It’s hard to believe that COVID-19 began to take hold of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States just two weeks after Ash Wednesday 2020. As we approached Holy Week last year, dry jokes abounded as to whether or not we had to continue to give things up during Lent as COVID-19 had already forced us to give up so much. Well, those jokes have returned a year later as Ash Wednesday is just around the corner and the pandemic is still very much a reality in our lives.
Lent is a period of the Catholic Big Three: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This preparatory and penitential season helps to prepare us for the glory of the Resurrection. Most Catholics know the drill: you give something up for Lent (and hopefully take something on as well) as you have Easter Sunday circled on your calendar. But last year threw us all for a loop. Used to giving up chocolate or swearing, we were forced to give up worshiping in Church, seeing loved ones, going to school, and so much more. In the months since, almost every person knows someone who has contracted or even died from the COVID-19 virus. Though Lent ended on Easter in 2020, it feels as though it still hasn’t quite ended. We’ve abstained from holiday gatherings, birthdays, and so much more than we’d ever planned, even during the Lenten season.
Lent, though, is the perfect lens through which to view the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during this penitential season, we don’t forget the glory of the Resurrection. Yes, the “A-word” and the Gloria are omitted from the Mass. Sure, we focus on the preparation and the penance, but we still receive and glorify our Lord. Even though we are without so much now in the Lent-like COVID-19 pandemic, we still praise the Lord. The last line of Psalm 150 reads, “Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord.” Not just during the liturgical seasons of Ordinary Time, or Christmas, or Easter, but at all times, everything with breath should praise the Lord.
This continues even now, with so much going wrong in our world. With so much suffering and pain—from which none of us are immune—there is still reason to praise the Lord. Baptisms and First Communions still occur. Marriages are still celebrated. Four of my closest friends were married this past summer—which brings new context to the promises of commitment in sickness and health. Even when there has been suffering, God has still managed to bring good out of it. When my own grandfather passed away in October, I was able to spend the last few days before his death with him. This was a time whose memory I cherish, and time I’m not sure we would’ve gotten if he hadn’t gone to his eternal rest. As I’ve gone through my own sickness over the last few months, I’ve made Psalm 150 my mantra of sorts. My life hasn’t been perfect, but God has ordained it and he has sustained it. He has given me breath and life, and for that I praise him. As Matt Maher says in his song Alive and Breathing, “Let everything praise the Lord, in the working and the waiting…in the dying and the rising, let us praise the Lord!” With Lent coming up, and COVID still wreaking such havoc in our world, let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
For more Lenten resources, please click here.
For more resources to help you navigate COVID-19, please click here.
I opened the email from my aunt, half amused and half bewildered. Before me was a message for the whole family: Rules for Thanksgiving Dinner. Per her request, our Thanksgiving meal would be void of any conversation about COVID-19, politics, Church, racism, the media, or yard signs. “Let’s just take a few hours to forgo the division and just enjoy one another,” she wrote.
Initially, I balked at the idea that my family would need ground rules to be able to keep peace during our time together. But frankly, my aunt wasn’t wrong—I don’t know if I have ever felt more disunited from my family, friends, and neighbors. Every post, article, and opinion adds to the climate of contentiousness. I waver between holding my tongue for fear of saying the wrong thing and lambasting innocent bystanders with tidal waves of repressed contempt.
As I read today’s Gospel, I took the words of Christ and interpreted them to excuse the chasm the current cultural climate has created between the people that I love. “See! Jesus said it would be this way. It’s right there in Luke. ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace? No, I tell you, but rather division!’”
Somehow, I do not think the division caused by commitment to party lines and dedication to political ideologies is what Jesus had in mind. Rather, Jesus saw commitment to Him as source of division. The Holy Scriptures remind us that we, as disciples of Jesus, will stand apart from nonbelievers. Our lives will look different from those whose hearts have not been claimed for Christ as we live out our calling to love.
The reminder of this truth forced me to re-evaluate. Admittedly, the separation I feel from my fellow Catholics is not driven by my love for Jesus. Instead, it is tangled in a desire to feel safeguarded by policies and politicians, who do not have the redemptive power of the Savior. It is fueled by a desire to be right, and in control. No, this is certainly not what Jesus had in mind.
I will stand divided against my neighbors and friends because of my relationship with Jesus. My love for Him will not always be accepted, and my obedience to Him will make my life look different from the friend who has not yet encountered Christ. So when I feel the ache of division and the discomfort of separation I consider the following:
If I am going to feel the sting of division in this life, I want it be for a worthy reason. I will let myself feel the otherness of being a light in the dark. I will cling to the unifying Body of Christ as the world chooses sides around me. I will hope in the promise of the world to come, where there is no strife or division, only love.
For more spiritual resources to accompany you during COVID-19, please click here.
Like most of you, my family and I have been in quarantine. When El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele first announced the prospect of a quarantine—before there were any confirmed cases here—our family decided that it would be best to practice physical distancing right away. The public hospital system here in El Salvador is precarious under normal circumstances, and once the virus is at its peak, it won’t matter how much money you have. If you require a hospital bed, you will go where there is one available.
The national convention center in San Salvador is being converted into a 3,000-bed hospital, with 1,000 of those beds designated for intensive-care patients. Our best bet for surviving this pandemic is to stay home and find ways to continue our relationships with the people at our ministries without being physically present—a challenge, but also an opportunity.
My ministry, the women’s cooperative ACOMUJERZA, has come to a screeching halt. We were in the middle of a huge order for the Education Ministry of El Salvador. We are sewing over 3,000 school uniforms as part of a government-funded program. This order is the biggest we have ever been contracted to make, and frankly before this pandemic our members were scrambling to figure out how we were going to sew more than 3,000 pieces in 60 days and how we were going to pay everyone to make all of those uniforms.
ACOMUJERZA applied for a loan from a non-governmental organization that has helped us in the past. We received the preliminary approval for the loan, but with all of the economic uncertainty, the NGO froze all lending for the foreseeable future. ACOMUJERZA members packed up all of the finished uniforms and prepared the building for the beginning of a nationwide mandatory quarantine on Saturday, March 21.
There is so much uncertainty, and yet when I talk to each of our members, they remain positive. The government has promised a government grant of $300 a month to unsalaried workers—those most in need, which applies to some of our members—but that money has not been distributed yet. With 12 days into our quarantine, I worry about how my friends at the cooperative are surviving and if they have enough food to eat.
I spoke with my friend Juanita from the women’s cooperative the other day. She told me that, when she first went home after the president declared quarantine, all she wanted to do was cry. She felt depressed and sad to not be able to go to work and she felt a loss of her freedom. But after a few days, she pulled herself out of her sadness, and she told me about all of the things that she and her daughter decided to do during the mandatory quarantine. They already painted a few rooms in their house, got rid of old clothes, sewed masks and spent time tending to her garden.
“Now the time just seems to be going by quickly, thanks be to God.” she said to me during our last phone call. We chatted a bit longer and before getting off the phone, she reminded me that “we are all called to do our part and, for now, our part is staying at home.”
While checking over my daughter Evey’s daily journal assignment for school, I realized just how I am doing my part. She was assigned to write about what she liked and didn’t like about being homeschooled during the quarantine. She wrote, “I like homeschooling because it is fun and I get to do more fun stuff with my mom.”
Maybe “doing my part” is keeping spirits up among the members of the cooperative, sharing my gifts and talents with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, spending more time with my children and modeling for them how to adjust to an ever-changing reality
This blog post was re-published with permission from Maryknoll Lay Missioners. To learn more about their work and mission, please click here.
To learn about other faith-based service opportunities, please click here.
The other night, one of my friends organized a virtual game night over Zoom. Before we started our game of Scattergories, someone asked how we each were describing these times. Responses ranged from odd, to unusual, to unprecedented. I’m not sure that any of these words really encapsulates the change and emotions we have come to experience over these few weeks. We’ve had to make significant alterations to our daily lives. Who would’ve thought that at age 28, I would become so concerned about the nation's supply of toilet paper? But here we are. Unlike most major events in our nation’s history, such as Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, 9/11, or the Miracle on Ice, most of us probably don’t remember where we first heard about COVID-19, but maybe we do you know when it first impacted us.
As a Campus Minister at The Catholic University of America, I experienced the first impact of COVID-19 when our international spring break immersion trips were cancelled. I was to accompany our group to Kingston, Jamaica, a powerful trip experience I’ve written about before. I was bitter, disappointed, and annoyed, but I understood why the decision was made. Due to other concerns and issues (all COVID-19 related), I ended up accompanying a trip to the US/Mexico Border, which is another blog post for another day. While driving the group from El Paso to Las Cruces, New Mexico, our phones buzzed with an email sharing the news that in-person classes were canceled for two weeks. This was a major turning point in showcasing that this virus was starting to become real in a way that was continuing to impact my life and plans. After returning from the borderlands, reality quickly shifted. Ministry would have to take new forms. Thanks to the skills I’ve learned as both a staff member and collaborator of the Catholic Apostolate Center, I became the residential expert on social media and livestream as our team tried to connect with our students online. (You can see a video about our efforts here.)
Now as I sit at home and try to get work done, I’m reminded of the words of St. Vincent Pallotti: “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well." It is hard not to sit back and daydream about when this will all be over—when we won’t have to social distance and when millions are not at risk. But how does one stay active in the Christian life these days? I’ve been looking to St. Vincent Pallotti for inspiration and have found two good ways for this to be achieved.
First, use some of this downtime to reflect. St. Vincent Pallotti understood that to be a person of action, we must first be a person of prayer. It is still Lent. Maybe our Lenten practices have shifted, but that’s OK! This time can be used for more prayer and reflection. Perhaps we can join the whole world in prayer as the Holy Father has asked or try to find quiet time to pray amid the chaos that now infiltrates our homes. Now more than ever as we social distance, we need to be connected in prayer. Find the areas in which you can grow in your relationship with Christ and with others.
Second, take inspiration from the life of St. Vincent Pallotti, who experienced several pandemics in Rome. Each time, he was reinvigorated in his care and concern for others. During this time, let us find ways to care for each other. This virus does not discriminate against who it attacks. It knows no boundaries, no borders, no countries, no race, no economic difference. None of these matter. So if this virus knows no borders, then why not let our love, our care, and our mercy for others be the same? Let us care for each other, work for justice, give to those who need it the most, and advocate for those who need it during this time. Let us thank the millions of healthcare providers, scientists working to find a vaccine, sanitation workers, the grocery workers, those who transport essential goods, farm laborers, and the many more who continue to work to help our society function.
Let us continue to pray and think of ways in which we can care for others “...and let [these acts] be done well.”
For more resources to accompany you during this time, please click here.
Recently, my life has changed a lot. I had my first child, Vincent Scott Pierno, on January 31st, and he is the greatest joy I’ve ever known. I never knew that becoming a mother could fulfill my life in the ways it has, and I thank God each day for the happiness, tears, and everything in between that he has brought into my life. As a family, we’ve also started house-hunting and looking for a place to settle within this busy and chaotic Washington, DC area. My in-laws will be moving in with us, and although they’ve already been an amazing help with the newborn, it’s another change to our lifestyle. Finding joy in these changes has been challenging at times, but not impossible through the grace of God. I invite you to join me in reflecting on change in our lives and ways to find joy during times of trial and tribulation.
One way to work through life’s changes is through Scripture. There are so many examples we can look to that give us strength and remind us of the goodness in change. One is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This passage gives me hope. It can be anxiety-provoking to go through so many changes all at once, but Christ gives us strength and we can do all things with his help.
Another verse from Joshua 1:9 that speaks of courage during a hectic time is: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” In Scripture, we look at examples of people who have also found change difficult and needed support from God. This reliance is the definition of faith: trust and dependence on God through all things, even when the end is not in sight.
Another way to work through life’s changes is through prayer. In prayer we can develop a closer relationship with God, and in this dialogue find joy in knowing Christ more deeply. Prayer can be done in many ways: silently, out loud, in reflection, through journaling, and even through participating in the Mass regularly. Since prayer is “both personal and communal,” we can encounter Christ however we feel most comfortable. I’ve found that the most important part of this prayer is not to always ask God for things, but to offer thanksgiving and to listen. The “listening” is the hardest to do. The chaos of a busy and a constantly changing life makes it even more difficult during challenging periods to take time and listen to God. However, it is in those hard times that we can deepen our relationship with Him.
The final way I’d really like to impart is by keeping track of and celebrating joy. In this age of social media and 24/7 news updates, it’s easy to see so much negativity all around us. People gossip about others, worry about things that have nothing to do with them, troll people online for their own enjoyment, and trash talk things that people don’t need to even have an opinion about. This negativity can seep into our daily lives and we can get lost in it. I invite you instead to be a whirl of positivity. As Catholics, we are called to action by being missionaries in the world. St. Vincent Pallotti suggests this in his teachings, and brilliantly states this saying, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.” I find his words timeless.
The deeds that Pallotti refers to can be simple ones, such as celebrating anything good that comes into our lives by posting it on social media or encouraging joy in the lives of others. We could truly create small havens of joy for people to encounter by simply finding the joy that already exists. Share this joy and gratitude with at least one person, whether in-person or online. Some examples from my life include sharing in my son’s new life and looking for the good in being home with him rather than the stress. Even something as easy as a smile could change someone’s day. I invite you to use these hashtags when you post about your joys as we get through this life together in Christian spirit! #joyinChristianaction #findingjoyineverything #discoverjoyfulmoments
As Americans gather around the dinner table for the annual Thanksgiving meal, families have the opportunity to recall and be thankful for the blessings in their lives. The true focus of this national occasion is not simply to marvel at the bounty of food upon the table, but to acknowledge the labors and gifts which directly and indirectly impacted one’s quality of life. As Christians, we know that all thanksgiving is oriented towards God as families join hands and bow their heads in prayers of gratitude. Attitudes of gratitude don’t need to be restricted to the fourth Thursday of November, but can be prevalent in our hearts, minds, and daily lives throughout each year.
True expressions of thanksgiving are rooted in the acknowledgement that nothing in this life should be taken for granted. The blessings of life ultimately come from God’s innate goodness, and Scripture details many occasions of gratitude to God that are often accompanied by offering sacrifices or praise. We read in the psalms, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69) and “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” (Psalm 95) Thessalonians reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances” and Ephesians similarly admonishes us to “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Thanksgiving is a fundamental component of a life of faith. Furthermore, the sacrifices God is interested in include the sacrifice of our pride in favor of humility, the sacrifice of personal desires and wants in favor of trust in His will, and the sacrifice of sinful behaviors in favor of living the life of holiness God has desired for us.
As Catholics, we are infinitely grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and the means God Himself has instituted for our embrace of the gift of salvation. As such, the highest form of prayer on earth is participation in the Holy Mass and the direct reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist (which itself means “thanksgiving”). Thanksgiving disposes our hearts to more fully receive Christ and be transformed by His love. By imitating Jesus, who broke bread and gave thanks to His Heavenly Father prior to his Passion, we are given the strength to similarly give thanks in all circumstances and grow more Christ-like as a result.
Of the many pieces of spiritual advice I’ve been given by priests, the reminder to grow in gratitude for what God has given me is a constant opportunity to realize my utter dependency on His providence. In gratitude lies true joy. This Thanksgiving, I invite you to celebrate an attitude of gratitude that overflows into the new year and the years to come.
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into the holiday season. It seems in our secular society as soon as the calendar changes to November that the world begins buzzing with cooking, baking, buying, wrapping, and planning. Our calendars overflow with gatherings and obligations and before we know it, it’s a new year. As Catholics, we know that this time of year tells a different story. However, the loud hubbub of secular holiday cheer swirling around us can make it difficult to proclaim it, even to ourselves.
What would it look like in our daily lives over these next few weeks if we as Catholics challenged ourselves, in this season of frenzied preparation, to prepare ourselves to wait? What might that look like? Here are a few steps that we can take.
We cannot decipher what steps to take if we do not spend the time observing where our current steps are leading. Take some time over these next few weeks to observe your spiritual and physical life. Make note of the areas of your life that you feel you are consistently inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of and those areas in which He has not received an invitation. Notice the time of day or week that anger, frustration, hurt, or anxiety creep into your heart and mind. Where are your moments of joy, praise, and thanksgiving?
How are you caring for your physical body and its environment? Observe how you are fueling your body and your mind. Is the source and substance of that nourishment strengthening your body and mind to be the best version of yourself? Are you spending moments in joyful movement, whatever that may look like for your body, in praise and thanksgiving of the vessel that is fearfully and wonderfully made? Simply take time to observe and collect information on your current state. Try not to put a label or judgment on your observation, but rather work to build your awareness.
Once you have collected your observations, spend some time reflecting on this newfound information and present it at the foot of the Cross. Implore the Holy Trinity to open your eyes and your heart to reveal to you the areas in your life that could be improved or strengthened. Ask for divine intervention to reveal to you the strengths that you possess and the gifts and talents that have been given to you. How might you utilize these strengths, gifts, and talents to bring life and light to those areas of your life that may be lacking? Be patient in your reflection. Do not be afraid of silence! It is often within the quiet of silence that He will make His presence known to you. Allow this prayerful, reflective time to turn your observational information into knowledge.
It’s time to turn that knowledge into a plan. Through your observation and reflection, you will have gathered the necessary tools to be able to move forward in your journey. Carry the strengths that have been revealed to you and humbly face the shortcomings that you have observed. What does action look like for your journey? What steps are required to strengthen areas of your spiritual and physical life that may be lacking? Put your plan into practice and remain vigilant and prayerful of the different ways that you can tweak your plan.
We have spent the remaining weeks of the liturgical year in observation, reflection, and action… and now we wait. As you enter into the Church’s new year and the season of Advent, commit to the action plan you have created and joyfully await the celebration of the birth of YOUR Savior. If you’ve put the work into the first three steps, you will find that your action plan is in fact leading you to prepare for the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5)
Prepare to wait. Prepare the way. Prepare the place and invite Him to take residence in you – body, mind, and soul.
For more resources to accompany you during this Advent season, please click here.
“We Christians are called upon to preserve and spread the joy of waiting: we await God Who loves us infinitely and at the same time we are awaited by Him.” – Pope Francis
Over many years, I have been honored to accompany others in their vocation discernment and growth in faith through spiritual direction. Often, as is the case now, it is with young adults – undergraduate and graduate students, seminarians, and those beginning their work careers. In almost every instance, they try to prepare themselves well for the Lenten season, but rarely think about preparing for the Advent season. For many, the end of an academic semester as well as the gatherings, travel, and shopping for Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to leave little time to focus on Advent preparation and living.
May I invite you, as I do them, to enter well into the waiting of Advent? It is meant to be a quiet time of deeper reflection on the coming of the Messiah, not just the first coming (the Incarnation) that we celebrate at Christmas, but the second coming of Christ at the end of time.
The candles of the Advent wreath will be lit one after the other and the time will go by quickly. May we not let it not slip by, but use it well as a time of prayer, reflection, discernment, and deepening our encounter with Christ, through ongoing conversion of heart!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources to accompany you during the Advent season, please click here.
I can recall from a very young age pondering what it means to be Catholic. We were supposed to somehow be different from secular society by the way we lived our lives, but how or why was that any different than simply being a good, kind, and moral human being? Can “normal” domestic life be holy? Why is the domestic church—the Christian family—so vitally important to our faith?
Throughout my life, this question has been answered in various ways and degrees. However, nothing has been so powerful as what I have witnessed in the past few months. In the late fall of last year, my mother-in-law underwent unexpected surgery and was unable to attend Mass. During our family’s Thanksgiving visits, I witnessed an incredible moment of our faith: my mother was able to distribute the Sacred Body of our Lord to my mother-in-law. Tears fell from my mother-in-law’s eyes as my husband, father, mother, and I encircled her, reciting prayers together in preparation for the distribution of the Eucharist. I was struck by the immensity of this moment: as I witnessed the woman who gave me life distribute the source of eternal life to the woman who gave my husband life, the depth and vital importance of the domestic church began to come into clearer focus for me.
The Christmas season would bring me another unexpected intersection of family and faith and another reminder of the significance of the domestic church. My father was hospitalized between Christmas and New Year’s; I found myself once again in the midst of a family circle of prayer as this time I witnessed my sister ministering the Sacred Body of our Lord to both my father and mother. My husband, nieces, nephew, brother-in-law, and I encircled my father’s hospital bed. Again, I found myself struck by the immensity of the moment unraveling before me; there is something very profound in witnessing the physical, tangible presence of Christ enter into vulnerable family space. I held these moments in my heart and in my mind, reflecting on them as the days rolled by between the holidays and the beginning of Lent.
This year, our parish announced that they are encouraging families to consecrate themselves to the Holy Family. Ah, the Holy Family, the perfect model of the domestic church! It is within the context of the family that we learn about our faith and see examples of faith lived out. Christ Himself was born into a family; it was a vital part of his plan of salvation.
We are each called to sainthood and each of our paths to sainthood will look a bit different. Lent is a beautiful time to really evaluate how close we are to following that path and what we can do in our lives to stay the course. No matter what path our calling leads us on, all paths lead back to the family—whether that be our own family by blood or our brothers and sisters in the faith.
How do we live out each day as a domestic church and bring that holy reverence to our everyday lives? We are called not only to love one another but to LIVE for one another. I witnessed this profoundly over the holidays when I saw different members of my family live for and serve one another. But there are also opportunities being presented throughout our everyday life to grow in holiness and spiritual maturity—especially now during this Lenten season. Lent is not only a time to deny ourselves of those things that keep us from our path to sainthood but also a time to invite the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to opportunities of everyday holiness and saintly domesticity. Christ wants to be a living presence in our homes and in our families, but we have to open the door for Him and invite Him in. I saw the effects of Christ’s presence in my family in those moments when He was brought physically to my parents and mother-in-law. Christ brings unity, service, strength, love. Just as in our physical lives we can manage the stresses and craziness of ever day life better when we fuel our body with proper nutrition and exercise, so too are we called to fuel our spirits and our family bonds with the Bread of the angels and on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
What spiritual exercises can we work through together as a family this Lenten season? How can we work to call one another to a life of saintly domesticity?
For more resources to accompany you throughout your Lenten journey, please click here.
To learn more about Marriage and Family, please click here.
Advent often feels too short to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the fourth week usually isn’t a full seven days because of which day Christmas lands on that year. Maybe it’s the hustle and bustle of trying to get ready for Christmas and checking everything off our Christmas to-do lists that overwhelms the quiet and hopeful period that Advent is meant to be. The secular culture we live in insists that it’s “Christmastime” as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten, that the Twelve Days of Christmas happen whenever in December people feel like doing them, that the Christmas festivities end with Christmas, and that Christmas Day is a finish line toward which we should all be sprinting with credit cards in hand.
In our home, my husband and I have made a conscious choice to incorporate more of the liturgical calendar into our daily family life. For us, this means striving to separate Christmas from Advent: Our house during Advent is sparsely decorated until Christmas Eve, and we try to focus on Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” instead of Christmas carols. And while at first it may seem like we are being Scrooges or intentionally avoiding Christmas cheer, maintaining Advent as a time of preparation helps us keep the liturgical Christmastide as a true season of celebration. It’s harder to maintain a sense of joy and wonder on Christmas Day when the festivities have already been going on for almost a month.
The more difficult thing for us, however, is not figuring out how to avoid celebrating Christmas in Advent, but how to maintain the spirit of Christmastide in a culture that throws out its trees and its traditions on the morning of December 26. It’s been difficult for us to keep the party going, so to speak, when everyone else is drafting New Year’s resolutions and bemoaning all the cookies they ate. The liturgical Christmas season deserves more attention in our homes. The span of days from Christmas Day to the Baptism of the Lord is a string of feast days and holy days—including St. Stephen (December 26), the Holy Innocents (December 28), the Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas), the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (January 1), and the feast of the Epiphany (traditionally January 6). Christmastide is built for celebration!
Every year, as we approach the end of Advent, my husband and I ask ourselves: How can we embrace the celebratory season of Christmastide? Here are some of our ideas.
Question for Reflection: How are the Advent and Christmas seasons different for you? How do you celebrate Christmastide?
The candy has gone on sale, the post-Thanksgiving “leftover sandwich” has been eaten, but it’s not time to deck the halls just yet. As many prepare for the joyful season of Christmas, complete with mall Santas, holiday movies, and plans to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the Church prepares during the season of Advent. This time isn’t just for buying gifts and putting up the tree, but to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. This season of preparation can be traced back to 4th century France, though the Advent we are familiar with can be traced back to Pope Gregory I and Rome in the 6th and 7th centuries.
Whereas Lent is a time of penance for Christians, Advent is a time of preparation and hope. Not only do we prepare for the birth of the Lord, but we also look to the Second Coming of Christ. The first coming of Jesus at Christmas opened the doors for our salvation and prefigures his Second Coming. It is because of this hope that Advent focuses on light and not darkness. This light can be symbolized in the Advent wreaths that adorn Churches and the houses of the faithful. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, three purple and one rose. The purple candles represent prayer and sacrifices that are undertaken in preparation for the coming of Christ. The rose candle, lit on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent), is a symbol of rejoicing as the faithful have reached the midpoint of the season.
When we thank God for the forgiveness of our sins and for the chance to be with him for all eternity in Heaven, we often think of Easter, but Christmas is necessary in the plan for our salvation as well. Before Christ could suffer and die for us, achieving our redemption and the path for our salvation, he had to become man. What a gift this is! If you follow the Franciscan theology of the incarnation as proposed by Bl. Duns Scotus, Christ would’ve become man with or without the original sin of Adam and Eve, but his mission of salvation makes his Incarnation that much more special for us. As Pope Benedict XVI said at a General Audience, “[Bl. Duns Scotus] reaffirmed that the Incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the entire history of salvation.”
Jesus, the God of all the universe, became man. But he did not just become a man—he became a vulnerable baby born in a manger. As we encounter him every time we partake in the Eucharist, let us pray and meditate upon the fact that God became vulnerable for us. God loved us so much that he became man. Years after his birth in a manger, he took on our sins so that we may be with him forever. Just as we prepare to receive him into our bodies when we receive the Eucharist, let us prepare to receive the Lord into the world this Advent and make ourselves more worthy of him.
Advent is our time to come closer to Christ, to meditate on how he is present in our lives, and to see how he has called us to live with our fellow man as we await his Second Coming. While prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are certainly emphasized during the season of Lent, they can also be integral parts to our preparation for Christmas. May we pray for Christ to be present in our lives and for us to do his will at all times; may we fast from the things that lead us away from him; and may we give alms to those who are less fortunate than us. In these ways we prepare for Christ during Advent as we await both his Nativity and his Second Coming.
Question for Reflection: What are some Advent traditions that have helped you prepare for the coming of Christ?
For more resources to help you throughout the Advent season, please click here.
For many families it’s a Thanksgiving tradition to go around the table and express what each person is thankful for before digging into the meal. Families may share many of the same reasons they give thanks, though each person is often impacted differently or expresses their gratitude uniquely. This type of intentional gratitude sets the preparation-intense Thanksgiving meal apart from every other bread breaking (or rather turkey wishbone-breaking).
Giving thanks is, of course, not limited to just the third Thursday of November. Opportunities and reasons to give thanks are infinitely abundant throughout the year. It’s not just about speaking about gratitude, but living it as a blessing in life from God Almighty. This time of Thanksgiving in the United States reminds me that “… all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” Whether we realize it or not, we give thanks to God each Sunday in and with our parish community. When the faithful gather for Mass, they gather for the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving” in Greek). Just as when Christ Himself instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper two thousand years ago, the Mass commemorates the real sacrifice of God the Son in atonement for the sinful debt humanity had incurred. In St. Luke’s account, our Lord, knowing that His Passion was to come, “eagerly desired” to share the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal, Jesus gave thanks to His Father for the True Bread, His Body, that would be broken for us. That is, He thanked the Father that He was able to offer Himself for our redemption (cf Luke 22:22). Since Christ Himself set this standard for us to express our gratitude in life, let us strive to imitate Him and look for opportunities to give thanks, even in the midst of suffering.
As the Sacrifice of Holy Mass is the ultimate prayer humanity can offer, it is the perfect opportunity to express our prayerful thanksgiving to God. The priest gathers the intercessions of the faithful into the prayer offered before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Usually there is a petition to offer one’s personal prayers in the silence of his or her heart. At this I often marvel: what private needs are being prayed for by my fellow parishioners? What circumstances are awaiting my fellow Christians once they depart the church’s pews? That itself presents to me a witness to be grateful for: each person who wanders into a church seeks help from the One he or she knows will certainly and lovingly listen and answer. These are touching acts of faith in our God, who provides meaning and comfort to suffering, longing, confusion, and loss!
An “attitude of gratitude” is a worthy daily pursuit. It can begin each morning as we remember that life is a gift from God! This attitude can flourish when applied to circumstances of daily life: Thank God I arrived safely. God protected me from that distracted driver! I’m so glad to hear her injury wasn’t serious and recovery is going well. I am grateful to have a forgiving, patient, and loving spouse, especially this morning! I am thankful for this job God has blessed me with to support my family.
Let us remember to thank God who so richly blesses us every day, especially through those who touch our lives and care for us. Offer prayers and love to God and to your neighbors, not just during the Thanksgiving meal, but in church, during phone calls (call your parents!), and in other run-ins. May our prayers echo that of the biblical Job, who despite great sufferings and loss faithfully prayed to God, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!”
Questions for Reflection: What are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving season? How can you practice a spiritual attitude of gratitude each day?
This year, I tried something new for Lent. Instead of giving up sweets or the snooze button on my alarm clock, I felt God calling me to spend more time in prayer with a regular reflection routine. I am someone who has to constantly fill my schedule with things to do and places to go—I knew God was asking for silence in my life.
Rather than making an unrealistic commitment during Lent, I selected something I could add to my already established morning and evening routines. I bought a Lenten journal that included a Bible verse and reflection with a corresponding prayer and question for free response. There were a few days I missed an entry and would make it up, but overall I felt I accomplished my Lenten promise and journey. The biggest thing I learned from this Lenten walk with Jesus was the idea of progress and not perfection.
As Matthew Kelley says, “we’re imperfect beings striving for perfection, and we have to learn to celebrate our progress.” Becoming more aware of what went on in my day and noticing where I was or was not being my best self made me more aware of God’s presence in my life. I could more easily notice when something in my day was a gift or where He was visibly working on something in my life.
As Lent progressed, I found myself yearning to know God in my life more and more. I went to Adoration more, sought out additional reflections through Kelley’s Dynamic Catholic resources, and attended my local women’s group more frequently. I think that’s what Lent should be: being on fire for your faith in God. Our Lenten practices shouldn’t just last for 40 days, but should be 365 days a year—though perhaps not to such a high degree as during Lent. Since Easter, I have continued to journal and have started a gratitude list I add to each day.
Here are some thoughts regarding seeking progress and not perfection that I have found helpful to continue working on after Lent:
Question for Reflection: What are some ways your past Lenten journeys have changed your spiritual life after Easter?
This is such a rich time for us as Catholic Christians! Within the past month, we’ve begun a new liturgical year, celebrated in praise and thanksgiving the Nativity of our Lord, the Holy Family, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we continue to celebrate as we approach the Epiphany of our Lord. It is quite difficult to wrap our hearts and minds around the richness that has been available to us over these past four weeks in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Among the chaos of planning and celebrating, we have also rung in a new calendar year. 2017— with its successes, failures, struggles and triumphs—has come to a close and we stand at the precipice of 2018. We all know what that means: New Year’s resolutions. Are you hoping for more control over your health, finances, or career? Perhaps you are hoping to find more time to pray and manage stress in your life. What is it that you are hoping to gain control of this year or to do more regularly? As we prepare to choose and implement changes that we would like to make in our lives, let us not forget that we are still in the midst of celebrating the Word made flesh, Emmanuel. The change and possibility of a baby, born in a humble manger, is reflected in the beginning of a new year. Is our gaze still fixed on the babe in swaddling clothes?
What would 2018 bring if instead of resolving to gain control of our lives, we truly allowed the Messiah to be Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is waiting for each and every one of us to echo the “yes” that was uttered by the Holy Family as they welcomed Him into their lives. What if instead of resolving to control everything, we resolved to say yes to that tiny baby born of a Virgin? During one of the Advent homilies at our parish, our pastor challenged us to think about times we have attempted to be the messiah of our own lives by trying to grasp or control various situations or circumstances. During this time of change and resolution, it can be tempting for us to forget that we are not the Messiah as we make plans and goals for the upcoming year.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the words of the hymn “These Alone Are Enough” by David Schutte, based on the Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Take my heart oh Lord. Take my hopes and dreams. Take my mind with all its plans and schemes. Give me nothing more than your love and grace. These alone, oh God, are enough for me.” It is good and just to strive to improve our character and to foster good and healthy habits in our lives. However, instead of resolving to do it on our own, by the gift of that blessed Christmas morning, we have the choice to freely give all of these things over to the One who makes all things new. As you stand at the threshold of this New Year and envision your hopes and dreams for 2018, take a moment to reflect on what these possibilities could become if you allowed them to be infused by the abundant grace of God.
It is still the Christmas season. There is still time to approach the manger. Take the leap of faith. Instead of resolving to gain control, approach the manger and resolve to say YES and to be transformed! Resolve to offer the babe in swaddling clothes your mind, your heart, your body, and soul. As you boldly step out into 2018, my prayer for you echoes the words of Saint Paul,
“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
Question for Reflection: What are some resolutions you can hand over to the Lord this New Year?
Growing up in a fairly large extended Catholic family, I remember the Thanksgivings of my childhood always including long, loud dinners, preceded by seemingly longer prayers of grace before the big meal. As children, we were encouraged (or, really, required) to go around the table and each name one thing we were most thankful for. It could be something small or large, momentous or enduring, as long as it was something we were truly grateful to have in our lives. My parents, aunts, and uncles were naturally trying to make sure we didn’t take for granted the food on the table, let alone all the other blessings in our young lives.
There were plenty of years when, fancying myself the dutiful elder of two children, I’d spend the week or so leading up to the holiday concocting the best possible thing to say I was thankful for, lest my younger sister or one of my cousins come up with something better. And then there were the years when I completely forgot to prepare, only to halfheartedly come up with something on the spot when my turn came. While the former may have boosted my ego, the latter made up for it by knocking me down a peg. I’d often think to myself, “Could I really be so ungrateful that that’s all I could come up with?”
As we hear in today’s Gospel reading, one of the ten lepers, “realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice.” Jesus commended the Samaritan man’s gratitude, telling him, “your faith has saved you.” Don’t we all prefer to think of ourselves as that dutiful, humble foreigner, rather than counting ourselves among the nine ungrateful ones who couldn’t be bothered to thank Jesus? And yet, how quick we are to forget the truth that we are, in fact, abundantly blessed by God.
I’ve always found this story to have two key points. First, we are better able to receive God’s blessings and grace when we are grateful: “your faith has saved you.” The second is a bit more hidden, though. Note how Luke mentions that, “one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned” to thank Jesus. It’s not necessarily true that the other nine were just a bunch of ingrates. Rather, they were doing what Christ had instructed them to do. They obeyed in an act of faith, and in so doing, were healed along the way. While they were healed physically, however, the leper who returns is also healed spiritually: he is saved.
How often do we forget, in the midst of the stresses and struggles of life, that we’ve each been blessed by God? It’s not a matter of remembering to thank Him for the big things; those parts of life are the easiest to be grateful for. It’s the small things, the things we take for granted, that we ought to try the hardest to be thankful for. Not only will that reflection make us more appreciative of our blessings themselves, it will remind us even more deeply that all of life’s blessings are gifts from God.
Question for Reflection: What are some things you are grateful for this year?