Words Matter

I have decided to start a campaign to reclaim the meaning of words.

Adorable does not mean cute (I’ll get to that word later) and scandal does not mean worthy of a newspaper headline.

The Catechism defines scandal as:

“Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.”

Ouch! I don’t need to be a big public figure to cause a scandal. Anytime anyone who knows I am Catholic sees or hears me do something unworthy of Jesus Christ, I am causing a scandal by my poor example.

Today’s readings reminded me of how often I am guilty of doing just that and the Catechism reminds me of just how serious it is.

I was raised in a culture of back-handed compliments. “She is so pretty, if only she’d do something with that hair.” “He is so smart, if only he would channel it properly.” The habit around these comments is to agree with something like, “She is so, so pretty. Just think how pretty she’d be if she wore her hair down once and awhile.” “He is smart as a whip. It’s too bad all he does is play video games.”

Couched in these seemingly innocuous comments are some pretty treacherous undercurrents. After all, I said she was pretty. I acknowledged he was smart. I see their gifts therefore, I tell myself, I am a positive uplifting person.

But, I am not seeing people as God sees them. I want to make them over in my image rather than seeing His image already in them.

That sounds pretty ridiculous when laid out in black and white, doesn’t it?

Yet, how often do we do just that? “He is so dedicated and puts in so much time on the finance council, but if he really wanted more people to come to Church, he’d make sure they just….” “Our DRE is such as sweet lady and works so hard, but if she really cared about kids, she’d make them memorize the …” “I just love our pastor, but if he really wanted families to come to Mass, he’d make his homilies more…”

Today’s readings speak right to this very human tendency. In James we hear, “You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.” Ouch again. My ego doesn’t like that one. “But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.”

In the Gospel, John is so bold to approach Jesus and tell him about how someone else was working in Jesus’s name, (and I am paraphrasing here) “but don’t worry, we took care of it. We told him to knock it off, because he is not one of us.” But rather than Jesus saying, “Thanks, Dude, we gotta make sure we keep this in house.” Jesus tells him, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

I think we forget that, especially as leaders in our faith. Sometimes we feel like we are in competition. We have to compete for room in the budget, for numbers of volunteers, for having our ministry talked about, for meeting the unlimited needs which pull on our limited resources. It becomes easy to forget that those who are not against us are for us. In other words, we are on the same team. And every time we use the word “but” when talking about others, we are tearing down, not building up.

At a leadership conference recently, we were reminded that ‘What we tolerate, we endorse.” When we listen to others talk this way, we are causing a scandal by indirectly encouraging the tearing down of our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how nicely it is couched. When we, out of tiredness or frustration or whatever, make these kinds of comments ourselves, we are directly guilty of scandal by encouraging those around us, by our example, to commit the same sin.

How do I know this? I have had to take my own tendency to give back handed compliments to confession time and again. Today’s readings have challenged me once again to examine my own behavior.

As a matter of fact, I wonder what Father is doing this afternoon. It might be time to confess and start again. I am so grateful that both Father in the confessional and Our Father in Heaven are so patient with me.

While wearing many hats, Sheryl O’Connor is the wife and study buddy of Thomas O’Connor. Not having received the gift of having their own children, their home is filled with 2 large dogs and their hearts with the teens and youth with whom they work in their parish collaborative. Sheryl is the Director of Strong Families Programs for Holy Family Healthcare which means her job is doing whatever needs to be done to help parents build strong Catholic families. Inspired by the works of mercy, Holy Family Healthcare is a primary healthcare practice in West Michigan which seeks to honor the dignity of every individual as we would Christ. Find out more at https://www.holyfamilyhealthcare.org/

Two Minds, Fractured Heart

“Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

“Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity . with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world  makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks without meaning when it says, The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy?  But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says: God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”

“So submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”

 The first reading is clear yet difficult to read.

“Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?”

Ouch! The first time I read this it kind of stung.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.”

I’m confident that God invited me to be a part of this blog series because it is important that I reflect on these words.

When the opportunity to write for this series was presented to me, I first thought,

“Yes! I can lend my gift of writing to a larger audience.”

And there was also the sense of legitimacy, to feel like someone wanted my craft to be a part of their project. And there was a feeling that maybe I am called to write because Christ is present to me in an exemplary way.

And then I read these words:


you of two minds.”

When I first read this passage, I intended to finish it quickly. But I was floored, totally called out. I am an adulterer; I am of two minds. Praise God for James for lovingly convicting us of our sin. But more importantly, he leads us to hope.

“So submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

 God wants to be close to us, and we can be.

How can we do that?

“Humble yourselves before the Lord.”

Humility. Exactly what Jesus exemplified in giving over His life.

Be humble.

Be like Christ.

Be close to Him.

During the week, Matthew Juliano is a mentor for individuals who have developmental and intellectual disabilities. 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.

Our Mother and Reason for Hope

Everyone needs a mother, and actually, everything needs a mother. Everything has a genesis, a backstory, a context. And very often when we really want to understand anything we try to look for the root.

In my religious community, we’ve grown accustomed to asking “who is the mother of this?” The this could be a reference to anything as small as a misplaced book to a project in the apostolate. But the intention is the same. We are asking “who takes care of this?” or “to whom does this belong?”

This sense of beginnings, rootedness, and context provide a rich backdrop with which to take our lives and bring them into conversation with the readings the Church gives to us on this beautiful celebration. Today we celebrate the new memorial feast day established recently by Pope Francis. It is the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church.

The first reading from Genesis gives us the radiant, unshakable hope of the woman stepping on the head of the ancient serpent. From the time of the Desert Fathers, our Church has understood this prophecy to point ahead to Our Blessed Mother and the definitive Word that put death to death: Jesus Christ, Son of Mary.

The second option for the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, bespeaks the bold hope of those who want to follow the One who chose to humble Himself to the point of death on the cross. Her presence among the frightened apostles in the upper room can become a solid part of our identity as beloved sons and daughter of God and members of His Body, the Church.

Mary, Mother of the Church is our sure mother, teacher, and queen even in darkness. The darkness brought upon the world by the sin of Adam and Eve is definitively crushed by our victor, queen who crushes the head of Satan. The dark moment of Christ’s death on the Cross is not only overcome by His resurrection, but Our Mother helps the early Church, scared disciples, to pray and wait for the coming of the Paraclete, the advocate promised by Christ Jesus. This Advocate is the one who prays from within our hearts and teaches and reminds us of all Truth.

God could have saved and healed the universe without Our Lady, but He chose to entrust us all to her. Through her, Christ came into the world. Through her, the Church learns how to stand at the foot of the cross. Through her, the Church gains a definitive clarity about her own mission and identity. Just as Our Lady gave her unconditional “yes” in humility and faith to God, so are we the Church called to be the Bride of Christ as St. Paul says. Christ is the head and we, the Church, are members of His Body.

So today as we give praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and all of our blessings, let us remember to adore Him for giving us Our Mother Mary as Mother of the Church. She is there to tell us where we came from and where we are going. In fact, the great Marian Saints have called her the surest and shortest way to the heart of Christ.

May Mary, Mother of the Church bless us all in these days where darkness seems to be looming in the news we read and in the faces of the people who are suffering both in our own neighborhoods and around the world. She is our Mother. She has been given to us by God Himself to be our sure hope. Let us ask her to intercede for each of our needs and for the whole world. And let us take a few moments today with her so she can teach us to love Christ and give Him our unconditional “yes” in humility and faith.

Sr. Maria Kim-Ngân Bùi  is a Daughter of St. Paul, women religious dedicated to evangelization in and through the media. She has a degree from Boston College and the Augustine Institute. She has offered workshops, presentations, and retreats around the country. She currently serves as the head of marketing and sales at Pauline and one of the guides of Spiritual Accompaniment—the gemstone of the My Sisters online faith community.

Have You Got Spirit?

How often do you hear this phrase? “Our team has spirit”; “Our class has spirit”; “I shopped at my school Spirit Store today and got the Spirit shirt!”. The “spirit” is bandied about so easily. So, I’ll ask the question again in a different way – “Do you have Spirit, THE Spirit?” Well, do you? I’ll answer for you – “Yes, you DO have The Spirit!”. And, boy, does he have a lot to say to you.

The Third Person of the Trinity was sent to the disciples by Jesus to infuse in them the grace and strength they needed to carry on His mission. When reading Scripture and noting that the disciples were simple men who at times seemed somewhat dim witted, it’s a wonder Jesus entrusted His church to their care. But, Jesus sees beyond what we see, and He had the ace in the hole – the Holy Spirit – who would guide and bolster the disciples to give them the right words and actions, strength and faith to push forward his Church.

We, too, can at times be dim witted in our living the Faith. We can forget how to bring our Faith to the world, near or far; how to see the events of the world in light of the Gospel and to act accordingly. If we call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us, we will find our way. The Spirit knows best which direction we should take. I believe the Spirit is the greatest gift Jesus could give us after giving Himself in the Eucharist. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and together they are a force to be reckoned with!

Today is the day to regain the wonder of what happened, both at the original Pentecost and at your Confirmation. The Spirit came to you — the Spirit came to youYes, the Spirit came to you to be your guide, advocate, strength, inspiration, and solace. He came to help you see what is happening in our world, as well as what is in your heart. Jesus is the Way; the Spirit is the means by which we know how to follow the Way. You need only call upon him. It is the Holy Spirt that holds our Church together, and which bears you upon his wings to bolster you in times of doubt.

I’d like to share with you the Litany of Gifts, written by Fr. James Chelich of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Grand Rapids, MI. The Litany ends his Pentecost Novena:

For the gift of Wisdom: that we might take our place as peacemakers in the kingdom of God.
For the gift of Understanding: that we might know the will of God in the events of our life and time.
For the gift of Counsel: That we might put the will of God into practice in our decisions and our actions.
For the gift of Fortitude: that we might show courage in living lives of integrity, advancing the cause of justice.
For the gift of Knowledge: that we might know the pain and suffering of all oppressed and suffering peoples.
For the gift of Piety: that we might find ways to reach out in love to the pain and need around us.
For the Gift of Love of the Lord: that God will disarm our hearts and that the love of God that comes to us in Jesus, Our Lord, might be born within us.

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.

Holy Spirit Come

The readings for today have been challenging me. My initial reaction to the first reading is, ugh, Paul imprisoned for a long time, yet a faithful witness. OK, really not the path I want to see myself taking. However, if God puts imprisonment in my path, then, I’ll follow His lead….gulp!

As for the Gospel, I envision Peter with a toss of his head saying, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replies with a downward disappointing glance, shaking his head, “What’s it matter to you?… You follow me.” Again, ugh. Me, follow Him, OK, I’m walking that path.

Not to judge others on the way, just focus on Jesus. I can’t always keep focus on the things I have to do today at work, around my condo, in my personal life, in any number of situations. Who am I to judge if anyone else can keep his/her focus on Jesus?

Peter had no right to judge or give a head nod to another disciple. He’ll deny Jesus 3 times! It’s hard having to be constantly vigilant, to love all (through Jesus’ perspective, love one another as I love you). I catch myself trying not to grind my teeth when my button is pushed because of something said by a neighbor, coworker, family member, civic leader and being ready to offer a prayer of patience, love and humility for the one speaking, if I cannot find the words to speak the truth in love at that moment.

I draw strength and fortitude in the fact that today is the day before Pentecost, the 9th day of the Pentecost novena. I need the Holy Spirit to enliven the gifts given to me in baptism in order to follow you, Jesus. I cannot be a good citizen in this world, without your grace and blessings. I need to rely on you in order to follow you.

O Holy Spirit, divine giver of gifts, grant me a servant’s heart so I can place the gifts I have been given at the service of others. Move me to compassion for those around me. Enlighten my ignorance, advise me in my doubts, strengthen me in weakness, protect me in temptation and struggles. Fill me with your holy gifts so I may have success the duties you have set before me, that I may do what is right and just. Help me to grow in goodness and grace. Amen

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.

Do You Love Me?

As a young adult currently in the “dating phase,” today’s Gospel immediately reminded me of a romantic relationship. I know for a fact that even now, I ask my boyfriend of two years, “Do you love me?” to which he replies, “Of course.” Yet, I do not stop there. I ask again, “Okay, but do you really love me?” to which he replies, “Of course I love you.” When I ask it a third time, he looks at me and says, “Veronica, you know I love you. Every morning I wake up, I choose to love you. Did I do something wrong? Is this because I brushed crumbs onto the floor?”

The same thing would happen if your child were to ask you. After the second time, and especially after the third time, you begin to wonder if you’re doing something wrong. You begin to think of all the times you messed up and wonder if this is the cause of doubt. You elaborate your answer instead of just saying “of course.” You think harder and you come up with more ways to express your love because you know in your heart that you truly do love your child, your spouse, your boy/girlfriend.

I think Jesus knew this natural reaction and used it so that Peter would justify and elaborate on his love for Jesus. It was not that Jesus was feeling insecure about their relationship. As Peter said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” So, we are reminded that it was not Jesus that needed to hear the affirmation, but Peter.

At this point, Peter has already denied knowing Christ three times, before his crucifixion. Jesus has forgiven him, but now that Peter is about about to become the new shepherd of Jesus’ flock, Jesus must ask this again. In agreeing to feed and tend to his sheep, Peter agrees to taking care of all Catholics, for the rest of his life, until the end of his life. Everything he knows was about to change forever and Jesus wanted to make Peter call to mind all the reasons he loved Jesus. This way he remembers all the reasons that would make becoming a leader and dying for his faith, worth it.

So now, coming back to our own lives, I think we need to play both roles and ask ourselves, do I love Jesus? It may feel silly, but how often are we asked these exact words? In fact, it is rare that our words prove anything. Instead, it is our actions that define us.

The first time we reflect upon this question, you may say: Well, yes, of course I love Jesus. I am Catholic, afterall. I go to Mass and I can say the rosary. Yup, I love Jesus.

The second time, consider your response with more thought and vigor. Do I really love Jesus? Take a view at your life and your choices. Do they reflect your love of Christ, or do they show a denial of him?

Finally, ask yourself a third time; Do I truly, honestly, wholeheartedly love Jesus? Do my actions reflect my love of Christ, or do they show a denial of him? Am I like Peter, denying my Lord and Savior in public, just to escape my own persecution? If so, have I moved past the reasons I previously denied him, or is there something that is stopping me from fully accepting the Catholic faith? If so, what is it?

So find a quiet place where you can really reflect upon today’s Gospel and honestly ask yourself: Do I love Jesus? Because he is waiting for me to accept leading others in the Catholic faith, as Peter did. Do I love Jesus? Because he has already forgiven me for denying him. Do I love Jesus? Because he loves me.

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.

Set Free

“For it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.”

After Readings today’s First Reading, I can’t help but be captivated by St. Paul’s heroic courage.  Paul was in prison. He was handed over to the Romans from Jerusalem, though they found no reason against him.  The Jews objected and made sure he was imprisoned. He remained in prison for two full years. Paul did not spend those two years of his life in despair.  He did not have a season of darkness or doubt.

Paul lived those two years in prison as a season of glory to God.  He lived in full freedom, even with chains upon him. He preached the Good News and proclaimed God’s Kingdom from this place “with complete assurance” and “without hindrance… he taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”  If that does not wildly inspire you-you may need to reread the First Reading. When I genuinely put myself in Paul’s shoes, I am not sure I’d be that courageous. Though it may seem that Paul’s freedom was taken away, it is by the Holy Spirit that Paul was truly free in his imprisonment.  He was free to preach God’s Word. “Now the LORD is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). Paul is a witness to this truth.  The Spirit of God was with him. He lived in that freedom and offered his chains for the hope of Israel, God’s people.

Today, if you feel like you are living in chains, look to St. Paul’s intercession.  Ask him to pray for you and with you. Today, if you do not know the freedom of the Lord, ask for the Holy Spirit to bring that freedom into your life.  If you are in a season of hardship that feels unending- offer it in hope for His Body, the Church. The story of St. Paul is powerful, inspiring, and heroic.  It is stories like his that bring me so much hope in my journey towards Heaven. Today, let us radically walk with St. Paul. Let us take his hand as we strive to walk true freedom.

St. Paul, pray for us.

Holy Spirit, bring us Your freedom.

Briana is a Catholic Doctrine teacher at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel school in Cleveland, OH. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Catechetics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH and is excited to use these skills to bring her students closer to Christ and His Church. “My soul has been refined and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm.” -St. Therese

Consecrate Them in Truth

Consecrate-from the latin, consecrare; to render sacred

Render-cause to be or become; make

Sacred: dedicated to a religious purpose, sanctified, holy

Today’s Gospel is part of what is known as “The Last Discourse” of Jesus. It is Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In it, he begins to speak of his earthly ministry as already a thing of the past. He is interceding to the Father on the behalf of the apostles and the apostles are standing in for all the disciples who will follow; including you and me.

Jesus asks the Father to consecrate the disciples in truth. Jesus desires the apostles (and all those disciples who were yet to come) to be made holy. But not just holy in an abstract sense. Not just holy for use in a Church setting. Jesus asks very specifically for all his disciples to be rendered holy in truth.

All of the major world religions deal with truth. From defining truth as simply the opposite of false to being something to be sought, truth is something to be pointed at. It exists “out there” and religion is often seen as a “search to find truth”.

Only in Christianity, does the God for whom infinity is an attribute, enter into time and space and say, “I am the truth.” When Jesus Christ stepped out of infinity and became a part of creation, a part of finite, sequential time, He sanctified all of creation. The latin term is ‘suspendu’. What was finite and ordinary from the time of Creation, when it exists alongside the person of Jesus Christ, becomes elevated, sanctified, holy.

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, we hear, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ is the Word of God. What does that mean?

God spoke and creation happened. God’s word is powerful enough to make all the world exist, where it didn’t the moment before. This is the stuff that stretches our brains and our hearts.

In Jesus Christ, the words God spoke were made present in the time and space of creation. Because he is God’s own word, Jesus is truth. That means truth is no longer just an idea. Truth is a person, the person of Jesus.

Think about that a minute. This is heady stuff. This is where we become acutely aware that we see through a glass darkly and we long and ache for clarity. Truth is not simply the opposite of false. Truth is not an object to found. Truth is not an abstraction that can be manipulated at will. Truth is a person. A real person who lived and breathed and is accounted for in history. Truth is a man who lived, breathed, died and, as we celebrate in this Easter season, returned from the dead and ascended into heaven.

For us as Catholic Christians, religion isn’t so much a search for truth, religion is an encounter with the person who is truth and in that encounter our hearts are converted, our lives are changed. In the Eucharist, in Sacred Scripture, in each other, we encounter the one whose very thought causes us to exist, that encounter causes us to become, to be rendered sacred.

St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Our restless human hearts can search widely for truth, but is it only when we encounter it in the person of Jesus Christ, we will come to understand that we are dedicated to a higher purpose. It is in encountering Jesus Christ; we are made holy. In Him, we are truly consecrated in truth and that changes everything.


While wearing many hats, Sheryl O’Connor is the wife and study buddy of Thomas O’Connor. Not having received the gift of having their own children, their home is filled with 2 large dogs and their hearts with the teens and youth with whom they work in their parish collaborative. Sheryl is the Director of Strong Families Programs for Holy Family Healthcare which means her job is doing whatever needs to be done to help parents build strong Catholic families. Inspired by the works of mercy, Holy Family Healthcare is a primary healthcare practice in West Michigan which seeks to honor the dignity of every individual as we would Christ. Find out more at https://www.holyfamilyhealthcare.org/

Beginnings and Endings

In these final days before the great Solemnity of Pentecost, the Mass readings speak of endings and beginnings. We know that something new is about to happen: The Church is about to be born through the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Mother. We know that something old is coming to an end: The fear-induced inertia that has plagued Jesus’ closest followers since his Ascension, holding them back from acting on the Lord’s command to them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) will be swept away by the powerful wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the Upper Room.

The endings, then, aren’t dead ends; rather, they are summations, even climaxes. The beginnings aren’t events fraught with worry and anxiety about what is about to unfold; rather, they are invitations to newness.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is delivering the peroration to his public ministry. His final words to the early Christians to whom he has preached the Good News are not a sad farewell. He is at peace with what he has done — not necessarily with what he has accomplished — because he has been faithful to “the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.” His accomplishments are the Lord’s. “I served the Lord with humility,” he says. “I did not shrink from telling you what was for your benefit.”

Even though he is certain that “imprisonment and hardships” await him personally, the fact that he has proclaimed “the entire plan of God” means he has fulfilled Christ’s command. Whatever may happen to him is part of God’s plan. He has knowledge, he has certainty. He is at peace.

Many of us wonder, even worry, about what will happen to us next. … and not just tomorrow or next week, but the all-encompassing next of eternity. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his followers and us exactly what heaven will be like: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” That’s it…nothing more, nothing less. And, really, what else should we want or need? Heaven will be intimate knowledge, abiding union in God the Father with Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we prepare to receive anew the Holy Spirit this Pentecost Sunday, we pray that our earthly endings will always be peaceful and our beginnings filled with promise until we come to God’s kingdom which has no end.

Father Tim S. Hickey is a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford currently serving as a mission priest in the Diocese of Dodge City, Kansas. A native Kansan, he was schooled at Benedictine College, Marquette University and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Prior to becoming a priest, Father Hickey was editor of Columbia magazine for the Knights of Columbus. He writes occasionally for Magnificat’s seasonal special issues and for Communion and Liberation.

Everlasting Joy

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” (Jn 15:9)

It is so easy to gloss past these familiar words, but let them sink in for a moment. Just how deeply does the Father love the Son? So profoundly that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from their love. It could not be contained in two Persons, They needed a Third! And the Son loves me in the exact same way?? How is that possible?! Now that is some amazing love!

And what is the fruit of knowing His amazing love? JOY! If we know that Jesus loves us to the extent He loves His Father, we should be filled to overflowing with joy. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you, and your joy might be complete.” (Jn 15:11) Is this not what we all seek? To be happy and joyful? But perhaps we don’t find it because we are looking in all the wrong places.

My husband and I are often guilty of this. We live on a very tight budget. Throw in Catholic School tuition and you just broke the bank. Yet we recently started getting the itch for a new home with a big backyard for the little ones to expend some of their endless energy. We also have two older vehicles and would love a new SUV…just a small one, so my husband won’t feel so claustrophobic in the car, ya know… and the wish list just grows and grows.

We want this and we want that and before you know it, we begin to sound like our kids who do not yet understand that they can’t have everything they want when they want it! Perhaps it is in fact childish, but to some degree, we believe that having these things will make us happy. If only we could send the boys outside to play in a fenced-in backyard when they get rambunctious…if only our car didn’t burn antifreeze, we would be happy (or at least relieved of one more burden). But would these things bring us joy? True, deep, everlasting joy? I seriously doubt it.

Our joy comes from our friendship with God and the love He has for us. “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” (Jn 15:15) We have been called into the very life and friendship of God!

But as with most things in our Christian journey through life, there is a catch. In order to take part in this divine life, we must do what He commands, bear fruit that remains, and love one another. In other words, we have some work to do! We are loved, we are invited into joy, we are friends with God, but we have to put a little elbow grease and sweat equity into it. And if we do, our joy will truly be complete and our reward (God’s infinite love) will truly be great in heaven.

Tami Urcia is wife and mother to her small army of boys. She works full time at Diocesan and is a freelance translator and blogger (BlessedIsShe.net and CatholicMom.com) She loves tackling home projects, keeping tabs on the family finances, and finding unique ways to love. Tami spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time outside with the kiddos, quiet conversation with the hubby, and an occasional break from real life by getting a pedicure or a haircut. You can find out more about her here.

A Light to the World

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Today is a big day. Not only is it Mothers day, but it is also the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. On a more personal note, it is the one year anniversary of asking Nathalie to marry me, a day that we dedicated to Mary.

I think it’s perfect that all of these events fall on the same day. When I think of mother’s day, I naturally think of my spiritual mother, Mary. The Gospel today speaks about going into the world and proclaiming the good news to every creature. Mary was the perfect model of this. She proclaimed to the world that Jesus was the Savior they had been waiting for. She was given a sign by the archangel Gabriel, and that sign became so real for Mary that she conceived and that sign became a person. A person who would save us from our sins.

In the Catholic Church, we call this phenomenon (when a sign is so real that it becomes what it signifies) an efficacious sign. This is what all the sacraments are. They are signs that are so real they become what they signify. (Ex. Bread and wine literally become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.)

Think of it this way. A stop sign is just a piece of metal with some paint. But it has the power to stop a car. It is a sign that is so strong that it effects a change.

This is why I think it is perfect that the Ascension, Mothers Day, and my one year anniversary with Nathalie all line up. There are no two people who I have ever met who show the love, strength, gentleness, power, beauty, grace, and generosity of Mary better than my Mom and my bride to be. They are such real signs to the world of the love of God, that they do not just preach the good news, they live it. It becomes part of them, real, tangible.

When I think of all the problems in our world having to do with marriage, families, and friendships, I am so thankful to have a Mom who has loved me unconditionally through everything. I can honestly say my best qualities are due to the fact that my Mom cares and has taught me so well.

When I think of all the problems with relationships, I am so thankful that I have found someone in Nathalie who compliments me perfectly. Someone who loves me no matter what. Someone who truly realizes the gift of her femininity and how much I need that as a man. Someone who serves tirelessly and gives of herself like I have never seen.

I am thankful to have people in my life who have taught me the good news through their real example. Sometimes it is hard to find these people in our lives because of the brokenness of the world, but no matter what our mother Mary can help us see the love that her Son has for us.

So please join me today in thanking Mary, who brought us the Savior, as well as all mothers. Thank you mothers! Thank you for being a much needed sign to the world of the beauty of God and the good news. Happy Mothers day, happy day of the Ascension, and Nathalie, Happy Anniversary!

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.

A Life of Prayer

If you’re anything like me, you talk to God a lot, and most of that conversation has to do with something you want. I’ve always taken the adage to ask God for help to heart, often to the point of neglecting the rest—giving thanks, asking forgiveness, praying for others. “Keep me safe,” I say every time I enter my car; whether or not I remember to say thank you when I get out is another thing altogether!

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the promise: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you (…) ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”

Perhaps we take Jesus’ words a little too literally. We ask for a lot of things in Jesus’ name. Safe passage. Good health. World peace. A marriage proposal. Willy-nilly we bring God heaps of requests of what we want. Prayer becomes another to-do list: I want this and that and the other… And somehow God still loves us through our childish self-centered way of reading scripture and applying it to our lives. Jesus said to ask, so we ask. And that’s what we call prayer.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that praying for things is important. In fact, I believe that what the Church needs now, more than anything else, is prayer.

The problem comes when we start defining prayer according to our narrow perceptions and understanding. Praying is what we do, what we say, what we think. It can be scheduled, discussed, planned. And yet our tradition is rich with the shining thread of centuries of understanding prayer as more than simply words. The Catholic Church has, in fact, always maintained a good balance between spirit and form, between how one does things and the reason one does them. Form without spirit is mindless repetition. Spirit without form is undisciplined and self-focused.

That balance is a life of prayer.

What happens, of course, is we say, “I need to spend more time praying.” Or we might lament, “I ought to pray more often.” We don’t need to pray more often. We don’t need to pray for longer periods of time. What we need is a life of prayer, something that allows for that balance between form and spirit, something that is permeated, shot through, with God’s grace and love. Prayer needs to be a life, not an activity.

What does a life of prayer look like? Father Walter Burghardt, SJ, told the story of an old farmer who would stop at a chapel on his way home from the fields. Knowing that the man just sat in the chapel apparently doing nothing, a neighbor asked him, “What goes on when you sit there?” The old man smiled and said, “I look at the good God, and the good God looks at me.”

That experience is consistent with living a life of prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us that prayer is “the encounter of God’s thirst with ours,” and that’s where all prayer comes from, that encounter, that completion we feel when we are in our Father’s presence. “We must remember God,” said St. Gregory of Nazianzus, “more often than we draw breath.”

So perhaps I’m not wrong in stepping into my car and asking God to keep me safe. I don’t think about doing it; it’s as automatic as is fastening my seatbelt. My life is permeated with God’s presence and love, so my everyday actions are infused with an awareness of God as well. Spirit, that intangible presence, is the backdrop to every other act of prayer.

It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t experience prayerful moments, participate in the liturgy, or rediscover the Rosary. Form is the other part of our Church’s balanced life. “Ask,” says Jesus, “so that your joy will be complete.” Asking puts us directly in the presence of God, and that presence is what gives us an unsurpassable joy.

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.