The USCCB designates each October as Respect Life Month: “a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our responsibility to care for, protect, and defend the lives of our brothers and sisters.” The duty to bear Christian witness to the dignity of every human life extends, of course, throughout the year. The annual March for Life in DC and similar marches in other cities highlight the efforts of advocates for the unborn, but being pro-life includes many activities that receive less fanfare but that are no less important. By appreciating the inherent dignity and worth of each life as created by God, we recognize the sanctity of creation and our need to defend it.
The existence of an abortion clinic near my home exemplifies disregard for the dignity of human life, as well as the reality that many clients feel as if there is no better option for themselves or the nascent life inside the womb. To attempt to provide clients with an alternative to abortion and offer support, a number of advocates on the sidewalk offer counseling while others protest the clinic’s operation, pray for the souls affected, and pray in reparation for the sins committed there. Drivers and pedestrians passing by often passionately criticize our presence; many others choose ignorance or don’t want to become involved in such a contentious issue. It’s not a comfortable situation to be in, but we know we have a chance to intervene on behalf of the unborn and the parent(s) who don’t know where else to turn for assistance. Our position is not one of judgment but of love; we cannot turn a blind eye to this silent suffering.
Being a father, I vividly recall the excitement and joy of seeing my child develop in the womb of my spouse and then be delivered into this world as an infant. These life events made my pro-life convictions more tangible for me. Even under less-than-ideal circumstances of conception, the personhood of the unborn is not diminished and therefore merits protection. Fatherhood continues to teach me about myself and my role leading a family towards holiness. I have learned I must recognize the graces God bestows on us to build our domestic church and be witnesses to the sanctity of life: the person, the family, and our Faith.
I am encouraged by the many who engage with the culture and lawmakers to challenge preconceptions or misconceptions about the value of human life. The immigrant, refugee, criminal, and marginalized are endowed with the same worth as each of us! Threats to the sanctity of life endure in our society and also include sterilizations, physician-assisted suicides, human trafficking, mistreatment and neglect of seniors and the disabled, and other forms of abuse. While others may ignore these sad realities, the pro-life movement knows we have our work cut out for us. In every way in which we engage, educate, and work to convert hearts and minds to be more aware of the value of the life which we have been gifted, we must always act with love, compassion, and hope for the protection and celebration of all forms of human life, from conception through natural death. Life is precious, life is sacred, and life is worth protecting. If we do not take a stand to defend the most vulnerable, who will?
The month of September is ripe with themes of renewal. Schools begin a new academic year. Some businesses start a new fiscal year. The season of autumn is bright with arboreal colors as some trees begin to turn dormant. Fields and gardens are harvested.
Those of us with yards know now is also the time to prepare and reseed our lawns for new grass to grow. For many, it’s a labor of love to cultivate the land. First the land needs clearing. Rocky soil demands aeration. Soil testing will help with fertilizing. And getting the right seed is critical! Furthermore, once planted, the new seed must be constantly watered, watched, and protected from harsh elements and nefarious agents.
Is there a lesson from all this? Yes, great results require great effort, but we are also reminded of the parables of the sower and the weeds (Matthew 13:1-30). What I always liked about these parables was that our Lord Himself explains them so clearly: the Word of God is given to each of us; how it takes root is up to us. The seeds in the parable represent the deposit of faith we have each been entrusted to grow, nourish, and protect as baptized Christians.
For those of us with children, we are especially aware of the great gift and responsibility of entrusting the Faith to our descendants. So precious and critical is this sharing that the Church urges parents to have their children baptized without delay. During the Rite of Baptism for an infant, the priest or deacon says to the parents:
You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
As is the case with any landscaping, the work of spiritual cultivation cannot be underestimated or haphazard. Raising a child in the Faith begins and is centered on the life at home. The environment of faith is so much more than memorizing Scripture or parts of the Catechism; the Faith must be lived! A family that prays together, goes to Mass regularly, is firm in morality and pursuing virtue, and encourages service and charity takes seriously the charge given at Baptism. The deposit of faith is planted at the immersion and anointing of the child during the rites of the sacrament; the family then works and tends to and cares for the germination and growth of this divine inspiration. As good seed sprouts among weeds, so too will the child: he or she will encounter the ways of the world that are ignorant of God; he or she will be tempted by sin; he or she may wander as a lost sheep, though the identity claimed at Baptism never disappears.
As baptized believers, do we understand and appreciate what has been given to us? Do we help cultivate our spiritual lives in a way that fosters growth and true life? Pope Francis has urged us to remember and celebrate our baptism date:
To forget our baptism means to expose ourselves to the risk of losing our memory of what the Lord has done in us. We risk ending up considering it only as something that happened in the past, and not the Sacrament in which we became new creatures and were clothed with Christ, made part of the relationship of Jesus with God the Father. Thanks to Baptism, we are also able to forgive and love those who offend us and do us harm; we are able to recognize in the last and in the poor the face of the Lord who visits us and is close to us. In short, more than a sociological moment that inscribes our name in the parish register, the day of our baptism constitutes a commitment and the identity card of the believer.
The Sacrament of Baptism continues to sustain us through life: we are children of the Most High God! We may go through periods of spiritual drought or darkness, but we can find refreshment and renewal by attending Holy Mass, washing away sin through repentant confessions, and sustaining lives of prayer, faith, hope, and love. Then, having known the fruits of labor initiated by our parents, we can indeed be drawn up as part of the Lord’s bountiful harvest as He Himself has planted: “It [is] very good.”
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed for opportunities to leave the home, one of the most meaningful greetings which welcomed my return to Mass were the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” The calming presence of the parish priest eased the troubles of my mind, soothed the restlessness of my heart, and enlivened my soul to sing, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord!” While the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion immediately made up for the lost time during the pandemic, there were other reminders that we had been away: new priest assignments, reminders to exchange the weekly offering envelopes, many parishioners enthusiastically greeting each other in happy parking lot reunions, our pastor sporting a new beard, and someone even observing, “You’ve lost some weight, Father!”
The place our parish priests hold in our hearts is a treasured one. We depend on them to teach us through homilies, expose the Blessed Sacrament, listen to our sins and offer absolution, preside over the nuptial Mass, baptize our children, anoint the sick, and console us through times of death. And that’s just the minimum. While the rest of us are busy at work, school, or caring for our households, our parish priests are meeting with the church leadership, making rounds at schools or hospitals, organizing retreats and special services, offering spiritual guidance, and working at the rectory.
But caring for the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners does not end at 5 PM. Starting from the sacred occasion of ordination, a priest is always on-call. Who rushes to the side of the dying, cares for those who have lost everything, counsels those in conflict, or ministers through any number of crises? Who faces the mounting expenses and bills of the parish, limited Sunday collections, possible stagnation of new family registrations, and who perhaps lacks as many helpful hands as he would like to keep the place running smoothly? Especially through this pandemic, the parish priest again and again is called to bring us into an encounter with Jesus Christ as best he can with whatever resources are at his disposal. If caring for our household’s needs presents a challenge, just imagine how the parish priest feels overseeing his parish!
As the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, we can see how so many of the priests in our lives emulate the example of the Curé d'Ars, who himself followed the example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The French Revolution resulted in an increase of the population’s ignorance of and indifference to religion. As a result, St. John Vianney went about his priesthood by spending at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional in the winter; longer still in the summer. The simple piety of this holy priest not only brought about many conversions for the Church, but reinvigorated the faith in areas where secularism had long dominated the culture. Likewise, by immersing themselves into the daily lives of our communities, our parish priests “serve ‘in the trenches,’ bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in [their efforts] to care for and accompany God’s people.”
Pope Francis continued, in his 2019 letter to priests commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, to express his closeness and solidarity to priests. He also expressed personal gratitude “for your fidelity to the commitments you have made… [and] for the joy with which you have offered your lives.”
The Holy Father concluded his letter by praising the witness of their shared vocation:
For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new.” … May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
Let us strive to show the priests in our lives our gratitude and support. May many men continue to discern and answer the call of our Lord to the sacred work of ordained ministry. As we answer the universal call to holiness in our own lives, may we also support those who have dedicated their lives to answer, “Here I am. I come to do Your will.”
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After nearly three months of what reminded me of the first Holy Saturday—that is, the experience of the apostles not knowing what was in store for them after the apparent loss of their teacher—I was able to participate in the celebration of the Mass offered at my parish. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the faithful have had to rely on the remote broadcasting of the Mass in order to remain connected to their local churches. This, of course, is no substitute for the Real Presence, but in the absence of being able to be spiritually nourished as usual, we have been blessed that the pastors of the Church could reach out and minister to us as safely as possible. I witnessed the Church creatively address the problem of being unable to gather together to worship by utilizing the tools of digital social media to share scriptural reflections, homilies, group prayers, and simply to check in and care for various needs of neighbors. The doors of the churches may have been closed, but the people of God charitably opened their hearts.
After being apart for so long, I welcome the news of a return to the public celebration of the sacraments. Nothing could be better than receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Can a bride be apart from her groom? Are we not in ecstasy to return to Holy Communion when we are cleansed of sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? So much more fervently have I longed for He Who dwells most intimately in our hearts and reigns over us. As Padre Pio shared, “My thirst and hunger do not diminish after I have received Him in the Blessed Sacrament, but rather, increase steadily.” There is no better joy on this earth than to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The experience is beyond mere mortal words, but St. Thomas Aquinas aptly selected a few for the Church to sing at the Feast of Corpus Christi:
At this great feast of love
let joyful praise resound,
let heartfelt homage now ascend
to heaven’s height:
ring out the reign of sin;
ring in the reign of grace;
a world renewed acclaims its King,
through veiled in sight.
I look forward to rejoicing with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” The widespread return to the sacraments will be a most welcome act of devotion, if not a critical one, for our spiritual lives. Until then, we can participate in other devotions, such as spending time before the Blessed Sacrament (perhaps from the parking lot or via livestream) and simply gazing at our Lord. We can continue our prayer life and even adopt new prayer methods, such as Lectio Divina or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, into our routines. We can say a daily act of Spiritual Communion or set apart five minutes a day for reflection and contemplation.
Christ always accompanies us. His grace continues to abound for us; peace and comfort are always offered; and He never abandons us in our sufferings, however they may have been manifested in recent days. This time of staying at home has given me an insatiable thirst to receive the Lord physically in the Eucharist upon my tongue and into the core of my being! Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelic Doctor, continues:
When we eat the bread of gladness,
there is here no cause for sadness:
Christ can suffer pain no more.
One or many, each is given
whole, entire, the bread of heaven:
mortal minds can but adore.
Jesus, whom for the present veiled I see,
what I so thirst for, oh, vouchsafe to me:
that I may see thy countenance unfolding,
and may be blest thy glory in beholding. Amen.
If we allow our Lord to reign in us, even the least of us can be instruments of His Love and accomplish great deeds “for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” As we have observed from our time apart, we are still able to recognize the Lord in the dignity and service of others, as well as in our day to day routines and lives of prayer. The graces never cease being poured out for His Church and our mission of evangelization never ends. He always accompanies us and that is enough! With a spirit of divine love and faithful accompaniment, we can “open wide the doors for Christ” for others in our homes, workplaces, and centers of care as much as in our intimate chapels, simple parishes, and breathtaking basilicas.
 Sacris solemniis, St. Thomas Aquinas
 cf. Psalm 42:1
 Adoro Te Devote, ibid.
Many of us are acutely aware of how the coronavirus pandemic has imposed restrictions on our daily life. Social distancing (or “self-imposed monasticism”, as Bishop Barron puts it) for weeks has drastically changed our routines but reduces the risk of infecting others. While we cannot worship, shop, entertain, work, or relax as usual, we can adapt how we carry out these activities in isolation and facilitate opportunities to foster connections with peace of mind.
As a Knight of Columbus, it was at first a challenge for me to grasp how a global Catholic service order—built upon fraternity among members as a core principle—could carry out its charitable works in isolation. The needs of the community my local council usually served were not going to decrease as this crisis continued, so we found ourselves reviewing the resources at our disposal in order to comply with the federal and state guidelines of social distancing. Since we could not meet as a council to plan our actions, communicating online became the norm. My brother Knights were able to approve plans to shop for the needs of those at-risk populations, collect food and supplies for local distribution, and donate funds to the parishes we served. We reached out to healthcare workers and those who are alone to address their needs and lend a listening ear. As Knights, we’re simply caring for our communities; our Faith rallies us to action to serve in the likeness of our Founder, Venerable Fr. Michael J. McGivney and, of course, our Lord. There are challenges ahead, but we rise to the occasion through prayer, hope, and love. The doors may be closed, but make no mistake: the Church is alive!
Christians and really anyone who seeks the common good are given this same opportunity to review their position in life and see if they can offer any support among their neighbors. Young families are dealing with schools and recreational areas being restricted; some neighborhoods are decorating themselves with various engaging themes, such as Christmas light exhibitions or placing teddy bears in windows, that families can drive through. In addition, those of advanced age or among vulnerable populations may not feel safe leaving their homes during the pandemic; loved ones are sending letters, making phone calls, or even stopping outside of windows and doors to share smiles and wave safely across the glass. As we restrict our time outside of our homes, we nevertheless find inspiration in the selfless actions of those continuing to minister to the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of others. Doctors, nurses, cleaning crews, food workers, priests, religious, and many others on the front lines of this crisis are faithfully doing their duties wherever they are called. The rest of us do our part by restricting unnecessary activities and offering our love to anyone in need. We may have personal doubts and worry for our loved ones, and that’s okay. We have not lived through anything like this before, but we know the Risen Lord has conquered death forever. He was with the disciples even when they doubted His Resurrection; He is with us now… and through the hour of our death.
The Easter season continues. While most of the Masses we are participating in are livestreams and our usual Communion with the Lord is currently a spiritual act, we continue to proclaim “Alleluia!” Our hope has not diminished. We have no reason to fear! The victory has been won. The best is yet to come. He is risen from the dead. Glory to God forever and ever. Praised be Jesus Christ, now and always! Amen.
At the time I’m writing this post, daily life as we’re used to has been turned on its head as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Non-essential businesses are closed, usually busy streets are empty, many schools and workplaces are operating remotely—if at all—and people everywhere are isolating themselves and thinking about supplies. Perhaps most striking are the extraordinary measures the Church is taking to slow the spread of the coronavirus: public celebrations of Mass are suspended, as are any number of RCIA, seminary, and parochial academic and sodality programs, and any sacramental celebrations that had been planned can only take place with minimal attendance. While the faithful have been dispensed of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, we can’t help but feel a growing hole in our hearts which can only be filled by lovingly receiving our Lord in the Eucharist. This was not the Lent any of us had been expecting— certainly we are all giving up more than we had bargained for!
Does this remind anyone of Holy Saturday? Holy Saturday allows the faithful to pause and meditate upon the emotionally heavy commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and Death on Good Friday before rejoicing in the glorious joys of Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is strange because no Masses are celebrated anywhere on the planet and the faithful find ourselves waiting for the Easter dawn when we can rise from having humbled ourselves through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These days may resemble Holy Saturday for all who are waiting in isolation from the outside world. Like the Apostles’ experience of the first Holy Saturday, we are all resigned to waiting: for positive news about testing and treatment for the virus, yes, but also for the reopening of schools, businesses, and churches, and for being able to rekindle relationships in person.
Still, we recall we are not done with Lent yet. However our Lenten spirituality has been affected by self-quarantining, the liturgical life of the Church continues despite the virus. Our churches may be devoid of public celebrations, but the Church Universal endures and can adapt, using the tools of the times to evangelize and to address the yearning of our hearts, souls, and very beings. The Church, after all, is more than the sum of her buildings, real estate holdings, art, music, and writings—she is alive in each of us as we continue our Lord’s earthly ministry by serving one another in love, compassion, and mercy.
There are plenty of reasons to hope. We see online reports of priests who, out of love and care for their people, broadcast their celebrations of the Holy Mass through the Internet or radio, adapting scheduled hours in the confessional, Lenten reflections and observances, and Eucharistic Adoration in ingenious ways (such as from cars), and connecting many to available life-sustaining resources. Let’s lift up in prayer our priests who continue to lay down their lives for others, especially for the sick or dying, and who continue to shepherd their people throughout this unprecedented time. Let us also consider offering them a token of appreciation; we must never take them for granted!
The faithful are benefitting from the love of our priests despite not being able to see them as usual. We are discovering all sorts of new spiritual resources developed by generous catechists and are finding ways of caring for our neighbors’ spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs. We remain united in faith, hope, and charity as we navigate these days of uncertainty and waiting. Nevertheless, we have unique opportunities for personal growth this Lent and Easter: bringing others into a new encounter of trust and peace with Jesus Christ and His Church. Similar to the experience of the early Church facing threats to their very existence, we may not have open parishes at the moment, but we nurture and care for the domestic churches of our friends, families, and loved ones. We are one Church—pursuing holiness and the same heavenly destiny—assured by the Almighty Himself of the ultimate victory over evil and death which is the Easter rising of the Son:
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
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 John 11:25-26, cf. Revelation 1:17-18.
\We are once again in the midst of the liturgical season of Lent. These forty days before the Triduum are opportunities to prepare ourselves to enter into the Passion of Christ through penitential practices such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and self-sacrifice. Done correctly, our Lenten practices can be cathartically cleansing as we imitate Christ’s forty days in the desert after His baptism. This incredible withdrawal of the Lord from the outside world to dwell on the calling of His Heavenly Father before the commencement of earthly ministry remains a model for us all. During Lent, the faithful do not isolate themselves from the world in fear but rather draw strength from Christ. Shaking off the comforts and complacencies of living in the world may be a bit jolting, but our ultimate goal is holiness; anything else is just a noisy distraction which can never truly satisfy our deepest desires.
Today, technology has become integrated into our lives and relationships. Social media, the internet, and the incredible utility of our smartphones may occupy a large part of our daily attention. It’s no wonder we can find it harder to disconnect from the outside world. Indeed, while the proper and moderated use of technology can be beneficial, observing the dangers of failing to unplug from the world (i.e., harming real human connections), has helped deepen my appreciation for the isolation opportunities afforded by Lenten observances.
Lent calls each of us to remember the ultimate sacrifice God Himself made on Good Friday. This salvific act is so significant that it cannot be restricted to just one day on the liturgical calendar. The Church commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper, Passion, and Death during the Triduum. As these days draw near, the faithful are called to prepare themselves to enter into the Paschal Mystery by putting aside our worldly comforts and imitating how our Lord spent precious time among His disciples before His death.
While Lent is an increased time of preparation and time of intentional growth in holiness, the Church has no shortage of opportunities to deepen our relationship with the Lord year-round. Sunday Mass offers us the spiritual nourishment and proper grounding to start each week. The choices we make in the hours or days following Mass can build upon the scriptural and sacramental foundations laid during the service. Recommitting ourselves to our families and their needs can strengthen the love binding us together; praying with and serving each other builds up the domestic church. For example, volunteering to lead devotional prayers together as a couple or family is a beautiful expression of intimacy and faith. Additionally, during Lent and beyond, we may replace screen time with spiritual reading so we can be inspired by the writings of saints or theologians and discover new avenues of holiness for our lives. Certainly, we can sacrifice a worldly comfort during Lent, but we can also perform charitable works and make a difference in the lives of others during this season. Lent is not a diet!
Lent is intended to bring us closer to God, Who is found not in the noise of the world, but in the quiet whisperings of an open heart. Prayer enables us to make room in our hearts for Him to dwell in the temples of our bodies and radiate through our lives. We cleanse ourselves of distractions that prevent us from the holiness He calls us to and we commit ourselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We repent of our sinful shortcomings and avail ourselves of the sacraments of the Church. Our desire to accompany our Lord can be fulfilled by our faithful vigilance in Eucharistic Adoration, especially in the nighttime hours when our “spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Our Lord is present in the Eucharist we receive at Mass, the Sacrament we adore, the family we are a part of, and the people we serve. He is always ready to not just be a relegated part of our lives, but the core of our very being. The season of Lent can serve to motivate us to choose the better part rather than be complacent in the empty comforts of the world. Though we seek isolation from the distractions of the world to accomplish a meaningful and fruitful Lenten observance, we are promised by the Lord God Himself that we never walk alone when he says: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
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I’m blessed to be a part of a family which includes three different vocations: marriage, religious life, and the discernment of the priesthood. The annual March for Life, which occurred this year on January 24th, provided my wife and me an opportunity to host not only her sister who joined a religious order, but also several members of the religious community. As they are part of a semi-contemplative order, the sisters made the most of their time in DC touring the city, visiting historic and spiritual sites, and learning in museums—all while sharing a public witness to their vocation.
As their hosts, my wife and I had a unique vantage point which allowed us to see the reactions of passersby, both the bewildered and the curious, who are not accustomed to seeing women religious in public. The sisters are used to it, and more importantly, realize they have an opportunity to evangelize and share with others who they are and what their vocation is. Often a chat or introductions will be made, prayer cards will be given, and some pictures are taken (whether stealthily or outright). I noticed the sisters made the most of these moments, probably because they realize they can bring anyone they meet into an encounter with the Lord. The sisters and their joy witness to God’s fidelity in ways often unknown.
At the Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the sisters were just a few of the many women religious present. Though each order’s habits are different, I noticed many pilgrims came up to the sisters after the Mass to inquire about their order and their distinct purple habits. The same happened at the March for Life the next day: many people simply took photos of or with the sisters, others exchanged pleasantries, memories, and prayer cards, and others ran up to the sisters and thanked them for their vocations or wanted to learn more about the order. Returning home with them across town that afternoon, however, we left the massive crowds who shared our values and encountered the daily commuters of DC. I was amused to watch them look up in surprise from their smartphone screens. The sisters would happily engage with their fellow passengers, chat about religious life, and in one case, ask a practicing Hindu about their bindi, or a vermilion mark.
Similar scenes occurred over the weekend. but it wasn’t all like a celebrity sighting: on more than one occasion, the sisters would go up to a homeless or mentally-ill person and, after chatting a bit about Jesus and Mary, share a miraculous medal and holy card to remind them about faith and invite them to trust in God. These were people used to being passed by on the sidewalk each day as they begged for food or for someone to listen to and be with them. Imagine the shock they experienced when “strangely dressed” women were suddenly engaging with them and treating them with respect and compassion!
There is no way of knowing just how God may have used the sisters as a means of planting the seeds of faith in various encounters. Certainly the unusualness of the situation might shake someone out of their complacency and eventually cause them to recall a positive memory of faith from youth or simply remember consecrated persons live and act in the world as a beautiful witness to… something. That something may lead to a renewed quest for truth or personal peace. In God’s good time, this yearning may be a motivation to reconnect with God and embrace a life of faith and holiness.
But all of us, especially laypeople, are similarly called to holiness by virtue of our baptism in Christ Jesus. We need not depend on wearing a religious habit to draw others into an encounter with the Lord, but can invite others in our schools, workplaces, social gatherings, and homes to participate in religious practices such as grace before meals, going on a pilgrimage to a holy site, reading books by the saints, or simply starting a meaningful conversation. The options for spiritual accompaniment are endless. Given time, prayer, and trust in the Lord’s will, each of us can instill the smallest seed of faith which can grow into a towering wonder.
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In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare famously asked, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names convey not only an identity, but also one’s familiarity, intimacy, and attention with the subject. We are each taught the names of our surroundings in our infancy so as to be able to associate experiences and qualities with them. And this spirit of discovery continues even today, with great ceremony being performed upon uncovering an unknown celestial body, lifeform, or element. To name something is to also claim dominion over it. In Scripture, for example, Adam was tasked to name the creatures of the earth. In Genesis we read, “So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.” To call something by name implies a relationship with the person or thing named. That is why when Moses asked God Who he should say sent him to free the Hebrews from slavery, the Lord revealed the Divine Name:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
This example illustrates the power of God’s Name. It is how He identifies Himself to the people of Israel and legitimizes their relationship as His Chosen People.
God’s name is also sacred and demands respect. Recall the Second Commandment, as written in the Old Testament: “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. or the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7 and Dt 5:11) The name of God is so holy that the Jewish people dare not even pronounce it out loud. As Catholics, we are similarly taught that God’s name is of the utmost holiness and should only be invoked in one’s speech to bless, praise, or glorify the Lord (cf. CCC 2142-2149). His name must never be abused by careless speech, false oaths, words of hatred, defiance of God, or used in unholy ceremonies. This applies to the name of Jesus as well:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In his 2007 book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observed that God established a relationship with mankind when He revealed His name to Moses. The Incarnation, he continued, was then the fulfillment of the process that “had begun with the giving of the divine name” (Benedict XVI, 144). This relationship did not make man equal to God but “protect[s] the wonderful mystery of his accessibility to us, and constantly assert[s] his true identity as opposed to our distortion of it”(Benedict XVI, 144-145). And Christ Himself underscored the sanctity of His Father’s Name with the inclusion of “hallowed be thy name” in the prayer He taught His disciples. We pray with these words each week in Mass. As we do, have we realized the importance of what we are saying?
To remind us of this truth, the Church has instituted the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (in its current form) as an optional memorial to be celebrated on January 3 of each year since 2002 (but originally established by Pope Innocent XIII on December 20, 1721). How great a gift that the Lord God Almighty has so intimately revealed Himself to us! Unfortunately, in today’s society there is no limit to the number of times when our culture irreverently invokes God’s name in the media, creative works, and everyday conversation. As we begin a new calendar year, how can we better model respect and humility when using God’s holy name? Can we do anything in our classrooms, workplaces, or online profiles to witness a life of respect and reverence for God? As Catholics, we are blessed to be able to pray to and know a personal God who has revealed not only His name, but even sent His only Begotten Son to be among us—something we remember this Christmas season. Let us rejoice in this knowledge and continue to cry out with our lives, “O Lord, our God, How awesome is Your name through all the earth!” -Psalm 8:2
As we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas, I find myself grateful that the Church has established the liturgical calendar in such a way as to help shake us out of our spiritual complacency. The high-points of the Church year—and the larger Christian experience— are referenced so much in our Faith that we may sometimes find ourselves on spiritual autopilot. Before we know it, we might find that solemnities are immediately upon us (or past us), and we feel that we could have benefited from more spiritual preparation. This year, I was looking for a clear and direct theme I could really focus on as Christmas approached. I came across some writings of Venerable Servant of God Fulton Sheen that called to mind certain details of Scripture that my eyes (and spiritual life) might typically gloss over. Recalling the helpless innocence of the Christ-child ready to be born of Mary, Sheen related Mary and Joseph’s plight in searching for late-night shelter in Bethlehem to the lack of hearts open to God which can offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords a place to dwell and reign:
[W]hen finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest lines of all will be: ‘There was no room in the inn.’ The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is the place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten… The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into His own world through a back door.
With all the seasonal emphasis on gifts and personal generosity, I am especially touched by that first line and the reality that there was no room made available for the arrival of the long-awaited Son of God. How often do we hear calls to be watchful and ready for the Second Coming of Christ; that is, to be repentant of sin and committed to pursuing holiness? This preparation is what the first part of the Advent season is all about. When we are called before the Final Judgement seat of the Most High, and God Himself shows us what we did or did not do for Him in our earthly encounters with the people in our lives, will we say that it was too difficult or inconvenient to take up what we knew was expected of us? All of the baptized are called to be missionary disciples—people who spread the joy of the Gospel by their very lives. We can bring others into an encounter with the Living God—or at least instill a sense of hope, dignity, and love in those who are in need—in the workplace, at home, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes, and within our families. In doing so, we make room in the inn of our hearts for the Christ-child.
Without Christ present in our hearts and at the core of our being, we will find ourselves serving a different master—be it vices, worldly pleasures, fleeting successes or honors, or other vanities. Just as the innkeepers of Bethlehem two-thousand years ago declined to open their doors to the Holy Family, so too do each of us have the choice either to be seduced by the empty promises of the world or to pursue a life of holiness and of speaking the Truth among the doubtful, suspicious, hateful, or unrepentant.
This Christmas season, let us allow Christ into our lives in order to bring him to others. Let us preach the Gospel with our lives and seek to always make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Christmas is a time for celebration! We rejoice that the Lord God Himself took on human nature and was born as a helpless Child into the world He created in order to free us from sin and death and invite us to live with Him forever. The occasion of Christmas encourages each of us to be a welcoming soul to the Lord rather than one who closed their doors to the Holy Family that holy night:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And let it begin with me. Amen.
 Sheen, Fulton. “Life of Christ” (1954).
 cf. Matthew 25:40.
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.
Our lives are unmistakably touched by the actions and values of our personal heroes. Many of us looked upon our parents as our first heroes, later adding to their exalted ranks the likes of athletic legends, first responders, teachers, coaches, and others whose passion and commitment went above and beyond in order to make a difference. Even today, heroes walk among us in their duties to God, country, and community: many have answered the call to serve in the armed forces, some are called to religious ministry, and others seek to defend and uphold life through witnessing to life and serving on the margins of society. Many live their lives simply, with no fame or fanfare, as they faithfully seek to better their own little corner of the world and love their families, neighbors, and friends.
As Catholics, we have no limit to the heroes to whom we can lift our aspirations (and intercessions!); they are the countless saints of the Kingdom of God and Church Triumphant who, even now, urge us to live more fully for Christ. They are incredible examples that bring others into an encounter with the living God through their lives. All are called to be saints. As Mother Angelica always urged her EWTN viewers, “Don’t miss the opportunity!” Mother Angelica is one of my favorite heroes: her wisdom and insight, coupled with her iconic sense of humor, was so easily accessible on TV and the internet. When she looked into the camera, she was looking at me, speaking to me, urging me to be a better Christian.
Sainthood is not just the attainment of spiritual perfection; what is heroic is recognizing and repenting of one’s spiritual shortcomings, returning to the merciful embrace of the Lord, and committing to be a better witness to Christ. Mother Angelica would similarly observe, “Faith is what gets you started. Hope is what keeps you going. Love is what brings you to the end.” Never let personal difficulty or worrying that it’s too much for you to handle scare you from addressing your hunger and desire for holiness.
The saints came from all walks of life, meaning that each of us can fully answer the universal call to holiness no matter the circumstances. The demands of the spiritual life require a uniquely formed system of accountability, determination, and humility. While God is forever patient with us, we may become frustrated at ourselves or compare ourselves to our peers. That is why we can turn to the saints as guides and intercessors; they can shape our unique circumstances in life to better identify ways of living out our Christian witness in the world.
With all the turmoil of the world, how critical it is for us to live boldly and authentically as Christians! And if we are viewed and treated suspiciously by observers, may we patiently embrace all that for the glory of God! How heroic are the martyrs of Holy Mother Church who “rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name [of Christ].” Especially when the negativity of the news tempts many to lose hope in the apparent darkness of the times, how necessary, then, it is for us to bring the brilliant Light of Christ and His Gospel message to expel the darkness and bring peace to those awaiting salvation. May the saints of heaven always remain sources of heroic inspiration throughout our lives, and may we be found worthy to one day join them in the eternal feast of the Kingdom of God!
There’s something wonderfully intimate about entering an empty chapel or secluded church and embracing it for personal prayers. Our Lord continuously invites each of us to set aside our daily activities and distractions to spend some time gazing, discerning, and listening to Him who knows each of us better than we could ever understand ourselves. The ancient promise of Christ to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” assures us of the great love freely offered to us when we recall we are always in God’s holy presence. In doing so, the troubles and challenges we face in the world are trivialized and surrendered to God’s holy will so that our focus can be firmly fixed upon worshipping and honoring the One who calls us to Himself.
Whether it was in a parish church during the day, the school chapel in between classes, or even the private chapel of a religious community, my experiences of being able to utilize the simple intimacy and quiet of the moment offered me peace and sanctuary from the world. Of course, the Almighty is not restricted to the tabernacle of a church; His presence is infinite and forever available to us. There is, however, something affirming about entering into a space conducive to prayer and spirituality. The design and furnishing of a sacred space can draw our senses into an experience to better appreciate God’s presence in our lives. The light from outside may reflect colored light from stained glass windows upon the wall, the smell of candles or incense being burned convey that space is specially oriented to a higher purpose than what you just stepped out of, and the silence and lack of technology, advertising, or electronic distractions enable you to be more aware of your surroundings as you seek to hear God speaking to you. Encounters with the living God are not typically a Burning Bush or Annunciation experience; recall that the prophet Elijah sought to encounter God on Mount Horeb and found Him in the “sheer silence” rather than a strong wind, fire, or earthquake.
We are all aware of the daily bombardment of digital content and of the professional, social, or academic obligations and expectations we face. They compete for our time and attention, can wear us down in routines, and force us to prioritize what is important for us to achieve. In our busy lives, we must actively choose to answer God’s constant and gentle call to “Abide in me as I abide in you.” He pours out His love for us freely, even when we are not always actively seeking Him or discerning His will for us. The Christian journey, then, is one of encounter and service; the love God extends to us is to be shared and offered to our neighbors, the marginalized, and even—especially—enemies. No matter our vocation in this life, our ultimate goal must be Heaven in the next. The saints are excellent role models in embracing the love of Christ and committing their lives to bringing that love to others.
And while there is something beautiful about being the only person before the Lord in prayer and adoration, there is an even greater joy in bringing others to share in the experience and to worship God together. We do not walk the Christian way alone. As a wise friend of mine observed:
"[W]e have to remember that the journey to heaven is not a solo trek. You seek to bring everyone with you. If one person falls, you travel to him or her, and help them get up, and you carry along together towards the destination. This is what God has entrusted us to do, to reveal such love as His love. Within our families, jobs, school, or wherever God calls us to be, we must give everything of ourselves in bringing others on the adventure, and helping them endure. Think of the image of exhaustively falling down on God’s doorstep after the journey is over. You look back, and see no one, because the ones traveling with you have gone inside already."
 Joseph Cuda (lecture, Knights of Columbus Council #9542 business meeting, Washington, DC, November 3, 2013). http://knights.cua.edu/res/docs/Knights-Lecture-5-November-3-2013.pdf
Throughout my studies at The Catholic University of America, I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the sacred traditions and rites of various religious orders I would never have encountered back at home. A great blessing of my place of study was the constant flux of various clergy, seminarians, and religious throughout campus who were undertaking a degree program or simply passing through campus in their respective ministries. God bless the Franciscans, Little Sisters of the Poor, Marians, Sisters of Life, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, Pallottines, and the Missionaries of Charity, to name a few, who joyfully lived out their vocations—inspiring observers to get to know them and their spiritualties and facilitating an encounter with the Lord.
In God’s providence, I frequently found myself at the Dominican House of Studies at the far side of campus and was able to join the community of brothers and priests in their night prayers and certain liturgical celebrations which were open to the public. Personally, I found the house to be a commanding presence and a bit daunting on the inside: the intellectual prowess of the Order of Preachers and its faithful carrying out of its mandate to preach conveyed a certain spiritual seriousness which drew me in all the more. How striking were the resonating, unified, and almost haunting tones of the sacred chants of prayer, together with the corresponding gestures and postures and the dimmed lights! And yet, in wonderful moments of levity, the very same Dominicans could be found performing excellent bluegrass music as “The Hillbilly Thomists”!
Before Dominic’s mother conceived him, she dreamt a dog leapt from her womb and set the world on fire. Dominic went on to become a priest and ultimately founded the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans. The Dominicans rose to the forefront of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages as they announced the Gospel, combatted heresy, gave quality spiritual and scholastic instructions, and contributed unmatched gifts to schools of theology and philosophy. They are lovingly nicknamed “the hounds of the Lord.” The Order has raised up many saints and conferees who ministered to every corner of the world, advocating for the rights of Native Americans, standardizing the liturgy of the Mass, compiling the Church’s canonical laws, composing timeless sacred hymns, caring for the poor, advancing the correlation of faith and science, and promoting the holy Rosary. Western civilization owes a debt of gratitude for the contributions of Dominicans such as Saints Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Pope Pius V, Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, Louis de Montfort, and Martin de Porres.
Participating from time to time in the life of that religious community gave me a lovely insight into the incredible mysticism of the Order and of the Church Universal. Such a powerful instrument of personal and theological devotion is not the closely held property of one religious order or vocation, but a gift available to anyone who seeks to enhance their personal spirituality with deeply historic and touching methods. This involves realizing the soul as something more sacred than just consciousness; the soul is able to love which helps to better relate to God, who is Love incarnate, emotionally and ecstatically rather than merely intellectually. And you don’t need the philosophical and theological background of a Dominican to similarly enhance your own prayer life! You can begin by quietly placing yourself in the holy presence of God and focusing on the love He offers and the ways He is being loved (or not) in return. Going deeper, it could be beneficial to read the thoughts and reflections of various Dominican saints who embraced a similar spirituality.
How good God is to have called upon Saint Dominic hundreds of years ago to begin such an incredible religious order committed to promoting Truth and the mandate to praise, to bless, and to preach (In fact, that is one motto of the Order!).The work of the Dominicans is especially needed today in our society of moral relativism and secularism. Let us pray that many more answer God’s ongoing call for holy religious and priestly vocations. And may we, as lay people, continuously support the Church which offers so many varied spiritual treasures for our sanctification.
For Americans, the annual observance of the Fourth of July celebrates the independence of the United States. Our national story is made up of the varied lives and unique experiences of countless peoples who nonetheless share in seeking “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Each of these people is following his or her own American Dream, the achievement of which requires hard work, fortitude, and faith. As we celebrate and reflect upon our personal freedoms— long fought for and subsequently defended— we also acknowledge those peoples whose rights are continually imperiled or at risk of being curtailed by injustice. The United States by no means has a spotless record in establishing civil rights, but those efforts have raised up incredible heroes who sought to make the American Dream more accessible peacefully and justly. As Catholics, we especially thank God for His blessings on this land and for the preservation of our rights to bear witness to Him publicly as Americans.
Thanks to the efforts of French and Spanish missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries, Catholicism began to take root among the indigenous peoples of what would become the United States. As the fledgling country wouldn’t have an installed bishop until 1789, the American Church continued to grow during the first half of the 19th century thanks to the influx of Irish and German immigrants seeking the religious toleration which was becoming less and less abundant in Europe. Protestants were critical of these arrivals, declaring it was not possible to be a good American and Catholic at the same time (partly due to false beliefs spread about allegiance to the Roman pope). Thanks to the determination of these immigrants, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, by 1850 Roman Catholicism was the largest denomination in the United States.
Despite the political and cultural persecution American Catholics experienced, the ministries and loving charity of certain clergy and religious ensured that the needs of their fellow citizens were met. Figures like Mother Cabrini and Mother Seton founded religious communities that took care of the poor whom society all too often ignored. Mothers Drexel and Duchesne cared for Native Americans (as did Kateri Tekakwitha), African Americans, and women as they evangelized with the missionary spirit. Fr. Michael McGivney began a member-benefit society (which would become the Knights of Columbus) to care for the widows and families of Catholic male breadwinners who lost their lives. Isolated from the public square, the Catholics of this country nevertheless found a niche caring for other outcasts through a public witness that expressed faith as the catalyst for action. Doing so forced many observers to cease their suspicions and prejudices and helped normalize Catholicism in America. The examples of faithful religious continued to inspire Catholics in all walks of life to live out their faith freely. In recognition of their faithful witness of the Gospel, many of these brave citizens are now hailed as saints for universal veneration in the Church.
Today, secularism and the misrepresentation of civil rights threaten the very foundation of the society which Catholics have indisputably helped shape. Legal challenges are filed against religious symbols, schools, churches, and charities, supposedly for discriminatory actions or the preservation of the separation of church and state. American Catholics are often torn between publicly defending these institutions and their work or avoiding antagonization for speaking out. Nonetheless, the Church continues to meet the needs of the poor and the outcast in the same spirit of welcome the poet Emma Lazarus immortalized in the words of “The New Colossus,” which hangs in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
As Americans, we thank God for the gift of religious liberty and for those who continuously defend it. As Catholics, we pray for our leaders to be guided by the Holy Spirit to pursue justice and for those abroad who are still struggling for the basic rights and freedoms we enjoy. There is no shortage of opportunities around us to live and act as the saints before us. The American story continues with each of us; perhaps its future chapters will tell of the great love and commitment of countless citizens who welcomed the refugee, defended the unborn, cared for the disabled, accompanied the lonely and the imprisoned, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, promoted charity, and honored the dead. We have much to celebrate on July Fourth; may God always guide our nation in the ways of liberty and justice for all.