Lent is fast approaching. Ash Wednesday will arrive with the usual crowds to mark its beginning. Even though it is not a holy day of obligation, many Catholics feel the need to participate in a Mass or service and have ashes imparted upon them. Several of the same, even if they do not go to Mass on a regular basis, will take up the various Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but particularly fasting in the form of “giving up” something. It is important to consider that there is something stirring spiritually within these brothers and sisters. Those who are very active in the life of faith can either dismiss them or accompany them into deeper life in Christ, in and through his Church.
How? By using well the tools of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – as ways in which we can witness Christ more authentically to our brothers and sisters and deepen our encounter with him. In his Lenten message last year, Pope Francis made this invitation once again,
“Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.” (2018 Lenten Message)
The “enthusiasm” that comes from prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is not of our own making. It is the work of God and one in which we cooperate. The disciplines of Lent are not ends in themselves. They are means to an end, greater communion with Jesus Christ. We are challenged by these practices to focus our attention not on ourselves, but more fully on God and neighbor.
A focus on our neighbor returns us to those who are spiritually searching and arrive on Ash Wednesday or “give something up” for Lent. It means less attention on ourselves and more prayer for them, uniting our fasting with and for them, and giving of our time to them, especially to listen and accompany them back into living more deeply the life of faith. Not an easy task, but a sacrifice that, if lived well and authentically, could assist others in coming to Easter joy!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For resources to accompany you throughout the Lenten season, please click here.
Just down the street from where I study and serve in my home Archdiocese of Baltimore is our nation’s first Catholic cathedral, the Basilica of the Assumption, a visible testimony to the faith of the first Catholics in the newly formed United States of America. Yet every time I visit that holy place, I’m reminded by the physical space that for many years worship was segregated and black Catholics were required to sit in the balcony. Our family of faith in Baltimore included heroic individuals and communities like that of Mother Mary Lange (1794-1882), founder of the first African-American religious order, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, and the ministry of the Josephites. Their creative witness and ongoing presence in our communities today serve as a constant reminder that their mission lives on and has work yet to do.
Since 1990, the Church in the United States, through the work of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC), has designated November as Black Catholic History Month. In a special way, the testimony of black Catholics reminds us all that as disciples of Christ, we live by memory. Celebrating this month reminds the Church just what it is that we are responsible for remembering. The act of remembering is a moral and spiritual task, part of the Church’s call to combat the sin of racism and seek new forms of reconciliation with sins of the past. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that memory lies at the heart of the Church’s celebration of word and sacrament, and briefly reflect here on why remembering our Church’s black history is so important for faithfully celebrating God’s word and sacrament each and every day.
Those who attend or have attended a parish with a strong black Catholic presence will often recognize the power of the proclamation and preaching of God’s word. In particular, this tradition of preaching reminds Catholics that our Church preaches and teaches a truly liberatory word. Jesus Christ came to deliver God’s people from all forms of bondage and oppression, restoring us to freedom.
Our biblical faith makes clear that participation in the Exodus event is intrinsically connected with our participation in the Passover. As Catholics, this means we are fed by God’s word and sacrament, particularly the Eucharist. At the Institution of the Eucharist at his Last Supper, Jesus instructed his Apostles to “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). The sacrifice of the Mass is an act of remembrance, called anamnesis, that re-presents Christ, making Jesus truly present here and now in the species of bread and wine. (I invite you to read Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s reflection.) That act of remembering is the basis for our act of thanksgiving (literally, “eucharist”). But it is impossible for us to give thanks for what we cannot remember.
Does Christ’s presence at the altar then lead us onward to become more aware of Christ’s presence in our brothers and sisters who remain subject to forms of injustice and oppression elsewhere? To this end, our bishops offer resources on how to respond to sins of racism, an important way to publicly live out the interior transformation we receive in the Eucharist.
While we live by memory, we do not simply live in the past; we are called to faithfully live out of our past. We live by memory as a sign of our hope that since God gave us a past, he promises us a future. Black Catholic History Month serves as a reminder that we have a history worth remembering and celebrating, so that we may go on living in the freedom to which Christ daily calls us.
For more resources, we invite you to visit our Cultural Diversity Resources page and scroll down to the section on African American/Black Catholics.
Click here to read Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, a pastoral letter from the USCCB against racism
Questions for Reflection: How does remembering the past help us to live more faithfully and hopefully in the future? How have you seen our Church benefit from the diversity of its members?
*This post was originally published on the Ad Infinitum Blog on November 2, 2017
For more information about Black Catholics in the US, check out the resources created by the National Black Catholic Congress in collaboration with the Catholic Apostolate Center:
The back to school activities of September are a familiar routine for many families. Classes, assignments, extracurriculars and other events resume. Students begin their routines, and hopefully can rely on the enthusiastic support and encouragement of family and friends. Even in times of difficulty and trial, the reassurance and faith of others can help us find a way forward through uncertainty and strengthen us.
I see some parallels for this time in our Church. As the American Church goes through difficulty and trial, I have seen the importance of the involvement of the laity in each parish community. My observations of my parish community have been a great witness to the vitality of the church. Each week, I see families arrive to pray together and those who are involved in whatever ministries or needs the church advertises. Their worship of our Lord is not confined to Sunday Mass but is further expressed in the faithful service and loving charity of neighbors. The organizational structure of the parish furthermore allows the laity to find worthwhile opportunities of ministry. Numerous devotions are promulgated each month. Social calls to action are announced weekly. Calls to assist with the liturgical and musical ministries or volunteer with catechetical programs are ongoing. Pilgrimages are organized. Going beyond any mere routine of spirituality, the parishioners regularly exemplify a living witness to the Gospel: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Even in the storm of ever-changing current events, the Church stands firm upon her foundation, able to weather the most intense battering. Just look to your own parish: the Eucharist will still be confected, Mass will be celebrated, the sacraments will be administered, and the needs of the church will be met through the generosity and charity of its parishioners. Those leading or participating in these activities may change, but the significance of the laity’s participation in the parish never diminishes. Likewise, the constancy of the Gospel message never fails to ring truly or relevantly. Especially when we as a Church are shaken, let us cling to the divine promise of hope: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
The Gospel account of the storm at sea gives me comfort, for even the closest disciples of Jesus had doubts and feared for their lives upon encountering a sudden storm. They accused Jesus of not caring about the present danger. Unfazed, however, Jesus proceeded to calm the winds and the sea. The faith of the disciples had been tested—even when Jesus was physically with them in the boat!
When we find ourselves adrift and at the mercy of the tempestuous world or lost in a great darkness, we may feel powerless and cry, “Where is the Lord?” In those moments, withdraw to a place of calm and remember the sure promise He made at the closing of Matthew’s Gospel account: “Do not be afraid… I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Spend some time re-reading the storm narrative I mentioned above, or other passages from Scripture, like Psalm 23, that bring hope and consolation. How many times in Scripture— and beyond— did Christ bring healing and comfort, asking only for faith in return? Let us ask for the gift of faith during times of darkness and find comfort in the fact that Jesus blessed his disciples upon seeing them in the Upper Room even though they had abandoned Him. “Peace be with you,” he said. Others may also have doubts during this time. I invite you to be there for them just as Christ remains faithful to you.
The Church endures. She has undergone and will continue to undergo all sorts of trials. Yet she is never alone: Christ remains to guard and unite the faithful in Him. Our faith can be bolstered when we continue to engage in the simple daily exercise of spirituality and charity—especially in our parishes. The faithful of the parish are inspiring witnesses as they continue to perform acts of charity, worship together, and care for their neighbors. We as a Church are called to holiness; with God’s help, may we rise to the occasion.
This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday (September 16th) is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” This day is a reminder that all of the baptized play a role in the mission of sharing Christ with others, whether that be through formal or informal ministry.
This mission seems pressing today. In Bishop Robert Barron’s 2018 message for Catechetical Sunday, he says we are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. In a Pew Research report, we see that Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics make up about 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This group of religiously unaffiliated individuals, or “nones,” is mostly concentrated among young adults, and the median age of unaffiliated adults continues to get younger. Of this population, those who describe themselves as agnostic or “nothing in particular” cite their top reason for not affiliating with a religion is that they question a lot of religious teachings. Having questions is actually an essential part of learning about and understanding the Catholic faith; only when we question can we begin to move beyond a lack of understanding and come to learn the truth of the Gospel. God desires for us to use our intelligence to come to know him before acting upon our faith.
The majority of young adults and “nones” find value in meaningful relationships over institutionalism and in authenticity over authority (Halbach). This shows us that the Church can engage the “nones” by forming relationships in order to accompany them along the journey of life. In the mission to bring Christ to others, we serve as authentic witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel through our lives. The Church needs the active participation of the laity to conduct outreach efforts in the everyday moments of our lives, both inside and outside of the Church. We were created to be social beings who can form relationships with others that will lead them to Christ and to the Church.
Much of this relationship building happens organically in our communities and parishes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my parish young adult group heard that the grandmother of one of our new members had passed away. After hearing this news, we wrote and signed a sympathy card to mail her. By this small act of love for our fellow sister in Christ, we were able to show our genuine care for her and our desire to welcome her back to church after her travels for the funeral.
As missionary disciples, we know that there is no one “right” path to building these relationships and caring about those around us. This allows us to share our innate gifts creatively with others in order to build authentic relationships. Furthermore, sharing our own faith stories of personal encounters with Christ helps us to accompany others on their faith journeys as well. We must show others that we love them through our actions rather than our words. Christ enlists us as his witnesses. This Catechetical Sunday, how can you respond to his call?
Questions for Reflection: Are we open to questions about our Catholic faith in helping ourselves and others come to know God? Are we preparing ourselves to be able to answer questions from others about the faith in a rational manner? What are some ways you can begin to build authentic relationships with others in your community or parish? How are you building personal relationships with others in context of your faith journey?
To learn more about living as missionary disciples, click here.
“The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” is the theme that Pope Francis chose for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland. One aspect that will be explored is how “the Christian family, by its witness to the life and love of Jesus, is a principal agent of evangelization to the world.” Catholic teaching calls the family, the “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11) and parents are told in the Rite of Baptism that they are “the first teachers of their child in the ways of the faith.”
Others in the Church, clergy, those in consecrated life, and lay people, are supposed to be co-responsible with parents not only for teaching children and young people, but most especially, nurturing them, protecting them, and witnessing to them holiness of life. When this fails to happen whether in the past or in the present, as is once again showing itself in various parts of the world, then repentance, reform and renewal are not only needed, they are necessary. Repentance, reform, renewal, and greater holiness are not possible without co-responsibility among all the faithful in deeper conversion of life in Christ as our patron, St. Vincent Pallotti, envisioned over 183 years ago in Rome. We cannot do this on our own as Pope Francis reminded all in his apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate:
“Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth” (GE, 50).
Since we are limited, we are challenged to do, with God’s grace, as St. Vincent Pallotti exhorts us to do: "We must begin to reform our lives by putting all our confidence in God."
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In Christ, Apostle of the Eternal Father,
Having experienced the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis for over five years now, it should be of no surprise that the Jesuit former Archbishop of Buenos Aires took the name Francis, the first time that name had been chosen in the 2000+ year history of the Catholic Church. The name was taken for St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century saint who left behind a life of luxury and wealth to pursue a life lived according to the Gospel. One of the more famous stories tells of St. Francis’ public witness of faith when his own father brought him before the bishop on charges of theft. Francis famously stripped off his clothes and announced that "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"
Much like St. Francis, Pope Francis has also stripped himself of luxurious garments, choosing to present himself in modest, humble clothing that is still fitting to the Papacy. Such action is not solely a living witness of the message of St. Francis, but also the message of Christ who said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In Jorge Bergoglio’s ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, his commitment to simple living was made manifest through his actions. He was seen riding a bus with other bishops instead of using his designated private transportation; he cooked his own meals, and he even chose to live in a small apartment outside of the usual bishop’s residence. Pope Francis’ witness teaches us that a simple life does not mean a life lived passively. Simplicity requires action. One must live and act in a way that honors the life of simplicity and humility to which we are called by the Gospels.
In living out the witness of St. Francis and the call of Christ, Pope Francis has also put a great influence on caring for the marginalized—whether migrants, the homeless, or any of those in need. Just recently, Pope Francis surprised Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and around 280 homeless persons at a Vatican dinner where he dined with them for over two hours and listened to their stories. On Holy Thursday 2017, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates at a prison about 45 miles from Rome, to honor Christ who reminded his apostles that “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.” That teaching is one that should resonate deeply with us. Simplicity does exactly that, it allows us to live in solidarity with those most in need and live lives conformed to Christ.
The lives of Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi provide a witness to a life lived as Christ instructed. We’re not expected to exactly follow the path of St. Francis, as his life is a remarkable one, but, as Mother Teresa said, we can serve by performing small deeds done with great love. Let our Holy Father and St. Francis of Assisi continue to be examples to us in living out or vocations of holiness, and may we always pray for our Holy Father and his ministry.
Questions for Reflection: What are some easy ways that I can live more simply? What luxuries is the Lord calling me to give up?
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Frequently in the bible, we read that we are all members of one body, making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group, the church. Although I’ve heard and read this teaching several times, for most of my life I still saw the church as a building. Sadly, this imagery left me with gaps in my understanding which impacted my spiritual life.
In Spanish, the word “compartir” means “to share.” One of the biggest impacts that mission and life in Bolivia has had on my spiritual life is the “compartir” culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone.
I am currently serving as an overseas lay missioner at the Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC). So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. People don’t always have much, but they are always happy to share what they do have. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home to share about Bolivian culture with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.” Their desire is to share.
I learned a great lesson on what it means to share while on a recent trip to a local town with a group of students in Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games, shared in music, celebrated mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge.
Because I was so amazed by all of the sharing, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to share a reflection about the trip.The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been “mas o menos”, “more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed.
Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been sharing as one.
I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during mass, we had all come together as one group to share in praise to God, to share in the word of God, and to share in the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there as one.
I want you to close your eyes now and come up with an image of church. I’ll admit that every once in awhile, I’m still going to picture a building. This building may have the most pristine stained glass windows, with beautiful mahogany pews, and a perfectly polished tabernacle. But no matter how beautiful the building may be, this image still leaves gaps. Because no matter how many people are packed in that church, there are still hollow spaces when it is just a building.
Like Jesus taught us, we are the church. As the church, it is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. The truth is that we aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out and share. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread the gift of sharing as one people, we begin to fill voids.
The desire of my students to share and to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day. I’m learning how to see myself as a part of a larger, complete body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published through the Catholic Volunteer Network in May 2018. It has been reposted with permission.
Magdalene Van Roekel is a volunteer with Franciscan Mission Service
We live in a world where social media creates a narrative of perfection and curated happiness. The constant pursuit of success, fulfillment and precision fuel our actions. We confuse modern ideals of self-interest, pleasure and minimalism with happiness. This false sense of happiness leads to a severe sense of discontent with our culture of appearances and deception. This, in turn, gives rise to the importance placed on truth and authenticity. Beneath the discontent we all feel is a shared desire to witness and live authentic lives.
In a new film, “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word,” we watch the story of a man who practices what he preaches. In the movie, we hear from a religious sister who says that God gives us a pope who is a reflection of what we need in the current times. In a global society that is starved for genuineness, sincerity and truth, Pope Francis provides the world with simple, bite-sized snippets of profound wisdom that are easily understood.
In one of those snippets of wisdom, our pope urges us to “Talk little, listen a lot.” As 1 John 3:18 says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Pope Francis shows us through his actions – washing the feet of inmates, providing a kind touch of prayer to sick children – that tenderness is strength and not weakness. I work in communications and in my profession we have a common phrase that says, “show, don’t tell.” Our culture yearns to see others living out honest, genuine values through action, not words. Pope Francis is an example of someone who shows us how to love and that love is a choice.
Love is at the core of Jesus’ message. His teachings are those of love in action. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” However, in order for us to love like Jesus, we must be free to give of ourselves to another. Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever we want, when we want, where we want; it’s the ability to choose what is noble, true and right.
Sometimes it seems that as a society we have lost our identities as free beings created by God to love and be loved. We forget that God placed the sense of longing for happiness in our hearts so that we may love him, ourselves and others. This yearning is designed to bring us closer to God and ultimately provides our fulfillment.
Questions for Reflection: Who are the people in your life that show you how to freely love others? How can you show love for others in your own way using the gifts bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit? What are some simple steps you can take to live out your life authentically?
When I was in 8th grade, I helped teach for my parish’s religious education program and counted the hours toward my required community service time before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. I was an assistant for the 5th grade, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I could share with the class what I knew about the Church, even teaching them at one point how to pray the Rosary. Looking back, it seems like I was destined to teach in a Catholic school! After college, I began working at my current school in the Archdiocese of Washington (ADW), where I continue to teach and share my faith with the students. To this day, I continue to teach religion. I strive to form my students as disciples according to six elements of Catholic life: Knowledge of the Faith, Liturgy and Sacraments, Morality, Prayer, Education for Living in Christian Community, and Evangelization and Apostolic Life.
For catechists who actively pass on the Word of God to others, teaching the faith can become almost second nature. For instance, at my school, we incorporate core Jesuit principles into the curriculum each day and reflect on our own actions through prayer. In my pre-K classroom, we use these principles to talk about kindness and loving others as St. Ignatius taught. In a special way, my students are learning how to be good friends and love others the way Jesus did.
In the Archdiocese of Washington (ADW), the religious curriculum has standards by which its content is measured and assessed—like any other subject area in school. In fact, ADW is trying to support catechists to do more to collaborate and keep kids engaged and excited about learning their faith. Professional development of catechists is crucial to a school, parish, or community. Learning how to be better witnesses of the faith ensures that our children are receiving the best formation of conscience they can get.
Although there are people certified and educated to teach as catechists, most of us are already fulfilling that duty as faith-filled adults in the Church who witness to and spread the Gospel. Below is a list I have compiled of a description of a catechist. After reading it, do you feel called to become one?
For more information, we invite you to view the following webinar at the bottom of the page:
Question for Reflection: How can you teach the faith to others in your everyday life?
*This post was originally published in May 2017*
Have you ever wanted to share a valuable treasure with others? Something irreplaceably precious, meaningful, enduring, or even priceless? Would you want to entrust it with a loved one and hope he or she values it as you do? You may be thinking of a prized heirloom, award, or work of art as examples, but my hope is that you also come to think of the Faith as something most worthy and deserving of being cherished and shared like our most beloved possessions.
The life of faith for the Christian starts with his or her baptism. Perhaps you’ve witnessed the beautiful act of the transmission of the Faith during an infant baptism at Mass. In the sacrament of baptism, we are reminded of the wonderful work of God, Who desires to sanctify humanity and make us His sons and daughters. After blessing the baptismal font of water, the priest will turn to the parents and godparents and urge them to renew the vows of their own baptism in preparation for the incredible responsibility and solemn duty that they will undertake. Of course, the depth of the sacrament does not stop there. The baptized will be spiritually guided and supported by parents, guardians, and sponsors throughout his or her spiritual life.
As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” Like all sacraments, there are symbols (sacramentals) which convey a deeper religious meaning. Water represents death and new life. The anointing with the chrism of salvation represents being welcomed as a member of God’s holy people. The white garment is an outward sign of Christian dignity. The lighted candle symbolizes keeping the flame of faith burning in our hearts. As each of us know, it can be difficult to remain steadfast in our faith—that is why it is critical to walk with others in our journey of faith. We live in a world that does not know the light of Christ and is often in need of hope.
In a general audience last August, Pope Francis reflected on the significance of baptism as a sacrament of hope. He asked, “What does it mean to be Christians? It means looking to the light, continuing to make the profession of faith in the light, even when the world is enveloped in darkness and shadows.” The baptized are called to be people of hope who encounter and engage with the world in a way that proclaims the Good News of salvation. By surrounding ourselves with a strong community, we will be able to “make our profession of faith in the light” and better live out our baptismal vows.
It may have been a while since you reflected on your baptism. Many of us were baptized as infants and so we have no memory of that wonderful moment aside from photos and our baptismal certificate. In our culture, we remember birthdays and anniversaries. What if we celebrated our baptism, the day of our “rebirth,” with similar joy? Our Faith is our most priceless possession. We did not create it, but nevertheless have been entrusted with it to guard, nourish, and share all the days of our life. Our Faith sustains us not only when we want to tap into it, but at every moment in our lives. If we have fallen short at times along our journey and fallen into sin, we have the sacrament of reconciliation to cleanse us of our failings. God never loses faith in us, especially when we may lose faith in Him or ourselves! As Pope Francis said, God “never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.”
Baptism is the powerful reclamation of each and every one of us by Almighty God as His children! This knowledge changes the way we live and imbues us with hope and joy. Our journey does not end once we have been baptized. The spiritual journey lasts a lifetime. Throughout it, we are never alone. God comes to our aid in times of difficulty or hardship. Our baptism ensures this while also orienting our lives toward Jesus Christ. Let us not fear the darkness or the night, but live in the light and hope of Christ. Pope Francis encourages us:
Christians…do not live outside of the world, however; by the grace of Christ received in Baptism they are “oriented” men and women: they do not believe in darkness, but in the dim light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but yearn to rise again; they are not cowered by evil, because they always trust in the infinite possibilities of good. And this is our Christian hope: the light of Jesus, the salvation that Jesus brings to us with his light that saves us from the darkness.
May we embrace the beauty of our faith this year and look to our baptism as a point of rebirth that illuminates our path and guides us forward on our journey towards Christ!
Questions for Reflection: How has your baptism filled your life with hope? Who are some people that help guide you throughout your spiritual journey?
"The questions lurking in human hearts and the real challenges of life can make us feel bewildered, inadequate and hopeless. The Christian mission might appear to be mere utopian illusion or at least something beyond our reach. Yet if we contemplate the risen Jesus walking alongside the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15), we can be filled with new confidence" - Pope Francis, Message for 2017 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
Discerning one's vocation in life is not easy. It is a challenge, particularly if one thinks one is alone. But, we as baptized realize that we are not alone. Jesus Christ is walking with us in the same way in which he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He accompanies us through the community of faith, the Church. We encounter Christ and are accompanied on our journey in our participation in the Sacraments, through the teachings of our Faith, by the Church's ministers, and in communion with the People of God. In our personal prayer, he is present as well, but we need to quiet ourselves and hear the "tiny whispering sound" as did the Prophet Elijah in the cave ( 1 Kings 19:12).
As St. Vincent Pallotti taught in the nineteenth century, so does the Second Vatican Council and the Popes that followed, we are called to be apostles or missionary disciples. We have an apostolic vocation in life. Even those who are contemplative pray not for themselves, but for the whole Church. Whatever our particular vocation - marriage, Consecrated Life, or priesthood - we are all sent by God on mission to our brothers and sisters, witnessing Christ by what we say and do. We are called to accompany others in prayer and action in encountering Christ.
Over the last years, I have had the privilege of accompanying many young men and women as they discerned their vocation in life. As each would make her or his choice after a long questioning and search that was sometimes bewildering, a sense of profound peace would come upon them. This is the peace that comes from Christ in and through the Holy Spirit. It is the peace that he has left us as his missionary disciples so that we may go forth in his name!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“Dear catechists, I thank you for what you do, but especially because you walk with the People of God. I encourage you to be joyful messengers, custodians of the good and of the beauty which shines through the faithful life of the missionary disciple.” – Pope Francis (Message to Participants in the First International Catechetical Symposium, July 5, 2017)
On September 17, the Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate Catechetical Sunday with the theme, “Living as Missionary Disciples.” This theme is taken from the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders focused the Church in the United States on ways in which we can live the “The Joy of the Gospel in America.” In a time in the United States that is marked less by joy, love, peace, and unity and more by anguish, hate, violence, and division, the work of missionary disciples, and particularly those who form missionary disciples, is critically important.
Catechists are called to joyfully witness and teach the faith not simply as a set of rules, regulations, or esoteric beliefs, but as true life and freedom in Jesus Christ. The mission field of the catechist is a vast one in our culture today. The classroom is only one place of witness and teaching. More so, we witness the love of Christ in workplaces, schools, and families, among friends, in the public square, and even in a ministry, apostolate, or parish church. As the Bishops of the United States teach, “We become missionary disciples when we take our encounter with Jesus Christ out into the world” (Living as Missionary Disciples, 17).
We, then, as the baptized, must witness Jesus Christ in the world, not simply in the Church, responding to the love of Christ that we have encountered. We are sent into the world to accompany others into their own encounter with Jesus Christ and the community of faith, the Church. This is how we live as missionary disciples. This is how we evangelize most effectively, not simply by words, but particularly by deeds. As St. Vincent Pallotti said almost two centuries ago, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well."
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ." - St. John Marie Vianney
Everything about my experience of Catholicism growing up led me to believe that priests were always kind, middle-aged men who had their act together, but were fairly inaccessible. It seemed that the Church was dying, men were no longer answering the call to the priesthood, and a life of faith had become irrelevant, right? Wrong.
My perspective changed freshman year of college at The Catholic University of America. I was astounded to see younger men with collars, and even more astounded to learn that these men, who weren’t much different from me, were willing to give up everything (a family, career, independent life) for the glory of God and the good of His people.
As I have come into my own life of faith and started working full-time for the Church, I consider it a great honor to call many of these courageous men my friends. Priests serve as a constant reminder that God, in His goodness, never intended for us to experience life alone. Through their relationships, their witness, and the sacraments, priests prove that God never abandons His people.
Simply put, the Church would not exist without the sacraments (the Eucharist, in particular), and the Church could not exist without the priests who bring these sacraments to us each and every day. Over the last several years, as I have seen friends go through seminary and get ordained, I have grown in appreciation of how great their sacrifice is. But more than that, I have also seen how great the reward is when we throw ourselves into our vocation with reckless abandon.
I remember distinctly asking one dear friend how he could do it all – leave behind everything that the world tells him he needs in pursuit of a higher calling – and he simply looked me in the eye and said, “Lauren, the Lord makes it easy.” These men have not only been a beautiful witness for the world, but they have radically helped shape the course of my life and my heart.
At every major crossroads of a person’s life – birth, marriage, growth of a family, death – a priest is there offering himself and bringing the sacraments. The men in formation for the holy priesthood and the priests who are out in the world “in the trenches” deserve our gratitude and our prayers. The priesthood shows the world that God’s people are worth giving up everything for.
So to all of you priests: thank you. Thank you for bringing us the Eucharist. Thank you for answering tear-filled phone calls. Thank you for teaching us how to be good friends. Thank you for showing us the importance of relationships rooted in prayer. Thank you for being our brothers and for personifying our Heavenly Father. But most importantly, thank you for showing us the joy that comes when we fully surrender our lives and our wills to the one who is Love.
Question for Reflection : Have you ever experienced the love of Christ through the ministerial priesthood ?
To learn more about vocational discernment, please click here.
In 61 days, I will no longer have my maiden name, will no longer have to mark “single” on tax forms, and will be the happiest girl in the world. This is because I will marry my best friend at our parish in front of our family and friends, and thus become man and wife. But before we’re retired and sitting together on the porch swing celebrating many years of happy marriage, my fiancé and I have some work to do.
The journey of preparing in mind, body, and soul for the vocation of marriage has been an eventful one. Wedding planning isn’t easy. It has tested our patience and our communication skills. But on that Saturday afternoon 61 days away, when we commit ourselves to each other, we are making a statement. In our profession of vows, we will be showing the people in attendance that Christ is a central part of our lives, and that God is at the center of our relationship. Throughout our ceremony, we are inviting our guests to reflect on God’s love for them and to join us in sharing our faith as the Body of Christ. Sacraments are meant to bring people closer to Christ. Those present will witness this sacrament from wherever they are in their walk of life and faith journey, and hopefully have an encounter with God. We look forward to providing a moment of evangelization as missionary disciples through our marriage.
My fiancé and I have learned a lot from the example of married friends and family who live out their Catholic faith. One couple that recently welcomed an addition to their family has been instrumental in answering questions we’ve had about what happens next and giving us advice throughout our marital preparation. They’ve helped my fiancé and I better understand what it means to be a young and newlywed couple, juggling jobs, obstacles, and life events, and doing it all with faith in God. They and so many others have shown us what it means to live out marriage with love for God and each other. In the Archdiocese of Washington, two other couples have been examples of commitment and love. Ephraim and Sussie, who have been married for 25 years, and Bob and Laurin, who have been married for 75 years, talk about their love stories and how they cherish each other to this day. Couples like these have had to work hard at their marriage through good times and bad—just as we will. Through it all, they keep God at the center of their relationships.
During these next 61 days, I will pray for my future husband, for myself as a wife, and for God’s grace to be present through it all. We will work at our marriage, this is for certain—and it won’t be easy. But with communication, understanding, forgiveness, and prayer, we will make it. During the Pre-Cana course we attended a few months ago, we learned a few things about communication and prayer that I would like to impart to anyone, whether you are in a relationship, have great friendships, or are several years into your marriage. My fiancé helped me create a list of the top ten things that stuck out to us. I hope they help you, too!
For more resources on Marriage and Family, click here.
Questions for Reflection: How can the example of married and engaged couples help those discerning marriage? Are there people in your life that you look to as witnesses of fruitful marriage?
In 1964, the Second Vatican Council affirmed in the document Lumen Gentium, “that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” The Catholic Apostolate Center continues to promote this truth in the 21st century by providing active Catholics the tools and resources to share Christ’s loving message of salvation.
In this way, the Center’s mission focuses on reviving faith, rekindling charity, and forming apostles who give witness to this fullness of the Christian life by embracing their baptismal call.
Father Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., Director of the Center, explains, “The Catholic Apostolate Center is rooted in the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti, who believed that all are called to be apostles and to be co-responsible for the mission of Christ and his Church.”
Founded in 2011 as a ministry of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines),Immaculate Conception Province, the Catholic Apostolate Center develops resources that the faithful, particularly those in ministry, can use to aid in their own evangelization efforts. The Center responds to the current needs of the Church through developing, in collaboration with dioceses and other institutions and organizations, formation programs for the New Evangelization.
It assists pastoral leaders in deepening collaboration with one another and provides formation opportunities for members and collaborators of the Union of Catholic Apostolate.
The Center accomplishes this bold mission through online resource pages, webinars, podcasts, and blogs, as well as through the partnerships with organizations like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Volunteer Network, and St. Joseph’s College of Maine, among others. Furthermore, they host seminars, webinars, and presentations as well as providing consulting services.
“While we do produce our own material, and have a large amount of no-cost digital resources, the Center collaborates with many national and international Catholic organizations, dioceses, and the USCCB on a variety of projects to assist active Catholics in living as missionary disciples,” Donio said. In the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti, the Center equips Catholics to “go out” empowered with the resources and knowledge to propagate the faith for the New Evangelization.
St. Vincent Pallotti founded the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an association to revive faith and rekindle charity among Catholics and propagate the faith to all. St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged collaboration among the clergy, religious, and the laity in the 1800s at time in history when many thought the work of the Church should be left to priests and religious.
The Catholic Apostolate Center looks to the life of St. Vincent Pallotti for inspiration as it strives to form collaborative relationships with more organizations, further develop its formation resources, and ultimately, empower all the faithful - clergy and lay - to live out their baptismal call.
The Catholic Apostolate Center specifically entrusts its work of forming apostles to Mary,
“Queen of Apostles” because of her invaluable role in building the early church and encouraging the first apostles. The Center looks to the Blessed Mother as the perfect model of discipleship, apostolic work, and charity as we strive to lead Christ’s followers closer to her Son.
Formation leads to action - this is a core belief that influences the work of the Center. Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has reminded us to be comprised of both action and word, to encourage a spirit of accompaniment and encounter.
“Go out,” he says. “Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask.” By forming the laity to “go out,” the Catholic Apostolate Center hopes to empower the Body of Christ to collaboratively carry out the mission entrusted to the Church by Jesus Christ.
This article was originally published at CruxNow.com and can be viewed here.
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Chris Pierno is the Advancement and Marketing Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center.