Like many of you, I have been following Pope Francis’ visit rather closely. Undoubtedly, his presence has impacted each of us in different ways, and I am very excited about the words and actions to come in the days ahead. As I sit here in my office with an unusual lull in activity, I am struck by two ideas our Holy Father has articulated, but are getting very little play in the news.
The first idea comes from his address to the U.S. Congress. While highlighting Abraham Lincoln, he emphasized unity, and Lincoln’s great struggle to bring union, freedom, and peace to a divided and war ravaged nation. Francis named the delicate balance of rejecting fundamentalism that threatens these great virtues that Lincoln fought for, while not sacrificing those same liberties in an effort to defeat these threats.
Within that balance, our Pope names the danger of seeing the world in non-negotiable black and white. I am particularly caught by this because I am often far too quick to judge, especially in a political or theological situation. If people don’t think like me, I reject their ideas as closed-minded nonsense. This line of thinking is all too common in our society. 24-hour news channels that cater to particular political views, blogs and podcasts that target niche groups, and seemingly endless gridlock in Washington reiterates to us constantly that dialogue is overrated, and if you don’t agree with me I have no time for you.
Unfortunately, there is a great danger in seeing things in black and white. When we see things in black and white we claim the moral compass; we claim to know what is righteous and what is sin. And when we get trapped in that line of thinking, there is no more room for anyone else in our lives, not even God. We declare our independence from what we view as wrong only to discover that we can no longer discuss and dialogue with those around us. Nothing anyone has to say is worth listening to.
Here is where the Pope’s message strikes deepest. President Lincoln in his first and primary purpose fought the Civil War to preserve the union, to keep these United States from dividing into isolation. Lincoln chose openness and dialogue, and that is where Pope Francis is calling all of us today. For too long I have looked down on those I disagree with thinking they are not as nuanced or educated as I am. Yet God speaks in history, and if I fail to speak with and be open to my sisters and brothers, how can I hear God? How can I grow? And most importantly, how can I live in union as a member of the Church and as a citizen of this country, if I fail to dialogue and work in communion to realize the Kingdom of God and build a more perfect union?
The second chord that struck me came from the address to the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. While watching the reflection, I was unsure what the Pope was going to say, but I was deeply moved by the compassionate urgency he had while addressing the mission of the church in the United States. He acknowledged the heavy workload, the damaging reality of the sexual abuse crisis, and the corrosiveness of secular culture. However, he made very clear that it was in this context that all of us who minister to God’s people are charged with finding some way to evangelize, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciples.
In my new job I am struggling to engage young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. I have a loose plan, and we are having our first event in a few weeks. However, like anything new, I am having doubts about how successful it will be in bringing young adults back to Christ. I went through all of this training and education and I don’t have a sure answer for how to lead people to discipleship. What if no one shows up?
Through that cloud of doubt, there was the Pope speaking to a cathedral full of bishops, but yet also speaking to my fears. Evangelization is the most important work. We must keep trying. We must keep praying, and we must keep going. Only God builds the Church, but we must keep removing barriers and facilitating encounter, so that the seeds of faith may be watered and eventually produce much fruit.
These last few days have already made for an incredible papal visit. The headlines will undoubtedly continue to be filled with the Pope’s stance on particular issues, and on his discussions at the World Meeting of Families. Through all of that, try to listen to the words surrounding the hot buttoned issues because there Francis is not telling us what to believe, he is rather telling us how to live as human beings. Pope Francis, in his straight talk and unassuming persona, has figured out how to remove those barriers to faith, and in his words over the last few days, I can’t help but feel that Christ has spoken directly to me.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on Catholic How and was reprinted with permission
This past spring, Pope Francis went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the motto, “So that they may be one.” On November 12, we celebrate a saint who lived by this motto, St. Josaphat.
St. Josaphat was an Eastern Rite bishop and model of Christian unity. He was martyred in an effort to bring part of the Orthodox Church into union with Rome. He was born John Kunsevich in 1580 to a Catholic family in what is now modern day Ukraine. Clergy who were seeking and supporting reunion with Rome influenced Kunsevich at a young age. This led him to become a Basilian monk and priest. He lived as a preacher and ascetic.
Josaphat was elected bishop of Vitebsk in 1617 and became archbishop of Polotsk in 1618. Through synods, catechesis, reform of the clergy, and personal example, Josaphat influenced the greater part of the Orthodox in the area of Vitebsk to unity. He remained steadfast in his beliefs by opposing Latins who saw unity only in Latin terms. Likewise he suppressed Byzantine traditions in the name of Catholic unity.
An Orthodox archbishop was appointed in Polotsk and Josaphat was accused of taking office invalidly. Many of the Byzantine Catholics were won over to allegiance to Orthodoxy. The Latin bishops of Poland did not support him. In 1623 Josaphat went to Vitebsk to bring peace and preach to churches to reconcile differences. On November 12, a mob broke into the house where he was staying, shouting hatred and violence. He was struck in the head with an axe blade mounted on a long shaft, and shot. His body was thrown into a river after the upheaval.
An article from EWTN writes, “It is important to say that there was a martyr on the Orthodox side as well, and even good men were uncertain where truth and justice lay. St. Josaphat died working for reconciliation, and peacemakers often find themselves hated by both sides.” Four hundred years later Church leaders are supporting the same cause for unity. St. Josaphat did not have all of the answers, but he did know that following Christ and working toward forgiveness and peace were worth the pain of confronting those who hated him. He was canonized by Rome as the first saint of the Eastern Church.
Pope Francis displayed this sentiment in conversations with the Orthodox Church while visiting the Holy Land a year after he spoke about the treasures of Christians. He noted that “we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony.” He shares the convictions of St. Josaphat and the gifts they bear. It is an important reminder of the responsibility we share to promote unity among all Christians.
Sophie Jacobucci is a recent graduate of the Echo Program at Notre Dame and currently lives in Denver, Colorado.
Recently, I joined a Catholic group for young adults in my parish. Once a month we have a group dinner and host a guest speaker to talk informally about certain topics in our Catholic faith. One of the speakers discussed the importance of community prayer, a topic that stuck with me so much so that I wanted to share the message.
First, prayer is essential for our spiritual growth and personal well-being. God does not intend for us to bear our crosses alone. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Being a part of a faith community serves as a support system for us. We rarely like to be alone. Don’t we all crave sharing meals with friends and family? In fact, Jesus shares the source and summit of our faith with us over a community meal. Community strengthens and unites us in our faith. Our community even prays for our intentions at Mass. Therefore, community prayer is another way for us to become closer to God through others.
The communion of saints and angels are also a part of our community. Saints and angels can pray on our behalf, with us and for us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “[the saints’]intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” We are never alone in our prayers. Instead of trying to figure out how to pray for the intercession from every saint, our speaker suggested picking a few we feel really close to and sense a calling toward to ask for prayers on our behalf.
Family prayer is the first place of our prayer education, also mentioned in the Catechism. Prayers over meals, memorizing prayers of the rosary, praying for a good grade on a test, and the list goes on. Our introduction to faith and prayer begins in the community of our home. This is why it is so important to make family prayer a priority.
St. Augustine says, “For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him who he is singing about/to/for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation in the praise of someone who is confessing/acknowledging (God), in the song of the lover (there is) love.”
The Mass, the Liturgy, is the ultimate community prayer. This is one reason why attending Mass is vital to our faith. Liturgical prayer is a public prayer following prescribed ritual intended to unite individuals with God through Christ. We are renewed each week in community prayer by attending and participating in the Mass.
As always, it is necessary to have individual structured prayer time every day. This is something I struggle with and have to continually be reminded of myself. To remember the time to share with God, setting a routine of prayer and remaining disciplined in that routine can help. One of the sisters who taught at the Catholic high school I attended said for us to hide our shoes under our beds so in the morning we kneel to get them and remember to pray! Take some time today to remember to pray, and to look at the different prayer communities in your life!
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
When I was four years old, my parents decided they wanted to put me in some type of pre-school before I entered kindergarten the next year. Being the oldest child, there was no precedent for where to go. My parents spent weeks looking at different preschools and settled on a small Lutheran school just up the street from our house. The appeal was its location and small class size. Knowing they would be enrolling me at the local Catholic school after preschool, my parents were not too concerned about sending me to a Lutheran preschool.
I started my first day in a class with 8 other children. There were seven little boys with a habit of biting, and then one other girl. Naturally, this girl and I became best friends. We really had no other choice. Even though we only went to school together for one year, we remain friends to this day and I look forward to attending her wedding next year. I am her token Catholic friend and she is my token Lutheran friend. We have grown together and share our faiths with each other.
Later this week is the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25) and it has made me think a lot about my “token Lutheran friend.” I remember a conversation we had when we were ten years old, after a friend of hers had asked her why we were still friends since I was Catholic. Sitting in her kitchen, we talked about how to us, it didn’t matter at all. We were defined by more than our individual faiths and united in a shared belief of Christ as the one through whom we can achieve salvation. Today, it surprises me how theologically intense some of our discussions got, even at young ages.
The week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a reminder to all of us that the Christian faith, while made up of many different denominations, is still universal. There are differences that divide the different Christian faiths, but this coming week is a time to focus on the things that unite us. The idea of New Evangelization reminds us as Catholics to share our faith and spread the Gospel. I leave you with this scripture passage, selected as the biblical text for the 2014 Prayer for Christian Unity. St. Paul reminds us that we are all united in our faith in Christ, and I challenge you to use this week as a time to reflect on how we as a Catholic community can grow in faith with our Christian brothers and sisters.
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
Check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s resources on Christian unity here.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
"Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that 'they may all be one' (Jn 17:21). The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the Church could realize 'the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her' We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 244).
Over the nine years that I was at St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, I had the opportunity to participate in and then to host an annual prayer service for Christian Unity. It became a very popular celebration and leaders from various Christian communities participated, including the Archbishop of Baltimore. To me, though, the most important people who participated were the people who went week to week to their faith communities in various parts of Baltimore, but never had the opportunity to pray together with Christians from other communities. Prayer is powerful and to underestimate its power to unite us leaves us lacking in the virtue of hope. Such hope is not naïve, but is based on firm trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin on Saturday, January 18th and conclude on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th. Year after year, Christians are invited to pray that “they may be one.” St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, worked diligently for unity in the Church, using the liturgical Octave of the Epiphany in Rome as a means to unite in prayer members of the Eastern and Western traditions of the Catholic community who were rather disconnected from one another. This celebration was held in the city of Rome from 1836 until 1968. His feast day, on January 22nd, is in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Collaboration of all Christians can lead us toward Pallotti’s vision, hope, and prayer that one day we may be “one fold, under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ” (Cf., Jn 10:16)
Since our mission as the Catholic Apostolate Center is derived from the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti, who fervently prayed for such a day, we invite you to pray not only individually, but draw other Christians together in prayer. Prayer, though, is not the only thing that we can do. We can learn more about what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the needed work for building unity among Christians. We invite you to explore the many resources that we have on our new Christian Unity page. May we also take up the call of the Catholic Church spanning from the time of the Second Vatican Council to the appeal of Pope Francis today:
"The search for unity among Christians is an urgent task... We are well aware that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, cultivating the ground of our hearts, so that this great grace may be received" (Address to the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, June 28, 2013).
Our new Christian Unity resources can be found here.
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
In the recent “Faithful Citizenship” lecture on the foundations of Catholic political theory, Dr. Stephen Schneck (CUA politics professor and Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies) presented Thomism as an alternative to the radical positions held by groups at opposing ends of the ideological spectrum. While the two extremes disagree about particulars, according to Schneck, both “Ayn Rand conservatives” and “pro-choice liberals” are motivated by a “hyper-individualism,” which is in direct contradiction to the social teaching of the Church. If we are to believe Dr. Schneck’s premise, it seems that faithful Christians are left between a rock and a hard place in the current political landscape. Thankfully, the political philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas offers Christians an authentic alternative.
Synthesizing ecclesiology and political philosophy, St. Thomas understood the nature of a political community as being deeply Christological. Drawing from St. Paul’s imagery, St. Thomas perceived the political community as a reflection of the Mystical Body of Christ: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:3-5). This image of a political community as a corporate whole is in stark contrast to the Lockean image of a group of individuals that is held together solely by an externally imposed contract, rather than internal unity. The Thomistic political community is held together by solidarity among its members, a unitive desire for the wellbeing of the whole, rather than individual self-interest. In Thomistic philosophy, the object of this desire is referred to as the commonweal, or the common good.
But why place more importance on the common good than individual goods? Because, as Aristotle said and St. Thomas affirmed, we are political and social beings; the meaning of our lives transcends beyond who we are as individuals. As John Donne observed in his oft-cited Meditation XVII, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
After Dr. Schneck had concluded his lecture, a question-and-answer session followed. A young woman from the back of the lecture hall politely asked, “What can we do as individuals to combat the pervasiveness of hyper-individualism in our society?” Ironically, this question demonstrates what is at the root of the problem of hyper-individualism: we cannot cease thinking of ourselves primarily as individuals! This shift in thinking does not mean that we must give up our own individual rights; to the contrary, our solidarity with one another should engender a greater appreciation for the individual rights of a group’s collective members. In fact, it is our individual freedoms that allow us to choose how we prioritize our actions and intentions. Through our individual liberties, we are given the opportunity to look and act beyond ourselves.
During this Easter Season, may we all be reminded that through our baptism and as members of Christ’s Body, we have truly been raised with Him! (cf. Ephesians 2:6) In order to more fully participate in God’s divine economy – i.e. His comprehensive plan for Creation – may we “not think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think” (Romans 12:3), but instead humbly unite ourselves to our fellow members in the One Body of Christ.
Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.