“My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy.” -Christ to St. Faustina Kowalska (Diary, no. 699)
In one of my graduate theology classes, a professor defined mercy as “love which keeps loving in the midst of rejection.” Pope St. John Paul II further elucidates, “And is not mercy love's ‘second name,’ understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and, especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness?” This mercy, this type of love, often seems inconceivable. Christ himself concedes the inconceivable aspect of mercy to St. Faustina. He does not concede the impossibility of mercy, but places no limits on his own. God’s mercy is beyond comprehension. It is characterized by an unending, unfailing love for humanity—a humanity which has rejected him since the garden of Eden. From that moment and until today, God has worked and is working towards our salvation. His fidelity can be seen throughout Scripture and jumps from the pages of the Bible into our very lives. Jesus Christ is the face of mercy.
This Sunday, we especially celebrate the merciful love of the Father on the second Sunday of Easter – known formally as Divine Mercy Sunday since its establishment in 2000 at the canonization Mass of St. Faustina by Pope St. John Paul II.
Divine Mercy Sunday is a powerful celebration of the mercy of a God who sent his only begotten Son in expiation for our sins. We come to know God as the Father who stands in the field awaiting the return of his prodigal sons and daughters, the King who washes the feet of his bruised and dirty children, the crucified Lord who invites us to place our finger in his wounds, to see and believe.
This mercy is life-changing—a truth affirmed in stories such as the woman at the well or even that of the good thief on the cross. God’s mercy inspires us and strengthens us to be men and women on fire with love—to be missionary disciples proclaiming the wonder of salvation and the infinite goodness of God. This mercy affirms that we are loved, called, and chosen. It assures us that we have purpose and meaning, gifts and talents that can be used for building the Kingdom of God.
God’s mercy, however, is meant for more than our own personal benefit. God has shown us his mercy to show us the way back to himself. We are called, therefore, to emulate it. Christ’s mercy is our beacon, our model. We are called to live mercy, to be the face of mercy to our brothers and sisters—an impossible task on our own.
Christ makes the inconceivable conceivable by empowering us through the gift of Holy Spirit as he did at Pentecost, of which we read in this Sunday’s Gospel.
Christ breathes on those in the Upper Room, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Mercy, much like grace, is an unmerited gift of love from God. It is meant to lead us outward in love and mercy toward our neighbor. Christ also says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Therefore, this gift is not meant to be hoarded in the Upper Room, but to be carried out to the nations!
We see the concrete fruits of the Holy Spirit and of lived mercy in the early Church. In the first reading for Sunday, we read, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need.” The early Church was rooted in the understanding of mercy, which resulted in a strong communal life founded on works of charity. The early Church understood well how to be the face of mercy to a broken world.
This can seem like a daunting task. As John Paul II concedes, “It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self.” However, “This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God's love. Looking at him, being one with his fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness.” We love because we were first loved. We are merciful because we have first been shown mercy.
We are called, therefore, to carry this torch of mercy into the third millennium, into the here and now. We are all called to be missionary disciples spurred forth by God’s love. Let us, then, be rooted in “the breaking of bread and to the prayers”—in the Eucharist and prayer—in order to better receive and emulate daily God’s mercy. In so doing, we will have the courage and strength to go out into our hurting world, the field hospital, with the healing balm of God’s mercy. Let us make the inconceivable mercy of God conceivable by the witness of our lives. May our recurring prayer be always, as St. Faustina taught us, “Jesus, I trust in you!”
Question for Reflection: How has God revealed his mercy to you? How can you “be the face of mercy”?
To learn more about Divine Mercy Sunday, click here.
To learn more about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, click here.
In the small German village of Oberammergau, every ten years since 1634, roughly two thousand townspeople from all walks of life come together to stage the world’s most famous “Passion Play,” a dramatic re-enactment of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection. What that one town literally does every ten years, all Christians perform every Holy Week—and it is every bit as real.
The liturgies of Holy Week teach us that we are not merely passive spectators but living participants and actors in the ongoing story of the “Paschal Mystery,” the saving life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our celebrations, we remember not just something that happened, but something that is happening, namely, the redemption of the world through the work Jesus Christ accomplished by His Cross and Resurrection. We are not playing someone else’s role in an entirely scripted fiction, but discovering our own part and contribution within a story that God is still writing.
The basic structure of Christian existence, as a drama and extended experience of Holy Week, was one of the great lessons and insights shared throughout the life of Pope St. John Paul II, himself an actor and playwright. One of John Paul II’s biographers described the pope’s core vision of, “the cosmic drama of divine love being played out in the human quest for a true and pure love” (The End and the Beginning, 413). John Paul II received this vision primarily through his nourishment from Sacred Scripture. He interpreted life in light of the Gospel story of Jesus. The Passion Narrative in the Gospel of John, which some and dark, symbolizing the tension of love and sin that function almost like stage directions.
I think we experience much of our life of discipleship as a drama, which is much different from experiencing all times and aspects of life as dramatic. The drama of life is often slow, ordinary, and unremarkable. There are long periods of waiting, working, growing, and hoping, punctuated by divine breakthroughs that remind us that He has been directing and giving commands all along. I find that I need Holy Week for its power to provide context for every frustrated hope, betrayal to those I love, loss of friends and family, and struggle to stand for what is true and just.
On Holy Saturday, when things seem darkest, Jesus descends into those dark places of our world and our souls and shines a light, giving us the courage to hope that when Jesus says, “It is finished,” it actually means God is not done with us yet. Just when we think it’s over, the veil is torn and the curtain is raised—Christ is resurrected, and invites us not only on Easter Sunday, but anew each day, to live in the hope and joy of his victory over sin and death.
Question for Reflection: What part or contribution is God calling you to in the ongoing story of salvation?
*The blog post below was co-authored by Nicholas and Alyce Shields, who have been married since June 2015. The italicized text was written by Alyce, while the rest was written by Nicholas.
Almost 11 years ago, Alyce and I walked into our first high school class together and the rest was history… just kidding. While I wish it was that easy, living out your vocation is never easy. Although we are each called to a vocation by virtue of our Baptism, discerning that vocation is no mean feat. It takes time, patience, and community. Pope Francis said in his message for the 53rd Day of Prayer for Vocations, “Vocations are born within the Church … Vocations grow within the Church … Vocations are sustained by the Church.” The Body of Christ provides a wonderful example for us of the diversity of our vocations, and our church community is beautiful place in which to discern. Discernment is a very personal journey, yet we can greatly benefit from looking to one another and to those who have made this journey before us for guidance. Not only can we look to our priests and religious, but to our parents and grandparents as well! Discernment is not restricted to the priesthood or religious life, but also includes the call to marriage or consecrated single life! Alyce and I did not enter marriage blindly; we discerned our calling, discussed it with our family, friends, priests, and with each other before we took the next step. Because we discerned our vocation together, we strengthened our faith and developed our relationship with each other while being centered on Christ.
What did that discernment look like? While it’s different for many, for us, it took waiting and time. In our four years of dating long-distance, God taught us patience and dependence on him. Nicholas and I learned of God’s faithfulness, that his love and promises are never outdone in generosity. In the many days of waiting, I found myself relying on the hope that if God calls something to be, He will make a way. Additionally, the greatest “I love you” that Nicholas and I would say for each other was this: “I’ll see you in the Eucharist.” This means that as members of the Body of Christ – which is the community of the Church that Nicholas previously mentioned – we are united through Jesus in his physical presence even though we were over a thousand miles apart. We learned that our identities reside in Christ and that our gaze must be fixed on him. This outlook, a relationship centered on Christ, does not just apply to dating and discernment, but also on marriage and family life. We have gotten engaged, survived long-distance, gotten married, are awaiting the birth of our first child, and we are still working to keep our lives centered on Christ.
Living our vocation means that day after day, we must see each other in the Eucharist. In both times of joy and sorrow, our marriage has been strengthened through shared prayer and reliance on Christ. When we slack on the effort of making Christ the priority, we find ourselves bitter and sluggish. When we cling to Christ, we are more in tune with each other and find that we really live out the goal of helping each other get to heaven. With Christ, we can serve each other with the truest of loves and find confidence in God’s promises continually being revealed to us. We are so blessed to be journeying towards God together and sharing his love with those we encounter.
None of this is easy, but it is necessary and worth it. For inspiration, Alyce and I often look to the Holy Family as a model of how we want our own marriage and family to be. Mary and Joseph had total trust in the Lord and put their lives in His hands. We strive to do this each and every day as we pray together, encourage each other, and serve one another. No matter where you are in your discernment, we encourage you to keep Christ at the center, to pray, and to trust in the Lord. Pope Saint John Paul II put it best, “Love Christ and love the Church! Love Christ as he loves you. Love the Church as Christ loves her. Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain but simply loves.”
Alyce Shields is a teacher and Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C. They have been married since June 2015.
“I extend my greetings to all the members of the Society of Catholic Apostolate and to all who share the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. He has become an enlightening and inspiring beacon in the Church. His charism is a precious gift of the Holy Spirit, because it has given rise to and continues to call forth various forms of apostolic life and animates the faithful to actively engage in Gospel witness.” – Pope Francis (Audience with Members of the XXI General Assembly of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, October 10, 2016)
Today is the 5th Anniversary of the Catholic Apostolate Center. It is a ministry of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). The Center came into existence through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the discernment of the Pallottines in collaboration with many others. Last week, I sat in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City and listened to Pope Francis speak the words quoted above. The charism of St. Vincent Pallotti of reviving faith, rekindling charity, and forming apostles is what permeates all that the Catholic Apostolate Center does. Our mission is a simply a 21st century way of expressing this charism. The Center is responding to the call of Pope Francis to the Pallottines:
“I encourage you to push forward along your path with joy and hope, committing yourselves with all your heart and with all your strength, so that the charism of your Founder bear abundant fruit also in our time. He loved to repeat that the call to the apostolate is not reserved to some, but is addressed to everyone… to operate with renewed vigor to reawaken faith and rekindle charity, especially among the most vulnerable segments of the population, the spiritually and materially poor.”
On behalf of the Pallottines, the Board, Staff, Collaborators, and Advisors of the Catholic Apostolate Center, I offer thanks to all of those who collaborate with us, especially our affiliates, those who follow us on social media, utilize our resources, develop projects with us, and give generously in a variety of ways. Calling all to be co-responsible for the mission of Christ and his Church and to work apostolically in a collaborative way is a central element of the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. We look forward to the years to come and plan to provide even more resources that will assist in the formation of “authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world” (St. John Paul II).
Please know that we at the Center are in prayerful remembrance of all those who are assisted by our ministry. May we be in prayerful solidarity with one another as Pope Francis is with us all.
“I entrust all of you to the protection of Mary Most Holy, whom St. Vincent Pallotti venerated especially as Queen of the Apostles. Her good example of apostolic zeal and perfect charity, invites us to pray without ceasing to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of today, so that the Gospel of her Son can be proclaimed in every part of the world.”
May the Charity of Christ Urge Us On!
In God, the Infinite Love,
"This encouragement to holiness is renewed and takes on particular resonance – we love to repeat it – in this year of the Council, it highlights the note of holiness and apostolate of the church."
– Pope St. John XXIII, Homily during the canonization of St. Vincent Pallotti, Rome 1963
For a city that has seen the rise and fall of emperors, dictators, generals, politicians, popes, saints, and sinners over the millennia, it's hard to imagine that a humble priest from the peasant-filled mountains of Bergamo, Italy could make such a difference in the world. On a moonlit night in October 1962, Pope St. John XXIII stood on his balcony in Rome and addressed the people below:
I hear your voices. Mine is only a single voice. But what resounds here is the voice of the whole world; here all the world is represented. One might even say that the moon rushed here this evening. Look at her high up there to behold the spectacle. This is how we close a great day of peace. Glory to God and peace to men of goodwill. (Discorso della Luna)
And so began the Discorso della Luna, or “Moonlight Speech” by Pope St. John XXIII. Earlier that day, he opened the Second Vatican Council. Knowing he needed inspiration, this humble Bishop of Rome looked to another simple priest of Rome, St. Vincent Pallotti.
A year later, Pope St. John XXIII declared Vincent Pallotti a saint. During the canonization, he called on the intercession of Saint Vincent Pallotti for himself, priests, laity, and the council and actually went to the body of St. Vincent Pallotti to pray before him. Before the election of St. John XXIII, popes rarely left the confines of the Vatican. Pope St. John XXIII himself made few official outside trips and only did so under great consideration. Because of this, one can only imagine the gravity of a visit from the Pope to pray before the body of St. Vincent. At St. Vincent Pallotti’s canonization, Pope St. John XXIII once again implored the crowd to follow this new saint’s example both in life and indeed. One month later, while visiting the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary (the seminary of the diocese of Rome) he also begged the students to follow St. Vincent Pallotti. The pope went as far as to call him his own "choicest guide". He called St. Vincent a wise custodian 'of pastoral spirit' and a source 'of teaching and encouragement for all times!'
The spirit of Saint Vincent Pallotti can be seen throughout the Council and the work of the council. Pope St. John XXIII shared St. Vincent's vision that we are all called to holiness – that the universal call to holiness is open to the laity too, not just priests and bishops. He had a vision that Christ’s love needs to be accessible to all believers. Pope St. John XXIII demanded that the Church teach that Christ came for all! The concept of the universal call to holiness was written into multiple documents of the council, such as Lumen Gentium.
Though Pope St. John XXIII did not live to see the completion of this important council, his spirit and the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti helped to guide its direction. One of the key documents of the council was Apostolicam Actuositatem, or, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. It emphasized the role of the laity within the Church:
They should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life, and they should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit ... They should also hold in high esteem professional skill, family and civic spirit, and the virtues relating to social customs, namely, honesty, justice, sincerity, kindness, and courage, without which no true Christian life can exist. The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. (Apostolicam Actuositatem)
The title “Mary, Queen of Apostles” was one that was revived by St. Vincent Pallotti. This was an ancient title that had fallen out of use. During his ministry, St. Vincent Pallotti invoked this title to demonstrate that all were in the Upper Room, not just the twelve apostles. He had a portrait commissioned showing the number of woman and men at the moment of Pentecost. Like the symbolism behind the painting suggests, Apostolicam Actuositatem forever enshrined the notion that all people are called to be apostles of Christ. This document had two main writers: Fr. William Mohler, S.A.C. Rector General of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers and the youngest bishop in attendance, Karol Wojtyla. Fr. Mohler and the future Pope St. John Paul II wrote into this document the shared vision of two humble priests John XXIII and Vincent Pallotti. We must follow these examples in our lives. Let us strive to bring the gospel to all, just as St. John XXIII and St. Vincent Pallotti did.
September 13th is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), one of the most celebrated Fathers of the Early Church. Born in Antioch, John Chrysostom chose a simple life as desert monk, but was kidnapped and forcibly made the Archbishop of Constantinople, where he spent much of his life fighting against corruption— especially on behalf of the poor and widows.
John earned the nickname Chrysostom—Greek for “golden-mouthed”—based on his reputation for eloquent speaking and skills in public preaching, which converted the hearts of many listeners. John Chrysostom exemplifies the value of good communication as an element of effective evangelization.
Whether you’re a ham or have speech anxiety like most, at some point or another, you might be called upon to speak publicly—especially if you work or volunteer in the church. Whether you are preparing to deliver a parish talk, a personal witness, or other public presentation, no matter the size, spending some effort crafting your communication skills can be a great benefit to sharing your faith.
Know your Who, What, and Why
St. Paul, a man who described his call “to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,” (1 Cor 1:17), nevertheless frequently found himself speaking in front of crowds as part of his mission as an Apostle and disciple of Christ. Paul speaks very differently to mature Christians and the pagans of Athens (Acts 17:22-34). The audience (“who”) shapes his main points and examples (“what”) and the purpose for speaking to them (“why). Prepare by creating an outline that clearly and succinctly states your “who, what, and why.” Write it down and refer back to it throughout the composition stage.
A Little Humiliation Goes a Long Way
In seminary homiletics courses, preachers-in-training are frequently subjected to the sometimes humiliating exercise of having their practice homilies recorded. They then watch the playback to evaluate their delivery. In some form or another, that can help anybody. It’s probably going to hurt … but you actually get used to it over time and can learn a great deal throughout this process.
Practice in front of somebody. (If you’re too embarrassed at first, use your dog, cat, or an inanimate object.) Exercises like these are designed to help public speakers become more self-aware, not self-conscious.
Pay close attention to your favorite speakers, teachers, or preachers and try to articulate precisely what makes them engaging and unique—not just their content, but things like timing, rhythm, their order of argument, when and when not to use humor, etc. Pope St. John Paul II and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen were masters at this.
As you reflect on how you speak, name gifts and qualities that others identify about your particular style. Develop those. Remember, we are not all called to be rhetoricians and orators, or even great speakers, but faithful communicators of the Gospel. Not all, St. Paul says, are even called to be preachers or teachers (cf. Ephesians 4:11). To advance his kingdom, God has entrusted each of us with a message and a mission and nevertheless promises to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
St. John Chrysostom, Pray for us!
On the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 2015, Pope Francis established the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” to be celebrated annually on September 1. In doing so, the Holy Father shared his concern for creation with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who initiated a similar day of prayer in the Orthodox Church in 1989. For Pope Francis, the World Day of Prayer for Creation reminds Catholics of our “vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork,” a calling and responsibility which is “essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si’ 217).
As we celebrate this second annual World Day of Prayer for Creation, it is fitting to reflect on our vocation as Catholics to care for creation. Though we have a long-standing tradition of caring for creation that goes back to the early Church Fathers and has been promoted more recently by Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Francis has brought this aspect of our faith into the limelight. I believe there are two main reasons for this: conversion and evangelization.
The ecological crisis, the Pope tells us, is a summons to profound spiritual conversion that leads to developing a deeper relationship with the world around us and recognizing that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them in communion with all that surround us” (LS, 216). We are called to live in the world, not apart from it. We get to the spiritual through the physical. Pope St. John Paul II also taught us this in his Theology of the Body.
This conversion also involves recognizing our sins against creation. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (LS, 66). Our faith exhorts us to live well, not only with God and with our neighbor, but also with the earth. One practice for this World Day of Prayer for Creation could be to examine our consciences and consider how we have treated the created matter with which we have been entrusted. Have we been selfish and unconcerned for the needs of others, consumeristic, gluttonous, unaware of the gift that creation is to us? Perhaps we have wasted food, water, or energy unnecessarily. Perhaps we watched hours of Netflix when we could have been outside walking with a friend, serving the poor, or contemplating nature. Do we feel compelled to have the latest iPhone or the largest car? Our Holy Father points out that we need to “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing,” and he quotes Patriarch Bartholomew in exhorting us to cultivate “an asceticism which ‘entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs.’” (LS, 9). In our process of conversion we can follow the example of Pope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, in doing the inner work needed to embrace creation as “Brother” and “Sister.”
I believe that Pope Francis, like the two popes preceding him, also sees our Catholic concern for ecology as a path into the New Evangelization. The beauty of creation speaks to the heart and can awaken human persons to a deep interior longing for the divine source, for the Creator God. Great spiritual writers like St. Bonaventure called the created world the “book of creation,” because the created world is constantly speaking to us of God. As humans we learn to understand the language of creation by spending time outside, by developing a heart for creatures, by learning to see the vestiges of God’s love in the beauty, diversity, and extravagance of the natural world. In doing so, we come closer to God and to understanding his plan for us and for the world. It’s a two-way street: We need to learn the language of creation in order to better care for the created world. At the same time, in that conversation, we are drawn into a deeper relationship with God, the Creator. As we experience this ourselves, we are driven to share the experience with others in a new kind of evangelization.
In our fast-paced world, being attentive to creation reminds us that “we are not God” (LS, 67), for if we pause and look at the beauty surrounding us, we experience a beauty that transcends anything we humans can create. At the same time, we become aware of our unique creation as humans and the moral structure inscribed into our very nature (LS, 155). Being outdoors is also a healing tonic to assuage the effects of technology and the pressures of the virtual world in which we spend so much of our time. It is an antidote for the “technologization” of society and keeps us in touch with true reality.
Let us then, as we celebrate this World Day of Prayer for Creation, embrace with joy the opportunities for conversion and evangelization that lie ahead!
Click here for more resources on ecology, the World Day of Prayer for Creation, and Laudato Si.
"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." -St. Augustine
I’ll come right out and say it: I dislike going to Confession. I really do. And so I avoid it like the plague. We all have our struggles in faith, and this is my biggest one.
“Why do I have to seek out a priest, another human, and tell him all the bad things I’ve done? Can’t I just talk to God directly? Doesn’t God hear everything in your heart?” We’ve all heard these questions—challenges, really—about the need for regular visits to the confessional. After all, God does know everything in our hearts. We can talk to him directly, and we should do so often! But we need more than just that internal dialogue with God. Our faith, after all, isn’t one lived alone.
St. Paul tells the Romans, “We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” (Romans 12:5) I may be a toe, you may be an earlobe, but we all, collectively, make up the one Body of Christ in the Church. So if that’s what we truly believe, and one of those parts gets hurt, the whole rest of the body feels that pain. If you stub your toe, the whole of your body stops everything and focuses on that pain. So, too, when we stub our spiritual toe, we create a ripple throughout the rest of the Body.
We could talk at length about the nature and effects of sin, but that’s for another discussion. The point is that each of our sins have an effect, not just on ourselves and on God, but on the whole of the Church, too. And so we have three people or groups to reconcile with when we’ve sinned: ourselves, our Creator, and the larger Body of which we are each a part. And who better to forgive our sins than a priest? He’s a spiritual father, a representative of the Church, and, most importantly, someone who acts “in persona Christi,” or “in the person of Christ.”
By virtue of his ordination, each priest has been given some pretty awesome powers. He can baptize people, he can bless places and things, he can call down the power of God onto simple bread and wine, miraculously turning it into Christ’s Body and Blood. So if he can do all those things, can’t he also exercise the power Christ gave the Apostles after his Resurrection? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23) That’s crazy! But it’s our faith, and it comes from Christ himself. We profess this in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins…”
Now we’re all thinking, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but Confession is still too uncomfortable.” And you’re right! It is. That’s why I dislike going. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I don’t like to acknowledge the messy parts of life, including my own failings and shortcomings. I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong, especially when I keep doing the same wrong thing over and over again. But every time I finally buck up the courage (sometimes after months or years) to walk into a confessional, I’m never disappointed. The result is always the same: God has forgiven me and wiped the slate clean. And I feel so good about it!
It’s not that I’m afraid of God’s mercy. In fact, I crave it. The problem is that I’m too afraid of my own self, of my own fragile and broken humanity, to even ask for this mercy. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe I deserve it. And that’s the thing: none of us deserve it. Not one of us can ever be sorry enough, contrite enough, penitent enough, to make amends for what we’ve done and continue to do over and over again.
We can never fully make it up to God; that’s why he sent his Son. Jesus took the sins of the whole world on his shoulders, beaten and bloodied though He was, until he became sin itself: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took every sin each of us will ever commit, carried them up on the cross, and died as payment for it. He’s already paid the price for us. It’s like a spiritual gift card that never expires, but we have to use it to take advantage of the gift. That’s why Confession is so important: the mercy is guaranteed; we have but to ask for it.
Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we all be honest and courageous enough to do that. Whether you just went to Confession last week or, like me, have been putting it off for way too long, be courageous and just go. Let the Year of Mercy have some personal meaning for you, and let God forgive you for what He’s already paid for upfront.
For more resources on Confession and the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.
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 World Youth Day, please click here.
For more World Youth Day reflections, please click here.
“Love is…the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 11).
Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God in order to love and to be loved. This divine vocation is made possible by the Father’s love for us: we love because we were first loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). In October of 2014 and 2015, bishops from around the world met at the request of Pope Francis to discuss human love, specifically in the context of marriage and family. The themes touched upon included "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization" as well as "the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world." After two years of discussion, reflection, prayer, and deliberation, the Holy Father compiled the ideas gathered from the synods into a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
Using both poetic and approachable prose, Pope Francis shared with the Church his insight into the joy and dignity of human love—writing on topics such as the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, the education of children, and pastoral strategies for marriage preparation. On July 12th, Center Director Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. used the wisdom found in Amoris Laetitia to present on its pastoral implications for marriage preparation using Facebook Live. You can view his presentation here.
Below are nine quotes and lessons from this historic document that are especially pertinent to couples preparing for marriage and those preparing couples for marriage. I invite you to spend some time reading these quotes, reflecting on them, and implementing the truths they contain into your understanding of marriage and marriage preparation.
1. Marriage Preparation begins at birth
Marriage preparation begins from birth – we are born into families, grow up in the context of family, and are surrounded by families throughout our lives. For this reason, Pope Francis says that “Learning to love someone does not happen automatically.” It is a lifelong process which we must choose to grow in each day.
2. Quality of content over quantity.
As couples gather together to prepare for marriage, Pope Francis recommends that we do not overwhelm them with every single resource from the Catholic Church. Since the time of marriage preparation is usually brief, the Holy Father recommends sharing quality information—such as the fundamental aspects of marriage, church teaching, and a basic understanding of the kerygma, or story of salvation. Marriage preparation should be comprehensive, but it cannot be exhaustive or total. Be prudent and intentional about the quality and quantity of information you are sharing.
3. Highlight prayer as an essential part of marriage.
Prayer is fundamental not only to the Christian life, but to any vocation. For the lifelong commitment of marriage to succeed, it must be rooted in the daily prayer of husband and wife. This prayer has two dimensions: personal and communal. Personal time of prayer and reflection ensures that each spouse is growing in their relationship with Christ, while prayer as a couple unifies the spouses, improves their communication with one another, and grounds their relationship in Christ. When both personal and communal prayer are alive within a marriage, the relationship of husband and wife is being revitalized and strengthened in such a way that can reflect the love of the Trinity and pour out into society as a whole.
4. Marriage is a life-long commitment.
Sacraments and major life events should be celebrated in a way outside of our ordinary day-to-day life. Marriage is no different. We are, in fact, celebrating something beautiful and life-changing. However, we should not let ourselves be carried away by the details of planning the “perfect wedding day.” Pope Francis advises couples not to get too invested in the consumption of material goods or the planning of the wedding day itself, inviting them instead to focus on rooting their relationship in Christ, the sacraments, and prayer.
5. Marriage is more than the wedding ceremony.
Marriage preparation encompasses much more than a formal program, retreat, class, or a weekend geared to meet a checklist for the church. Formal marriage preparation should help couples discover the dignity of the married vocation and set their sights on the life they will make together as “one.” The ceremony is not “the end of the road,” as Pope Francis states, but a necessary part of the sacrament. We are called to help couples see the wedding ceremony as a launchpad moving them forward in their life-long calling. We are furthermore called to give couples the tools and strategies for successfully working through trials and difficult moments together.
6. Marriage is “total.”
The Catholic Church affirms marriage as an indissoluble union grounded in fidelity, fruitfulness, freedom, and totality. Marriage is not simply a convenient relationship, a partnership with someone who makes you happy, or a public display of love—though it can comprise all of those things. The Church understands that marriage is a sacrament administered by man and wife, witnessed by the Church community, and blessed by God. It is a serious but heroic, joyful, and sanctifying undertaking “until death do us part.”
7. Give couples the tools they need to detect danger signals in their relationships and respond constructively.
Preparation for marriage should be filled with joy. However, it is still a time of preparation. Each relationship will have moments of unity and conflict. A couple may agree on issues like raising children or budgeting, while disagreeing on how to spend free time or how to best communicate. It is important for each couple to be aware of any sources of woundedness or conflict in their relationship before the wedding day in order to work on constructive practices for moving forward.
8. Explain the significance behind the liturgical celebration and the meaning of each of its signs.
While we are not called to get “wrapped up” in the wedding day, we are called to dispose ourselves to the profound significance of the liturgical celebration of marriage. Marriage is a sacrament. To enter into this sacrament is of vast significance. For this reason, it is important to learn more about and understand the meaning behind the signs used in the liturgical celebration – the rings, the white dress, the vows, etc. Let us help couples preparing for marriage enter into the wonder of the sacrament through the richness of the liturgical celebrations of the church.
9. Help couples preparing for marriage discover or rediscover the dignity and beauty of marriage.
It’s tempting to be disheartened by the lack of successful marriages we see in the world around us. Marriages can be overwhelmingly broken, destructive, or lifeless. This is not part of God’s original plan for marriage, and Pope Francis wants to encourage engaged couples to discover or rediscover the dignity and beauty of marriage as a liberating, sanctifying, unconditional relationship in which each spouse is loved and affirmed. How can you support married couples or those planning on getting married? How can you change the marriage narrative to better reflect God’s plan?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
I still remember as if it were yesterday. There I was—a junior in high school with my sights set on my then life’s goal of playing college soccer—listening to the doctor tell me the results of the recent X-ray: “You have a stress fracture in your left ankle.” My heart sank, and I immediately focused on the most apparent, inevitable consequence of that injury: I would have to sit out the whole season, meaning I would miss crucial recruiting opportunities. To say the least, I was discouraged as I stood before the rather large and ominous mountain that so suddenly impeded the pursuit of my goal. I instantly began feeling sorry for myself and let anger creep into my heart. Then, in what I now look back upon and gratefully remember as “the moment of mercy,” I heard God’s gentle voice speak to the depths of my heart and tell me, “Carolyn, there’s more to life than soccer.” With my heart pierced by that voice, my desire to play college soccer disappeared. I soon began making decisions that would lead me to the people and places that God had in mind for me to more deeply encounter His mercy and to discover the actual goal of my life.
During my first year of college, the Lord sent a spiritual director into my life who asked me a life-changing question: “Carolyn, what is the goal of your life?” At that time, I couldn’t honestly answer, since I couldn’t yet put into words what the Lord had begun stirring in my heart through the stress fracture event. Yet, over the next few years of college as I continued spiritual direction and developed a more habitual prayer and sacramental life, the Lord began to show me the answer to the question: Communion with God—holiness—is the goal of my life, because Love is the meaning of life.
In a special way during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church is called to be “a living sign of the Father’s love in the world” (Misericordiae Vultus 4). At the heart of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we find the Person of God the Father, whose love is both the origin and goal of our life. The Year of Mercy is a special time of grace in the Church, and Jesus invites us to daily re-encounter our Heavenly Father, to be renewed by His love—which alone gives meaning to our life—and to joyfully share the gift of His love with those whom the Lord entrusts to us each day. At a General Audience on December 9, 2015 (the day after the opening of the Year of Mercy), Pope Francis emphasized the purpose of the Jubilee Year:
Turning our gaze to God, our merciful Father, and to our brothers and sisters in need of mercy, means focusing our attention on the essential contents of the Gospel: Jesus, Mercy made flesh, who renders the great mystery of the Trinitary Love of God visible to our eyes. Celebrating a Jubilee of Mercy is equivalent to placing once again the specific nature of the Christian faith, namely Jesus Christ, the merciful God, at the center of our personal life and that of our communities.
In other words, Pope Francis is saying that the invitation during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is to “return to the basics” of our faith: to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). In fact, Pope Francis begins his letter for the Jubilee Year with words which aim to “sum up the mystery of the Christian faith”, namely, that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus 1). Jesus’ whole earthly mission was to reveal the truth about God’s inner life of love and man’s vocation to that love that originates from the Father’s heart (John 17:3; CCC 514-518). This is why Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Everything Jesus says and does reveals the Father (CCC 516) and aims at “restoring fallen man to his original vocation” (CCC 518) of love.
Thus, the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a special moment of grace to daily re-orient the gaze of our hearts towards the merciful gaze of the Father that tenderly awaits us. This gentle and loving gaze of the Father reveals the love that alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As Pope Saint John Paul II says, “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love” (Dives in misericordia 1). May we live this Jubilee Year by creating the space in our daily lives—particularly through prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments—to encounter Jesus and to let our merciful Father love us. We ask Mary, Mother of Mercy, to help us open our hearts and be more receptive to the Father’s love. May we give her permission to use us as instruments of God’s mercy in the lives of others so that we can share the gift of His love with those whom God entrusts to us.
"To let our lives speak a story of evangelization, to live out the Gospel, we must humble ourselves like Mary who lived as a handmaiden of the Lord."
Does your life speak a story of evangelization?
I think about this question, and it is easy to think about the moments where I have really fallen short. I could have been kinder and more loving with a student who really needed me today. I could have been quicker to help a colleague in need. I know that I have missed clear opportunities to be Christ to others. As Christians in the age of the New Evangelization, we have been called more than ever to think about these moments and act with grace to better love God and share his love with others.
The story of the Visitation deeply teaches us about bringing Christ to others. Mary has just learned that she is with child; yet she travels to Judah after she finds out that her relative, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant in her old age. Although Luke does not elaborate on the details, we can only imagine the sacrificial love beaming through this selfless act: Mary, in her first trimester of pregnancy (which is often filled with morning sickness and other trials), gives up time at home to care for a fellow expecting mother. Her heart is filled with joyful love as she physically brings Jesus to Elizabeth and her family. She is the “Theotokos,” or God Bearer. Elizabeth affirms Mary’s faithfulness and the gift of bringing Christ to her:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:41-45
It is clear that Mary’s life speaks a story of evangelization to others.
Mary’s life and witness call us to be God Bearers to others, too. This may manifest in a physical way, as Mary physically brought Jesus in her womb to Elizabeth. During my time as a Catholic missionary for middle school and high school students, we reflected on the Visitation by bringing a friend to kneel with us in front of Jesus in the Eucharist in Adoration, physically bringing those we love closer to Christ. It was so humbling, and deeply moving to physically soak up Christ’s presence by being brought to him by someone you love.
Perhaps Mary’s evangelization story calls you to bring others to Christ physically in the Eucharist, inviting a friend to attend Mass or Adoration with you. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis explained in his Lenten message that “in the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited” (Pope Francis, 2015). Perhaps in your evangelization story you are called to serve those who need to know or be reminded of Christ’s love by your service. Whether directly or indirectly, as Catholics we trust that God makes every gift and sacrifice more perfect when done in his name.
To let our lives speak a story of evangelization, to live out the Gospel, we must humble ourselves like Mary who lived as a handmaiden of the Lord. When we submit to the will of God and “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), surely we make Christ’s presence more known to others.
Today we are called to let our lives speak a story of evangelization, just as the Visitation teaches us. We can entrust ourselves to Mary’s mission of bringing Christ to others, and know that through her patronage and guidance, our attempts to bring Christ to others will bear fruit in more lives than one. Pope Saint John Paul II entrusted his papacy to Mary with the simple prayer, “Totus Tuus,” or “totally yours,” knowing that Mary leads all hearts to her son, Jesus Christ. Let us, too, live in the spirit of the Visitation and follow the great evangelizers who have brought us closer to Jesus through Mary. Let your life speak a story of evangelization.
To learn more about our call to let our lives speak a story of evangelization, visit our New Evangelization Resources page.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C
This upcoming summer, the Church will be celebrating World Youth Day in Kraków. The Church invites all of us, not just those pilgrims in Poland, to celebrate and participate in this great event. The Catholic Apostolate Center announced a few weeks ago that it will be partnering with the USCCB and the Archdiocese of Washington in a number of World Youth Day celebrations both here and abroad, including the event “Kraków in the Capital,” which celebrates World Youth Day stateside in Washington, D.C. As I was helping prepare for the celebration, I came across the fact that the body of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati will be present for the World Youth Day celebrations in Kraków. I knew very little about this extraordinary young man and I decided that I needed to learn about him. I feel like my introduction to him was perfect timing. Much like Pier Giorgio, I have a great love for the outdoors and for sports. I will gladly spend hours watching games and discussing Sidney Crosby and my Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Giants, and why the 1969 Mets were the greatest World Series team. Some of my fondest memories include hiking in the Scottish Highlands, climbing mountains in the Adirondacks, and backpacking in New Mexico. I've always regarded these as great activities, but found it challenging to incorporate them into my spiritual life. I knew that being in nature connected me closer to God, but did not know how that could affect my spiritual journey. This young man showed me how.
Pier Giorgio Frassati was born to a prominent family in Torino, Italy on April 6, 1901. His father was the founder of the La Stampa national newspaper (which is still in print today) and was very active in national politics as a member of left wing parties. Growing up, Pier Giorgio took an active role in his life of faith and developed a deep spiritual life. He could often be found praying before the Blessed Sacrament and reflecting on the Beatitudes. During World War I, he served the sick and helped servicemen reintegrate back into society. Like his father, Pier Giorgio got involved with politics but joined the People's Party, which was based on Rerum Novarum and Catholic Social Teaching. He would often be found climbing mountains, going to the theater and to the opera, but never let these pastimes interrupt his service to the poor and the outcast. He would be seen giving bread and sometimes his own clothing to the beggars in the streets. While still a young man, Pier Giorgio was photographed climbing a mountain. He signed the photograph 'Verso L'Alto', which means 'Go to the Heights'. This would serve as his personal motto and means more than simply mountain climbing. It is also a figure speech referring to the climb towards Christ. Pier Giorgio felt that he was drawn to the heights of the Beatitudes and to the Blessed Sacrament. He encouraged all those around him to also climb to these heights of the spiritual life.
Pier Giorgio's family disapproved of his activities and of his faith. They could not understand Pier Giorgio's passion for the poor and for the spiritual life. As he grew older, he grew deeper in his devotion and eventually joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic (Lay Dominicans) in 1922. Before graduating from university, Pier Giorgio contracted a very aggressive form of polio and grew extremely ill. It was during this short period that his grandmother passed away, drawing ire from his family because they felt that Pier Giorgio did not show enough grief for her death due to his own illness. On the night before Pier Giorgio himself passed away, he requested that his medication be given to a poor man he had been visiting. Pier Giorgio succumbed to his illness on July 24, 1925. His family expected very few people to come to his funeral, only some family and personal friends. When the family departed for the funeral, they were completely stunned to find the streets completely lined with thousands of people whom he had cared for. Simultaneously, the people lining the streets were shocked to find that he was from such a prominent family.
Pier Giorgio's legacy continued not only in Torino, but also throughout the world. While visiting Torino in 1989, Saint John Paul II made a pilgrimage to his tomb. A year later, on May 20th, Pier Giorgio Frassati was beatified in Saint Peter Square. His body was then moved from the family plot and reinterred in the Cathedral of Torino for pilgrims to visit. St. John Paul II said, "He (Frassati) testifies that holiness is possible for everyone". In researching his life, I have found encouragement from this great man. He shows us how to have zeal not only for life, but also for our faith. He gives us courage and inspiration. As I prepare for the World Youth Day celebrations, I look forward to diving deeper into the life and spirituality of Pier Giorgio.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!
If you attended an Easter Vigil Mass this year, then you participated in what St. Augustine called the “mother of all holy Vigils”(Sermo 219)—the day the Church receives many new Catholics through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
The newly baptized, or “neophytes,” (a Greek word meaning “new plant”) begin a fourth and final period of formation called mystagogy, which lasts the Easter Season until Pentecost. If you haven’t personally participated in the formal process of becoming Catholic as an adult (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, in parishes), chances are you haven’t heard this word recently… or maybe ever.
What is Mystagogy?
Our faith needs mystagogy first and foremost because of one simple reason: we celebrate and proclaim a mystery.
As evangelists and catechists, I think it is important to recognize that for some people, the idea of religious “mystery” prima facie, conjures up images of a Da Vinci Code-esque Church shrouded in secrecy, New Age spiritualism, or even a pre-scientific belief in “magic.” But the sacraments do not initiate us into a special club or secret society. Through them, we are made participants in the life of Jesus Christ.
Faith begins and ends in mystery, most especially the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . the source of all other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). In the scriptures, liturgy, and sacraments, we truly encounter and participate in the Triune life of God. But no matter how intelligent or insightful we are, we will never fully wrap our minds around God’s glory or totally experience it with our five senses.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” (CCC 1075). Mystagogy leads us from the external signs and rituals of the liturgy to the inner, spiritual meaning of the divine life they signify. Mystagogy is the form of catechesis that helps us unpack and explore the spiritual treasures contained in the sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance in our personal lives of faith.
Mystagogy was the way the early Church Fathers embraced and trained new Christians in the practices and beliefs of the faith. Perhaps the most well known teacher of mystagogy was St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 CE), who delivered a famous series of sermons, known as “mystagogic catecheses,” during the time of Lent through the Easter Octave. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revitalized this ancient practice, especially in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But mystagogy isn’t just for the newly baptized; it is the way every Catholic can continually deepen their relationship with Christ by daily drawing on the grace of the sacraments.
Significance for our New Evangelization
Just as Catholics are rediscovering the importance of the “kerygma” (Greek for “proclamation”) for evangelization, mystagogy is incredibly important in our approach to catechesis in the New Evangelization. John Paul II wrote, “Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma is gradually deepened . . . . and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and the world” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 25), specifically the form of mystagogy. Additionally, mystagogy serves as a trustworthy guide when reflecting on ways to improve our catechetical methods.
Living the Mystery Daily
Ongoing mystagogy is important because our relationship with the sacraments change as we grow and mature as individuals and meet new life challenges and circumstances. In turn, the sacraments really change us. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated” (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 64). By reflecting regularly on the sacraments, we access an incredible strength for our daily tasks.
Developing a practice of Eucharistic mystagogy can combat the routinization that often sets in to our receiving communion. For those who are married, or preparing for marriage, there is a mystagogy of marriage. With ongoing mystagogic reflection, you may discover new fruits of that sacrament in every season of life.
Studying theology and the Bible is often an undervalued way of developing our spiritual life. Learning about someone or something is a sign of love, and we truly become what we behold (cf 2 Cor. 3:18). Reading the great books and sermons of Catholic authors and theologians greatly expands our hearts and minds to experience the truth and depth of our faith.
The great Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel is attributed as stating, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Mystagogy is the path leading Christians to learn to live the mystery of our faith. I encourage you to follow the path trod by St. Cyril up through popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in making this incredible tradition and gift called “mystagogy” a part of your life.
To learn more about Catechesis, please consider reading the General Directory for Catechesis or the National Directory for Catechesis.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
This year, my fellow CUA students and I have the honor of helping lead the hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates participating in the 43rd Annual March for Life in Washington, DC. The March for Life is one of my favorite events of the year. While the hope remains that one day we won’t need to march, the event remains a beautiful witness of women and men, clergy and religious, various peoples of culture and faith, the old and the young alike.
Throughout high school, I remember identifying more as “anti-abortion” rather than “pro-life” (the former focusing on fighting attempts to normalize abortion; the latter upholding the dignity of all human life, from cradle to grave). I was all too aware of the evils of abortion, such as the exploitation of women for money, the promotion of sexual promiscuity, and the intentional termination of the life of the unborn child. Even more so, I resented the continuous attacks on the dignity of the human person— whether in utero or with physician-assisted suicide—and found myself compelled to and justified in fighting back with a passion similar to that of those I deemed my opponents. After all, the God-given rights of the human person were at stake, and demanded a strong defense— I perceived anything less than that as scandalous of a human being.
When I attended my third March for Life as a freshman in college, however, I experienced a shift in the focus of my pro-life activism; it was just that— pro-life— in short, recognizing and promoting the wondrous beauty, goodness, and dignity of life itself. While attending the March for Life affords you the amazing opportunity to meet many, many others who are energized (in spite of the cold and often snowy weather) to make their pro-life witness heard, that year I recall paying closer attention to the speakers on stage during the rally prior to the March. In a recurring theme, speaker after speaker stressed to the crowds the importance of not only standing firm despite perceived setbacks or difficulties, but to also continue to love, especially if none is being offered back.
“Love is not passive,” I remember hearing, “If you’re passionate about loving life, then that love is what moves you— it’s the driving force behind your actions.” Authentic love demands recognizing all of humanity as good— even those opposing pro-life work. Now, pro-life work also includes issues pertaining to end-of-life care, the death penalty, and so on, but here I’m focusing on the life in the womb. All of humanity has this incredible dignity because our Lord Himself became human, sharing in our earthly life. All of humanity, then, is connected to Christ: “By His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human being” (Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 2).
Just as Jesus exemplified in His ministry, we must seek out souls and love them. To truly become promoters of life, we must fearlessly speak the truth, not just to win an argument, but out of love for each unique and irreplaceable person. For example, we have to look with compassion on those who are facing difficult situations with pregnancies, end of life care, and facing the death penalty. We must love those who speak with hatred toward us. Above all, we must witness with lives of love to a society enthralled by the “culture of death.”
It is out of love for the beauty and gift of human life that we stand up against the evils that are offenses against it. Being pro-life is not about a personal agenda or political stance. Each life is a miracle created by God and continuously loved into existence by Him. Being pro-life isn’t about marching one day, writing a blog, or having a debate. It is about being humbled by the miracle of life, recognizing the dignity of each person, and living in a way that witnesses and defends the love of Christ:
“At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the Gospel” (Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 1993).
That is why we march.