Drop Your (Safety) Nets

On All Saints Day of 2013, I dropped my (safety) nets and followed Jesus. I’ve heard the stories of Jesus calling the apostles and they sound even more strange as an adult.

“Are they brave or insane?”

Those are pretty much the only two options when we consider the story of the apostles leaving their income to follow Jesus.

My (safety) net was higher education. It was on November 1st that I left college as a junior to pursue music with my band. Our culture lauds higher education as the magic bullet that will ensure you have a more prosperous and opportune life… so it was pretty difficult to discern if God was, in fact, calling me to leave school.

“Only a real risk tests the reality of belief” -C.S. Lewis

I sacrificed the promise that higher education had to offer. I risked going without that extra support for my future. But it is no exaggeration that my life has been the most interesting adventure ever since that day.

God provides.

My band found many opportunities to share our music and testimonies, reaching further than we ever have before. I have found a meaningful work in my community to which I can lend my gifts and strengths.

One of my biggest uncertainties about leaving school was wondering if I’d be capable of being some sort of provider for my future spouse. In God’s perfect Divine Irony, He led me to court an old classmate from college. She finished school. But she doesn’t resent that I didn’t.

God is so good.

Drop your (safety) nets.

You won’t know until you take the risk just how good it is on the other side.

During the week, Matthew Juliano is a mentor for individuals who have developmental and intellectual disabilities. He has started a Youtube Series that explains and raises awareness about the work he does, which can be found HERE. On the weekends, he is a drummer for Full Armor Band. You can find more content by Matt and his band at www.fullarmorband.com.

He must increase; I must decrease

“The truly humble reject all praise for themselves and refer it all to God.” -St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

In today’s readings, we receive a lesson about humility. In 1 John we are told that we must have confidence in God and His grace. We should not fall into thinking that our sin is too great for God to forgive. Rather, we must submit ourselves to His love and to His power for “we are in the one that is true”. Although the “whole world is under the power of the Evil One”, we belong to God and God is within us, therefore we have the capacity to guard ourselves against the Evil One and live our lives humbly with Christ and His Church. Our confidence is rooted in Christ and His plan for our salvation.

In the Gospel, we once again encounter John the Baptist and he delivers perhaps his most famous line: “He must increase; I must decrease”. When one of John’s disciples approaches him asking about Jesus and his disciplines baptizing people, John’s response, without fear or hesitation, is to praise Jesus. He does so in three ways. First, he tells his disciple that “No one can receive anything unless it is from Heaven” thereby telling the disciple that Jesus’ gifts come from Heaven and are Good. Second, he reminds the disciple that he (John) is not the Christ but that his role is as the precursor to the Christ. Third, he calls Jesus the bridegroom communicating the relationship between Christ and His people with Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride. John the Baptist fulfills His role as the precursor to Christ in teaching us to turn all praise we are given toward the One who made us.

“He must increase; I must decrease” — one of the most important messages of the Gospel summed up in only 6 words. John humbles himself before Christ so that Christ may be exalted before all mankind. May we do the same in our every day lives.

Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO, is studying for her Master’s in Spanish, and loves her job as an elementary school librarian. She is engaged to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

Touched by the Messiah

This Thanksgiving, I was at my grandmother’s house with 12 other members when my family and my little sister arrived and announced that she had pink eye. We were cautioned to make sure we constantly washed our hands and not touch our eyes because pink eye is very contagious.

She had a spot at the end of the table where she was less likely to spread. In the days after Thanksgiving, I was paranoid, waiting for symptoms to appear.

I was thinking about this as I reflected on today’s gospel.

In this reading, our central figure next to Christ is one of the most dejected members of biblical times, lepers. Life for lepers was hard. It’s a highly contagious disease with no cure, is terribly painful, and they were completely isolated.

Lepers had to live outside of town and announce themselves as “Unclean!” if anyone approached them (Lev. 13:45). They were banned from temple worship and they were despised by society, condemned to a life of solitude and loneliness.

It makes pink eye look like a walk in the park.

Despite this, the leper in today’s gospel approached Jesus with radical faith, calling him Lord, and asking him to make him clean. He recognized Christ as a healer and had the eyes of faith to know that the Lord could make him clean and transform his life. The leper put himself at incredible risk to do this. He could have been further ridiculed, he could have gotten in trouble with the law for approaching Christ. But he did it anyway.

And Jesus touched the man. This would have shocked the leper, the disciples, the crowd, the people of the town, and the rabbis and priests who adhered strictly to Mosaic Law. He reached with compassion into this man’s darkness and uncleanliness and touched him. That leper probably had not been touched in years, but it was Christ that broke the cycle and made him clean.

What Jesus does in today’s reading is not for the sake of his glory, but for the sake of the man, his beloved child whom he wanted to alleviate suffering from. He does it purely out of love for the man.

The leper was healed for two reasons: because of his incredible faith in Christ and because of Christ’s merciful love for him. In his story, we are reminded to have a strong faith in him and to be unafraid to break the barriers that keep us from serving those in need, especially the marginalized, the sick, and the poor.

Hannah Crites is a native to Denver Colorado and graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has written for numerous publications and blogs including the Chastity Project, Washington Times, Faith & Culture: The Journal of the Augustine Institute, and Franciscan Magazine. She is currently working in content and digital marketing for a small web development and digital marketing agency. Connect with her through Twitter (@hannah_crites) and Facebook. Check out more of what she has written at https://hannhcrites.com/.

The Eternal Light of Hope

In today’s Gospel, we have Jesus reading the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue. He finishes and boldly proclaims that he is the fulfillment of this passage. It is amazing enough that anyone remained to listen to him after that. But the Gospel goes on to say that all were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. Did you ever wonder: what were those gracious words? This recounting does not tell us. It only goes on to say that some remarked that he was the son of a carpenter, a lowly workman. But Jesus tells them that the passage is speaking of him, and all should take notice.

I thought long and hard at what these words may mean for us today, in light of our Christian Faith. Well, I’ve concluded that they are proclaiming to us the eternal light of Hope.

Can you put yourself into this passage? Are you one of the poor awaiting some glad tidings? Not just money/possession poor. Are you, perhaps, poor in faith or good works? Poor in compassion and empathy or meaning in life? Will you allow yourself to hear the glad tidings?

Are you one of the captives? Not just captivity of imprisonment, but captive to addiction, sin, lust, greed or any of the great sins. Will you allow yourself to be set free?

Are you one of the blind? Not physically blind, but blind to the need around you. Will you allow yourself to see?

Or are you one of the oppressed? Oppressed by your struggles, a bad marriage or trapped in self-centeredness. Will you allow yourself to be free of such oppression?

The Lord is proclaiming a year acceptable to the Lord. This “year” is your life, as long as it may be. And you are called to be set free of the bonds of this world, and to be steeped in the love of the Lord and his Hope for your life. Then, once you have let the Lord set you free, you become the anointed one who will bring the glad tidings, proclaim liberty, recover the sight of others and let the oppressed free. Do you see who these folks are? Can you empathize with the plight of those still struggling? You can help them.  Even in the midst of your journey to this freedom in hope, you can extend your help to others.

God’s Son is the vessel of Hope we all need for this world to be free of all that oppresses it. Hold out your hands, take His, and see the miracle of the glow of Hope that will surround you. Jesus will not let you down if your heart is open.

God Bless.

Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager here at Diocesan, is currently a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. While at St. Thomas the Apostle, Grand Rapids, Jeanne was a Lector, Cantor, Coordinator of Special Liturgies, Coordinator of lectors and, at one time, chair of the Liturgy Commission. In a past life, secretary/bookkeeper at the Basilica of St. Adalbert where she ran the RCIA program for the Steepletown parishes. And she loves to write! When relaxing, she likes reading and word puzzles. You can contact her at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.


Whether the soundtrack of your life spins the Rolling Stones’ classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or Devo’s more agitated version of the song some 15 years later, one thing is clear: If we place our hope and trust in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ, we’ll never know true satisfaction, peace or contentment.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 6:45-52), the Evangelist describes the aftermath of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000. He says that after they had eaten, they “were satisfied.” But were they really? Their stomachs may have been full, but as we all know, hunger will kick in in a few hours. We’ll need more fish and bread, more channel surfing, more Internet searching, more restless pursuits.

But what can we feed on to find true satisfaction? Consider: The 5,000 had just heard Jesus’ preaching. Wouldn’t that be enough for us and them to chew on for a while? They had just seen Jesus transform five loaves and two fish into enough to feed them, with some left over. Wouldn’t that miracle, and all the miracles since then, be enough to fill our speculation and theirs that maybe the man who had just fed them was more than an itinerant rabbi?

And what about us? Mark’s Gospel continues with Jesus leaving the scene and heading off by himself to pray. At his command, the disciples leave, too, and are soon spotted by our Lord trapped in a storm at sea. When Jesus comes to their rescue, walking toward them on the stormy sea, they think he’s a ghost and cry out. He climbs into their boat and all is calm. In other words, he enters our life we are satisfied. We want to hear what Jesus has to say to us. We want to pray to him for help.

It’s true: We’re all pretty powerless to find true satisfaction for ourselves and in ourselves alone. With my hardened heart, as the Stones sang, “I try and I try and I try and I try…” But with the Lord, as our Prayer over the Offering says, I can petition God for “the gift of true prayer and of peace.”

Father Tim S. Hickey is a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford currently serving as a mission priest in the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, in his native Kansas. He is pastor of three parishes in rural Western Kansas.

It’ in the Air

One of my favorite phrases to hear is, “Love is in the air.” The reason I love it so much is because of today’s first reading:

“Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”
(1 John 4:7-10)

It’s a short reading, but it’s more than enough to try to take in. I mean,  the fact that God doesn’t “love” us, but just exists and his existence is love?? It hurts my brain a little bit, but I love it!

God is the purest form of love that there is. In fact, we can’t even conceive of love so undoubting, so full, so nonjudgemental, so unending. Can you? I mean, my parents love me with their whole hearts, but you’re telling me that God loves me even MORE? How lucky are we?

Okay, so God loves us more than anyone else and we can’t even compare it. Now, go a step further and try to understand that not only is God love, but anyone that loves inherently knows God.

Let me repeat that. Anyone that knows love, knows God.

What does that mean? It means that the person that doesn’t believe in God is literally an embodiment of God when he loves his wife and when he loves his child. It means that pretty much everyone has encountered God in their lives, even if it’s not on a daily basis. So what does that mean for us, as disciples of Christ?

It means that love is in the air and we need to breathe it all in.

God is all around us and in us and we’re sitting here acting like it’s not totally, mind-blowingly awesome!

Today and every day, the choice to live God’s will, his love, is ours. If God is love, then all we need to do is love and we are being ministers of our faith. Simply be kind, and you will spread the Gospel. People will notice. People know God, whether they are Christian or not because he is already a part of their lives and of their existence.

Spread love – spread God – through your actions

Looking to read something about the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes? Click here!

Veronica Alvarado is a born and raised Texan currently living in Michigan. Since graduating from Texas A&M University, Veronica has published various articles in the Catholic Diocese of Austin’s official newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, and other local publications. She now works as the Content Specialist in Diocesan’s Web Department.

Trust and a Test

Usually, when I go through the daily readings, I am drawn immediately to the Gospel. Not today, however. Today, my eyes go to the first reading from the first letter of John for a couple of reasons.

The first reading spans two separate passages, titled “Confidence before God” and “Testing the spirits.” John begins by saying, “Beloved, we receive from him whatever we ask.” We receive whatever we ask? Where does that confidence come from? Obedience.

By following God’s commandments, by believing in Christ and loving others, not even our own hearts can condemn us. Knowing that we remain in communion with Him, we have the confidence to approach the Lord with all of our needs – big or small. Greater trust in God’s plan is another fruit of obedience as well.

I associate confidence before God with the ability to be specific in prayer. He knows the desires of our hearts, He knows what we want, but there is something to approaching the Lord in prayer with a specific intention and feeling confident that He will answer.

It is important to remember, however, that God doesn’t always answer prayer on our own terms. An oft-used saying goes, “God has three answers in mind: yes, not yet or I have something better in mind.” That is where trust comes in and, when we add in confidence, we trust His answer no matter what it is. God’s plan is better than anything we could dream up.

We cannot trust everything, however, as the second half of the reading tells us. John explains that there are spirits belonging to false prophets that have gone out into the world and invites us to test those spirits. Through the unity of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit acknowledges Jesus Christ as the true Son of God. Every spirit that does not acknowledge the same truth does not belong to God but to the world instead. Because we are not of the world, we have conquered those same spirits since God, who dwells within us, is greater than the world.

As we begin this new calendar year, I invite you all to practice these few simple virtues of obedience, trust and confidence. Test those false prophets and see where the Lord will take you this year.

Erin is a Parma Heights, Ohio, native and a 2016 graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. She uses her communication arts degree in a couple of different ways: first, as an Athletic Communications Assistant at Baldwin Wallace University and, secondly, as a youth minister at her home parish of Holy Family Church. Although both of her jobs are on complete opposite spectrums, she truly enjoys being able to span the realm of communications. You can follow her on multiple Twitter accounts – @erinmadden2016 (personal), @bwathletics (work) and @HFVision (youth ministry).

What Gift Do You Bring?

Our readings today convey several interesting topics. Collectively, they touch on something that struck me from Matt’s reflection on Wednesday (January 2); “We encounter each person right where they are and love them, scars and all.” The end of today’s first reading says, “for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.” The responsorial psalm calls us to, “cry out to God with joy, whose kindness and faithfulness endures forever.” The alleluia reinforces this saying to adore the Lord because of the great light that has come upon the earth. To me, all of this supports the fact that God sent Jesus to us because of His great love for us, all of us on earth (full of many scars and faults).

In his wisdom, God inspired many witnesses of his great love and faithfulness to humanity which comes through the writings and prophets of the Old Testament and is fulfilled in the Gospels and epistles of the Bible. We see this demonstrated in the Church writings and in the creed of our faith, which is noted today, as it is the twelfth day of Christmas. The twelve drummers represent the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in one God,

the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him, all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,

he suffered death and was buried,

and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

9. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins

and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead

and the life of the world to come. Amen

Today is also the memorial of St. John Neumann. St. John was quite a gifted and faithful witness of God. St. John Neumann had many challenges to overcome in his quest to become a priest even before he immigrated from Bohemia to America and Ellis Island dressed shabbily, not knowing the language and with a single dollar in his pocket. The following quote exemplifies what Matt was getting at; that each of us has a purpose and was created to be loved and to love others.

Everyone who breathes, high and low, educated and ignorant, young and old, man and woman, has a mission, has a work. We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random; we are not here, that we may go to bed at night and get up in the morning, toil for our bread, eat and drink, laugh and joke, sin when we have a mind, and reform when we are tired of sinning, rear a family and die. God sees every one of us; He creates every soul, …for a purpose. He needs, He deigns to need every one of us. He has an end for each of us; we are all equal in His sight, and we are placed in our different ranks and stations, not to get what we can out of them for ourselves, but to labor in them for Him. As Christ has worked, we too have but to labor in them for Him. As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do his work, we must rejoice in ours also. ~ St. John Neumann

Sit with this today. What is the work you rejoice in to do for the Lord? Think about what your gift can be to the Lord on this eve of the Epiphany. The little drummer boy had his work of music for the Lord. How are you to be a witness to and for God?

Beth Price is a Secular Franciscan (OFS) and spiritual director who has worked in several parish ministry roles during the last 20 years. She is a proud mother of 3 adult children. Beth currently works at Diocesan. You can contact her at bprice@diocesan.com.

Relationship and Trust

Do you ever wish that evangelization would be as easy as just stating that Jesus is the Lamb of God? This is what we see in today’s Gospel, a statement that is beautiful in its simplicity as well as strong in its content. If only we could go back to this time when it was simple to proclaim the truth, a time when not everybody was offended by bringing up religion, a time when the Catholic church could flourish without all the notes of scandal and hypocrisy.

Of course, I am being sarcastic here. The early church had just as many problems, if not more when it came to evangelization. I think we sometimes can feel so bad for ourselves that we convince ourselves that bringing people into a true relationship with God is just impossible in today’s culture. Of course, that is not the case.

So why was it so easy for John in the Gospel? I think the ultimate answer is two simple words. Relationship and trust. John had a relationship that was deep enough that those he was reaching out to trusted him wholeheartedly. It’s as if they could say, “If John believes this is the Messiah, then we believe as well. John would not lead us astray.”

A relationship is crucial to evangelization, conversion rarely happens in a box. There are rare cases of some of the Saints who had mystical conversions but for the most part, the conversion process starts through a genuine relationship with someone who is trusted.

Of course, true conversion comes from God himself, but it is hard for people today to get there if they first don’t enter your own personal story of what Christ has done with you. I have had to keep this in mind as I teach RCIA. It is easy to slip into the mindset that everyone in the class is just a number we want in the church as opposed to a real person who we want to fall in love with Jesus.

I know all of this can sound base but I know I need the reminder. It’s easy to trust people to “the system.” I see people in Mass and think, “well I could talk with them and welcome them or they could just join our welcome programs.” So much of what we do as a society is hope that other people will handle it or reach out.

In this New Year, I am going to try to be intentional with all of my interactions with people. Instead of immediately labeling them and fitting them into a box that gives me the excuse to not reach out in a kind way, I am going to make sure I try to build a relationship.

With relationship comes trust and with trust comes the ability to enter into the fun conversations. Then you can truly dive into the deep questions. Why are we here? Is there a higher purpose? Does God exist? What has He done in your life?

From all of us here at Diocesan, God Bless!

Tommy Shultz is a Solutions Evangelist for Diocesan. In that role, he is committed to coaching parishes and dioceses on authentic and effective Catholic communication. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. Contact him at tshultz@diocesan.com.

Walking the Talk

This is my note to myself at the beginning of 1 John. John is making a point. The community that John is writing to is under attack from false teachers. There were those who denied Jesus was the Christ and those who denied he was a true man. By denying Jesus is the Christ, they deny his humanity in order to ensure his divinity which is docetism, or they viewed Jesus as a mere stepping stone to a higher knowledge of God, which is Gnosticism. While we don’t know the specific heresy that John is speaking against, we do know that for John, true doctrine wasn’t just a point to be discussed or a lesson to be taught; for John, doctrine is to be visible in our conduct.

It’s all there is the beginning of the letter. “What was from the beginning”, Jesus was from the beginning. He is God without beginning or ending. He also is what the apostles have heard, seen with their eyes and touched with their hands. He is true flesh, true man. If we believe both those things, then everything else has to revolve around that belief.

I wasn’t raised in the Catholic Church and I remember going to Vacation Bible Schools or other events that would end in an altar call. I used to go up every time because as much as I wanted to be God’s child, I couldn’t see the evidence in my own life. I expected that when I accepted Jesus as my Savior that somehow, all my character flaws would melt away and I would be kinder, more patient, more loving. I took literally, “No one who remains in him sins.” My logic was I was definitely a sinner, therefore I must not have seen or known him. So despite my mother’s explanations that I didn’t need to go up every time, I did. I kept hoping that it would “take” and I would suddenly be the kind of person I so wanted to be.

What a relief to know now that conversion is not a once and done event. That every day I can experience conversion to living as the saint I am called to be by baptism. Every night, I can examine my conscience, ask forgiveness for where I have failed to live out the doctrine I profess and continue the process of conversion in the new day.

Jesus came to be flesh like us so that like him, we can be children of God. In all our sinfulness, in all our brokenness, in all our misery, God wants us for his own. To do that, he sent Jesus to show us the way. He sends the Holy Spirit even now to guide and comfort us along that way.

So as the Christmas season comes to a close this Sunday with the arrival of the Magi, let us still take time to celebrate, to cherish our status as adopted children of He who created us.

Let us remember too, that we are all called to be saints, children of God. That means that my grumpy neighbor, the person who cuts in front of me in the check out lane, the person at work who just gets under my skin, that one lady who always sings too loud and off-key at Mass, they too are God’s children, even if they don’t know it yet. Living out the doctrine of Jesus Christ, true God and true man in my conduct, means I need to treat them with the dignity they deserve as a child of God, whether I like it or not.

Like John, my conduct needs to speak my doctrine and my doctrine needs to inform my conduct. In other words, dear Lord, please help me to walk my talk.

Merry Christmas!

If you catch Sheryl sitting still, you are most likely to find her nose stuck in a book. It may be studying with her husband, Tom as he goes through Diaconate Formation, trying to stay one step ahead of her 5th and 6th-grade students at St Rose of Lima Catholic School or preparing for the teens she serves as Director of Youth Evangelization and Outreach in her parish collaborative. You can reach her through her through www.youthministrynacc.com.