Having enjoyed being a father for many years, upon learning of the impending birth of a grandchild, I looked forward eagerly to that day. (I even considered the shirt I was wearing when I heard the news to be my “lucky shirt.”) Now, about seven years later, I am truly delighted with my two lovely granddaughters, as they approach the ages of seven and three. They are beautiful in every way, but I especially appreciate the beauty of their hearts and souls. This I attribute gratefully to their mother and father and to God in His goodness.
As a grandfather, I have been fortunate to spend much time with my granddaughters both before and after the onset of the COVID pandemic. And, especially as a grandfather, I see St. Joseph as an inspirational role model. My view of St. Joseph is of a man who was comfortable and happy remaining, for the most part, in the background. He evidently found no need to be the center of attention. He simply did his work caring and providing for Mary and Jesus and likely for anyone else who came within the ambit of his responsibilities. He worked hard at his craft and traveled as necessary to keep his family safe. It seems that he did not need to say much using words. I see his example as a goal for me as a grandfather—to be there when needed, to try to promote the health, safety and general well-being of my wife, children, and grandchildren and otherwise—specifically as to grandchildren—to remain when possible in the background, with support and occasional contributions to their physical, spiritual and psychological educations.
But being a grandfather is far from only being work and encompassing responsibility. It is mostly about the joy and wonder of being together with grandchildren—to see firsthand the development of human beings gaining strength in mind, body, and soul. I imagine that St. Joseph was pleased but often surprised by the growth and development of Jesus as a child, young boy, and young man. With St. Joseph’s likely experience in mind, I can try to recognize and realize that growth and development is not necessarily predictable. I am constantly surprised by what my granddaughters can do and what they can express in words that seem beyond their years. They are most entertaining and one of a grandfather’s delightful duties is not only to be entertained but also to be able to join in the games and play activities sparked by the imagination of young children.
The great value of having the life of St. Joseph as a guide is that there is value in simple presence—being there, experiencing life with young persons, seeing the world through their eyes, noticing and appreciating the moon, stars, or sun, or the dog or cat on the street. Being with grandchildren is akin to what I have often thought about going camping—it makes simple things complicated and complicated things simple.
As I anticipate spending more time with my granddaughters, I continue to look to St. Joseph for guidance. As part of my daily prayers, I ask St. Joseph for his intercession for all of us. From his unique role in God’s plan, St. Joseph is well-situated to be an advocate for those of us still on our journeys. What better team could we find to assist us in this manner than our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph? They were holy persons, who during their lives on earth experienced a full range of joys, sorrows, and challenges, and are thus in a great position to sympathize and empathize with us and to advocate for us as we try to work our ways through the many opportunities presented to us to be of service to one another.
**This post is part of our series on Fatherhood to celebrate the Year of St. Joseph. To learn more, please click here.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
Next week is Holy Week. Before we arrive there and enter the most solemn of days of the Church year, the Easter Triduum, we come to another Solemnity during the Lenten season. Last week, it was the Solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and patron of the Universal Church. Tomorrow, it is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Both offer us examples of how to respond to God’s action in our lives.
The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph responded freely and fully to God’s invitation announced by the angel to move in directions that they did not expect. While we may not have an angel announcing God’s will for us, in what ways do we discern the direction that we are called to take?
Recently, I attended the religious profession of a Benedictine monk who is a former student of mine. Some of those who attended the Mass and profession ceremony in support of him were also former students who are now either diocesan or religious priests or married with children. (Some are also former staff members and collaborators of the Center.) Each in their own way has followed God’s invitation to them. In and through their chosen vocations, they have found joy in living more deeply their Christian life.. While they have found joy, they also know what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus Christ as his disciples. None of them made the choices that they did easily, but did so through cooperation with the grace of Christ.
We are called to the same. Holy Week offers us an important opportunity to reflect, discern, and act on God’s will in our lives. Join us on social media for our Virtual Holy Week retreat. We offer it as a way of doing this type of discernment in the context of this most solemn time.
Please know that our prayers are with you, especially during the Easter Triduum and season.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Lent is the perfect time each year to do a personal assessment of our relationship with Jesus – to see if we are walking the path to sainthood as we are called. God calls each of us to become saints and it is imperative that we evaluate our spirituality, our actions, and our goals. This year I have been using three specific resources to aid in my self-reflection and in resetting my focus. Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Happy Are You Poor, Matthew Kelly’s I Heard God Laugh, and the music of Danielle Rose are helping me with my grand reset.
During this beautiful time of Lent, my individual assessment of my growth in holiness is both difficult and reassuring. In reflection, I am reminded that I am here to live out the Beatitudes – not to have memorized them, but to daily use the opportunities in my station in life to live them out. God also reveals to me that I am not to be like my favorite saints, but to become a saint by being authentically me, the unique person He created me to be. He also continues to enlighten me about deeper ways to communicate with Him in prayer. Little snippets in the morning give me focus to be the living sign of God’s love in the world I walk in. Then, throughout the day, I ask for help to physically live out the mission He has called me to. Simple little mantras such as: “Lord, help”, “Jesus, not my words and responses, but Yours”, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph give me strength and courage” are prayers I repeat throughout the day to help me remain in God’s will and not in my own.
Growing in our Christian life is a continual moment by moment journey of self-discovery. The more we grow in love of Jesus, the better we come to know ourselves and the importance of our individual participation in His glorious mission in the world. I am struck by the essential commitment I must have to become who I was created to be, because that is how the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ is made known to those around us. “When you hung upon the cross looking at me, You didn’t die so I would try to be somebody else. You died so I could be the saint that is just me” is the refrain Danielle Rose sings that speaks of the magnitude of Jesus’ love for each of us and the intimate connection He desires with us. These little rituals and inspired guides keep me grounded as I live in the messiness of my humanity in this complicated world.
Another aspect of my relationship with Jesus that I am examining comes from Happy Are You Poor. Fr. Dubay helps us to understand the things we are attached to, and why, and if these attachments are leading us deeper into the heart of Jesus or driving us away from Jesus. This is always a difficult process because I have to repeatedly admit to the things I am attached to that bring me temporary comfort and feed my selfish nature, and then I have ask for the grace to let go of these things I cling to so that Jesus can live in me. These practices in Lent are difficult, but not out of my reach. I attend daily Mass as frequently as possible and this communion builds the holy virtues to let go of my earth stuff, my temporal comforts, and to open myself to be God’s. At the beginning of each Mass, we recognize our fallenness and verbally repent and commit to do better. God’s love and mercy are always available to us so that we can change for the better. That is the assurance that keeps me striving. And in the quiet after receiving the Eucharist, I speak in my mind part of Psalm 95: “For You, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in You.”
Matthew Kelly gives me such tangible and direct instruction to realign my life within God’s will. His emphasis on deepening our prayer life and then giving direct ways to accomplish this are worth reading and putting into practice. He speaks to us in the reality of our busy, chaotic, and very full lives with a simpleness that I can relate with. His theology is completely understandable and therefore gives me assurance that I can put it into practice in my daily life.
Lenten rituals cause us to be uncomfortable in our flesh (as Jesus was in the desert) so that we can be totally dependent on our God to lead us. This examination, this ‘coming clean,’ is a necessary element of our Christian journey. Receiving the Eucharist to nourish us and receiving absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation are the wonderful gifts we have to assist us in our closer walk with Jesus and in fulfilling the individual purpose of our lives. Finding scriptures to meditate upon and asking God to reveal what He wants us to do daily to lead us to deeper levels of intimacy with Christ. All of these are designed to enlighten us, to transform us, and to bring us to a more joyful celebration of the victory of Easter! So, my fellow comrades, embrace the work that this season of Lent provides so that we may all grow deeper in love with our Lord and He may live and move and breathe through us!
“Lord make us turn to you, let us see your face that we may be saved.” -Psalm 80
Click here for more resources to accompany you this Lenten season.
“O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”-Ez. 37:12-13
“Come out!” The words reverberate and resound in the stench-filled tomb. We too need to hear the words proclaimed to the dead man as we approach the end of our Lenten journeys.
Lent has been our own time of preparing for resurrection—abstaining from anything that deadens us to the voice of Christ inviting us to the fullness of life. For the past few weeks, we have participated in spiritual practices that renew and refresh our spirits. We’ve journeyed with Jesus in our own deserts. And the culmination of this journey is about to occur in only a couple more weeks. Lazarus’ resurrection precedes the Resurrection that changes everything. It is a glimpse of what awaits us after death.
The once rotting man stumbles out of the dark and into the light of Christ—his dear friend. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, do not even say his name when telling Jesus of his illness, but identify him simply as “the one you love.”
The one you love…What a beautiful way to be identified. I think about this for a moment before realizing this is what we are all called to and all invited to: to be the ones Christ loves. This short phrase is our deepest identity as baptized sons and daughters. We are the ones He loves. And as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter Sunday, this reality will be fully demonstrated: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).
Jesus will tell us on Good Friday, embracing us with arms wide open on the Cross, “you are the one I love.”
As a result of this great gift, Christ can call us to resurrection—not only after death, but in the here and now. So many realities in our world today threaten to numb us from this true reality. Perhaps we find ourselves in Mary’s shoes. When she and her sister hear of Jesus’ coming, Martha runs to meet Him, but Mary stays where she is. Was hope dead within her? Was she too consumed with her grief to dare to have faith? Did death have the last word?
Perhaps many of us feel the same way: disillusioned. Tired. Grieving. Doubtful.
But Mary’s sister, Martha, shows us another way. Her path leads to the resurrection of her heart in the here and now. In today’s Gospel, the sisters seem to have traded places. Today, it is Martha who chooses the better part. She runs to meet Christ at the moment she hears of His coming. In spite of any doubt, fear, disillusion, or grief—she acts in hope. And this leap of faith is what enables her to give Jesus her all and say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (emphasis added) (John 11:22)
In these words, I hear her say, “Lord, I am disappointed. I am grieving. My brother has died and you were not here. Had you been here, he would have lived. But I give this desire to you. I trust in you. Let it be done according to God’s word.” This, in a sense, can be Martha’s fiat. Her surrendered disposition, mixed with faith, trust, and hope, is what then enables her to confirm, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha has joined the woman at the well and the Apostle Peter in confirming Christ’s identity as the Messiah. She has “come out” of her own tomb.
This past calendar year has likely felt like a tomb for many of us. Perhaps we feel most like the seemingly abandoned Lazarus languishing in the dark. “Where were you, Jesus?” we may ask with Mary and Martha. “Do you not care that the one you love is suffering?”
Jesus does more than care. It is so comforting to read that “Jesus wept” at the knowledge of Lazarus’ death and became greatly perturbed. I can imagine the same, if not a greater, reaction at the death of his earthly father, Joseph. Christ weeps at our suffering. The Creator shudders to see His creation perish. This is not what we were made for. And in His humanity, Christ weeps with us and for us.
But not only will the Son of God weep for His loved ones; He will die for them in just a few days. It is not enough for Him to acknowledge our suffering—He takes it on. He transforms it. He transfigures it. He resurrects it.
As we approach the end of the Lenten season, let us not stay put with Mary but run out with hope like Martha. I pray this Easter Sunday to say firmly with her, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
We are the ones whom He loves. Let us spend some time relishing, resting, and growing in this identity in the remainder of the Lenten season and beyond. In these final weeks of Lent, let us continue to “come out” of our tombs with our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving so that we may not stumble as Lazarus did but run out towards Him who calls our name.
Let us come out into the light.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, please click here.
Click here for this Sunday's Mass readings.
I’m not much of a poetry person. I did what I could to avoid it in middle and high school, as well as college. But there is one poem that I like—in fact, that I love. It goes like this:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
That is “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickenson. I always liked the poem, the way it rhymes and the way it rolls off the tongue. It became even more important to me when my father became ill. I clung to this poem because it reminded me that hope is always with us; that even in the greatest storm, hope remains and remains without ceasing.
As Christians, we cling to hope. This season of Lent which we find ourselves in right now is a period that prepares and leads us to that ultimate instance of hope in the Christian life: the Resurrection. Much like the hope that Dickenson writes of in her poem, the hope of the Resurrection remains with us at all times. It never stops, it remains with us in our souls, and it is, if I may create a word, “unabashable.” The thing is, it can be hard to see this hope in our lives, regardless of its unceasing presence.
Pope Francis dedicates two paragraphs of Fratelli Tutti to the virtue of hope. He writes:
Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile” (Fratelli Tutti, 55).
Hope transcends our ups and our downs, our individual trials and tribulations, not because they are insignificant, but because the Resurrection, in the end, is greater than every one of those. The hope of the Resurrection doesn’t minimize our trials, or even our personal convenience and petty securities, but it is the light which illuminates the darkness and allows us to move past them on our journey with Christ.
The hope of the Resurrection, the hope of Christ perches in our soul and it sings the tune of Alleluia (pardon my use during Lent) without ceasing. This hope, much like the little bird that Dickenson describes, is in fact sweetest in the gale, in the storm, because we are called to recall that Jesus Christ will provide for us in ways that no other person or thing ever can. In the midst of Lent, much like through all of our sufferings, hope can be heard as a melodious tune above the groans of those trials which we face.
May we look to hope, the thing with feathers, the Resurrection, this Lent and always.
For more resources to accompany you during your Lenten journey, please click here.
I’m always skeptical when I hear others describe instances of suffering as “blessings in disguise.” Can you imagine breaking your arm and having a friend say, “That’s a blessing in disguise!” – while you’re still sitting in the ER? Sure, they might be right eventually; but in that moment you would be in too much pain for their words to be helpful. You might even consider deleting that friend’s phone number.
The events of the last year have made it even harder to recognize such hidden blessings. Amidst universal confusion, we are thirsting for straightforwardness. Maybe that’s why today’s Gospel reading is hitting me differently.
In this passage, we receive a clear and radiant report of Jesus’ person and ministry: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
In these words, we find Jesus directly offering Himself and extending His invitation to each one of us: believe and trust me. He is unmasked, undisguised. Now, will Jesus’ straightforwardness give me the courage this Lent to step out from behind my own disguises?
Focus (Social Justice):
Today’s Gospel suggests that darkness is part of the human experience. When I reflect on the world, the United States, and even my city of Washington, D.C., there is surely darkness preventing us from achieving equality and equity for all. This darkness is within me too, in the moments when I doubt change is possible.
God acknowledges this darkness by sending his light and messengers into the world. Their examples help guide us and strengthen us. Is there a particular messenger who inspires your own prayers and actions this Lent?
God, thank you for this life and journey. Please help me along the way. When the world seems dark, please help me remember the hope and humor you’ve placed in my heart. When my own darkness attacks me from within, please help me to reach out beyond myself to others. You have placed good friends in my life – help me to remember they are there for me! Please help me to be a friend and helper in return. Amen.
This Lent, reach out and call or Zoom each week with someone in your life who you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. You may help to reduce the isolation that person may be feeling during this lengthy pandemic.
This reflection is from the 2021 Lenten Reflection Guide. To access the complete guide, please click here.
Before Lent 2021 began, I had fallen into a habit of making excuses for my weaknesses, the biggest of which was: "I would be able to have the spiritual life I want if I didn't have three children, a husband, and a household taking up all of my time!"
The idea of spending most of the day in quiet or chanted prayer is attractive—especially now, when I have a husband, a house, and three children. St Frances of Rome would have understood this—as a preteen she desperately wanted to be a nun, but her family arranged a marriage for her instead; rather than entering the convent, she entered a wealthy and connected family. Frances never let go of her devotion to God, although she did eventually grow into and embrace her temporal vocation as the manager of a wealthy and influential Roman household. She found a balance of work, prayer, and asceticism that she could incorporate into her daily life.
For Lent this year, I decided to imitate St. Frances and take a page from her playbook, incorporating more prayer into my daily work and adding ascetic practices that are realistic for my current phase of life. I have a specific time of day for meditative and personal prayer with God that I try to maintain every day, but in addition to that, I have been trying to intertwine work, prayer, and asceticism whenever I can. Instead of listening to current events podcasts when I do the dishes, I am using one of these abacus style kitchen rosaries so that I can pray while I work and so that I can keep track of where I had to stop when I was interrupted by the needs of my children. Instead of scrolling through social media or aimlessly puttering around on my phone while I nurse the baby, I am working my way through St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Personal Writings. I may not be able to fully partake in Lenten fasts due to my nursing baby, but I can avoid snacking whenever possible—and when I have to watch my children eating my favorite granola bars while my stomach is starting to rumble, I try to offer it as a prayer and remind myself that small acts of self-denial prepare us for big acts of self-denial. Other ideas for minor ascetic practices that we can add to our Lenten promises (or Fridays in Ordinary Time) include: taking cold or cool showers instead of hot ones, not eating any sweets or desserts, not using a pillow at night, and adopting more days of the week when we abstain from meat.
St. Frances of Rome is quoted as saying, “A married woman must, when called upon, quit her devotions to God at the altar to find him in her household affairs.” This is definitely true for me; doing the laundry, cooking the meals, and giving the reading lessons are my responsibilities. I can show my love for God by loving my family and by making these humble sacrifices rather than neglecting my duties in favor of carrying out an arbitrary set of devotions every day.
As we continue on our Lenten journeys, I encourage you to think about how you can incorporate more prayer and asceticism into your daily routines.
For more resources to accompany you this Lent, please click here.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
I am grateful for the occasion to share just a few reflections on my discernment journey and priestly ordination during the pandemic, the “COVID class” of 2020! It was about one year ago—March 2020—with less than two months before graduation from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD and ordination scheduled for June when those plans began to change.
Like the many high school and college students preparing for graduation, my deacon classmates and I (and the rest of the seminary) were sent home to complete our coursework alone online. Like the many engaged couples preparing for their summer weddings and receptions, our priestly ordination dates were postponed and receptions cancelled. While trusting in God’s grace and purpose, how could I help but feel at least a little disappointed and even frustrated? And yet, therein lie some important lessons God wanted to show me about the life we are each called to live.
Every vocation—life’s path and purpose—begins by accepting our way is not always God’s way, and our time is not always God’s time (Isa 55:8-9). And yet, I’ve slowly recognized a great freedom in that fact. A vocation is not about “planning out” your life, or making sure things happen the “right” way. Life does not follow a predetermined script. A vocation is not an intellectual puzzle we work on and hope to “figure out” (or else fail…), but a stepping out in faith day-by-day. Vocation is more about letting go of the controls to be free enough to move in the direction God beckons. A vocation is always a dynamic response to God’s call from a place of freedom and love. And so, while a vocation does involve making a free choice, it’s not about calling the shots in life or predicting the future, but trusting God with the simple question, “where and what next?”
Due to the COVID lockdown of 2020, I realized the date and circumstances of my ordination were beyond anyone’s control. Some suggested having small, private ordinations so we would become priests “sooner,” even if we still couldn’t yet go out and serve in parishes, but respectfully, I personally disagreed with that idea. The pandemic re-affirmed my conviction that we were becoming priests for the people of God, not for ourselves. Compared with the physical and emotional toll of the pandemic, the waiting game was an easy burden to bear.
The background of the pandemic created a new context to reflect on what shape my life and ministry might take. In our society’s fixation on “finding our best selves,” the gospel-centered vocation acknowledges that “whoever loses his life for my [Jesus’] sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). Vocation is part of our personal participation in the great “mystery of faith,” the “Paschal Mystery” of Christ’s death and Resurrection the Church celebrates most powerfully in Lent and Easter. We cannot experience the true Jesus without both his Resurrection and Cross, and so every authentic vocation will have both its cross (struggle and sacrifice) and its resurrection (joy and victory). However you discern, expect your vocation in life to feel like both at times. Amidst the hardship of our world, a small taste of the patient suffering of the Cross leading up to my ordination turned out to be a small but precious gift not to take for granted.
For months during quarantine, I watched medical professionals and other essential workers care for the sick and deliver basic needs—the corporal works of mercy—on the local, national, and international stage. As a deacon waiting in the wings to be deployed to a parish, I felt primed to be sent and make an impact. But all I could do was stay home and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. That summer I did not feel heroic or “essential.” Having been fed a steady diet all through seminary of “the Church needs you!”, I had to accept it wasn’t my moment to be a hero or an influencer. My call was behind-the-scenes mission support, not leading the charge on the front lines.
Following Jesus’ instruction to “watch and pray” (Mt 26:41) as others experienced trial and suffering in hospitals and homes challenged me to rid myself of any pretensions of being a priest as being God’s biggest hero. Vocations—religious or secular—motivated by the muscular desire to save the Church/world and solve Her problems almost always end up hurting people in strongarmed attempts to fix whatever they perceive as broken. Before the Cross, there are times all we can or should do is “behold” the brokenness and hurt (Jn 19:26).
On the eve of ordination, that forced inactivity was excruciating, but it also drove home a humble admission behind every vocation: I need God more than God needs me. The Cross is essential to Jesus, and beholding Jesus in the sick and suffering, God became more essential to me. To “behold” is not to evade responsibility, but to see that our suffering does not go unnoticed and unredeemed. Not coincidentally, it is on the Cross that we truly see Jesus as our eternal High Priest, the model of priesthood, who is willingly sacrificed for the redemption of our sins.
And so, the experience of being ordained a priest during the pandemic, while full of spiritual and personal challenges, also became the occasion for greater reflection on my identity, vocation, and mission. The delay was not lost time, for any time spent with Christ in prayer or service is only counted as gain. I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ on August 22, 2020. Behold and follow the Cross, and who but God knows where it may lead!
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you through the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
In his book, The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously wrote that, “Beauty will save the world.” For Christians, this phrase takes on an even deeper meaning theologically. The Christian worldview views truth, beauty, and goodness as reflections of the One who is perfectly True, Good, and Beautiful: God Himself. Authentic expressions of human creativity in some way glorify the ultimate Creator who endowed mankind with the freedom to co-create. We do this in a miraculous way through procreation, but also each time we write, dance, paint, mold, shape, sing, and so on. To celebrate art as a form of evangelization, the Catholic Apostolate Center invited two artists to share their perspectives on creating art and how art can also be a form of spreading the Gospel. For our first artist spotlight, Center contributor Dana Edwards Szigeti interviewed graphic designer Tracy Johnston. Our second artist spotlight features Spoken Word performer Michael Mookie C. Manalili in his own words.
Artist Spotlight: Tracy Johnston (Graphic Designer)
How did you get involved in your artistic expression?
Since high school, Catholic artist and mom Tracy Johnston has been creating art for her family, friends, and others. While earning her college degree in Studio Art at the University of Central Florida (UCF), Johnston designed retreat flyers, youth group T-shirts, and fundraising campaign materials for several groups and organizations, including the UCF Catholic Campus Ministry in which she was very involved. After graduating, she continued this service to young adult ministries and youth ministry. These projects provided Johnston with plenty of experience that helped develop the skills she uses today for her small business. Johnston specializes in hand-painted wood signs, canvas art, chalkboards, printables, and Rosary hangers.
Working as a stay-at-home mom and artist has always been a dream for Johnston. While employed as a full-time graphic artist, Johnston began looking for ways to stay at home with her first baby. She decided to open an Etsy shop to sell Catholic artwork – the first big step toward her dream.
What is the intersection between your art and faith? How can art be a form of evangelization?
As part of her research, Johnston reads a lot of Scripture and saint quotes. These holy words challenge Johnston in her prayer life and serve as inspiration to her.
“There is accountability when the products I’m creating are designed to lead people to God and to holiness – it should also be leading me to God and to holiness,” Johnston said. “It is a beautiful thing to be able to spread the words of Christ and the saints, and to know that these pieces I’ve created are in homes all over the country.”
While making the artwork for clients, Johnston takes the opportunity to pray for the people who will receive the art. She desires to lead others to prayer, “but it also leads me to prayer,” she said.
Sometimes people can be discouraged to share a gift or talent because someone else may be doing something similar, but Johnston says there is always room for more at the table for aspiring Catholic artists. “There is always a need for your light in the world!” she said. “God has blessed us with unique gifts and talents for a reason, and He needs all of us to reach different people and work together to accomplish His mission for the Kingdom.”
Artist Spotlight: Michael Mookie C. Manalili (Spoken Word)
Can you tell us a bit about how you became involved in your art/craft?
I was fascinated with the question of "why" since I was a tiny child in the Philippines. The way that stories helped explain our world always seemed to intrigue me - from the life lessons of rehabilitation patients my parents worked with to the theology, folklores, and mathematics taught by pink-habited nuns in our schools. I suppose having to learn different languages along the way also helped - not only adopting English but the different "languages" of the neighborhoods I grew up in. And yet, there always seemed to be the faint hum of something else and something more: the unity of our human experiences.
I've been involved in "spoken word" from the very beginning. More formally, however, I started writing other forms of poetry in high school (sonnets, haikus, etc) - and later started to dabble into performed poetry as I entered college. There was something about the cadence, pauses, and inflections that you can do in spoken poetry that made it feel more.... alive.
What is the intersection between your art and faith?
The resonance of art and faith can be both complex and simple. It can be complex insofar as beauty, meaning, and divinity always seems to have a resonance. From the Ancients, the pursuit of eudaimonia (or flourishing as opposed to mere 'happiness') requires actions that are excellent (virtue in Latin, arete in Greek) - and these excellent actions are noted as "beautiful" unto themselves. From the chaos and dawn of the Scriptures, the Spirit/Ruach/Breath of life animated the very dust of the humus and marrow of our bones. The echoes of the Word/Logos/Meaning echo forth in us, through the art of our embodiment and actions.
The intersection between art and faith can also be simple insofar as I hope that the meaning echoes forth from the poetry and speaks for itself. The beauty of a sunset amidst creation or bread that is broken and shared for another need not give itself in difficult elaborations - the very presence of something 'beyond-my-self' is given in the experience.
How can art be a form of evangelization?
I believe that art can orient our awareness beyond ourselves. When I practice spoken word poetry, I write with the audience in mind - not for myself. In the performance of the spoken word - my lived experiences, my meaning, my time, and my very breath are poured out for the other. And after the fact, I hope to "speak in congruence" when I act as a therapist for my patient, mentor for my students, and fellow laborer for my colleagues. Indeed, this is not a form of proselytizing evangelization merely through logic - but an invitation to serve and inspire others, given in the second ending in the Gospel of John: "Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Follow me."
Lent is not a diet program. Yes, the Church recommends the ascetical practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These, though, are meant to help us love God and neighbor more fully. Pope Francis in his homily for Ash Wednesday offered this consideration:
“Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, our entire being. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends. Lent is not just about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed. This is the core of Lent: asking where our hearts are directed.”
Where is your heart directed? Is it a divided heart?
It is easy to compartmentalize. Or so it seems. Eventually, trying to live life in two directions tears us apart. “Our entire being” needs to be engaged, not simply part. We can pray, fast, and do almsgiving, but still be unconverted within. These acts are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. These “little sacrifices” should sharpen our minds and open our hearts more fully to a life directed toward God and neighbor. If they are done simply for us to feel a sense of accomplishment or as a test of our will, then their focus becomes about us.
How do we go forward? By realizing that “everything depends” on God, not on us. Once we do, and cooperate more fully with the grace of Christ, our hearts will be undivided, united in love with God and neighbor.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources to accompany you during your Lenten journey, please click here.
This Lent looks a little different than it has in past years for many reasons. With a little boy starting to walk, it feels like things are changing fast at times and very slowly at others. I’m looking towards speeding things up to get to new milestones like running and talking, but also praying time can stand still enough to savor precious moments and little giggles. In Lent now, we are waiting for Easter and likely wanting to speed through this time of personal reflection, penitence, and prayer. Maybe if we try to slow down and take a moment to reflect, we’ll discover some time we can put into our relationship with God in a meaningful and intentional way.
This Sunday marks the Second Sunday of Lent and there are some really poignant readings to note for our hardened selves. I think they all tell of a hope and light at the end of the tunnel for us in this dark and restless time. The second reading especially tells us to not give up because God has already provided:
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us. (Rom 8: 31b-34)
This line, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” tells us so much about our God. He is always on our side, no matter what. If God is for us, we can build up a broken relationship with him. If God is for us, we can consider our sins in the Sacrament of Penance and be reconciled. If God is for us, we can slow down and take a moment to breathe in and out in mindfulness. If God is for us, we can have the strength to carry on through this pandemic, perhaps alone physically, but never truly alone. We are never truly alone or abandoned because at the end of this Lenten tunnel, Christ is there waiting for us with open arms and a tissue to wipe our tears. There is beauty in the waiting, and we’ll probably regret it if we don’t allow ourselves to vulnerably open our hearts and our lives to Christ.
So how can we build our relationship with God? How do we prepare our hearts for Easter, while still savoring this waiting and dark time before Christ comes? When we are fearful, where can we turn? When we feel exhausted and worn out, how do we go on this Lent? Through prayer.
I teach my students about prayer during Lent because it can be the absolute best tool we have as Christians. Saint Vincent Pallotti knew this to be true, saying, “The best method of private prayer is that which the spirit of the person finds easiest and most fruitful.” He totally understands us! In his wisdom, Pallotti sought to humbly serve God through his actions and be an apostle journeying with others and teaching them about God’s eternal Love.
Private prayer is so important. It can be as simple as we want it to be or as complex. We can talk to God out loud, in our hearts, through journaling, or in memorized prayers, but private prayer is essential to our spiritual lives. In the moments in which you want to slow down, try praying to God. Each time you think about the next thing that is coming and how you just need to get through it, pray. Ask God to remove your impatience and replace it with humility. Humbly putting ourselves aside during Lent can be a fruitful way to grow closer to God. Intentionality and a few personal moments are the only things we really need this Lent, for if God is for us, who could be against us?
For more resources to guide you through your Lenten journey, please click here.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
“Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endure a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.
‘For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come, he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.’
We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.” -Hebrews 10:32-39
We are living in an extremely tumultuous time. For over a year, a virulent sickness has swept over the world and caused havoc with our health, our economies, and the very way we relate to one another. It has separated us from friends, co-workers, extended family, and our church community, to name a few. In battling its transmission, we have been forced into isolation—severely limiting gatherings, celebrations together, and even sharing hugs. We have been stretched beyond our normal mode of living and the equilibrium of our lives has been disturbed, with no end clearly in sight. On top of all this, we have experienced political and social unrest – polarized groups rising against one another, causing great division instead of building unity. For any individual, these circumstances could easily defeat us and have us succumb to despair. I think of the Marty Haugen song many of us sing every year during Advent: “For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in you.” It resounds in my mind and heart as we traverse through such unsettling circumstances.
Amidst all the unknowns and unrest, I have witnessed a beautiful vision that overrides all the devastation of the circumstances we are in. I have seen people sacrifice to care for others and people coming together to celebrate the joy of life in trying situations. I have witnessed God living and walking among us through the selfless individuals choosing to stand tall in faith and do all things in love. As Christians we are taught “God is love.” We were created out of love, for love. We are part of God’s great creation and we belong to Him. He guides, instructs, and protects us always. What a magnificent testament to hope in! We pray in our Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is part of what we profess at Mass before we enter into the liturgy of the Eucharist – which is the source and summit of our faith. We receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord to nourish us in body and spirit. This profession of faith, this gift of communion, allows us to walk through all the adversities of life as joyful people who understand our hope lies not in this world but in heaven, forever.
This living hope comes from being nurtured by the stories from Scripture, being taught prayers and devotions, receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist frequently, singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and practicing acts of kindness daily. What an ironclad defense we have against any evil that would afflict our body or soul! How beautiful it is that as Christians we can be united together in faith wherever we are. This is how I have remained steadfast in hope and overcome fear during these trials that continue to badger us. Surrounding myself with pictures of the Holy Family, the saints, the crucifix, listening to Christ-centered music, praying novenas and prayers, attending Mass often, and sitting in the quiet and listening for God to speak to me are all ways I actively participate in being a person of hope. Even more simply, just keeping my home clean and neat makes it a peaceful sanctuary where I can experience God’s presence.
I have no control over the things of this world that loom large over me, but that is okay. As long as I adjust my spiritual armor and remain grounded in Christ, I have every reason to walk in hope, joyously, no matter the circumstances. My husband I adopted the habit of praying Saint Patrick’s Breastplate each morning before going out into the fray and it has born much good fruit in our lives. I offer it to you as another tool to assist you in the battle against evil.
We are children of light, born of love and destined for heaven. We belong to Him. He made us a community and all around the world, individually and in groups, we profess our faith boldly, we share His message of love constantly, and we support one another in solidarity of His kingdom. It is our job to remain in Him and He will supply all the grace needed to walk tall in hope. As St. Teresa of Avila said: ‘God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.’
For more resources to guide you through the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
For more resources on prayer, please click here.
It’s hard to believe that COVID-19 began to take hold of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States just two weeks after Ash Wednesday 2020. As we approached Holy Week last year, dry jokes abounded as to whether or not we had to continue to give things up during Lent as COVID-19 had already forced us to give up so much. Well, those jokes have returned a year later as Ash Wednesday is just around the corner and the pandemic is still very much a reality in our lives.
Lent is a period of the Catholic Big Three: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This preparatory and penitential season helps to prepare us for the glory of the Resurrection. Most Catholics know the drill: you give something up for Lent (and hopefully take something on as well) as you have Easter Sunday circled on your calendar. But last year threw us all for a loop. Used to giving up chocolate or swearing, we were forced to give up worshiping in Church, seeing loved ones, going to school, and so much more. In the months since, almost every person knows someone who has contracted or even died from the COVID-19 virus. Though Lent ended on Easter in 2020, it feels as though it still hasn’t quite ended. We’ve abstained from holiday gatherings, birthdays, and so much more than we’d ever planned, even during the Lenten season.
Lent, though, is the perfect lens through which to view the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during this penitential season, we don’t forget the glory of the Resurrection. Yes, the “A-word” and the Gloria are omitted from the Mass. Sure, we focus on the preparation and the penance, but we still receive and glorify our Lord. Even though we are without so much now in the Lent-like COVID-19 pandemic, we still praise the Lord. The last line of Psalm 150 reads, “Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord.” Not just during the liturgical seasons of Ordinary Time, or Christmas, or Easter, but at all times, everything with breath should praise the Lord.
This continues even now, with so much going wrong in our world. With so much suffering and pain—from which none of us are immune—there is still reason to praise the Lord. Baptisms and First Communions still occur. Marriages are still celebrated. Four of my closest friends were married this past summer—which brings new context to the promises of commitment in sickness and health. Even when there has been suffering, God has still managed to bring good out of it. When my own grandfather passed away in October, I was able to spend the last few days before his death with him. This was a time whose memory I cherish, and time I’m not sure we would’ve gotten if he hadn’t gone to his eternal rest. As I’ve gone through my own sickness over the last few months, I’ve made Psalm 150 my mantra of sorts. My life hasn’t been perfect, but God has ordained it and he has sustained it. He has given me breath and life, and for that I praise him. As Matt Maher says in his song Alive and Breathing, “Let everything praise the Lord, in the working and the waiting…in the dying and the rising, let us praise the Lord!” With Lent coming up, and COVID still wreaking such havoc in our world, let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
For more Lenten resources, please click here.
For more resources to help you navigate COVID-19, please click here.
For the last two years, my parish has hosted a virtual Lourdes pilgrimage led by the Lourdes Volunteers. This prayerful experience went beyond my general understanding of Mary’s 18 apparitions to St. Bernadette in southern France during 1858. By attending this virtual pilgrimage, I felt the Virgin Mary’s call to learn more about her, and through her, to grow closer to God. A few months after attending my first virtual pilgrimage, I completed a Marian consecration with several friends. Thankfully, the team of volunteers with the Lourdes Volunteers is still hosting virtual pilgrimage experiences via broadcast on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11.
We often think of the physical healing miracles at Lourdes, but emotional healing is also an important part of the message of Lourdes. When I attended these virtual pilgrimage sessions, the lessons of sacrifice that Our Lady shared with St. Bernadette stood out to me most. “I do not promise you happiness of this world, but of the next,” Mary said to St. Bernadette. Mary reminds us that uniting our sufferings to Jesus’ sufferings on the cross is where we find true joy.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot easier said than done!
Prayer is transformative and plays a huge part in helping get us through our earthly sufferings. Choosing love helps make sacrifice endurable. St. Bernadette taught us that suffering passes, but having suffered remains eternally. The physical and emotional sacrifices of this world are temporary compared to the glory of everlasting life in heaven with God.
St. Bernadette famously said, “One who loves does not notice their trials, or perhaps more accurately, is able to love them. Love without measure.” At first, this not noticing of trials seems idealistic. But then I realized that our trials are made more bearable because of our love for another. I think of how mothers go through physical pain and exhaustion for their newborn babies, or how a father stays up at night with a sick child. I think of how husbands and wives sacrifice individual wants for the needs of each other. I think of how a friend puts their own struggles aside to help another friend going through a deep, rough patch.
We can look to Mary and Jesus as examples of how to love while enduring sacrifice. “She spoke to me as one person to another,” said St. Bernadette of Mary. This conversational nature of Mary and St. Bernadette’s relationship shows us that we can easily speak to her and ask for her prayerful intercession as our mother.
At Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette, she revealed herself to be the Immaculate Conception. By allowing God to forgive us of our sins and conduct his work inside us, we are becoming more “immaculate” witnesses to God in the world. Mary emphasized the need for penance and prayer, not just for ourselves, but for the healing of all.
While our travel is limited during this Covid-19 pandemic, we can still embody St. Bernadette by imagining the grotto and going there in our hearts to make a pilgrimage.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. St. Bernadette, pray for us.
As someone who has always looked forward to the next challenge or opportunity both personally and professionally, I haven’t been very skilled at pausing and reflecting on the past. Writing this passage challenged me to settle myself enough to reflect on my journey as a Catholic father, and for that I am thankful as it contains many opportunities for me to continue to grow as both a Catholic and a father.
My journey as a Catholic father is closely intertwined with my Catholic faith. My mother was a practicing Catholic and was always engaged in parish life. She also was a Catholic school teacher for many years. As a result, my sister and I were raised Catholic. In my case, this included attending Catholic school during my primary years and attending a Catholic university. I, like many other young Catholics, made my way to becoming an adult in the Catholic Church through Confirmation. While residing at home led by my mother, my sister and I were actively involved in our local parish.
My first set of real-life religious decisions came when I went away to college at the University of Notre Dame. At this point, my religion did not feel like it was my own. It felt like it was my mother’s religion and my connection to it was not as clear. During my years at Notre Dame, a campus with over 150 venues in which to pray or attend Mass, somehow I managed to not regularly attend Mass. During my college years, I met my wife of now 32 years. She, like my mother, was an active Catholic who felt sure of her connection to her faith. During our early years of marriage, while she strongly modeled the Catholic faith with regular Mass attendance and engagement in parish life, I once again managed to get by with a part-time Catholic mentality while still searching for how Catholicism would be “my faith” rather than my mother’s or my spouse’s. But my wife and my mother were role models who kept me close to the Catholic Church during this period of uncertainty and questioning.
After being married for just over 3 years, my wife and I conceived our first child. After she was born, we immediately began preparations for our daughter’s first step into the Catholic faith with the sacrament of Baptism. During this process, I had a real awakening: many of the questions I had been asking regarding my faith suddenly seemed selfish and self-serving. Although I felt I was prepared to be a father, I felt helpless in many ways to control the events that would impact my daughter throughout her life. It became clear to me that our daughter, and a few years later our son, would certainly need the love and support of their parents. However, they would also need something more—something that would sustain and anchor them throughout their lives regardless of the circumstance or challenge. This was faith, the Catholic faith. Not only would our children need this faith, but so would I. The blessing of fatherhood for me came with many gifts. My Catholic faith had become planted in some very good soil and, as a result of my fatherhood, began to grow.
As our children grew up and became adults, my journeying with them as a father, husband, Catholic, and business leader has had its challenges. There was always an endless stream of competing day to day priorities. It was disappointing when, despite all our best efforts to keep all the balls in the air, inevitably some would drop. Reflecting back, it was being present at those moments that gave my fatherhood and faith deeper meaning—when our children wanted to reach out for support, advice, a kind ear, or just to talk about their journey through both life and faith. In some cases, my children might not see the connection between their life journey and their faith journey, as I certainly didn’t a number of years ago. This provides a great opportunity as a father to create these connections for my children as they become full participants in our society and ultimately leaders in their communities, parishes, and professional lives. Having grown in my faith throughout my vocation as a father, I hope that I can be for my children the same role model of a loving, thriving Catholic faith that my mother presented to me.