As a child, I played a favorite game with my friends called “follow the leader” where everyone did exactly as the name suggests – followed the leader. If you didn’t do what the leader did you would be eliminated from the game. This game correlates to the Christian life: when we follow Jesus and do what He did, we reach our heavenly destination. We are wise to remember and heed Matthew 18:3-4: “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” How important it is as an adult Christian to always have the willing mindset of a child – to follow the leader with joyful expectation and simple trust. This reminds me of a remarkable event in my life that illustrates this concept.
Several years ago, when our four youngest children were still living at home, we embarked on one of our family camping vacations. Having a large family, we had chosen camping as a way to enjoy a vacation together while on a budget. It removed all the distractions of our life of modern conveniences and afforded us time in the great outdoors to relax and build memories. This particular adventure took us to Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, a glorious place high in the mountains with astounding stargazing at night and amazing hiking trails during the day. One day we chose to traverse the Waterfalls Trail. The sign at the trailhead read “Steep grade ahead, use caution. Stay on marked path.” That should have been my moment of truth, my opportunity to bail and choose to sit on a bench and enjoy the 1780 ft vista and await my family’s return. But I ignored the queasiness in my stomach and forged ahead with them as they vivaciously marched down the canyon on a slim, winding trail. My stomach began to ride higher into my chest, my breathing was becoming fast and bordering on gasping and my feet were becoming heavy and unsure on the many twists and turns. After we passed under an enormous rock overhang, my body halted and I literally could not take another step.
I was paralyzed with fear. Did I forget to mention, I’ve suffered from overwhelming fear of heights ever since I was a teenager? It was alive and acutely crippling on this day. As I watched my children bounding ahead and walking precariously near the rim of the steep trail, the fear gripped me to the point of panic. My husband kept telling me to look ahead, not down, and to follow his footsteps so that I would be safe and secure. The more I thought about moving forward, the stiffer I became. Moving at all in this way was sure to make me more apt to stumble. On my own steam, I could not go any further. I was at an impasse. With wisdom and child-like trust, my husband gathered our children all around me and asked each of them to lay their hands on me and to pray for all fear to cease so that I could be free to walk with joy and confidence. They did not want to leave me behind or to turn around and abandon the hike to the waterfalls. After several minutes of prayer, my breathing slowed to normal, my heart stopped racing, I unclenched my fists, and my legs relaxed. I felt a distinct release of tension in my body and my mind – so much so that I knew that I could resume the hike without fear. It was a healing miracle I claim to this day, as I can now hike steep mountains and enjoy magnificent views from heights that I could not before.
My husband and children were instruments of faith who infused the peace of Jesus into me so that I could follow the leader and enjoy the boundless beauty nature had to offer on that hike. Later that night, my husband commented that Jesus healed me and gave me sure feet to traverse the steep path with assurance. I will never forget that manifestation of God’s love for me and I am willing to continue to follow the leader on all the paths He takes me because I know He will give me strength and guidance every step of the way. I am comforted by the instruction in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” As humans, we cannot find and walk this path on our own.
We need a leader, but we also need to be aware of all the people God places in our lives who provide guidance and leadership when we need it. It is part of the mystery and beauty of living in community with others in this life. If I had not yielded to the assistance of my family, I would have remained in bondage to crippling fear. I received help to navigate off the wide road of self -doubt and irrational panic that is destructive. With simple child-like trust and prayer, I was able to stay on the narrow path that led to a glorious adventure and freedom! My prayer is that each of us practices the obedience of following the leader so we can navigate the path that leads us to eternal peace. It is certain to be rough, but instruction is always available to us. We have to be humble and have child-like trust to adhere to the direction He provides.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matt. 16:24
Recently, my husband and I attended a virtual Catholic Marriage Summit called, “Joyful Ever After.” Several of the speakers mentioned the importance of cultivating the virtue of believing in your spouse’s best intentions rather than assuming ill will when a perceived grievance is committed.
I thought back to a time when my husband and I were dating long-distance. He texted me that he would be arriving late to see me, which was very unlike him. I was a bit sassy in my response. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was late because he ran into traffic while buying me a surprise bouquet of flowers.
A podcast I listen to addressed this same predicament when we interpret our children’s actions before we know their true intentions. The mom on the podcast shared how terribly she felt after becoming upset with one of her children for making a mess of crafting supplies only to find out her child brought out the materials to make her a love note.
Encounters like these provide us with opportunities to choose love. Making up stories in our minds that may not be—and most of the time are not—true does more harm to our relationships than good. Assuming good intentions from our spouses, family, friends and co-workers allows us to foster and strengthen relationships.
Doubting someone else is a way of protecting ourselves. God is the one who gives us courage to trust others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Being less defensive makes others more receptive. Opening ourselves up to another allows us to share the hope and joy of the Gospel. We become more likeable, less distracted by imagined problems, focused on the actual issue, and are overall happier. After all, God gives us a second, third, fourth and ultimately infinite chances in response to our shortcomings. As James 2:13 says, “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Training our minds to think of others and the best intentions they have can both help us and improve our relationships. In many occasions, the person we are interacting with may be reacting from a previous interaction that overflows into our relationship with them. By keeping an open mind without judgement, we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts so that we may reach out to the other with empathy and love. This serves as a reminder to us of our own humanity and imperfection.
Believing in another person’s best intentions is an act of faith. To foster this line of thinking in my own marriage, every day I try to share something I’m thankful for about my husband. I try to think about this during prayer as well to help develop gratitude. When I don’t understand something that my husband is doing or has done, I try (very hard!) to ask open-minded questions in order to open dialogue instead of shutting the conversation down or arguing. Some other ways we can seek to see the best intentions in others are: asking for clarification, listening to what’s being said rather than waiting to share our own thoughts, and refraining from editorial comments that could aggravate the situation.
During these unusual times, we could all benefit from more compassion and grace. Let us open our hearts and minds to seeing the best in others.
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“The beginning of all effort is the recognition of what is.” -Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, 1963
Professional athletes do many appearances while playing. We get paid to show up at fundraisers, youth camps, watch parties, and promotional events. Something that is practically a guarantee when attending these appearances is one or more sets of parents coming up to tell us about their child who plays soccer. Often these conversations are quite enjoyable, but almost inevitably, there are a few who want to talk about how their son or daughter was short-changed in their youth soccer experience. There is a lot that these parents say to us, but the consistent element is: my child didn’t succeed because of some external factor.
This may very well be the case for some of them. It is equally true, however, that it is certainly not the case for all of them. Much of the time the boy or girl just wasn’t good enough for a particular team, level of competition, or system of play.
The point of this post is not to drop the heavy hammer that many kids run out of the athletic ability rope and should give up. No, this post is about the absolute necessity of taking an honest stock of where someone actually is--especially for the spiritual life.
Romano Gaurdini says that “the beginning of all effort is the recognition of what is.” The reason for this being that you cannot begin making the effort to improve unless you start with who you already are.
Any professional athlete will tell you that it is far more helpful to be taught how to assess and address weaknesses rather than to pretend they don’t exist. In fact, most professional athletes are fairly obsessive about identifying areas in their game where they can improve. If I determine I’d like to be a better shooter with my right foot, for example, then I must begin with the harsh—but necessary—reality that I can barely complete a pass with my right foot. If I never acknowledge my current ability, I’ll constantly run into problems—poor technique, inadequate fundamentals, and so on. I’ll never become a strong shooter without addressing the plain truth of my current ability. This is a skill that requires disciplined practice and will never simply be acquired because I want it to be so. First comes acknowledgment, then a plan for improvement, all for the hope of becoming a good right-footed shooter.
This same principle can and should be applied to our spiritual lives. Just as improvement can only take place in athletics by beginning with where an athlete currently is, spiritual advancement can only begin by taking an honest assessment of where one currently is in relation to God. This means you’re far better off admitting that you struggle to pray for 5 minutes and taking that to God than wondering when you’ll receive the Stigmata. It is far more helpful to search deep within yourself and locate and name your pride, selfishness, ego, envy, or lust than only present to God your most pious and holy thoughts. He knows your heart already—He’s just waiting for you to know it as well.
One of the most helpful exercises for high-school, collegiate, and professional athletes is to watch film in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. The team watches the most recent game in order to see what needs to be addressed that week in practice. This same concept can migrate into our spiritual lives—we look for points of departure and development in order to draw nearer to God. This practice is not to discourage but to improve. There’s no shame in acknowledging ourselves as we really are. In fact, God can really only begin to heal us once we acknowledge where we are hurt. The Physician cannot tend to our wounds unless we let Him see them.
Several days ago, I was talking to my wife about this concept and she brought up how watching film for athletes is similar to the examination of conscience recommended by the Church. Examining one’s conscience on a regular basis is like looking back over the tape to see the strengths and the weaknesses—the graces and the sins—in order to grow. Then, with this self-knowledge, we can go to God, say thank you, and ask for forgiveness, trusting in His merciful love. God looks down on us and loves us as we are, but He also promises that His love is transformative. He looks down and says, “I love you,” while at the same time calling us higher. He wants us to identify what is so that we may cooperate with His grace and begin the beautiful work of improvement. This we call sanctification.
May we all be willing to look at ourselves honestly—as we really are—so that we enter into the effort that is the fight of faith (cf Jude 3), trust that God’s grace is sufficient (see 2 Cor 12:9), and become the saints Jesus Christ died for us to be.
I watched her curly little head bounce away from me further down the hiking path and around a bend, out of my sight. I knew her older brothers would slow down so she could keep up with them, taking her under their wings. In the midst of a global pandemic, the woods were a safe space, open and free from the danger that seems to lurk everywhere these days. Nonetheless, my heart rate picked up along with my pace. What if a stranger was on the path? What if she fell and got hurt? I couldn’t see the path ahead, and I was afraid.
I hurried along, my anxiety increasing as my steps forward failed to lead me to a view of my children. My thoughts turned dark while the woods around me became bright. Trapped in my own head, I failed to notice the sun breaking through, filtering light through the treetops. Until—there! The sunshine reflecting off of my little girl’s sequin covered sneakers allowed me to catch a glimpse of my babies. “Red light!” I yelled, in our family shorthand for “stop-moving-your-body-immediately.” The birds scattered, startled. My children froze in place as they waited for me to catch up with them. As I knew they would be, the boys were watching closely over their little sister. Taking her by the hand, they coached her through the mud and over the fallen branches.
“See, Mama? Pretty!” my curly little girl exclaimed, joyfully depositing semi-crushed wildflowers into my hands. After rubbing her nose against mine, she joined her brothers on a moss-covered log, not registering my fear for even a moment. Exhaling a sigh of relief, I praised God in joy for great big brothers, my safe little girl, and a Father who is Light, illuminating the way.
In this season of uncertainty, I find myself living that moment on the hiking path time and again: rushing forward, afraid, unable to see what is ahead. My days are filled with research and passionate conversation about schooling, and what the right choice for our family will be this fall. We deliberate over each barbecue invitation and mourn the loss of birthday celebrations that will never come to life. Parenting in a season where change is the only constant is overwhelming.
I’m living that moment on the hiking path again: where I could not see, there was light. Though I was afraid, the Father was before me, protecting my little ones. So now, instead of remaining trapped by my thoughts, I am pursuing His power and protection. I am practicing seeking the light.
In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul reminds us that we can live in joy even in the midst of hardship, and he shows us how: “[We are] strengthened with every power, in accord with His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom[...]”(Colossians 1:11-12).
Joy is a pursuit. By God’s great mercy, we are called out of the darkness and into the light. We are invited to share in the inheritance of the saints, if only we can pursue His power and glorious might instead of depending upon our own. When left to myself, I abandon joy for the hopelessness and despair that seems to permeate the world during this pandemic. However, when I pursue the heart of Christ, I am promised endurance and patience. I am equipped to face the reality of a sick and broken world and to remain unbroken by its weight. In His power alone, joy still abounds.
Joy is a practice. Turning hands full of crushed wildflowers to praise comes with intentionality. So: let us train ourselves to joy. When we feel the dark closing in on us, we are called to joyfully give thanks to the Father and to seek His fingerprints that so graciously mark our lives—to acknowledge His many gifts.
When the trees block our view, let us enjoy the sunshine filtering through their branches. When the path is rocky and unsure, let us acknowledge that He walks alongside us, and before us. When we suffer through sickness, hardship, and isolation, let us hope in God who has overcome suffering once and for all.
This is joy. Grace-filled moments of contentment, happiness, peace, safety, and hope that we open our eyes to experience, even in the midst of the dark. Where happiness is fleeting and circumstantial, joy is ours to keep no matter the circumstance.
Along this path I will stumble and fall. Joy will evade me as I am burdened by fear and uncertainty. But I will allow the Lord to raise me up, seeking the joy He offers me despite my skinned knees.
Like my curly girl, I choose to trust that I am not alone. I choose wildflowers and light. I chase joy.
The principle of God’s Infinite Love is consoling in prayer, encouraging in our personal darkness, and a bright light for preaching and teaching. But when it comes to pastoral care, this Infinite Love can feel overwhelming, idealistic, and impossible. On a more personal level, Infinite Love care can lead to feelings of guilt at not having done enough and shame at not being enough.
Consequently, the idea of accompaniment can quickly appear to be wishful thinking. How am I to walk with people when I am just one person with one sunrise and one sunset each day? There are dozens or hundreds of people who need care in my community, but I can barely finish my homily, or you can barely get the kids to school on time.
The problem is with two false thoughts. First, we are not God. We are not the source of Infinite Love, and we shall never be. Second, accompaniment does not mean that I have to walk with each person all day. This is impossible.
Honestly, many good Catholics have difficulty letting go of control. The worst example of this is the savior complex. We are not the saviors, Jesus is. The reality is that the Lord God is the principal Accompanier, not us! And, out of His goodness, He has chosen myriads of intermediate accompaniers. In other words, and hear me well, WE do not, nay, we cannot try and do it all on our own. And isn’t it ironic that right after we priests preach and teach that to people that they cannot do it on their own, then, as spiritual caretakers we immediately set aside our theological principle of interdependence and try to do it all on our own.
Thoughtful accompaniment lies in deploying a sophisticated network of groups and individuals to care for, to check on, to talk to, to bring communion to those in need. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, just saints. Let the lesson of accompaniment be your lesson today: just do what you can, but don’t go at it alone. Only God is Infinite Love.
When I was a senior in high school in the diocese of Joliet, then-Bishop Peter Sartain came to celebrate one of our monthly school Masses. I was asked to assist the Bishop for the day, and throughout the day he and I had many warm conversations. I received a piece of mail a few weeks later from Bishop (now Archbishop) Sartain containing a handwritten note and several prayer cards with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s image on them. Little did I know that the young Blessed would soon become one of my dear patron saints.
In my opinion, anyone who offers their life as an apostle on mission—including lay and ordained ministers, Catholic school employees, catechists, and all spiritual guides—should keep Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as their patron saint and their example to combat despair and to joyfully share the Gospel. Blessed Pier Giorgio shows us the Christ-like demeanor and personality that the Church and her ministers and missionaries should possess as they evangelize the world.
Blessed Pier Giorgio makes an excellent spiritual guide and mentor because he was an ordinary young man with a profound commitment to the poor and to justice. There are countless books and articles that describe how Pier Giorgio spent hours serving the poor and the homeless, often giving away the money he had for bus fare and even his own jacket! His parents misunderstood his great actions of charity, and often scolded him when he returned home late without his coat. He was never distracted from the missionary imperative of the Gospel. Instead, he served those on the margins as Jesus commanded. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington D.C. recently stated in a webinar, “The Church lives in society. The Church does not live behind the four [walls] of the structures where we worship.” Just as Pier Giorgio Frassati befriended the poor and sought justice as a “man of the beatitudes,” we too must go beyond the four walls of our churches, homes, and offices into the margins of our society to serve our brothers and sisters and work for justice.
Blessed Pier Giorgio also accompanied others in their pursuit of God. He maintained unlikely friendships and was neither bound up by cynicism nor weighed down by scandal. Instead, he actively worked against these in his interactions with all. Many stories detail his love for pranks, making bets with his friends over games and making the stakes be attending Mass or Adoration. Like this soon-to-be-saint, we must live in the world while encouraging others to return to Christ in the spirit of friendship. As apostles on mission, we must live, work, and play with a renewed spiritual vision, driven by the practice of spiritual accompaniment.
The quality I most admire in Blessed Pier Giorgio is his ultimate trust in God’s plans. He did not try to take control of his life’s plan nor did he envy God’s authority. Rather, he allowed God to guide him as he discerned his future and his mission in life. Pier Giorgio brought Church doctrine to life through his service and actions. He lived with a gospel-inspired freedom. He spent time in deep prayer, contemplating the mission God had laid before him, discerning to serve the poor as a lay man with expertise in mechanical engineering rather than as a priest. Pier Giorgio trusted God. As Alfonso Nebreda, S.J. wrote, “We must not forget that man cannot nourish his spirituality with orthodoxy alone … there is more to Christianity than this … for faith is life” (Kerygma in Crisis?, Nebreda). Blessed Pier Giorgio embodied the Gospel, and he lived it out according to his mission from God.
As we consider the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, I invite those who serve the Church as lay or ordained ministers, catechists, educators, and spiritual guides to adopt this young saint as a guide for our spiritual lives and our ecclesial missions. Let us invite the same Spirit who lived in Blessed Pier Giorgio and who makes the Church vibrant to renew our hearts, minds, and missionary efforts.
Blessed Pier Giorgio, pray for us!
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During our engagement, we were told several times to expect that something would go wrong during our wedding no matter how much we planned. Well, neither my husband nor I expected a pandemic to be that unexpected surprise!
For me, getting married during COVID-19 has been a spiritual journey. I’ve learned a lot throughout the wedding planning process – namely, to embrace flexibility, be open to changes in my expectations, find gratitude in every situation, focus on what’s most important, and trust in God as well as our family and friends. The biggest lesson for me has been to more fully understand that we don’t control our lives as much as we think we do.
My family, friends and colleagues know me as detail-oriented, prepared and a planner (who probably strategizes too far in advance). I’m not a fan of surprises, I’m cautious, and I like to meet or exceed expectations at all times. Growing up, my friends nicknamed me “Mom” because I always made sure to have the extra snacks, hand sanitizer, suntan lotion, an umbrella, etc. for wherever our adventures would take us.
When it came to wedding planning, I wasn’t the type of person who had everything planned out since childhood. But when it became clear that my husband was “The one,” I read Catholic wedding websites and would run ideas by him. The day after his June 30, 2019 proposal, I went to our church to find out about the process and everything we needed to do to select a spring date in 2020 that would then determine all our other vendor options.
As more and more reports popped up in March that the novel coronavirus had made its way to the U.S., my then fiancé (now husband) remarked with a laugh, “I knew things were going too smoothly with our wedding planning!” We hoped and prayed that all would be clear by the time our May 23, 2020 wedding would take place. Initially we prayed that we’d still be able to go on our European honeymoon. Oh, how quickly those naïve prayers turned into “Lord, please let us still be able to get married in the Catholic Church on May 23!”
Our priest assured us that he’d do anything in his power to ensure our sacrament could happen, even if our wedding didn’t necessarily look the way we or the church had planned. For this, we were so grateful. In addition to our desire to be together legally and in the church, a lot was riding on our decision to marry on this particular day – including job offers and job relocations, home sales, moving me to a new location since we were in a long distance relationship, and more. We gave it all to God to handle. As our priest said in a recent homily, “I can’t. God, you must.”
We planned for several different wedding options (a tiring effort!). As one of my bridesmaids put it, we had “Plans A, B, C, and X, Y and Z!” Many times, I found myself reflecting on what Jesus said to Martha in Luke 10:38-42, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” By focusing on our sacrament of marriage and making sure that it could happen above all things, we grew closer to God and one another in handling the first big cross of many crosses that will come with marriage.
When our home state opened for Phase 1 in early May, anything we could do that was originally planned we saw as an extra blessing. I found gratitude in the smallest of things, like getting a manicure for our wedding. Thankfully, we were able to have our nuptial wedding Mass on May 23 with a small celebration of less than 25 people to witness our marriage vows. We had a reception at the restaurant of a fellow parishioner, where we held a Zoom call with our relatives and friends so they could see our first dances and toasts. Our best man and maid of honor were out of the state and not able to attend in-person, so they gave their beautiful speeches virtually.
Our nuptial Mass was the first time since the second week in March that both my husband and I received the Eucharist and attended Mass in person. The amount of gratitude I felt during the Liturgy of the Eucharist and receiving our Lord left me feeling as though love was overflowing. I appreciated every moment of the Mass like I was listening to it for the first time; being fully present and not taking any part of the liturgy for granted.
I had prayed every day for a wedding day and marriage more beautiful than I could ever imagine, and our nuptial Mass and special day were certainly that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re just a few weeks into married life, and we are looking forward to a lifetime to go!
"…we constantly find the tension between what man is and what he would like to be; between that which has been realized and that which remains to be accomplished. And it is patience which endures this tension." -Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, 1963, 39.
It turns out I really am not a huge fan of working out. After retiring from professional soccer in 2018, I’ve found it quite difficult to motivate myself to exercise when it is not formally baked into my day and when I am not paid to do it. I like being fit, but not the effort and time it requires. There is another reason, however, that I do not like working out, which is: I am impatient.
Rather than committing to a regular schedule and planning the workouts to be manageable in difficulty, I go sporadically and push myself to a near death experience. Every. Single. Time. Behind my mindset is a deeply embedded impatience with the process of becoming fit. I want the result without the process—which is not possible. I want to become fit through the course of one rigorous workout and overstep the gradual process that it takes to become a fit person.
In sports there is the common—and helpful—phrase of “trust the process.” What this means in the sporting world is that there is a necessary process of development that every athlete must go through in order to become good or great at his or her sport. It means that no one can go from ‘beginner’ to ‘expert’ without passing through ‘proficient’. There is a development in sport—and life—lodged in the school of gradual growth rather than immediate transformation.
This frustrates us.
All of us have some idea of who we would like to be, which is then immediately confronted by the reality of who we are. What enables us to endure this gap between idea and reality is what we call patience.
Patience is needed where there is a desire not yet fulfilled.
Case and point—my workout saga. I want to be fit (idea) but am not (reality) and therefore need patience to trust the gradual process of becoming fit. Patience is the virtue needed to shorten the gap and become who I want to be.
There is another phrase in athletics related to “trust the process,” which is, “love the process.” What this means is that the best thing an athlete can do on the road to athletic development is not only trust that skill is only developed over time with effort, but that coming to enjoy that slow and gradual development is an extremely beneficial thing. The great athletes do this. There’s a reason you hear so many stories of the best athletes, from all different sports, being the first at practice and the last to leave. They fall in love with the process of becoming better. Apart from a commitment to the process there is no greatness.
We must come to trust and love the “process” of being made holy.
When I came into the Church in 2015, I was on fire. I wanted to: be a priest (while I was engaged to be married), learn to pray the Rosary, read St. Faustina’s diary and St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, make a pilgrimage to Fatima, know the 2000+ year history of the Church, and learn Biblical Greek (all of these are true and I tried to do all of them with the exception of become a priest). I wanted to become a saint overnight. However, I didn’t quite realize that’s typically not how God works. He knows—because He made us—that if He sanctified us too quickly, we’d be tempted into thinking we are responsible. So, just like every natural thing on earth, our spiritual lives develop organically over time, with much difficulty, slow progress, victories and defeats, deaths and resurrections, all for the purpose of maturity.
Sanctification—growing in holiness—is a process just like anything else that is real in this life. Character does not suddenly emerge, wisdom is not haphazardly acquired, and virtue is not cheaply gained. All of the things that pertain to our nature—that is what makes a person a person—come by way of the long, winding, and arduous road. We must come to love the road.
Guardini points out that—in our spiritual lives—it is often patience with ourselves that is most needed. We see who we would like to be and the faults of who we are. There is a saint in the distance but a sinner in the mirror. All of this is a call to patience—not despair. “Patience with oneself…is the foundation of all progress,” says Guardini. The gap between who we are and who we would like to be is not so much a condemnation on ourselves but an invitation from God to dream bigger, to trust in His grace, and to patiently enjoy the journey.
“He who wishes to advance must always begin again,” Guardini continues, and this takes strength. It is easy to float through life without ever attempting the effort necessary to gradually grow, or the effort to begin again, or the effort to examine oneself, or the effort to admit you desire more. The virtue of patience requires strength—an interior strength that can withstand the assault of failure on our ego. Strength to call things as they are. For “only the strong man can exercise living patience, can take upon himself again and again the things that are; only he can always begin anew.” This is a living patience—one capable of enduring “the process” with joy trusting in the direction of one’s life.
Jesus, may we all trust in your grace over our efforts and patiently trust the process that is your grace working in us for our sanctification. Help us to learn to be content where we are, focus on what is in front of us, and be satisfied with small steps, realizing that small steps are a big deal. May we be granted the strength to endure our shortcomings in all things, but especially our spiritual lives. May we look to your goodness, mercy, and transformative love and trust that you are leading us—slowly, gently, and for our own good—exactly where we are meant to go.
It was my spiritual director who first introduced me to the phrase new normal which has since become quite common in the days of COVID-19. At the time I learned this phrase, my Dad was sick, the situation was changing by the day, and my spiritual director shared a piece of wisdom with me: clinging to the past with no regard to where we stand in the present, let alone where we will stand in the future, is of little good. This doesn’t mean that we can’t look back fondly on memories and experiences—we should—but sometimes it’s necessary to shift our gaze from what was normal to what is our new normal.
Turn on the news and we’re bound to hear this phrase mentioned. The elimination of handshakes, added temperature screenings before flying or entering large venues, social distancing—these are all changes that are tossed around as potential aspects of our new normal. Inherent to the new normal is grieving the loss of what used to be normal. On a recent podcast, Brené Brown, a research professor and speaker, spoke with David Kessler, an author and expert on death and grief, about how we, as a world, are collectively grieving during COVID-19. Their first premise is that we must name our grief before we can take it on. As we look to a new normal, we will likely find ourselves grieving many of the simple acts we might have taken for granted.
So many of these aspects of our new normal are so far into the future and so uncertain that it might not be fitting for us to focus on them for too long lest we begin to fear for something not even guaranteed for the future. That doesn’t mean that we are not still mourning the loss of our normal and experiencing a new normal every single day. I celebrated my best friend’s birthday last week by sitting 12 feet apart and talking from a distance without even being able to share a hug. For those who have loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes, the difficult and sometimes downright terrifying new normal is not being able to visit them, to comfort them, or to be comforted ourselves. Our new normal might include grieving not being able to go to the store because it’s closed or because we are considered high risk if we contract the virus. In one way or another, we are all facing a new normal, but we must fight the urge to compare whose new normal is worse or more challenging.
The necessity to find a new normal isn’t new in itself. After 9/11, we were also forced into a new normal. The same occurred after World War I, World War II, the Spanish Flu, The French Revolution, and the Great Plague which all forced society to adopt a “new normal”. A new normal, however, doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The printing press, the steam engine, and the discovery of penicillin all created a new normal that we are thankful for.
Of course, the greatest events which created a new normal were the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Think of the Apostles, such as James and John, who were called from a fishing boat to follow Jesus. Their entire conception of normal changed forever in that instance. As our Lord hung from the Cross on Good Friday, the world (especially that of the disciples) faced a new normal. How dejected afterwards were the two on the Road to Emmaus with their new normal, one that seemed to go on without the man they had come to know as the Messiah? Then of course, Jesus rose on the third day; He had defeated sin and death, and an eternal new normal was ushered into the world. That is the new normal which we can turn to in every moment when our lives are forced into a new normal we may not have asked for.
Jesus Christ, God made flesh, He who was and is and is to come, gave all of creation a new normal which rings eternal. Nothing that happens in our world can change what He did for us in His life, death, and Resurrection. We are faced with a constantly changing new normal and we have to name our grief and understand that some of what we once knew is no longer our normal. In doing so, may we always be rooted in Christ who stands above the chaos as the rock of our salvation.
Last week, one of my good friends sent me a funny video of a six-year-old girl who was upset at not being allowed to go to the pub. Her father manages a local Irish women’s soccer team that her aunts play on, and they were going to the pub for their Christmas party. The little girl, who feels like the team’s mascot according to the video, wanted to celebrate with her family. After laughing and laughing at the little girl’s arguments, I realized that the impulse to share something that brings such joy is a way the Holy Spirit can work through us, bringing us together even now.
After watching the video, I started thinking about how this little girl's sense of injustice is instructive for us, too, on a deeper level.
In the video, she feels deprived from good times and togetherness.; denied celebration with loved ones; frustrated at restrictions that make no sense to her; and not allowed to make her own choices. Her every plea meets with rejection and her whole world feels wrong. Could this be how many of us are feeling today as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? Are we feeling isolated, lonely, trapped, or frustrated? Do we feel unheard or rejected by God?
What stark contrast we experience right now between this inner despair or frustration and the emergence of spring all around us.
Spring arrives nonetheless, unaltered in its processes. I think too of how Christmas still came to Whoovile in "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"--still it "came without packages, boxes, or bags!" In the movie, Christmas comes in spite of great deprivation and loss, in spite of so many unmet expectations and plans ruined, in spite of the Whos' demonstrated vulnerability. They responded by joining hands and refusing to deny the cause for celebration that they still knew inside of them, something no one or no thing could take away.
We can't literally join hands right now (well, we shouldn't!) but we absolutely can remember that God has always been in control, and will always be in control, of all creation. We can remind ourselves this Easter season that His unbounded love for us remains our source of life here and our destination eternally. We can practice countering the appearance of threats with choosing to believe God walks with us and accompanies us in the midst of our suffering. We can accept His reality as our truth and in those moments that we do, we'll know in our hearts that all will be well. We can dare to trust in the power of the resurrection—the grace and new life that Christ wants to bring into our lives even today.
I'm grateful to be hanging in here with all of you. We're stronger than we know, especially when united in prayer. Although I'd be quite content not to take on any more strength training at the moment, I know that the trust I'm developing is a higher good. I hope you will find that sense as well. May we continue on in hope, inviting the life of the Resurrected Christ to flourish in our hearts and homes
Donna Green resides in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you are for him?” Ps. 8:4
In a time such as this, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, many people are tempted to ask questions: Why is this happening Lord? What will become of me? Have you forsaken us? Do you still care for us? As Catholics, we need only to search the holy scriptures to find our answers.
Isaiah 41:10-13 says “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your hand and says to you, do not fear, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious hand.” In the midst of overwhelming craziness, staring down the face of so many unknowns, this verse gives me such comfort! I read it and remember the Israelites wandering in the desert for a very long time, not knowing how or when they were going to be delivered to the Promised Land, and it puts this situation in better perspective. From history, these people were fed and their needs provided for because God promised He would help them. I do not need to know when this specific disease will be eliminated. I do not need to know how long my ‘normal life’ will be turned upside down. I do not need to worry if my basic needs will be provided for. I have a promise from the Almighty. His promise is unbreakable and everlasting.
So where does my anxiety come from? It comes from not leaning on His strength, not trusting in His provision, not resting in His perfect love. I need to spend my time praising and thanking Him for the fact that He cares about every minute detail of my life and has told me He will not abandon me – unequivocally! Upon my rising, I must choose to be grateful for another day to live in service of my husband, my children, and my neighbors. When I begin in gratitude, I can step forward into the day with all it’s uncertainties and live in peace, not in fear. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
When I recall that God cares for each of us with a love that is perfect, this knowledge begins to settle in my heart and permeates my soul. It is an act of surrender – to cast my human weaknesses on Him and go about the duties of my day with a disposition of peace and hope. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the spirit God gives us does not make us timid, but gives us peace, love and self-discipline.” This applies to all of us – not just the people in Ephesus a couple thousand years ago! God’s love is timeless, limitless, and eternal. It is beyond our human comprehension. It requires us to choose to believe and experience Christ’s love within us. You see, we have more important things to be doing than spending our time questioning, worrying, wondering, lamenting, and fearing. He reassures us over and over that He is near, is helping us, and is carrying us.
We have evidence of His care for us in the many selfless people on the front lines serving our medical needs, manning our stores, and delivering our supplies. They are God’s love made manifest in this crisis. It is our choice to decide that we will believe this and trust moment by moment that His promise is true and secure. We don’t have to fully understand it – because we won’t – but in order to live in serenity with a calm mind, we must choose to walk in complete belief. We can accomplish this amidst great trial, because He is our helper and our strength, our strong tower.
As we live in the disposition of faith that God will care for us in all circumstances, we can reach out to those around us and share this magnificent gift. We can be His hands, His voice, or His smile to quell the fear in another. This is our call as Christians – to wholeheartedly believe and to unconditionally share it with everyone. It seems so simple. And it is – when we devote ourselves to prayer and fasting and Scripture reading.
We are afforded so many wonderful ways to do these. We have our Bibles in book form, on our tablets and phones. We can stream Masses being offered in churches all over the world right from our couches. There are numerous holy men and women who speak and write about God’s promises that we can listen to or read. In our progressive digital age, it is amazingly easy to immerse ourselves in material that will strengthen our belief and encourage us in the truth of God’s care for us. How fortunate we are! We can go about our days, in the middle of great strife, with confidence that God is mindful of us, each and every one of us. “Whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
Still, because I am just a mere mortal with lots of frailties that can derail me from the Godly path, I keep reminders on the walls of my home to keep me focused on this truth. A wooden sign that reads ‘Expect a Miracle’ hangs in my family room. The Good Shepherd cradling a sheep hangs in my dining room. Pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary hang over my bed. The face of Jesus hangs in my living room. Crucifixes hang in every room. These are my personal visual reminders of the love of God that help me keep my eyes on Him, my heart comforted, and my mind at peace. I recommend everyone find tangible ways to stay connected to this truth so that we can be disposed to share it with others. It is when I live from this mindset that I can sing with total confidence that it is well, it is well with my soul!
“Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must BELIEVE and not doubt.” James 1:1-8
Who are we that God cares for us? We are His. He thought us into being because He is love and He wants to share His love with us for time and eternity. That is a comfort and a confidence I can rest in! This is the Savior who is mindful of me. Thank you, Lord! Continue to shower me with the grace to walk steadfast in my belief. No matter the trials or circumstances, God is with us and all will be well.
Like most of you, my family and I have been in quarantine. When El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele first announced the prospect of a quarantine—before there were any confirmed cases here—our family decided that it would be best to practice physical distancing right away. The public hospital system here in El Salvador is precarious under normal circumstances, and once the virus is at its peak, it won’t matter how much money you have. If you require a hospital bed, you will go where there is one available.
The national convention center in San Salvador is being converted into a 3,000-bed hospital, with 1,000 of those beds designated for intensive-care patients. Our best bet for surviving this pandemic is to stay home and find ways to continue our relationships with the people at our ministries without being physically present—a challenge, but also an opportunity.
My ministry, the women’s cooperative ACOMUJERZA, has come to a screeching halt. We were in the middle of a huge order for the Education Ministry of El Salvador. We are sewing over 3,000 school uniforms as part of a government-funded program. This order is the biggest we have ever been contracted to make, and frankly before this pandemic our members were scrambling to figure out how we were going to sew more than 3,000 pieces in 60 days and how we were going to pay everyone to make all of those uniforms.
ACOMUJERZA applied for a loan from a non-governmental organization that has helped us in the past. We received the preliminary approval for the loan, but with all of the economic uncertainty, the NGO froze all lending for the foreseeable future. ACOMUJERZA members packed up all of the finished uniforms and prepared the building for the beginning of a nationwide mandatory quarantine on Saturday, March 21.
There is so much uncertainty, and yet when I talk to each of our members, they remain positive. The government has promised a government grant of $300 a month to unsalaried workers—those most in need, which applies to some of our members—but that money has not been distributed yet. With 12 days into our quarantine, I worry about how my friends at the cooperative are surviving and if they have enough food to eat.
I spoke with my friend Juanita from the women’s cooperative the other day. She told me that, when she first went home after the president declared quarantine, all she wanted to do was cry. She felt depressed and sad to not be able to go to work and she felt a loss of her freedom. But after a few days, she pulled herself out of her sadness, and she told me about all of the things that she and her daughter decided to do during the mandatory quarantine. They already painted a few rooms in their house, got rid of old clothes, sewed masks and spent time tending to her garden.
“Now the time just seems to be going by quickly, thanks be to God.” she said to me during our last phone call. We chatted a bit longer and before getting off the phone, she reminded me that “we are all called to do our part and, for now, our part is staying at home.”
While checking over my daughter Evey’s daily journal assignment for school, I realized just how I am doing my part. She was assigned to write about what she liked and didn’t like about being homeschooled during the quarantine. She wrote, “I like homeschooling because it is fun and I get to do more fun stuff with my mom.”
Maybe “doing my part” is keeping spirits up among the members of the cooperative, sharing my gifts and talents with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, spending more time with my children and modeling for them how to adjust to an ever-changing reality
This blog post was re-published with permission from Maryknoll Lay Missioners. To learn more about their work and mission, please click here.
To learn about other faith-based service opportunities, please click here.
I would like to begin this monthly recollection talk by stating the reason why I was chosen as the preacher. Owing to the current situation of the Coronavirus pandemic, the preacher chosen for this monthly retreat, Fr. Louis Caruna SJ, Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome), was unable to come. Incidentally, two weeks ago, I had written - in Polish - an article on Pallotti's commitment during the cholera epidemic in Rome in 1837. The rector of our community had obviously seen it, and had probably read it, so he asked me to develop it a bit more and then deliver it for the recollection. Thus, I now stand as the ‘extra cog’ – a cog as significant as the real cog for any machine, even for the machine called ‘the community.’
The following four texts served as the main sources for my reflection. They are: Francesco Todisco, San Vincenzo Pallotti: Profeta della Spiritualità di Comunione; Francesco Amoroso, San Vincenzo Pallotti: Romano; the ancient but the excellent Dizionario di Erudizione Storico-Ecclesiastica by Gaetano Moroni; and the letters of Pallotti.
The 1830’s, especially the years between 1835 and 1837, were years of great suffering for Europe because of the cholera epidemic, which was then known as the ‘Asian epidemic’ because it had originally come from India (part of today’s Iraq).
In previous centuries, epidemics spread from city to city starting from port cities such as Civitavecchia, Genoa and Naples. The cholera epidemic began differently when it reached some Baltic countries, such as Poland, as early as 1831. Then in 1832 the epidemic reached England; in 1833 it was brought to Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands. It then spread to France in 1835. As the epidemic was spreading, it left behind a long trail of death (Moroni, 233-243).
The spread of the disease was quick. In Italy, the first epidemic deaths occurred on September 13th, 1835. As a preventive measure to preserve the Eternal City from the disease, Pope Gregory XVI ordered, without any delay, the exposition of the most distinguished Christian relics for the common veneration in the churches where they were present. Here I want to specify the relics considered to be important for common veneration both in times of solemn and difficult occasions in 19th century Rome. These details are taken from Moroni’s book (Dizionario di Erudizione Storico-Ecclesiastica). They were:
· The skulls of the apostles Peter and Paul in the Lateran Basilica;
· The holy face of Veronica and the finger of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica;
· The body of St. Pius V in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major;
· The Wood of the Cross and the Thorn of the Crown in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem;
· The scourging pillar in the minor Basilica of St. Praxedes (Basilica di San Prassede);
· Two celebrated crucifixes – one in St. Lawrence in Damaso (a minor basilica) and the other in the church of St. Marcello al Corso;
· The imprisonment chains of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains;
· The arm of St. Roch, the protector against the plague in the church of St. Roch in Lungotevere, Ripetta;
· The arm of St. Francis Xavier in the church of Gesù (the mother church of the Society of Jesus);
· The bones of St. Sebastian in the minor basilica of St. Andrew of the Valley (San Andrea della Valle).
Pope Gregory XVI also ordered the celebration of an extraordinary novena to be held from August 6th-15th, 1835 in all the fifteen churches dedicated to Mary [in Rome] in preparation for the feast of the Assumption of Mary,
By July 31st, 1835 the Cardinal Vicar Odescalchi had published a decree L’invito Sacro (The Holy Call), which was fixed on the doors of all the churches. However, this document does not have much in common with the decrees issued by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis (also posted on church doors) on March 8th, 12th, and 13th, 2020. The decree signed by Cardinal Odescalchi reveals the 19th century mentality regarding the epidemic. I will cite a few lines:
A fatal disease, which for the obscurity of its origin, for the extravagance of its progress, for the uncertainty of its attacks, appears for the believers, to have the features and signs of a scourge. Will Rome be immune from it (dispensed from it)? Oh! Romans, do not delude yourselves! Yes, Rome has failed its duty. The Holy Name of God is trampled on; feasts and solemnities are desecrated, and with what an insolence the vice roams the streets of the Holy City! So if Rome has failed its duty, it must again be scourged. Oh! Unhappy Rome, only with MARY covering the city with her mantle, the arm of the Angel of End Times that is waiting to empty the poisonous cup on the poor guilty children, can be held back. So, let us all turn to MARY.
Cardinal Vicar Odescalchi had some concrete proposals. On the positive side, there was the announcement of an extraordinary novena for the occasion of the feast of the Assumption of Mary in all the fifteen churches dedicated to her. On the negative side, many public gatherings were also forbidden. Specifically, during the period of the novena, taverns, places selling alcohol and most other places of entertainment were all closed. The one exemption was coffee shops. The great Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachhino Belli composed numerous sonnets expecting to exorcise the city of the impending arrival of the virus. Some of the letters of Pallotti from this period of time reveal that he was committed to promoting the initiatives announced by Cardinal Odescalchi.
Another preventive and interesting initiative started by Pope Gregory XVI was the procession with the icon of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani - that is "Salvation of the Roman People" (some translate as "Protector of the Roman People"). In fact, the pope had ordered that on September 8th, 1835 the icon of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani should be carried in procession from the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) to the Vatican Basilica (San Pietro). This is the famous icon, the icon par excellence of Rome (The icon of the Eternal City), that Pope Francis kneels in front of as he starts and ends each of his apostolic journeys. The icon Salus Populi Romani has a very close connection to the history of the Eternal City and the Supreme Pontiffs. It is believed to have been painted by the St. Luke the Evangelist and it was seen as the reason for victory against epidemics and plagues as well as the reason for many other miracles.
Il Diario di Roma, a periodical of the time, explained that the pope had ordered the procession to “assure the souls of the powerful protection of the great Mother of God who regards with delightful eyes this Seat of Christianity [Rome].” Unfortunately, the procession in which the pope walked barefoot was accompanied by such bad weather that this icon of the Virgin Mary was forced to stay for eight days in the New Church (Chiesa Nuova also known as Santa Maria in Vallicella). The return journey of the icon from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Basilica of St. Mary Major was also disrupted by bad weather. In its return journey, the icon Salus Populi Romani had to stay for a long period of time in the Church of Gesù. It finally reached the Basilica of St. Mary Major on September 30th, 1835.
The Spread of the Epidemic: The Report of the Physicians, Newspapers and the Church:
In Rome, the medical practitioners exhorted people not to be afraid and not to worry. They also forbade the public from talking about deaths and burials, believing as if optimism and joy fortified people against the attacks of cholera. In addition, the medical practitioners urged people to keep their homes very clean. The General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Jan Roothaan (whom Pallotti knew very well), had personally vowed to celebrate the feast of The Immaculate Heart of Mary every year if the Jesuits in Rome who had given themselves generously for the care of the sick and were in the frontline fighting the contagion, were spared from the disease.
Despite all these attempts, by July 1837 the fear of the epidemic had penetrated all social levels. On July 5th Fr. Vincent Pallotti began a Triduum of prayers with a particular intention seeking favors for the people of Naples, the port city where the epidemic had already penetrated. In the Triduum, Pallotti also blessed the food eaten by infected people so that they may be protected by God.
On July 29th, Il Diario di Roma launched an attack on its front page on people who were spreading news about the cholera epidemic. It declared itself the right authority on the news pertaining to the spread of the epidemic and said: “[We] deny completely the ill-founded rumor already spread in Rome, that some individuals in the Capital had contracted the Asian cholera.”
But the people knew better. They gave little credit to the journals. They knew very well that the newspapers and journals only intended to avoid panic in the city. On August 6th, 1837, the icon of the Virgin (Salus Populi Romani) was again brought in procession to the Church of Gesù. This event was recorded by Il Diario di Roma. According to the report, a squad of soldiers on horseback went before the procession and the procession itself was led by the pupils of the Apostolic Homes and Orphanages. Following them were members of the clergy with candles or torches. The clergy also took turns reciting the rosary. Next in the procession was the icon surrounded by some Jesuits. Everyone else was shut off by the Swiss Guards. The procession went around Via Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale. Pope Gregory XVI, the College of Cardinals and the senator of Rome (Prince Orsini – Duke Domenico) joined in the procession as it reached Via del Quirinale. Together, the procession moved slowly towards the Church of Gesù where the Madonna was received by the General and members of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus. The litanies were then sung, and the pope concluded the procession with the final blessing.
On August 15th, a grand procession was organized from the Church of Gesù to bring the image of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani back to the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore). Acting on the exhortation of the Cardinal Vicar, Fr. Vincent Pallotti workedt to organize a sizable group of clergymen who would walk barefoot with him in the procession. The group started its journey from the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans located in Via Giulia.
To organize this group of religious and diocesan clergy, Pallotti made the best use of all his acquaintances. Pallotti wrote to Fr. Efisio Marghinotti, one of his friends and collaborators: “I ask you humbly, if possible, to inform many clergy of tomorrow’s barefoot procession. Also inform the Abbot Bianchini that even if he could not walk barefoot he could at least direct [the procession]. Tell everyone to get at least twelve others or more [for the procession]. We meet in the Church of the Holy Spirit.” (OCL II, p. 199)
In spite of the efforts, the situation in Rome was not good. It is said that fear is the mother of all excesses. This was proved right. On the evening of August 14th, an English Language teacher was killed by a crowd of people near Piazza del Campid’oglio because the victim was believed to be an "anointer" who spread the disease by anointing people and things.
The optimism advised by the medical experts was not of much use. Neither could the prayers contain the natural course of the epidemic! Finally, on August 19th, 1837 Il Diario di Roma admitted what was already evident. It said that according to the opinions of the medical doctors, the Asian Cholera had entered Rome.
By the beginning of September, the Count Antonio Maria Plebani, who was residing in the region of Marche but whose son was studying in Rome, had already sent a letter filled with grievances to Pallotti. In the letter, he affirmed that there were reasons to worry this time: “cholera, earthquakes, wars, hunger …” Fr. Vincent Pallotti replied saying: “Let us seek God. Let us seek Him always and in all things. And we will find Him and in Him we will all be saved.” (OCL II, p. 206)
Meanwhile, in the same period of time, Giovanni Marchetti, a married lay person and a collaborator of Pallotti from Gubbio, wrote to Pallotti asking how he could escape the epidemic. Pallotti replied advising him not to escape from God, but to look for a way to not merit punishment of God. Pallotti wrote: “Hold firm to the maxim that there is no escaping from the Divine scourge. In order to not deserve it, it is better to attend to one’s proper duties.” (OCL II, p. 208)
Pallotti’s Response to Cholera:
Let us now look at the response of Pallotti to the cholera epidemic. Inside the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitansthere is a plaque with an inscription bearing the works undertaken by Pallotti as the rector of the church. The inscription reads: “From 1835 to 1846, St. Vincent Pallotti, the Roman priest, was the rector of this Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans:
· He founded the Union of the Catholic Apostolate.
· He founded a College for the Foreign Missions.
· He celebrated the First Epiphany Octave.
· He celebrated the Marian Month of May for the clergy and the faithful.
· He animated the spiritual conference of the clergy.
· During the cholera epidemic of 1837, the people of Rome recognized in him a holy priest and in his work ‘an apostolate of charity’.
In fact, during the cholera epidemic, the action of the clergy in general was exemplary. Pope Gregory XVI, who himself was old, made visits to hospitals, thus setting an example for the clergy. We should not be surprised, therefore, that during the epidemic, the charity of Fr. Vincent Pallotti and the members of the Union emerged in a special way to assist the needy in every part of the city. Already by August 19th, Pallotti requested the ministerial faculties for the forgiveness of reserved sins for his collaborators Melia and Michettoni. He asked for them in order: “to satisfy the multitude of penitents, who in the current circumstances approach the Holy Tribunal of penance in the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans.” (OCL II, pp.200/201)
Fr. Vincent Pallotti was fully committed – among many things - to assisting the sick and helping their families and also spending many hours in the confessional. Sr. Maria Colomba (a future Pallottine Sister) testified in this regard: "Several times I have seen him [Pallotti] in surplice and stole following the hearse that carried the dead." Here is another example: shortly after the end of the epidemic, Pallotti wrote to Mr. Cassini Tommaso apologizing that he was not able to visit a certain prisoner. Mr. Cassini Tommaso had asked Pallotti to visit the prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo (The Mausoleum of Hadrian). Pallotti could not visit the prisoner because of the other works necessitated by the epidemic. “When at last I went – writes Pallotti – the person was no longer there.” (OCL II, p.234)
In order to respond to the numerous appeals that Pallotti received, he divided the city into sectors, and entrusted the sectors to the members of the Union of the Catholic Apostolate. He wrote shortly after: "In the time of cholera, The Pious Society placed a small box at the entrance of the sacristy of the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans. And it was accessible to all the poor. It was enough that the poor person wrote in a small piece of paper the name, the surname, the place of residence, the name of the parish, and the person’s need and placed it in the box. Then, two by two, the priests went to the place of the poor and cared for their needs.” (OOCC V, 139/140)
The members of the Union sought to help according to the need of the place or person; some helped with clothing and others with coupons for bread and meat; some helped bring lemons to cholera patients since lemons were then considered to be the most suitable medicine for cholera. Pallotti had noted this: “The priests of the Pious Society, night and day, went to the assistance of the cholera patients. The distribution of coupons for bread and meat had been a practice since the beginning of the Union in 1835, and continues even to this day.” (OOCC V, 139-140)
At last, on October 12th, the epidemic had been contained and it was declared that the epidemic had been defeated. Rome alone reported 5,419 deaths out of the population of 156,000. Among the deaths were some people who were very close to Fr. Vincent Pallotti. One such person, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, died of cholera on June 9th, 1837. In spite of her popularity, many medical doctors did not participate in her burial. They did so in order not to infect other people with the disease. In a letter written on June 9th, 1837, Fr. Vincent Pallotti communicated the following to Fr. Felice Randanini in Vienna: “In Rome, yesterday died in secret a great Servant of God, who had been showered with many extraordinary gifts.” (OCL II, p.183)
The father of Pallotti, Peter Paul Pallotti, passed away on September 15th. He had gone to the New Church (Chiesa Nuova) to pray. There, he collapsed on the ground in front of the altar of St. Philip Neri. He was immediately rushed to his home. Even before Fr. Vincent Pallotti could arrive, he died. That same day, Fr. Pallotti dispatched three letters asking for suffrages in favor of his father "to whom I owe so much" (OCL II, 206/207)
As the year 1837 ended, two other deaths marked the life of Fr. Vincent Pallotti. First was the death of Fr. Bernardino Fazzini, Pallotti’s confessor for thirty years, on December 25th (Christmas Day). Second was the death of Fr. Gaspar del Bufalo, Pallotti’s friend and collaborator, and the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood on December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
A few days later, in a letter to Randanini, the Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Vienna, Pallotti wrote: “Today, it has been nine days since the death of the great missionary and the canon Fr. del Bufalo, and twelve days since the death of the Chaplain of the Apostolic Hospice of St. Michael a Ripa [Fr. Fazzini]. Two great saints! Pray for me that I may gain from the examples, advices, and exhortations that they gave me with their lives.” (OCL II, 232/233)
The Conclusion: The Monthly Retreat – Preparation for the Good Death:
And finally, I would like to highlight a theme: the preparation for death. How many of you, today, ask yourselves about the purposes of a monthly retreat? When you do that, you will find that a monthly retreat is:
· A nutritious aliment for prayer
· A renewed self-dedication to God
· A perfect and generous push into the apostolate
· A growth in fraternal love
They are all true and right, but traditionally, the monthly retreat had also been thought to be, among many other things, an exercise in preparation for death. Pallotti also speaks of it in the Rule of our Congregation. In other words, we can say that the objective of a monthly retreat is to prepare our mind and heart to face death, the undeniable reality! Firstly, we need to acknowledge it! Not just acknowledge, but we also need to overcome the fear of death. Thus, when death approaches, we will be better equipped to face it. Besides, acknowledging death would help us to appreciate our daily living by providing it with more meaning and richness. We give two examples.
The First Example:
It is taken from a letter written by Pallotti to a lay person, Luigi Nicoletti. Nicoletti was two years younger than Pallotti and like Pallotti, a Roman. But Pallotti had high respect for Nicoletti. Nicoletti died in 1851, just a year after St. Vincent Pallotti’s death. On September 20th, 1822 during his stay in Monte Compatri with the Carmelites, Pallotti had addressed a letter to Nicoletti. I now cite a large passage from the same letter:
Yesterday, as the sun was about to set, the Spirit by the infinite Mercy of God led me on a high solitary mountain [probably the 773 meter high Monte Salomone [a mountain] that is located along the road that leads from the town of Monte Compatri to the town of Rocca Priora]. Isolated from human association, looking towards heaven, I lost myself in prayer. And as I prayed, I remembered you distinctly. In fact, God had shown me that you had not gained much from the letter that you received last year from the well-known, caring and considerate Jesuit. From the letter, it was quite frightening to know that your death was close. But it was not God’s intention that you always had the thought of death on your mind so that you lived every day as the day of your death. I humbly ask you, with my face on the ground, to promise me not to spend any day without having at least for a few moments meditated on the great Principle of Death. Do not believe that this means that your passage to Eternity is near, but I say this, so that by responding to the grace of God, you will increasingly enrich yourself with the merits for Eternity. (OCL I, pp.155/156)
The Second Example:
As the cholera epidemic was spreading, the anxious and apprehensive Fr. Felice Randanini, the Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Vienna, wrote to Pallotti several times. He felt that he had contracted the disease (cholera). But Fr. Vincent Pallotti reassured him writing: “Look for cholera as much as you want, but you will not be able to find it because it is not for you.” (OCL II, p.139) The other times when the young secretary was caught up in fear, Pallotti eased his fear by foretelling that he would see the secretary again in Rome. Pallotti wrote: “About the fear of your death, I tell you: I wait for you in Rome.” (OCL II, p.138). Pallotti wrote another time: “Be calm: cholera will not find you.” (OCL II, p.140) The secretary, accustomed more to the diplomatic language and less to the prophetic language, wondered at the certainty with which Pallotti had spoken. Once the immediate danger was over, Pallotti asked him to humble himself and to seek forgiveness for his fears and his weaknesses in the time of distress. Pallotti wrote: “Always and in every situation, you must live and should be able to say with that spirit and with that firm belief with which the Apostle Paul said: Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord. Pray that the Lord grants me the same grace even though I am not worthy of it.” (OCL II, p.143)
You, [dear friends] certainly remember these famous sayings of Pallotti: “Time is precious, short, and it never comes back. I would like that time is given a high regard. I would like to insert in the faithful the highest regard for the time.” (OOCC X, 594); “Time is precious, short and irretrievable. I would like that with the grace of God I made good use of the time like a person who had come back to life from death used it to redeem the past.” (OOCC X, 553)
Dear confreres, the reactions in the face of death are varied and diverse. Some confuse awe with fear as Cardinal Ravasi said very recently, “and this is the most serious mistake one is likely to commit in this time of Coronavirus”. We need to distinguish between the fear and the awe in the presence of the Lord (‘Fear of God’). What is the difference between fear and ‘Fear of the Lord’? We can very well say that fear and ‘Fear of the Lord’ are not synonyms. “The thing I fear most is fear,” said the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne. He also defined fear as the ‘bad advisor.’ ‘Fear of the Lord’ on the other hand is ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Prov 1:7). “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Ps 34:11) To describe the success of the early Church, St. Luke writes in The Acts of the Apostles: “The church had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31). In fact, ‘Fear of the Lord’ actually brings about peace. And the paradox goes even further – ‘Fear of the Lord’ exists along with love. We read similarly in the Book of Deuteronomy: “So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart with all your soul.” (Deut 10:12) Fear, on the other hand, cannot be interwoven with love. Thus writes the Apostle John in his first epistle: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment…” (1 John 4:18) On the contrary, ‘fearful respect’ for God is the source of great trust and thus wins over the fear.
It is now up to you (up to all of us) to allow this teaching to transform each one of us personally and to transform the life of the community.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
For more resources on the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
1. Have Trust in the Lord:
In every situation, Pallotti sought the will of God. Any difficult situation should not discourage us to doubt the goodness of God. That is why when Count Antonio Maria Plebani (who was staying in the region of Marche), wrote with a heavy heart about the safety of his son who was studying in Rome, Pallotti responded saying: “Let us seek God. Let us seek Him always and in all the things. And we will find Him and in Him we will all be saved.”
It was the time of the cholera epidemic. The suffering was visible for everyone to see. People - the saints and the ordinary, the churchmen and the lay people – died in large numbers. Pallotti’s close acquaintances – his father, his confessor, his friends, and associates - died during the epidemic. Pallotti did not lose heart or faith. He held himself like a strong tree with a firm foundation that fails to bow down to the strong wind of suffering.
The situation is not different today. There is suffering everywhere. The invisible virus seems to be all-powerful. People, even people we know, suffer and die. We especially remember our confrere Fr. Alberto Fernandez Merayo, SAC (Heart of Jesus Province) who died of the deadly Coronavirus on April 7th, 2020. Some of our members in Poland (Oltarzew) have tested positive for the virus. These incidents can shake the foundations of our faith. God seems to be silent or absent. Our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.
It is the same for lay people. People look for God and they cannot seem to find Him! When they seek answers from us, the clergy, it is difficult to try and have answers for them. In spite of everything, it is very necessary that we, especially the priests and religious, stand as solid believers believing in the goodness of the Lord. In the time of Pallotti, there was the exemplary Pope Gregory XVI. Today we have Pope Francis doing the same. He sends out the message of a pastor who is truly concerned for the faithful and who continues to battle for them with his prayers. His actions have indeed strengthened the Catholic faithful all over the world.
A man of God standing firm in faith—even in the most difficult times—is the most powerful symbol. Pallotti was one such symbol for the people who sought his advice in the most difficult times of the cholera epidemic.
2. ‘Do your Duties’:
Our first necessary act is to be faithful and to stand firm in our beliefs. Faith alone does not suffice. “Faith without works is dead” writes the Apostle James (Jas 2:14-17). In a letter written to Giovanni Merchetti, a married lay person and a collaborator of Pallotti, we find the following advice: “it is better to attend to one’s proper duties [in the time of the epidemic].” Pallotti seems to be a believer in the battle cry: ‘Stop whining. Start working.’ Every person is supposed to do his or her duty in all situations, especially in the difficult times.
The fear of sickness can limit us with inaction. Life under lockdown can also eventually result in lethargy. However, we should not allow our spirit to be burdened. Life under lockdown amidst the sickness should not be an excuse. We are supposed to be doing our duties to the best of our ability with the limits in place. In this regard, some great examples in these times are medical doctors, selfless nurses, the numerous pharmacists, generous healthcare workers, the committed members of the staff in hospitals, the police force, the proprietors of various shops selling the necessary food, the unknown truck drivers, the service minded priests and the other Church personnel. They were acknowledged by our beloved Pope Francis when he delivered the extraordinary blessings ‘To the City and to the World’ (Urbi et Orbi) on March 27th, 2020.
The world will move on and there will be hope if everyone does his or her duty. Pallotti was very much aware of this simple but a significant fact. Because of Pallotti’s hope, one of his advices for the time of epidemic was ‘to do one’s duties.’
3. Acts of Mercy:
The next area in which Pallotti directed his actions in difficult times like the cholera epidemic was to be sensitive to the needs of his neighbors. To be charitable is good, and to be charitable in the time of epidemic is better. It is best when the beneficiary can in no way repay you. Pallotti was an exemplary figure in that sense. He engaged both in the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
Spiritual Works of Mercy:
As the epidemic was ravaging Rome and wreaking havoc on the physical and spiritual lives of people, Pallotti wasted no opportunity to restore and strengthen the faith of the people. To the people who sought his counsel, he reassured them that God was still in control. It was praiseworthy that people sought the will of God in everything, including in the rough times of the epidemic. To the Apostolic Secretary in Vienna, who was very anxious for his life, Pallotti assured him that he would come out of the scourge untouched. Later, when he was proved right, Pallotti wrote to the secretary to ask for pardon and forgiveness from the Lord for the moments he was doubtful and weak in his faith. That was Pallotti’s way of counseling the doubtful and strengthening the feeble minded. The people who received the instructions of Pallotti were struck by the certainty with which he pronounced his teachings.
Pallotti was also on the forefront of praying for the suffering people. When the Church organized a novena in honor of Our Lady and when it decided on a barefoot procession with the icon of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani, Pallotti plunged himself completely into prayerful ministries. For instance, Pallotti organized a Triduum in the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans with a special intention to procure the necessary graces for the people infected with cholera. On another occasion, for the votive procession organized by the Church, Pallotti tried to get as many clergy as possible to participate in the procession. That was Pallotti’s service through prayer.
Pallotti also spent a lot of time in the confessional hearing the sins of the faithful, and he encouraged his fellow clergy to do the same. In the extraordinary time of the epidemic, Pallotti requested the ministerial faculties for reserved sins for his collaborators (Frs. Melia and Michettoni). That was the comforting ministry of Pallotti in the time of the epidemic.
Corporal Acts of Mercy:
Pallotti also had the foresight to know that the spread of the epidemic would cause many people to lose their jobs and cause financial stress on many families paying for necessities and medical expenses. This would eventually result in a great increase in the number of the poor. Pallotti had an innovative idea to help such people in need. He placed a small box in the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans (where Pallotti was the Rector). It was a box in which people in need could drop a piece of paper with their names, surnames, the place of their residence, their parish and their particular pressing need. Later the members of the Union were sent two by two with the relief materials to the homes of the people in need. Even before the arrival of the epidemic in Rome, when cholera was already present in the port city of Naples, Pallotti had sent bread to the affected people there. Thus, we learn that Pallotti fed the hungry when they most needed food.
Besides carrying food for the needy, Pallotti and the members of the Union also attended to their other needs. They carried clothing to whoever lacked and asked for it (clothing the naked). They distributed lemons, which were thought to be a powerful medicine against the cholera outbreak, to the sickly. Pallotti asked his collaborators to assist the sick in their suffering. Additionally, Pallotti was seen on many occasions walking behind a hearse for the dead with his surplice and stole (burying the dead).
Today, we are called to emulate the example of St. Vincent Pallotti. If an act of charity is possible, it should be done. Everyone is called to respond to the call of charity. There is no excuse for anyone. If a person is old or sick in bed, he or she can certainly pray for all of suffering humanity and they can offer his or her suffering as mortification for the world’s sins. If a person is young and active, he or she should participate in as many of the works of mercy as possible. A priest can very well say votive masses for the end of the epidemic. A religious or lay associate can dedicate him or herself to pray for the sick and the suffering and for the medical professionals who fight the deadly virus.
The priests and religious are to stay with the flock -- if and when possible, they should be easily available to assist the sick and the dying. Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli (72), a priest from the Diocese of Bergamo, is a great example of Christian service and witness. He gave up his ventilator so that a young patient could recover. Many other priests and religious have served the sick and the dying and eventually fell victim to the virus. The Church and its dedicated personnel have been at the forefront caring for the needs of the people. If Pallotti were alive, he would be walking around in the hospital wards with the necessary protective equipment assisting the sick and the dying. He also would have encouraged the members of the Union to do the same.
If such action is not possible (owing to the nature of the disease and the lack of enough Personal Protective Equipment), the other acts of mercy (corporal acts of mercy) are very much feasible. There are hungry people and abandoned families around us. We need to have compassionate eyes to look at them and listen to their needs to then do what is possible. Some might need immediate nourishment; some might require medicine; some might ask for another form of help. We need to look around and recognize people’s needs and respond. Pallotti responded. As his followers, we need to walk the same path.
As a summation, I would say that if St. Vincent Pallotti were alive today, seeing the ravages of the current pandemic, his exhortation for his followers would have been something in the line of the following: “Do not worry. Pray and have trust in the Lord. Do your duties. And do not forget the acts of mercy.”
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
For more resources on the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
When I made the shift to working from home almost a month ago, I was excited for a change of pace: sleeping in, a 30-second commute from my bed, working in pajamas all day, not packing a lunch. But when it came down to it, I became restless and had trouble settling down. Focusing on work was difficult. Being productive did not come easy, with my mind wandering for much of the workday. I had embraced the idea of a change of pace, but not the realities of what that change really meant.
Prayer, when I remembered to make time for it, was similarly difficult to settle into. It took me some time to realize what was happening, in part because I work in a secular field. Since I don’t spend my workdays in the Church sphere, I don’t have many explicit or subtle reminders that point my day toward God. Meetings don’t begin with a prayer. My daily tasks and conversations with colleagues don’t revolve around Church activities and ministry. I don’t interact with my pastor or bishop over the course of my day. And though I’ve made an effort over the years to weave prayer and reminders of God into my daily life, my routine has been disrupted. So, naturally, my prayer life has gone out the window.
Another piece to mention is that I live alone. Normally, I have a number of social engagements in the evenings and on weekends, often with Catholic friends. Our interactions have a shared Catholic identity baked in and serve as additional reminders of faith. Now that I’ve been largely alone for a month, my days seem to blur together. It's become easy to turn in on my own thoughts and seek out distractions to numb the collective grief we’re all feeling: the loss of normalcy and a sense of security, cancelled plans, and the uncertainty of when we’ll return to some semblance of normal. And in the midst of that, I forgot to pray.
It dawned on me that I’ve been given an opportunity and a challenge: I’ve been thrust into an unchosen solitary monastic existence. I have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to completely re-invent what “normal” looks like for me in almost every way. While I owe the company 8 hours of my day, 5 days a week, everything else is mine to do with as I wish. I have a blank canvas. I don’t have to dress for work, shave, or drive to and from the office. I don’t have a spouse or children to care for, no roommate, and no one to interact with here in my home... except God. If I choose to, I can rebuild “normal” with a different foundation and framework, one centered on God.
But I don’t have to be a full-time hermit in order to do this well. It’s a lesson that came to me in the midst of prayer and reflection during the Paschal Triduum. Something in me tends to go too hard during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, and I feel a need to do as much as I can to enter into the sacrifice of Calvary in solitude. Once the quiet of Holy Saturday came around, though, I realized that in the inner urgency to “do” Holy Week so well on my own, I’d forgotten to “be” in the presence of God. Here I was, waiting for Easter with nothing left to do and no one to do it with. All the prayers and meditations had been said, all the fasting was ended, and all I could do was sit and wait. It was a striking reminder that, oftentimes, we need to just be and make room for God to do some work in our lives.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, in his homily on Easter Sunday, noted how important the concept of time is to the story of our salvation, and that Easter “resets the clocks and calendars of our lives.” It's especially true in these days of being forced to reduce the externals. We have an opportunity and a choice here: to either enter into the quiet and craft something meaningful in our lives, or to just make more noise to drown out the vastness of that quiet.
We’ve been making a lot of noise lately, often without realizing it. Thank God for the recent reminders of the power of the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.” May we all take advantage of this opportunity to hit “reset” and allow God to direct us in those quiet moments. When we re-enter the world in a “new normal”, may we use the lessons from this time of isolation to shape what that normal really ought to look like.
Jay Schaefer is a Professional Engineer in Baltimore, working to maintain and improve the region's transportation infrastructure. He sings in his parish choir and is involved with the Knights of Columbus. Jay is also a former staff member and current collaborator of the Catholic Apostolate Center.