friday or participating in a Eucharistic procession on Corpus Christi. Our faith is incarnational, and our bodies are important conduits for worship.
That’s part of the reason the last several months have been so difficult for so many. These physical elements of worship have been—largely—unavailable to us because of COVID-19 and the practice of physical and social distancing. Most of us have also been physically disconnected from our communities of faith, friends, and family. We’ve missed important events like birthdays, retirement parties, and even funerals. The emotional, spiritual, and psychological effects of this separation are very real and very serious.
And it’s been clear from the outset of this pandemic that the Church must take action to alleviate the impact of isolation, despair, and loneliness caused by this pandemic. But who will lead the charge? I find myself asking, what is the Church going to do about it? How will we get through this?
And then I realize, the Spirit is calling me. And, friends, the Spirit is calling you too. We’re not being called to wait around while someone else figures it out. God is calling us to figure this out together.
We must remember that we are the Church on earth, and we are being invited by the Spirit to cooperate with God’s grace to take action and serve others, right now. We can’t simply wait for someone else to help. Those of us who are baptized are called to be missionary disciples and, ultimately, saints. And this call comes with a personal responsibility to recognize that all our lives are interwoven as branches grafted onto the Vine, as various parts of one Body (1 Corinthians 12). We are connected to one another through our baptism into Christ. Paul says, “The body is not a single part, but many.” And because of this interconnectedness, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers. So, we’ve got to do something about that, because we’re called to be “doers”.
We are all suffering in some way during this pandemic. It’s not even possible to downplay that. And we all feel one another’s burdens. We especially feel our personal stresses and anxieties, day in and day out. I believe one of the answers to this anxiety and suffering is the beautiful work of spiritual accompaniment.
The call to spiritual accompaniment is incarnational and based on the love of Christ. Spiritual accompaniment urges us out of our own interior world and presses us to walk with our brother or sister in whatever situation they might find themselves. Pope Benedict XVI says that God’s love for humanity is so strong that “it turns God against himself, his love against his justice” (Deus Caritas Est, 10). How, then, can we demonstrate a reflection of this great, personal love to one another if we can’t be physically present to one another? I believe we must be creative and find ways to communicate our companionship to one another in meaningful ways. We can allow ourselves to be challenged by these questions while we reflect on this topic: Do I have the ability to be present to my suffering neighbor in any way today? Do I have the capacity to do charitable spiritual accompaniment during this pandemic?
I believe one effective way to spiritually accompany others as we remain physically distant is to ask challenging questions of others and engage in honest conversation. Though this may seem simple, “faith sharing” is a powerful way to be witnesses of God’s presence, and we all need to be reminded of God’s presence these days.
I think there are two simple, penetrating questions that can start fantastic spiritual conversations that open our eyes to the great works of God. They are:
The answers to both of these questions reveal our hearts, our spiritual yearnings, our joys, and our sorrows; the answers to both of these questions lead us to recognize God’s presence among us, either by contemplating where we’ve seen God or petitioning His aid through prayer. I want to challenge you to invite a friend or someone you’re close with to consider these questions and then to hear their answers. Perhaps you’ll be surprised at the way the Spirit guides the conversation.
I believe that through this simple practice of spiritual accompaniment, we will grow closer with one another, though distance or politics or ideologies may keep us apart. Loving and holy conversation is one way to begin healing the wounds caused over these last several months, and it is one way to accompany one another on the road as we travel strange, new paths together.
To learn more about spiritual accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to deepen your faith during COVID-19, please click here.
Yesterday we celebrated the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary--a Feast Day that reminds of the important role that the rosary plays in our daily lives. It is a form of prayer that we seek when we are struggling and need the comforting embrace of a mother. It is a form of prayer that is joyful, celebrating our successes with Christ through Mary.
Devotions to Mary have always been an important aspect of my faith. In particular, the rosary has helped me through many tough times in my life and given me the strength to continue forming my life to Christ, but its importance was reinforced in the first few months of my college career when I joined the Knights of Columbus. Upon entering the Order, Knights are given a rosary as a symbol of our devotion to Mary and a reality of our reliance on her example and her intercession with God
But why should we say the rosary? Saint John Paul II gives a clear picture of the rosary’s importance: “The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully formed” in us.” When we pray the rosary, many of us are seeking the warm embrace of a mother, someone who can reassure us in our fears and give us the strength to live out each day for Christ. Mary is our mother in every sense of that word. Christ, moments from death, says to Mary, “Behold, your son,” and to the disciple whom he loved, “Behold, your mother.” With these words Christ gives Mary to all of us as our mother, the Mother of the Church, and with these words we are formed by her just as Christ was.
The rosary does not pull our attention away from Christ, but rather joins us with him through our love of Mary. John Paul II tells us in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, “Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ!” The rosary allows us to participate in that union and calls us to share in the life of Christ through our relationship with his Mother. Each time we pray the rosary we focus on the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, or Luminous mysteries. These are not only drawing us closer to Mary, but to the life of Christ as each set of mysteries is grounded in the Gospel. When we pray the rosary we do not just repeat prayers over and over again, but rather we are given the opportunity to live out a different aspect of the life of Christ with each decade.
Repetition is an important aspect of the rosary, but is it actually repetition? Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his book “The World’s First Love” tells us that it is not repetition for each time we say the rosary, “we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: "I love you, I love you, I love you." Each time it means something different, because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour's love.” Who better to remind us of the Christ’s love than Mary, the Mother of God, our mother, who raised Jesus, formed him, and followed him. Who better to emulate than Mary, who watched her son suffer and die on the cross for our salvation. Each time we say the rosary we are embraced by our mother, we are renewed in our faith, and we are reminded of God’s love.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
*This post was originally published on October 7, 2014.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional from Washington, D.C.
Amid a time of challenge and difficulty, joy makes appearances in many ways. Recently, several Catholic Apostolate Center staff members and collaborators deepened their baptismal call through Ordination to the Priesthood and Marriage. We also celebrated the Baptism of the child of one of our staff members. The child is named Vincent for St. Vincent Pallotti. In every case, these celebrations were delayed and greatly reduced in size due to the pandemic, but the joy of these days found in the hope of Christ was evident in every one of them.
Fr. Alex Boucher, a staff member during the first years of the Center and a current collaborator, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Portland (Maine). Hally Moreno, Marketing Coordinator, celebrated her marriage to Benny Morales. Center Collaborator, Fr. Joseph Hubbard was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston. Vincent Scott Pierno, son of Senior Consultant, Chris Pierno, and blog contributor, Krissy Pierno, was baptized. His godfather is Fr. Alex Boucher.
At each of these events, Center team members participated in the liturgies as part of the accompaniment that is our hallmark and rooted in the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. We had accompanied them in their discernment and joined in the celebration. They all live their lives as apostles of Christ and witness to others not only through their particular vocation in life, but also in their support of one another.
Such spiritual friendship was part of the life of St. Vincent Pallotti and is an aspect of the Catholic Apostolate Center that is intrinsic to our apostolic work. We support one another in prayer and in our lives in Christ. Each will do this in a unique way, but we are all called to accompany one another in life and in faith.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
During my fifth year with D.C. United, the team brought in a nutrition specialist. The specialist gave his presentation and then looked toward a table in the middle of the locker room that held about 40 pill bottles of vitamins, supplements, mild pain relievers, gels, powders, and who knows what else. The nutritionist then walked over to the table, looked back to us, and said, “you know, if you just eat well you can throw all of these out. In fact, you’d be better off doing that.” He left the locker room five minutes later and never came back.
For my first five years at DCU, I had been taking those vitamins and supplements at the recommendation of our strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers. Now a certified nutritionist deemed the whole thing a waste of time and had even said they could hinder our performance—I wondered what exactly to do. Who should I listen to?
This memory has stayed with me because it matters a lot for an athlete what you do with your body. It matters how you train, eat, sleep, relax, and recover. You need to know what is helpful for your athletic development and what is unhelpful. I wanted to know if the pills and supplements helped me or hindered me.
This all applies to athletic prudence in the natural realm. Prudence is the ability to judge rightly and act according to that knowledge. It is being able to think through things correctly and then make the right choice. Thus, athletic prudence is the ability to choose and act rightly in the realm of an athletic pursuit.
We make decisions and then act based upon what we have concluded is actually helpful or unhelpful in relation to our goal.
I would like to apply this same line of thinking to the virtue of prudence in the supernatural realm. We should be asking what is helpful or unhelpful in terms of our spiritual lives. Just like the nutritionist condemning our pill vault and making me wonder what was actually helpful for my soccer career, we should ask what in our lives helps or hinders us from going to God. In order for us to do this, of course, we must acknowledge that God is both our goal and a worthy (the most worthy!) goal at that.
When I got to the height of my playing career I was devastatingly depressed for a very concentrated span of time (only several days). For months I pondered why I hit such a low point amidst more success than I had ever expected. Eventually, through the help of the Holy Spirit, I realized that God allowed me to feel the weight of my success without Him. It was an incredible grace—but also one that was difficult to really learn. Over time the truth that my soul was more important than my sport sunk in. I realized that much of what I had made my life about was, in the end, unhelpful for reaching the ultimate Goal who is God.
I started applying my athletic thinking to my spiritual life. I started asking the right questions—is this helpful or unhelpful for my spiritual life? Should I be hanging out with this group of friends so much? Are my weekend habits really bringing joy to my life? Am I living as the person I want to be? Do I know who I want to be?
These questions led—and continue to lead—me to Jesus, and I find myself needing to ask them again and again. Do the decisions I make help me become who I want to be? Or are my decisions hindering me from being that person?
Athletic prudence helps athletes maximize their potential and use their God-given gifts to the best of their ability. This same principle can—and should—be applied to our spiritual lives. Are the decisions, actions, and principles that guide my life helpful? Are they leading me in a good direction?
Prudence, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is the mother of the virtues. You cannot possess any virtue without the virtue of prudence because prudence is what enables us to recognize what is truly good (helpful) and then act according to that good. No athlete can become great apart from athletic prudence because athletic prudence enables the athlete to recognize and act upon what helps him or her become a good athlete. Far more important, however, is the realization that no person can become who they were created to be apart from supernatural prudence. It is not possible to follow Christ without first asking yourself what exactly it is you’re already following—what is it that shapes your decisions? It may be a desire for comfort, power, status, honor, wealth, success, popularity, or any number of things. But they all fall short. To be prudent you must know the end goal. You cannot attain the virtue of prudence in the whole of life without knowing that “it is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness.”
Taylor Kemp is an instructor for the Denver Catholic Biblical School as part of the St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division in the Archdiocese of Denver. He is a former professional soccer player, amassing over 100 appearances over six-years in Major League Soccer (MLS) for D.C. United, and playing for both the youth and full United States Men’s National Team. Taylor holds an MA in Theology from the Augustine Institute and BS in Business Management from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Imagine four graduate students passionate about ministry and ready for new experiences. We pulled up to a ranch house in New Hampshire in August 2012 and unloaded our packed cars. Our next two years were devoted to serving in local parishes while earning our degrees in theology through the Echo Graduate Service Program.
Our first community prayer took place on the Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast day we celebrate on Thursday. The translation for “Clairvaux” is “Valley of Light”; we didn’t know a great deal about Bernard, but the theme of light clicked. We were accumulating candles as welcome gifts from our parishes, so of course, it was a sign! We pieced together his biography and reflected on his dynamic writings. We asked St. Bernard to be the patron of our house and bless our time together.
St. Bernard was a monk who lived in 11th century France and became a Doctor of the Church. From an early age, he was considered devout and well-educated. The third of seven children, Bernard took a particular interest in poetry and had a special devotion to Mary. He notably authored the Memorare prayer. He became a respected abbot of what are now the Cistercians in the Diocese of Langres. Bernard is credited with naming the monastery he began Claire Vallée, in an area originally named Vallée d'Absinthe, or Valley of Bitterness. He was known for his influence among clergy and political leaders. St. Bernard died in 1153 and was canonized in 1174.
Now imagine a young family. My husband, one-year-old son, and I prepared to “hunker down” for quarantine in March 2020 in Indiana. Five months later, we are still amid a global pandemic that can feel overwhelming, oppressive, disheartening, and confusing all at once. The virus has also revealed some of the most beautiful elements of community and compassion.
While I can’t compare the virus to the challenges Bernard faced as a young adult starting a monastery with a “band of monks,” I appreciate how he held fast to the deeper purpose of Benedictine life. He cultivated habits of work, leisure, and rest while counseling his fellow monks, clergy, and politicians. COVID-19 forced me to recognize how I create space to listen and be with God both inside and outside my home, much like Bernard’s contemplative life.
Eight years ago, the patron of candlemakers introduced what it means to practice a type of “spirituality of home” where home is not only a place for living, but also one of brightness, hope, and intentionality. I can see hope daily in our little boy, doing the hokey pokey many times over, reading books, and playing chase. We intentionally set up a prayer table in our living room where we say morning and evening prayers as a family and filled walls with icons and pictures to remember who it is we say thank you to! These habits took time, but they have been a source of security in such a time of uncertainty.
I’m grateful to St. Bernard for bringing light to all the “unknowns” in our little ranch house in New England and my first home in the Midwest. He is a guide who shows us how to cultivate habits that lead to a deeper relationship with God, our true home!
Reflection Questions: How might we practice a “spirituality of home”? Where is the light in our individual “valleys of bitterness,” i.e. isolation, loss, anxiety, or despair?
Inspiration for this article came from the book Theology of Home.
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to read Creating an Inner Monastery During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
What image comes to mind when you hear the word conversion? To many, the words of those who encountered Jesus in his earthly ministry may come to mind. Conversion may sound like the cry of the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). Perhaps Caravaggio’s The Conversion on the Way to Damascus rises to the surface, an expression of a dramatic scene illustrated with a few artistic liberties. Still, we may associate conversion with a story like St. Augustine: a turning from a former life of debauchery or sin to a life lived in pursuit of God.
Because of the art that is important to our faith, cultures, and families, we may assume conversion to be a dramatic, “lightning-bolt” moment: brief, intense, supernatural, and immediately transformative. While our tradition does speak of the reality of dramatic conversions, conversion itself is often more gradual and organic. For those of us whose lives have not yet become hagiography, what does conversion look like? More particularly, what does conversion look like for us in this particular moment, in our current context of history and life?
First of all, what is conversion? Conversion, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace” (CCC, #1431). It is “first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him,” and is not “aim[ed] first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion” (CCC #1432 and #1430). In other words, conversion is a movement away from sin, a re-ordering of priorities with Christ re-categorized as the center of our lives. It is something that occurs through supernatural grace and the initiative of the Holy Spirit, first changing our hearts and minds, but through our cooperation, manifests itself in everyday actions or “visible signs” (CCC #1430).
The process of conversion, for most of us, is not instantaneous; rather, it usually a slow, gradual process that involves daily recommitment and practice. In a 2017 audience, Pope Francis reflected on the gradualness of conversion this way: “Avoiding evil and learning to do good: this is the rule of conversion. Because being converted doesn’t come from a fairy who converts us with a magic wand: No! It’s a journey. It’s a journey of avoiding and of learning.” As Pope Francis highlights, conversion can be as simple as learning something new. It involves openness to re-orienting our priorities, changing our opinions, reconsidering our worldview, and engaging with the truth. However, the gradual process of conversion doesn’t start and end with us; it is always oriented towards the building up of humanity and being brought more deeply into right relationship with God and one another. Conversion always has a social and relational impact. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one's brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness” (#1435). Our actions towards our neighbors, God, and the world around us is where our conversion is realized and bears “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Conversion has both vertical and horizontal dimensions to it; it calls us to recognize ourselves as Beloved children of God, and, at the same time, recognize this Belovedness in our neighbors more clearly as a result of the transforming love of God. We are called to learn more, think more deeply, and consider more thoroughly, especially when the common good of our neighbor is at stake: “It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life ‘related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good.’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 182).
When we say that the Christian life is one of on-going conversion, we simply mean this: we are called to learn of our and our neighbors’ Belovedness over and over again and re-commit to it each day. This learning is not merely intellectual, but is also a deep education and formation of the heart and soul that spills over into our concrete lives. In our period of history and social context, conversion may be less dramatic and more gradual for most of us than some of the saints and figures of our faith. However, that does not mean that it is any less exciting! Our personal process of conversion can start as the size of a mustard seed, and grow into a deeply authentic faith that changes the world: “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it” (Evangelii Gaudium, 183).
What is going on in our world and in the lives of our neighbors that is calling us to conversion? What new things or viewpoints are we being called to learn or unlearn to realize our Belovedness and the Belovedness of our neighbor? How can we be more open to living a life of ongoing conversion?
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed for opportunities to leave the home, one of the most meaningful greetings which welcomed my return to Mass were the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” The calming presence of the parish priest eased the troubles of my mind, soothed the restlessness of my heart, and enlivened my soul to sing, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord!” While the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion immediately made up for the lost time during the pandemic, there were other reminders that we had been away: new priest assignments, reminders to exchange the weekly offering envelopes, many parishioners enthusiastically greeting each other in happy parking lot reunions, our pastor sporting a new beard, and someone even observing, “You’ve lost some weight, Father!”
The place our parish priests hold in our hearts is a treasured one. We depend on them to teach us through homilies, expose the Blessed Sacrament, listen to our sins and offer absolution, preside over the nuptial Mass, baptize our children, anoint the sick, and console us through times of death. And that’s just the minimum. While the rest of us are busy at work, school, or caring for our households, our parish priests are meeting with the church leadership, making rounds at schools or hospitals, organizing retreats and special services, offering spiritual guidance, and working at the rectory.
But caring for the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners does not end at 5 PM. Starting from the sacred occasion of ordination, a priest is always on-call. Who rushes to the side of the dying, cares for those who have lost everything, counsels those in conflict, or ministers through any number of crises? Who faces the mounting expenses and bills of the parish, limited Sunday collections, possible stagnation of new family registrations, and who perhaps lacks as many helpful hands as he would like to keep the place running smoothly? Especially through this pandemic, the parish priest again and again is called to bring us into an encounter with Jesus Christ as best he can with whatever resources are at his disposal. If caring for our household’s needs presents a challenge, just imagine how the parish priest feels overseeing his parish!
As the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, we can see how so many of the priests in our lives emulate the example of the Curé d'Ars, who himself followed the example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The French Revolution resulted in an increase of the population’s ignorance of and indifference to religion. As a result, St. John Vianney went about his priesthood by spending at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional in the winter; longer still in the summer. The simple piety of this holy priest not only brought about many conversions for the Church, but reinvigorated the faith in areas where secularism had long dominated the culture. Likewise, by immersing themselves into the daily lives of our communities, our parish priests “serve ‘in the trenches,’ bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in [their efforts] to care for and accompany God’s people.”
Pope Francis continued, in his 2019 letter to priests commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, to express his closeness and solidarity to priests. He also expressed personal gratitude “for your fidelity to the commitments you have made… [and] for the joy with which you have offered your lives.”
The Holy Father concluded his letter by praising the witness of their shared vocation:
For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new.” … May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
Let us strive to show the priests in our lives our gratitude and support. May many men continue to discern and answer the call of our Lord to the sacred work of ordained ministry. As we answer the universal call to holiness in our own lives, may we also support those who have dedicated their lives to answer, “Here I am. I come to do Your will.”
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“The beginning of all effort is the recognition of what is.” -Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, 1963
Professional athletes do many appearances while playing. We get paid to show up at fundraisers, youth camps, watch parties, and promotional events. Something that is practically a guarantee when attending these appearances is one or more sets of parents coming up to tell us about their child who plays soccer. Often these conversations are quite enjoyable, but almost inevitably, there are a few who want to talk about how their son or daughter was short-changed in their youth soccer experience. There is a lot that these parents say to us, but the consistent element is: my child didn’t succeed because of some external factor.
This may very well be the case for some of them. It is equally true, however, that it is certainly not the case for all of them. Much of the time the boy or girl just wasn’t good enough for a particular team, level of competition, or system of play.
The point of this post is not to drop the heavy hammer that many kids run out of the athletic ability rope and should give up. No, this post is about the absolute necessity of taking an honest stock of where someone actually is--especially for the spiritual life.
Romano Gaurdini says that “the beginning of all effort is the recognition of what is.” The reason for this being that you cannot begin making the effort to improve unless you start with who you already are.
Any professional athlete will tell you that it is far more helpful to be taught how to assess and address weaknesses rather than to pretend they don’t exist. In fact, most professional athletes are fairly obsessive about identifying areas in their game where they can improve. If I determine I’d like to be a better shooter with my right foot, for example, then I must begin with the harsh—but necessary—reality that I can barely complete a pass with my right foot. If I never acknowledge my current ability, I’ll constantly run into problems—poor technique, inadequate fundamentals, and so on. I’ll never become a strong shooter without addressing the plain truth of my current ability. This is a skill that requires disciplined practice and will never simply be acquired because I want it to be so. First comes acknowledgment, then a plan for improvement, all for the hope of becoming a good right-footed shooter.
This same principle can and should be applied to our spiritual lives. Just as improvement can only take place in athletics by beginning with where an athlete currently is, spiritual advancement can only begin by taking an honest assessment of where one currently is in relation to God. This means you’re far better off admitting that you struggle to pray for 5 minutes and taking that to God than wondering when you’ll receive the Stigmata. It is far more helpful to search deep within yourself and locate and name your pride, selfishness, ego, envy, or lust than only present to God your most pious and holy thoughts. He knows your heart already—He’s just waiting for you to know it as well.
One of the most helpful exercises for high-school, collegiate, and professional athletes is to watch film in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. The team watches the most recent game in order to see what needs to be addressed that week in practice. This same concept can migrate into our spiritual lives—we look for points of departure and development in order to draw nearer to God. This practice is not to discourage but to improve. There’s no shame in acknowledging ourselves as we really are. In fact, God can really only begin to heal us once we acknowledge where we are hurt. The Physician cannot tend to our wounds unless we let Him see them.
Several days ago, I was talking to my wife about this concept and she brought up how watching film for athletes is similar to the examination of conscience recommended by the Church. Examining one’s conscience on a regular basis is like looking back over the tape to see the strengths and the weaknesses—the graces and the sins—in order to grow. Then, with this self-knowledge, we can go to God, say thank you, and ask for forgiveness, trusting in His merciful love. God looks down on us and loves us as we are, but He also promises that His love is transformative. He looks down and says, “I love you,” while at the same time calling us higher. He wants us to identify what is so that we may cooperate with His grace and begin the beautiful work of improvement. This we call sanctification.
May we all be willing to look at ourselves honestly—as we really are—so that we enter into the effort that is the fight of faith (cf Jude 3), trust that God’s grace is sufficient (see 2 Cor 12:9), and become the saints Jesus Christ died for us to be.
The principle of God’s Infinite Love is consoling in prayer, encouraging in our personal darkness, and a bright light for preaching and teaching. But when it comes to pastoral care, this Infinite Love can feel overwhelming, idealistic, and impossible. On a more personal level, Infinite Love care can lead to feelings of guilt at not having done enough and shame at not being enough.
Consequently, the idea of accompaniment can quickly appear to be wishful thinking. How am I to walk with people when I am just one person with one sunrise and one sunset each day? There are dozens or hundreds of people who need care in my community, but I can barely finish my homily, or you can barely get the kids to school on time.
The problem is with two false thoughts. First, we are not God. We are not the source of Infinite Love, and we shall never be. Second, accompaniment does not mean that I have to walk with each person all day. This is impossible.
Honestly, many good Catholics have difficulty letting go of control. The worst example of this is the savior complex. We are not the saviors, Jesus is. The reality is that the Lord God is the principal Accompanier, not us! And, out of His goodness, He has chosen myriads of intermediate accompaniers. In other words, and hear me well, WE do not, nay, we cannot try and do it all on our own. And isn’t it ironic that right after we priests preach and teach that to people that they cannot do it on their own, then, as spiritual caretakers we immediately set aside our theological principle of interdependence and try to do it all on our own.
Thoughtful accompaniment lies in deploying a sophisticated network of groups and individuals to care for, to check on, to talk to, to bring communion to those in need. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, just saints. Let the lesson of accompaniment be your lesson today: just do what you can, but don’t go at it alone. Only God is Infinite Love.
"…we constantly find the tension between what man is and what he would like to be; between that which has been realized and that which remains to be accomplished. And it is patience which endures this tension." -Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, 1963, 39.
It turns out I really am not a huge fan of working out. After retiring from professional soccer in 2018, I’ve found it quite difficult to motivate myself to exercise when it is not formally baked into my day and when I am not paid to do it. I like being fit, but not the effort and time it requires. There is another reason, however, that I do not like working out, which is: I am impatient.
Rather than committing to a regular schedule and planning the workouts to be manageable in difficulty, I go sporadically and push myself to a near death experience. Every. Single. Time. Behind my mindset is a deeply embedded impatience with the process of becoming fit. I want the result without the process—which is not possible. I want to become fit through the course of one rigorous workout and overstep the gradual process that it takes to become a fit person.
In sports there is the common—and helpful—phrase of “trust the process.” What this means in the sporting world is that there is a necessary process of development that every athlete must go through in order to become good or great at his or her sport. It means that no one can go from ‘beginner’ to ‘expert’ without passing through ‘proficient’. There is a development in sport—and life—lodged in the school of gradual growth rather than immediate transformation.
This frustrates us.
All of us have some idea of who we would like to be, which is then immediately confronted by the reality of who we are. What enables us to endure this gap between idea and reality is what we call patience.
Patience is needed where there is a desire not yet fulfilled.
Case and point—my workout saga. I want to be fit (idea) but am not (reality) and therefore need patience to trust the gradual process of becoming fit. Patience is the virtue needed to shorten the gap and become who I want to be.
There is another phrase in athletics related to “trust the process,” which is, “love the process.” What this means is that the best thing an athlete can do on the road to athletic development is not only trust that skill is only developed over time with effort, but that coming to enjoy that slow and gradual development is an extremely beneficial thing. The great athletes do this. There’s a reason you hear so many stories of the best athletes, from all different sports, being the first at practice and the last to leave. They fall in love with the process of becoming better. Apart from a commitment to the process there is no greatness.
We must come to trust and love the “process” of being made holy.
When I came into the Church in 2015, I was on fire. I wanted to: be a priest (while I was engaged to be married), learn to pray the Rosary, read St. Faustina’s diary and St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, make a pilgrimage to Fatima, know the 2000+ year history of the Church, and learn Biblical Greek (all of these are true and I tried to do all of them with the exception of become a priest). I wanted to become a saint overnight. However, I didn’t quite realize that’s typically not how God works. He knows—because He made us—that if He sanctified us too quickly, we’d be tempted into thinking we are responsible. So, just like every natural thing on earth, our spiritual lives develop organically over time, with much difficulty, slow progress, victories and defeats, deaths and resurrections, all for the purpose of maturity.
Sanctification—growing in holiness—is a process just like anything else that is real in this life. Character does not suddenly emerge, wisdom is not haphazardly acquired, and virtue is not cheaply gained. All of the things that pertain to our nature—that is what makes a person a person—come by way of the long, winding, and arduous road. We must come to love the road.
Guardini points out that—in our spiritual lives—it is often patience with ourselves that is most needed. We see who we would like to be and the faults of who we are. There is a saint in the distance but a sinner in the mirror. All of this is a call to patience—not despair. “Patience with oneself…is the foundation of all progress,” says Guardini. The gap between who we are and who we would like to be is not so much a condemnation on ourselves but an invitation from God to dream bigger, to trust in His grace, and to patiently enjoy the journey.
“He who wishes to advance must always begin again,” Guardini continues, and this takes strength. It is easy to float through life without ever attempting the effort necessary to gradually grow, or the effort to begin again, or the effort to examine oneself, or the effort to admit you desire more. The virtue of patience requires strength—an interior strength that can withstand the assault of failure on our ego. Strength to call things as they are. For “only the strong man can exercise living patience, can take upon himself again and again the things that are; only he can always begin anew.” This is a living patience—one capable of enduring “the process” with joy trusting in the direction of one’s life.
Jesus, may we all trust in your grace over our efforts and patiently trust the process that is your grace working in us for our sanctification. Help us to learn to be content where we are, focus on what is in front of us, and be satisfied with small steps, realizing that small steps are a big deal. May we be granted the strength to endure our shortcomings in all things, but especially our spiritual lives. May we look to your goodness, mercy, and transformative love and trust that you are leading us—slowly, gently, and for our own good—exactly where we are meant to go.
Music and art can be some of the most comforting outlets the world has to offer in times of uncertainty. They can bring joy, nostalgia, and excitement while reminding us of the best parts of humanity. They point our eyes toward God, beauty itself.
I’m a musician, as are many of my friends. We sing for liturgies, we teach, we perform, we write. While so much of the world gets to work from home, we’re stuck in a sort of limbo. Our talents, our professions, have been shelved because there’s no one to physically perform for. Back in March, when the majority of my engagements had been cancelled indefinitely, I put my music on a shelf. I sat on the couch in a self-pity party. I became stagnant. What was the point of growing in my skill while I was sitting in my house all day? It left me feeling very empty and unfulfilled. Singing for Mass, while it is my job, has also become integral to my spiritual life. When that went away, I struggled to cultivate my spiritual life. Without my work, I felt unseen.
It made me think: if I were never able to perform again for others, would I still make music? My first thought was, “Yes!” After months of feeling invisible and unproductive, I started to see that these were lies. God gave me gifts, and He sees me. When I’m sitting at my piano in my house, God is watching me. He is cheering me on as I practice and struggle and doubt. I realized it wouldn’t matter if no one ever heard me again.
As we are safely and carefully starting to get back to a sense of normal, I am learning to be grateful again for music and art more than ever. They bring us out of ourselves and our struggles and remind us that while things have been bad in the past and may be difficult in the future, there is still so much beauty and goodness present. Our God, pure beauty Itself, is present in all these things. Even though it might seem that creating art, like so many things, has been paused for the time being, it lives on in times of change and crisis. It is shaped and inspired by times like these and by the better, happier times to come.
I cannot wait to sing for Mass again, to perform again, and to create with my friends and colleagues again. But in the meantime, I am comforted remembering that God hears me no matter what. He is still using me for His purpose every time I use my gifts for His glory. Even if it feels fruitless, let us always try to praise God by using our gifts -- God uses all things for good.
A few of my staff colleagues and all of our interns at the Catholic Apostolate Center are undergraduate students at The Catholic University of America. We, like university students across the country, find ourselves doing remote coursework, dealing with unresolved goodbyes that were meant for a week of break and not months of uncertainty, and the seniors are facing the reality of a delayed, if not completely cancelled commencement. Jonathan Sitko, Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center, recently wrote a blog post titled “Accompaniment in Isolation” in which he said, “Each one of us is called to accompany others on the journey of faith. Christ himself modeled this with his disciples and has charged us to do the same. Accompaniment is fundamental to Christianity.” In this time of great uncertainty, I think of my friends, university community members, and all of the college students across the country who are in need of exactly this—of accompaniment.
The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church reminds us that, “Accompaniment is not for a few ordained or specially commissioned lay ministers; it is a call put forth to all the baptized by the Spirit of God.” I hope that our campus ministry programs are finding ways to accompany students in these times through personal communication when feasible, opportunities for virtual community, and streamed prayer opportunities. These are important and stress the nature of community within our campuses and the desire for students to regain a sense of normalcy in a situation that is so abnormal. The efforts of our campus ministries cannot lead us, the baptized- students, friends, and community- to sit passively. The call that we as students receive in this time of crisis is a call to accompaniment, empowered by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, strengthened at Confirmation.
We turn our attention to the dimension of spiritual friendship that the Art of Accompaniment reminds us is, “Like two friends who travel together, this spiritual journey is not undertaken through the sharing of experiences, a character of warmth and tenderness, and involves catching sight of the action of God in the lives of one another.” We are all, in some way, grieving the loss of the life that we once held to be normal; we are all experiencing change, uncertainty, and unrest; and we are called to accompany one another through that. This distinct dimension of accompaniment reminds us that accompaniment is not a hierarchy, that there are not ranks or levels, but that we can accompany in mutuality and reciprocity, as friends, as Jesus calls us to be.
St. Vincent Pallotti believed that in our spiritual weakness, God communicates his infinite mercy to us. But in times of great unease, it can be hard to hear him. Accompaniment allows us to dialogue together so to best hear his voice, to pray together for the greatest needs and hopes that we hold, and to witness hope to one another—hope that springs eternal from Christ himself who is alive, who loves us, and who saves us.
Here are some suggestions for how college students can accompany one another during COVID-19:
For other reflections to accompany you during this time, please click here.