One of the most exciting, profound, yet sometimes awkward and unnerving places of parish ministry involves welcoming new Catholics officially into the Church through what is called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA for short. Many parishes are now gearing up for the next season of RCIA, which generally runs from early Fall and concludes with the Easter Vigil (this year on April 15, 2017).
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve and lead RCIA in a few parish settings and have been blessed to accompany some friends and family members through the process. But every year there are things I learn and need to be reminded of to facilitate a truly transformative time for the candidates and catechumens. Below, I’d like to offer some perspective, as well as a few pitfalls to avoid that have made a difference in the way the teams I’ve been a part of approach this important ministry.
Speak their Language
For those of us who grew up Catholic or actively learn and read about our faith, we become very familiar with the vocabulary and theology of the Church that is typically foreign and confusing to newcomers. Don’t assume people know what you are talking about, or what a word or acronym (even RCIA!) means. People are learning a new language of faith, which requires patience, clarity, and practice. Without patience and clarity, people feel alienated and lost, not impressed, and you risk having your faith come off as pretentious and antiquated, not living and effective.
Teach Them to Pray
Going off the last point, we should remember that prayer is the primary language of the faith. This is based in the ancient Catholic spiritual axiom, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The truth is, we assume people know how to pray, but prayer takes learning and practice, just like anything else. Prayer is necessary for living out the Catholic life beyond RCIA, but instead of just telling people to pray, we need to actively teach new Catholics how to pray by praying with them. Do some form of prayer together each week—the Rosary, Lectio Divina, a litany—to expose people to the richness of Catholic spiritual life. If we leave participants with anything, let it be the desire and ability to pray.
Learn Their Story
As passionate teachers of the faith, RCIA leaders often love to share their experience and favorite subjects about the Church and our faith. That’s important, but we often risk talking when we should simply be listening. Be mindful in giving the candidates and catechumens plenty of time to speak and share their story with one another, not just for a brief minute the first day, but also as part of an ongoing process that extends the whole course.
Think Outside the Classroom
Learning the content of the Catholic faith is essential, no doubt about it. But often our approach gives the impression that church teachings only live in the pages of textbooks. If all learning about the faith happens in the classroom, it has a tendency to stay there.
Look for ways to make connections between Catholic beliefs and tradition and real action and practices. Learn about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy by scheduling time to go out as a team, do a few of them together, and then reflect on them. In Baltimore where I live and work, we are surrounded by some amazing Catholic historical and religious sites. We decided, “Why not incorporate that into our RCIA experience?” Instead of just reading about the saints, we planned field trips to the churches and homes of local saints. RCIA became a more memorable experience that expanded horizons and made people feel at home in their new faith family.
Build a Strong Team
Your most valuable asset is a dynamic and cooperative RCIA ministry team. I’ve heard of RCIA teams that actually actively disagree and challenge one another over church teachings in front of the class. Different personalities and gifts are important, but they should work in unity. Be mindful of what kind of personalities and gifts will resonate with the experience of people going through your program.
New converts are frequently powerful and fresh witnesses to the joy of their faith and are often ready and excited to get involved. Before the RCIA process is over, start looking for opportunities to move new Catholics into the service opportunities and ministries of your parish.
I had lived in Baltimore for only a few months when some friends came to town. They insisted we see the Inner Harbor, and so off we went, adventuring on foot.
I’ll be very honest: having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I was still getting used to the number of individuals on the streets asking for money. My instincts always screamed: KEEP WALKING; DON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT; YOU HAVE NO MONEY TO GIVE. And usually by the time my inner voices settled down, I was a block or two past the questioner.
But when my friends and I decided on crepes for lunch, I found myself unable to keep walking past the homeless man who was hunkered down directly in front of the door to our intended restaurant. In my mind, of course, it became a game of lowered eyes, mumbled replies and a quick grab for the doorknob.
Not so, for my friends. While I was shuffling past the man and his quiet request for help, my two friends stopped, asked his name, and shook his hand. “I’ll tell you what, buddy,” my one friend replied. “I don’t carry any cash. But why don’t I buy you a crepe?” The gentleman thought that would be just fine, and so in we all went to place our orders.
I don’t remember that man’s name, what we discussed, or what kind of crepe he got. But I do know that my comfortable, ready-made response to those I encountered on the streets asking for money suddenly became embarrassingly out-of-touch and morally questionable. What’s more, I was awestruck by the knee-jerk reaction of my two friends: where I cast my eyes down, they looked another human being in the face and smiled.
If you hear anything about Catholic Social Teaching, you often hear that it’s the Church’s best kept secret. Why is that? Because we sometimes don’t realize that popes, theologians, saints and everyday Catholics have been thinking, praying, and writing about issues of hunger, war, poverty, and injustice for a very long time. And, as a result, we have a pretty elaborate, intellectually rigorous and philosophically challenging framework within which to address the most pressing issues of our day.
So often, those who are in on this best kept secret are often intimidated because they think they need a degree just to wrap their minds around Catholic Social Teaching. Not so. Certainly don’t miss out on the chance to study these teachings, but prayer is what helps us get at the heart of the matter.
I spent a lot of time over the following weeks reflecting on that encounter between me, my friends, and that man outside the crepe shop. Why was I so struck, so inspired? Could this have been what the disciples saw in Jesus, why they were so attracted to him? Did they see an individual who met the gaze of those in need with a smile and an outstretched hand?
Let us take the person of Jesus—God, who we meet in prayer and life’s daily joys and struggles—and go from there. That’s the heart of Catholic Social Teaching.
We realize that every person we come across in our day—those we intend to meet, and those who stop us for money—are lived expressions of God in our world, opportunities to meet Christ. It becomes a lot harder to ignore them. What’s more, we begin to see that as we encounter Christ in others, we find ourselves drawn deeper into the plight of those most in need. We ask ourselves, “how can such injustice be allowed to exist?” And God responds, “Well, then do something.”
That’s now what I find myself forced to grapple with when I encounter individuals on the street, in the news, wherever. Because if I admit that we are all part of God’s family, that my existence here and your existence there are less about what we’re doing and more about what God’s doing, my perspective has to change. I have a responsibility to act, to live my life in a more intentional way.
At Catholic Relief Services, we throw the word solidarity around like it’s a Frisbee on the beach. But that doesn’t make it any less important. It is, after all, a key element of Catholic Social Teaching. And it calls us to live beyond ourselves, to recognize God in all things and all people and to work for a world that is just and peaceful for all.
And sometimes, that work begins with the guy you passed on the street outside the crepe shop who’s asking for some change.
Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching? Check out these resources:
In the first part of this series, we discussed some of the initial steps that our parish took in beginning the building and creating process for the new Wellness Coordinator position and ministry we felt our community needed.I would like to take a moment to share with you some of my beginning experiences in creating and building a ministry to meet a need that our Pastor, Father Forrey, recognized in our community.It is my hope that you can use some of my experiences to either assess, re-invent, or create whatever ministry field it is that you are being called to.
The mission of our Wellness Ministry is to provide the tools and support necessary to foster a healthy community through five aspects of wellness: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.Our goal is to be able to create a positive, spiritually uplifting environment where our exercise and our health become a form of praise and thanksgiving.We have determined our need and our mission. What next?
Do the research.
When beginning a new ministry, I would advise you to be sure to conduct ongoing research regarding the work of your ministry. In my experience, it is of utmost importance to be sure your work is relevant to your specific community as well as current societal trends for that particular need. At least once every two months, I make sure to schedule time in my week to focus on research to help strengthen and enhance our programs and mission. What are the current trends in whole person wellness and how are they or how should they be affected by our Catholic beliefs and teaching? Are the programs that we are implementing and offering speaking to these societal trends and needs? Part of my role is ensuring that our ministry is providing current and relevant healthy lifestyle options for our parish while staying true to our Catholic faith. If there is an option that may provide health benefits but is not quite in line with our beliefs, how can we make some changes to still provide the same benefit while staying true to our calling?
Through faithful research, you can expand your arsenal of ideas and experiences by seeing what others have already tried and their level of success. Does the source speculate reasons or give further thought on the subject? One very important link that can be uncovered through research is finding others that are working towards similar goals and may even be experiencing similar road blocks or frustrations.
Seek a professional network.
Two minds are always better than one. When I first began this journey, I knew that I would not be able to create a prosperous sustainable outreach on my own. By seeking the guidance and suggestions of fellow staff members, parishioners, and professionals throughout various organizations, universities, and community circles, I am better equipped to carry out the mission of my position. Pay attention to who the Holy Spirit places in your path and don’t be afraid to ask various people for guidance, suggestions, or brainstorming sessions. Some connections may fall through, but some may take your mission and your ideas to new heights.
Do and Create.
In the end, all of the planning, discussing, brainstorming, and praying mean nothing if you do not put anything into action. In my experience, the hardest part thus far in getting this ministry off the ground has been having the courage to step back and let it take flight. It’s wonderful to formulate thousands of ideas, but it is terrifying to actually put them into action. Some ideas will take off right away, some will falter and fall short, and still others will take time to grow and nurture. The important thing to remember is just to start! Begin to try things and keep track of the outcomes of your program. Get out there and create! This is our charge. This is our mission. “Get up now and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to designate you as my servant and as a witness to what you have seen of me and what you will see of me” (Acts 26:16). When you are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged or are struggling for new ideas, check your compass. Make sure it is always freely pointing north to our Redeemer. You will find your way, your purpose, and your mission through Him.
For more resources on collaboration in ministry, click here.
What do we imagine when we think of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we envision tongues of fire, as the Apostles experienced in the Upper Room during Pentecost. Perhaps we think of a dove, as we read in the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Maybe we think of wind, a ghostly figure, or even a loud gathering of people speaking in tongues or falling to the ground.
Many within the Catholic Church are unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply unaware of the Holy Spirit and His role within our Church. This is perhaps because the Holy Spirit is the least “safe,” “personal,” or “containable” person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was not sent to earth in the form of a person who healed, preached, and died for our sins, as Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is not called “Abba, Father,” and was not the primary face of God in the Old Testament. Though the Holy Spirit has existed since the beginning, cited in Scripture at creation as the spirit of God hovering over the waters, and is referenced throughout the Old and New Testaments through Pentecost and beyond, many find it difficult to define, connect to, or have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
My own relationship with the Holy Spirit did not begin until my third year of college. Recent events in my life had left me profoundly grateful, so I began to spend five to ten minutes each morning simply giving thanks to God and invoking the Holy Spirit. It started with thanksgiving for the more obvious things: a roof over my head, food on the table, family. As I continued, I grew in my perception to see the little moments of grace in each day. I would thank God for a chance conversation with a friend, the insightful part of a particular lecture, or the flower that had blossomed in my neighbor’s yard. I invited the Holy Spirit into my life, and spent the morning in thanksgiving and praise rather than petition.
As a result, I started experiencing a profound, unshakeable joy. It was as though I was seeing the world with new eyes—the eyes of gratitude and grace, the eyes of God. I was becoming more Christ-like without really trying, because my heart was filled with the love of God, the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been called the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit reveals the Father to humanity and enables us to become like Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who was beginning to transform me into a disciple and instilling joy in my heart. We often miss the work of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit “does not speak of Himself…[but] makes us hear the Father's Word”—which is Christ (CCC 687). As Christ himself said to the Apostles, the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears” (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is also consubstantial with the Father and the Son—meaning that the three persons of the Trinity are inseparable while being distinct in their roles. The role of the Holy Spirit is the building up of the Church and her people. The Spirit of Truth guides us to truth (cf John 16:13). He is the person of the Trinity sent by Christ to be most present in the world today—our Advocate. Because of the work of the Spirit, Christ can say, “I am with you, even to the end of time” (Mt. 28:20).
How can we come to know the Holy Spirit? In prayer, the liturgy, the sacraments, Scripture, Church teaching, the witness of holy men and women, and in many other ways (cf CCC 688). As we celebrate Pentecost, I invite you to start spending a few minutes each day with the Holy Spirit. Invite the Spirit into your Scripture reading, asking Him to reveal His wisdom and help you apply it to your own life. Call upon the Spirit in prayer and thanksgiving throughout your day. Learn more about the sacraments, which reveal the inner life of the Trinity, and participate more deeply in them. Read the lives of the saints, men and women who are examples of the holiness made possible by the Spirit.
May these practices lead to a Pentecost and renewal of the Spirit in our own lives. Together, let us say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit!” (CCC 2670-72). May His fire purify our hearts, leaving only the love of God, so that we may in turn set the world on fire.
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” With these words, I and students of Lasallian schools around the world would pause before class to contemplate and center ourselves on this truth. This call to prayer tended to have the effect of stilling the room, if only for a few moments of silence, but I especially appreciated turning my focus to God before carrying on with my day. Even after I graduated from high school, I was able to cherish this simple ritual even more as I would go through my busy routine at The Catholic University of America. I found that even the simplest acknowledgement of God— this small act of love— would help me endure the challenges of the day.
The Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Baptist de La Salle on April 7, though his institutions continue to celebrate on May 15, the date of his original feast day until 1969. Students of De La Salle’s schools may be very familiar with his biography, whose life’s works are the very foundation of their education. De La Salle was born to a wealthy family in Reims, France in 1651. At that time, most children had little hope for social or economic advancement. Seeing how the educators in his hometown were struggling, lacking leadership, purpose, and training, De La Salle determined to put his own talents and education at the service of the children “often left to themselves and badly brought up.” Having donated his inheritance to the poor of the famine-afflicted province of Champagne, De La Salle began a new religious institute, a community of consecrated laymen to run free schools “together and by association,” the first with no priests among its members: the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known in the United States as the Christian Brothers. His community would grow to succeed in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that boasted revolutionary educational practices such as instructing in the vernacular, grouping students according to ability and achievement, integrating religious and secular subjects, having well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and involving parents. Today, the Christian Brothers are assisted by more than 73,000 lay colleagues, teaching over 900,000 students in 80 countries.
As a “Brother’s boy,” each of my peers and I would learn to take up our studies as well as our friendships with gusto and dedication, being made ever aware of the gifts God had given each of us. The life of De La Salle was especially studied as part of the freshmen curriculum, but each student was expected to emulate his example of charity and spirituality through and beyond graduation. St. John Baptist de La Salle showed others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, and how to affirm, strengthen, and heal. His advice to his community of educators still rings true for the countless students taught in his name: “to do all [your] actions for the Love of [God] … with all the affection of your heart” and to “hold prayer in high esteem as the foundation of all the virtues, and the source of all grace needed to sanctify [yourselves].” The Brothers I was blessed to have as mentors surely strove to follow this example in all aspects of their lives; they’d encourage us to simply be aware of and open to God’s will.
Returning to prayer, then, was essential to the ministry of St. John Baptist de La Salle. I would and still marvel over how truly beautiful is the sight of seeing students pray before class, meals, games, and trips —not just out of need or a particular want, but out of love, faithful devotion, praise, and thanksgiving. Especially in times of global, local, or personal strife, the small chapel in the corner of my high school would always contain at least one of my peers before the Blessed Sacrament. Of the many gifts our beloved founder gave to the modern education system, I especially cherish the routine of prayer instilled in my life and that of countless others. Not only would we remember our being in God’s holy presence, but also that God Himself faithfully, lovingly, eternally, and supportively lives in each of us.
“Saint John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us!”
“Live, Jesus, in our hearts! Forever!”
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
How is your posture? Whether I’m teaching a relaxation and scripture meditation class, aerobics, floor and core work, strength and balance, or working one-on-one with an individual, I am constantly reminding my students to, “check in with your posture.” Are your feet firmly planted in the ground? Are you engaging your thighs? Is your pelvis tilted under and your spine lengthened? Is your core engaged? Are your shoulders rolled down and back? Is your head and neck lifted? Where is your focus? I’m sure that any of my students will tell you that, at first, it is slightly unnerving to hear constantly. Soon, however, we each come to realize what an important role proper posture plays, not only in our everyday lives, but especially during our exercises. The simplest of movements can be made more challenging and more beneficial for the whole body and mind by engaging and practicing proper posture. Through the effort of involving the whole body, we are able to improve our balance, kinesthetic awareness, and better focus on isolating the specific muscles that we are moving or working. When we are able to unite that kind of movement awareness with the sacrifice of an intention or prayer, powerful things can happen within and through us.
Although it is hard to believe, we are just about half way through our Lenten journey. It’s time to check in with our spiritual posture. Are we engaging our Lenten spiritual muscles of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? Is our human pride tucked under and our humility engaged? Are our shoulders rolled back and our head held high during our offerings of sacrifice so as not to draw attention to our sacrificial efforts? (Matthew 6:5-8) Or are we simply going through the motions, executing the exercise, without engaging our whole selves? We are all called to be saints within our own right. Becoming a saint and bringing the glory of God and the saving power of Christ into the world is what we were created to do. That is our Eastertide. That is what we are “training” for. Lent is not meant to be business as usual. Therefore, our spiritual posture becomes even more relevant and important as we challenge, exercise, and train ourselves for what we are called to be.
There may be times in our lives where going through the motions is necessary. Sometimes, it may be all we can do—and that’s okay. However, Lent is our time to persevere. Lent is our training season. What do we need to remove from our lives to reach a healthier state spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically? What are the things we need to hang onto or strengthen in order to reach our Easter goal?
As we assess our journey thus far, perhaps we can call upon the assistance and intercession of St. Katherine Drexel as we honor her on her Feast Day today. Saint Katherine Drexel beautifully expresses that our entire being and all that we do, from work to play, to keeping ourselves healthy, should be offered back to our heavenly Father for His glory. For it is only through Him that we receive our spirit and our faculties. It is through Him and our offerings to Him that we receive the strength and ability to complete the work that He calls us to and to become the saints we are called to be. In her personal writings, she prayed:
“Yes, my Lord and my God Jesus, to you I commend my spirit, my soul with its faculties, my body with its senses, my heart with its affections, all that I have, and all that I am. Dispose of me absolutely, in everything, according to your will. From now on, dearest Jesus, may everything outside you be a matter of indifference to me, provided only I accomplish your will and advance in your love. O Jesus, I love you and your Mother and abandon myself to your love for time and eternity.”
Check in with your posture. Do the hard work and don’t be afraid to sweat your way through the rest of Lent. Unite your work, your dedication, and your sacrifices with the saints and angels and call on their intersession for strength. Stay focused on the end result, the finish line, the Easter joy.
For more resources to help your spiritual Lenten posture, click here.
Children have a way of shedding light on a question or topic we hadn’t thought of or paid much attention to. Suddenly, a topic they might casually bring up becomes extremely important and sends us into a research frenzy in search of the correct answer. A few weeks ago, a coworker shared stories about her young children with me, some of which included teaching them lessons about God. Her son asked why we pray for others if God knows the outcome.
While discussing prayer and God’s omniscience with my coworker, I dug deep down in my memory to recall catechism lessons from Catholic grade school. I shared some answers with my coworker, but felt the need to consult my parish priest for further insight.
Ultimately, I understood that prayer deepens our relationship with God. My parish priest proposed the alternative: “If we never needed to pray, we would never think of God. We would forget him and our relationship with him would atrophy, if not entirely disappear.” Jesus tells us to pray as he prayed. James 4:3 says, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” And in somewhat of a response, John 16:24 says, “Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” As we pray, our desires can become purified. Perhaps we begin praying for “x” outcome, and as we pray, we come to realize “x” is not the best option and instead we are called to “y”. Prayer serves to change us.
While God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, he has also provided us with free will. We must pray and discern which choices lead us to follow God’s plan. As St. Thomas Aquinas says in his work Summa Theologica, “We pray, not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers...” (Pg. 3492)
Praying for others is a way of loving them. Prayer for others allows us to grow in compassion and keeps us from focusing on selfish concerns. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that even since Abraham’s time, people have interceded (asking on behalf of another) in prayer for one another. It is a “characteristic of the heart attuned to God’s mercy.” (CCC 2635) Intercession for our fellow man is an act of selflessness, even to the point of praying for our enemies. “The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries, ‘for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions,’ for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.” (CCC 2636) Sometimes we can be God’s instrument by providing comfort or assistance to a community member in need when we learn of or are asked to pray for someone. We can become God’s answer to a prayer.
While we do not know why God may grant one prayer and not another, it’s important to know God loves us and desires what is best for us. And being in a close relationship with God is best for us. As my parish priest said: “the ‘stuff’ God grants is secondary.”
For more resources on prayer, please visit the Catholic Apostolate Center Prayer and Catechesis Resource page.
Like most high school students, I had a yearly summer reading list to complete before the start of the next school term. One summer, I was required to read “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom. Reading this book was a “light bulb” moment for me. One line from the book stuck with me: “There are five people you meet in heaven. Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for.”
After reading that line, I knew there had been individuals placed in my life for reasons I came to realize after reflection, as well as for reasons yet to be revealed. This week, I continued my reading of “The Discernment of Spirits”, Saint Ignatius’ teaching further interpreted by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V., and I was reminded again of how God places individuals in our lives for a reason.
In Saint Ignatius’ rule No. 2 of the discernment of spirits, he explains how people seeking God find encouragement, strength, courage, consolation, inspiration, and ease so that they may go forward in doing good. To dissuade us from following the path toward God, the evil spirit gives us anxiety, saddens us, and places obstacles in our way so that we are disquieted with false reasons to fall away from doing God’s will.
Temptation takes many forms. In people who don’t easily succumb to sin, the evil one’s tactic is a gnawing feeling that triggers anxiety and diminishes peace and delight in God’s service. We may also find ourselves sad without knowing why when it comes to prayer, the loss of love for others in God, or any other pursuit of God – it is not a sadness such as that of the loss of a loved one or occupation. Obstacles are placed in our way, questioning how we can continue a life of daily prayer, for example, and live a lonely life. And lastly, false reasons can begin to fill our thoughts. After a Lenten retreat this year, I felt rejuvenated in my faith, but then started to feel like I didn’t make the most of my retreat experience and how I failed in my time with the Lord. I was wrong and needed to see that it was temptation seeking to cloud my judgment and give me a false reason to not attend future retreats.
In contrast to these negative feelings, we know when we are on God’s path when God quiets our hearts from anxiety and we feel encouraged or strengthened by a decision or experience. For example, I have a friend who also blogs for the Catholic Apostolate Center, and his Facebook postings of each new blog popped up on my newsfeed. I was encouraged by this friend and my family to find out if I could blog from a different state. I found out I could, and each time I have a blog due, my faith is re-energized as I’m excited to share a new piece of my faith with others.
God also assists us through inspiration. After my college graduation last year, I told a friend how I was nervous to be in a town without the great friends I had made in the last four years. She invited me to attend a young Catholic adult group in my new town, and now I am good friends with these great individuals. They inspire me each time we talk, and they recommend books and prayers that helped them overcome similar difficulties.
Lastly, God eases or takes away obstacles. During one Mass I attended in college, a guest priest shared his goals for the Parish Mission starting the next day. I had not been to a mission before, but the more he talked, the more I felt compelled to go. For the next 24 hours, the feeling never went away. I even completed my homework early for the first time that semester. On my way to church, I ran into an old friend going to the mission. She was hoping to find a friend so she wouldn’t be alone. We sat together and, afterward, talked all the way home.
Timothy 2:21 says, “If anyone cleanses himself [from what is dishonorable], he will be a vessel for lofty use, dedicated, beneficial to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” It’s quite amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come on my own spiritual journey due to the individuals placed in my life by God, so that I may also do his work.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
To read Dana’s first post about the Discernment of the Spirits, click here!
Have you ever sat behind a family in church who don’t realize their child is tearing out hymnal pages silently? That was me when I was young. My brother would bring a whole container of Cheerios and still end up chewing the wooden pew, and my sister would constantly be passed back and forth to Mom and Dad until she either fell asleep or stopped chattering. Families who bring young children to church are establishing a foundation on which their faith can be encouraged throughout their lives. Interestingly enough, all three of us are now grown-up, moved away from home, and are regular attendees at Mass. Our commitment to faith and the Gospels has never ceased, but only grown into what it is today.
Soon we celebrate an important day in the liturgical year…the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time! Not what you were expecting me to say, right? As we listen to the Gospel at Mass each week, our hearts journey alongside Christ’s teachings and we parallel these teachings to our own day-to-day lives. We often forget that Jesus’ miracles and most famous parables occur during Ordinary Time! Surely, there is no coincidence that during these weeks of Ordinary Time, when Jesus is teaching his disciples, he is also teaching us. As we hear in this week’s Gospel of Mark, “The people were astonished at his teaching” (Mk 1:22). Just as those who heard Christ’s teaching firsthand, so shall we open our hearts and hear him, too! The Catechism teaches us that Sundays are the “principle day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. (CCC 1193). Throughout the liturgical year we come together on Sundays to celebrate the paschal mystery, that is the death and Resurrection of Christ. Ordinary Time is an important part of the celebration of this paschal mystery.
Ordinary Time can often be understood as time between the two holiday seasons. This period can be viewed as Christmas is over and Lent has not begun. There are two times during the Liturgical year. First is the time between Christmas and Lent, which begins at the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and lasts until Ash Wednesday. The second instance of Ordinary time begins the Monday following Pentecost and lasts until Advent. Ordinary is taken from the word, ordinal which literally means “counted numbers.” Many Catholics think of Ordinary Time as boring, usual, or “ordinary” Sundays instead of numerically arranged Sundays. Through the efforts of the New Evangelization, it is necessary to demonstrate to others the significance of weekly Mass, especially during Ordinary Time, to enhance our knowledge and message of the Gospels. Ordinary Time is a chance for Catholics to cultivate our understanding of Christ’s mission of love, and try our very best to be more like Him every day.
So this Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, focus on the message of the Gospel and the relevance of the Word in your life. Coming to church on a Sunday that is not for Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter is not easy task for some people or families. If you see a family with young children in church this weekend, say a short prayer for those parents. It is not easy to take small children to Mass on a non-school-day, so a short prayer or an understanding smile might make it all worth their while. With your better understanding of the liturgical year, you too can let others know that Ordinary Time is not the boring-bunch-of-green Sundays, but a chance to grow closer to God and your neighbor. Now, if they ask you about the time between Christmas and Easter or Easter and Christmas you can respond with, “There is nothing ordinary about it!”
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
“Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.” This simple invocation was the conclusion to my family’s Morning Prayer ritual. Every morning, for as long as I can remember, my family would pray together an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and the St. Michael’s Prayer. We would conclude with the invocations of Saint Anthony (for a safe trip to school) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (for help with our studies). Today the day before the feast day of Saint Thomas, patron saint of students, and during Catholic Schools Week; I wanted to share my experience of education.
I attended public schools from first grade until I graduated from high school. I was not the only religious student in my grade (or even the only Catholic) but nonetheless I was labeled as the “token Catholic.” This label was at times a point of pride for me and at others a burden
I wish I could evade. While it never hindered me from making friends, it still set me apart. I would take up defense of the Church’s often unpopular stance on social issues in class discussions. In some rare cases I even found that my thoughts on certain subjects were brushed off as being my opinion only because of my faith, and any evidence I supplied in support of that stance was ignored. While I received a well-rounded education, the school community was so concerned with being tolerant of all things that it became intolerant of ideas it perceived as being intolerant.
After high school, I attended a Catholic college. This was my first real experience of having faith integrated into my formal education. There were numerous differences, but perhaps the most notable was the community. In every classroom, there were Catholic students whose beliefs varied widely, as well as students of other faiths or no faith at all. Regardless of who you were or what you believed, you were expected to support your opinion with reason. It was this environment that fostered a community of intellectual discussion and debate (which rarely turned into conflict). Every idea was heard, which allowed me to hone my own beliefs while also growing in faith. This community was truly welcoming and challenging to all—even when that meant a difference of opinions.
Education should be a constant exchange of ideas. This exchange is not always smooth and simple, and that can in fact be a good thing. Saint Thomas’s two greatest works, Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles, incorporate the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (which, at the time that Saint Thomas lived and wrote, was just shy of heresy). He also conversed with philosophers of other faiths, most notably Islam. Despite this pushing of boundaries—or perhaps because of them—Saint Thomas is recognized today as one of the founders of modern philosophy. In his writings he addresses arguments and opposition to his theories head-on regardless of whom they came from. This boldness in spirit is what made him both an incredible student and teacher. It is also why, over eight hundred years later students—myself certainly included—ask for his intercession with their studies.
As Catholics, it is our duty to build up communities where we can encounter both those who share our faith and those who do not. We can see this lived out in the challenging and formative words of our Holy Father. May we always seek to be students and teachers of the faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
Patrick Burke is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
My entire life I have always had a yearning in my heart to become a teacher, and this summer was the beginning of that dream becoming a reality. I spent all summer soaking up every classroom management technique I was given, as well as learning the best ways to make math fun for secondary students. I entered the classroom in August, and I realized that implementing those tools was nothing less than difficult. I pray that my students learned half as much from me as I learned from them. Although this job is not easy, my students inspire me to wake up every day and teach them something about translating algebraic expressions, but even more so, about love and the goodness of life.
However, my teaching cohort met at the end of the semester to pre-plan for January, and we were reminded that inspiration is not enough to do this work. We need passion and drive to see us through this work so that we may do it well. Every. Single. Day. One professor challenged us saying, “Your teaching is a song. What song gets you going every single morning and keeps you going throughout the day? The week? The month? The year?”
I realized that our faith, too, needs a song. We need an Advent Song – a gift from the beginning that continues to fuel us throughout the day, the week, the month, the year. As Advent comes to a close, we celebrate the joy of Christ’s birth, but after that, will we continue to live our Advent Song each day?
In yesterday’s Gospel, we learn of Mary’s Advent Song – “The Magnificat.” She sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior…” (Luke 1:46-47). Her life was exemplified by this song. If you read beyond today’s Gospel, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, also sings out, “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people” (Luke 1:68). Each sing of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, which we know endures forever.
As you reflect on the close of this Advent season, transitioning into Christmas, ask God what song will keep your heart burning and returning to him throughout the year. What will help you know the Lord each day and what will help you give Him to others? What song will fill you with joy so that you may also sing with Mary and Zechariah?
As Advent comes to a close, know of my prayers for you: that you may find your Advent Song and sing God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout the year long.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington DC.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resource Page!
Every day, I get to experience the joy of teaching Kindergarten, a time when the minds of young children are at a crucial point developmentally. Part of my job as their teacher is to form them into becoming a “person for others,” a term we use often in our classroom. There are days when showing them and teaching them about Christ’s mission of love and mercy turns into a lofty concept that is difficult for them to grasp. Toys fly across the room and children chase each other with plastic carrots, and teaching them to be a “person for others” seems difficult. Being a person for others is someone who does the work of Jesus Christ: loving others unconditionally and helping those who need help. Being with these children every day made me think more closely about unconditionally loving everyone we come into contact with.
An example of this love and sacrifice is Our Holy Father, Pope Francis. This Pope has taught the world to take chances, get messy, and make mistakes for Christ. His merciful methods, when speaking about teachings of the Church, show Catholics and the world that he believes each person can truly be an evangelizer to all people. He has reminded us that while it is one thing to write a check to a food drive, it is another thing entirely to truly be with the poor and suffering. He has shown us that we are all brothers and sisters in this journey of faith, and we are on the road together. We all need to be a “person for others.”
There is so much to distract us from the people around us. We often turn a blind eye to all kinds of problems. We rarely stop to think about how our actions can affect others. As a way to be more reflective, I like to pray the Examen. The Examen is a short prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola, which is usually reflected upon in a quiet space:
First, find a moment of gratitude from the day. Next, ask for freedom of something that has been weighting you down. Then, review the day in all of its parts both good and bad. Finally, talk to God about anything on your mind or heart. Finish the Examen with a short prayer, and you are ready to begin a new day filled with grace.
When we take the time to reflect on our lives and ourselves, we can become aware of the kind of person we want to be. Jesus came to the world with a selfless mission to encourage and share His love and compassion. When we are merciful, loving, and caring with other members of the Church, face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder, we can evangelize and change the world. It begins with you; be a person for others!
Krissy Kirby is a kindergarten teacher in the Archdiocese of Washington
In my kindergarten class, there is one little girl who loves to ask questions about faith. After going to Mass in the chapel last week, she asked me, “Who was the almost naked man on the wall in pain?” I smiled and answered, “Jesus, because he loves you very much.” While contemplating this, a few minutes went by until she had another question. She asked, “Why do they give cookies at church and why didn’t I get one?” These and many other inquiries were made that day, so it struck me: how can we as faithful Catholic adults help young children better understand our traditions, history, and faith? We must understand as children do.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Only with the virtue and openness of a child can one truly have eternal life. Similar to my student who was so curious about the Mass, we as adults of faith must remember to love as children love, and to eagerly ask questions as children ask them. Having a burning desire to love and serve God is something that so many adults yearn for, but so few are able to achieve. Often times, children can be an example to adults of unconditional and innocent love for others.
Understanding our faith is difficult at times, and it is often hard to see the good in difficult situations. We get caught up in the stressful details and hardships that come with living our daily lives, and frequently become over-scheduled and sluggish in the practice of our faith. As “grown-ups” we have so many things on our minds, and deepening our understanding of God’s love and mercy is easily forgotten and overlooked. Instead of grumbling about an overdue bill or the laundry list of things to do, stop and think about how lucky we are to have a job or a family that loves us. Children love their parents and caretakers for simple things like good food, a comfortable bed, and new clothes. While we are forgetting that the simplest actions mean the most to children, we also forget that the simplest moments mean the most to God. A quick prayer of gratitude in the morning, for a traffic-less commute or a child’s hug goodbye goes a long way…God notices every grateful moment.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, believes that education and teaching provides knowledge of beauty, truth, and goodness. Inspiring others with a desire to learn about our faith is crucial in the life of a Catholic–whether you are a teacher, parent, or role model. Children are innocent and believe what they see. When they see parents and teachers serving God and the Church, they desire to imitate them and do the same. We must be like children in order for them to understand the Lord, ask questions, make mistakes, get messy…and always know that God loves us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington D.C.
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, "How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgement and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?"
As Christians, we are tasked with following the teachings of Christ over those of the world. Doing so often puts us at odds with the latter, amid accusations of fostering inequality, forcing our beliefs on others, adhering to obsolete traditions, or getting involved in matters that do not concern the Church. It’s true that there have been many efforts over the centuries to silence Christians—persecution is nothing new to the Church—but Jesus had warned that believing in Him would not make us popular in the eyes of the world (John 15:18, c.f. 1 John 3:13, 2 Timothy 3:12, 2 Corinthians 4:8-11, Revelation 2:10). The most recent evidence of persecution can be seen in the ongoing ISIS attacks in the Middle East, where people who have been living in areas that have been Christian for nearly 2,000 years are suddenly being forced to convert or die. Though this grave situation is happening half a world away, it is critical that we do not remain apathetic during our daily routines. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., in his closing remarks at The Catholic University of America’s Mass of the Holy Spirit, warned that human atrocities can occur if people remain silent about the plight of others.
As Christians, we are all united in the body of Christ through our baptism (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, c.f. Romans 12:15) and as such, we must care about what affects another member. To that end, Saint Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” While it is easy to forget the persecution occurring beyond our borders in our comfortable day-to-day activities, we cannot simply be sorry for the terrible suffering endured by others—these are truly our brothers and sisters in the faith who need our continuous compassion and support! We may not be able to fully imagine the terror they are experiencing but we can at the very least offer prayers and sacrifices (i.e. suffer with them) on their behalf.
Never doubt the value of prayer. It remains a most powerful means of comfort, hope, and strength from and in God. Pope Francis has stressed that “prayer, in the face of a problem, a difficult situation, a calamity…is opening the door to the Lord, so that He can do something. If we close the door, God can do nothing!” When we offer our prayers, we are also expressing our trust that God is more powerful than the problems presented by the world—He can bring good out of evil—as we read of many biblical miracles when God’s people prayed for deliverance and forgiveness. When we pray, we remember the needs and welfare of our brothers and sisters in the faith and become united through our communication with God. With sincerity and reverence, the words spoken aloud or in one’s mind and heart are infinitely more effective than simply pitying the plights of others.
In spite of all the terrors and injustices reported to and/or experienced by us each day, let us never forget to hope! Suffering is indeed a part of life, but by the Passion and death of Christ, salvation for the world has been achieved. We can take comfort and rejoice that our own suffering can be joined with His and offered up as gratitude for His willing Sacrifice: because of His subsequent resurrection, we too can look forward to being raised.
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: "For your sake, we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." no, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ … God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:26-28, 31).
From this exaltation we begin our reflection on Father’s Day. Many countries set aside the third Sunday of June in honor of both fathers and fatherhood. It’s usually the time when dads are shown the appreciation of their families for all their love, protection, devotion, guidance, caring, wisdom, teaching, entertainment, discipline (ouch), cooking, support, shuttling around, mentoring, coaching, and/or generosity. It’s a totally fair trade-off but also no secret: fatherhood demands much of a man. Unfortunately, not all are blessed to have a father in their lives, and there are many circumstances which contribute to this.
Thankfully, God Himself has provided a model for human fatherhood, someone who He entrusted His own Son to during the crucial formative years of Jesus’ human life: St. Joseph. We look to Saint Joseph as the perfect example of paternity, as he was given the honor of being the guardian of the Holy Family. St. Joseph is not directly quoted in scripture, but what about his actions? Do they speak louder than his words (or lack thereof)? It seems that Joseph’s most frequent biblical deed besides traveling is something men can easily relate to— sleeping before taking action (see Matthew 1:20 and 2:13)... but surely there must be more to being a father than this!?
Of course there is! To me, being a true (Christian) father means being a Christ-like man who bears witness to the perfect love of God, and who is a virtuous man to his children, spouse, and to all he encounters. We hear a lot about Mary’s hugely consequential “Yes” (see Luke 1:38) to the Father’s will at the Annunciation and how this is the Blessed Mother’s complete giving of herself to God. In his own soft-spoken way, though, Joseph also gave his own “Yes” and similarly submitted himself to the will of God. Even with the extraordinary circumstances of his betrothed’s pregnancy, Joseph, in the end, places his trust in the divine will and accepts the paternal role God offers him as part of His plan. Like Mary, Joseph selflessly placed whatever desires and plans he had for his future second to what he had now been called to become— Jesus’ guardian and protector. It is this obedience that makes Joseph such a worthy role model for all men. Being righteous (see Matthew 1:19), Joseph knew he did not have all the answers; let alone the experience, for the fatherhood he was being called to. Instead, he stepped aside in faithful acceptance of God’s will. As Saint John Paul II so beautifully put it:
What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith. Joseph of Nazareth is a “just man” because he totally “lives by faith.” He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God. We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man. (St. John Paul II, Daily Meditations)
This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, and whether the father in our lives is a biological one, a father figure, or wears a Roman collar, take the time this week to personally thank both he and God for the impact he’s had on your life. Fatherhood is no easy task and is not for everyone, but the love that flows from this holy calling comes directly from Abba God, “our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13)! May we be obedient to and cherish these men at all times!
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy.