We are about two weeks into our Lenten sojourn, and I’m not sure about your experience so far, but I know that it has already been a challenge for me. And that’s good! I wanted this Lent to more closely unite me to the Cross of Christ, not just for these forty days, but beyond this season, and God is answering this prayer in ways that I could never expect. In fact, he is delivering me from my own crosses so that I may know joy through this suffering.
So far, I’ve been able to take away two important lessons from my Lenten journey so far:
Life is hard. Our days are filled with many demands, and sometimes we fail to meet them. People will disappoint us. We may hurt others by our words or actions. We find ourselves exasperated, or at times feeling hopeless. But the one who hopes in the Lord knows that all of these trials of being human bring us to the Cross and teach us sacrificial love. This weekend at mass I was told, “Lent is a school of charity. Life is a school of charity” (Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth). As we navigate these crosses, God is literally stretching our hearts to be open to love – the love of the Cross – so that when we reach heaven, our hearts are like Christ’s sacred heart. And if he stretches our hearts through pain and sorrow, imagine how much God stretches our hearts through hope and joy! Through every trial and every gift we are being molded to become more Christ-like, capable of infinite love. If we could truly fathom this infinite love that God is preparing us for, we would live life on our knees in awe of the Cross. Truly we can say that life is a school of love, a school of charity.
The readings today teach us how we can plant our roots to let the Lord more fully direct our lives. We are consistently given the image of a tree whose roots are planted near running water. This tree’s leaves never fade, and in even drought, it still bears fruit. For me, this tree represents my cross, whose confidence must rely solely in the Lord. God can only keep my leaves evergreen if I live off of his waters, God will perform miracles in my life if I let him. Truly letting go of my pride and independence is so hard, yet extremely humbling. It truly takes confidence and prayer. In this school of charity, I’ve learned that even the simplest of prayers can help me submit my cross to God each day: “Multiply my time, Lord,” or “Let me see you where you need me to.” When I say these prayers and trust God to fulfill them, he does. He’s stretching my heart to know his love. He carries my crosses for me. Truly, I am a mere student in this school of charity.
As you pray today over your takeaways from Lent so far, I pray that you come to find peace in how the Lord is trying to carry your cross through His school of charity, and that you call upon the grace to let him do so. I pray that you reflect on where your tree is planted and that you want to live by God’s living streams. Ultimately, I pray that you know how loved you are. You are so loved that God is stretching your heart so that you may become more like him. He wants you to know infinite love, who is our Lord Jesus himself.
“I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love.” – Ephesians 3:17-18
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington, D.C.
Have you ever sat behind a family in church who don’t realize their child is tearing out hymnal pages silently? That was me when I was young. My brother would bring a whole container of Cheerios and still end up chewing the wooden pew, and my sister would constantly be passed back and forth to Mom and Dad until she either fell asleep or stopped chattering. Families who bring young children to church are establishing a foundation on which their faith can be encouraged throughout their lives. Interestingly enough, all three of us are now grown-up, moved away from home, and are regular attendees at Mass. Our commitment to faith and the Gospels has never ceased, but only grown into what it is today.
Soon we celebrate an important day in the liturgical year…the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time! Not what you were expecting me to say, right? As we listen to the Gospel at Mass each week, our hearts journey alongside Christ’s teachings and we parallel these teachings to our own day-to-day lives. We often forget that Jesus’ miracles and most famous parables occur during Ordinary Time! Surely, there is no coincidence that during these weeks of Ordinary Time, when Jesus is teaching his disciples, he is also teaching us. As we hear in this week’s Gospel of Mark, “The people were astonished at his teaching” (Mk 1:22). Just as those who heard Christ’s teaching firsthand, so shall we open our hearts and hear him, too! The Catechism teaches us that Sundays are the “principle day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. (CCC 1193). Throughout the liturgical year we come together on Sundays to celebrate the paschal mystery, that is the death and Resurrection of Christ. Ordinary Time is an important part of the celebration of this paschal mystery.
Ordinary Time can often be understood as time between the two holiday seasons. This period can be viewed as Christmas is over and Lent has not begun. There are two times during the Liturgical year. First is the time between Christmas and Lent, which begins at the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and lasts until Ash Wednesday. The second instance of Ordinary time begins the Monday following Pentecost and lasts until Advent. Ordinary is taken from the word, ordinal which literally means “counted numbers.” Many Catholics think of Ordinary Time as boring, usual, or “ordinary” Sundays instead of numerically arranged Sundays. Through the efforts of the New Evangelization, it is necessary to demonstrate to others the significance of weekly Mass, especially during Ordinary Time, to enhance our knowledge and message of the Gospels. Ordinary Time is a chance for Catholics to cultivate our understanding of Christ’s mission of love, and try our very best to be more like Him every day.
So this Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, focus on the message of the Gospel and the relevance of the Word in your life. Coming to church on a Sunday that is not for Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter is not easy task for some people or families. If you see a family with young children in church this weekend, say a short prayer for those parents. It is not easy to take small children to Mass on a non-school-day, so a short prayer or an understanding smile might make it all worth their while. With your better understanding of the liturgical year, you too can let others know that Ordinary Time is not the boring-bunch-of-green Sundays, but a chance to grow closer to God and your neighbor. Now, if they ask you about the time between Christmas and Easter or Easter and Christmas you can respond with, “There is nothing ordinary about it!”
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
This past Sunday, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On this solemnity, the Church recalls the sovereignty of our Lord over the universe and in our hearts. We are called to look forward to the “definitive and eternal kingdom of Christ”, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI identified as “the ultimate goal of history”. Having been with the Father at the very beginning, when the world was “without form or shape” will fully manifest His lordship at the end of time (cf Genesis 1:2). This past Sunday’s reading from St. Matthew’s gospel presents the great scene of this final judgment, where He who “sits upon His glorious throne with all the nations gathered before Him” will separate the “sheep from the goats”, that is, identify those who have recognized and accepted the Word of God and its messengers and those who rejected it (Matthew 24:31-32). The point of the Gospel, is not so much identifying who are the sheep and who are the goats, but, as Pope Francis noted, determining whether we live our lives in “imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which He brought about His kingdom. “
Christ’s reign is unlike any earthly notion of kingship (cf. Matthew 21:1-11). He completely identifies Himself with the poor, the sick, and the afflicted. He does not ignore the weak, the needy, or the marginalized. Christ’s kingdom is one of love, service, and Truth, not one built up by weapons, violence, or a lust for power. Unfortunately, Christ’s contemporaries frequently misunderstood the kingdom being preached as an earthly, political one. After the multiplication of the loaves, for example, the masses were so enthralled by the miracle that they wanted to declare Jesus as their king on the spot to overthrow Roman rule. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, a zealous Peter begins to fight those who came to arrest Jesus. Both times, Jesus knows the will of His Father must be completed: He withdraws to pray in the first instance, and, after rebuking Peter, submits to the mob in the second. Hearing of a new kingdom and servants, the Pontius Pilate has Jesus presented before him, but is taken aback at what he sees: the one who dared to challenge the might of Rome has been abandoned by his followers, and his enemies are crying for a most humiliating execution (cf. John 18:37). The Roman governor asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). In spite of the injury and insult He is suffering, Jesus clarifies the nature of His kingship, which is no worldly power but a Love which serves. He states that His kingdom is in no way to be confused with a political reign: “My kingship is not of this world… is not from the world” (v. 36).
The kingdom that Christ inaugurates is universal. It is not confined to political borders or a single ethnic group but rather, it is universal and communal by being present among those who love as He loved, and serve as He served. In seeking the Kingdom of God, one only has to look towards those who are suffering hardship in their lives. How can one hope to enter the Kingdom based on justice, love, and peace, if that person turns a blind eye to the needs of his neighbors (cf. Luke 10:25-37)? Mother Teresa addressed this hypocrisy:
It is not enough for us to say, “I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.”… How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live?
How, then, can we prepare for this Kingdom? Our Faith is not one we keep to ourselves, but something we are meant— and commanded— to share and give witness to every moment of our lives (cf. Matthew 28:19). We can bring others to Christ by our love, our service, and our humility, placing the needs of others, especially the marginalized, above our own. In doing so, and by forgoing the allures of worldly power and riches, we make ourselves ready for the greater Kingdom and Glory that Christ has promised us. And when each of us stands before Him at the Final Judgment and renders an account of the life we spent in imitation of our Lord, we can hope to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant! ... Come, share your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:21).
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
For more information on bringing Christ’s love to others, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s New Evangelization Resource Page!
Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, a scholar and theologian. He was instrumental in responding to the Protestant Reformation, and was named the Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan in 1564. Charles Borromeo has the distinction of being one of four saints mentioned in the Prologue to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and he is mentioned as a significant force behind the products of the Council of Trent, which “initiated a remarkable organization of the Church’s catechesis” (CCC 9). In addition to working for the Catholic Apostolate Center, I work in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis. While the New Evangelization efforts have brought renewed use of Evangelization in the vocabulary of many Catholics, often we forget about the importance of catechesis.
There is no easy, succinct definition for catechesis. Rather, it is a process that is both interactive and ongoing. We tend to use it most when discussing the formation of catechumens, especially in the teaching of young children or through the RCIA process. The USCCB describes catechesis as “the act of handing on the Word of God intended to inform the faith community and candidates for initiation into the Church about the teachings of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles to the Church.” At some point in our faith formation, most of us have experienced catechesis. Whether it was the elementary school teachers who taught you in religion classes in Catholic schools, the religious education teachers through your parish CCD program, or RCIA formation leaders, we have all benefited from the important work that catechists do. Through their tireless dedication to teaching and spreading the faith, these men and women play an integral role in our Church.
However, catechesis also takes place at a much more informal level as well. As the USCCB notes, “catechesis also involves the lifelong effort of forming people into witnesses to Christ and opening their hearts to the spiritual transformation given by the Holy Spirit.” Catechesis is an interactive process, not merely one person teaching another, but also involves a personal commitment to our own faith development. I know I have personally grown and developed in my faith through typical classroom learning, but also through life experiences. Catechesis takes both these forms. We never know the impact our words and actions can have on others, and perhaps your own experiences have helped someone else on their faith journey! Take a moment today to reflect on your own faith development and pray the prayer below, through the intercession of St. Charles Borromeo, for all those who have taken on the task of teaching our faith to others.
Jesus, you told us that laborers for the vineyard would be few and that we should pray to the Lord of the Harvest in the hope that many might respond. You have answered our prayers by sending us catechists for your vineyard.
Bless these men and women who have responded to your call to the ministry of catechesis. May they be filled with zeal for your Church, with care for those they catechize, and with love for your Word of Life. Let your Spirit come upon them so that your Word may echo through their teaching and through the witness of their lives. Through our catechists, may the members of our parish whom they teach be transformed into witnesses to your Word. And may these catechists receive the blessing your Son promised to all who labor in your vineyard.
We pray to you, gracious Father, in the name of your Son, Jesus, the Word of Life, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit who transforms us by that Word, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
For more information on Catechesis, please see our Resource Page!
Just last summer on Copacabana Beach, at World Youth Day, Pope Francis remarked, “The Church is counting on you... The Pope is counting on you!” Youth in the Church today often feel marginalized, alone, or worst of all- downright ignored. However, it is our calling as baptized Catholics to reverse this trend, and in rural southern Indiana, an unlikely group of Catholics are striving to do just that.
I spent the summer at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery in Indiana, working for One Bread One Cup, a liturgical leadership youth program that forms high school students in the liturgy and helps them to integrate the Word, Sacrament, and Mission of the Church into their lives. Over seventy monks welcomed twenty college interns and hundreds of high school students and youth ministers to their home. However, they did much more than welcome us to their home. For centuries, Benedictine monks have been known in a special way as guardians of the rich liturgical patrimony of the Church. And guess what they did with it? They gave it away, they gave the youth the most precious gift that they have, telling them to go back to their parishes and implement what they have been taught, ranging from how to be an EMHC, to Cantor, to liturgical artist. However, it was not so much being taught how to do these things, as much as helping the youth to realize and use their God given gifts to build up His Kingdom. Whenever I think of the mission of One Bread, One Cup, I always see its mission epitomized by Matthew, Chapter Ten, when Jesus commissions and sends out the apostles to minister, to go and proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
An important aspect of the New Evangelization is helping youth rediscover or discover for the first time the richness of the Gospel. However, once teens join a youth group and appear to begin to be engaged, what happens then? Pope Francis at World Youth Day said, “Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you…” Therefore, part of the whole Church’s mission is to make it known that teenagers are not only called to be disciples of Jesus, but to be apostles; to partake in the apostolic mission and responsibility of Jesus and the Church.
Spending the summer ministering to older high school students from across America, from Louisiana to Michigan, has shown me one very effective way at helping youth to recognize their calling to be apostles, and to discover and then use their God given talents to participate in a certain liturgical ministry. Everything the Church does flows from one thing- the celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, if we are trying to keep youth in the Church, or help them to realize their calling to be apostles, why would we not involve the youth in the most important work that the Church does? If youth understand the liturgy and participate in it, then they will be able to understand and participate in the Church, because the liturgy is the greatest teaching tool the Church has. “Renewing the Vision,” a landmark document on youth ministry by the USCCB says evangelization, “calls young people to be evangelizers of other young people, their families, and the community.” Once youth become involved in the liturgy and understand it, it becomes the natural next step for them to evangelize others and in my experiences and probably yours, it becomes much more likely that they will feel a part of the Church and stay in the Church.
Conor Boland is a College Ministerial Intern for One Bread One Cup, at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology and is an undergraduate at the Catholic University of America.
When I was 12 years old, my favorite movie was Godspell, a fantastic 1973 version of a Broadway musical based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. My family knows the songs and performances so well, and in Church we will look at each other and pantomime what the actors do in the movie. Usually, this makes us look like goofballs, but honestly, it has given me a better and long-term understanding of these important parables and gospels. Needless to say, today’s Gospel is featured in the film, and I know it well.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.” Matt 5: 13-16
This gospel is full of insights to help us understand how to live out the light of Christ in our lives. Think about it. We are the salt of the earth. We, filled with faith in God, are the salt with which all delicious food is seasoned! If we are not adding flavor to the world and sharing our faith, we will become like dirty road salt under cars and feet. We are called to love as Christ loves, to show that we have not only heard the Word of God, but are now going out to season the world with our faith. Likewise, we are the light of the world! Light illuminates the darkness, so how do we illuminate the world around us? In a world that can be so dark at times, what comfort and support do we give to others? How do we exemplify the love of the Father through us? Christ calls us to not only shine our light before all, but illuminate the world and give our all, to all.
Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have spoken about the necessity to brighten all corners of the world with our light of faith. The New Evangelization is helping to renew the flicker of faith in our hearts, transforming them into raging and unstoppable flames. As Pope Francis says in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, “once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim….We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.” We must remain on our lampstand, careful not to slowly drift under bushel baskets. We can avoid dimming our light by attending Mass frequently to hear the Word and receive the Lord, confessing our sins regularly with a priest, discussing and asking questions about our faith to learn more fully, going outside of our comfort zones to reach those in darkness, and, finally, remaining true in our love and compassion to imitate Christ’s own life. We are the Light of the World, so let’s go act like it!
Krissy Kirby is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. with a degree in Early Childhood Education.
We celebrate Pentecost on June 8th, 50 days after Easter, to commemorate the Holy Spirit’s descent on Christ’s disciples after His Ascension. We are, in many ways, celebrating the birthday [E1] of the Church and our individual commitments to God.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to share our faith, to have the ability to open our hearts in understanding one another and God’s message. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord), we become fully alive in our personal relationship with God so we can give better witness to His message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “…the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity” (CCC 738).
We can use Pentecost as an opportunity to make our faith our own while sharing God’s word. By utilizing our individual talents and volunteering in some aspect of our church, we strengthen our faith and build community.
I remember wanting to be an altar server after receiving my first Holy Communion in second grade. I began altar serving and continued to do so until I received Confirmation. Serving during the Mass allowed me, as a young girl, to better understand my Catholic faith. My parents remember me saying how I enjoyed altar serving because I had to pay attention (and stay awake) during 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. Assisting the priest on the altar, I began to fully understand and celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist every Sunday. I attended Catholic school and was able to make connections between Religion class and weekly Mass by serving during church service. Once confirmed, I continued to volunteer in my church as a lector as well as taught religion education to grade school children. Actively participating in my church allowed me to fully engage in my Catholic faith and grow spiritually.
No matter our age, the Catholic Church encourages us to be active participants in Mass and in our Church. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can come to discover where the Church needs us and how we can best share the time, talent, and treasure God has given us. My parish hosts a ministry fair each year, which gives parishioners an opportunity to see other ministries within the Church and where we can best serve God and our community.
Pentecost allows us to renew ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis asks us in his daily Mass homily on May 19th this year to question ourselves: “What kind of heart do we have? … Is my heart fixed upon everyday gods or is it a heart fixed on the Holy Spirit?” It is easy for us to get wrapped up in life’s habitual tasks at home, work, with family, colleagues, etc. Pope Francis encourages us that the Holy Spirit “gives us strength, gives us the steadiness to be able to move forward in life in the midst of many events.”
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.
The belief that faith and reason are complementary ways of coming to know the truth, rather than antagonistic rivals or competitors for one’s allegiance, has its foundation in the NT itself and, ultimately, in a person rather than a text.
When the earliest of Christian writers were searching for ways in which to articulate the meaning of what we might call the “Jesus Event,” i.e., the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, one of the first associations they made was between Jesus and the ‘wisdom’ [σοφία] or ‘reason’ [λόγος] of God. Drawing from the book of Wisdom, St. Paul refers to Christ as “the wisdom [σοφίαν] of God” (1 Cor 1:24). “All things were created through him and for him,” the Apostle states elsewhere, “He is before all things, and in him all
things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).
These latter remarks about Jesus, the identification of him with God’s divine wisdom, NT scholars agree pre-date St. Paul himself. They were, most likely, part of a hymn to Christ which the early Christian community used in their liturgical services. Thus, from the very beginning of Christianity, before the composition of the NT, Christians understood Jesus as the incarnation, the en-fleshment, of God’s divine wisdom; the wisdom by which God created, governs and sustains the natural world. The living embodiment of the ‘plan’ (ratio) according to which the cosmos was designed and functions.
A bit later in Christian history, around the year 90, this belief was given its classic expression in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word [λόγος], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3).
The Greek term for ‘Word’ [λόγος] in this translation can have many meanings: word, speech, language, an account or narrative, or an explanation. It can also mean, most importantly, ‘reason’ or ‘thought.’ So if we exchange translations, we can read the same passage as: “In the beginning was Reason and Reason was
with God, and Reason was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” With his obvious linguistic allusion to Genesis 1:1 [i.e., “In the beginning…”], the author of the prologue is affirming the divine nature of God’s reason and wisdom. A few verses later, of course, the author takes the further step of associating this Reason with the person of Jesus: “And the Word [Reason] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14).
For the Catholic, then, as true now as was for these early Christian authors, it is in God, and especially through the person of His Son Jesus Christ, that Wisdom, Reason and Truth have their being. As Jesus said: “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) and “for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18:37).
Understanding that the world was created according to divine reason, and that the seeds of reason are to be found in the entire created order, the Catholic tradition has long affirmed the human capacity, and supported the human effort, to discover truth in the natural world by the light of human reason. It is true that the early Christian theologian Tertullian famously asked the question: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (De praescr. haeret. 7). But on that matter, and quite a few others, Tertullian was departing from the established Christian thought of his time. The Catholic tradition, on the other hand, acknowledges that since truth cannot be opposed to itself, the truths of the faith cannot contradict those of science or reason (cf. Aquinas SCG 1.7). Faith and reason are not competitors, but the two complementary ways in which humankind might come to know the truth.
This point has been articulated throughout the Catholic intellectual tradition and, more recently, the Second Vatican Council stated that “methodical research, in all realms of knowledge, if it respects […] moral norms, will never be genuinely opposed to faith: the reality of the world and of faith have their origin in the same God” (GS § 36). Likewise, Pope St. John Paul II stated that faith and reason are two complimentary ways of coming to the truth because “the unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear” (FR § 34).
The mutual necessity of both faith and reason is nowhere more evident than in the discipline of theology. In examining the application of reason to matters of faith, St. Augustine once wrote: intellege ut credas, crede ut intellegas (‘to understand so that you might believe, to believe so that you might understand’) (s. 43.9). More than half a millennium later, the Benedictine archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm, meditating on St. Augustine’s thought, would famously define theology as fides quaerens intellectum (‘faith seeking understanding’) (Cf. Pros. 1-2).
In attempting to sum up this intellectual inheritance, this particularly Catholic way of viewing, inter alia, the relationship between faith and reason, many writers have taken to calling this hermeneutic the Catholic “both/and.” As opposed to looking at the world and seeing a multitude of choices which demand an “either/or” decision, the Catholic “both/and,” being sensitive to false dichotomies, sees the value – and in many
instances the necessity – of each choice: nature and grace, action and contemplation, freewill and providence, invisible grace and material signs, and, of course, faith and reason. From the Catholic perspective, therefore, the relationship between faith and reason has never been an antagonistic one. Rather, the Catholic sees the proper use of one’s intellect as an activity which draws us nearer to God by seeking His Wisdom.
Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online
This blog post was originally published on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more
about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online.
Our Church breathes through the two lungs of Scripture and Tradition, and as members of the Church we are called to do the same to live a flourishing life. The Catechism of our Church explains the importance of Scripture saying, "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life" (CCC 131). In order to inspire a life of apostolic vocation with strength and vigor, we begin today our first installment of the "Scripture to Life" series. Through the intercession and example of Our Lady, Mother of God and Queen of Apostles, we hope that the Word of God may be enfleshed by you.
Throughout my spiritual journey I have always struggled with pinpointing the virtue of humility in my life. I don’t think this is due to any lack of desire for the virtue, (it usually isn’t) but rather a lack of true understanding of the virtue. In the Gospel passage of John 13, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and as he approached, Peter asked, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Whenever I read this passage, I always anticipate what Peter says next: “You will never wash my feet!”
For some reason, I am always drawn to Peter’s stark rejection of Jesus’ perfect example of humility. If you have practiced lectio divina before, you know that when a part of Scripture confuses the heck out of you, that is exactly the point where you must stop reading, close your eyes, and listen.; It is specifically in this moment that God seeks to transform you through the power of his living word.
My meditation on this passage continues with reflecting on exactly what was going through Peter’s mind and heart at the moment of his objection: confusion and feelings of extreme discomfort. It is as if Peter, like many of us who strive for, yet lack the fullness of this most necessary virtue of humility, is saying: WAIT! I don’t understand! Why are you asking me to go this far outside of my “comfort zone” in order to be your disciple?
One of the ways I ask my students to relate to Peter’s level of discomfort is by asking them to consider allowing me to wash their feet in front of their friends. As they all cringe and shout “that’s disgusting”, I simply say, multiply your level of discomfort by ten and that is probably how the apostles felt when Jesus began to wash their feet.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ invitation to his apostles to accept this teaching is vital to their emerging role in the building up the Kingdom of God and one of extreme importance to his mission of salvation. His disciples must go beyond all levels of comfort in order to serve Him and to create His Kingdom on earth. Likewise, this invitation is extended to us, who are called to be apostles of Christ by joining in the Church’s mission of evangelization.
However, like Peter (as well as my students and myself) most Christians in today’s world, cringe when Jesus invites them to serve in ways that take them beyond their comfort zone. Jesus is saying that it is precisely in the moments that lead us beyond ourselves, our fears and our assumptions, that we can do the greatest good in witnessing to the New Evangelization and building up the Kingdom.
The great missionary and witness to the New Evangelization, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Always take the more difficult road.” To me, there is no path more difficult than the path of humility and yet none more fulfilling. I have felt extremely uncomfortable at times when discerning the call of the Holy Spirit! Nevertheless, like Peter, I am immediately reassured with the words of Jesus’ gentle response: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”
Our task then, like Peter’s, is learning to respond with true understanding and true humility; for this is essential to our Christ-filled witness in the New Evangelization. Jesus, in this paradigm, testifies that when we reject the sin of self-absorption and are ready to serve selflessly we pave the way for God’s people to enter into the Kingdom of God: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk 14:11
Bart Zavaletta received a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Houston and a M.A. in Theology from the Oblate School of Theology, and currently teaches Theology at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. […] The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life. […]
All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!
An abridged version of the homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at the Christmas Midnight Mass 2006 in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Liturgy is just exhilarating! What could give you more of a spiritual rush than a thirty minute homily being read straight from the page, a cantor who sings with the voice of an angelic chicken, an altar server who must be awakened from her mid-Mass nap to bring the Missal to the altar, and a lector who proclaims the Word of God with monotone gusto and the speed of a snail?
Okay, yes, liturgy on the surface can be quite unexciting. We can often leave Mass unnourished, and critiquing everything that left us unsatisfied. Yet, everything that we critique, everything that leaves us unsatisfied, is what is essential to liturgy itself. Liturgy is a reflection of us, the faithful. So, perhaps, we are quite unexciting; however, I don’t believe this is the case. I think liturgy takes on a different type of excitement, an excitement that fulfills us in a way that nothing of this world can compare to.
There are many times when I’m having a bad day, and I hope and pray that a large McDonald’s chocolate shake will give me the nourishment and comfort that I need to continue on. As I sit in the drive-thru line, I’m excited about my chocolate shake to the point where I can even taste it! Ten minutes later, after consuming 22 fl oz. of ice cream goodness, I find myself sick and even more unnourished than before.
The excitement of the chocolate shake is an excitement of this world that will never last. It does not even come close to the nourishment and excitement that the Eucharist brings to those who believe. Everything we do flows from liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) says that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows” (SC 10). Just as we bring bread and wine to the Altar to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, when we come forward to receive Christ, we bring our very selves to the Altar of God to be transformed and commissioned to Christ’s ministry on earth.
This has been the purpose of Eucharistic liturgy since the beginning of the Church. In the second century, Justin Martyr defended the Eucharistic practices of the Church by stating the following: “through the word of prayer that comes from God, the food over which the Eucharist has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood” (Apologia I, 65-66). We are unable to do Christ’s ministry here on earth without the fruits of our liturgical worship. Every time we celebrate Mass, we are coming to the source, the origin, of all life and ministry. How exciting is that? If we truly understand that our Eucharistic celebration is where it all begins, then no boring homily, no awful cantor, no napping server, and no monotone lector can ever lesson the excitement that abounds beneath the surface of liturgy. No matter what liturgical experience we may have on the surface, the excitement of liturgy should pour forth into our lives, helping us to engage in the ministry that Jesus established for us on earth.
As I mentioned, liturgy is a reflection of us, the faithful. It is us doing the work of God, on behalf of God and for God’s people. Because we are only human, liturgy may not live up to the idea of excitement that we are used to. However, liturgy is home to a different excitement, a lasting excitement, an excitement that will always be present. It’s just a question of whether we’ve come to Mass open to this excitement. Have we come to Mass for a chocolate shake, or have we come to be sent forth to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord?
Stephen Schad is working towards his MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and is currently the Director of Liturgy and Music at Saint Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community in Houston, TX.