Today we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In these short years, Pope Francis has done much to continue the work of his predecessors in building a culture of evangelization and inviting each member of the Church to live out their baptismal call as missionary disciples. Several important Church documents have been released throughout his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, Laudato Si’, the encyclical on Care for our Common Home, and Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family. Pope Francis has participated in two World Youth Days, made roughly 22 international apostolic visits, and has canonized 885 saints. He called for the Jubilee Year of Mercy from 2015-2016. I would like to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his election by sharing some quotes that characterize his papacy and capture its tone.
1. A Church on Mission
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving. -Evangelii Gaudium, 49
Pope Francis envisions a missionary church—one with open doors to welcome people in, but also for each of us to step out and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. As Christians, it can be tempting to remain within the safety of our parish and Church community. However, Jesus calls us to “go out to the nations” and encounter the hurting world. Pope Francis reminds us of this evangelizing spirit entrusted to us by Jesus Christ and challenges us to be a Church on mission.
2. The Inherent Dignity of Mankind and Creation
“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” -Laudato Si, 84
About two years into his papacy, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, focusing on our responsibility as stewards of creation. No other pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to the care of creation. In doing so, Pope Francis reminds us that all of the created world helps us to glimpse and better know God Himself. Mankind is the pinnacle of creation, made in God’s image and likeness. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us of each person’s inherent dignity, made with his or her own purpose, gifts, and mission.
3. The Transformative Power of Christ’s Love
“Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness…He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others.” – Homily at Plaza de la Revolución during his Apostolic Journey to Cuba
At the heart of the Christian life is an encounter with Jesus Christ. His love is transformative, life-changing. We encounter Christ in prayer, the sacraments, the parish, in one another. However, we cannot overestimate the importance of our prayer life—of moments throughout each day in which we enter into dialogue with God, offer up our work and sacrifices, remember the needs of others, or give God praise. When we carve out time each day for prayer, we are better able to know the look of Christ that goes beyond the worldly way of seeing things into our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
4. The Role of the Church in the Christian Life
"We cannot understand Christ without his Church, just as we cannot understand the Church without her spouse, Christ Jesus, who gave his life out of love, and who makes us see that it is worth the price.” -Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia
I love this quote because it sums up the relationship between Christ and His Church. We cannot know Christ apart from the Church, just as the Church cannot exist without Christ. Christ founded the Church in order to be a place of encounter with Him through the sacraments and through one another. We come to more fully know the love of God in the life of each parish. How can we create communities of encounter in our various parishes? Is the light of Christ truly shining forth in our communities?
5. The Messiness and Joy of Family Life
“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.” -Amoris Laetitia, 57
Pope Francis speaks realistically of human life and love. The family, the domestic church, is not perfect. We are called to learn and grow in love throughout our entire lives, just as we are called to learn and grow in holiness. The family is the place where love is mastered and refined. It is the foundation of society and of the Church. Pope Francis calls families to journey joyfully on the path of love. He invites us not to fear our imperfection, but to keep moving forward in hope and joy.
6. Not Letting Fear Impact Vocational Discernment
“The work of discernment identifies our fears and can then help us to overcome them, opening us to life and helping us to calmly face the challenges that come our way. For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God… and in life!” -Message for World Youth Day Panama
In preparation for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment and World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Pope Francis spoke of the process of discernment, especially for young people today. Fear is often at the heart of our actions—or inaction. Christians, however, have no cause for fear. As we discern God’s call for our life each day, let us place our trust in Him and act with courage and boldness. God has created us for a unique mission that only we can fulfill in His Church. Let us discern his will for us, as Pope Francis encourages, “trusting that he will lead us to a good end.”
7. The Importance of Contemplating and Encountering God’s Mercy
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.” -Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy
Starting in 2015, Pope Francis instituted the first Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. Throughout this time, he invited the Church to contemplate once more the merciful gaze of the Father and experience God’s mercy in our lives. We cannot be merciful without first having personally experienced the mercy of God. I loved that as a Church, we dedicated a year to contemplating this great mystery. We know God as Father, Savior, Creator, Just Judge, and many other titles. But how often to experience His mercy, as evidenced in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the story of Jesus meeting the Woman at the Well?
8. Our True Identity
“That is our real ‘stature,’ our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity…God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind…God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess…In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.” -Homily at World Youth Day Mass in Krakow
At World Youth Day in Krakow back in 2016, Pope Francis reminded youth and young adults of an incredible universal truth : that our identity lies in being God’s children. In a world so often focused on our careers, material possessions, prestige, or online presence, Pope Francis gets to the heart of our identity as being completely loved by God. It’s easy to forget that we are loved simply because we exist. We all hold a valuable and irreplaceable space in God’s heart. By being most authentically ourselves, we are better able to fulfill our mission within His kingdom and become the saints He wants us to be.
9. Using Technology and Social Media Wisely
“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society…Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world.” -World Day of Communication 2016
We live in a world saturated by social media, technology, and widespread communication. Used irresponsibly, these can isolate and distract mankind. Pope Francis encourages people today to use technology and social media in order to promote a culture of encounter and accompaniment. He challenges us to be “digital citizens” who are not afraid to use technology to spread the Gospel.
10. Being People “For Others”
“Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.” -Message for the First World Day of the Poor
In 2017, Pope Francis called for the first World Day of the Poor—a day in which we act not only in word, but in deed in order to alleviate poverty and accompany those on the margins of society. Pope Francis encourages the world to give and not to count the cost, to love as God first loved us. In a culture of consumerism, we can easily forget to think about our neighbor or those less fortunate than ourselves. Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of giving freely, drawing near to the poor, embracing them, and being transformed through that process. Click here for free resources on Catholic Social Teaching.
Question for Reflection: Do you have a favorite quote from Pope Francis’ papacy that’s not listed above? Share it in the comment section below and let us know why it’s powerful for you.
Communicating in an audio format is nothing new. During and after World War I, radio transformed communication in households and across battlefields. Speeches, reporting, and entertainment also utilized this medium for many different audiences and purposes. The Catholic Church has taken advantage of developments in audio communication in order to transmit homilies, catechesis, and words of encouragement for almost a century, the long standing Vatican Radio being one example. Now in the 21st century, a new medium of audio evangelization has formed in the lexicon and zeitgeist: podcasting. A portmanteau for iPod and broadcasting, podcasts are audio files that can be downloaded and listened to. They have reinvigorated the audio sphere for the digital age, with thousands of podcasts and hundreds of hours of content being created every day. What does that mean for Catholics trying to evangelize and move people to mission? How should we as a Church approach new media and new methods of communication?
Many Catholics are trying to answer that question in a variety of ways. During the World Day of Communication in 2014, Pope Francis encouraged the Church to “boldly become citizens of the digital world.” He continued, “The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.” Over the past year, the Catholic Apostolate Center has created podcasts in an effort to evangelize and help others encounter Christ. We started by recording some of our most popular blog posts for people to listen to “on the go,” and we are now launching a new podcast initiative called “On Mission” to discuss important themes and topics for Catholics today. (Keep an eye on www.catholicapostolatecenter.org/podcasts for the forthcoming launch of this series.)
How do we view podcasts as a moment of evangelization? Like any other video, writing, or audio, podcasts enable us to be prophetic witnesses to the faith in a way that’s approachable and encounters people where they are. I think that if we approach podcasts as Archbishop Fulton Sheen approached television over 50 years ago, we will be responding to Christ’s command to “go out to all the nations” and evangelize. Archbishop Sheen used a new medium of communication for the glory of God. Today, podcasts are just one tool we can use in order to more effectively spread the Gospel message.
In many ways, Pope Francis is calling all people to engage in this sort of witness of the faith by utilizing the means of communication at their disposal. During the World Day of Communication in 2014, he remarked on the importance of using media to inspire moments of encounter and to increase solidarity. He said, “In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity.” At the Catholic Apostolate Center, we aim to use the various means of communication at our disposal for that very purpose: to create a sense of unity within the Church and also in the world. How beautiful would it be if all members of the Body of Christ were to be this peaceful and harmonious? It is my belief that we can, as was done with radio or television, offer this sort of peaceful accompaniment to another generation of evangelizers. I would like to conclude with a prayer written by Pope Francis that was inspired by the prayer of peace attributed to St. Francis:
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Questions for Reflection: What are some examples you’ve seen of using media positively in order to build communion? Can you think of others in which media or technology created isolation? How is God calling you to use the tools at your disposal in order to share the Gospel?
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The story of St. Paul has always been one that has touched me to my very core. To think that someone who was persecuting the Church—who saw to it that the very first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death—would eventually leave everything to follow God’s will for his life is truly extraordinary.
But the story of St. Paul, although extraordinary, is not something beyond our reach. Some of us have experienced massive conversions in our lives—whether they involve entering the Church for the first time or returning to the sacraments after a time away. Some of us have had conversions of mind and heart when it comes to embracing what the Church teaches in regards to morality. Still others experience ongoing, undramatic conversion throughout their lives.
Regardless of our individual experiences, the conversion of St. Paul can inspire us to encounter Christ in a deeper way that leaves us transformed. The Church does not celebrate the feast of the conversion of St. Paul merely for that moment of initial encounter and conversion. We celebrate it because of how it changed absolutely everything for Saul, now Paul. Paul met Christ personally; and this encounter guided his decisions and actions for the rest of his life. And so it must be with us! Shortly after Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:18 describes how after a conversation with Ananias, “things like scales fell from his eyes.” It was only after this that Paul was able to go and preach the good news of the Gospel—the good news that changed everything for him.
Although we may not be knocked blind by a voice in the heavens, most of us do have scales on our eyes that prevent us from truly seeing and knowing Christ and spreading the Gospel. Whether we experience scales of sin, shame, bitterness, or inadequacy, we must remember that God desires constant conversion for us. Just as He so faithfully spoke to Paul in his conversion, He is inviting us to the same thing—the promise that a life turned toward Him will be better than anything our clouded eyes could imagine.
This will manifest itself in our lives in any number of ways—through reconciliation in a relationship, returning to confession, or an increased disposition of mercy for those in our lives who need it. By allowing our lives to be constantly converted, we will be equipped, encouraged, and enabled to share the news that changed everything for Paul 2000 years ago and that continues to change everything for us now. Let us pray and ask the Lord for a deeper encounter with him. May he continually remove the scales from our eyes.
St. Paul, pray for us!
Questions for Reflection: Have you experienced a powerful moment of conversion or has your spiritual life been one of ongoing, gradual conversion? What might be some “scales” in your life that prevent you from living as a missionary disciple?
Have you ever wanted to share a valuable treasure with others? Something irreplaceably precious, meaningful, enduring, or even priceless? Would you want to entrust it with a loved one and hope he or she values it as you do? You may be thinking of a prized heirloom, award, or work of art as examples, but my hope is that you also come to think of the Faith as something most worthy and deserving of being cherished and shared like our most beloved possessions.
The life of faith for the Christian starts with his or her baptism. Perhaps you’ve witnessed the beautiful act of the transmission of the Faith during an infant baptism at Mass. In the sacrament of baptism, we are reminded of the wonderful work of God, Who desires to sanctify humanity and make us His sons and daughters. After blessing the baptismal font of water, the priest will turn to the parents and godparents and urge them to renew the vows of their own baptism in preparation for the incredible responsibility and solemn duty that they will undertake. Of course, the depth of the sacrament does not stop there. The baptized will be spiritually guided and supported by parents, guardians, and sponsors throughout his or her spiritual life.
As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” Like all sacraments, there are symbols (sacramentals) which convey a deeper religious meaning. Water represents death and new life. The anointing with the chrism of salvation represents being welcomed as a member of God’s holy people. The white garment is an outward sign of Christian dignity. The lighted candle symbolizes keeping the flame of faith burning in our hearts. As each of us know, it can be difficult to remain steadfast in our faith—that is why it is critical to walk with others in our journey of faith. We live in a world that does not know the light of Christ and is often in need of hope.
In a general audience last August, Pope Francis reflected on the significance of baptism as a sacrament of hope. He asked, “What does it mean to be Christians? It means looking to the light, continuing to make the profession of faith in the light, even when the world is enveloped in darkness and shadows.” The baptized are called to be people of hope who encounter and engage with the world in a way that proclaims the Good News of salvation. By surrounding ourselves with a strong community, we will be able to “make our profession of faith in the light” and better live out our baptismal vows.
It may have been a while since you reflected on your baptism. Many of us were baptized as infants and so we have no memory of that wonderful moment aside from photos and our baptismal certificate. In our culture, we remember birthdays and anniversaries. What if we celebrated our baptism, the day of our “rebirth,” with similar joy? Our Faith is our most priceless possession. We did not create it, but nevertheless have been entrusted with it to guard, nourish, and share all the days of our life. Our Faith sustains us not only when we want to tap into it, but at every moment in our lives. If we have fallen short at times along our journey and fallen into sin, we have the sacrament of reconciliation to cleanse us of our failings. God never loses faith in us, especially when we may lose faith in Him or ourselves! As Pope Francis said, God “never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.”
Baptism is the powerful reclamation of each and every one of us by Almighty God as His children! This knowledge changes the way we live and imbues us with hope and joy. Our journey does not end once we have been baptized. The spiritual journey lasts a lifetime. Throughout it, we are never alone. God comes to our aid in times of difficulty or hardship. Our baptism ensures this while also orienting our lives toward Jesus Christ. Let us not fear the darkness or the night, but live in the light and hope of Christ. Pope Francis encourages us:
Christians…do not live outside of the world, however; by the grace of Christ received in Baptism they are “oriented” men and women: they do not believe in darkness, but in the dim light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but yearn to rise again; they are not cowered by evil, because they always trust in the infinite possibilities of good. And this is our Christian hope: the light of Jesus, the salvation that Jesus brings to us with his light that saves us from the darkness.
May we embrace the beauty of our faith this year and look to our baptism as a point of rebirth that illuminates our path and guides us forward on our journey towards Christ!
Questions for Reflection: How has your baptism filled your life with hope? Who are some people that help guide you throughout your spiritual journey?
Where has the time gone? I’ve been asking myself this question over and over again throughout the past few days. Having just graduated from college, I find it quite surreal that my life is no longer dominated by the academic schedule. I almost feel as if I am a new person, having joined the “real world” as a young adult. It is exciting to have entered a new chapter in my life and exercise control over fulfilling my desires and goals in life. During major times of transition, I think it is beneficial to take the time to seriously reflect on all who have supported me along the way and up to where I am now: typing this after a day’s work at the office in a new city. As senior year drew to a close, I recalled moments not only of joy but also of sadness and difficulty. Remembering who it was that remained at my side during those moments of formation and struggle, and valuing their friendship and presence in my life, causes me to thank God for those college experiences. Those relationships caused me to glimpse the faithfulness and love of God. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder whom I have touched with my own presence or friendship.
As a human being, I am imperfect. I experience weakness. I worry. I have doubts and deficiencies. While these are important to acknowledge, I cannot waste time dwelling on them. In my shortcomings, my relationships with others may be strained, but there is also an opportunity to grow even closer to one another. Similarly, one’s waywardness is always ready to be met with God’s faithfulness: “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
We are called to model God’s faithfulness in our own friendships. The authenticity of such a relationship is made plain especially in times of difficulty. I like to recall Job’s friends who, upon seeing his experience of great loss, “sat down upon the ground with him seven days and seven nights, but none of them spoke a word to him; for they saw how great was his suffering” (Job 2:13). Similarly, “Two are better than one… If the one falls, the other will help the fallen one. But woe to the solitary person! If that one should fall, there is no other to help” (Eccl 4:9).
There were many times throughout college that people “sat down upon the ground” with me and many times I did the same for others. I truly saw how “two are better than one,”—how we need one another to help us when we fall. Talking to my peers as graduation approached, I heard and shared thoughts of both excitement and apprehension. Graduation sometimes resembles the “real world” knocking on one’s door with a collection call. I agreed with this somber view until I attended a retreat where I heard it said that the “real world” touted by society was nothing more than a deprivation of what readily exists for the faithful: the Church. At every moment, God walks with us. He readily comforts us, listens to us, calls to us, and freely and completely offers His perfect love to us. While the world we live in can be unforgiving, rough, and fatiguing, let us recall Who walks beside us and never fails us. We are called to imitate this unfailing love and walk beside our brothers and sisters.
Our lives are spent in pilgrimage seeking God. Along the way, we often encounter others who are seeking the same end. Sharing this pursuit, then, becomes a shared labor of faithfulness and strength. We are weak on our own, but together, as we experience in the Church, strength and comfort are found to help us journey on. As one of my friends reflected, “[T]he 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.”
God is faithful, especially in times of great change. As I begin this new chapter of my life, I strive to reveal the faithful love of God to those I encounter. May we, at every moment, endeavor to do the same!
Question for Reflection: How do you turn to God in times of transition?
“Rejoice! Hidden within your life is a seed of resurrection, an offer of life ready to be awakened.” -Pope Francis
The world in which we live is filled with distraction and noise. I realized this in a deeper way as a new mom nursing my newborn at all hours. During those late night feedings, I needed something to keep myself awake and found myself gravitating towards my phone more and more. It was easy to hold and look at in the dark, and I found it nearly impossible to concentrate on reading a book, let alone holding it open as my newborn moved about. By the time Lent rolled around, I had been watching online TV episodes, checking my various social media feeds consistently, or scrolling through house listing websites. In our culture, this type of electronic consumption is easy to fall into. And while these sites or activities are not necessarily wrong or evil, I felt that I was more and more consumed by things of this world. In prayer, I felt the Lord asking me to be consumed with Him rather than by materialism, technology, or my own desires.
What we consume defines who we are and what we become. What started out as a way to keep myself awake in those exhausting first weeks and months of motherhood had become a small addiction. What if instead, I used those minutes and hours to pray, to be still with my thoughts, to be present to my son?
I had a quiet Lent. Formally, I gave up “scrolling.” I did not look at social media feeds, online shopping websites, or TV shows. I also limited my consumption of music and movies. I felt that I had truly entered a desert and made an ongoing “silent retreat” without completely removing myself from the world. I was becoming a “contemplative in action” and realized that even as a parent and married person, I could still carve out time for Christ each day through silent reflection.
Instead of consuming media, I prayed and I was silent. I used my phone only for Scripture reading or Catholic reflections. I prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I read spiritual books. I thought of all the friends and family that had asked for my prayers. I offered up this media fast for them and for the needs of the world.
This was hard. I noticed how many times my hand gravitated towards the screen. I noticed how much time I had spent behind one. Now that I have emerged from the season of Lent, I can’t help but wonder how I’ve changed.
In his homily at the Easter Vigil this year, Pope Francis spoke of the changed faces of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary after they visited Christ’s tomb. The two brave women ventured out in the early hours of the morning “pale and tearful” and “walked like people going to a cemetery.” They had not yet encountered the Risen Lord. When they arrived, they were met with miraculous, life-changing news: “He has been raised just as he said!”
The women leave rejoicing and run immediately to tell the disciples, to evangelize. Their faces are completely transformed.
This leads me to reflect, “How has my face transformed this Easter season? Have I emerged from the tomb of Lent rejoicing?”
Lent and Easter are about transformation—going from the tomb to new life. Christ is raised from the dead and extends this life to us all. He has opened the doors to our salvation. We don’t have to wait for death to experience this new life. By being consumed by Christ Himself, through prayer and most powerfully through the reception of the Eucharist, we are enabled to become Christ-bearers and share the joy of new life with all we encounter.
Pope Francis invites us to experience and live this transformation in our everyday lives, saying:
The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon. The beating heart of the Risen Lord is given to us, and we are asked to give it in turn as a transforming force, as the leaven of a new humanity. In the resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.
After 40 days of penance and sacrifice, it’s tempting to go back to our old ways—to “carefully constructed ivory towers” and a “compulsive need for security.” “We can grow accustomed to living with the tomb,” Pope Francis cautions.
This Easter season, we must decide to leave the tomb: to stay present, to pray, to choose to be consumed by God. I have learned that in so doing my life is made richer and more meaningful. When consumed by God, I am better able to be present to and love others.
As we continue our victorious journey through the Easter season, I invite you to consider how your life has changed as a result of your Lenten journey. Have you emerged from the tomb? How has your face changed?
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Deus Caritas est: God is Love. How many times have we heard this simple yet profound theological truth in a homily, story, or teaching? How many times have we taken this for granted? In a world where truth often seems subjective, God’s love remains a refreshing and comforting constant in the Christian life. If this were not so, for what purpose, let alone by what means, would you or I exist? It is this perfect love of God which sustains us each and every moment of eternity. In fact, it’s God’s very nature, so bursting with love, that wills us into being. So too must our love for our neighbors guide and give purpose to our lives.
The liturgical season of Lent is an especially wonderful opportunity for us to reorient ourselves towards God’s love and mercy. As we prepare to celebrate the ultimate expression of love the world has ever known this liturgical season, we may give up something we fleetingly desire in order to be made more aware of our need to depend on the One Love, the True Love, the Infinite Love. Of course, we can do more throughout Lent, but take to heart the suggestion of my bishop:
[T]his Lent, fast and abstain when the Church requires it; give something up to make room for God and his mercy to fill you. Pray more and pray deeply and whenever you can because God listens to you: prayer puts you in touch with God and his mercy. Do something good for someone else every day; resolve to care about someone else every day, because God does, Jesus does and wants you to be like him, loving and full of mercy. Don’t make this Lent a complicated regimen of resolutions and promises that will unravel a week from now. Make it simple. Make it real. [emphasis added]
Lent is not a time of self-pity or bemoaning our spiritual shortcomings. To fail to acknowledge God’s willingness to have mercy and forgive the sinner of his or her faults places sin as the end without further hope of relief, restricts one’s view of God as having limits on his love, and risks committing a sin against the Holy Spirit (i.e. believing that the magnitude of a sin is greater than God’s power— and continuous willingness— to forgive [cf CCC 1864]). While Lent brings to mind the classic images of sackcloth and ashes, the Lord desires something much more personal than just the recognition of our sins—“sincere, heartfelt repentance, change of heart, conversion” is what each of us is called to offer the Lord with the same Love He offered to those He encountered in His earthly ministry and ultimately from the Cross.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” our Lord, echoing the words of the prophet Hosea, declares to the Pharisees during the calling of Matthew (cf. Hosea 6:6) For us today, these words still ring true. Lent is not an easy time, but it invites us to shake us out of our spiritual complacency if we are to answer the Lord’s call to conversion. This may be uncomfortable. Receiving the ashes on our foreheads tomorrow, however, signifies our commitment to God that we will endeavor each day—and not just until Easter Sunday—to change our lives to be (once again) oriented towards God in avoidance of the sin and distractions which lead us away from His love. While we seek forgiveness from God, we are also to freely forgive others, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Even if we fall along the way, the important thing is to pick ourselves up and start again— the Lord is patient!
In closing, let us reflect on a final word from the Venerable Fulton Sheen:
God loves you despite your unworthiness. It is His love which will make you better, rather than your betterment which will make Him love you. … Say to yourself over and over again, regardless of what happens: “God loves me!” And then add: “And I will try to love Him!” (Fulton Sheen, Remade for Happiness: Achieving Life’s Purpose through Spiritual Transformation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), 187, 25.)
Leadership is essential for a healthy and holy Church. From St. Peter to Pope Francis where would our Church stand today without the great and gifted leaders through the centuries?
Leadership in the Church, including local parishes, is not immune from the kinds of temptations leaders face in any institution. Based on my experience, I’d like to consider three temptations many leaders face framed by J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings series. It is my hope that understanding and being aware of these temptations will lead to a stronger, more unified Church grounded in the love of Christ.
The Pursuit of Power
“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)
Tolkien’s story relies on some rather homely and “weak” characters—hobbits—to carry out a great task: destroying the magic ring to save Middle Earth. We normally identify leaders by their exceptional strengths and talents. We use popular tools like strength and personality finder tests to help us identify our unique gifts. Using our gifts and talents to build up the Body of Christ is prudent and life-giving, but we should not too quickly assume God only wants to use our human strengths to bless or lead his Church. In fact, God often builds up the Church by using our weaknesses. He entrusted the building of His Church, afterall, not to the rabbis and scholars of his time, but to simple men, fishermen. As St. Paul frequently preached, cross-shaped leaders learn to live first out of their weakness and dependency on the power of the crucified Lord:
“Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong… I came to you in weakness… so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:26-27; 2:3,5).
Knowing our weaknesses helps us as leaders to not fall into the temptation of the pursuit of power. Christ is glorified in our human weakness and can transform it for the building up of His kingdom.
The Allure of Ambition
“You are so wise and powerful, will you not take the ring?”
“No!” cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. “With that power I should have power too great and too terrible.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)
The allure of the ring is the promise of control, but the great wizard Gandalf understands the power of the ring inevitably ends up controlling the wearer. True leaders develop habits of cooperation and collaboration in ministry and are quick to deflect praise and thanks onto others. Because leaders are in a position to influence outcomes and events, however, some can be tempted to an unhealthy ambition.
Sometimes, it can be tempting to view parish ministry as a stepping-stone to a bigger, better career in the church or name recognition. Unhealthy ambition can also feed a spirit of competition and criticism between churches that undermines our call to communion.
One of my go-to prayers to combat this attitude is called the Litany of Humility. It is a good practice to periodically check our focus and drive. Does our work stem from a love of Christ and His Church? Are we seeking God’s greater glory or our own?
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
(The Fellowship of the Ring)
I had a friend who out of college was given the responsibility of the youth ministry program at his home church. Unfortunately, early on he made a financial mistake that ruined a popular trip and drew harsh criticism from parents and staff alike. Unable to cope with such treatment, he resigned from ministry shortly after.
Rather than seeing failure or mistakes as reasons to give up, these can be seen as important opportunities for growth and maturation. A young church is surely a sign of a healthy and growing church, but that doesn’t make it a mature church. While the freedom to take risks and make mistakes is an indispensable part of learning, leaders should surround themselves with team members who are varied and diverse in their ministry experience.
For those who are relatively new to working for the Church, I suggest finding a faithful mentor or spiritual director with whom you can share struggles and receive encouragement. As Tolkien notes above, the Church needs wise, mature men and women to walk alongside its young, teaching patience and perseverance in order to grow deep roots.
Thanks to many gifted and faithful leaders, our Catholic Church indeed has deep, strong roots. By knowing and understanding a few temptations leaders can face, we can help our Church become more faithful and stronger. Pray for our church leaders, that God may give them the grace to be wise, humble, gracious, and joyful examples of the call to be more obedient followers of Jesus.
As I was walking down the sidewalk to my residence hall, I glanced at my watch and realized I had a busy night ahead. I still had class until the evening, had to eat dinner, meet with a resident, prepare for next Monday’s program about how faith enriches our relationships, and study for two exams the next day. When I unlocked the door to my room, I realized I had about fifteen minutes until my next class. I thought to myself that it would be a good time to quiet myself and pray. I decided it would be easier, since I was rushed, to quickly recite a couple of prayers rather than expend the necessary effort to examine my day or truly open my heart to God, the Infinite Love. My principle concern at that moment was to check daily prayer off my to-do list. I felt rather empty for the rest of the day and struggled in my ministerial responsibilities. I lacked authentic prayer in my day and it took its toll. While authentic prayer can be hard, especially for those of us involved in ministry, authentic prayer empowers us to fulfill the mission Christ entrusted to us. Yet, what exactly is authentic prayer?
During a homily in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in 2013, Pope Francis stressed that “the Lord tells us: 'the first task in life is this: prayer.' But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord.” Pope Francis astutely observed that authentic prayer is integrally connected to the heart, the Sacred Heart of Christ, and our own hearts. When we engage in authentic prayer, we are opening our hearts to the transforming infinite love and mercy of Jesus Christ. We are being honest with God about the desires of our own heart. While authentic prayer is certainly beneficial for our own selves, being practitioners of authentic prayer also is a gift to the entire Church. Others notice God using us sinful creatures as His instruments. Our lives become signs that point towards the Kingdom of God.
Yet, we must each reflect on how tempting it is to imitate a parrot in our prayer. How often do we recite prayers to cross them off of our to-do list, having little faith that the Lord will answer them? Asking God to open our own hearts to His infinite love combats this temptation. If I had taken the time to really open my heart to God, to be honest in my prayer and not dress it up, I would not have struggled with my ministerial responsibilities. When we become men and women of authentic prayer, Christ transforms our hearts after His own heart. Thus, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be humble heralds of the infinite love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
For more resources on prayer, click here.
Paul boldly reminds Christians, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). In a sense, our single most political act on this earth is not who we vote for in the next election, but our Baptism. In baptism, we discover our truest identity as adopted sons and daughters of God, and together become “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). But as citizens of heaven, we also live as “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11).
This Jubilee Year of Mercy issues an invitation and challenge for Catholics to transform what society regards as ‘political problems with political solutions’ into encounters with God’s grace and mercy. Borrowing a phrase from Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, Christians are not simply called to meet issues with more political machination, but greater “prophetic imagination.” When Christians do not actively imagine and enact truthful and merciful alternatives to social evils, pragmatism and deceit can lay deep roots in our society.
In the Book of Leviticus, an important aspect of the ancient Jubilee Year involves extending mercy to a group of people the Bible calls resident aliens, outsiders living among the Israelites who belonged to no tribe. They occupied a vulnerable position in society and were not always welcomed, but God’s law was meant to protect them as legal equals (cf. Ex 12:49; Lev 24:22).
Today our Church takes seriously the responsibility to stand up for the human dignity of migrants and refugees. While speaking on the topic of pastoral care for migrants and itinerant peoples, Pope Francis expressed his hope that, “our Christian communities really be places of hospitality, listening, and communion.”
In Leviticus 19, God instructs Moses and the Israelites about harvesting the land, not to “reap the field to its very edge,” for, “… these things you shall leave for the poor and the alien” (Lev 19:9,10, cf. Deut 24:20-21).
A problem many of us succumb to in a consumerist culture (myself included) is living without margin. We max out our schedules and credit cards so that we simply cannot make room in our day or budget to give freely, or receive someone in need when opportunity arises. As Pope Francis recently put it, “If the Jubilee doesn’t arrive to the pockets, it’s not a true Jubilee.”
The scripture and tradition of the Church prescribe counter-cultural hospitality toward the stranger. Exemplified in monastic tradition, the Rule of Benedict in Chapter 53 puts forth Jesus’ words, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” (Matthew 25:35). Moreover, in a culture where nearly every human experience is branded and marketed, we should not confuse hospitality with customer service.
“Listen… and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is a resident alien… Give ear to the lowly and to the great alike” (Deut 1:16,17).
There is no justice or mercy without listening to the oppressed and marginalized. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. . . It is God’s love for us that He not only gave us His Word but also lends us His ear. . . Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either” (Life Together. New York: Harper & Row).
When we listen, we may even discover someone who is no longer a stranger but a friend.
God had to remind the Israelites, “You shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt,” (Lev 19:34). The New Testament reiterates: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are ‘God’s people’; you ‘had not received mercy,’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).
Pope Francis powerfully stated that communion cannot exist where Christians seek to build walls instead of bridges. Communion happens through solidarity and accompaniment, not the gospel of, “God helps those who help themselves.” As Catholics, our communion is best expressed through the Holy Eucharist, where we “participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice” (CCC 1322). Recent celebrations of the Mass across the USA-Mexico border witness the power of the Eucharist to unite Christians separated along national/political divides. In a climate of fear and self-preservation, the Eucharist consumes us, lest we consume each other.
Political debates will rage this year. As Christians, let us consider how the Jubilee of Mercy cannot be separated from our particular concern for migrants and refugees in the form of the prophetic witness of Christian hospitality, listening, and communion.
To learn more about the Jubilee of Mercy, visit our free resource page by clicking here.
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.
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy officially began on December 8, 2015, when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. Each of the four Major Basilicas in Rome features a Holy Door opened in the Jubilee year.
This Jubilee marks the first in the history of the Catholic Church in which cathedrals and select churches and shrines in dioceses across the world were invited to designate Holy Doors outside of Rome. Pope Francis celebrated this historic gesture by opening the Holy Door at Bangui’s Notre-Dame Cathedral in the Central African Republic. On December 13th, the Third Sunday of Advent, congregations celebrated the Rite of Opening of Holy Doors in local churches.
To promote the visitation of these Holy Doors around the world, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has compiled a list of the registered Doors of Mercy worldwide. The Holy Doors are prophetic symbols of the mission of mercy of the universal Church embodied in every local parish. For example, even amidst the turmoil in the Middle East, every parish in the Iraqi archdiocese of Erbil will feature a Holy Door. There are Holy Doors covering the globe from the Island of Fiji to a frigid shrine in Alaska.
In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII is inaugurated the first Holy Year in the Catholic Church. Since then, the Catholic Church ordinarily celebrates a Jubilee every 25 years. The last Jubilee Year was in 2000 under the pontificate of Pope Saint John Paul II. Because a full 25 years have not passed, this Jubilee Year of Mercy is considered an “extraordinary” year.
The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica consists of 16 panels by the Italian sculptor Vico Consorti telling the history of salvation—which is the story of God’s mercy. Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the Master of Ceremony for Pope Blessed Paul VI, likened the Holy Door to “verses of a hymn, which sing of God’s infinite mercy… They enlighten every moment of any situation with the certainty of divine forgiveness.”
The Church’s celebration of the Jubilee and the opening of Holy Doors has developed over time, but the tradition and symbolism find their roots in the Old Testament. Following seven seven-year periods (the number seven representing God’s rest and the Sabbath), the fiftieth was a Year of Jubilee for the Israelites (Lev 25:8-10). This was a time specifically devoted to practicing mercy: debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, and the land was given rest by letting it lay fallow. Another symbol of mercy from the Old Testament includes Moses producing water by striking a rock (Numbers 20:11). We too receive abundant grace through our pursuit of mercy.
Crossing the “threshold” of the door has also featured prominently in the theology of the holy door. In crossing the threshold, we pass over from one state in life to another. As Pope Saint John Paul II encouraged the world to “cross the threshold of hope,” Pope Francis similarly enjoins Christians to cross the threshold of mercy. Liturgists and anthropologists call this transforming experience “liminality,” (limina meaning “threshold”). The same symbolism shapes the tradition of Bishops, who are required to make regular Ad Limina (literally “at the threshold”) visits to Rome to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and meet with the Pope so they may prayerfully renew their mission of mercy and love for the diocese they shepherd.
Mercy is a truly transformative. We are changed upon entering and exiting the church through the Holy Doors. We encounter mercy in the Body of Christ gathered in the sanctuary, as well as in the confessional, and are then sent out to show mercy. Our mission is mercy.
Jesus is the one who opens the door to all who seek mercy (Luke 11:9). The door testifies that the Church is always more than just a building; it is testimony that Jesus is “the gate,” (John 10:9), and those who enter find mercy and salvation.
For more resources on the Jubilee of Mercy, please visit our Jubilee of Mercy portal.
I have been taught lectio divina in the past, which I practiced fervently at one time and set aside as I pursued other spiritual interests. Lectio divina, though, has never been put together for me quite the way Fr. Chris Hayden (a New Testament scholar, author, and a priest in the Diocese of Ferns, Ireland) was able to do when I recently attended his seminar “Praying the Scriptures.” As a result, I have refreshed my own spiritual life and have reincorporated lectio divina into my spiritual repertoire. My point here is not to relay new facts but (as Fr. Chris would say) to rehearse what we already know – to cement who we are as a people who want to pray, who want to grow in the spiritual life.
Lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”) was not something new to Christians but flowed out of the Hebrew method of studying the Scriptures, haggadah, or learning by the heart: “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deut 30:14). While many Church Fathers stressed the prayerful reading of the scriptures, Origen is credited with the first use of the term “lectio divina” in the 3rd century: “While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures” (Epistle to Gregory 4). Traditionally, lectio divina is a Benedictine practice of praying the scriptures that consists of reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating God’s Word in order to grow in our relationship with God. Saint Benedict first established it as a Monastic practice in the 6thcentury in which the four parts were not so much steps but rather moments prompted by the Holy Spirit. During the 12th century, the Carthusians formalized a scholastic approach (“the Monk’s Ladder”) of lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation/reflecting), oratio(prayer/responding), and contemplatio (contemplation/resting).
We distinguish lectio divina from reading the Bible for enlightenment or encouragement, which we may do individually or together as in a Bible study group, and from praying the scriptures in common. Lectio divina is a practice that uses thoughts, images, insights, and inner silence to enter into a conversation with God. There are varying approaches to lectio divina, but in reality, simplicity is at the heart of the practice. After Vatican II and the document Dei Verbum that encouraged lay people and priests to use lectio divina, there has been a resurgence in its exercise. When we read Scripture, we should be doing so not just as an intellectual activity but also as a means of gathering its intention and meaning for our lives. Lectio divina will transform you for transformation is at its core – whether you realize that transformation consciously or not, and whether you reflect that transformation visibly or not.
To appreciate fully lectio divina, we must understand prayer as a relationship between God and ourselves. Through prayer, we enter into the abiding relationship of unconditional love of the Holy Trinity. Three key underpinnings of our prayer life should be humility, heart, and listening. In prayer, we enter into humility, deflating our egos, realizing we are not God. Our humility helps us discern the true self from the false self. We continue to pray in order to break open our hearts to God, to realize what is going on inside ourselves for the heart of prayer is not what we get but rather what we become. We all know we should be receptive to God heeding the advice of Eli to Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:1-10), but many of us might prefer to tell God in prayer, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!” As anyone who has been successful with Christian meditation or contemplative prayer will attest, we need to make time and spaces for silence so we can listen.
What should we do, though, if our prayers seem to be unanswered? Fr. Chris offers five guides or reasons to continue in prayer (he admits, certainly, there is not just five, but I find the five he presented crucial) even when our prayer life seems to be in a drought:
Because we have the Bible, the living Word of God, our spirituality is not a set of speculations. The Bible is our story – our metanarrative. Our metanarrative unites all of our individual stories into a collective under the overarching theme of God’s eternal love. We find today that the separate designations of yours and mine drive our society; today’s society is certainly no metanarrative, no uniting of us all. Within the Biblical texts, however, we find our collective and individual stories in which we participate along with Christ in the Trinitarian love. We can break our metanarrative into four acts: Act I: The beginning; Act II: The Fall; Act III: Redemption; and Act IV: Fulfillment. Our story begins with life (the “Tree of Life” in Genesis) and ends with life (the “New Order” in Revelations as found in Christ.) We find ourselves living in the drama between Acts II and III, that constant struggle of our lives that tugs between our disobedience and our obedience as we reach for that time of fulfillment.
With this acceptance of the Bible as our metanarrative and our understanding of prayer, especially the reasons for continuing in prayer when our prayer life is dry, we can appreciate the power of praying the scriptures to transform our lives. Lectio divinabecomes, in reality, so simple.
Fr. Chris told me not to give him credit, but I must at least thank him for traveling to Great Falls, Montana, for sharing his joy of the faith, and for his stimulating way of presenting prayer, scripture, and the ancient art of lectio divina that inspired me to take a fresh look at how I pray the scriptures. I hope I have given him due credit by relaying the simplicity of lectio divina and its importance in helping us live out our shared metanarrative of God’s love.
With Fr. Chris’ inspiration, I renew myself to the simplicity of lectio divina, enhancing my spiritual life, and I pray: God help us live our story, our metanarrative, as we pray for our transformation in You, our destination.
Fawn Waranauskas teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on May 27th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
They bought into the lie—that nothing had changed, that their dreams were stifled, that death prevailed. The locked doors reflected their locked hearts. Like anyone, they were afraid, inconsolable, at the point of despair. Save one—a virgin. She continues to model to us today what it means to live faith, what it looks like to be a disciple.
The fear of the disciples in the upper room is understandable. They had abandoned the man whom they had left everything to follow for three years. The same man they had pledged to follow unto death had been tortured and killed as their backs were turned, as they cowered for their own lives. Their hopes of a restored Jewish kingdom, a glorious king from the line of David, freedom from Roman rule and the return of God’s presence to the Temple seemed to be nailed to a cross on Golgotha, laid in a tomb hewn from rock. They had yet to see God’s plan amidst the perceived failure. How could this be God’s plan? It was so unlike their own.
Their fear is our own. It is the fear of unmet desires, of unworthiness, of death, of uncertainty, of perceived silence. Like the disciples, we often fail to see God’s plan in our lives. We look around in despair and sense that He is silent. We live the reality of death, confusion and suffering and say, “nothing good can come from this.” But as the disciples quickly realized, our ways are not God’s ways. Our wills are not yet one. Much stands in the way: selfishness, greed, egoism, materialism, pride. All changes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What makes a law-abiding Jew abandon his persecution of Christians in favor of joining them and proclaiming the Christ to Jerusalem and Rome?
What makes uneducated fisherman leaders of the universal Church and martyrs for the faith?
What makes the son of a wealthy Italian merchant the begging founder of a religious order and a friend of the poor?
What makes a cloistered nun in Lisieux a Doctor of the Church?
What makes a German priest in Auschwitz volunteer to die in place of a father?
What makes a modern day Italian mother and doctor offer her life for that of her child?
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the game changer for the Church—what will now set the disciples apart from the whole world and what continues to set Christians apart today. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of conversion in man, the third person of the Trinity who opens up the Scriptures and sets our hearts on fire. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live our mission. The Holy Spirit, God’s love, is the difference between the fearful men in the upper room and the on-fire disciples of Christ preaching the Gospel and converting thousands in a single day.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane while also speaking directly to you and me. He prays for something seemingly impossible: “that they may all be one” as the Trinity is one. Christ speaks these words not to frustrate his followers but to call them to a perfection possible through God alone. He utters these precious words knowing he will be sending the Holy Spirit to enable man to do this. The goal is outward. This communion—the call to unity—must lead to mission: “that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them.” God’s love is efficacious. It cannot be contained but must be proclaimed to the world. Only God could deign to give man so dignified and impossible a call. And only God could enable man to fulfill it.
This high priestly prayer of Jesus (which encompasses John 15-17) is one of my favorite parts of Scripture. It is so imbued with Christ’s love for us. The purpose of the Incarnation is about to be revealed. Christ is living his last moments and wants to remind his followers, you and me, why he came: to reveal the Father, to invite man to eternity with Him and to assure man of his lovable-ness in the eyes of God. This love of God is meant to abide in us and reach out from our hearts to the hearts of others. This is only possible through the Eucharist, which physically is Christ’s love present in us and which is made possible through the Holy Spirit. God himself calls us, but God himself equips us…with Himself. It is astounding to what we are called: to holiness, divine love. This is the Christian destiny, but not our inclination. Like the disciples, so quickly do we turn inward. So quickly do we lock the door in fear. God calls us to sanctity, which can only be achieved after an experience of the fire of God’s love. We call this Pentecost, the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. The same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive every Sunday in the form of the Eucharist.
Are we being transformed by this grace or do we remain in the upper room? I challenge you to go back to your own story, your own moments of conversion. When did you fall in love with God? Have you? Only armed with the certainty of being loved will we be able to love others and live out the communion and mission Jesus calls us to. And so we call upon the Holy Spirit, the love of God Himself, who was breathed out upon the disciples at Pentecost in tongues of fire. We ask the Holy Spirit to breathe new life within us, within the Church. We ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the fire of God’s love.
This results in unlocked doors, an empty room.
The disciples emerged, transfigured. Will you?
Kate Flannery is pursuing a Master's degree in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver and graduates in May.
"The fruit of sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful on the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1134).
I am a liturgical - and sacramental - junky. Whether it be when the organ plays, the incense burns, wooden crosses process or babies cry- I love being part of liturgies! But my love of liturgy does not end with the communal gathering or the symbolic signs. Rather, the reason I love liturgy is that I believe, as Fr. Aidan Kavanagh, OSB, a liturgical theologian, put it, “liturgy is doing the world the way the world was meant to be done.”
In the liturgy we are participating in the life of God. We are entering into, and living within, the eternal circulation of the Trinity’s love! But what does that actually mean? It means that we are not simply attending a gathering. We do not show up to another building for another event. It is not a lecture or a show. Rather it is a transformation of ourselves with our God, who is love, so we can go out and witness to that love and act out of it.
This is why I love liturgy. It calls me out of myself. It shows me God acting in all things and then sends me out to be his hands and feet. Liturgy connects me to the Body of Christ and reminds me that I am to care for that body. It shows me that the world can be used to glorify God and that the world itself, being God’s creation, is a symbol of His active presence in my life.
David Fagerberg, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, illustrates this thought saying, “Water could be a sign of God’s love if I gave a cup of it to someone who is thirsty, but not if I use up on my golf course the water he needs for his vegetable patch.” Liturgy reminds and shows us how to act out of love, not pride; to live out of hope, not despair; and to be guided by compassion, not self interest.
Pope Francis affirms that we must be a living Church: a Church for the poor, a Church that acts. He emphasizes that, “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.” We encounter, learn and receive Christ in the Liturgy in order that might know Him and act as His Body for the world.
This Sunday we must remember that we are participating in something that goes beyond the building, the preaching and the music. We must remember that we are encountering Christ and he is teaching us a way that asks us to share in his mission of building the kingdom of God by acting out of the truths of love, justice, kindness, and peace.
Pam Tremblay is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. She currently works at St. John's University in Queens, NY as Resident Minister for Social Justice.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 30, 2013