For many families it’s a Thanksgiving tradition to go around the table and express what each person is thankful for before digging into the meal. Families may share many of the same reasons they give thanks, though each person is often impacted differently or expresses their gratitude uniquely. This type of intentional gratitude sets the preparation-intense Thanksgiving meal apart from every other bread breaking (or rather turkey wishbone-breaking).
Giving thanks is, of course, not limited to just the third Thursday of November. Opportunities and reasons to give thanks are infinitely abundant throughout the year. It’s not just about speaking about gratitude, but living it as a blessing in life from God Almighty. This time of Thanksgiving in the United States reminds me that “… all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” Whether we realize it or not, we give thanks to God each Sunday in and with our parish community. When the faithful gather for Mass, they gather for the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving” in Greek). Just as when Christ Himself instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper two thousand years ago, the Mass commemorates the real sacrifice of God the Son in atonement for the sinful debt humanity had incurred. In St. Luke’s account, our Lord, knowing that His Passion was to come, “eagerly desired” to share the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal, Jesus gave thanks to His Father for the True Bread, His Body, that would be broken for us. That is, He thanked the Father that He was able to offer Himself for our redemption (cf Luke 22:22). Since Christ Himself set this standard for us to express our gratitude in life, let us strive to imitate Him and look for opportunities to give thanks, even in the midst of suffering.
As the Sacrifice of Holy Mass is the ultimate prayer humanity can offer, it is the perfect opportunity to express our prayerful thanksgiving to God. The priest gathers the intercessions of the faithful into the prayer offered before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Usually there is a petition to offer one’s personal prayers in the silence of his or her heart. At this I often marvel: what private needs are being prayed for by my fellow parishioners? What circumstances are awaiting my fellow Christians once they depart the church’s pews? That itself presents to me a witness to be grateful for: each person who wanders into a church seeks help from the One he or she knows will certainly and lovingly listen and answer. These are touching acts of faith in our God, who provides meaning and comfort to suffering, longing, confusion, and loss!
An “attitude of gratitude” is a worthy daily pursuit. It can begin each morning as we remember that life is a gift from God! This attitude can flourish when applied to circumstances of daily life: Thank God I arrived safely. God protected me from that distracted driver! I’m so glad to hear her injury wasn’t serious and recovery is going well. I am grateful to have a forgiving, patient, and loving spouse, especially this morning! I am thankful for this job God has blessed me with to support my family.
Let us remember to thank God who so richly blesses us every day, especially through those who touch our lives and care for us. Offer prayers and love to God and to your neighbors, not just during the Thanksgiving meal, but in church, during phone calls (call your parents!), and in other run-ins. May our prayers echo that of the biblical Job, who despite great sufferings and loss faithfully prayed to God, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!”
Questions for Reflection: What are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving season? How can you practice a spiritual attitude of gratitude each day?
The back to school activities of September are a familiar routine for many families. Classes, assignments, extracurriculars and other events resume. Students begin their routines, and hopefully can rely on the enthusiastic support and encouragement of family and friends. Even in times of difficulty and trial, the reassurance and faith of others can help us find a way forward through uncertainty and strengthen us.
I see some parallels for this time in our Church. As the American Church goes through difficulty and trial, I have seen the importance of the involvement of the laity in each parish community. My observations of my parish community have been a great witness to the vitality of the church. Each week, I see families arrive to pray together and those who are involved in whatever ministries or needs the church advertises. Their worship of our Lord is not confined to Sunday Mass but is further expressed in the faithful service and loving charity of neighbors. The organizational structure of the parish furthermore allows the laity to find worthwhile opportunities of ministry. Numerous devotions are promulgated each month. Social calls to action are announced weekly. Calls to assist with the liturgical and musical ministries or volunteer with catechetical programs are ongoing. Pilgrimages are organized. Going beyond any mere routine of spirituality, the parishioners regularly exemplify a living witness to the Gospel: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Even in the storm of ever-changing current events, the Church stands firm upon her foundation, able to weather the most intense battering. Just look to your own parish: the Eucharist will still be confected, Mass will be celebrated, the sacraments will be administered, and the needs of the church will be met through the generosity and charity of its parishioners. Those leading or participating in these activities may change, but the significance of the laity’s participation in the parish never diminishes. Likewise, the constancy of the Gospel message never fails to ring truly or relevantly. Especially when we as a Church are shaken, let us cling to the divine promise of hope: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
The Gospel account of the storm at sea gives me comfort, for even the closest disciples of Jesus had doubts and feared for their lives upon encountering a sudden storm. They accused Jesus of not caring about the present danger. Unfazed, however, Jesus proceeded to calm the winds and the sea. The faith of the disciples had been tested—even when Jesus was physically with them in the boat!
When we find ourselves adrift and at the mercy of the tempestuous world or lost in a great darkness, we may feel powerless and cry, “Where is the Lord?” In those moments, withdraw to a place of calm and remember the sure promise He made at the closing of Matthew’s Gospel account: “Do not be afraid… I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Spend some time re-reading the storm narrative I mentioned above, or other passages from Scripture, like Psalm 23, that bring hope and consolation. How many times in Scripture— and beyond— did Christ bring healing and comfort, asking only for faith in return? Let us ask for the gift of faith during times of darkness and find comfort in the fact that Jesus blessed his disciples upon seeing them in the Upper Room even though they had abandoned Him. “Peace be with you,” he said. Others may also have doubts during this time. I invite you to be there for them just as Christ remains faithful to you.
The Church endures. She has undergone and will continue to undergo all sorts of trials. Yet she is never alone: Christ remains to guard and unite the faithful in Him. Our faith can be bolstered when we continue to engage in the simple daily exercise of spirituality and charity—especially in our parishes. The faithful of the parish are inspiring witnesses as they continue to perform acts of charity, worship together, and care for their neighbors. We as a Church are called to holiness; with God’s help, may we rise to the occasion.
Every year at the school where I teach, the students do a project on St. Ignatius and our school’s Jesuit identity. We focus on the way St. Ignatius taught people to help others, whether in our own classroom and at home, or on the street and in desperate need of assistance. We teach the students about what it means to live a Magis life, meaning “greater” in Latin, i.e., living for a higher purpose to serve. My favorite part and the purpose of this lesson for the small ones is the opportunity to open their eyes to the needs of others and ask them what they can do to help.
Some common answers:
Although these answers are from 5 year olds who are just learning about God, they carry weight and insight, demonstrating that a Magis life can be lived even through our everyday actions.
Now, enough about the cute Pre-Kindergarteners, here is some information on St. Ignatius and the Magis life that we “older kids” can focus on.
A short biography of St. Ignatius:
Ignacio de Loyola was born in Spain in 1491 at a time when noble families like his expected their sons to become soldiers and fight in battles for their country. Ignacio loved the bravery and recognition that came with being a soldier and often basked in the glory of victory. Little did he know that one day his life would drastically change.
In 1521, a French cannonball shot Ignacio in the leg and left him bedridden. While he was recovering from his wounds, he read two books: one was on the life of Christ and the other was on lives of the saints. As he read, he noted the good works that these saints had accomplished and desired to do great things with his life, too. He vowed, then, that he would serve the rest of his life in service to God, doing Christ’s work on Earth. Soon after he recovered, his goal was to be educated, know more about the faith, and serve as a spiritual director. He eventually compiled the many prayers, insights, meditations, and thoughts on how to live in Christ as a person of faith. He called this compilation the Spiritual Exercises.
Years later, with friends Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, Ignacio formed a new order called the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. Their message consisted of doing things Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG), in English, “For the greater glory of God,” a message that children and young people can understand easily. The Jesuits were educators and missionaries and opened many schools around the world. St. Ignatius’ message lives on through the words and works of the Jesuits. Additionally, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit priest to be named Pope.
In my school each morning, we pray the Suscipe, a prayer that is said to have been written by St. Ignatius, which asks for God’s guidance for the day. It helps the students and teachers alike remember that each day is a new beginning, regardless of what happened the day before. I invite you to take a moment and pray this prayer. I would encourage you to even begin to say it once a week, or each morning on your way into work, or in a quiet space during lunch. As we remember St. Ignatius of Loyola on his Feast Day today, let us remember his way of living Magis, a life with a higher purpose that always strives to serve Christ better than before.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me. Amen.
The Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which is formed from two other Latin words: “miseriae,” which means misery or suffering, and “cordia,” which means heart. One could thus say that the mercy of God draws misery out of a person’s heart. It is of the nature of mercy to therefore heal wounds. The mercy we are speaking about here is broader than the reception of forgiveness from God and granting forgiveness to others. It includes all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which are also aspects of God’s very own love for us. As Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Mercy is love’s second name.” However, in this brief post, I’m going to focus on that aspect of mercy we are the most familiar with – forgiving and receiving forgiveness.
I am an adult child of divorce, so I have seen first-hand what the lack of forgiveness can look like. I believe that divorce typically involves one or both parents withholding mercy. There are, of course, other complicating factors for the divorce, but I believe there is usually a failure of mercy somewhere in the relationship. I knew I did not want to repeat the mistakes of my parents, so I took a long look at mercy and examined how it might be a key to love and to healing wounds.
In terms of love, I have always been struck by the beautiful reality that Matthew 19, which is Christ’s strongest teaching about the indissolubility of marital love, is preceded by one of Christ’s strongest teachings on mercy in Matthew 18, where he exhorts his followers to forgive 77 x 7 times. This number is a symbolic way for saying, “infinitely and unconditionally.” The proximity of these two teachings in the Bible suggests that the form of indissolubility is merciful love. Merciful love is not optional in relationships, but the foundation for its long-term success. Offering forgiveness gives a new beginning to the one who offends and helps relationships build from injuries that inevitably arise in any relationship, even great ones. As Ruth Graham, the wife of the recently deceased protestant minister Billy Graham said, “Marriage is a union of two good forgivers.”
To offer forgiveness in the radical sense Christ is proposing here, we need to experience Divine Mercy ourselves. We can do this by going frequently to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and understanding what is occurring. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive unmerited forgiveness from Christ. He does not owe us forgiveness and yet he forgives. He also always forgives us despite the number of times we repeatedly fail at the same sin. “Christ never tires of mercy,” Pope Francis reminds us. And Christ forgave us while we were sinners before we were even repentant and able to receive that forgiveness. His cry on the Cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is echoed down through the centuries.
When we experience this unmerited forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are healed because we recognize that Christ loves us “just because.” He does not love us because we do not have sin, failures, or weaknesses. He loves us despite these things and the ugliness of our actions. He loves us “just because” we are always His beloved. Of course, Christ wants us to be repentant, to promise to be holy and sin no more, in order to be reconciled with Him and others. Yet at the same time, we must never forget that this divine forgiving love always remains unmerited because Christ loves unconditionally.
With the reception of this Divine Mercy, we can then live mercifully in our own relationships in the same way and not be afraid when we or our spouse, friends, or family make mistakes, have conflict, or sin. These things happen; we are not perfect. In such moments, it is always possible to forgive, to receive forgiveness, and to love if we draw continually upon God’s grace and forgiveness. By doing so, we’ll experience healing and a deeper unity again and again through mercy.
Questions for Reflection: When was the last time you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation? How have you experienced God’s mercy?
Can you sense something’s coming? Throughout Lent, we’ve had the opportunity to empty ourselves in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; we have mirrored Christ’s journey in the desert after His baptism. These past forty days have called us to remember to turn to God for His grace in our lives and for a spiritual renewal to cleanse us of all that distracts us from Him. While pouring ourselves out spiritually takes time to occur and be effective, so too should we scrutinize how we are replenishing ourselves in preparation for Easter.
The Church is on the verge of commemorating the week that changed the world: from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, the faithful are especially mindful of Christ’s ministry and example in the days leading to His crucifixion, entombment, and Resurrection. Although it happened two thousand years ago, the significance of Christ’s life and death can never be taken for granted or downplayed! What it accomplished for us, the atonement of humanity’s impossible debt by God Himself, continues this very day to be imbued with all the raw power, emotion, and sacrifice that Christ’s followers experienced in those days. Today, these holy days afford us the chance to walk with our Friend once again: to withstand persecution with Him, to unite our sufferings to His sufferings, to be wounded in the shadow of His sacred wounds, and to forgive transgressors as He did from the Cross. No, Lent is not meant to be easy, but when we give our past failings or shortcomings over to the Lord during this time, He helps us walk with Him on His journey to Calvary and ultimately, to His Heavenly Father. In dying with Him, we rise with Him (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
This period of Lent can be very refreshing and renewing if we let the process take place! When we give up a comfort of ours or develop an aspect of our spiritual lives, we force ourselves to re-evaluate our faith in God and trust in His Providence. Lent helps transform us and pushes us to grow in holiness. For one, we can make sure we are doing things for the right reasons. In addition, we can better understand our dependence on things we seek for happiness or comfort, be they lesser things or God Himself. The point of our Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is not an endless wallowing in self-pity, but preparation to welcome the Risen Lord who, by His supreme salvific Act, never ceases to fulfill us. On Easter Sunday, the Universal Church will rejoice once again because her Bridegroom has gained for her eternal life over death and suffering.
If you feel as if your Lent has not been the best experience, don’t worry! Take time to reflect on your shortcomings and resolve to make real efforts to turn away from the sin and other distractions keeping you from God. He is ready to embrace you no matter your state in life and will never disdain true repentance. It is not too late to join Him on His journey to Calvary—He simply desires your companionship and will help you bear your own cross, as He did with Simon of Cyrene. Alongside Him, you may struggle, fall, and have to pick up your cross again and again. With Him, you may be lifted up as an object to be misunderstood or ostracized by others. But by dying to yourself for love of our King, you will be raised on the last day to reign with Him in Paradise. Perhaps—as the local authorities in Jerusalem sensed over two thousand years ago and the Church of Rome knows now and always—something indeed is coming, and we must rise from our ashes, pettiness, emptiness, and brokenness to meet it as promised to us by the God of Heaven and Earth Himself:
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.’
Questions for Reflection: Has your Lent been a fruitful and transformative one? If not, what are some ways you can use Holy Week as a preparation for Easter Sunday?
For more resources on Lent and Easter, please click here.
When we think of this time of year, we may call to mind images of a family gathered around the hearth, presents under the tree, and perhaps a nativity set illustrating the upcoming celebration of the birth of Christ—one of the central events in salvation history. We are, however, not quite at Christmas; we are still in the final days of Advent—the holy four-week period of preparation and expectation. Around this time two thousand years ago, the Holy Family was facing the uncertainty of finding shelter before the imminent birth of Jesus Christ. They would not have been thinking of gifts or carols or greetings of the season; all that mattered was securing a safe place for Mary to deliver her child.
In his work, Life of Christ, the Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen observed, “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be, ‘There was no room in the inn.’” While the Roman census had decreased the amount of vacancies throughout Bethlehem, Sheen continued, there would always be accommodations for those who could pay a certain amount. The Holy Family carried with them not merely gold or silver, but the eternal King of Kings; however, all that was offered to them was a back-end stable. What king would ever be born of such humble origins? Jesus came into the world unknown to most scholars, rulers, and other great people, apart from the Magi. Yet His mission was infinitely greater than what the world expected.
In these final Advent days, I invite you to refresh the spiritual hospitality of your hearts. Our hearts are where our Lord comes to dwell in us. We hear the Word of God and see it in action every day, but if we are to build upon that in our lives, we must take steps to ready our hearts to welcome Christ. And since Jesus promised that He would “prepare a place for [us]” in His Father’s house, how faithfully should each of us take the steps to tend to the throne room of our hearts from which He shall reign over our lives?
“Prepare the way of the Lord,” the prophet Isaiah cries out. Spiritually preparing, refreshing, purifying, and maintaining our hearts is a process which endures throughout our entire life. It is a part of the universal call to holiness extended to each of us. Just as the Incarnation of God was first made known to the childlike and foreigners, so too are all people called to prepare their hearts as an inn to receive the Most High God Who humbled Himself and took on our human nature.
Jesus, the Son of the living God, earnestly and lovingly desires to dwell in our hearts. What an unfathomable honor and blessing this is! He will never force His way into our lives but patiently waits for us to invite Him into the place shaped by our faith, words, thoughts, and deeds. We must make room for Him in the inn of our heart. When Christ finally does come may we be vigilant and ready to welcome Him to dwell in our hearts and lives forever.
Not long ago, I sat listening to the words of my university’s honored commencement speaker, Peggy Noonan, who entreated us to do something after we graduated that day: “You must not stop reading books. That’s all. If you seek a happy and interesting life, one of depth, meaning and accomplishment, you must read books.” I thought that to be a simple message—but refreshingly concrete and unique. As she pointed out, to get to graduation day my peers and I had read a number of books. Most were works assigned as required reading for a course rather than for leisure. Continuing to read after a life in school would benefit us, Noonan said, as we moved through life to new places, with new people, and into new positions.
As a Catholic, I took Ms. Noonan’s advice as an opportunity to seriously take up spiritual reading. I previously had taken advantage of my Catholic high school’s library to some degree, but I often had to let spiritual reading take second place behind the demands of other commitments. This continued in college with the much larger university library collections. There seemed to be no time to read for the sake of reading, spiritual or otherwise. While I may not have had much choice at the time, I know that when the faithful disregard the great literary works of Catholicism, we do ourselves a great disservice. With its full and ever-expanding breadth of writings, the Church encourages the faithful to enrich themselves through the works of popes, saints, and the Magisterium, along with theologians, mystics, clergy, and religious (see CCC 133). These can offer many insightful perspectives on the Faith, but they cannot replace reading the Bible! As St. Jerome remarked, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” Similarly, the Second Vatican Council affirmed the Word of God as “food for the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” (Dei Verbum, 21) We may spend years studying books for school and for professional development—how much more should we pore over the Word of God “to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified”? We nourish ourselves with physical food multiple times a day, shouldn’t we do the same with spiritual nourishment?
When I worked in a Catholic bookstore, my boss shared this insight from St. John Bosco: “Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.” Customers might have wandered in to buy a rosary or Catholic memorabilia, but many times I noticed them stop in front of a display of books on family life, spirituality, or healing prayers. As I assisted them with their selections, many would share their favorite devotions or ask for guidance in selecting a title. The customers were seeking writings by those whose experiences they could relate to—authors whose work would speak to our customers just as Sacred Scripture speaks to each of us and motivates us to seek and undertake the will of God. On other occasions, customers would simply be looking for something new to deepen their spirituality and share what they learned with their family and friends.
I have observed that the benefits of supporting Catholic bookstores extend in many ways: not only does it help a business to continue providing accessible, quality literature, but it also offers customers the chance to find something meaningful and wholesome that will be useful in subsequent questions, reflections, and experiences long after the first reading. Consider dusting off your Bible or picking up that Catholic book on your table. Spend a few moments and allow yourself to be touched by the author’s message and then share the experience with loved ones. Start a book club with friends and neighbors to discuss a spiritual work and apply it to your day to day life. The words of an approved source can galvanize, console, clarify, educate, or guide your spiritual formation. As Ms. Noonan reminded us, continual reading throughout our lives, especially of spiritual works, will give our lives greater depth and meaning. Start by picking up the book.
Questions for Reflection: Is there a spiritual book or book from the Bible you’ve been meaning to read? How has a book or Scripture passage impacted your life?
I remember feeling refreshed when Laudato Si’ was published just over two years ago. The opening line the Pope selected, “Praise be to you, my Lord,” echoes St. Francis of Assisi’s framing of the earth as a “sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” For me, an encyclical letter being released carried the same weight as seeing a long-hyped movie on opening night; as the second-highest ranking Church document, encyclicals like Laudato Si’ carry high papal priority and are written in the Holy Father’s own hand so that their views can authoritatively end a theological debate on a particular question. I very much enjoyed reading and discussing its rich contents among my peers. In the light of Christian spirituality, the document links environmental stewardship to both authentic human ecology and also the need to care for and protect those who might suffer from rash and greedy ecological harvesting. These discussions about the encyclical continued during the school year with university-sponsored symposiums, panels, service activities, and curriculum integrations designed to continue to unpack the impressive document from what many might erroneously dismiss as simply a work about climate change and the need to live sustainably.
A few months after he released Laudato Si’, Pope Francis announced in a letter to members of the curia his intention to establish a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” on the first day of September each year. The purpose of such a day, in my opinion, is to globally unite efforts by the Church and Her collaborators regarding the care of creation—efforts that continue throughout the year and which the Church re-consecrates and re-entrusts to God as a work beyond human hands. The same goes for similar days established by previous popes and the bishops conferences such as the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, the Fortnight for Freedom, the World Day for Consecrated Life, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, World Youth Day, World Marriage Day, and others. Through the establishment of these days, the Church seeks to galvanize us with a call to action to refresh our focus and attention to matters which affect us all physically, culturally, and spiritually.
The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is geared to unite our prayers with acts of witness:
[It] will offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.
Anyone can recycle, turn off unnecessary lights, or use public transportation, but what Pope Francis invites us to do (while reiterating the “nobility… [of these] little actions”) is something much more substantial and fulfilling. Laudato Si’ is his personal call for each of us to live out an “integral ecology,” which does not neglect our relationships with God, other human beings (especially those often neglected by society), and the natural creation of Earth. Pope Francis highlights the fact that all are integrated. To allow one relationship to suffer is to allow the others to suffer as well.
The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is not intended as a rude awakening to the artificial harm being inflicted upon the planet. The natural creation that surrounds us is inherently “good” because God Himself wonderfully designed and detailed everything… and we human beings are the crowning achievement (see Genesis 1:26). When we behold His wonders, we should be moved to praise Him for everything He has set before us as part of our earthly home (see Psalms 104 and 148)! As we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, I invite you to read or reread Laudato Si’. In doing so, may we be moved to want to preserve and protect our world in recognition of its inherent dignity so future generations may continue to marvel and wonder at the works of God.
“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD be glad in his works!” -Psalm 104
Question for Reflection: How can you live out what Pope Francis calls an "integral ecology"?
For more resources on Laudato Si', please click here.
I remember the first time I experienced Eucharistic Adoration. During my first week of college, I was walking back to my residence hall after grabbing dinner with some friends of mine. As we walked back into our dorm, one smiling upperclassmen was talking to some other freshman in the lobby. He saw us and made a beeline. I was only five steps away from the elevator, maybe he wouldn’t catch me. Alas, the elevator did not come in time and we ended up chatting with this friendly upperclassman. As he introduced himself, he also invited us to praise and worship Adoration that night. He promised us there would be a ton of good food afterwards. Though there were posters about this event throughout the dorm and we knew about it, we did not previously plan on attending. However, after being personally invited, being called by our names, we decided to give it a try. It was one friendly person’s invitation (and yes, the promise of food) which forever changed my faith-life. After going to Adoration and the fellowship held immediately afterwards with friends, I was hooked.
College students and young adults are in a unique place in their faith journey. Many are seeking answers to some pretty big life questions. As the Church, we have the joy of being called to reach out to these sometimes marginalized members of our community and invite them to experience the love of Christ. Yet, how do we do that? As a college student myself and someone who ministers to undergraduate students, I have found that there is one way in which your parish can successfully engage Catholic young adults and college students.
All college students and young adults seek a place to belong. And what better place is there than the Church of Jesus Christ? The parish community can seek to provide different opportunities for college students and young adults attending the parish to get together for fellowship. Having faithful Catholic friends your age who provide you with support on your spiritual journey is indispensable. The Christian life is not individualistic in nature, but one marked by interdependence. Being a parish which hosts events that foster communion between young adults is a key way to keep young adults engaged in parish life. Some parishes successfully do this by hosting mini-Theology on Tap series at a local restaurant, or something as simple as hosting praise and worship Adoration followed by a meal. These are just two examples of how you can help young adults feel like they belong in your parish community and experience Christian fellowship with their peers. One principle tip is to host events which have a liturgical aspect (pray compline together or have a holy hour) and a fellowship aspect (do not underestimate the power of food!).
Yet, you might be thinking, there are no college students or young adults currently active in my parish! Pope Francis might have some wisdom to share with us. During Pope Francis’ journey to Brazil for World Youth Day in 2013, he told an assembly of bishops that "we cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel.” Each baptized member of the parish community has a responsibility to be hospitable and welcoming. Each member of the parish community must be marked by their missionary zeal. Evangelization is not simply the job of the parish staff, but the calling and the joy of each Christian. Hence, it is your calling, not somebody else’s, to reach out to inactive college students or young adults and invite them back to the parish so that they can experience the love of Jesus Christ. This involves each person in the parish calling students by name. It was that simple invitation which brought me into regularly participating in the life of the Church. This responsibility, this call of each Christian to invite students and young adults by name, also becomes one of the greatest joys.
*This post was originally published on our blog on April 14, 2016.
Recently, I experienced the end of a long and stressful month filled with travel. I was in and out of airports and cabs while working late on wonderful projects with talented people. Although I enjoyed the opportunity to share my time and gifts with others, I was exhausted physically and spiritually. The constant movement made maintaining a meaningful prayer life difficult. After coming home from my travels, I have worked hard to get back on track with my personal prayer and grow deeper in my prayer life. As I reflected on my own struggles, I began to think of ways to make a prayer routine easier.
Here are some tips I came up with. I hope they help and work for you as well!
Disconnect: We live in the 21st century. It is very difficult to totally shut off from the world. We are constantly being pulled away from prayer by the plethora of available information and the digital world. The majority of us are connected through some form (and, more likely, many forms) of technology and social media. Challenging ourselves to step away from the noise is important for cultivating a healthy prayer life. Even Jesus had to take time away from everyday life to pray (see Luke 5:16, Matthew 4:1, Matthew 14:13). Let us learn from Jesus and remove ourselves from the world from time to time, maybe for a weekend retreat or just for a few moments. Make the effort to be alone with Christ.
Be Intentional: How often do we squeeze a daily prayer in at the end of a long day? Is prayer usually an afterthought or the core of our spiritual life? Our prayer life can be so much more fruitful if we intentionally set aside some time each day for the Lord. I have only been married for 2 years, but something tells me if I only spoke to my wife a few moments at the end of the day, our marriage wouldn’t be as strong as if we intentionally set aside time to be with each other. Look at your schedule to see where and when you can best include some time for prayer and reflection. That time will become invaluable as you grow in your relationship with Christ.
Serve: Sometimes we only think of prayer, or speaking with God, as attending Mass or going to Adoration. Although those are fantastic places to start and continue meeting the Lord, we can also find Christ in our encounters with our brothers and sisters. Look for opportunities to serve at your local parish or diocese. Through these experiences, we have the opportunity to connect with Christ in a new way by helping others. Once a service project or event is completed, do not just put that experience up on a shelf. Reflect on what that experience meant. You will not only learn more about yourself, but also about how Jesus may be calling you to grow in your faith journey.
Having a good, meaningful, and joyous prayer life isn’t something unattainable, reserved only for priests and consecrated religious. It is something that we not only we long for, but that is also willed by God. The Lord wants to be in an active relationship with us. Let us be open and active in keeping God in our everyday lives by cultivating a regular prayer life.
Questions for Reflection: What are some ways you can incorporate prayer into your daily routine? Is prayer something you squeeze in or is it integral to your daily life?
For more information on developing your spiritual life, we invite you to visit our Prayer and Catechesis Resources page by clicking here.
Although I recently graduated from The Catholic University of America, I frequently find myself back at my alma mater for various events and activities. Even more frequently, as I look around, I am reminded that the usually vibrant and bustling campus is now much more subdued and calm: it is summer in Washington, D.C. and the university seems to be an empty nest. As a former student, I’m free of the academic schedules and obligations that have dominated my life until now. I sometimes feel as if I’ve taken on a new identity. I am more conscious that the direction of my life rests squarely in my hands.
This is especially true as I begin to look for a new parish community and cultivate my faith as an adult. In order to benefit from all the Church offers spiritually, personally, and materially, I need to actively seek out and choose opportunities to continue to grow in my faith each and every day. While my time as a student was blessed with high exposure and easy access to the various ministries of the Church around campus, now that I have graduated I must seek new sources of spiritual nourishment closer to home or work. As disciples, this is something we are all called to do. Ministries and resources for adult faith formation, such as those found at the Catholic Apostolate Center or in our local parishes, ensure that we continue to grow in our faith. The places where I grew up remain open for me to return to, but now I look to places that are more cohesive with my current location and daily schedule. It might be unsettling having to look for and choose a new spiritual home. As is the case for starting at a new school or moving to a new neighborhood, the process of making friends, learning the culture, or finding support systems begins anew. While potentially uncomfortable, doing these things is a necessary step to adapt and thrive while laying down new roots.
The same goes for the spiritual life. Finding ministries to join in a new parish will be necessary in order to make the most of a new spiritual home. As stated in Christefideles Laici, “the parish is called to instruct its members in hearing God's Word, in liturgical and personal dialogue with God, in the life of fraternal charity, and in allowing a more direct and concrete perception of the sense of ecclesial communion and responsibility in the Church's mission.” It is within the context of the parish that we are able to continue to grow in our faith.
There is much diversity in the Catholic church resulting in differences in the parishes and ministries around you. Perhaps the atmosphere in one parish is more subdued or the community in another is less tightly-knit that what you’re used to. That’s okay! The life of the parish depends on the contribution of its spiritual family. We are all called to participate in the life of our parish. As we read in Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, “As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.” Do not be shy to attend a new Mass time with a different liturgical or musical character. Parishes offer many resources to the best of their ability, not just to the local church, but the greater community; the Christian life is not one of isolation! By taking advantage of the spiritual treasures of a parish, you not only learn more about yourself and your spiritual needs, but you’ll inevitably meet others seeking to do the same. Introducing yourself and taking the time to share ministerial or social experiences (and contact information) will help you to be a more fulfilled and involved member of the parish.
These are just a few of the many ways to plant new spiritual roots after a transition. A good place to start a more detailed search can also be done on a diocesan website. The bishop and his staff, as well as the parish offices, do not need to be distant or removed from your daily life, but can help you become comfortable and connected in the local church. In my own search, I began by looking for parishes near my apartment and work before reviewing their websites for a snapshot of the life there. I would venture out for a Mass I could attend and get a feel for how vibrant the congregation worshiped with, served alongside, and supported each other. Above all, I needed to feel welcome! My search eventually ended, but my life as a member of my new parish is just beginning. Now it falls to me to make others feel welcome and engaged in this spiritual family of ours. Just as the Christian life is not lived for the self, so too must we always strive to serve wherever there is a need and encounter others wherever they are in life. By remaining involved in the life of the parish, may each of us continue to grow in faith and so better respond to the dismissal at the end of Mass to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
Question for Reflection: How can you use your gifts and talents to participate in or start a ministry in your parish? What can you do to make others feel welcome?
Click here to read more from Thomas about making others feel welcome in the Church.
When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series from the Catholic Volunteer Network highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.
Name: Faith Yusko
Volunteer Program: Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry
Location: Baltimore, MD
Hometown: West Islip, NY
College: The University of Scranton, Class of 2016. International Studies Major
How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I learned about post-graduate service through friends and role models of mine who have done post-graduate service.
What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on your service program? I had considered jumping directly into the work force, but I definitely felt called to serve others through volunteering and I wanted to deepen my spiritual growth and development!
Tell us about your service experience. I serve as a Child Care Aide in the Bon Secours Early Head Start Child Development Classroom. In my role I work as part of a team serving children ranging in age from two months to three years old and their families. This program helps support families and children so that they can develop a love of learning to carry with them throughout their lives. My fellow volunteer community members and I live and serve in West Baltimore, and have been learning from the pillars of our program centered around practicing God's justice, learning through service with others, developing community, growing spiritually, and living simply. In addition to allowing me to share my gifts, my service year has humbled me through the community I am learning from and that I am a part of.
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I am learning different ways to apply Catholic Social Teaching and spiritual well-being practices into my everyday life. It has helped me to continue to grow spiritually after transitioning out of a Catholic undergraduate institution.
What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Take the leap of "Faith" and you won't regret it! There are opportunities to learn and grow through service each day!
Question for Reflection: How has an experience of service impacted your personal life or faith?
*This post was originally published on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog and was re-posted with permission.
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out Catholic Volunteer Network's RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.
If you could only take three things on a desert island, what would you bring?
A common question at parties, dates, and job interviews, it’s not so different from what we might ask ourselves during the season of Lent. Lent, as our Catechism says, is “a span of forty days when the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
Just as the “desert island” question invites us to stop and consider what we really need and want in life, Lent invites us to consider our truest desires, what matters most, when it comes to uniting ourselves to Christ Jesus.
To help us answer this question during Lent, our Catholic tradition gives us three spiritual keys, known as “penitential practices,” namely, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
Before deciding what to “give up” during Lent, first “pick up” a new way to pray. Be specific: pick a time, place, and form of prayer. Don’t commit to more than you can do, but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself some.
Lent primarily focuses on the practice of penitential prayer, humbly acknowledging our sins with sorrow and contrition, and turning our hearts back to God’s forgiveness and mercy. One example found at most parishes is the Stations of the Cross, usually hosted every Friday during Lent as a way of reflecting on Christ’s Passion and death. Other daily spiritual exercises might involve reciting the Seven Penitential Psalms, or making a heartfelt Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition. Don’t forget Lent is a powerful time to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also called Reconciliation, or Confession).
Penitential prayer isn’t meant to leave us discouraged, but should increase our desire to love and serve God. The Psalmist sings, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:2-3). Lent is a kind of “spiritual desert” that highlights our thirst for God, which may lead us to experience what the saints of our Church call “dryness in prayer,” times when we lack feelings of comfort and consolation. Rather than a sign that God isn’t listening, as Mother Angelica and others have described, dryness in prayer can be a gift and invitation to find our deeper satisfaction in God alone. In the words of Msgr. Charles Pope, dry and difficult prayer teaches us to seek not the consolation of God but the God of consolation.
Fasting is the spiritual practice of voluntarily abstaining from food or some other bodily need or pleasure (now we can talk of “giving something up”). Fasting is rooted in our Church’s scripture and tradition, especially in imitation of Jesus who fasted for forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:2). While the Church only asks members to fast from food on occasion, I’m convinced fasting is more relevant than ever as we live in constant temptation of becoming more gratified while less grateful, more satiated while less satisfied.
Fasting can be a practice of slowing down. This can mean we intentionally consume and do less, thus allowing God to speak to our souls with less interruptions from the myriad distractions and lesser goods that demand our time and attention. Fasting works to curb our appetites—for food and drink, yes—but also excess information (news and status updates), noise and visual stimulation (TV, video games), so as to redirect our thoughts and desires for God and restore relationships with those near us. Spend some time in prayer considering what things or activities God is calling you to fast from.
When asked, “How much money is enough” Industrialist and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller famously replied, “Just a little bit more.” The practice of almsgiving, on the other hand, can actually be freeing—showing that we can be happy with a little bit less.
John the Baptist instructed his followers, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11), and Jesus warned his disciples of putting stock in material possessions (Luke 18:18-30).
Almsgiving turns the spiritual fruit we inwardly gain through prayer and fasting outward into material fruit shared with the poor and those in need. One year, I chose one item a day I owned (article of clothing, book, can of food, etc.) to set aside to give to the poor through my local church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society or food pantry. I was shocked (and a little embarrassed) by how much I owned but never used. The point isn’t spring-cleaning or making room in the closet for new summer fashions, but to make room in our heart for the poor and to de-clutter the way that leads to the Kingdom of God.
This Lent, I invite you to pray about incorporating these pillars into your forty-day spiritual journey in the desert.
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!
I distinctly remember at the Baptisms of both of my goddaughters the moment where the priest poured water over their heads and uttered the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” On both occasions, I choked back tears, in awe of the reality of spiritual childhood and the life of grace that is ours for the taking.
The Church places the feast of the Baptism of our Lord precisely at the end of the Christmas season – the same joy that was found in Bethlehem as God became a baby is experienced a few decades later as John the Baptist baptizes his cousin in the Jordan River. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’" Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his 2013 homily on the Baptism of the Lord elaborates on this and says,
“The heavens are also opened above your children and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am well pleased. Inserted into this relationship and liberated from original sin, they become living members of the one body that is the Church and are enabled to live their vocation to holiness in fullness, so as to be able to inherit eternal life, obtained for us by Jesus’ Resurrection.”
As Catholics, we believe that Baptism leaves an indelible mark on our soul – that we are really, truly changed the moment the water is poured over our heads and those sacred words are said. Not only are we freed from original sin, we are forever claimed for Christ and made beloved sons and daughters of God the most high. To be baptized is not just something that happens when we are a baby, it is a promise that is to be lived each and every day, and a call that requires a response from us.
What does that response look like? A life lived in and for Christ should change us, our hearts, and those around us for the better. Our daily actions should reflect our Christian identities - from the way we treat others, to constantly seeking the Lord in prayer - Baptism is a commitment to a way of life. It’s also a commitment to community – a commitment to showing up through life’s ups and downs for our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s amazing to think about – through our Baptism, we become living members of the one body that is the Church. In essence, we are promised at our Baptism that we will never, ever walk alone. As members of the Body of Christ, we can continually turn to each other for friendship and support and the Church for the fullness of the sacramental life.
This feast day reminds us that our most important identity is always as beloved sons and daughters – He has claimed, chosen, and called each one of us. Just as I experienced unspeakable joy at my sweet goddaughters Baptisms, our Father in Heaven rejoices each time we remember that we are first - before anything else - His children.