Look around your workspace. What are some of the items you might have on display? A picture of family or friends, a souvenir from your last work trip, a calendar, coffee mug, some inspirational quotes, maybe a post-it note with an important phone number? These are just some of the common items that many of us have all over our work spaces, whether we work in a cubicle, "pod," or office. With so much time being spent in these work spaces, they have begun to take on the look and feel of an extension of our home. Some of us even spend a lot of time trying to curate a certain look - something that will be pleasing to not only ourselves, but those around us.
As Catholics who consider faith to be an important part of our lives (whether you're working in service to the faith or not), we might find some additional items carefully displayed in our workspace, such as a crucifix, rosary, prayer card, Bible, saint figurine, flag, lapel pin, etc. These are just a few items that would "give yourself away" as someone who might be a person of faith, specifically a Catholic. At my desk, I have a collection of busts/statues. They are a portion of my overall collection that includes historical figures. I used to display all of them at work, but when I changed jobs and ended up with a smaller workspace, I decided to be choosy about who got the spotlight in my Catholic “squad.”
All popes, the busts include Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John XXIII, and Paul VI. They sit neatly next to each other, inviting queries from onlookers and co-workers. When I started my new job, my collection became a conversation piece. As I approached my one-year anniversary at work, I started to reflect on the different interactions I've been able to have because of these figurines’ stoic presence. I'm sure many of us who display any kind of religious or Catholic paraphernalia in our workspace have experienced these interactions. "What do you think about X?" "How do you feel about Y?" "Can you explain to me Z?"
Questions can range from who can be a Godparent and why Catholics have a Marian devotion to the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. Of course, because of the recent struggles our Church has been facing, I have also become the person who fields uncomfortable questions and sometimes listen to venting. Choosing to publicly and visually identify as a Catholic is a good thing, but it also comes with its own challenges. I see it as a moment of evangelization.
Pope Francis addressed the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of East Timor during their "Ad Limina" visit in March 2014, saying that everyone is an "active" agent of evangelization. These are words we should all take to heart. By displaying religious items at our workplace, we are opening ourselves up to becoming agents of evangelization! This means we also have the responsibility to answer questions thoughtfully and sincerely. We have to be able to make sure we are giving the right answers or point people to the place where they can find the right answer. When giving our opinions, we have to be cognizant of where someone might be in their own faith journey and ready to provide more resources when asked. We also have to be ready to converse more when the time comes.
The Catholic Apostolate Center can be your go-to resource for questions regarding the Catholic faith. With over 30 resources pages on many different topics, you can be sure that when you send someone to the website, the resources from the Vatican, USCCB, and other vetted Catholic sources will give the answers they might be looking for and the opportunity to ask more questions!
So, I will leave you with 5 tips for being an active agent of evangelization at work:
Question for Reflection: What are some ways you can evangelize your family, friends, and colleagues?
For more resources on becoming an active agent of evangelization, please click here.
“Dear young people, let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are.” Pope St. John Paul II’s words to the participants of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto are as true now as they were over fifteen years ago. As the Church prepares for a Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Pope St. John Paul II’s words are a great call to prayer.
The Synod of Bishops was established in 1965 by Bl. Pope Pius VI (who will be canonized during this year’s Synod) to meet whenever the current pope deemed it necessary or opportune to gather the world’s bishops to discuss important matters within the Church. Before the October 2018 Synod, the most recent synod will have been the 2014 Extraordinary Synod that was called to discuss the topics of family and evangelization, out of which came Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love.
This Synod has been called by Pope Francis and is the 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops. The Instrumentum Laboris, or the working document for the Synod (available here) was created after listening to groups of young people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and geographic regions. It discusses important topics, like what it means to be a young person today, accompaniment, vocational discernment, evangelization and our universal call to follow Jesus. Even after the publishing of the Instrumentum Laboris, Church leaders will continue to gather young people across the world to listen to them on these important issues to decide how best the Church can move forward.
These are serious matters facing the Church, especially our Church here in the US, as vocations to the priestly and religious life seem to continue to decline and Church attendance dwindles. As a student at The Catholic University of America (CUA), I feel that there is great hope in this generation. You need not look further than the on-campus Masses and weekly Adorations to see that the Holy Spirit is moving within our youth. Yes, the small student body of CUA is surely not indicative of the entirety of young people in our country—but if you look to other Catholic institutions and talk with high school ministers, youth ministers, and religion teachers, there’s reason for optimism.
This summer, I was a counselor for Light the World, a summer institute organized by CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies. I was blessed to minister to about fifty high schoolers from across the country. While fifty might not seem like that big of a number, it was a sampling of the young people who are looking for Christ in their lives, a sampling that gets bigger and bigger when you add programs like the Steubenville Conferences, Life Teen camps and events, and other independent conferences and events (not to mention World Youth Day!). It is through the witness of young men and women like the ones at Light the World that we can find hope in times so desperately in need of it.
In my experience, I have seen that this is a generation being moved by the Holy Spirit. We are grateful that the Church is inviting young people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences, and pray that she will use what she learns to create a stronger and more unified Church moving forward. The optimism of our young people is a call to prayer and action, both on the part of our Bishops and clergy and that of the laity. Let us look to our great saints who had devotion to young people, like Pope St. John Paul II and St. Vincent Pallotti, as our guides in order to see the Church grow and flourish in the good works that Christ has called her to. Our youth can also look to young saints such as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Maria Goretti as inspirations of holiness to help guide them closer to Christ.
This Synod will be a good first step in figuring out how the Church can better accompany and encourage its young people to be saints, but it cannot be the final step. In the coming months, more writings and documents will come out of the Synod, pastoral plans and diocesan initiatives will emerge, and new ways of ministry and accompaniment will come. It is through prayer that the Synod and the resulting actions will bear good fruit; and it is in Christ alone that we will find our hope. During this momentous time in our Church, let us pray for our young people, for an increase in holy vocations, and for the will of God to be done.
For more information on the upcoming Synod, please click here.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published in 2013. We are re-posting it in honor of the two upcoming Marian feast days on September 8 (the Nativity of Mary) and September 12 (the Most Holy Name of Mary). Blessed Mother, pray for us!
Both of my grandmothers had great devotion to the Blessed Mother. I remember going to their homes and seeing statues of Mary and other saints, prayer cards, and crystal and silver rosaries. I learned much from them and my mother about devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Back in 1901, on this day, the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, my grandmother, Millie Donio, was born. During my childhood, though, I did not know that it was a feast day, because with the reform of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feast was removed. Restored by Blessed John Paul II in 2002 in the revised Roman Missal, it is now an optional memorial. Interestingly, there is only one other feast related to the name of a person, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated on January 3rd. This feast day was restored in 1996.
The name, Mary, could mean “sea of bitterness” or, possibly, “beloved”. Consider for a moment how many situations Mary found herself in that could have resulted in bitterness. When the unwed young Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was pregnant by the “power of holy Spirit,” she did not focus on her own situation, but made herself available to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-40). When her son, Jesus, went off preaching suddenly at age 30, the scriptures show no evidence of her complaining about it. Instead, she says, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). No bitterness there. When she is at the foot of the cross watching her son die before her eyes, powerless to do anything about it, she accepts being given over the care of the Beloved Disciple, he as her son, she as his mother (John 19:26-27). Sorrow, yes. Bitterness, no. A “sea of bitterness” around her, but she, being the perfect disciple, shows us the way to be. She shows us how to live as beloved by God.
My grandmothers showed me how to live as one beloved by God. They each had their various hardships in life – physical sufferings, emotional difficulties, financial challenges – but each held firm to her faith and it was faith in God that sustained them. They each moved outside of themselves and cared for others, even in the midst of their own struggles. I will never forget going with Grandmom Donio to quietly drop off bags of fruits and vegetables at the back doors of the homes of people she knew were in need of them, but were not able to ask others for help. No words exchanged, we were not even seen, just an action done for good because the other is beloved by God.
Being beloved by God does not mean there will be no suffering or challenge in life. Being beloved by God, called by our name in Baptism, which claimed us for Jesus Christ, we are not left alone to simply move through life. We have the ones we call by name, Mary who intercedes for us with the other person we call by name, Jesus, who is also the Son of God. We call also on the names of the other baptized in the community of faith, the Church. We call out with all of our needs as we live in what can seem at times like a “sea of bitterness.” But, we are not meant to be bitter in life, no matter what we experience. Pope Francis offers us encouragement to move out of ourselves toward others:
“Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day; let us not yield to pessimism or discouragement: let us be quite certain that the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church, with his powerful breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8)” (Audience with the College of Cardinals, March 15, 2013).
What are we to do then? Not live in bitterness, but witness as ones beloved. We are to call others by name and assist them in being good disciples of Jesus Christ, following the pattern of life and asking the intercession of the one called Mary.
Editor's Note: In honor of the second anniversary of WYD Krakow (2016) and in anticipation of WYD Panama (2019), we are reposting this wonderful reflection from WYD 2016 on the role of young people in the Church.
Who was it that claimed the Church is irrelevant to young people? Who was it that claimed young people did not seek or yearn for Christ? My experience of World Youth Day (WYD) has shown me otherwise. WYD is the largest gathering of Catholic young adults in a series of events sponsored by the Church. First initiated by St. John Paul II in 1985, WYD is celebrated at the diocesan level annually and at the international level every two to three years at different locations around the world. People do not attend as tourists, but rather as pilgrims, since the nature of the composite events are religious in character. Typically, pilgrims will arrange lodging in the host city before participating in the opening ceremonies, catechesis, and cultural exhibitions. Taking advantage of all the host city has to offer, pilgrims will usually also spend time exploring the region (especially churches), shopping for religious souvenirs, and tasting the local cuisine… and very rarely alone! As the locals are quick to notice, the host city will be absolutely inundated with pilgrim groups, each identified by various flags, shirts, and chants. In spite of the inconveniences experienced (such as crowds, traffic, and long lines), for the most part, the locals are excited to greet so many peoples; local businesses are especially happy to cater to the pilgrims’ needs.
The focus of WYD events centers around the arrival of the pope: everyone wants to hear what the Holy Father has to say to the young pilgrims at various sites and events. Traditionally, the Holy Father will address crowds from his residence, during Masses, Stations of the Cross, and the overnight vigil during which millions camp out together in prayer. The conclusion of the Vigil Mass the following day signals the end of the official WYD program, though at that time the next host city is formally announced.
I’ve been blessed to have been able to attend two World Youth Days, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 and in Kraków, Poland this year. So much more than a sightseeing trip, WYD for me has been all about seeing how God’s love for us manifests itself in each culture. Encountering millions of young believers (in addition to curious observers) who are inherently joyful in their witnesses to the Lord, I am especially delighted to see them interact with each other through songs, chants, prayers, and games during scheduled events or out in the streets. For me, some of the most powerful witnesses given happened outside of the official program (though seeing millions kneel before the Blessed Sacrament with lit candles during the vigil was indescribably moving). I remember seeing a group of Italian pilgrims run over to help a local disabled man carry groceries up a number of street stairs; another group immediately rushed to comfort a female pilgrim who had broken down during our 12 kilometer (about 7.5 miles) hike from the site of the overnight vigil. Simple acts of love like that really touched me as being authentically Christian: to love in even the smallest matters and, by doing so, answering the call given at the end of Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Pope Francis gave many beautiful and encouraging addresses to those assembled in Poland, but I was most impacted by an action of his. At the beginning of Mass at the great Shrine of Czestochowa, Pope Francis missed a stair step and fell, thankfully uninjured. He later explained that, "I was watching (an image of) the Madonna, and I forgot the step." He literally fell for Our Lady. When I heard the news, I remembered a similar experience of my tripping on the stairs upon seeing a lovely peer of mine go by. To have that ineffably tender and peaceful focus on the Blessed Mother, to be in awe of the Virgin, reflects the perfect love God has for her and for each of us.
WYD may have ended, but the mission entrusted to the young pilgrims by Pope Francis still burns in our hearts:
Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.
May each of us always endeavor to accomplish it!
To learn more about the October 2018 Synod on Young People, visit our Synod Portal.
To learn more about WYD 2019 visit our WYD Panama Portal.
“I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor” are the words of a humble man. And yet, Pope St. Pius X is venerated not only for his piety, but also for the many accomplishments of his papacy. During his 1903-1914 pontificate, Pius X wrote an incredible defense of the Church from modern era heresies like relativism and religious indifferentism; he eliminated foreign vetoes from papal elections; he created the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (i.e., the group that organizes “Sunday school,” or CCD classes, for the entire Church); he established the production of the 1917 Code of Canon Law; he developed a popular and simple catechism for the laity; he provided permission and financial support to establish the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.; and, perhaps most notably, he lowered the age of First Holy Communion from 12 to 7 years of age, citing the sacrament as “the shortest and surest way to Heaven.”
By lowering the reception age of the sacrament, Pope Pius X hoped to instill in the minds of the young communicants a deeper appreciation for the sacred intimacy of Holy Communion. In his 1994 “Letter to Children,” Pope Saint John Paul II built upon this theme, stating that frequent reception of communion is necessary “in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.” One of the best benefits of Pius X’s invitation to the young is that it renewed a general liturgical emphasis on the Eucharist and encouraged more frequent reception of Christ’s Body and Blood among the faithful of all ages. With people receiving the Eucharist more frequently, there was also a surge of dependence on the Sacrament of Penance so as to receive worthily. Thus, the faithful of all ages were brought more frequently to the Sacraments thanks to Pius X’s pastoral insight.
For me, the spiritual preparation I received for my first Eucharist was unlike any other instruction I was taught in school. Up until the day of my First Holy Communion, my participation at Mass was seemingly limited during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I had questions about everything: Jesus had already died for me, my second-grade self would wonder, so what more is He offering? The answer, I would soon learn, could be summarized in the words of Bishop Barron, “The Cross has saved us, but our participation in that salvation can waver. So, what does the Lord give us? Bread for the journey.” Thinking about the Eucharist as spiritual food was very helpful and comforting, though I would continue to wrestle with the deception of my senses as described by St. Thomas Aquinas (who incidentally was a favorite of Pope St. Pius X) in his Eucharistic hymn, Adore te Devote:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.
The occasion of one’s First Holy Communion is indeed a cause for celebration and thanks to the “Pope of the Eucharist” children are invited to share in the Mystery of the Real Presence. But beyond the photos and party and presents received, the true gift is partaking completely in the sacrifice of the Mass as offered by the priest and then striving to remain worthy to do so again and again at and in between each subsequent Mass. May we – throughout our whole lives - call to mind the significance of this invitation and, in the spirit of St. Pius X’s awe-struck humility, continuously seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord whose Body whose Body we dare to consume. And, as we are strengthened by this awesome spiritual food, let us do what we can to bring others to it. Whether we serve as Eucharistic ministers to the homebound, or volunteer with a First Communion CCD class, or even invite our friends whom we know haven’t been to mass in a while to receive the sacraments with us, let us use Christ’s body in the Eucharist to fuel our spirits as we daily serve as missionary disciples.
Half of America is single. The hook-up culture and age of technology have greatly changed the way people date; the script for traditional dating is often considered unpopular and “outdated.” Despite all of this, people still desire authentic, meaningful relationships. This illustration of the typical modern dating scene is explored in a film called The Dating Project, a new documentary that follows five single men and women, ages 18-40, as they navigate the dating landscape on their search for lasting relationships. (The film’s executive producer is Steve McEveety, who also produced The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart). I found the film to be honest and, at times, humorous. All the main characters are unscripted, and I felt their stories accurately portrayed the frustrations many of us have experienced in today’s confusing dating world.
The Dating Project was inspired by Boston College professor Dr. Kerry Cronin’s infamous “dating assignment,” which Dr. Cronin developed after learning her students didn’t know how to ask someone else out on a date. In the assignment, each student must ask another person on a “Level 1 Date” following a certain set of rules. While some critics call Dr. Cronin’s dating rules old-fashioned, her rules actually encourage getting to know a person for who they are—without sexual expectations. The goal of a Level 1 date is purely for information gathering. Dr. Cronin outlines specific rules for this first date:
These rules emphasize that dating should be about getting to know a person, appreciating his or her qualities and determining whether they are the type of person you would like to eventually explore a long-term romantic partnership with. When we lose sight of this, we are only seeing men and women as commodities – mere sources of pleasure or satisfaction for ourselves in the short term. We are called, instead, to recognize that all people are made in the image and likeness of God—which is difficult to do when you think of only how another person can benefit you. We have to be mindful of not falling into what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture” when it comes to relationships. We aren’t shopping for a product on Amazon, after all.
By the conclusion of the documentary, we see the five individuals who serve as the focus of the film progress in their confidence when it comes to dating and relationships. The college students who participated in the dating assignment remarked that asking someone out on a date in person was a much better feeling than a hookup. They said they would continue this way of dating in the future. I was most impressed with the change in the 40-year-old man. He led a more non-committal lifestyle when it came to relationships and by the end, I could tell the questions the directors asked him, such as, “If the woman of your dreams walked up to you, what would you say?”, had made an impression on him. He thought more deeply about how he viewed women as daughters of God, he could imagine himself in a long-term relationship, and he felt like dating within the parameters of the assignment allowed him to avoid temptations more easily.
As children of God, we are called to a higher standard than what our culture provides. We need to step up as Catholic men and women and change the dating narrative. We must be courageous! As Pope Saint John Paul II says in his letter to families, “Do not be afraid of the risks! God’s strength is always far more powerful than your difficulties!”
The Easter season is an incredible time of celebration and joy for the Church. Jesus Christ, after being tortured and publicly executed, has resurrected from the dead and restored us to the heavenly communion from which sin had kept us. Death, solitude, and fear no longer have the last word; eternal life for the faithful is no longer impossible thanks to God’s great sacrificial love. And yet, death is still a certainty for each of us. At times, it can be difficult to cope with the death of a loved one, especially if it is unexpected or tragically sudden. How can one reconcile death with the elation with which we celebrate death’s demise at Easter?
I like to recall the words of Reverend Paul Scalia at the funeral Mass of his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “It is because of [Jesus Christ], because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend [the deceased] to the mercy of God.” While Christian funerals themselves can be somber occasions, their focus is not on the end of the departed’s life, but rather on the hope of his or her reception of God’s mercy and sharing in the eternal victory of Jesus. This is not to say that grief and other emotions have no place through the final committal—they are very real and should be allowed to fully run their course—but as Christians we unite any sufferings in this life to Christ’s and so recognize their redemptive values and purposes. The annual celebration of Easter, then, recalls the impossible achievement of Christ’s resurrection, “the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint.” As Saint John Paul II quoted St. Augustine, “We are an Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!”
If you look at the Order of Christian Funerals, you can see this hope so wonderfully imbued in the liturgical norms. Always calling to mind the merits and glories of Christ’s Resurrection, the celebrant leads the congregation in recalling the baptismal promises of the deceased: dying to self and the rejection and repentances of sin results in being raised like Christ in the merciful goodness of God on the last day. And it doesn’t end there. As Saint Ambrose preached, “We have loved them during life; let us not abandon them in death, until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord.” We should continue to pray for the dead. The Mass, as Reverend Scalia reflected, is the best way of doing this:
Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever… this is also the structure of the Mass—the greatest prayer we can offer for [the deceased], because it’s not our prayer but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past— to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection— and it makes those mysteries and their power present here, on this altar. Jesus himself becomes present here today, under the form of bread and wine, so that we can unite all of our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself, as an offering to the Father. And all of this, with a view to eternity— stretching towards heaven— where we hope to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see [the deceased] again, and with [them] to rejoice in the communion of saints.
The Church, has always upheld the merits of praying for the dead, especially for the souls undergoing final purification of venial sins in purgatory. As the Catechism notes, the sacrifice of the Mass transcends time and space to unite the faithful on earth, in Heaven, and those in Purgatory to Christ in Holy Communion (cf. CCC 1391-1396). In praying for the dead, much good can thus be done for them who otherwise might not be remembered beyond the grave!
As we continue to praise Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, remember to intercede for those who await being raised up themselves. Just as we implore the saints to pray for us, so too do the souls in purgatory desire to be prayed for as they undergo final preparation for Heaven. Just as the Universal Church links the faithful of God across earth, so too does this Heavenly Communion unite believers in Christ’s love as celebrated at Mass and recalled in His Passion and crucifixion. May the glories of Easter move us to rejoice in God’s eternal victory over the grave and prepare to reunite us to those who have gone before us in Faith.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Question for Reflection: Did you know that praying for the dead is considered a spiritual work of mercy?
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?
This Sunday the Church celebrates the Feast of Divine Mercy, a fairly new feast day in the Church. Pope St. John Paul II, who declared Divine Mercy Sunday formally in 2000, stated that, “This [day] is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.” I never understood that phrase more than when I went on pilgrimage to Poland.
In the summer of 2016, I had the privilege of going to Krakow for World Youth Day. The pilgrimage was filled with many graces that I am still unpacking today. 2016 was declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy by Pope Francis, and World Youth Day was held in the country where the Divine Mercy devotion was birthed. Mercy and grace surely abounded that year.
Early in the trip, we experienced a day that weighed heavy on our hearts. Our group leader announced that we would make a morning trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum. As a group we made the decision that, as a sign of respect for the more than one million people who lost their lives at that dark place, we would not speak while we were on the grounds. The silent walk through the memorial shook me to the core. The sadness was hard to comprehend, and the absence of God felt real. As we were nearing the end of the memorial, we came upon a tablet that read the same quote in different languages from all over the world. The quote began like this, “Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity…” That was my experience of the memorial: a cry of despair.
After we returned to the bus, we departed for the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy, where St. Maria Faustina Kowalska lived and is now buried. A basilica has been built as a shrine for Divine Mercy at the Sanctuary and was named “the Capitol of the Divine Mercy devotion” by St. John Paul II. The juxtaposition between Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Divine Mercy Shrine were too extreme for my heart. I was unprepared for the transition from a witness of utter despair to complete hope.
Still in agony over our morning visit, I waited in line to get into the chapel where St. Faustina was laid to rest. In the chapel, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was also taking place. I was apprehensive to sit in the quiet with Our Lord and at the same time ready for some answers from Him. I walked into the chapel and received my answer from a familiar image hanging inside. In the chapel where St. Faustina is buried was a huge image that seemed to be made exactly for my desolate heart: the image of Divine Mercy; the image which came to St. Faustina in an apparition. It displays Christ in his glory blessing the world with one hand and touching his heart with the other. Two large rays beam out from his heart: one red and one white.
There was Jesus with His open hands and open heart, summoning me. Jesus looked as if He was walking towards me, coming to me with His merciful love. The rays of red and white, representing the blood and water that come from His wounds, revealed His heart that desires to reach all of His children and reached me in that moment. Flowing from the heart of Jesus was the hope that was seemingly lost at Auschwitz and in the hearts of millions during WWII. For me, this was the answer to despair.
At that moment I realized that although I have never experienced—and could never fathom—the suffering within the walls of that concentration camp, I could see that Christ’s mercy triumphs over all despair. It was triumphant during His perfect sacrifice on the Cross, and three days later at His Resurrection. Christ’s mercy does not hesitate to pierce our hearts, especially during times of suffering or despair in our lives. He only asks us to trust in that perfect mercy.
Jesus asked St. Faustina to share with the leaders of the Church his desire that the first Sunday after Easter be declared and celebrated as the Feast of Mercy. It is no coincidence that St. Faustina died less than one year prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Perhaps Jesus appeared to her when He did because he anticipated the great need for mercy to flow over the world. Christ knows us, and longs to let His love and mercy pierce our hearts. He only asks us to trust in His sacrifice, His love, and His desire to know us and to be known by us deeply and intimately. When Christ revealed the image of Divine Mercy to Faustina, He asked for the image to be inscribed with three words: “Jezu, ufam Tobie” – “Jesus, I Trust in You.” As we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy this Sunday, let us trust in His infinite mercy and in His infinite love.
Question for Reflection: How do you see God’s mercy alive in Scripture, history, or everyday life?
To learn more about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19
How do you think the “mission statement posted on the wall” compares to the lived experience of the community following it? A dear friend of mine asked me this question after I shared about my long and tiring week. I was challenged by how people I was working with were approaching a situation. A mission statement that is written or spoken about, and the mission lived among a group, are expected to be the same. Yet I was conflicted by a recent experience of the opposite–my community was following something else.
The Catholic Church is echoing mission-based language more and more in recent years. Phrases like “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” or “missionary discipleship” based on the call of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium permeate our ministries and parishes. This is not something new; we have always been called to live out our baptismal promises and evangelize all nations. Now our approaches are being adapted to accommodate an ever-changing secular culture. As Matthew’s Gospel proclaims, we are “co-missioned,” working with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in sharing the Christian identity. From the personal to the global level, every Christian is invited, asked, urged, encouraged, and challenged to encounter someone who does not know about Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection.
This Christian message had been overlooked in my recent experience within my mission-based community. What I valued in “the mission statement on the wall” was important in writing, words, and actions, but not everyone who I engaged with operated with the same spirit in mind. It struck me how different the culture was from what it promoted. Like the renewed movement in the Church for a new evangelization, I could see the need to “re-member” the reason and context behind our mission. Since then, I’ve taken time to reflect on how I engage with others and the communities I participate in. Am I living out the mission Christ called me to, or do I follow my own way?
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Redemptoris Missio about the trend in the modern world to function based on personal perspective without considering God, saying, “There is a tendency to reduce man to his horizontal dimension alone. But without an openness to the Absolute, what does man become? The answer to this question is found in the experience of every individual, but it is also written in the history of humanity with the blood shed in the name of ideologies, or by political regimes which have sought to build a ‘new humanity’ without God” (RM 1, 8). This is a very real human temptation that I discovered within my own community. I could see how individual preferences were valued over guidance and openness to the Spirit. The formed mission of the community was posted but not followed, spoken about but not acted upon. We had forgotten the story behind the mission.
As we enter a new liturgical year, much like a new calendar year, there is an opportunity to reflect on the purpose behind our actions within our ministries, organizations, parishes, families, and communities. We can sit with God and ask challenging questions while holding ourselves accountable to the answers. My friend’s question led me to a collective examination of conscience that can take place right alongside my personal examination of conscience. Why are we here? What is it that we’re being asked to do? How do we share our gifts with one another and those we serve? What is the goal of our work? Who or what do we serve by following this mission? Am I and are we following these goals to the best of our ability? If ever there is an area of weakness, we can work to remedy it within the community.
Followers of Jesus prepare their hearts to accept “The Great Commission” by participating in the works of mercy, the sacraments, prayer, liturgy, and fellowship. I am going to use this special time of Advent to recommit myself to my personal mission and communal mission. The ultimate “mission statement on the wall” is the one God has written on our hearts in baptism, “to go and make disciples,” through our witness and evangelization. In humility I must continue to ask myself, am I living this mission?
Reflection Questions: At the beginning of Advent, take time to consider the communities you are a part of and their various mission statements. How do you contribute? How can you grow in faith and dedication to the ultimate mission of Christ and the Church?
Click here to visit our Living As Missionary Disciples Resource Page.
Besides receiving and visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Mass and Adoration, I find that the most nourishing aspect of my spiritual life is friendship with the saints. The Church holds celebrating the saints and asking for their intercession in high regard, as the Solemnity of All Saints, which falls on November 1st each year, is a holy day of obligation. The Vigil of All Saints, then, falls on October 31st each year.
One goal of the Christian is to engage in prayer with God, and prayer, simply put, is conversing with God. Each day, we can offer our work to God and talk to Him frequently. This is not always easy, though, and I have found that friendship with the saints helps immensely.
A friendship, which is the mutual willing of the good between people, is cultivated with communication and time spent together. Aristotle and Shakespeare, in their genius commentaries on friendship, always return to the simplicity of authentic friendship. Developing a friendship with the saints does not need to be overly-complex. It can also be founded upon communication and time spent together, ultimately bringing us closer to God and strengthening our communication with Him.
Communicating daily with the saints further orients our minds to the supernatural, to the existence of the “things…invisible” that we recite in the Creed, and it also strengthens us in the fight for our souls.
By communicating with the saints, we will become more like the saints, who in their devotion to Christ became like Christ. Thus, the saints will help us to become more Christ-like. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins gets at this point in one of his poems:
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
The “just man” is the saint, and the saint’s Christ-like actions help him to become like Christ.
As I mentioned in my last blog, stories of the saints are dramas of the highest caliber. Each saint had a unique personality and found their way to heaven in their own special, grace-filled way. There are so many saints that everyone can find someone they relate to or want to emulate. Below, I have listed just a few of my friends, and I pray that they will intercede for you!
Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Edmund Campion, St. Ignatius, St. John the Beloved Disciple, St. Luke, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. John Paul II, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Bl. John Henry Newman, Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, St. Robert Southwell, St. Henry Walpole, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Berchmans, St. Francis Xavier, St. Leo the Great, St. Augustine, St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. John Vianney, St. Joseph, Guardian Angels, Our Lady…
Ora pro nobis!
“See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him.” -Exodus 23:20-21
I grew up having a devotion to angels, especially the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow. Because my sister was born on this feast, my parents gave her the middle name Gabriela in honor of my mother and of the Archangel Gabriel – messenger of Good News. When I was a child, my mom often mentioned Raphael the Archangel as one of her favorite saints. She had prayed to him as a single woman because of his role in the Book of Tobit in bringing together Tobias and Sarah. Because of his intercession, she said, she met and married my father. Throughout their marriage, a photo of St. Raphael has always hung in their bedroom. Our devotion to St. Michael was uttered each day as we asked for his protection and intercession in the St. Michael prayer.
Because of my upbringing, I have come to know and love the angels as allies and friends. But what exactly is an angel? Are they ghosts, human beings with wings, or simply fairytales? In a morning meditation in 2014, Pope Francis urged us not to consider the Church doctrine on the existence of angels to be “a little imaginative.” Angels are real and active in the life of the Church and world today. “As purely spiritual creatures,” the Catechism writes, “angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures.” (CCC330). The Church’s teaching on the existence of angels comes from Scripture and Tradition.
Angels are the result of God’s creative work. When we say in the Nicene Creed that we believe in things both “visible and invisible,” we testify to the existence not only of physical creation, but also of spiritual creation. As servants of God, angels appear numerous times throughout Scripture in various roles and capacities. Angels guarded the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve, led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, announced the birth of John the Baptist, appeared to St. Joseph in several dreams, and perhaps most notably, announced the birth of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Scripture also notes that the angels ministered to Jesus after his forty days of prayer and temptation in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, and that Christ was strengthened by an angel during the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Not only did angels exist in Biblical times, but they are also present to each one of us every day. St. Basil the Great taught that "each and every member of the faithful has a Guardian Angel to protect, guard and guide them through life.” The Catechism reiterates this belief, stating, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."
Angels, therefore, were created by God to praise and glorify him, as well as to serve as his messengers and our protectors, instructors, and allies. Our guardian angels are a gift from God to help each one of us achieve eternal life. As we read in Hebrews, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” The beauty of their existence means that, as human beings, we are never alone. We journey through this life with a celestial companion who wills our good and helps us achieve sanctity.
Pope John Paul II wrote that devotion to our guardian angels and the angels overall leads to two outcomes: gratitude to God and peace and confidence. As we know, growth in the spiritual life can be difficult on our own. Each day we are called to overcome many temptations and weaknesses, to be healed, to grow in virtue. In God’s generosity, he not only gave us the gift of the Church and sacraments to receive grace and strengthen us on our journey; he also gives us celestial help through the existence of angels.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Archangels tomorrow, Pope Francis leaves us with pertinent and thought-provoking questions:
“How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: ‘Watch over me when I sleep?’ Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? … We can answer this question today, each of us: how is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven?”
— Pope Francis, Homily, October 2, 2015
In 1986, Pope Saint John Paul II held the first World Youth Day in Rome following an outpouring of youth support in St. Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday in 1984. In the thirty-one years since, there have been fourteen international World Youth Days. The Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. is seeking to continue the legacy of the pope’s initiative establishing a national World Youth Day by holding World Youth Day (WYD) Unite on July 22, 2017.
WYD Unite is a festival of prayer, reflection, and fellowship that hopes to bring together young adults and young families in an experience of authentic communion, joy, and healing in Christ. While small young adult gatherings are important, there is something transformative about a large gathering of young people coming to together to worship and experience fellowship from across many dioceses in the United States. WYD Unite already has individuals from over 40 dioceses and 10 religious orders, as well as 5 Bishops attending!
The day will include talks by Bishop Nelson Perez and Bishop Frank Caggiano, who will reflect upon the theme "The Mighty One Has Done Great Things for Me and Holy is His Name.” In addition to these bishops, there will also be a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and a pilgrimage unity walk, under the patronage of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, led by Bishop Mark Brennan. This walk will be a special moment to offer up our own “knots” or difficulties to the Lord and we are pleased to have received permission to have the official image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots from the World Meeting of Families. This beautiful image was blessed and prayed in front of by our Holy Father Pope Francis. In the evening, there will also be dinner, a concert by Tony Melendez, lawn games, and an outdoor, candlelight Eucharistic Adoration with music provided by Audrey Assad.
At the 2002 World Youth Day held in Toronto, St. John Paul II said, “I imagined a powerful moment in which the young people of the world could meet Christ, who is eternally young, and could learn from him how to be bearers of the Gospel to other young people.” WYD Unite is an opportunity for young people in the area to connect with each other and experience Christ’s healing while challenging them to commit to living in some new way back in their home parishes and dioceses—thus fully realizing St. John Paul II’s plan for WYD.
Last Summer, the Catholic Apostolate Center was proud to assist the USCCB World Youth Day Office with its efforts for World Youth Day 2016. Additionally, the Catholic Apostolate Center was honored to be a Platinum Sponsor of Krakow in the Capital, which drew over 1,000 young adults in the DC-area to participate locally in World Youth Day 2016. This year, we are happy to collaborate with the St. John Paul II National Shrine to host WYD Unite. This second event of its kind will be held at the Washington, D.C. Shrine on July 22, 2017. For more information about WYD Unite, click here.
I am often struck by the Gospel call and invitation to have no fear. It seems liberating and intriguing, but often unrealistic as I look around at the situation of the world or confront my own littleness. As a wife and mother, the quietness or anonymity of my days can sometimes seem mundane or insignificant in a world marked with suffering.
Then Christ’s words echo in my heart, “Be not afraid!”
Be not afraid.
So powerful is this message that it permeates Sacred Scripture. Pope St. John Paul II even began his pontificate with it. “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ,” he said. “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.”
A large portion of my adolescence was dominated by fear: the fear of rejection, of not fitting in, of failure. I had not opened the door to Christ and instead relied on my own devices rather than accepting his power, as the pope suggested. I found that fear is enslaving.
This changed with various experiences throughout my college years. I remember being on a retreat, as a senior, where we were asked to meditate on the Annunciation and the Visitation. I walked to a hill overlooking the mountains of Northern California and began to re-read and reflect upon a passage I had heard countless times.
As a spunky middle child, I had never much affiliated with the Blessed Virgin Mary. She seemed too pristine for my rambunctious, sporty, and mischievous personality. I couldn't relate.
This particular reading of Mary’s assent to God’s plan, however, was different. No longer did I see a dainty girl who only radiated perfection, but a strong and bold woman who accepted God’s will without fear. I read her response of surrender, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” not as a feeble “OK, sure, whatever you say, Lord” but as a “Yes, Lord! Together, let’s do this!”
Mary had opened wide the door for Christ. Her response was whole-hearted, even joyful. She was not afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.
“What a bold answer,” I remember thinking. What freedom! Up to that point in my life, I couldn’t recall ever responding to God in that way. I wanted what Mary had, a life without fear. Moments later, I repeated those immortal words, having finally embraced them as my own, “May it be done to me according to your word.” My life has never been the same since.
Mary’s experience of trust in the Lord is what we are all invited to. Her lack of fear is completely possible for Christ’s followers. This does not mean lack of uncertainty, lack of stress, lack of hard choices or suffering. It means overarching faith and trust in God’s plan of goodness over our own.
Mary did not have all the answers. In fact, she asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” as he shared God’s plan of salvation. I can imagine Mary repeating this question years later in the silent recesses of her heart throughout Christ’s torture and crucifixion, “Lord, how can this be?”
This is a question I often find myself asking throughout my day. How can this war be going on? How can this life be ending? How can this poverty be?
God typically answers our questions not with a detailed explanation of his plan, but with himself. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid,” he tells his shaken disciples as he walks on water during the storm. In doing so, he does not belittle or ignore our questions, but redirects them. God alone suffices. It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II began his papacy by inviting us to “welcome Christ and accept his power” over our own. It is when we turn inward, relying on our own strength or power, that we become paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. It is when we turn inward that we forget who we are.
Pope John Paul II poignantly stated, “So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair.”
How many people do you know for whom these words are true? Pope John Paul II’s prophetic words strike at the heart of many of the issues of our society, issues that we ourselves face daily.
Mary did not know this fear, this uncertainty, this despair. She never forgot who she was in God’s eyes, for she never knew herself apart from him. As we continue to live each day in our various jobs, ministries, and vocations, let us look to Mary as our model of liberation—a model of a life of freedom rooted in God, a life without paralyzing fear. May we repeat, until it becomes the prayer of our heart, “let it be done unto me according to your word.” May we open wide the doors for Christ in order to go out, as Mary modeled for us in the Visitation, to our fearful and suffering world, bringing the light and love of Christ to all we encounter.
Be not afraid!
Question for Reflection: What fears keep you from placing your trust fully in God? This week, ask Mary to help you say “let it be done to me according to your word.”
Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a wife, mother, and physician who gave the ultimate sacrifice of her life for her infant daughter. She is also one of my most trusted role models as a Christian, wife, and mother.
When I graduated with my master’s degree, my husband gave me a print of a quote of St. Gianna that reads, “Whatever God wants.” It hangs by my bedside table and is often my first short prayer as I get out of bed in the morning. It was very fitting for the journey that we had just begun: my husband and I had been married for almost an entire year and I had just finished a rigorous graduate program. Meanwhile, we were coping with the loss of my father, who had passed 6 months prior. With such joy, stress, and suffering, I often turned to this prayer of St. Gianna as a deep source of hope and consolation to remind me of God’s sovereign love and guidance in my life. I continue to turn to this prayer as God’s will for my life unfolds.
St. Gianna did not say “whatever God wants” with apathy but with joyful submission to Christ’s work in her life and confidence in God’s goodness. At her canonization, Pope St. John Paul II described her witness as a “significant messenger of divine love.” From her writings and letters, we know her love for God and her family was fervent and passionate. In a letter written to her future husband during their engagement, she said she would often pray, “Lord, you see my desire and my good will. Supply what is lacking and help me to become the wife and mother you desire.” Her letters to her husband often express their deep desire to raise a family that would love and serve the Lord with all of their hearts. They would soon have a son and three daughters.
During St. Gianna’s final pregnancy, doctors discovered a fibroid tumor in her uterus. St. Gianna’s life could be easily saved by an abortion or a hysterectomy, or she could undergo a risky operation to remove the tumor and save her baby. St. Gianna chose to save her baby. However, the impending birth could mean life or death for both St. Gianna and her unborn child. She consistently told her husband, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose – I insist – the child.” And indeed, St. Gianna’s daughter who lived due to her mother’s sacrifice is a living testimony to her mother’s deep love for her children and her trust in God’s will.
Of her sacrifice, Pope St. John Paul II said this:
Following the example of Christ, who "having loved his own... loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.
It is clear that her courage and love did witness to her simple prayer, “whatever God wants.”
As life has continued to present new joys, stresses, and sufferings, my husband and I continue to reflect on St. Gianna’s prayer that hangs in our bedroom: “Whatever God wants.” In eagerly awaiting the birth of our unborn son, our hope, like St. Gianna and her husband’s, is that we can raise him and our future children with a deep love for the Lord and total trust in his providence as we pray in confidence, “Whatever God wants.” We hope that through living out our vocation of marriage amidst the ups and downs of life, our love is another witness to our children, family, and friends of God’s faithfulness as we pray, “Whatever God wants.”
“Whatever God wants” is not a prayer of defeat or carelessness. For St. Gianna, it was a prayer of courage, strength, and complete trust in the power of God. May we, too, come to find the joy of this submission and love for Christ.
St. Gianna, pray for us!
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C