World Youth Day (WYD) is so much more than an international get-together with the pope. Too often, global experiences of faith get overlooked or underestimated; other times, since these gatherings have taken place now for four decades, they are simply taken for granted within the Church. But such oversight would be a missed opportunity for everyone in the Church and around the world.
Why should we care? Three simple words: World. Youth. Day.
Let me explain:
The first reason is that WYD is truly meant for the whole world. While young adults heading to Krakow in July are the primary protagonists of this particular international gathering, the message of WYD applies to everyone – everywhere.
In fact, thanks in part to the growing accessibility of technology and social media, this pilgrimage is not limited to those who have the means to travel overseas. There are millions of young adult Catholics in the United States who can engage in WYD – through local stateside events in their parish, campus, or diocese, as well as through social media and digital communications.
The U.S. bishops and pilgrim leaders in Krakow will be engaging directly with stateside and digital pilgrims this year so that those at home in the United States are as much a part of the pilgrimage as those who boarded a plane bound for Poland.
No one is excluded – and that message is exactly what WYD offers the rest of the world. One of the frustrations many people experience during these international displays of faith is feeling left out, or feeling like they don’t matter. WYD is a chance for pilgrims to share in real time on social media a message of mercy and love that’s available to all. This message is meant not just for Catholics, Christians, or Krakow pilgrims; it is meant for the world.
There are many times when I get asked about “the kids” at WYD, and often, this feels like a dismissal – that this global experience is somehow just a “giant youth rally” not needing to be taken seriously. Such thinking is exactly why Pope St. John Paul II established the practice of WYDs: to remind the world that a gathering of young people is essential to the vibrancy of the Church and the transformation of the entire planet.
Even more, there is a significant misconception about WHO this gathering is intended for. The name alone can be misleading. The “youth” in the WYD title is actually mistranslated in English. The target audiences for these international pilgrimages are “young adults.” That is, those in their late teens, twenties, and into their thirties. In 2016, the majority of U.S. pilgrims range from ages 18 to 30, and most diocesan groups are taking young men and women in their 20s and 30s, single and married. In other words, they aren’t “kids.”
This news is actually incredibly refreshing, considering that young adults are one of the most disconnected groups of people from the Catholic Church and the practice of the faith. Around the United States, studies show that only 17% of millennial Catholics attend church weekly, and over one-third of young millennials have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
To know that thousands of young adults from the U.S. are going to Krakow, and even more are engaging stateside or digitally, is one of the most important things that Catholics can celebrate this month. Let’s work to create local communities open to their enthusiasm so that returning pilgrims can engage in the life of the Church.
It can be easy to dismiss WYD as a “Catholic Woodstock” – a one-time festival over the course of a few days when the pope and millions of young people gather together in a large open field to pray and talk about God. But again, there is so much more.
WYD is not a “day” at all – but a pilgrimage. It includes months or years of spiritual and practical preparation, leading into years of follow-up work: putting into practice the message of WYD and the lessons learned along the way. One could compare this experience to a mountaintop journey. The events in Krakow or stateside are just the peak. And mountains are more than their highest summits.
Too often, especially in the twenty-first century, we jump from one major task to the next, hardly stopping to slow down. Sometimes WYD is reduced to another task or event in a long line of trips, events, or papal visits. Many WYD pilgrims know that the journey is so much more than that. For some, WYD inspired them to their life’s calling: to marriage, to religious life or to the priesthood, to their careers, or to simply being an active adult Catholic. WYD is a catalyst for great things yet to come. This is just one reason why I encourage people to pay attention to WYD and what might emerge from the pilgrims who return home, and who will rise to the occasion.
In a world torn apart by violence, polarization, and fear, let us heed the value of a lifelong pilgrimage: a process of accompaniment that requires time, patience, compassionate listening, and understanding – things often lacking in our world today.
It can be tempting to excuse ourselves from caring about or thinking about WYD, dismissing it for one reason or another. Yet this is a moment of grace for everyone – from the pilgrims to the rest of the world. For one week, the Church turns its attention to this special encounter. Let’s not let this moment pass us by or excuse ourselves from paying attention.
The world, especially in uncertain times and the face of tragedy and unrest, is in need of the graces that can come from WYD. It is meant for the world. It can be a mountaintop of the Catholic young adult experience. Let us pray that the end results can help heal, transform, and bring mercy and compassion into a world torn apart and hurting.
To learn more about World Youth Day, please click here.
*This post was originally published for our World Youth Day series on July 20, 2016
As a nation, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 21st. Does this mean anything special for the Church—for Catholics, even? Catholics have much to learn and celebrate about the Baptist pastor, preacher, and prophet. The more we consider how far we have come as a nation and as a human race since Dr. King met his tragic end on April 4, 1968, the more we sense, I think, just how far we have to go to realize his Dream.
When I think of Dr. King, I think of justice. Biblical justice. To recall a famous quote (King’s paraphrase from Theodore Parker), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” As our nation honors Dr. King in a few days, I think it might be wise to contemplate for a moment the role of justice in our discipleship, which is an integral aspect of our baptismal identity as priest, prophet, and king.
As a pastor and preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. understood deep in his bones the kerygmatic nature (from “kerygma”) of true justice. Justice is a gift of Jesus. Like all gifts and graces from God, it is meant to be multiplied and shared. Even in the most difficult times of persecution, Dr. King proclaimed the gift of justice. In his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King (who earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University) quotes St. Thomas Aquinas in defining an unjust law as “a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law,” and then adds a simple explanation: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1774), the great theologian of the Middle Ages and among the greatest in the history of the Church, defined justice as giving the other what is their due. Thomas Aquinas even defines “religion,” which is a virtue, as a form of justice, because it gives God the worship and adoration that is owed to him.
First, can we ask ourselves where justice is still lacking in our world and in our own Church insofar as it is, alongside its spiritual identity, an institution composed of fallible, sinful human beings? Any lack of justice is a sure sign that we, the Church, have become adept in talking about the Gospel but have yet to take living it just as seriously. In her ongoing task of renewal, the Church must recover a robustly biblical, prophetic vision and conviction that justice is not accessory to the Gospel. Fortunately, in my own observations and ministry, I have seen that many young Christians are mending the gap that seems to have developed between “social justice Christians” and “liturgy and doctrine Christians.” This distinction is foreign to Aquinas and King, and the extent to which we buy into this split is the sign that we have allowed our faith to be compromised by the politics of the day. To offer one way of restoring this divide, in his letter Dr. King writes, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” What if we thought about our baptismal garment, symbolic of putting on the life of Christ, as also the Church’s “garment of destiny”? Salvation and justice are the garment that clothes the body of Christ, the Church.
One way of looking at Dr. King’s quote about the moral arc is to see it as a challenge that is not “way out there” in the universe, but as an invitation to bend and mend our personal lives toward justice. What might it imply to bend our lives? A change of habit or lifestyle, resisting our initial unkind or selfish response or natural inclination, and going out of our way to change the trajectory of our relationship with other people, our nation, and even creation. This is the message of “integral ecology” Pope Francis teaches in his encyclical letter Laudato Si. Dr. King saw God’s providential hand at work on a cosmic level, and as Catholics, we recognize the need as disciples to participate in God’s grace, and that includes justice. Authentic justice takes work, effort, struggle, and at times—as many true prophets in Scripture and history have experienced—persecution. Not all of us are called to create justice in the same way, yet we are all called to create justice in some way.
Question for Reflection: What is one concrete step you can take to help create a more just situation in your family, school, workplace, or other sphere of influence today?
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.
Have you ever wondered why the Church decided to celebrate Mary, as Mother of God, on the first day of each calendar year? After all, we’re still in the midst of Christmas! Isn’t this season already busy and full of Feast Days and devotions? Before she could be revealed as the Immaculate Conception, or celebrated as Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe, or even honored as Lady Poverty by St. Francis, Mary first had to accept God’s will for her in salvation history in order to become the mother of the savior who was born on Christmas Day.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Mary is first hailed as God’s “favored one!” If this title, bestowed by the Almighty’s messenger, wasn’t honor enough, Mary would later receive the even greater title of “Mother of God.” Her cousin St. Elizabeth would confer this title upon her with the words, “the mother of my Lord.” First, of course, Mary had to agree to what God asked of her! Mary may not have understood just how great the decision was that she made, but, despite her youth, she nevertheless had the great gift of faith in God. Because of her infinite trust in God and her famed fiat, we can definitively venerate Mary, the Mother of God, and ask for her intercession.
Mary fulfills a unique role in the Mystery of Christ and the Church. Hailed as Theotokos (literally, “God Bearer”) by the Church in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus, Mary’s title reflects not only her role in salvation history, but also asserts the divinity of Christ. Just as the moon does not bear its own light but instead reflects the light from the sun, Mary entirely reflects the brilliance and grace of God. While a universal celebration on October 11 of the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary” was not declared by the Church until 1931 by Pope Pius XI, history records similar celebrations as part of the Christmas octave as early as the 13th or 14th century in Rome and Spain. Later celebrations developed in the 18th century in Portugal, Brazil, and Algeria and continued to take root around the world. After this great feast was finally moved to the first day of January by Pope St. John XXIII (in his 1960 revision of the liturgical calendar and rites), the Church would, at the Council Second Vatican, reaffirm Mary’s place in the Church Universal:
Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ... having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.”… The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.
Even more recently, Pope Francis reflected upon why Mary is thus honored as the Mother of God and not just the Mother of Jesus:
From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity. There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from his Mother is our own, now and for all eternity. To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.
As we continue our celebration of Christmas, let us consider how, in His mother, God the Son was made Incarnate not only to be with us, but also to be like us! The Blessed Mother, seen in every nativity scene, faithfully watches over the infant in the manger as the Mother of God and also as mother to each of us! She does so with great love, silently in her heart (cf. Luke 2:51). In Mary we find what really matters—not only during the Christmas season, but in the whole of the Christian life. As her children, may we look upon Mary with love and faithfully call upon her intercession with great affection.
From October 3rd until the 28th, 2018 bishops from around the globe are gathering in Vatican City for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod is an assembly of the world’s bishops who assist the pope by offering insights on important questions the Church is facing in a manner that preserves and promotes her teachings. A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called “Ordinary” if its topic is “for the good of the universal Church” and seems to require the “learning, prudence and counsel” of all the world's bishops. For October’s historic meeting, Pope Francis dedicated the theme to “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Although the young adults invited to participate were not voting members of the Synod, they had the opportunity to address the Order of Bishops as presenters and auditors. It can be useful to consider the gathering as a conversation that included involvement from bishops and small group sessions. These activities were a beautiful continuation of the dialogue and collaboration characteristic of the Second Vatican Council: of a Church embracing renewal throughout the Body of Christ.
Yet the vast majority of the Church was not in the Vatican participating in small groups, sharing experiences, or making presentations. While the meeting has been significant in its own right, it may not be on the forefront of most people’s minds a city—let alone an ocean—away. As we wait for the working documents of the meeting to be finalized and published, we may be asking how we can best support the work of the Synod from afar. As a young person myself, I think it is incredible that this demographic is being discussed and studied at length by the Church. The Synod inspires a unique opportunity to ponder young people’s place in the Church and world.
The typical young person is preoccupied with studies or work, family and social obligations, and sorting out his or her place in an ever-changing world. Thanks to technology, the world is better connected in some senses, though what occurs daily in our physical sphere tends to represent the extent to which a young person may physically engage with the outside world. Why think about faraway gatherings when there is plenty to deal with right in front of you? You may also wonder, Why would anyone care about little ole me and what I do?
But that’s exactly what—and who—the Holy Father is interested in hearing about. Over a year before the Synod was scheduled to meet, Pope Francis released his Letter to Young People and invited youth to “Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.” To help facilitate gathering the input of young people, the Vatican Synod Office launched a special website and survey which invited responses that were incorporated into a working document. Furthermore, Pope Francis issued his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world, which directly relates to the vocational aspects of the Synod.
Seeking for something more concrete? Look no further than your own parish! The walls of a church are not designed to keep persons out, but to gather them in to live more actively in Christ and the Church Universal! Never doubt the awesome power of prayer: interceding for not only the participants of the Synod, but those around you whose needs you may know personally. Go a step further and offer your gifts, talents, time, and presence as a young person and give witness to charity. Show the world that young people are not self-absorbed but active and invested in promoting the good of humanity. Find others who want to make a difference. Invite them to pray with you, to volunteer in service, to catechize, and even just to share in the joys and fun of youth. Demonstrate that youth is not just a period of transition, but an opportunity to channel passion and energy in a meaningful and responsible way for the Church and world.
A lesson from the 2018 Synod is that the Church wants to better minister to young people! Recognizing young people as a treasure not merely for the future, but for the Church here and now signifies their potential and important state in life. Instilling the values of the Faith in young people inspires them to more actively discern God’s call for them in holy vocations. The world is not perfect—neither is the Church—but recognizing the good that can be brought about and the ability to pick oneself up after falling short is a great gift God has uniquely given young people to witness! By growing in our vocation to holiness, we fulfill the mission and dream of this year’s Synod. What a joy it is to see young people take to heart the holiness that God has called them to.
To learn more about the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
In my work at the Catholic Apostolate Center, and as a self-identified millennial, I am frequently asked: "How can we bring young people back to the Church?" It's a question I get asked a lot by people who are my parents’ age and older, mainly because they see their children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews ‘willingly’ leaving the Church. Fortunately, our Church across the globe is also asking this very question during its October 2018 synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. In preparation for the synod, the Vatican recently released the Instrumuntum Laboris (Latin for "working instrument") for the bishops of the world to review, discuss, and offer insights to Pope Francis. The document talks about the challenges that face young people, classified as those aged 16-39, in the Church and world today—from being an individual in a global society, to finding meaning in life, to living in an increasingly materialistic world, etc. —and then discusses possible solutions to these problems. The document suggests that solutions for individuals vary, but that all begin with discernment through accompaniment.
When we speak of accompaniment, we might think of one person who helps another work through some difficulty by offering insight or expertise on how to overcome it – kind of like a coach. Instrumuntum Laboris, however, emphasizes that the accompaniment is not just a simple form of coaching, but rather:
"...true accompaniment will strive to present vocation not as a pre-determined fate, a task to be carried out, a ready-made script, to be accepted by discovering how to implement it effectively. God takes seriously the freedom He has given to human beings, and responding to his call is a commitment that requires work, imagination, audacity and willingness to make progress also by trial and error" (Instrumentum Laboris, 121).
It is through accompaniment that young people (and by extension all people) can understand the power of God in their lives because they see God working through that other person. This mentor helps the young person to see how God calls each and every one of us to be a messenger for the Word of God. The mentor also helps the young person to discover the best way to use his own talents and gifts for the Mission of the Church. The hope is that through this pairing, the spiritual growth of the individual will lead to the spiritual growth of the universal Church.
Now the next questions to ask are: "Who is a mentor? What does a mentor look like?" Our Bishops and Magisterium have wisely begun to ask this question as well and have devoted an entire section of Instrumentum Laboris to mentorship and the ideal mentor:
"[A mentor is] a faithful Christian who engages with the Church and the world; someone who constantly seeks holiness; is a confidant without judgement; actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; is deeply loving and self-aware; acknowledges their limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey ... mentors should not lead young people as passive followers, but walk alongside them, allowing them to be active participants in the journey" (132).
From my experiences with my mentors and as a mentor myself, as well as the experiences of friends and co-workers, I understand that active participation is the key. Unlike a coach who watches his players from the sidelines, a mentor is someone who walks with his mentee on the journey to holiness, allowing himself to grow in holiness as well. Spiritual accompaniment, as the document states at different points, is not easy—in fact it is quite difficult. It requires a deep love of Church, confidence, humility, self-awareness, and commitment. It takes time and dedication, like all strong relationships do. It requires an understanding that our faith is not passive, but rather a calling "to go and make disciples of all nations.” We are all called—priests, religious, and lay—to be mentors to those of all ages, demographics, and steps in their faith journey. Let us pray that God reveals to us those whom we are called to mentor and that we have the courage and strength to walk alongside them in our shared pursuit of holiness.
Question for Reflection: What aspects of myself are well suited to mentorship? How can I continue to develop those traits or skills?
“Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse” — these words, taken from the Divine Praises of our Church (a prayer that is often used at the end of Eucharistic Adoration), remind us of the important role that St. Joseph plays as the patron of the Universal Church.
St. Joseph is the foster father of Jesus, “most chaste spouse” of Mary, but he is also our guide. There are exactly zero words of St. Joseph recorded in all of scripture, yet the role that he plays is not to be underestimated. He teaches us how to live in obedience, persevere in holiness and chastity, and love well.
The obedience that this holy patron showed to the will of God is nothing short of extraordinary. He did this first by accepting the message of the angel to take Mary as his wife, then by protecting his family as he fled with them to Egypt, but most importantly, in those quiet, unlogged hours at home with Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. Although his life did not unfold as he would have anticipated, his obedience and docility to God’s will allowed him to play a crucial role in the life of Christ and ultimately in the story of our salvation.
St. Joseph’s perseverance in holiness and chastity sets a very clear example before us. His life is a compelling reminder for us that to do the will of God, we need only be obedient to the present moment and faithful to the higher calling that is ours by nature of our baptism. In a world that sees chastity as outdated and nearly impossible, he reminds us that pursuing it is not only important for our own lives of virtue, but salvific for others.
St. Joseph also teaches us how to love well. The gentle striving of St. Joseph, both as he led Mary and Jesus, and now as he leads our Church, can be summed up by these words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “God always asks more: His ways are not the ways of men. St. Joseph, more than anyone else before or since, learned from Jesus to be alert to recognize God’s wonders, to have his mind and heart awake.”
Several years ago, a spiritual director suggested that I start to pray every day to St. Joseph for my future husband. With the following prayer, I beg his intercession to not only allow me to persevere in obedience and chastity, but also with the sure knowledge that he will protect my future husband and family.
Guardian of virgins and father, St. Joseph, to whose faithful custody Innocents itself, Christ Jesus, and Mary, Virgin of virgins was committed; I pray and beseech thee by each of these dear pledges, Jesus and Mary, that, being preserved from all uncleanness, I may with spotless mind, pure heart, and a chaste body, ever serve Jesus and Mary most chastely all the days of my life. Amen.
May the intercession of St. Joseph allow us to persevere in obedience, chastity, and love!
*Ite ad Joseph is Latin for “Go to Joseph” and admonishes us to turn to St. Joseph’s intercession and guidance.
Question for Reflection: Following the example of St. Joseph, how might you grow in your ability to be obedient to the present moment?
Whenever I go about my day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I am greeted by the faces of hundreds of saints illustrated in dozens of statues, mosaics, and portraits. Certainly, the focus of the Shrine — and indeed, any Catholic church — is on Christ (in this case through the Blessed Mother), but invariably one notices the honoring of God’s holy ones as well in side chapels and oratories. While one can hardly wander into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica without gazing in awe at the dominating mosaic Christ in Majesty — one of the largest images of Jesus in the world — it’s also impossible to miss the mere fraction of the Communion of Saints honored throughout the space; those who were so moved in their encounters with the Lord that they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Him.
Why does this church (and the Universal Church) assign so much importance to these figures? While the act of adoration and worship is solely reserved for God, the saints (including Mary) are, by contrast, venerated. When properly done, veneration does not interfere with the worship due to God, but rather fosters it. As the Second Vatican Council noted: “Our communion with those in heaven, provided that it is understood in the fuller light of faith according to its genuine nature, in no way weakens, but conversely, more thoroughly enriches the latreutic [what is allowed to God alone] worship we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 51).
Hailing from all walks of life, the saints represent the fervent love of God as he calls them to participate in and enrich the ministries of the Church, whether through charity, scholarship, prayer, catechesis, or apologetics. The saints rejected the status quo of society. They reformed society to be more like Christ’s ministry — sometimes at the cost of their own lives. They met people wherever they were in life in order to bring about a fruitful encounter with the Lord. If we have ever felt that we could not strive for the holiness God calls each of us to, we surely have countless role models to look to in the saints. We might think: “But I can’t possibly attain those standards — I’m a sinner!” But as the recently canonized Mother Teresa reportedly observed, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” Recognizing that their own shortcomings, however frequent, are infinitesimal compared to the love and mercy of God, the saints sought and found comfort in our perfect Lord, rather than wallowing in the imperfect condition of their lives.
In our own struggles for holiness, if we ever feel alone or without guidance, we have only to look to the saints for inspiration. The trials we face, whether they be doubts, abandonment, threats, or scorn were similarly faced by them. Yet the example of Christ’s experiences with these difficulties drove them forward, and so should also motivates us. We need not be intimidated with what is asked of us or the great witness of the saints. Again, in words attributed to Mother Teresa, we have only to concern ourselves with offering God “small things with great love.”
In the Basilica, the bas-relief of the Universal Call to Holiness rests directly opposite of Christ in Majesty, reflecting the theme of Lumen Gentium discussed above. Illustrated in the huge marble slab are people from all walks of life gazing upon and approaching God, the Holy Spirit. As Lumen Gentium, the bas-relief, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all emphasize: “all are called to holiness” (CCC 2013). The saints have embraced this, and not necessarily early in their lives. St. Augustine, one of the Church’s greatest converts, admitted to God in his autobiography called Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new.” God can turn our failures into moments of grace at any point in our lives (Romans 5:20)! The saints did not go about the great evangelical enterprise for their own sake or glory, but to share the Mystery of God’s unceasing love that so moved them to reject what the world offers in comforts and powers. Just as Christ initiated this work on earth during His ministry and the saints have sustained it throughout the millennia, it is now entrusted to us that the light of God’s truth may forever shine bright and call back to Him those who are lost in the world’s darkness.