I am out of practice. Although I spend what feels like hours and hours each week writing papers, I am out of the habit of writing for pleasure. As a seminarian in my first years of theology studies, I am not yet crafting homilies. What was once an enjoyable and relatively easy undertaking now feels rather rigid and forced.
Our spiritual lives also ebb and flow. At times, perhaps our prayer life or growth in virtue seems enjoyable and relatively easy. At other points, it can feel rigid and forced. As we enter into Holy Week, I am reminded of the continuing conversion that must happen in my own life. What has the task of this now-past Lenten journey taught me? It has taught me that nothing in the spiritual life should be forced. Discipline is important, and hopefully the forty days of Lent have strengthened each of us in our resolve to turn to the Lord in prayer during the course of each day. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint, wrote, “We must pray without ceasing, in every occurrence and employment of our lives—that prayer which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.” Hopefully this season of preparation has strengthened our habit of prayer in the way that Saint Elizabeth spoke of.
When we pause to recognize the stirrings in our heart that come from a genuine encounter with the Lord in times of prayer, it can often be surprising to take stock of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. “Here is the true gift of the Father,” said our Holy Father Pope Francis. “Man knocks with prayer at the door of God to ask for grace. And he, who is Father, gives me that and more: a gift, the Holy Spirit.… We must learn to knock on the heart of God! And we learn to do it courageously.” When we are bold and courageous in our prayer, we draw even closer to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As we look ahead to the remainder of Holy Week, how can we enter more fully into the great mysteries and events that the Church commemorates this week? First and foremost, we should not forget to pray! The time of preparation for Easter is still upon us; we pray with a real and sincere Christian hope. “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope,” wrote Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi. We should pray with fervent hope to come to know the living and true God during these final days of preparation for Easter.
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As we celebrate Independence Day, a day of thanksgiving and gratitude for this great country we live in, let us be reminded of our first American Saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton and the work she did to bring liberty and justice to all! The following is the Homily of the Pope Paul VI on the Canonization of Elizabeth Ann Seton, with emphasis added.
Yes, Venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters! Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint! We rejoice and we are deeply moved that our apostolic ministry authorizes us to make this solemn declaration before all of you here present, before the holy Catholic Church, before our other Christian brethren in the world, before the entire American people, and before all humanity. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute! But what do we mean when we say: "She is a Saint"? We all have some idea of the meaning of this highest title; but it is still difficult for us to make an exact analysis of it. Being a Saint means being perfect, with a perfection that attains the highest level that a human being can reach. A Saint is a human creature fully conformed to the will of God. A Saint is a person in whom all sin-the principle of death-is cancelled out and replaced by the living splendor of divine grace. The analysis of the concept of sanctity brings us to recognize in a soul the mingling of two elements that are entirely different but which come together to produce a single effect: sanctity. One of these elements is the human and moral element, raised to the degree of heroism: heroic virtues are always required by the Church for the recognition of a person's sanctity. The second element is the mystical element, which express the measure and form of divine action in the person chosen by God to realize in herself-always in an original way-the image of Christ (Cfr.Rom. 8, 29).
The science of sanctity is therefore the most interesting, the most varied, the most surprising and the most fascinating of all the studies of that ever mysterious being which is man. The Church has made this study of the life, that is, the interior and exterior history, of Elizabeth Ann Seton. And the Church has exulted with admiration and joy, and has today heard her own charism of truth poured out in the exclamation that we send up to God and announce to the world: She is a Saint! We shall not now give a panegyric, that is, the narrative which glorifies the new Saint. You already know her life and you will certainly study it further. This will be one of the most valuable fruits of the Canonization of the new Saint: to know her, in order to admire in her an outstanding human figure; in order to praise God who is wonderful in his saints; to imitate her example which this ceremony places in a light that will give perennial edification; to invoke her protection, now that we have the certitude of her participation in the exchange of heavenly life in the Mystical Body of Christ, which we call the Communion of Saints and in which we also share, although still belonging to life on earth. We shall not therefore speak of the life of our Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. This is neither the time nor the place for a fitting commemoration of her.
But at least let us mention the chapters in which such a commemoration should be woven. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with spiritual joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she marvelously sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. This is the title which, in his original foreword to the excellent work of Father Dirvin, the late Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, attributed to her as primary and characteristic: "Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American!" Rejoice, we say to the great nation of the United States of America. Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage. This most beautiful figure of a holy woman presents to the world and to history the affirmation of new and authentic riches that are yours: that religious spirituality which your temporal prosperity seemed to obscure and almost make impossible. Your land too, America, is indeed worthy of receiving into its fertile ground the seed of evangelical holiness. And here is a splendid proof-among many others-of this fact.
May you always be able to cultivate the genuine fruitfulness of evangelical holiness, and ever experience how-far from stunting the flourishing development of your economic, cultural and civic vitality -it will be in its own way the unfailing safeguard of that vitality. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born, brought up and educated in New York in the Episcopalian Communion. To this Church goes the merit of having awakened and fostered the religious sense and Christian sentiment which in the young Elizabeth were naturally predisposed to the most spontaneous and lively manifestations. We willingly recognize this merit, and, knowing well how much it cost Elizabeth to pass over to the Catholic Church, we admire her courage for adhering to the religious truth and divine reality which were manifested to her therein. And we are likewise pleased to see that from this same adherence to the Catholic Church she experienced great peace and security, and found it natural to preserve all the good things which her membership in the fervent Episcopalian community had taught her, in so many beautiful expressions, especially of religious piety, and that she was always faithful in her esteem and affection for those from whom her Catholic profession had sadly separated her.
For us it is a motive of hope and a presage of ever better ecumenical relations to note the presence at this ceremony of distinguished Episcopalian dignitaries, to whom-interpreting as it were the heartfelt sentiments of the new Saint-we extend our greeting of devotion and good wishes. And then we must note that Elizabeth Seton was the mother of a family and at the same time the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States. Although this social and ecclesial condition of hers is not unique or new (we may recall, for example, Saint Birgitta, Saint Frances of Rome, Saint Jane Frances Fremiot de Chantal, Saint Louise de Marillac), in a particular way it distinguishes Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton for her complete femininity, so that as we proclaim the supreme exaltation of a woman by the Catholic Church, we are pleased to note that this event coincides with an initiative of the United Nations: International Women's Year. This program aims at promoting an awareness of the obligation incumbent on all to recognize the true role of women in the world and to contribute to their authentic advancement in society. And we rejoice at the bond that is established between this program and today's Canonization, as the Church renders the greatest honor possible to Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton and extols her personal and extraordinary contribution as a woman -a wife, a mother, a widow, and a religious.
May the dynamism and authenticity of her life be an example in our day-and for generations to come-of what women can and must accomplish, in the fulfillment of their role, for the good of humanity. And finally we must recall that the most notable characteristic of our Saint is the fact that she was, as we said, the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States. It was an offspring of the religious family of Saint Vincent de Paul, which later divided into various autonomous branches-five principal ones-now spread throughout the world. And yet all of them recognize their origin in the first group, that of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, personally established by Saint Elizabeth Seton at Emmitsburg in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The apostolate of helping the poor and the running of parochial schools in America had this humble, poor, courageous and glorious beginning. This account, which constitutes the central nucleus of the earthly history and worldwide fame of the work of Mother Seton, would merit a more extended treatment. But we know that her spiritual daughters will take care to portray the work itself as it deserves.
We are constantly taking in loads of information. Staff meetings, e-mails, classes, articles, blogs, ect ect. In one day I can easily find myself dealing with multiple tasks, countless problems, and in the middle of reading 3 or 4 different books. The question becomes not what was accomplished, but what was actually taken away? What, after a week of classes, a day of work, or time spent at a conference, was the take away?
Today marks the beginning of the second annual Mid-Atlantic Congress in which pastoral leaders of our Church on the East Coast gather in Baltimore. As was shared in Tuesday’s blog, it is a time of sharing knowledge, gathering tools, and forming relationships. Spending our days in prayer, breakout sessions and collaborative conversations, one is over loaded with wonderful information and useful tools. After three days of being laden with information and experiences the question becomes, “what is the take away?”
I share with you my “take aways” from last year’s congress. These 6 pieces of wisdom have stuck with me throughout the year and have helped to strengthen both my faith and my work as an Apostle in the Church.
Take Away 1: “When I don’t have hours I take minutes” ~Elizabeth Ann Seton. In the business of our lives it is hard to find the hours of contemplative prayer we would like and need. We must be reminded that when we can’t find hours we should not beat ourselves up, but rather take the minutes we do have to enter into prayer and conversation with God.
Take Away 2: “Remember that you are called and chosen, loved and blessed. That you are the one that will bring others to Christ” ~Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson AZ. The Bishop then went on to say, “I have an ecstasy and terror of having been chosen in Baptism.” All of us in our Baptism were called and chosen to be apostles of Christ and we must remember that in being Apostles we are love and blessed, even in the midst of our own ecstasy and terror.
Take Away 3: “The one handed Gospel” The Director of CRS, Dr. Carolyn Woo, shared Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s “one handed Gospel”, in which Mother Teresa explained that the whole Gospel can be counted on five fingers, “You-Did-It-To-Me.” Every action that we take we do it to Christ, so let our actions be ones of compassion, care and love.
Take Away 4: “Have a spirituality of Resurrection; love beats all- Joy over hate!” Fr. James Martin, SJ. As we have shared with you many times in our blog posts, Fr. Martin again reiterates that we are a people who “rejoice in hope” and that “joy, humor, and laughter feed hope.” In the midst of our struggles and our pains, we are reminded that we are called to be a people of the Resurrection!
Take Away 5: Always come back to the Eucharist! Msrg Kevin Irwin shared that, “the Eucharist says you are accepted and you are not alone. It is what gives us hope and perspective.” Marty Haugen explained that “the Eucharist is radically welcome, radically relational, and radically transformative.” We must remember the gift the Eucharist is to us and the strength it provides us to do the work of God.
Take Away 6: Love the Church! Paul Henderson, director of USCCB publishing reminded us that we are to “love the church…love knows no fear.” Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson AZ, also spoke in asking us to “strive to love the Church; she is a sinful, graced reality.” In the midst of trying times for our Church, let us never forget to love her and be grateful for all that she has done in showing us what is true and real.
In the midst of this day, you are bombarded with information and details, my hope is that you are able to take away one of these take aways! I ask also that you keep in prayer all those who are participating in the Mid-Atlantic congress this weekend and for our Church at large, that through collaboration and sharing we might be able to live the Pallottine spirituality of reviving faith, rekindling charity and forming apostles.
Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.