"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
Have you ever wondered about women and their place in the Catholic Church? I have. When I was little, I wanted to be the Pope (before I decided my dream was to become President, of course). Only then did I discover that since I was a girl, I could not become the Pope. That infuriated me as a small child, and sparked my interest in learning more about my life’s vocation as a woman of faith. Only as I have grown older have I begun to learn how I can actively participate in my faith traditions, as a layperson and as a woman.
Women have a role in our faith. We are witnesses and called to be exemplary versions of ourselves. We are called by Christ to function in our Church using our own gifts, talents, and love. The example of women leaders in our Church shines through to us in the lives of many female saints and other women in our Church who used their femininity to do God’s will. We read about Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary who were friends and followers of Jesus and who were with him throughout his ministry on earth. Later in the 14th century we see St. Catherine of Siena, who helped bring the papacy back to Rome. St. Clare of Assisi founded the female religious order similar to Franciscans. St. Therese of Lisieux is a Doctor of the Church, thanks to Blessed Pope John Paul II. These women and countless others have made their mark on the Church in critical and defining ways, allowing other women to look up to them and see how to live out God’s love through actions and service. In Mulieris Dignitatem, a 1988 apostolic letter by Blessed Pope John Paul II, he says, “Holy women are the incarnation of the feminine ideal.” This tells us to follow the example of the holy women in our Church, who taught us all a great deal about the special place women hold.
The New Evangelization needs women to be examples of true womanhood. What is a true example of womanhood, you might ask? Who do we look to for guidance? Well, Mary, the Mother of God is a perfect place to begin. In the Blessed Mother, we see a sinless woman, courageous and steadfast in her faith, who said the ultimate “Yes” to God at a young age. In the face of adversity and rejection, she showed how strong her faith was by bearing the Son of God and then delivering her child in a stable. No simple feat! Throughout Jesus’ life, she was with him, both in person and in prayer. When he was lost and teaching in the temple, she worried like any mother would about her son, then pondered these things in her heart; at the Wedding of Cana, she knew when he needed a nudge to begin his ministry; at the foot of the cross, she wept for the life and humanity of her son. As a woman and a mother, we see Mary’s grace and strive to imitate her desire to do the will of God, unwavering in faith and holiness.
As true, confident, feminine examples of love and generosity, we need to know and understand Church teachings and desire to do more as laity in our Catholic faith. As individuals we are a part of the Body of Christ, with an important responsibility to love and with incredible opportunities at the end of our fingertips. Mulieris Dignitatem encourages us—women of faith—to deepen our own understanding about ourselves, and be a witness of faith. We must recognize that our vocation is to understand and teach the faith, to evangelize the world, to desire to grow ever more deeply in Christ’s love, to care for the poor and destitute, and even to answer the call to religious life. But, the most important of these things is to love unconditionally. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
In our faith today, we sometimes see people questioning where and how women should participate in our faith and its traditions. This is an issue that many on both sides of the spectrum feel strongly about. The New Evangelization is a way for all people who are members of the Body of Christ—especially women—to reconnect with God and to rekindle the desire to live our lives to their fullest potential.
Krissy Kirby is a Senior at The Catholic University of America and a Resident Minister through the Office of Campus Ministry.
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.
Our Church breathes through the two lungs of Scripture and Tradition, and as members of the Church we are called to do the same to live a flourishing life. The Catechism of our Church explains the importance of Scripture saying, "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life" (CCC 131). In order to inspire a life of apostolic vocation with strength and vigor, we begin today our first installment of the "Scripture to Life" series. Through the intercession and example of Our Lady, Mother of God and Queen of Apostles, we hope that the Word of God may be enfleshed by you.
Throughout my spiritual journey I have always struggled with pinpointing the virtue of humility in my life. I don’t think this is due to any lack of desire for the virtue, (it usually isn’t) but rather a lack of true understanding of the virtue. In the Gospel passage of John 13, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and as he approached, Peter asked, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Whenever I read this passage, I always anticipate what Peter says next: “You will never wash my feet!”
For some reason, I am always drawn to Peter’s stark rejection of Jesus’ perfect example of humility. If you have practiced lectio divina before, you know that when a part of Scripture confuses the heck out of you, that is exactly the point where you must stop reading, close your eyes, and listen.; It is specifically in this moment that God seeks to transform you through the power of his living word.
My meditation on this passage continues with reflecting on exactly what was going through Peter’s mind and heart at the moment of his objection: confusion and feelings of extreme discomfort. It is as if Peter, like many of us who strive for, yet lack the fullness of this most necessary virtue of humility, is saying: WAIT! I don’t understand! Why are you asking me to go this far outside of my “comfort zone” in order to be your disciple?
One of the ways I ask my students to relate to Peter’s level of discomfort is by asking them to consider allowing me to wash their feet in front of their friends. As they all cringe and shout “that’s disgusting”, I simply say, multiply your level of discomfort by ten and that is probably how the apostles felt when Jesus began to wash their feet.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ invitation to his apostles to accept this teaching is vital to their emerging role in the building up the Kingdom of God and one of extreme importance to his mission of salvation. His disciples must go beyond all levels of comfort in order to serve Him and to create His Kingdom on earth. Likewise, this invitation is extended to us, who are called to be apostles of Christ by joining in the Church’s mission of evangelization.
However, like Peter (as well as my students and myself) most Christians in today’s world, cringe when Jesus invites them to serve in ways that take them beyond their comfort zone. Jesus is saying that it is precisely in the moments that lead us beyond ourselves, our fears and our assumptions, that we can do the greatest good in witnessing to the New Evangelization and building up the Kingdom.
The great missionary and witness to the New Evangelization, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Always take the more difficult road.” To me, there is no path more difficult than the path of humility and yet none more fulfilling. I have felt extremely uncomfortable at times when discerning the call of the Holy Spirit! Nevertheless, like Peter, I am immediately reassured with the words of Jesus’ gentle response: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”
Our task then, like Peter’s, is learning to respond with true understanding and true humility; for this is essential to our Christ-filled witness in the New Evangelization. Jesus, in this paradigm, testifies that when we reject the sin of self-absorption and are ready to serve selflessly we pave the way for God’s people to enter into the Kingdom of God: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk 14:11
Bart Zavaletta received a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Houston and a M.A. in Theology from the Oblate School of Theology, and currently teaches Theology at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska.
A very wise man once said, “Because of our traditions, every one of us know who he is, and what God expects him to do.” While no Chesterton, Tevye, the stubborn Jewish father from Fiddler on the Roof is on to something. He tells of traditions for working, eating and even sleeping. Had it not been for the rustic scenery and horses, I might think he was describing my beloved Notre Dame. I’ve done push-ups at football games, danced in the waters of “Stonehenge” and eagerly await the moment I can finally walk up the stairs under the Dome. Or maybe Tevye was describing my country; the reverence we show the Stars and Stripes, the fireworks on Independence Day and it’s just not a real American baseball game without the 7th inning stretch. No, no, he must have been describing my family, what with our obsession with the Charles Village Ruby Tuesday, getting new pajamas from Rudolph (yes, I still believe) every Christmas eve and our New Year’s Eve tradition of shrimp and Tostidos. Traditions are everywhere; they permeate institutions large and small and play a foundational role in defining who we are. Tevye continues, “How did these traditions get started? Well, I’ll tell you…I don’t know.”
Every institution, large or small, has a tradition of…well, traditions, so why should our Church be any different? The Catholic Church practically sweats tradition. In fact, one might consider the Church one great tradition all its own. Our apostolic succession, our devotion to the Word and our prayers to the saints all take part in the great Catholic tradition. But why?
There are those who see no value in the time honored practices of devotion to Mary and the Saints, sacred silence and the most Blessed Sacrament. In an instant-gratification generation traditions are easily cast aside for more stimulated, result-driven practices. I often hear people say that the Rosary and Adoration are boring or pointless. They say that they just don’t get anything out of it. The repetitive nature of the Rosary and the austere stillness of Adoration just don’t speak to the “there’s an app for that” mentality of today’s society.
As one who once thought that way, I can understand the hesitation. I’ve never finished praying through the Joyful mysteries to find the Blessed Mother appearing before me, nor have I knelt in silence before the Blessed Sacrament and heard God tell me exactly what He wanted me to do. The thing with traditions, though, is that they take time. There were probably few who marveled at the first brick that was laid above St. Peter’s tomb, and yet tens of thousands make pilgrimage to the hallowed ground of what has become Vatican City.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, the old saying goes, and neither are our lives of prayer. As each brick was laid in the building of St. Peter’s, so too does each decade of the Rosary, each novena and each hour in Adoration lay one more brick in the church of our prayer lives. True, this process is lengthy, arduous even, but we hear time and time again in the tradition of our Church that we must continue the journey even when the destination is beyond our sight. The Hebrew people travelled for 40 years in the desert before arriving at the Promised Land; surely a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament seems more inviting! Further, the true beauty in our Catholic prayer tradition is that these “bricks” are universal, yet diverse. They come in all colors and are found around the globe, yet each serves the same purpose. The Rosary is the Rosary in Spanish, English or even Chuukese.
Our traditions tell us who we are. A church without traditions would hardly be a church at all, just like a country without traditions would hardly be a country at all. There is a reason that traditions endure through the ages. They speak to a deep part of us that longs for this strong, unifying foundation. While we as Catholics come from all walks of life, we are unified by our tradition. “After all, without our traditions we’d be as shaky as…as…as a fiddler on the roof!”
Patrick J Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
 Chuukese is the indigenous language spoken on the Micronesian island of Chuuk.
Some years ago, a dear friend and I began what we would term our "Advent Tradition." We would do something to celebrate Christmas before we both left Washington, D.C. for the holiday. (I hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me…) That year, we went to see Messiah at the Kennedy Center. It was our first time seeing Handel's oratorio, heard over and over in concert halls across the world in the days leading up to Christmas. After the singing of the "Hallelujah Chorus," my friend leaned over to me and said, "I thought that was supposed to be a Christmas song, but we had to wait until Easter for them to break it out."
Advent has always occupied a special place in my imagination. Initially, I'm sure, it was because of those quintessential Advent practices. We had an evergreen wreath with four candles, a new one lit each week (when do we light the pink one??). We sang songs at church that we didn't hear at any other time of the year. The rest of the world was tiring of "All I Want for Christmas is You" by mid-December and, in church at least, we hadn't heard one strain of "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Resisting the temptation to peek behind the doors of our Advent calendar taught me something about patience and delayed gratification.
What I came to realize, though, is that Advent, with all of these little traditions, encapsulates the tension of living the Christian life. We live in the here and now, knowing that Christ in his first coming has sanctified all of our existence, but longing for the day when he will return to us. Longing for the day when the confusion and struggles of this life will be no more, when mountains will be lowered and valleys filled, when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and when peace will reign.
Living in Advent is living in tension - aware of what is our past and what we long our future to be. Every day we live in the Advent tension of life and death, of suffering and wholeness, of love and loss, of peace and violence, of acceptance and rejection, of excess and poverty, of oneness and loneliness, of questions and surety, of hope and doubt. The question is, do we welcome Christ into this tension?
As my friend and I walked out of the Kennedy Center that night, I realized that, despite an attempt at celebrating Christmas, we glimpsed an Advent moment. We were reminded, one more time, that without the Passion, we could not shout "Hallelujah!" The tension of Advent surrounds us, but how well do we allow Christ to enter into that uncertainty and woundedness? If we do welcome Christ into our tension, we also welcome the new life that Christ brings with his Resurrection. That's an Advent worth celebrating.
David Pennington is the Associate Campus Minister for Liturgy and Worship at The Catholic University of America.