This Sunday the Church celebrates the Feast of Divine Mercy, a fairly new feast day in the Church. Pope St. John Paul II, who declared Divine Mercy Sunday formally in 2000, stated that, “This [day] is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.” I never understood that phrase more than when I went on pilgrimage to Poland.
In the summer of 2016, I had the privilege of going to Krakow for World Youth Day. The pilgrimage was filled with many graces that I am still unpacking today. 2016 was declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy by Pope Francis, and World Youth Day was held in the country where the Divine Mercy devotion was birthed. Mercy and grace surely abounded that year.
Early in the trip, we experienced a day that weighed heavy on our hearts. Our group leader announced that we would make a morning trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum. As a group we made the decision that, as a sign of respect for the more than one million people who lost their lives at that dark place, we would not speak while we were on the grounds. The silent walk through the memorial shook me to the core. The sadness was hard to comprehend, and the absence of God felt real. As we were nearing the end of the memorial, we came upon a tablet that read the same quote in different languages from all over the world. The quote began like this, “Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity…” That was my experience of the memorial: a cry of despair.
After we returned to the bus, we departed for the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy, where St. Maria Faustina Kowalska lived and is now buried. A basilica has been built as a shrine for Divine Mercy at the Sanctuary and was named “the Capitol of the Divine Mercy devotion” by St. John Paul II. The juxtaposition between Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Divine Mercy Shrine were too extreme for my heart. I was unprepared for the transition from a witness of utter despair to complete hope.
Still in agony over our morning visit, I waited in line to get into the chapel where St. Faustina was laid to rest. In the chapel, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was also taking place. I was apprehensive to sit in the quiet with Our Lord and at the same time ready for some answers from Him. I walked into the chapel and received my answer from a familiar image hanging inside. In the chapel where St. Faustina is buried was a huge image that seemed to be made exactly for my desolate heart: the image of Divine Mercy; the image which came to St. Faustina in an apparition. It displays Christ in his glory blessing the world with one hand and touching his heart with the other. Two large rays beam out from his heart: one red and one white.
There was Jesus with His open hands and open heart, summoning me. Jesus looked as if He was walking towards me, coming to me with His merciful love. The rays of red and white, representing the blood and water that come from His wounds, revealed His heart that desires to reach all of His children and reached me in that moment. Flowing from the heart of Jesus was the hope that was seemingly lost at Auschwitz and in the hearts of millions during WWII. For me, this was the answer to despair.
At that moment I realized that although I have never experienced—and could never fathom—the suffering within the walls of that concentration camp, I could see that Christ’s mercy triumphs over all despair. It was triumphant during His perfect sacrifice on the Cross, and three days later at His Resurrection. Christ’s mercy does not hesitate to pierce our hearts, especially during times of suffering or despair in our lives. He only asks us to trust in that perfect mercy.
Jesus asked St. Faustina to share with the leaders of the Church his desire that the first Sunday after Easter be declared and celebrated as the Feast of Mercy. It is no coincidence that St. Faustina died less than one year prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Perhaps Jesus appeared to her when He did because he anticipated the great need for mercy to flow over the world. Christ knows us, and longs to let His love and mercy pierce our hearts. He only asks us to trust in His sacrifice, His love, and His desire to know us and to be known by us deeply and intimately. When Christ revealed the image of Divine Mercy to Faustina, He asked for the image to be inscribed with three words: “Jezu, ufam Tobie” – “Jesus, I Trust in You.” As we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy this Sunday, let us trust in His infinite mercy and in His infinite love.
Question for Reflection: How do you see God’s mercy alive in Scripture, history, or everyday life?
To learn more about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.
Today we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In these short years, Pope Francis has done much to continue the work of his predecessors in building a culture of evangelization and inviting each member of the Church to live out their baptismal call as missionary disciples. Several important Church documents have been released throughout his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, Laudato Si’, the encyclical on Care for our Common Home, and Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family. Pope Francis has participated in two World Youth Days, made roughly 22 international apostolic visits, and has canonized 885 saints. He called for the Jubilee Year of Mercy from 2015-2016. I would like to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his election by sharing some quotes that characterize his papacy and capture its tone.
1. A Church on Mission
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving. -Evangelii Gaudium, 49
Pope Francis envisions a missionary church—one with open doors to welcome people in, but also for each of us to step out and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. As Christians, it can be tempting to remain within the safety of our parish and Church community. However, Jesus calls us to “go out to the nations” and encounter the hurting world. Pope Francis reminds us of this evangelizing spirit entrusted to us by Jesus Christ and challenges us to be a Church on mission.
2. The Inherent Dignity of Mankind and Creation
“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” -Laudato Si, 84
About two years into his papacy, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, focusing on our responsibility as stewards of creation. No other pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to the care of creation. In doing so, Pope Francis reminds us that all of the created world helps us to glimpse and better know God Himself. Mankind is the pinnacle of creation, made in God’s image and likeness. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us of each person’s inherent dignity, made with his or her own purpose, gifts, and mission.
3. The Transformative Power of Christ’s Love
“Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness…He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others.” – Homily at Plaza de la Revolución during his Apostolic Journey to Cuba
At the heart of the Christian life is an encounter with Jesus Christ. His love is transformative, life-changing. We encounter Christ in prayer, the sacraments, the parish, in one another. However, we cannot overestimate the importance of our prayer life—of moments throughout each day in which we enter into dialogue with God, offer up our work and sacrifices, remember the needs of others, or give God praise. When we carve out time each day for prayer, we are better able to know the look of Christ that goes beyond the worldly way of seeing things into our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
4. The Role of the Church in the Christian Life
"We cannot understand Christ without his Church, just as we cannot understand the Church without her spouse, Christ Jesus, who gave his life out of love, and who makes us see that it is worth the price.” -Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia
I love this quote because it sums up the relationship between Christ and His Church. We cannot know Christ apart from the Church, just as the Church cannot exist without Christ. Christ founded the Church in order to be a place of encounter with Him through the sacraments and through one another. We come to more fully know the love of God in the life of each parish. How can we create communities of encounter in our various parishes? Is the light of Christ truly shining forth in our communities?
5. The Messiness and Joy of Family Life
“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.” -Amoris Laetitia, 57
Pope Francis speaks realistically of human life and love. The family, the domestic church, is not perfect. We are called to learn and grow in love throughout our entire lives, just as we are called to learn and grow in holiness. The family is the place where love is mastered and refined. It is the foundation of society and of the Church. Pope Francis calls families to journey joyfully on the path of love. He invites us not to fear our imperfection, but to keep moving forward in hope and joy.
6. Not Letting Fear Impact Vocational Discernment
“The work of discernment identifies our fears and can then help us to overcome them, opening us to life and helping us to calmly face the challenges that come our way. For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God… and in life!” -Message for World Youth Day Panama
In preparation for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment and World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Pope Francis spoke of the process of discernment, especially for young people today. Fear is often at the heart of our actions—or inaction. Christians, however, have no cause for fear. As we discern God’s call for our life each day, let us place our trust in Him and act with courage and boldness. God has created us for a unique mission that only we can fulfill in His Church. Let us discern his will for us, as Pope Francis encourages, “trusting that he will lead us to a good end.”
7. The Importance of Contemplating and Encountering God’s Mercy
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.” -Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy
Starting in 2015, Pope Francis instituted the first Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. Throughout this time, he invited the Church to contemplate once more the merciful gaze of the Father and experience God’s mercy in our lives. We cannot be merciful without first having personally experienced the mercy of God. I loved that as a Church, we dedicated a year to contemplating this great mystery. We know God as Father, Savior, Creator, Just Judge, and many other titles. But how often to experience His mercy, as evidenced in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the story of Jesus meeting the Woman at the Well?
8. Our True Identity
“That is our real ‘stature,’ our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity…God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind…God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess…In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.” -Homily at World Youth Day Mass in Krakow
At World Youth Day in Krakow back in 2016, Pope Francis reminded youth and young adults of an incredible universal truth : that our identity lies in being God’s children. In a world so often focused on our careers, material possessions, prestige, or online presence, Pope Francis gets to the heart of our identity as being completely loved by God. It’s easy to forget that we are loved simply because we exist. We all hold a valuable and irreplaceable space in God’s heart. By being most authentically ourselves, we are better able to fulfill our mission within His kingdom and become the saints He wants us to be.
9. Using Technology and Social Media Wisely
“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society…Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world.” -World Day of Communication 2016
We live in a world saturated by social media, technology, and widespread communication. Used irresponsibly, these can isolate and distract mankind. Pope Francis encourages people today to use technology and social media in order to promote a culture of encounter and accompaniment. He challenges us to be “digital citizens” who are not afraid to use technology to spread the Gospel.
10. Being People “For Others”
“Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.” -Message for the First World Day of the Poor
In 2017, Pope Francis called for the first World Day of the Poor—a day in which we act not only in word, but in deed in order to alleviate poverty and accompany those on the margins of society. Pope Francis encourages the world to give and not to count the cost, to love as God first loved us. In a culture of consumerism, we can easily forget to think about our neighbor or those less fortunate than ourselves. Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of giving freely, drawing near to the poor, embracing them, and being transformed through that process. Click here for free resources on Catholic Social Teaching.
Question for Reflection: Do you have a favorite quote from Pope Francis’ papacy that’s not listed above? Share it in the comment section below and let us know why it’s powerful for you.
Have you ever heard of St. Vincent Pallotti or Pallottine spirituality? If not, you are certainly not alone. Unfortunately, not many Catholics in North America have ever heard of St. Vincent Pallotti. As a lifelong Catholic, I myself was not introduced to St. Vincent and his spirituality until three years ago, which is unfortunate because Pallottine spirituality is a great gift to the Church. You may be wondering: what exactly is Pallottine spirituality and why is it important? While I could explain, I think our Holy Father does a much better job.
On October 10, 2016, during a private audience with members of the General Assembly of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate—the society of priests and brothers St. Vincent founded, Pope Francis stressed that, “in this Holy Year of Mercy, I like to remember that Vincent Pallotti was blessed to recognize that Jesus is the Apostle of the Father, rich in mercy and full of mercy. He is the one who fulfills its mission by revealing to everyone the tender love and the infinite mercy of the Father.” During the audience, Pope Francis also urged St. Vincent’s sons to continue their special mission to help Catholics “rediscover the immense love of God.” Pope Francis’ affirmation of the special mission of the Pallottines clearly demonstrates how necessary Pallottine spirituality is today.
Additionally, our Holy Father also explained that one of the major aspects of Pallottine spirituality is rooted in a personal encounter with Christ’s infinite love and infinite mercy. The Holy Father said: “Your founder realized that in order to live in communion with God, Jesus Christ must be put at the center.” St. Vincent’s personal encounter with Jesus Christ’s infinite love and infinite mercy changed his life. It impelled him to action, to spread Christ’s love and mercy to everyone. St. Vincent spread Christ’s love by providing spiritual direction, spending hours in the confessional each week, promoting various Catholic devotions, and assisting all the baptized in coming to know their vocations to the apostolate. His encounter with Jesus Christ was truly at the center of his life. Like St. Vincent, a personal encounter with Christ can help us to revive our faith, rekindle charity, and assist all the baptized in understanding their vocations as apostles.
Sounds pretty awesome right? I think so too. I will now explain three practical ways to infuse Pallottine spirituality into your ministry.
The need has never been so great; the task has never been so urgent. We all thirst to encounter God’s infinite love and infinite mercy. We all need St. Vincent Pallotti’s message and we can all work to spread it in our own ways. The question is—will you join us?
For more resources on St. Vincent Pallotti and Pallottine spirituality, click here.
Those of us who are old enough to remember 9/11 typically have a vivid memory of what we were doing when the first two planes flew into the Manhattan World Trade Center. I remember that it was a cloudy, Texas heat-filled day. I was completing cross country practice in the back roads surrounding my high school in New Braunfels, Texas. The run felt a bit rushed since we only had two school periods for practice. Getting the news of the attacks also felt rushed as I was trying to get myself ready for class. It was eerie and unbelievable. Still, September 11, 2001 holds in my memory for the gravity of the attacks, the amount of lives lost and, more personally, because of where it led me in my own life.
Before 9/11, I was simply a high school sophomore “figuring out who I was” and where I wanted to go to college. But afterwards, I started to think more about public service. Military service seemed like the best way, as I was familiar with it due to my dad's own military service. After some encouragement from family friends, I applied and was accepted to the US Air Force Academy. Upon graduation in 2008, I was commissioned a second lieutenant and began service as a communications officer. I served on active duty for six years, one tour in Iraq, and I continue to serve as a reservist. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to serve, for the people I encountered and how my military service has shaped me into the person I am today.
I share my military service to paint another picture alongside the backdrop of so much grievance and loss caused by the 9/11 attacks. My story is not a common story among the American population. To this day, approximately only 7% of Americans have served in the military. And of that population, only 18% make up the post-9/11 veterans. But what is a common story is that among the men and women who chose military service, many feel their lifelong call is to serve others. While most Americans have been reading about it, those with military background have practiced a life of service that is indelible. The military trains and shapes you to protect the lives of your fellow man. As you go up in the ranks of the military, your greater responsibility is to be a leader who ensures their subordinates have the tools and training to get the mission done. This familiarity with and desire for a life of service among those in the military offers hope in the midst of such tragic events like the attacks on 9/11. As a result, veterans have been inspired to serve, even beyond military service. Those who come home from active duty are still seeking a mission to serve, and the Church is a good place to do just that. For some, religious life or the priesthood do not seem that far off. Others take leadership positions in their parish councils as lay members or advocate for the veterans to be welcomed into their local Catholic community.
As you consider pastoral ways to remember 9/11, I encourage you to seek out veterans or those returning from military service in your community. These veterans can be a part of the hope in our world and help seek the good out of such loss. I invite you to enlist their support to organize a memorial prayer service in your local church. Beyond military veterans, we also see the other local emergency services who have also been greatly affected by 9/11. Don’t forget to include them in your outreach as well.
Here are two practical suggestions on what to include in such a memorial prayer service:
To learn more about serving others through faith-based service opportunities, please visit the website of our affiliate, the Catholic Volunteer Network, by clicking here.
"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." -St. Augustine
I’ll come right out and say it: I dislike going to Confession. I really do. And so I avoid it like the plague. We all have our struggles in faith, and this is my biggest one.
“Why do I have to seek out a priest, another human, and tell him all the bad things I’ve done? Can’t I just talk to God directly? Doesn’t God hear everything in your heart?” We’ve all heard these questions—challenges, really—about the need for regular visits to the confessional. After all, God does know everything in our hearts. We can talk to him directly, and we should do so often! But we need more than just that internal dialogue with God. Our faith, after all, isn’t one lived alone.
St. Paul tells the Romans, “We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” (Romans 12:5) I may be a toe, you may be an earlobe, but we all, collectively, make up the one Body of Christ in the Church. So if that’s what we truly believe, and one of those parts gets hurt, the whole rest of the body feels that pain. If you stub your toe, the whole of your body stops everything and focuses on that pain. So, too, when we stub our spiritual toe, we create a ripple throughout the rest of the Body.
We could talk at length about the nature and effects of sin, but that’s for another discussion. The point is that each of our sins have an effect, not just on ourselves and on God, but on the whole of the Church, too. And so we have three people or groups to reconcile with when we’ve sinned: ourselves, our Creator, and the larger Body of which we are each a part. And who better to forgive our sins than a priest? He’s a spiritual father, a representative of the Church, and, most importantly, someone who acts “in persona Christi,” or “in the person of Christ.”
By virtue of his ordination, each priest has been given some pretty awesome powers. He can baptize people, he can bless places and things, he can call down the power of God onto simple bread and wine, miraculously turning it into Christ’s Body and Blood. So if he can do all those things, can’t he also exercise the power Christ gave the Apostles after his Resurrection? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23) That’s crazy! But it’s our faith, and it comes from Christ himself. We profess this in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins…”
Now we’re all thinking, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but Confession is still too uncomfortable.” And you’re right! It is. That’s why I dislike going. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I don’t like to acknowledge the messy parts of life, including my own failings and shortcomings. I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong, especially when I keep doing the same wrong thing over and over again. But every time I finally buck up the courage (sometimes after months or years) to walk into a confessional, I’m never disappointed. The result is always the same: God has forgiven me and wiped the slate clean. And I feel so good about it!
It’s not that I’m afraid of God’s mercy. In fact, I crave it. The problem is that I’m too afraid of my own self, of my own fragile and broken humanity, to even ask for this mercy. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe I deserve it. And that’s the thing: none of us deserve it. Not one of us can ever be sorry enough, contrite enough, penitent enough, to make amends for what we’ve done and continue to do over and over again.
We can never fully make it up to God; that’s why he sent his Son. Jesus took the sins of the whole world on his shoulders, beaten and bloodied though He was, until he became sin itself: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took every sin each of us will ever commit, carried them up on the cross, and died as payment for it. He’s already paid the price for us. It’s like a spiritual gift card that never expires, but we have to use it to take advantage of the gift. That’s why Confession is so important: the mercy is guaranteed; we have but to ask for it.
Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we all be honest and courageous enough to do that. Whether you just went to Confession last week or, like me, have been putting it off for way too long, be courageous and just go. Let the Year of Mercy have some personal meaning for you, and let God forgive you for what He’s already paid for upfront.
For more resources on Confession and the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.
I still remember as if it were yesterday. There I was—a junior in high school with my sights set on my then life’s goal of playing college soccer—listening to the doctor tell me the results of the recent X-ray: “You have a stress fracture in your left ankle.” My heart sank, and I immediately focused on the most apparent, inevitable consequence of that injury: I would have to sit out the whole season, meaning I would miss crucial recruiting opportunities. To say the least, I was discouraged as I stood before the rather large and ominous mountain that so suddenly impeded the pursuit of my goal. I instantly began feeling sorry for myself and let anger creep into my heart. Then, in what I now look back upon and gratefully remember as “the moment of mercy,” I heard God’s gentle voice speak to the depths of my heart and tell me, “Carolyn, there’s more to life than soccer.” With my heart pierced by that voice, my desire to play college soccer disappeared. I soon began making decisions that would lead me to the people and places that God had in mind for me to more deeply encounter His mercy and to discover the actual goal of my life.
During my first year of college, the Lord sent a spiritual director into my life who asked me a life-changing question: “Carolyn, what is the goal of your life?” At that time, I couldn’t honestly answer, since I couldn’t yet put into words what the Lord had begun stirring in my heart through the stress fracture event. Yet, over the next few years of college as I continued spiritual direction and developed a more habitual prayer and sacramental life, the Lord began to show me the answer to the question: Communion with God—holiness—is the goal of my life, because Love is the meaning of life.
In a special way during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church is called to be “a living sign of the Father’s love in the world” (Misericordiae Vultus 4). At the heart of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we find the Person of God the Father, whose love is both the origin and goal of our life. The Year of Mercy is a special time of grace in the Church, and Jesus invites us to daily re-encounter our Heavenly Father, to be renewed by His love—which alone gives meaning to our life—and to joyfully share the gift of His love with those whom the Lord entrusts to us each day. At a General Audience on December 9, 2015 (the day after the opening of the Year of Mercy), Pope Francis emphasized the purpose of the Jubilee Year:
Turning our gaze to God, our merciful Father, and to our brothers and sisters in need of mercy, means focusing our attention on the essential contents of the Gospel: Jesus, Mercy made flesh, who renders the great mystery of the Trinitary Love of God visible to our eyes. Celebrating a Jubilee of Mercy is equivalent to placing once again the specific nature of the Christian faith, namely Jesus Christ, the merciful God, at the center of our personal life and that of our communities.
In other words, Pope Francis is saying that the invitation during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is to “return to the basics” of our faith: to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). In fact, Pope Francis begins his letter for the Jubilee Year with words which aim to “sum up the mystery of the Christian faith”, namely, that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus 1). Jesus’ whole earthly mission was to reveal the truth about God’s inner life of love and man’s vocation to that love that originates from the Father’s heart (John 17:3; CCC 514-518). This is why Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Everything Jesus says and does reveals the Father (CCC 516) and aims at “restoring fallen man to his original vocation” (CCC 518) of love.
Thus, the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a special moment of grace to daily re-orient the gaze of our hearts towards the merciful gaze of the Father that tenderly awaits us. This gentle and loving gaze of the Father reveals the love that alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As Pope Saint John Paul II says, “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love” (Dives in misericordia 1). May we live this Jubilee Year by creating the space in our daily lives—particularly through prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments—to encounter Jesus and to let our merciful Father love us. We ask Mary, Mother of Mercy, to help us open our hearts and be more receptive to the Father’s love. May we give her permission to use us as instruments of God’s mercy in the lives of others so that we can share the gift of His love with those whom God entrusts to us.
"To let our lives speak a story of evangelization, to live out the Gospel, we must humble ourselves like Mary who lived as a handmaiden of the Lord."
Does your life speak a story of evangelization?
I think about this question, and it is easy to think about the moments where I have really fallen short. I could have been kinder and more loving with a student who really needed me today. I could have been quicker to help a colleague in need. I know that I have missed clear opportunities to be Christ to others. As Christians in the age of the New Evangelization, we have been called more than ever to think about these moments and act with grace to better love God and share his love with others.
The story of the Visitation deeply teaches us about bringing Christ to others. Mary has just learned that she is with child; yet she travels to Judah after she finds out that her relative, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant in her old age. Although Luke does not elaborate on the details, we can only imagine the sacrificial love beaming through this selfless act: Mary, in her first trimester of pregnancy (which is often filled with morning sickness and other trials), gives up time at home to care for a fellow expecting mother. Her heart is filled with joyful love as she physically brings Jesus to Elizabeth and her family. She is the “Theotokos,” or God Bearer. Elizabeth affirms Mary’s faithfulness and the gift of bringing Christ to her:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:41-45
It is clear that Mary’s life speaks a story of evangelization to others.
Mary’s life and witness call us to be God Bearers to others, too. This may manifest in a physical way, as Mary physically brought Jesus in her womb to Elizabeth. During my time as a Catholic missionary for middle school and high school students, we reflected on the Visitation by bringing a friend to kneel with us in front of Jesus in the Eucharist in Adoration, physically bringing those we love closer to Christ. It was so humbling, and deeply moving to physically soak up Christ’s presence by being brought to him by someone you love.
Perhaps Mary’s evangelization story calls you to bring others to Christ physically in the Eucharist, inviting a friend to attend Mass or Adoration with you. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis explained in his Lenten message that “in the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited” (Pope Francis, 2015). Perhaps in your evangelization story you are called to serve those who need to know or be reminded of Christ’s love by your service. Whether directly or indirectly, as Catholics we trust that God makes every gift and sacrifice more perfect when done in his name.
To let our lives speak a story of evangelization, to live out the Gospel, we must humble ourselves like Mary who lived as a handmaiden of the Lord. When we submit to the will of God and “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), surely we make Christ’s presence more known to others.
Today we are called to let our lives speak a story of evangelization, just as the Visitation teaches us. We can entrust ourselves to Mary’s mission of bringing Christ to others, and know that through her patronage and guidance, our attempts to bring Christ to others will bear fruit in more lives than one. Pope Saint John Paul II entrusted his papacy to Mary with the simple prayer, “Totus Tuus,” or “totally yours,” knowing that Mary leads all hearts to her son, Jesus Christ. Let us, too, live in the spirit of the Visitation and follow the great evangelizers who have brought us closer to Jesus through Mary. Let your life speak a story of evangelization.
To learn more about our call to let our lives speak a story of evangelization, visit our New Evangelization Resources page.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C
This Sunday, the Sunday following Easter, the Church recognizes Divine Mercy Sunday, a day that carries an even greater emphasis in this Year of Mercy as announced by Pope Francis. Divine Mercy Sunday is a day that carries a special significance to my family.
In a few weeks, my family will mark the tenth anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, known best to his grandchildren as “Pop-pop.” He was a man of great generosity both to his family and to each of his patients, who he spent his career serving as a cardiologist. He was also a man of great faith, who in his passing left his family with the greatest gift, one of faith in God’s infinite mercy.
In the months before his death, as he gradually grew weaker and his cancer spread, he found a great peace in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He was especially fond of praying the chaplet in song and even when he was too weak to say it himself, family and friends would pray it with him. It was widely known that at 3pm each day the television would be tuned to EWTN so he could recite the chaplet.
Providentially, a local Catholic film producer was filming a new production of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in song, entitled Generations Unite in Prayer and they were looking to film someone elderly with a devotion to this prayer. Despite concerns over my grandfather’s declining health, he was insistent on being a part of this project and doing whatever he could to help spread the message of Divine Mercy. Also known for his sense of humor, on the day of filming,, Pop-pop remarked, “It’s a good thing Jesus is the star of this show, because I don’t look so good” as the crew captured scenes of our family praying the chaplet at his bedside. Following the filming, my grandfather felt a renewed sense of determination: he wanted to live to see one more Divine Mercy Sunday. Although this was still many weeks away, by the grace of God he lived to see that day. In fact, on Divine Mercy Sunday he insisted on getting out of bed and kneeling before the image of Divine Mercy that hung by his bedside to offer a prayer of thanksgiving with the intercession of St. Faustina. He passed away two days later.
I was first introduced to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy when my grandfather was ill and still today I take great comfort in its words, particularly the words to the closing prayer:
Eternal God, in whom Mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your Mercy in us that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.
When facing personal trials I’ve found a great sense of hope in this simple prayer. Hope that whatever challenges I may be facing, God will grant me the peace and perseverance to see it through. Hope that despite my imperfections as a sinner, that I too may share in the glory of the resurrection. And the prayerful hope that death did not have the final word on that April day ten years ago, and that one day our family will join Pop-pop in his eternal reward.
Paul boldly reminds Christians, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). In a sense, our single most political act on this earth is not who we vote for in the next election, but our Baptism. In baptism, we discover our truest identity as adopted sons and daughters of God, and together become “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). But as citizens of heaven, we also live as “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11).
This Jubilee Year of Mercy issues an invitation and challenge for Catholics to transform what society regards as ‘political problems with political solutions’ into encounters with God’s grace and mercy. Borrowing a phrase from Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, Christians are not simply called to meet issues with more political machination, but greater “prophetic imagination.” When Christians do not actively imagine and enact truthful and merciful alternatives to social evils, pragmatism and deceit can lay deep roots in our society.
In the Book of Leviticus, an important aspect of the ancient Jubilee Year involves extending mercy to a group of people the Bible calls resident aliens, outsiders living among the Israelites who belonged to no tribe. They occupied a vulnerable position in society and were not always welcomed, but God’s law was meant to protect them as legal equals (cf. Ex 12:49; Lev 24:22).
Today our Church takes seriously the responsibility to stand up for the human dignity of migrants and refugees. While speaking on the topic of pastoral care for migrants and itinerant peoples, Pope Francis expressed his hope that, “our Christian communities really be places of hospitality, listening, and communion.”
In Leviticus 19, God instructs Moses and the Israelites about harvesting the land, not to “reap the field to its very edge,” for, “… these things you shall leave for the poor and the alien” (Lev 19:9,10, cf. Deut 24:20-21).
A problem many of us succumb to in a consumerist culture (myself included) is living without margin. We max out our schedules and credit cards so that we simply cannot make room in our day or budget to give freely, or receive someone in need when opportunity arises. As Pope Francis recently put it, “If the Jubilee doesn’t arrive to the pockets, it’s not a true Jubilee.”
The scripture and tradition of the Church prescribe counter-cultural hospitality toward the stranger. Exemplified in monastic tradition, the Rule of Benedict in Chapter 53 puts forth Jesus’ words, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” (Matthew 25:35). Moreover, in a culture where nearly every human experience is branded and marketed, we should not confuse hospitality with customer service.
“Listen… and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is a resident alien… Give ear to the lowly and to the great alike” (Deut 1:16,17).
There is no justice or mercy without listening to the oppressed and marginalized. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. . . It is God’s love for us that He not only gave us His Word but also lends us His ear. . . Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either” (Life Together. New York: Harper & Row).
When we listen, we may even discover someone who is no longer a stranger but a friend.
God had to remind the Israelites, “You shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt,” (Lev 19:34). The New Testament reiterates: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are ‘God’s people’; you ‘had not received mercy,’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).
Pope Francis powerfully stated that communion cannot exist where Christians seek to build walls instead of bridges. Communion happens through solidarity and accompaniment, not the gospel of, “God helps those who help themselves.” As Catholics, our communion is best expressed through the Holy Eucharist, where we “participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice” (CCC 1322). Recent celebrations of the Mass across the USA-Mexico border witness the power of the Eucharist to unite Christians separated along national/political divides. In a climate of fear and self-preservation, the Eucharist consumes us, lest we consume each other.
Political debates will rage this year. As Christians, let us consider how the Jubilee of Mercy cannot be separated from our particular concern for migrants and refugees in the form of the prophetic witness of Christian hospitality, listening, and communion.
To learn more about the Jubilee of Mercy, visit our free resource page by clicking here.
A few years ago, I was backpacking through the desert of northeastern New Mexico. On one particular day, we were going to climb the tallest mountain of our trek, Baldy Mountain, at an elevation of 12,441 feet. As we got higher, the climb became more difficult with thinning air and more challenging terrain. As we neared the summit, I ended up in front of the crew. Just as we reached the summit, our crew leader, Jordan, literally gave me the final push to the top. At that moment, we were on top of the world and gleaming with joy! While on the mountaintop, we could see for miles. As we reveled, I paused and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving. One couldn't help but be amazed at God's great creation. As we rested, having a quick snack and some water, we saw some storm clouds starting to roll in and were forced to descend quicker than anticipated. Eventually, we would finish our 110 mile trek—with Baldy Mountain being one of the greatest highlights.
Whenever I hear the story of the Transfiguration, my mind immediately goes to this time in the mountains. Because of this experience, I feel as though I have walked with Peter, John, and James. At the moment I reached summit, I caught a glimpse of the glory of God. I saw a small part of the transfiguring power of Jesus. I went from a hiker to a pilgrim in a matter of seconds. My trek now had a greater significance. It was no longer just a physical challenge, but one that would cause me to go on a religious quest in God's great creation. This is what I see in last Sunday's Gospel, which is a reminder of the splendor of Jesus. Usually by this point in Lent, I am more concerned about avoiding the things I have given up and less on Jesus. The Transfiguration is a reminder of why we enter the Lenten season: to see the face of Jesus. He helps us transfigure ourselves into being more loving, more merciful, and more perfect humans.
If we look at the beginning of Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus gives his mission to the Apostles. He tells them to go out and proclaim the Good News. It is after the Transfiguration that he reveals more of his glory. We, too, have the same experience. These experiences come in a number of different ways. They are often brief personal moments that can happen anywhere. Personally, I often find them in interactions with individuals. It can be serving the poor, being with a friend during a difficult time, or smiling at a stranger in the grocery store. From the moment of our baptism, we are sent out into the world as apostles and then along the way we consistently experience his glory. This encounter can happen anywhere and at anytime.
I also appreciate Peter's role in this Gospel. Rather than being amazed at the splendor of Christ and the conversation between him, Elijah, and Moses, Peter suggests they pitch tents for the three. Doing so would completely defeat the purpose of the meeting. His transfiguration is an affirmation of his identity as the Messiah and is meant to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I often find that I say something at the wrong place or time. That is exactly what Peter does here. He means well, but doesn't see what is in front of him: the glory that Jesus has revealed. In his humanity, Peter often does this, yet Jesus still loves him. Especially during the Year of Mercy, we need to be reminded that we, too, can be like Peter and that is okay. We often don't see the splendor in front of our eyes. But we know that we are loved by God, who is the Infinite Love. When we invite God to enter our hearts, we can see the spender of God. Like the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, said "Seek God and you find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God in always and you will always find God."
As we go on this week, we should be looking in our own lives to see the transfiguring power of Christ. It may not be a major event, like last Sunday's Gospel, but in the small things. If we keep our hearts open this Lent we will find God anywhere.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, click here.
During this Year of Mercy, I’ve been pierced by this question: how merciful am I to myself? The question echoes within me because I realize how unmerciful I can be to myself sometimes. And the degree of mercy I extend to myself, whether I know it or not, invariably affects the mercy I give to others. That is a significant truth, yet how often I overlook that!
Jesus tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39) It’s easy to take that verse at face value and think, “Just love your neighbor.” But the modifying phrase, “as yourself,” tells us we need to love ourselves in order to fully love our neighbor. We need to be merciful to ourselves if we are to be merciful to others.
Our self-love seeps into our actions and affects our relationships in subtle and not so subtle ways. If I dislike and fail to embrace my quieter and more reflective nature, then it will be hard for me to fully embrace the same in another. How can I love another if I choose to hate that which is in me? And if I make a mistake and don’t let it go, then my bitterness can affect what I do for others. If I don’t practice even little acts of mercy towards myself, what will make me give such mercy towards another?
God wants us to be kind to ourselves. He wants us to overcome those self-critical thoughts and stop holding grudges against ourselves. He yearns for us to forgive ourselves and to believe in the gifts he has given us.
Whenever we struggle to love ourselves, God is always there to receive us in our wounds. He is the Father who wants us to see the goodness within ourselves and embrace it. 1 John 4:10-11, says “We love because he first loved us.” This is where the path of mercy and service begins! For us to love ourselves ever more fully so that we can love others ever more fully, we have to continually encounter Christ and abide in his intimate love. Then our hearts will be on fire because He reveals to us who we are and shows us how to love: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (Jn 15:9). Christ enlivens us with self-acceptance and self-worth so we can go out and give to others the mercy and love by which we have been loved.
In this Year of Mercy, let us strive to be merciful to ourselves so that we can be merciful to all, asking Jesus: “Lord, help me to love myself as much as you love me.”
For more resources on the Year of Mercy, please click here.
“Keep multiplying your commitment because what Vincent Pallotti prophetically announced, the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, becoming a happy reality, and all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ and the church and in the world!" -St. John Paul II, 1986
Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Vincent Pallotti. He is the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and his vision guides the Center in all of its works. Today is a special day in which we remember the works, deeds, and vision of St. Vincent Pallotti. I could write to you about his many deeds, his self-sacrificing attitude, or his disdain for honors, but I feel that that is not the proper way to celebrate him. He would be satisfied knowing that we are spending our time recounting his life, and would encourage us to go out into the world doing works of charity and preaching the gospel. St. Vincent Pallotti inspires me. Especially in this Year of Mercy, we need examples of people like him who have led merciful lives.
St. Vincent Pallotti had a very simple question that he asked, that took him a lifetime to answer: "Who is God and who am I before him?" Over the past few years this simple question posed by St. Vincent Pallotti has driven my prayer. Many of us have ‘stock’ answers for the first part of the question such as: God is the Father, He is all powerful and ever loving, He is the creator of the universe, the Unmovable mover, and the very essence of infinite love. But for St. Vincent Pallotti, these ‘stock’ answers are just that, stock. They're not the answers from the heart that St. Vincent Pallotti demands. He wants us to form the answer that only we can answer. He then asks us to find ourselves in this context. Let us ponder how we are to respond to his question because the two are intimately connected. At every stage of our lives, this answer is challenged. I invite you to take it back to prayer every single time you pray.
"Learn from the Lord to be merciful to your brethren. Trust you will receive from Him a loving and compassionate heart." –St. Vincent Pallotti, 1833
St. Vincent Pallotti expressed that we need to show mercy to all and led by example. As a priest, he would minister to anyone in need. He would visit prisoners, revolutionaries, students, popes, and future popes. He gave himself completely to those in need and wanted those around him to do the same. St. Vincent Pallotti’s example invites us to express mercy even when it seems impossible to do so. This is the way to serve all.
The spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti is relevant to us today. His writings on mercy, for example, sound like they could be quotes from Pope Francis and not the writings from over 180 years ago. In my own spiritual life, St. Vincent Pallotti’s vision inspires me to act with the merciful heart that reflects the power of God's infinite love to all, no matter who they are. This manifests itself in my interactions with my family, friends, coworkers, and anyone I meet. I also make sure that I give back to the community by volunteering and serving others. We can also show mercy to anyone with a simple smile. In times when I feel uninspired and defeated by the world, I can turn to St. Vincent for a quote or gesture that gets me through the challenge. He has revived my faith, rekindled my charity, formed me into an apostle, and will continue to do so every day of my life by leading me to Christ.
St. Vincent Pallotti’s vision is as relevant today as it was over 180 years ago. We at the Catholic Apostolate Center and Pallottine apostolates all over the world continue to be inspired by his work. We thank God for this great Saint.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
For more information on St. Vincent Pallotti and his spirituality, please visit our Pallotti Portal.
To learn more about the Union of the Catholic Apostolate, please click here.
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy officially began on December 8, 2015, when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. Each of the four Major Basilicas in Rome features a Holy Door opened in the Jubilee year.
This Jubilee marks the first in the history of the Catholic Church in which cathedrals and select churches and shrines in dioceses across the world were invited to designate Holy Doors outside of Rome. Pope Francis celebrated this historic gesture by opening the Holy Door at Bangui’s Notre-Dame Cathedral in the Central African Republic. On December 13th, the Third Sunday of Advent, congregations celebrated the Rite of Opening of Holy Doors in local churches.
To promote the visitation of these Holy Doors around the world, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has compiled a list of the registered Doors of Mercy worldwide. The Holy Doors are prophetic symbols of the mission of mercy of the universal Church embodied in every local parish. For example, even amidst the turmoil in the Middle East, every parish in the Iraqi archdiocese of Erbil will feature a Holy Door. There are Holy Doors covering the globe from the Island of Fiji to a frigid shrine in Alaska.
In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII is inaugurated the first Holy Year in the Catholic Church. Since then, the Catholic Church ordinarily celebrates a Jubilee every 25 years. The last Jubilee Year was in 2000 under the pontificate of Pope Saint John Paul II. Because a full 25 years have not passed, this Jubilee Year of Mercy is considered an “extraordinary” year.
The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica consists of 16 panels by the Italian sculptor Vico Consorti telling the history of salvation—which is the story of God’s mercy. Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the Master of Ceremony for Pope Blessed Paul VI, likened the Holy Door to “verses of a hymn, which sing of God’s infinite mercy… They enlighten every moment of any situation with the certainty of divine forgiveness.”
The Church’s celebration of the Jubilee and the opening of Holy Doors has developed over time, but the tradition and symbolism find their roots in the Old Testament. Following seven seven-year periods (the number seven representing God’s rest and the Sabbath), the fiftieth was a Year of Jubilee for the Israelites (Lev 25:8-10). This was a time specifically devoted to practicing mercy: debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, and the land was given rest by letting it lay fallow. Another symbol of mercy from the Old Testament includes Moses producing water by striking a rock (Numbers 20:11). We too receive abundant grace through our pursuit of mercy.
Crossing the “threshold” of the door has also featured prominently in the theology of the holy door. In crossing the threshold, we pass over from one state in life to another. As Pope Saint John Paul II encouraged the world to “cross the threshold of hope,” Pope Francis similarly enjoins Christians to cross the threshold of mercy. Liturgists and anthropologists call this transforming experience “liminality,” (limina meaning “threshold”). The same symbolism shapes the tradition of Bishops, who are required to make regular Ad Limina (literally “at the threshold”) visits to Rome to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and meet with the Pope so they may prayerfully renew their mission of mercy and love for the diocese they shepherd.
Mercy is a truly transformative. We are changed upon entering and exiting the church through the Holy Doors. We encounter mercy in the Body of Christ gathered in the sanctuary, as well as in the confessional, and are then sent out to show mercy. Our mission is mercy.
Jesus is the one who opens the door to all who seek mercy (Luke 11:9). The door testifies that the Church is always more than just a building; it is testimony that Jesus is “the gate,” (John 10:9), and those who enter find mercy and salvation.
For more resources on the Jubilee of Mercy, please visit our Jubilee of Mercy portal.
I have a confession to make - I have not always understood nor appreciated Mary’s vital role within my own life. Growing up as a Catholic, I heard people speak about Mary’s role in the Church, yet I never had an encounter with her. Throughout high school, I knew of a few different Marian devotions, but I never connected with them as a young male. I always saw Marian devotions as something my female classmates did, while my male classmates and I looked to St. Joseph as our role model.
Yet, when I arrived at college, I met young men of faith who were devoted to our Blessed Mother and some who had even consecrated themselves to Mary. These were normal guys, who had a deep love for Mary, one I had never encountered before. When they started to talk about the impact she had in their lives, their faces beamed with delight. Their love for Mary was palpable. I was intrigued by their witness, yet it was not until this past summer that I had an encounter with Mary, an experience that changed my spiritual life.
This past summer I was introduced to the devotion of Mary, Undoer of Knots. When I prayed with this devotion, the Holy Spirit truly touched my heart. It made sense now why I asked for Mary’s intercession, instead of just always praying directly to the Father. Day by day, as my devotion to Mary intensified, I noticed a change in my own spiritual life. The more deeply I fell in love with Mary, the greater sense of peace I felt and the closer I became to her Son. St. Vincent Pallotti wrote how each of us should “place [ourselves] in the hand of the Madonna… and do not let anything worry you.” St. Vincent understood that when we are devoted to Mary, we should be at peace, trusting that our Mother will care for us and guide us closer to her Son. Therefore, he urged his followers to always strive to cultivate a deeper relationship with Mary, knowing nobody can love Mary as much as her Son loves her.
One way in which St. Vincent’s devotion to Mary manifested itself was that he wore a Marian icon around his wrist, so whenever people would attempt to kiss his hand, a common practice of St. Vincent’s day, they would instead venerate an image of Mary, Mother of Divine Love. While this is a beautiful witness, this is not the only way in which to cultivate a deeper relationship with Mary.
During this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, now is the perfect time to take stock of your own relationship with Mary. Maybe take a couple minutes out of each day to encounter Mary. Your prayer asking for Mary’s intercession does not need to be complex or long. You may wish to meditate on an image of Mary and pray: Mary, I look to you as my guide, as my help. Help me to become more merciful to all people I encounter. Help me to become merciful like Your Son. Amen.
“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (Pius IX. Ineffabilis Deus).
With these words, Pope Pius IX declared ex cathedra the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; only twice in recent history has this occurred (the other being Pius XII’s declaration on the Assumption). For centuries, the faithful have commemorated the belief that Mary, from the moment of her conception, by a loving act of God, was free from sin. This, of course, does not mean that Mary was exempt in some way from Jesus’ redemption of humanity. Rather, as Blessed John Duns Scotus put it, she acquired the greatest of redemptions through her special role in Salvation History (Lectura III Sent., 119).
Many who do not agree with the doctrine argue that if Mary was not born with Original Sin or did not sin at any point in her entire life (as Church teaching proclaims), then she could not have been fully human. Therefore, if the Blessed Mother had never been born into sin and never sinned in her life, how could she have been truly human? Some reason, how could she have experienced what humanity really goes through if she didn’t live with sin? Basically, how could she have been truly free to be a person, struggling with the temptations, the ups and the downs, the “messiness” that is life? The concept of a sinless life, to many, seems boring and totally reliant on some higher being. How can one be totally dependent on God’s love?
In one of his earliest homilies as Pope, Benedict XVI answered these questions quite definitively. He stated, “The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself.” Indeed, many of us feel reluctant to fully give in to the love and mercy of God for fear that we would be giving up our ability to choose to be whomever we want to be. In that case, we rely not on God’s love, but on our own powers and abilities. This may sound preferable to some, but the Pope-Emeritus reminds us, “Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited.” Our knowledge and abilities as humans are but a speck in comparison to God’s love. Therefore, in choosing not to live in accordance with what is right and true, we actually limit ourselves from fully living.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the prime example of total abandonment to God’s love – she is truly free. Though she was sinless throughout her life, Mary still faced the temptation to sin. However, because she lived in complete openness to the Lord’s will, Mary did not choose sin, but rather, chose God. In his homily, Benedict notes, “The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people…The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.” Sinless, she was the pure vessel, the new Ark of the Covenant, through which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) She is the mother of God, and thus, the mother of Love itself, for God is Love. (cf 1 Jn 4:8) Living in that love, she calls out to us: “Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness!...so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!”
Today, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis has proclaimed the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Please visit our Year of Mercy resources by clicking here.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.