“Joy is prayer, joy is strength, joy is love, joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” -St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Throughout history, mankind has endured plagues, wars, and all sorts of crises that threaten our existence and make the day to day seem unbearable. In these past several months, the world has experienced the global effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Our country is also facing ramped up civil unrest. However, as Christians we are called to persevere with joy. As James 1:2-4 exhorts us: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.” We can look back over two millennia and witness the hope that has always been present in the darkest of circumstances. Over and over, God our merciful Father remains with us, equips us with strength, and encourages us to dwell with Him in order to endure all things with joy. Furthermore, we have many examples of holy men and women who have stood steadfast in faith through great trials as joyful ambassadors of God’s love and mercy.
During these times, I have felt the pangs of doubt, discouragement, and fear. I am completely aware of my smallness and my vulnerability. I keenly recognize that I need help so that I can find peace amidst hardship and uncertainty, and I daily choose to pray for guidance and courage to walk in faith. I am grateful for parents who raised me in the Church, taught me the power of prayer, and nurtured me in an environment of faith. I am grateful for my parish family who stand together to build up the Body of Christ in our community. I am grateful for a stalwart husband who shows me daily how to immerse myself in the loving arms of Jesus by attending Mass, reading Scripture, praying devotions, and asking for the divine blanket of protection and provision that only comes from Him. I am grateful for my married children who witness their sacramental love to all by living their marriage covenant. I am grateful for children who share their gifts to fill our home with laughter, creativity, and beauty. I am grateful for grandchildren who are joyful and full of curiosity and excitement and so easily make me forget about the troubles of the world. I know that I am puny, weak, and small, but God made me for love and reminds me through all these people—and many more—that He is always with us, giving us what we need to gallantly march through the nitty gritty of life. This gives me cause for great joy!
How we behave determines the success of our mission as ambassadors for Jesus. We are told in Scripture to remain in God and to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to navigate the messiness of this life. We are commanded to love God, others, and ourselves no matter the circumstances. The fruit of living in love is a joyful countenance. When we practice surrendering our doubts and fears and choose to act in faith and love, peace is a direct outcome. When we live out of an attitude of peace, we are unbound and able to exhibit joy in all things. St. Teresa of Avila encourages us: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing, God never changes. Patient endurance attains to all things. Whoever possesses God is wanting in nothing; God alone suffices.”
As Christians, we are called to be the living reflection of our Lord and Savior. As we traverse this particularly troubling time, we strive to be beacons of hope to those despairing, lost, and without a foundation of faith. We are all commissioned to share the love and mercy of God to all we come in contact with. It is not a suggestion, but a mandate from our baptism. No matter how inadequate we think we are, if we surrender to God’s will, He will supply all we need to make any situation bearable and even joyful. There may be uncertainty, strife, devastation and hardship around us, but the heart of Jesus, who is all love, is within the soul of each of us. We are called to make it manifest through our acts of kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and service. Each of us, one individual at a time, has the power to bring peace and joy to others as we continue to navigate the day to day. Below are some practical tips for remaining steadfast in faith and witnesses of joy:
Together, each of us mere mortals can build an environment of joy—a joy which will make all the difference in our hurting world.
A month ago, I thought I would be balancing returning back from a service immersion trip and student leadership interviews. Today I sit in my makeshift home office preparing for my next Zoom call, trying to keep in check my own anxieties while still ministering to my students. To be honest, the first week was not easy, and I have still not mastered ministry from home and social distancing. As the days continue, I have progressively realized my need to change my mindset of survival to finding peace, stability, and hope. I went to Thomas Merton and St. Teresa of Avila, my two go to’s when needing to be reminded of where to find God. As I read the words of this Trappist monk and Carmelite nun, it dawned on me that in midst of darkness, fear, and chaos, I have been given an opportunity to create an inner monastery. The lives of these monastic friends of mine shed light on three aspects that I trust and can incorporate into my social distanced day-to-day in order to give me peace and calm my anxieties.
I invite you to share in the wisdom of the monastics and find the opportunity during these challenging times to create within our homes and families an inner monastery. Fears, sickness and hardship won’t be removed, but the insights of our brothers and sisters who have lived this life before us can help us to “recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
If you find it helpful, here is my Inner Monastery Routine. Finding balance will look different for each person, so take what works for you and make adjustments to fit your needs.
“God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” –St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of Prayer
Perseverance always sounds nice; you hear the word and think “yes--I can do this!” Lately, I’ve been struggling to persevere in prayer. To combat this, I’ve found my American industriousness kicking in—resulting in my desire to impose on myself a strict prayer routine akin to that of St. Teresa’s (“If I just work hard enough, I’ll be levitating like St. Teresa in no time!”) only to wonder why it all seems to fall apart after 2 days. Discouragement soon follows, and I feel like I’m back at the beginning.
I have fallen into this trap several times since I started taking my spiritual life seriously a few years ago. At the beginning, persevering in prayer and good spiritual habits can seem daunting. But the need for perseverance is a normal part of our spiritual journey. Sometimes prayer comes easily, sometimes we struggle to quiet our minds. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “As the flames of your first enthusiasm die down, it becomes difficult to advance in the dark. —But that progress is all the more reliable for being hard. And then, when you least expect it, the darkness vanishes, and the enthusiasm and light return. Persevere! (Furrow No. 789)”
It wasn’t until I heard the same advice from my spiritual director for the 100th time, combined with many Catholic podcasts and YouTube Videos, advice from friends, and books, that it finally dawned on me: you can and should tailor your spiritual life to fit your state in life and your personality! In doing so, you will find the strength to persevere.
I made the mistake of thinking that the only way to grow in holiness was to follow the exact path of my favorite saints, only to end up frustrated as to why it wasn’t working or giving me any peace. After this struggle, I’ve learned four simple tips that have helped me develop better habits and persevere (and grow!) through a better spiritual routine.
As St. Francis de Sales also said, “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Get to know yourself, what spirituality works for you, and persevere!
For more resources to deepen your spiritual life, click here.
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!
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. –1 Corinthians 12:27
I commute to work every day by train through Chicago’s “loop.” It’s the perfect place for
people-watching. Recently, I was on a busy sidewalk when a woman who looked rather tired and disheveled pushed a stroller near the crowd with her child. Behind me were two very elegantly dressed women in a hurry. The woman with the stroller asked the passing crowd, “Can you spare some change for our next meal?” It’s a question that I’ve heard too often downtown. I felt a pang of sadness and guilt. Often, I am unsure how to respond. The women behind me continued on past her and began commenting: “What a horrible mother”; “Of course I’m not going to help her out. Why would I want to give her my money?” Those comments hurt even more than seeing this poor mother and child suffer.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” The mother and her baby, the women behind me, and all those who are a part of my community of friends and family are of one body. As stated in Lumen Gentium, “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body.
In that Body the life of Christ is poured into the believers who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ who suffered and was glorified.” We live as one with Christ and with one another even amidst the poverty, injustice, and messiness we experience.
This letter from Paul to the early Church deepens their understanding of the Body of Christ and its physical makeup. Each person has a function within it which works alongside the other members and promotes the common good. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful.” I often fall into the temptation of removing myself from a group who seems holier than me, those who are more involved in their community or are outspoken in ways that I’m not. I even tend to exclude myself from the community of pedestrians walking down the sidewalk. I forget that we make up the Body of Christ and that if others suffer, I suffer. If others rejoice, I rejoice. I also share a part of myself with each of them. One of my mentors once said, “Our goal is always to connect. Even if it’s uncomfortable, we are made for relationship.” As a Christian, I am called to notice those in the community around me and to connect with them.
Mystici Corporis Christi, the encyclical from Pius XII, also outlines the meaning of being a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. “Each member of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ, if authentic, is integrally bonded in soul, and hopefully in heart, through the Incarnation, by the Spirit, with Jesus, Son of God, and son of Mary, divine and human,” wrote Msgr. Owen F. Campion. We are bonded in soul and heart because of Christ’s physical and spiritual sacrifice as the Son of God. We become whole in him and in relation to others. As members of the Church, we are called to be a family who loves and cares for others, even those outside of our communities.
In all circumstances, the Body of Christ leads me to a holier life. When I am doubtful or uncertain, my faith community allows me to grow. When I’m overwhelmed, others will kindle the fire of faith within me. I fully experience joy when I experience it with others and share the Good News and the love of Jesus. I may do this differently from a trained hand who provides, or a speaker with a gifted tongue, but I’m using my gifts as a member of the Body of Christ. We are called to take part of this community through our unique identity with authenticity.
I paused that day on my commute because of this mystical experience of community. I witnessed the pain of the poor mother and child on the Chicago sidewalk, and the harshness of the response of the two women who were walking near me. I became more aware of this truth in the wounds and challenging emotions I experienced. I feel pain because I am connected to all people in some way. Conversely, I can feel joy if I make small choices to build up the Body of Christ. St. Paul outlines this for us, and we hear it in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, “Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We must pay attention like Jesus would, and love our physical and mystical body.
Questions for Reflection: What unique gifts can I share with others as a member of the Body of Christ? How can I become more aware of the communities I live in?
In my adult years, I have often turned to St. Teresa of Avila as a spiritual mother. I love her courage, her passion, her wit, and her boldness. Throughout her life, she was always on the go. She was a reformer who brought the Carmelite Order back to its original roots. She got things done, founding over fifteen monasteries. And yet she was a great mystic--a woman who received beautiful graces, revelations and experiences of God in profound ways that are hard to tangibly explain. She went into ecstasies as a result of her deep relationship with the Lord and wrote a book called The Interior Castle about the journey of faith leading to union with God. I love the synthesis of the practical and the mystical in her personality. This synthesis becomes more compelling in our lives today, for it reveals that we are capable of a deep interior life and relationship with God in the midst of the busyness of life.
There is a story about Teresa of Avila that has caused me to laugh in genuine appreciation of her character. According to tradition, Teresa fell off her donkey while journeying to visit one of her convents--causing her to land in the mud and dirty her Carmelite habit. With her quick, fiery Spanish temper, Teresa looked up to heaven and said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many.”
I love this story because it beautifully depicts St. Teresa’s humanity and honest relationship with God. It is a raw, unfiltered moment of frankness that I believe is an example of both true prayer and transparency in our relationship with God.
If prayer is ongoing dialogue with God through words, thoughts or actions, what is Teresa’s statement if not prayer? She talks to God with confidence and trust. She is bold about her feelings, knowing that God can handle her honesty. Notably, where does Teresa turn first in her day to day life? To God. He is her crutch, her foundation, even in times of frustration and annoyance. He is at the forefront of her mind.
When I first heard this anecdote, I could completely relate to St. Teresa. Like her, I fall down on the road towards holiness. Furthermore, I often catch myself blaming God for different moments of hardship and frustration. What we sometimes miss as we lie there in the mud is the hand that’s in front of us--the extended hand of Christ that I often imagine in the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus saves from being stoned. God is not the one who pushes us down, but he is the one who picks us up. How quick are we to reach for the outstretched hand? Do we even reach out for it? Or are we too proud, choosing to try to get up by ourselves? What did St. Teresa do? In one of her reflections, she writes, “I praise the mercy of God, for it was he alone who gave me his hand.” (Life, Ch 7, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume One, ICS Publications, Washington D.C. 1987)
Do we turn immediately to God in our day to day lives? This is a question we can all reflect upon. Taking our reflection a step further, do we respond to the situations in which we find ourselves with joy or a sense of humor?
I believe Pope Francis and St. Teresa would have been great friends. In his homily at the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis reminded us of St. Paul’s command to “rejoice always.” If we forget this call, we fall into the temptation of becoming “sourpusses”--to use Pope Francis’ term. We are called to be people of joy in the midst of suffering, not in the absence of it. It is this type of transparency in our relationship with God, this type of outlook on the life of faith, this sense of humor that helps us move forward in answering the universal call to be missionary disciples who witness to the Gospel through their encounter with those around them.
Like St. Teresa, may we always have a sense of humor. May we be bold and honest in our dialogue with God. May we be apostles of joy. And may we join in saying the phrase very often attributed to her, “God protect us from sour-faced saints”!
Courage and perseverance are two traits that I admire. The latter is a characteristic that not many people have, is hard to teach, and one that is imperative for success. In my classroom of 2nd graders, I try to remind them to “not give up, but try again and again.” When they become frustrated with challenging work or difficult friendships, they stop wanting to try again. They start to give up - but I tell them, “Keep trying!” and “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake!” Hopefully, one day my students will grow to recognize how courage can help them persevere through anything.
People who do extraordinary things should be recognized for their courage and conviction. Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, is a woman whose contributions to the Church, taking action in times of need and exceptional theological writings, sometimes can be overlooked. Born in Siena, Italy in 1347, Catherine spent her life doing the will of God. She began receiving visions and praying to God from a very early age, even seeing in one in which Christ reassured her with an armor of courage that could overcome anything that tempted or threatened her.
St. Catherine lived her entire life in prayer and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI on October 4, 1970. She along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux are the three women to have been bestowed with such a title. St. Catherine worked to return Pope Gregory XI to Rome, from Avignon France where the Papacy had been residing for 67 years. Her determination to see this mission through was a testament to her unwavering courage to do God’s will.
In her many philosophical letters, prayers, and the Dialogue, St. Catherine reflected on four theological concepts with which she considered while in ecclesiastical mysticism. The first was a Treatise of Divine Providence, the second was a Treatise of Discretion, third was a Treatise of Prayer, and finally a Treatise of Obedience. Throughout her courageous writings, she discusses the goodness of a person’s knowledge of God and his unending love for his children living on earth.
Because of this prayerful life she led, in 1375, St. Catherine was blessed with the Stigmata on her hands, feet, and side. Her wounds reflected those of Christ’s and were only visible to the naked eye upon her death in 1380 at the young age of thirty-three. Found incorrupt in 1430, St. Catherine is now buried under the altar of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome and a sculpture of her body is on display there, too.
Throughout the year, let us strive to be like St. Catherine of Siena and take courage and persevere. Unshaken by those who challenged and doubted her, she remained steadfast in her commitment to Christ, His Church, and His people. You don’t have to be a saint to follow God’s call to courageous witness, but prayer and perseverance can lead you toward holiness in Christ.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene. Many of us probably remember Mary Magdalene as one of the women who remained at the feet of Jesus throughout his suffering and death on the cross. Or, we might remember her as the first person to witness his Resurrection. Both roles are very important to consider as we examine the readings from today and their importance in recognizing God’s presence in our lives.
Today’s Gospel from John focuses on Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb of Jesus. She arrives, finds it empty, and weeps. When confronted by Jesus, she can only say, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Mary Magdalene is blinded by her grief, her own human failings, because in that moment, she believed her struggles were greater than God himself. She has forgotten Christ’s promise that he will rebuild this temple in three days (Cf, Jn 2:19). She, who sat at the feet of Jesus as he suffered on the cross, does not recognize that Christ is standing in front of her. We often go through life like Mary Magdalene, blinded by our everyday fears and hardships, but her life and her actions give us an example to follow. Though blinded by her own human failings, she learned to have faith and trust in the constant presence of the mercy and love of Christ.
Christ says to her, “But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” With these words Christ proves to Mary Magdalene and to us that by his death and resurrection he has given mankind the ability to develop a personal relationship with God. Even after his death, he is calling Mary Magdalene and the disciples to more, to recognize that through his suffering on the cross he has transcended death and opened the gates of heaven to us. He calls us to renew our faith in him, “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He calls us into his arms, to know him, to love him, and serve him.
This Gospel scene with Mary Magdalene reminds us that we are often blind to Christ’s presence in our lives. We sometimes forget just how significant his death on the cross actually was, we forget that he laid down his life so that we could overcome our daily struggle with sin and that we might one day be one with the Lord in heaven. This is a hard message to remember especially in these recent months in which a plane carrying 295 innocent people was shot down and people are being killed all around the world in the Ukraine, Israel, and Africa. Many of us feel lost and unable to help against this senseless violence and yet Mary Magdalene gives us the answer. That answer is Christ. He is always here for us. He is always present. We might not be able to see him at all times, for we are often blinded by our human failings, our pride, and our worldly desires, and yet Christ remains present to us. We have, like Mary Magdalene, to just open our eyes and trust in the Lord. We have to offer ourselves up as he did in the only way we know how, in imitating the life of Christ every day, first and foremost through prayer. By answering his call to know him, to love him, and to serve him we give ourselves completely to him just as Mary Magdalene did.
St. Theresa of Avila gives us a simple prayer to remember the continuous presence of Christ in our lives, we but only have to look for him:
Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things, whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
Nicholas Shields is a current District Deputy for the Washington, D.C. Knights of Columbus and a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America.