What does it mean to be bicultural? It means that a person can represent and identify with more than one country. I have been given the blessing of representing three cultures at the same time: I am Mexican, Salvadorian, and American. Representing these three cultures has given me the opportunity to see God’s beautiful creation from different perspectives and enriched my understanding of the Church. As I have grown, I’ve encountered Christ who has revealed my vocation and his love for me through this tricultural blessing.
As a child, all I knew about my faith was either through my parents or Sunday school at my local parish. I was taught Bible stories, saint stories, and prayers in Spanish. I was happy to be in that bubble away from the math problems at school, my English cartoons, and anything related to the American culture. These were the only times I could actually learn about who I was as a Catholic Latina. My Mexican and Salvadorian traditions were intertwined with my faith. Being Catholic and part of the Latino community meant we professed our love for God through our actions. Our focus wasn’t reading or studying the faith because that was never in our reach to dive into. Instead, the community learned that their actions were their way to live the mission of Christ in their day to day lives. This was something I learned very early on.
I also learned how important it was to my parents for me to learn about our faith and its traditions. One of my favorite memories will always be the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was always full of color, and the church was filled with the smell of red roses. What I remember the most is staying up past my bedtime, but also being able to see the faith and the love many people had towards our Blessed Mother.
After many years of being in my little Spanish bubble, my parents decided to send me to a private Catholic school. This is where I realized there was way more to my faith than I was taught at Sunday school. I realized that I had to burst my bubble to actually learn more about my faith in English. It was not easy to understand the different prayers in English or to take religion classes in English. My experience in private Catholic school also helped me realize that there was more to my faith than just my Spanish world. I decided to become the student that was always asking different theological questions during religion class. I became obsessed with learning about the different doctrines and about the significance of the church’s architecture. All of this opened a new door to my spiritual life. I could experience Christ through Church teaching as well as serve him through my actions. I became aware that there was no need to separate all three cultures for different aspects of my life! Somehow, all my cultures were blending together in ways I would have never imagined. All of them could work together to strengthen my faith.
Over many years, I have learned that being bilingual and tricultural means I can live out my faith in unique ways. I can discover Christ not only through the combination of these cultures, but also within each individual one. Now, I have no need for different bubbles to live out my faith because God created me to praise him and uniquely evangelize about his love. Each culture has helped me deepen my relationship with Christ. As a lector in the Spanish Mass, I am able to read and analyze the Word of God. Later on, these readings help me have meaningful conversations in my Theology classes at The Catholic University of America. By learning about different resources and reading in class, I have also learned more about how I can help my Latino community. Now as a young adult, I have become more aware that my cultures, traditions, and languages have molded my faith and shaped my way of life as a member of the laity of the Church.
For more resources on cultural diversity, please click here.
We’re well into the first week of Advent, and if you’re like me, you’re probably sick of all the Christmas displays and music and consumerism that has bombarded our senses since November started. As an American, it’s always been easy for me to get pulled into the secular world’s excitement about Christmas, its eagerness to get started with all the partying, eating, gift swapping, caroling, and general Christmas cheer. But as I’ve deepened my faith as a Catholic, I have found that the more focus I put on Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas, the easier it is to block out the unending secular Christmas noise and ready my heart, my home, and my family for the coming of the Christ child.
For most people, the phrase “preparing for Christmas” probably evokes memories of setting up Christmas trees and hanging lights outside, wrapping gifts, or organizing the ideal Christmas classics playlist. And while those things certainly count as preparation for Christmas, won’t we suffer burnout—or what I have seen referred to as “the holiday hangover”—if we spend all of November and December with our house decked out for Christmas and with Christmas music playing all day long? I know I would.
A few years ago, as I was researching Catholic Advent traditions that I could incorporate into my family’s liturgical life, I decided that I ought to shift our emphasis from when to set up the Christmas décor and instead focus on the spiritual longing and the growing excitement for the arrival of the Messiah. Traditionally and liturgically, Christmastide lasts many days—at the very least until the Epiphany, but usually until the Baptism of the Lord. Why not leave the Christmas celebrations until Christmastide and focus on the preparation during Advent? Israel spent countless years in hopeful anticipation of the savior—is it really so difficult for me and my family to spend four weeks emulating that same sense of joyful expectation?
The Catholic Church has so many symbols and traditions from which we can draw to prepare our hearts and homes for Christ. In our house, we not only light the Advent wreath every night, but we darken the dining room lights in order to emphasize the light that Christ brought when he came into the world. We also recently implemented the Jesse Tree—a tradition I did not grow up with, but one that I have come to love because it condenses salvation history into a timeline that is easy even for my children to follow. We don’t listen to Christmas music during Advent, choosing instead to listen to Advent music. We read children’s books that discuss the animals’ preparing the barn before the Nativity, or the journey that Mary and Joseph took before Jesus was born.
When we experience Advent in this way, the anticipation for Christmas builds with each passing week. As Christmas Day draws closer, we start baking and freezing the Christmas cookies to be eaten during Christmastide and to be given as gifts at Christmas parties. I take time to plan out special activities for us to do during the twelve days of Christmas, or special meals I know everyone will enjoy during that time. We pray the O Antiphons. We make or buy gifts for our loved ones, and we talk about how giving gifts to our loved ones is a reflection of the great gift of Jesus, who was given to us on Christmas Day.
In this way, when we finally decorate the house on Christmas Eve, we are all practically bouncing with excitement—and not just about presents, but about the miracle of Christ’s birth. Our children’s—and our own—sense of wonder is bolstered and preserved by our not celebrating too early. By steeping ourselves in the history of the first Christmas and by maintaining that same sense of watchful hoping and waiting, we can more fully appreciate the wonder of the arrival of the promised Messiah.
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.
If you could only take three things on a desert island, what would you bring?
A common question at parties, dates, and job interviews, it’s not so different from what we might ask ourselves during the season of Lent. Lent, as our Catechism says, is “a span of forty days when the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
Just as the “desert island” question invites us to stop and consider what we really need and want in life, Lent invites us to consider our truest desires, what matters most, when it comes to uniting ourselves to Christ Jesus.
To help us answer this question during Lent, our Catholic tradition gives us three spiritual keys, known as “penitential practices,” namely, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
Before deciding what to “give up” during Lent, first “pick up” a new way to pray. Be specific: pick a time, place, and form of prayer. Don’t commit to more than you can do, but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself some.
Lent primarily focuses on the practice of penitential prayer, humbly acknowledging our sins with sorrow and contrition, and turning our hearts back to God’s forgiveness and mercy. One example found at most parishes is the Stations of the Cross, usually hosted every Friday during Lent as a way of reflecting on Christ’s Passion and death. Other daily spiritual exercises might involve reciting the Seven Penitential Psalms, or making a heartfelt Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition. Don’t forget Lent is a powerful time to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also called Reconciliation, or Confession).
Penitential prayer isn’t meant to leave us discouraged, but should increase our desire to love and serve God. The Psalmist sings, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:2-3). Lent is a kind of “spiritual desert” that highlights our thirst for God, which may lead us to experience what the saints of our Church call “dryness in prayer,” times when we lack feelings of comfort and consolation. Rather than a sign that God isn’t listening, as Mother Angelica and others have described, dryness in prayer can be a gift and invitation to find our deeper satisfaction in God alone. In the words of Msgr. Charles Pope, dry and difficult prayer teaches us to seek not the consolation of God but the God of consolation.
Fasting is the spiritual practice of voluntarily abstaining from food or some other bodily need or pleasure (now we can talk of “giving something up”). Fasting is rooted in our Church’s scripture and tradition, especially in imitation of Jesus who fasted for forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:2). While the Church only asks members to fast from food on occasion, I’m convinced fasting is more relevant than ever as we live in constant temptation of becoming more gratified while less grateful, more satiated while less satisfied.
Fasting can be a practice of slowing down. This can mean we intentionally consume and do less, thus allowing God to speak to our souls with less interruptions from the myriad distractions and lesser goods that demand our time and attention. Fasting works to curb our appetites—for food and drink, yes—but also excess information (news and status updates), noise and visual stimulation (TV, video games), so as to redirect our thoughts and desires for God and restore relationships with those near us. Spend some time in prayer considering what things or activities God is calling you to fast from.
When asked, “How much money is enough” Industrialist and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller famously replied, “Just a little bit more.” The practice of almsgiving, on the other hand, can actually be freeing—showing that we can be happy with a little bit less.
John the Baptist instructed his followers, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11), and Jesus warned his disciples of putting stock in material possessions (Luke 18:18-30).
Almsgiving turns the spiritual fruit we inwardly gain through prayer and fasting outward into material fruit shared with the poor and those in need. One year, I chose one item a day I owned (article of clothing, book, can of food, etc.) to set aside to give to the poor through my local church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society or food pantry. I was shocked (and a little embarrassed) by how much I owned but never used. The point isn’t spring-cleaning or making room in the closet for new summer fashions, but to make room in our heart for the poor and to de-clutter the way that leads to the Kingdom of God.
This Lent, I invite you to pray about incorporating these pillars into your forty-day spiritual journey in the desert.
I was once told that giving and receiving the Sign of Peace at Mass is founded on giving and receiving forgiveness. As I understood it, whoever was at the other end of that handshake was, by default, forgiving you of all wrongs you may have committed against him or her.
I was a lot younger when I was told this and the idea of exchanging forgiveness for a handshake was pretty appealing. You mean I didn’t have to actually apologize? I just briefly grab the other person’s hand, maybe give a quick hug, and that was it?
More than fifteen years have passed, and I have—hopefully—developed a more mature understanding of what it means to give and receive forgiveness. I haven’t heard of this blank-slate forgiveness handshake ever since. But the idea has stuck with me.
That’s a pretty powerful thing, isn’t it, that we could approach the exchange of peace as God approaches us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation—as an all-encompassing, no-questions-asked offering of forgiveness?
What is it we hear at Mass right before we exchange the Sign of Peace?
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you;’ look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.”
Peace and forgiveness are tightly interwoven; one is inseparable from the other. We’re reminded of this each and every time we go to Mass. We recognize that peace starts from within—that we ourselves are imperfect yet loved by God—and that that very same peace is to be extended to every member of our community. We build peace together, but only if we forgive one another—and ourselves. But it is often all too easy to step out of Mass on Sunday as though you’re entering a separate world; what happened in the chapel stays in the chapel.
If we’re called to be salt for the world, then this cannot be so. The world must see that it is not so—each and every person we encounter must recognize us as a person of peace, a person who is motivated and challenged by a God of peace.
In part, this is why I’m fascinated by faith-based peacebuilding. I spend a lot of my graduate school career researching how a religious imagination can impact the common good, and to me, there are fewer places so powerfully open to the role of faith as peacebuilding.
But as a Catholic, I often ask myself: What does my faith tradition offer in this great interreligious effort?
I do not claim to be an expert—I’ve barely scratched the surface of the literature. But in my research I keep coming back to the role of ritual. There is power in ritual, in repetition, in coming together as a community to grapple with the unknowable from the nitty-grittiness of our lived reality.
Those of all religious traditions can attest to this. Certainly, a brief look at tragedies over the last several months will reveal faith communities of all varieties gathering to mourn, to pray, to remember.
When we come together before God in community ready and willing to grapple with mysteries divine and unknown, we must necessarily come together ready to forgive, ready to build peace. How can we allow the People of God—gathered in Christ’s name—to stand and pray together and do anything less?
And yet, we know that so often that all-important Sign of Peace is reduced to something perfunctory, half-hearted, something my younger self might find appealing. I know I’m guilty of this more often than not. How many unrelated, far-from-peaceful thoughts are on my mind as I spin around in my chair in the chapel and shake the hands of strangers?
Peace and forgiveness can begin with the Sign of Peace. But they don’t end there. That first step out of the chapel is not a step away from that Sign of Peace, but a further entering into it.
Ritual is powerful, and there are few rituals quite so unique in the spiritual tools offered to build a more peaceful world than the Mass.
What, then, do we bring to the altar in our own prayer? How do we use rituals of all kinds to build peace, to extend and receive forgiveness? A good piece of Scripture for our reflection might be Matthew 5:23-24:
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
In my Bible study, we are reading through the Second Letter to the Corinthians from St. Paul. The last session covered Chapter Five. It deals with the current and future destiny of our bodies.
For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.
In verse one, Paul says our earthly dwelling is a tent. What is the tent? Even in his day, most people didn't live in tents. They had stone or wood houses. Clearly that can't be what Paul meant. In fact, he is referring to the earthly body as a tent, and the heavenly body as a building.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites traveled with the Holy of Holies, the place where the Presence of God was pleased to dwell in a special and unique way, in the form of a tent structure. It's portable, appropriate for a sojourning people. When they finally reached the Promised Land, King Solomon built the Temple out of stone and precious metals. It was a structure of permanence and stability; it declared this is where God is and He isn't moving. A tent is a much flimsier home than a stone building. Yes, they are both dwelling places, but stone is harder to destroy than cloth, and more secure. There is, to borrow a phrase from Alice in Wonderland, a muchness to stone, a weight and solidity that tents don't have.
In the Transfiguration scene in Luke 9: 28-36, Jesus' face and clothing are changed. Scholars take this to mean that we will have our same bodies, the one the soul is united with right now as you read these words, for all eternity. For better or worse. In Heaven, the body shall be glorified and refined, receiving a muchness that we don't have now. In Hell, the body shall be as damned as the soul, in anguish just as fitting.
In the ancient world, this concept of retaining your physical body after death would have been flabbergasting. Most philosophical traditions saw the body as something other than the true self. It was something to be punished, or used for mere pleasure, but importantly gotten rid of, so the spirit-self could be free.
Christianity says otherwise. We, human beings, are body-soul composites. Matter and spirit united into one creature. And that is good. If we were pure matter, we would be like the inanimate universe, or at best like animals. If we were pure spirit, we would be angels. We are neither. We are a unity of the two most opposite things in the universe, and God looks at us and says we are good.
There is a reversion of thought in our modern world that reflects the ancients: either the body doesn't matter at all and I just need to get rid of it because it's not really me, or it's all that matters because there is nothing else to me. It's sneaks into Christian minds as well. Which is devastating, on the psychological and spiritual levels. We should have a sense of home-ness in our bodies.
Have you ever met someone who just seemed uncomfortable in their own skin? As if they didn't know what to do with themselves? Have you ever been that person? We're often expected to get our act together. Be confident. Act normal. Own yourself. But you can't own selves, yours or anyone else's. That is a mask. And a mask is not a home.
Think now of the people whom you've met who were so solid and real and, in a word, themselves, that you felt comfortable enough to be yourself. Think of the people whose houses you walk into and sigh with peace and the knowledge that you are loved. Think of those whose arms embrace you and tell you it is good to be alive.
One of the best ways to love others is to love yourself. Treat yourself with dignity and respect. The Christian is commanded to love as Christ loved, and thus has the duty to be a holistically integrated human being more so than the rest of society. Be at home in your own skin, and allow others to be home in their own existence. We want visitors and guests to feel welcome in our homes, don’t we? Well, they can't unless we do; stability and hospitality begin in the heart. These virtues start to grow when we allow ourselves to become integrated and united, when all of our being is directed and following one Way with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, and with all your soul.
Summertime in the United States brings about a lot of great traditions. It brings longer days, shorts, flip-flops, trips to the beach, barbecues, and processions. Processions are large public demonstrations of faith and piety that have been handed down from generation to generation. In Italian American communities, processions are filled with music, color, and, of course, great food—lots and lots of great food. We celebrate in this way because our fathers did before us, and their fathers did before them. This summer I've already been able to attend to two processions and I look forward to a few more. I attended the 107th annual Festa Dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvania, and the 112th feast of St. Anthony Italian Festival in Little Italy Baltimore, Maryland. Each has a long tradition and there are as many differences as there are similarities. At the core, each is a faith that is embedded within its community that is rich and deep.
Festa Dei Ceri, or simply St. Ubaldo’s Day, is a tradition that was brought from Gubbio, Italy by immigrants to Jessup, PA in 1909. Tradition states that in the early 1100s, Ubaldo Baldassini, the Bishop of Gubbio, met with Frederick Barbarossa , the Holy Roman Emperor who was on a military campaign in Italy, and convinced him not to invade and to spare the town from destruction. When the bishop returned with the good news, he was raced through the streets on a platform to reassure the town’s safety. The residence commemorated this event by racing a statue of him, along with statues of St. George and St. Anthony, through the narrow streets of the medieval town. Immigrants brought this tradition with them when they emigrated to Jessup in large numbers in the early 1900s. The Running of the Saints occurred from 1914 to 1952, then from 1976 to 1990, and has consistently been held since 2000 after being revived by local high school students. The day begins with the high school marching band waking the town up and calling them to Mass. After Mass, the statues which are about 30 inches tall are placed in 15 foot wooden structures that are designed to carry the saints and weigh about 400 pounds each. The saint statues are then blessed with holy water, first by the parish pastor or the Bishop of Scranton, then by the team captains and carried through the town by three different teams of men. A relic of St. Ubaldo is also processed and venerated with a significantly larger statue of him throughout the town. In the late afternoon, the three statues are then raced through the town at breakneck speed and over steep terrain. St. Ubaldo always wins, followed by St. George and St. Anthony. After the statues are removed and the platforms are disassembled, they are brought back to the church. The whole weekend is an expression of faith, family, and tradition.
A few weeks after that, I was able to attend the St. Anthony Festival in Little Italy in Baltimore, Maryland, which dates back to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. While massive fire raged in parts of the city, parishioners gathered at Saint Leo the Great Church in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore. The parishioners prayed to St. Anthony for the protection of their neighborhood. Luckily, the neighborhood was spared. Many attributed this to the intercession of St. Anthony. The parishioners celebrated his feast day with a Mass, procession, and street fair which has continued ever since. Just five years after the beginning of celebration of the feast, the parish became a ministry of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers. This year, I attended the events along with two Pallottine students in formation. The three of us served Mass and partook in the procession through the streets. Many people came out of their houses and cars to watch us. It was great fanfare with a full band, 4th Degree Knights of Columbus color guard, and a highly decorated statue of St. Anthony. Many people pinned money to strips of cloth tied around the statue as a small offering and prayer to St. Anthony. There was food, music, and an intense bocce ball tournament.
Each of the celebrations has a few core elements that all processions have. Processions are about faith and community. Processions help increase our faith by publically displaying various statues and images. It is a form of evangelization in the streets. At the same time, they help build community by calling all those together for a common cause. They reinforce not only our proud heritage and traditions, but also our faith. They promote our faith being celebrated together. Processions are also about the individuals' participation. Attending a procession invites us to feel that we are a part of the community and reinforces our own faith. When I go to procession, for example, I not only enjoy the fanfare, but am also reminded that my faith is connected to those around me.
I encourage you to seek out processions and bring your friends and family. Pray, eat, and enjoy each other's company. Processions can be beneficial for every group that continues the practice, not just the Italian American community. Ours just happen to have a bit more tomato sauce and wine than most! As the summer goes on, I look forward to many more processions and I invite you to go out and either attend or partake in a procession.
Many hope to journey through Lent having experienced a true transformation in their spiritual life. But sometimes, innocently enough, we don’t take full advantage of our time when we give up something that we have every intention of picking right back up (or indulging in on Sundays). Don’t get me wrong—it can be spiritually edifying and purifying in a lasting way to give up normally enjoyable things (e.g., chocolate, Netflix, alcohol) for just a period.
A few years ago though, inspired by centuries-old Catholic theology I learned from some introductory college classes, I tried a different approach to Lent. I found the saints were all talking about Lent as a time to grow in virtue. In the Catholic tradition, a virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (CCC 1803). You might think of virtues as character traits that describe a holy and happy life. Here are some of the “human virtues” that play a prominent role in the Catholic life:
The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude.
The Cardinal virtues have a special role in the Catholic tradition, and make possible other important virtues like…
The Capital Virtues: Humility, Generosity, Chastity, Meekness, Temperance, Kindness, and Diligence.
The seven Capital virtues are meant to counteract the Seven Capital Vices, or ‘Deadly Sins.’
One of the best teachers about virtue is the famous Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived from 1225-1274. Growing in virtue helps us grow more like Christ, so we can, in St. Thomas’ words “recover the completeness and distinction of mind” that gets lost through sin and vice (Meditations for Lent, 22).
Lent is also a great time to focus on developing a virtue that has become weak in your life. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that we grow in virtue by forming good habits and receiving grace.
Habits are important because they tend to shape our overall character and moral decision-making process, and therefore have a role in our relationship with God, others, and our self. Lent is an excellent opportunity to form new habits that we can then carry forward into Easter and beyond. In order to grow in virtue, we need to develop good habits, and we develop habits through repeated actions (See also CCC 1810).
Repeated good action --> Good habits --> Virtue
It’s a little simplistic here, of course. And although it’s a simple concept, admittedly, it’s not always easy in practice. Building good habits can be difficult because we often find ourselves already stuck in bad habits (vices) that may be tough to break. That’s why giving something up isn’t always enough; we need to replace it with a good action.
It also takes focus and developing discipline, which is exactly what we see in the desert experiences found in Scripture as well as the Early Church (CCC 1434).
Interestingly, contemporary psychology reinforces to some degree what theologians have understood about habits. Scientists report that it generally takes between 21 and 66 days to turn a new behavior into a habit. So over the forty days, why not consider choosing a Lenten practice that’s not just temporary, but one you hope will stick?
Take some time in prayer before Lent begins to identity one specific virtue that will help you draw closer to God. Then, consider some actions can you take toward growing in this virtue.
Think in terms of the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For example, fasting can help transform habits associated with our appetite for things, the virtue of temperance. An appetite doesn’t necessarily mean food or drink, though it may. It really covers anything we use to fill our mind and body, like TV and the Internet. Lent is a desert experience where we learn to pursue and subsist on the Word of God rather than our perceived needs.
Or maybe you want to grow in the virtue of kindness. Commit to going out of your way to doing one kind action each day by giving of your time, talent, or treasure. Or you might pray for someone you don’t get along with.
At its heart, Lent is not a course in self-improvement; it is a disciplined journey toward deeper communion with our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Ultimately, the help we need to grow in virtue comes from God’s gratuitous gift of grace. We say yes to this journey as we respond by developing habits of holiness.
For more resources to help you develop your Lenten habits, please click here.
This week, Nov. 1-7, celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week , a time U.S. Catholics dedicate “to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.” We should always promote vocations, but sometimes we need an explicit reminder! We need more than a day or week; we need a culture. This week is about each of us taking a step toward fostering a culture of religious vocations in the Church.
As many priests, sisters, brothers, etc., will tell you, the best way to support and promote religious vocations involves every one of us personally committing to live our own vocation faithfully and joyfully, whether that be in the priesthood, the diaconate, married life, consecrated life, etc. It’s impossible to be truly pro-marriage and be against religious vocations; they harmonize! Discerning and answering a call is our responsibility to the Church as baptized and confirmed members of the Body of Christ.
Many young people who came face to face with St. Pope John Paul II would ask him: “What is my vocation!?” He used to say, “You must choose!” How disappointing in the moment, yet what a true and wise response! God endows each person with a unique vocation and graciously calls each to respond with the gift of his or herself.
You may be thinking: easier said than done. It’s true; discernment is not always easy, especially when immersed in a consumer culture that frequently substitutes success for faithfulness and material gratification for spiritual wholeness. But discerning a vocation is also not an infinitely hard matter of finding a needle in a haystack. It simply is not true that only God’s “favorites” or the exceptionally smart or good looking end up truly happy.
Below are some great practices the Church recommends for anyone discerning a vocation.
Visit a Spiritual Director or Mentor
One of the most important things you can do to discern and sustain your vocation is develop a relationship with a spiritual director or mentor. They do not necessarily need to be a professional theologian or psychologist; look for someone faithful and joyful in their vocation. Focus on finding someone that can offer practical guidance with whom you will be honest and transparent—someone who will consistently encourage you to pray and grow. If you are considering a religious vocation, it would be helpful to meet with a priest or member of religious life.
Make Prayer a Priority
Prayer is the essential element of discernment. This is probably not a surprise. It’s the time we lay out all our mixed thoughts and emotions before Jesus and let him reveal his way in our life. You can begin simply by praying: “God, help me to know your will for my life and desire it.” Practice going deeper into praying with the Bible and reflecting on passages from Scripture, sometimes called lectio divina, or try to learn or incorporate some part of the Liturgy of the Hours into your schedule.
Solid, faithful friendships go much further when discerning a vocation than having a plethora of worldly or romantic relationships. True friends know our identities are composed of both our weakness and our strengths. I often see my friends as a sort of vocational “litmus test;” they know me well enough to detect when choices or relationships seem in or out of step with my true character or wellbeing. Vocational awareness is a fruit of a culture of friendship, as I tried to suggest here.
Develop a Tradition
The Catholic faith has many rich, diverse, and time-tested charisms (e.g., Franciscan, Ignatian, Dominican, Carmelite, Pallottine, etc.) that can inspire and nourish vocations to religious life and marriage alike. While it’s great to explore and incorporate the tools of many traditions, try to become fluent in one. Different charisms have a special resonance with different people.
Learn Their Story
Are you aware of your pastor’s vocation story or the vocation story of any member of religious life around you? What about your own parents, grandparents, and mentors? Maybe it’s simple and straightforward; maybe it’s long and exciting or even difficult. Ask those around you about their own story. A vocations culture lives and grows by these real-life examples. Every story of God’s love is worth sharing.
I remember the day, many years ago, that my pastor came around to the fifth grade classrooms wanting us to sign up for the training for altar servers. He explained that it was a tradition in our parish for the fifth graders to begin assisting with this important liturgical role. Most of the class eagerly signed up and we embraced our new role with gusto. Despite only being 10 years old, we knew that we had an important role to play in the Mass by assisting with the celebration of it. Throughout my time in grade school, I developed a love of serving at Mass. I found that through being involved in the liturgy, I grew in appreciation for the ceremony and tradition that surrounds Mass. I learned the parts of the Mass and was taught firsthand by the priests why we do the things we do at liturgy.
Fast forward 13 years after I first began altar serving, and I am still an active altar server at a basilica in my city. I am fortunate that the staff of the basilica has been extremely supportive of my involvement as an altar server. There is a camaraderie among the liturgical ministers that I have found to be one of the many benefits I have gained from my time as an altar server, and one of the reasons I keep coming back each weekend. Women in the Church today are becoming more involved and fulfilling more leadership roles. We are a crucial voice in today’s Church, and it is important to recognize and appreciate the role women play in the liturgy.
Every time that we go to Mass we must recognize that just the simple act of celebrating the Mass takes place because of the efforts of lectors, musicians, cantors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, sacristans, servers, and countless others. Each of these liturgical ministers finds joy in the role they fulfill at Mass. I encourage you to consider volunteering at your own parish! In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Each time we go to Mass we are given the chance to connect with Christ on a personal level. We bring Him our joys and sorrows, we listen to Scripture, and we become one with Him in the Holy Eucharist. Being involved in liturgical ministries is a way to bring a new dimension to your personal experience of Mass. By serving in various roles at the liturgy, we can come to Christ in a more intentional way.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Only one block behind one of the most famed and architecturally impressive structures in all of history lays the body of a woman who shook the souls of those who encountered her. St. Catherine of Siena’s body (her head is at the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena) is underneath the high altar in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a minor basilica that belongs to the religious order to which she dedicated her life to, the Order of Preachers. Her body is approximately three kilometers away from the historic center of Rome as well as approximately three kilometers away from St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. There could be no more precise a location for the body of the woman who single-handedly restored the papacy to its rightful home. No person understood more profoundly the inseparable nature of Church, Tradition, the West, and Rome.
Beyond her saving negotiation skills to restore the papacy to the Eternal City when three “popes” competed for supremacy, St. Catherine of Siena reached spiritual heights that ought to be strived for. Not only a mystic, but one who experienced the gift of tears and understood the saving power of interior suffering, she was also named Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Although “Catherine knew great suffering” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, November 24, 2010), she shined with a joy that reflected the intensity to which her heart was conformed to the heart of Christ. Fr. George Rutler explains the joy of those sanctified, “The culminating evidence of sanctity is a joy that is not of this world. Saints always suffer in various ways as a consequence of their heroic virtue, which pits them against the ‘wickedness and snares of the Devil,’ but there is no such thing as a sad saint. The saints are proof of the existence of God and his mercy by their very lives, which are testimonies greater even than miracles or the logic of natural theology.” St. Catherine of Siena is the exemplary model who proves that holiness is happiness.
Her holiness came from nothing other than her devotion to the Eucharist. In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict writes that “the Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness.” He then offers the names of many saints that have inched toward perfection because of their Eucharistic devotions, among them St. Catherine of Siena. The Eucharist motivated each and every one of her actions and was the source of her supernatural joy.
Every word and teaching of St. Catherine of Siena ought to be read in light of her Eucharistic faith. Zealously, she once said, “Lord, I treasure your knowing how to give the world a kick” (Letter T360). St. Catherine of Siena believed, rather she knew to be true, that the Lord’s Supper, the Crucifixion, and Holy Mass are all one and the same and that the remarkable mystery of Christ present each and every day to the world in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is the life-giving reality of which anything is possible, but most importantly, the salvation of souls. This is the kick the Lord gives to the world. It manifests itself in many forms, but always originates from the Eucharist.
St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis!
Tyler Lomnitzer is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and is a member of the Knights of Columbus at The Catholic University of America.
"The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death" (Porta Fidei, 13)
Death is often something that we do not like to discuss, especially in the context of the New Evangelization. These two concepts might seem like they don’t mix well, but I hope to show how they are. It is quite natural that we try to deflect the topic of death and dying and why we do not want to face the reality of a difficult situation. But, when death comes into our lives we have no control and it is something that we must handle. After the wake and the funeral are over, and the family goes home, the void is sill there. The sense of loss does not want to go away and it seems like we cannot move on from the loss.
On March 7th, I went though this pain for the fourth time this past year with the passing of my paternal grandfather and namesake. I lost two grandfathers, a cousin, and a close family friend who I consider more like an uncle. Each of these individuals have greatly impacted my life and I would not be who I am without them. Recently I have done a lot of reflecting on what these lives have meant to me. Time and time again I go back to the number of lessons that my grandfathers' have taught me. They taught me some of the classics like fishing, a love for music and art, gardening and the importance of a good cup of British Tea or Italian coffee.
But it was not these lessons that are the most import that matter. These two men also taught me the importance of family, tradition, love, and faith. My maternal grandfather was a great lover of music; he was singer and a violinist. He introduced me to the Masses written by Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi. Through his love, he showed me how music can represent a love for God and his creation. Music has come to affect my life and how I pray to God. He broadened my horizons and taught me about musical tradition that dated back centuries, and his love for this went far beyond the music itself. It helped one transport oneself to become close with God. My paternal grandfather taught me two different aspects of faith: a devotion to Mary and the importance of service. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease, which caused great pain and eventually an almost complete loss of memory. There were only four things he could remember before he passed away; his brother, his wife (my grandmother), his personal motto, which was “great and grateful no matter what”, and how to pray the Hail Mary. His devotion to the Blessed Mother was a quiet one. His service to others was like his devotion, a quiet one. He was just as happy serving on a board of trustees or picking up trash at the church picnic as long as it helped others.
On the night before my paternal grandfather's funeral, one of our parish priests began the prayer vigil. He offered a short reflection on what this meant and there was a part of it that has stuck with me. This young priest said that our relationship with the dead was not over, but rather was changed. The relationship was now through the eternity of Jesus Christ. Our faith teaches us that Christ connects us regardless of time and that life continues after death. The New Evangelization is a reminder of this hope and comfort. Pope Emeritus Benedict got this right in Porta Fidei, it is the joy of love that conquers death and gives us hope. This hope is found in our faith, and fills the void from the loss. While the sting of death will always be present, it is Christ, who walks with us at every step, who takes away the sting and returns our capacity to love one another.
Pat Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Some days in the Church calendar give me pause. I don’t know about you, but the meanings of all our solemnities, feasts, and memorials aren’t always clear. It’s hard enough to understand the holy days of obligation, let alone all the non-required celebrations. Some days the logic of the Church is clear, but on others, when I look at the upcoming feasts, I stop to wonder what the heck the Church was thinking.
Yesterday’s celebration – The Nativity of John the Baptist – has always been curious to me. Admittedly, I’m too literal. In most questions of faith, that is my problem from the outset. I see what’s on the surface – the name, date, or historical information – and am blind to the depth of what is revealed below the surface.
Often, my faith needs help. It needs a rock tumbler of sorts. You know those machines that take ordinary rocks and spin them around until their edges are smooth and their inner colors radiant? They turn the plainest rocks into gems. Growing up, a kid in your neighborhood probably had one, and, if you were as nerdy as me, you thought it was pretty cool. Sometimes, like with the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist (and other churchy sounding things), I need a rock tumbler for faith. Luckily, I have one. Let me walk you through how it works.
At first, I hear something about the Church (teaching, feast day, tradition, ritual, etc.) and think “that’s weird, why do we do that?” Then my literal brain tries to explain it. Example: when I think of John the Baptist’s birth (JB for short), it doesn’t strike me as his most shining moment. Yes, it’s biblical and had some impressive in utero gymnastics and marital muteness (what wife doesn’t wish her husband speechless every so often, right?). But, at the same time, JB’s birth plays second fiddle to his ministry, to his baptizing. We don’t call JB “the Baptist” by mistake. JB’s ministry makes it into all four gospels, his death in three, but in only one gospel (Luke) do we hear of his birth. The faith tumbler is usually loud at first and produces few obvious results, as you can see.
Generally, when this tumbling process begins it doesn’t cue me in that it’s started. Rather, I mistake the noise of the faith tumbler for my own frustration and keep searching for some literal satisfaction. After my biblical strikeout, I dive headfirst into history. The fact that we don’t actually know JB’s birthdate doesn’t surprise me, but when I start finding evidence that Luke’s account of JB’s birth is more likely a construction of scriptural allusions (not illusions) than it is historical fact, my mind starts spinning even more.
Thank God, after long enough, my frustration mounts and I give up. I let go. I get frustrated with the Church and wonder: Why they don’t they just stick to Jesus and forget all these other nonessential feasts? They’re unneeded, a historical (some, not all), and it’s just mixing up the Gospel message…
That’s when it hits me. The sharp edges of my literalness soften. The walls of my attitude give way. The roughhewn rock of my faith vanishes and its inner colors come forth. I see what was there from the very beginning and what will be there until the end of time. The Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist is not just about John the Baptist; it isn’t just about history or allusion or mistaken priority either. It’s about today and it’s about Jesus’ coming. It’s about us and the fulfillment of the kingdom now.
Did you hear that beep? That was the faith tumbler. Its cycle is finished and I’m lucky for it.
Mark Bartholet is the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC.