After nearly three months of what reminded me of the first Holy Saturday—that is, the experience of the apostles not knowing what was in store for them after the apparent loss of their teacher—I was able to participate in the celebration of the Mass offered at my parish. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the faithful have had to rely on the remote broadcasting of the Mass in order to remain connected to their local churches. This, of course, is no substitute for the Real Presence, but in the absence of being able to be spiritually nourished as usual, we have been blessed that the pastors of the Church could reach out and minister to us as safely as possible. I witnessed the Church creatively address the problem of being unable to gather together to worship by utilizing the tools of digital social media to share scriptural reflections, homilies, group prayers, and simply to check in and care for various needs of neighbors. The doors of the churches may have been closed, but the people of God charitably opened their hearts.
After being apart for so long, I welcome the news of a return to the public celebration of the sacraments. Nothing could be better than receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Can a bride be apart from her groom? Are we not in ecstasy to return to Holy Communion when we are cleansed of sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? So much more fervently have I longed for He Who dwells most intimately in our hearts and reigns over us. As Padre Pio shared, “My thirst and hunger do not diminish after I have received Him in the Blessed Sacrament, but rather, increase steadily.” There is no better joy on this earth than to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The experience is beyond mere mortal words, but St. Thomas Aquinas aptly selected a few for the Church to sing at the Feast of Corpus Christi:
At this great feast of love
let joyful praise resound,
let heartfelt homage now ascend
to heaven’s height:
ring out the reign of sin;
ring in the reign of grace;
a world renewed acclaims its King,
through veiled in sight.
I look forward to rejoicing with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” The widespread return to the sacraments will be a most welcome act of devotion, if not a critical one, for our spiritual lives. Until then, we can participate in other devotions, such as spending time before the Blessed Sacrament (perhaps from the parking lot or via livestream) and simply gazing at our Lord. We can continue our prayer life and even adopt new prayer methods, such as Lectio Divina or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, into our routines. We can say a daily act of Spiritual Communion or set apart five minutes a day for reflection and contemplation.
Christ always accompanies us. His grace continues to abound for us; peace and comfort are always offered; and He never abandons us in our sufferings, however they may have been manifested in recent days. This time of staying at home has given me an insatiable thirst to receive the Lord physically in the Eucharist upon my tongue and into the core of my being! Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelic Doctor, continues:
When we eat the bread of gladness,
there is here no cause for sadness:
Christ can suffer pain no more.
One or many, each is given
whole, entire, the bread of heaven:
mortal minds can but adore.
Jesus, whom for the present veiled I see,
what I so thirst for, oh, vouchsafe to me:
that I may see thy countenance unfolding,
and may be blest thy glory in beholding. Amen.
If we allow our Lord to reign in us, even the least of us can be instruments of His Love and accomplish great deeds “for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” As we have observed from our time apart, we are still able to recognize the Lord in the dignity and service of others, as well as in our day to day routines and lives of prayer. The graces never cease being poured out for His Church and our mission of evangelization never ends. He always accompanies us and that is enough! With a spirit of divine love and faithful accompaniment, we can “open wide the doors for Christ” for others in our homes, workplaces, and centers of care as much as in our intimate chapels, simple parishes, and breathtaking basilicas.
 Sacris solemniis, St. Thomas Aquinas
 cf. Psalm 42:1
 Adoro Te Devote, ibid.
The Easter season assaults the physical and spiritual senses, calling the body and soul to unite as we share in a mere glimpse of the eternal life that was offered to us when the gates of paradise were opened on that beautiful Easter morning. Typically around this time, the smell of the Easter flowers adorning the sanctuary remind us of new life. The scent and sight of the burning incense and candles rising to heaven with our humble cries of “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” remind us of our prayers going up to the altar of God. We reach our fingertips out to touch the droplets of water washing over us and are reminded of our baptismal promises. The reception of the Eucharist leaps past our lips and dances on our tongue as we are engulfed, body and soul, by the true presence of our risen Lord. “Alleluia!! He is RISEN!! Where, oh death, is your sting?!” The words resound from the core of our being and echo through our hearts, escaping our lips in cries of exaltation.
A few short weeks ago, these words were uttered from the speakers of televisions, laptops, and phones as we ushered in the Easter season as a Catholic family and community during the coronavirus pandemic. The tangible nature of the Catholic faith and the deep-rooted sense of community that the Easter season brings made this a difficult celebration for many of us. This rich season is a beautiful fifty-day celebration spanning from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. What a challenge it is, though, to maintain our joy when our hearts feel heavy and our senses yearn to be submerged in the deep traditions and rituals of our faith.
“I am a practicing Catholic”. We may have uttered these words at various stages throughout our life for various reasons. Perhaps this simple phrase is the key we inherently possess to bridge the gap we may be feeling and provide much needed balm to our weary spirits and aching senses.
As many of the doors of our church buildings closed for the safety, protection, and health of our communities, the foundations of the domestic church have begun to shine forth. For many, our homes have become the sole place for worship, praise, and spiritual communion, and we find ourselves face to face with the deep reality of Saint Paul’s words in his letter to the Corinthians. “For we know that if our earthly dwelling,* a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven…For in this tent we groan, longing to be further clothed with our heavenly habitation…So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:1-8). And so the words, “I am a practicing Catholic” tumble around deep in our beings as we seek to uncover the answers that the groaning spirit within us already understands. We can “practice” our Catholicism in a new, perhaps, different way during this time.
Do we know the power of our habits? Our habits form and inform both the nature of how we approach our days, as well as the manner in which we respond to catalysts in our daily life. What do you automatically do when you wake up in the morning? The action steps that you take both consciously and subconsciously are habits and routines that you have formed over time to serve you in preparing to approach the day that lies ahead. There are two main instigators that cause us to revise and/or disrupt our habits: the desire for change or a need to adapt due to changing circumstances around us. Perhaps at this time both of these instigators are merging to grant us with a divine opportunity to draw ourselves closer to God.
Within the very practice of our Catholic faith lie “habits” called virtues that can be practiced, developed, and deepened to help us grow closer to God and to fortify our relationship with Jesus Christ through the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic virtues are a beautiful way to continue to explore, celebrate, and proclaim the spiritually tangible aspects of our faith. By embracing these changing circumstances around us through a contrite desire to grow in virtue, concrete decisions and actions can be taken to deepen our virtuous life. In doing so, we strive to unite our physical actions and spiritual practices to grow in virtue while cultivating our domestic churches. If, therefore, we can embrace this time in our history to strengthen our virtuous resolve to truly anoint our lives and those around us with a real presence of the Living God, perhaps we may find that, although the doors of our earthly buildings have been temporarily closed, we can embrace the opportunity to unite our voices with the cries of the saints of heaven: “Alleluia! He is Risen!” “Our hearts are burning within us!” “My Lord and My God!”
There’s something wonderfully intimate about entering an empty chapel or secluded church and embracing it for personal prayers. Our Lord continuously invites each of us to set aside our daily activities and distractions to spend some time gazing, discerning, and listening to Him who knows each of us better than we could ever understand ourselves. The ancient promise of Christ to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” assures us of the great love freely offered to us when we recall we are always in God’s holy presence. In doing so, the troubles and challenges we face in the world are trivialized and surrendered to God’s holy will so that our focus can be firmly fixed upon worshipping and honoring the One who calls us to Himself.
Whether it was in a parish church during the day, the school chapel in between classes, or even the private chapel of a religious community, my experiences of being able to utilize the simple intimacy and quiet of the moment offered me peace and sanctuary from the world. Of course, the Almighty is not restricted to the tabernacle of a church; His presence is infinite and forever available to us. There is, however, something affirming about entering into a space conducive to prayer and spirituality. The design and furnishing of a sacred space can draw our senses into an experience to better appreciate God’s presence in our lives. The light from outside may reflect colored light from stained glass windows upon the wall, the smell of candles or incense being burned convey that space is specially oriented to a higher purpose than what you just stepped out of, and the silence and lack of technology, advertising, or electronic distractions enable you to be more aware of your surroundings as you seek to hear God speaking to you. Encounters with the living God are not typically a Burning Bush or Annunciation experience; recall that the prophet Elijah sought to encounter God on Mount Horeb and found Him in the “sheer silence” rather than a strong wind, fire, or earthquake.
We are all aware of the daily bombardment of digital content and of the professional, social, or academic obligations and expectations we face. They compete for our time and attention, can wear us down in routines, and force us to prioritize what is important for us to achieve. In our busy lives, we must actively choose to answer God’s constant and gentle call to “Abide in me as I abide in you.” He pours out His love for us freely, even when we are not always actively seeking Him or discerning His will for us. The Christian journey, then, is one of encounter and service; the love God extends to us is to be shared and offered to our neighbors, the marginalized, and even—especially—enemies. No matter our vocation in this life, our ultimate goal must be Heaven in the next. The saints are excellent role models in embracing the love of Christ and committing their lives to bringing that love to others.
And while there is something beautiful about being the only person before the Lord in prayer and adoration, there is an even greater joy in bringing others to share in the experience and to worship God together. We do not walk the Christian way alone. As a wise friend of mine observed:
"[W]e have to remember that the journey to heaven is not a solo trek. You seek to bring everyone with you. If one person falls, you travel to him or her, and help them get up, and you carry along together towards the destination. This is what God has entrusted us to do, to reveal such love as His love. Within our families, jobs, school, or wherever God calls us to be, we must give everything of ourselves in bringing others on the adventure, and helping them endure. Think of the image of exhaustively falling down on God’s doorstep after the journey is over. You look back, and see no one, because the ones traveling with you have gone inside already."
 Joseph Cuda (lecture, Knights of Columbus Council #9542 business meeting, Washington, DC, November 3, 2013). http://knights.cua.edu/res/docs/Knights-Lecture-5-November-3-2013.pdf
We are about to enter into the holiest days of the Church’s liturgical year, the Easter or Paschal Triduum. The Lenten season, our time of preparation, will fade away into the spiritually intense days ahead. We know the story and how it ends. The disciples and Apostles of Jesus did not know and did not understand. That would come later. While we may know, do we truly understand? We are called to embrace fully and completely in our minds and hearts the basic Christian proclamation, the kerygma, that Pope Francis summarizes in a single sentence:
“Christ, out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you.” (Christus Vivet, 118)
Have we done so? We can learn many things from the Catechism or from Theology. We can do good through works of charity and justice. We can participate in many ritual actions of worship. It is all meaningless without trusting faith in Jesus Christ as our loving Savior who has risen from the dead and is alive today! Again, from Pope Francis:
“See Jesus as happy, overflowing with joy. Rejoice with him as with a friend who has triumphed. They killed him, the holy one, the just one, the innocent one, but he triumphed in the end. Evil does not have the last word. Nor will it have the last word in your life, for you have a friend who loves you and wants to triumph in you. Your Savior lives.” (Christus Vivet, 126)
May you have a blessed Easter Triduum!
“Blessed Paul VI, in referring to obstacles to evangelization, spoke of a lack of fervor (parrhesía) that is ‘all the more serious because it comes from within’. How often we are tempted to keep close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into the deep and let down our nets (cf. Lk 5:4). He bids us spend our lives in his service. Clinging to him, we are inspired to put all our charisms at the service of others. May we always feel compelled by his love (2 Cor 5:14) and say with Saint Paul: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:16).” – Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, 130.
In the passage above from Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), an apostolic exhortation on the “call to holiness in today’s world,” Pope Francis offers a concise summary of over forty years of papal teaching on evangelization as well as over two thousand years of the Church’s missionary efforts of the baptized going forth to all in word and deed in the name of Jesus Christ. Over fifty years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, the teaching that holiness is possible for all (Lumen Gentium, 11) or the “universal call to holiness,” seems to be still a teaching that is not fully received by all the baptized, partially because of an understanding on the part of some that growth in holiness needs a special and particular way or is only possible for certain people. Pope Francis disagrees with this view:
“We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (GE, 14).
But, just what is “holiness?” Pope Francis offers a definition of Pope Emeritus Benedict, “holiness is charity lived to the full” (GE, 21). It is the charity of Christ living in and through us. Pope Francis, continuing to quote Pope Benedict, provides further reflection: “As a result, ‘the measure of our holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on his’” (GE, 21)
Modelling our “whole life on his” needs to be done through moving outward on mission (EG 18-34) in mercy and love toward our brothers and sisters who are near us every day (GE, 63-109). It is done through our discernment (GE, 166-175), prayer, and worship (GE, 147-157) in the community of faith, the Church (EG, 140-146), resisting evil and doing good (GE, 158-165).
“Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.” (GE, 94).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on! (2 Cor 5:14)
"One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church's mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life." -Pope Francis
Change is a challenge. Throughout the United States and in many countries of the world, the way in which Catholicism is lived is changing. The Church calls us to encounter Jesus Christ every day, accompany others on the journey of faith similar to the Road to Emmaus, welcome and continually deepen discipleship in the community of faith through worship, faith formation, and service to others, and be sent forth as missionary disciples or apostles to proclaim in word and deed through sharing our faith in Christ and living lives of charity and justice.
All are co-responsible for the mission of Christ and his Church. Simply maintaining our parish programs and ministries is not enough. Working together collaboratively through discerned action in and through the Holy Spirit offers us a way forward.
The Bishops of the United States have issued an unprecedented invitation to Catholic leaders to join with them in discerning together with all the faithful the ways in which the Church in the United States can more fully live the joy of the Gospel each and every day. The Catholic Apostolate Center is honored to collaborate with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on this important event in the life of the Church this July called the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.” We are also pleased to work with the USCCB on the development of a new leadership resource for evangelization and pastoral planning called, Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization.
The Center provides resources and consultation which aid in personal and communal discernment and action so that all the baptized may live as missionary disciples. We are simply continuing the vision of St. Vincent Pallotti (1795 - 1850) who called all the faithful to be apostles of Christ in the Church and in world. As a ministry of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). The Center offers its resources at no cost as a service to the missionary and evangelization efforts of the Church. We invite you to share our many resources with others. Our prayers are with you in your continued deepening and living of missionary discipleship.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Question for Reflection: How is Christ calling you to use your gifts and talents to become an effective missionary disciple?
Whenever I go about my day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I am greeted by the faces of hundreds of saints illustrated in dozens of statues, mosaics, and portraits. Certainly, the focus of the Shrine — and indeed, any Catholic church — is on Christ (in this case through the Blessed Mother), but invariably one notices the honoring of God’s holy ones as well in side chapels and oratories. While one can hardly wander into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica without gazing in awe at the dominating mosaic Christ in Majesty — one of the largest images of Jesus in the world — it’s also impossible to miss the mere fraction of the Communion of Saints honored throughout the space; those who were so moved in their encounters with the Lord that they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Him.
Why does this church (and the Universal Church) assign so much importance to these figures? While the act of adoration and worship is solely reserved for God, the saints (including Mary) are, by contrast, venerated. When properly done, veneration does not interfere with the worship due to God, but rather fosters it. As the Second Vatican Council noted: “Our communion with those in heaven, provided that it is understood in the fuller light of faith according to its genuine nature, in no way weakens, but conversely, more thoroughly enriches the latreutic [what is allowed to God alone] worship we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 51).
Hailing from all walks of life, the saints represent the fervent love of God as he calls them to participate in and enrich the ministries of the Church, whether through charity, scholarship, prayer, catechesis, or apologetics. The saints rejected the status quo of society. They reformed society to be more like Christ’s ministry — sometimes at the cost of their own lives. They met people wherever they were in life in order to bring about a fruitful encounter with the Lord. If we have ever felt that we could not strive for the holiness God calls each of us to, we surely have countless role models to look to in the saints. We might think: “But I can’t possibly attain those standards — I’m a sinner!” But as the recently canonized Mother Teresa reportedly observed, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” Recognizing that their own shortcomings, however frequent, are infinitesimal compared to the love and mercy of God, the saints sought and found comfort in our perfect Lord, rather than wallowing in the imperfect condition of their lives.
In our own struggles for holiness, if we ever feel alone or without guidance, we have only to look to the saints for inspiration. The trials we face, whether they be doubts, abandonment, threats, or scorn were similarly faced by them. Yet the example of Christ’s experiences with these difficulties drove them forward, and so should also motivates us. We need not be intimidated with what is asked of us or the great witness of the saints. Again, in words attributed to Mother Teresa, we have only to concern ourselves with offering God “small things with great love.”
In the Basilica, the bas-relief of the Universal Call to Holiness rests directly opposite of Christ in Majesty, reflecting the theme of Lumen Gentium discussed above. Illustrated in the huge marble slab are people from all walks of life gazing upon and approaching God, the Holy Spirit. As Lumen Gentium, the bas-relief, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all emphasize: “all are called to holiness” (CCC 2013). The saints have embraced this, and not necessarily early in their lives. St. Augustine, one of the Church’s greatest converts, admitted to God in his autobiography called Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new.” God can turn our failures into moments of grace at any point in our lives (Romans 5:20)! The saints did not go about the great evangelical enterprise for their own sake or glory, but to share the Mystery of God’s unceasing love that so moved them to reject what the world offers in comforts and powers. Just as Christ initiated this work on earth during His ministry and the saints have sustained it throughout the millennia, it is now entrusted to us that the light of God’s truth may forever shine bright and call back to Him those who are lost in the world’s darkness.