first day

On The First Day Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. 

The “true love” is meant to convey that God – the True Love – came down from Heaven on Christmas Day.

It was an ordinary day. Babies were born, people died. Purchases were made, bartering took place. Families loved and fought, prayers were said. People ate and slept. It was an ordinary day.

Tucked away in a shelter for animals, two young Jewish parents, far from home, were watching their newborn. The baby suckled and sighed. His tiny fists stretched out as he snuggled close to the father. The mother rested. All the things a young family does on an ordinary day.

Except … it wasn’t. It was the most extraordinary day ever. It didn’t look different; there were no fireworks or protests or people yelling. No one proclaimed anything from the rooftops. But still, it was the most extraordinary day ever.

There is really no way to explain it. All we can do is muster up metaphors and even then, nothing comes close. Imagine that tonight, at the dinner table, your spouse says, “I got you a gift,” handing you a box. You open it, and the entire galaxy is contained in that box. That day was sort of like that … but not quite.

No, that most extraordinary day was the day that the God of all creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and the Jews, Almighty and Ever-living God, came down from Heaven. He came not in a blaze of fire or in a thundering cloud.

He came as a baby.

On this most extraordinary day, we know that our God is a God of true love. He has revealed His love, in part, by becoming one of us, truly, in the flesh. And the first witnesses were two young Jewish parents, far from home, in a shelter meant for animals.

This most extraordinary day.

[From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him…including the fact that he was born to die for us.” There are, however, the traditional “12 Days of Christmas,” captured in the song of the same title. Some claim the song was meant as catechism of a sort, written and sung for nearly 300 years of British persecution of Catholics. We will be using both the song and the Church’s liturgical calendar to celebrate the Christmas season. We hope you enjoy.]

yoke that is easy

Advent: A Yoke That Is Easy And Light


St. Ambrose (c. 340-397) was not meek.  He was an accomplished poet and orator, and a highly successful advocate and Roman Governor of two Italian provinces before the age of 40.  He was baptized Catholic and consecrated Bishop of Milan within a week.  He intervened in matters of high politics––perhaps the first bishop to do so––and confronted emperors until they unwillingly backed down.  Ambrose was not timid.

However, Ambrose did not seek his authority in possessions nor in his keen intellect nor in his considerable successes. To the contrary, he gave away most of his wealth and was well aware of his own inadequacies as a cleric and theologian.

Ambrose found his authority and strength in God.  In the One who does not grow weary.  In the One whose knowledge is beyond scrutiny.  In the One who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.  Ambrose, like all saints, became more and more like the God he came to know and to believe in.

That is the yoke that Jesus asks us to carry.  A yoke that is easy and light because both Jesus and we are tethered to it.  We share the load.  And because of this close bond, we come to know Jesus more intimately.  We come to love what he loves, to respect what he respects, and to reverence what he reverences.  We become more and more like Jesus, the One we have come to believe in.  In this sense, we give birth to the Messiah in this time and place and there is no better present that we can give or receive this Christmas.

Fr. Philip Shangraw, D. Min., is a priest of the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

faith work

Does God Care About Work? 5 Ways To Be Catholic On The Job

Labor Day is just a few days away. It’s a U.S. tradition dating back to 1882 in New York City, promoted by the labor movement who wanted safe work environments and fair pay for workers. It is now a national holiday, giving thanks to the American worker.

All that is good, but does it matter to our Catholic faith? Does God care about our work? Whether we are behind a counter taking food orders, holding a sign by the side of the road to guide traffic, pacing with a baby who won’t settle down for the night,  or performing a delicate operation to save someone’s life, we all work. It’s part of our daily lives. It is necessary to us personally and to society as a whole. Of course God cares about our work.

St. John Paul II, in 1981, gave us the encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Labor). In it, he reminds us that, of all God’s creations, only humans are capable of work. In fact, work was part of humanity from its very beginning, as Adam and Eve were given the mandate to care for the Garden in which God had placed them, along with the animals. St. John Paul II also reminds us that work must be dignified; it must lift people up, not oppress them:

If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”.

Without this consideration it is impossible to understand the meaning of the virtue of industriousness, and more particularly it is impossible to understand why industriousness should be a virtue: for virtue, as a moral habit, is something whereby man becomes good as man. This fact in no way alters our justifiable anxiety that in work, whereby matter gains in nobility, man himself should not experience a lowering of his own dignity. Again, it is well known that it is possible to use work in various ways against man,that it is possible to punish man with the system of forced labour in concentration camps, that work can be made into a means for oppressing man, and that in various ways it is possible to exploit human labour, that is to say the worker. All this pleads in favour of the moral obligation to link industriousness as a virtue with the social order of work, which will enable man to become, in work, “more a human being” and not be degraded by it not only because of the wearing out of his physical strength (which, at least up to a certain point, is inevitable), but especially through damage to the dignity and subjectivity that are proper to him.

John Paul II also made clear that the Church has a duty to workers. Indeed, he said, there is a spiritual dimension to work:

The Church considers it her duty to speak out on work from the viewpoint of its human value and of the moral order to which it belongs, and she sees this as one of her important tasks within the service that she renders to the evangelical message as a whole. At the same time she sees it as her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for man and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ in their lives by accepting, through faith, a living participation in his threefold mission as Priest, Prophet and King, as the Second Vatican Council so eloquently teaches.

Thus, God not only cares about our work, but He uses work to transform us spiritually, give us dignity, and help us become closer to God, who is the Ultimate Creator.

What does it mean practically? We all have work situations we don’t like: the person in the cubicle next to us who talks non-stop, the manager who seems to hate everyone she manages, a tedious job we don’t like, but it pays the bills. How can we bring our spiritual life into these situations? Here are a couple of practical ways:

  1. Begin your day at work with prayer. It can be something formal, like Morning Prayers or a more simple prayer asking that God be with us as we work, and be with our co-workers as well.
  2. Be open about being Catholic. You don’t have to preach a sermon daily, but you can put a prayer card up in your cubicle, keep a Bible on your desk or wear a symbol of your Faith. Be open to discussions about the Faith as well: when a co-worker asks why you don’t eat meat on Fridays, have a ready answer.
  3. Show Christ’s love. We all bring our home lives to work in some way. Maybe you have a co-worker who is struggling with an illness, or someone is going through a divorce. Quietly acknowledge their situation and let them know you are praying for them. More importantly, that co-worker who talks all the time or the manager who is downright ornery? Pray for them too. Our actions should always be loving.
  4. Be a good steward of your time and space. That means a tidy work space, knowing where documents or tools are, and working while you’re at work. While the occasional walk around the office is good for body and mind, we also need to make sure that we don’t end up taking time from our work by playing games, chatting or indulging in other activities that “steal” time from our primary task.
  5. Be thankful. Some of us are blessed to have jobs that we find fulfilling. Others of us have work that is physically or emotionally difficult (think of a psychologist who helps people solve issues in their lives all day long – that’s hard work!) Others of us have jobs we really don’t like, but we must have that paycheck. No matter what our work is, there are things we can be thankful for. Find those things and offer God your thankfulness every day.

Yes, God cares about our labor, because He cares about us. In turn, we must always remember that our work is part of the order of God’s creation and be mindful of all that we have to be thankful for. Happy Labor Day!

hearts long for

What Does Your Heart Long For?

Our daily walk through this world can be tedious. We have to-do lists, calendar items, agendas: everything we must get accomplished in a day. Our walk can be lonely: friends drift apart, children grow up, people die. We have more things now to entertain us than at any other time in history, and yet boredom sets in.

We are not made to do things. We are made for Christ, and Him alone. Our purpose here is to become saints. Our hearts do not long for another meeting or another chore. Our hearts do not long for television shows or video games. Our hearts long for God.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke knew this. His parents wished that he join the military but his heart was for something else. He loved language and poetry. In 1899, at the age of about 24, Rilke traveled to Russia and there met the great writer Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, whose work explores the deepest desires of the human heart. Tolstoy’s influence on Rilke’s work is clear to see.

Raised as a Catholic, Rilke rejected the faith. However, his poems are full of Christian references and imagery, leading one to think that Rilke, too, longed for more than what this world has to offer. His entire life he struggled with light and dark, God and man, faith and despair.

Despite his struggles with faith and his avowed atheism, one cannot reject his poetry merely because he could not find faith and hope himself.  Who among us does not doubt? Who among us has not cried out to God in anger? Who among us has not turned his face to Heaven and said, “I want you, Lord. I need you. What I have is not enough; I long for more”? Even those who do not believe have searched the heavens, knowing that there is more, yet not being able to grasp it.

What does your heart long for?

Here is Rainer Mariaa Rilke’s Go To the Limits of Your Longing.”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


Is God At The Olympic Games?

Even if you are not athletic, the Olympics are fun to watch. It is incredible to see what people can achieve, what they can overcome and how human emotions are played out as we cheer on a favorite athlete, our nation, the underdog.

At the Huffington Post, David L. Katz asks, “Is god at the Olympics?” If god (lower-case spelling is Katz’s preferred spelling) is at the Olympics, Katz isn’t all that impressed.

It’s bad enough to lose at the Olympics because someone is better at running, or jumping, or swimming. But isn’t it downright devastating to lose because go prefers your opponent? We must allow that with every attribution of victory and its thrills to god, we are attributing to god as well the agony of defeat by divine decree.

Much the same reasoning extends to us, the spectators. If a member of some religion other than our own attributes their victory to god, and cites prayer as the explanation for their success, does it mean our prayers matter less? If god is listening so attentively to the ‘competition,’ does that mean s/he is not listening to us? …

Conversely, if a member of our faith wins, are we comfortable that it’s because athletes of other faiths have all made the wrong religious choice? Does it mean that the winner is the one who prays the best, or prays to the right deity?

Katz concludes that our world is fraught with so many problems: ISIS, the flooding in Louisiana, fires in California. “If god is really micromanaging outcomes at the Olympics for the sake of whatever contingent,” he says, “I can’t help but wonder: is that really the best use of his time?”

It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to sit down with this author and talk through his assumptions, but this blog post will have to do.

First, one would hope that Katz’s view of God as some sort of “divine accountant,” managing one gold for a Christian, a silver for an atheist, and a bronze for a Jew in one event, and then tallying medals for a Muslim, a Sikh and a Hindu in another is not truly how he sees God. No one should see God as playing favorites in such circumstances, or denying an athlete  a medal simply because she is the “wrong” faith. That vision of God makes him seem both cruel and petty. It’s also a very limited view of God: if God is here (at the Olympics) then he cannot possibly be there (with victims of the flooding in Louisiana.) And while we are all guilty of it at some time or another, it does take a bit of hubris to say, “Hey, God! Do you really think that’s the best use of your time? Come here – we gotta talk.”

It’s also clear that Katz has not been listening to the athletes themselves at the Olympics.

David Boudia – diving: “God was completely sovereign throughout this entire journey. He knew how it was going to happen, when it was going to happen and we know why it happens – to make me more like Christ.”

Jordan Burroughs – wrestling: I’ve been blessed with tremendous gifts, and it’s my job to use those gifts to inspire others. As a man of faith, I take great responsibility in being a good steward of my talent . . . God has created unique … avenues to allow me to glorify him.”

Maya DiRado – swimming: “I think God cares about my soul and whether I’m bringing his love and mercy into the world. Can I be a loving, supportive teammate, and can I bless others around me in the same way God has been so generous with me?”

Brady Ellison – archery: “Once I put winning in God’s hands, I stopped worrying about that . . . I just went to tournaments and shot with no fear, doing only the best I can do and leaving the rest up to God.”

Katie Ledecky – swimming: “My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith. It helps me put things in perspective.”

Ibtihaj Muhammad – fencing: “I have so many messages across my social media platforms. It almost seems to be this trending thing, where our girls are being told that there’s things that they can’t do or shouldn’t do. And it’s not necessarily specific to Muslim girls. I would say there are tons of girls out there who find inspiration in my story regardless of their faith and are becoming more involved in sport.”

The message of faith that these athletes have espoused during their time at the Olympics is not “God picked me to win above all the rest of you” or “I prayed the hardest so clearly that’s why I won.” Rather, their message has been: God sustains me.

Most of us will never know the time, pain, sacrifices and dedication it takes to reach this level of athletic achievements. Of course it takes difficult choices. A person has to have a certain amount of natural ability. But there are many talented people – fast people, strong people, people who can jump and tumble and lift – that never make it to the Olympics. There is some unquantifiable “thing” – call it grit, call it resolve, valor, guts – that get certain people to the Olympics at a certain point in time. And while it’s clear that many people who do not believe in God have achieved Olympic glory, it is also clear that those who do believe in God do not credit Him with their winning, but rather credit Him with the fortitude and sustenance needed to do what they do.

Perhaps the best example of this happened two days ago, in the women’s 5,000 meter qualifying race. Two runners, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’agostino of the US, tangled feet and both fell.

With Hamblin lying on the floor behind her, D’Agostino got back to her feet but refused to continue the race. Instead, she sacrificed her race and turned around to help the prone New Zealander.

The pair hugged at the finish line after finishing well back from the rest of the field. Hamblin finished after 16 minutes and 43 seconds, while D’Agostino eventually finished after 17 minutes and 10 seconds, more than two minutes after the winner of the heat, Almaz Ayana, from Ethiopia.

Hamblin was in shock that a woman she didn’t know would do this, and said of D’Agostino, “That girl is the Olympic spirit right there…”

D’Agostino later discovered that she had torn her ACL and won’t be running again any time soon. But of her Olympic experience in Rio, she had this to say:

Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way… This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it …

I felt the peace that comes with acknowledging that I’m not going to run this race with my own strength. And I think that acknowledging those fears before God is what allowed me to feel that peace and I was drawn to it and I wanted to know a God who would work that way in my life.

Is God at the Olympics? For believers, the answer is, “Of course. God is everywhere.” And for believers, the evidence is not in who wins or who loses, but in the experience and the witness. For people like David L. Katz, there would likely never be enough evidence to “prove” that God is at the Olympics. And that’s sad, because God’s presence there has been uplifting, powerful and astounding – everything the Olympic spirit should be.


Speak Praise, Not Poison

Are you wearied of bad news? Of the social media hashtags that beg us to pray for yet another city mired in violence? The seemingly endless culture wars and political battles? I know I am.

There are times when we need to shut out the world and immerse ourselves in prayer. Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, knows this. Lest you think Voskamp is a hermit or a cloistered nun and therefore has the time and ability to shut out the world and pray far more easily than you or I, think again. She’s a wife. A mom with six kids. Married to a farmer and a homeschooler. But she knows about prayer. Here are some of her thoughts:

God doesn’t need us to praise him but he needs us to praise.

What else keeps us from bitterness? …

Words praising Christ or wrangling to be praised ourselves.

This seeping of bitterness or straight spires of blessings …

I’m not sure how my life stands. How my inner and outer walls stand, how I make a home. Unless we make it a habit to give thanks we habitually give our family grief.

Unless we consistently speak praise, we consistently speak poison.

Unless we are intentional about giving God glory throughout the day, our days unintentionally give way to grumbling …

It’s in praising a Savior in all things that we are saved from discouragement in all things …

Father God, make me speak praise today, not poison; make me intentionally give you glory throughout the day, that my day doesn’t unintentionally crumble in grumbling. In thanking you in all things, I am saved from discouragement in all things, and this today is my earnest prayer: Make me do doxology, not destruction.

You can find more of Voskamp’s work at her blog, A Holy Experience.

prayer journal

Prayer Journal: A Love Letter To God

Prayer journaling is nothing new: many saints have kept them. The point of a prayer journal is not to be a diary, or a chronicle of one’s day. A prayer journal is a love letter to God.

One great thing about a prayer journal is that it’s easy to do. All you need is a notebook – fancy or not – and a pen. You can take your journal with you anywhere, tucked into a purse, a briefcase or backpack. Sure, you could keep a journal online or in a computer writing program, but using your own hand to write your prayers is really best. It requires a different part of the brain to get a thought from brain to fingertips. Using your own hand to write is far more personal than a typed journal.

If you’re not sure what to journal, start with blessings or gratitudes. What are you grateful for, right here and now? It might simply be that you have food for breakfast. Perhaps you’re grateful for a cup of coffee in the quiet of the house before everyone else starts their day. Even in our darkest moments, we can find blessings. A shoulder to cry on perhaps, or a nurse who gently cares for a dying loved one: once we tune our ears and eyes to gratitude, we find it in abundance. If you’re really not sure where to start, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. The Spirit of God never disappoints.

Another way to journal is to use a Scripture verse as a starting point. Perhaps it’s a line from the Mass readings on Sunday that struck a chord with you. Write that line down, and let your prayer flow from that. One might do the same with a song or a line from a hymn.

A prayer journal should be real; don’t hold back. There are times in our lives that we are really mad at God – maybe we aren’t really mad at Him, but we have no where else to place our anger. When a loved one dies unexpectedly, we might rail at God, “Why did you take her so suddenly?? I wasn’t ready!” Pour out your heart. Remember, a prayer journal is not getting turned in for a grade; it’s a conversation between you and God.

Prayer journaling can be easier if you follow a formula, at least at the beginning. Start with gratitude and praise. Then let God know what is on your heart right now. Nothing is too trivial. Maybe you’re worried about your health or there is a difficult situation at your job. Maybe your toddler is sick and you just want her to feel better. Ask God to give you whatever it is you need to manage for that day. Move towards an examination of conscience. Perhaps that situation at work is partially your fault; ask for the grace to mend it. Finally, end with asking a favorite saint or the Blessed Mother for intercession.

A prayer journal can be as simple as a notebook and a pen. Other people like to draw or decorate their prayers; the process of creativity helps them to “zone in on” prayer. Use markers, colored pencils or whatever feels right if you decide to be more creative in your prayer. This process is terrific because it forces one to slow down and really examine what’s on one’s mind and heart.

Finally, don’t get discouraged. Finding your own way of prayer journaling can take some time. It’s a process, and you have to find your own manner of prayer. Just remember: this is your love letter to God, and like any parent, He loves to hear from His children.


Covenant: God’s Forever Promise

The word “covenant” is familiar to Catholics. It is part of the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass. But what exactly is a covenant?

First, let’s look at a similar word and idea: “contract.” That’s a common enough concept. We sign and enter into contracts all the time. A contract is basically an exchange of goods and services. You make widgets. I call you and order 3,000 widgets to be delivered. You fax over a contract. The contract says you will make and deliver those widgets to me by a certain date. My part of the contract is that I will pay you for making and delivering the widgets. I sign the contract and fax it back. Deal done.

A lot of people confuse “contract” with “covenant.” Yet, they are vastly different. For instance, there are such things as “cohabitation agreements”. (You can see a sample here.) It states that a couple is willing to live together, but only under certain circumstances. Kevin will pay X amount for rent and Ashley will pay X amount. They decide legally who is responsible for what. They may even decide to note that Kevin will take care of the garage and any maintenance, while Ashley is responsible for cooking meals and cleaning up the kitchen.

Not very…romantic, huh? It sounds like a business arrangement. Well, it is. It’s a contract. It’s the exchange of goods and services between two people. And it’s not at all what God has in mind for a man and a woman who join together.

Now, let’s look at “covenant.” The word gets used quite a bit in Scripture. For instance, God establishes a covenant with Noah in Genesis 6. God commanded Noah to build an ark, and to bring aboard that ark every kind of animal and Noah’s family. Noah agreed, and did what God asked. God’s promise to Noah was:

I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: the birds, the tame animals, and all the wild animals that were with you—all that came out of the ark.

I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.

God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come:

I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Gen. 9:13)

Another important covenant is the one God makes with Abram. Abram (to whom God gave the Abraham.) Abraham was a great leader of his people, but more importantly he was faithful to God. And God made a promise to Abraham:

For my part, here is my covenant with you: you are to become the father of a multitude of nations.

No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham,for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.

I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you.

I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.

God said to Abraham: For your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.

Thus were born the Jewish people, from whom would descend the 12 tribes of Israel and from whom our Saviour would be born.

You see, a covenant is not a business agreement. It’s not an exchange of goods and services. A covenant is a promise that lasts forever, has an enduring sign (like the rainbow for Noah), and always includes God. Amazing, isn’t it? God has made promises to humanity since we’ve been trudging around this Earth and He has kept every one.

As Catholics, our ears hear that word “covenant” during the Eucharistic Prayer: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. Jesus IS the new covenant: He gives us eternal life, and we pick up our crosses and follow him. The bread and the wine which become Christ: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity are the sign of this covenant.

Now let’s go back to that cohabitation agreement. God does not want a man and woman to enter into a contract. He wants a covenant for them. That’s why Christ established marriage as a sacrament. A man and a woman promise (not who will mow the lawn or who will pay what amount for rent) to honor each other, to accept children from God, to be true during good and challenging times and to love as long as both shall live. And we do this in God’s name. The rings exchanged and blessed are the sign of this covenant.

The idea of covenant, an everlasting promise that includes God, is really the love story God has written for us. It’s an important part of Scripture and therefore our Catholic faith. Catholic theologian Scott Hahn has spent much of his life studying and exploring this, and you can learn a lot from his books and writings.

For today, though, pray about the wonder of God’s promise to you, to each of us as Catholics: we do our very best to follow Him and we will have eternal life with Him. Amen!

joy of family

10 Great Quotes From “The Joy of Love”

We’ve spent the last few days examining sections of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)Pope Francis’ recently released apostolic exhortation. This “love letter to families” has so much rich material; it deserves far more in-depth study than we can afford here. However, here are 10 great quotes that we hope will spur you to pick up the document and prayerfully read over it.

  1.  The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour.
  2. The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work.
  3. The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since “their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church.”
  4. The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.
  5. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.
  6. If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us. Otherwise, our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism.
  7. In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
  8. Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another: “they help and serve each other”.
  9. Large families are a joy for the Church. They are an expression of the fruitfulness of love.
  10. Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face. The Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to families and “to help each family to discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters”.

Hoisting The World To Heaven

As easy as it is to become discouraged about the state of the world, we must remember that saints walk among us. Saints are just ordinary people who dutifully accept God’s grace, hoisting themselves and the world to heaven.

Madeleine Delbrel, a French Catholic writer and mystic, knew this. Delbrel was raised Catholic, but as a teen, lost her faith, proclaiming that “God is dead.” Later, she claimed to have re-discovered her faith in God by praying that she could believe.

Delbrel wrote:

If some have to leave the world in order to find it and raise it to heaven, others have to plunge into it so as to hoist themselves with the world to the same heaven.

I take that to mean that a few souls are called to live a monastic life: a life apart from the world, rooted in prayer and work. Their lives are continuous prayer for the salvation of all. It is a rigorous life, and not one that God calls many to.

The rest of us are “plunged” into this world. We must deal with the sins of ourselves and others writ large: provocative “entertainment,” poverty and hunger, politicians and leaders who scandalize, the complete lack of charity for those with whom we work and live, those strangers on the street. Our lives are filled with distractions; how often do we “visit” with friends and family, only to have everyone stare at their phone screens?

It is into this world we are plunged. Delbrel is reminding us that it is our calling as Catholics to hoist ourselves above all this, and bring others with us. When we lift ourselves above this world, heaven becomes more and more clear, and more and more desirable. We may wish sometimes that this was not our calling, but here is where God placed us: in this time, in this place, with these people. How will you hoist them to heaven today?


Will You Transform Your Heart This Lent?

What will it take to transform your heart this Lent? Pope Francis, in his 2016 Lenten message to the Universal Church, tells us that – in the eternal love story that is God – mercy will transform our hearts.

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy”. For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us”. It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

“Scandalous mystery:” what a profound phrase! The mystery and scandal are that Christ – the God-Man, who knew no sin – died for our sins with “gratuitous love.” We could spend all of Lent just meditating on that alone!

It is God’s mercy that transforms us. Yet, this is not a passive event; we must cooperate with God. We must do our part to become more loving, more merciful, to never grow “dull,” as the Holy Father says, in the face of another’s suffering.

What will transform your heart this Lent? In this Year of Mercy, let us all contemplate God’s mercy and how we can experience and share this tremendous gift.


‘Come Running Like A Prodigal’

The band Sidewalk Prophets currently has a song out called, “Prodigal.” It’s a reflection of the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke. The song encourages the listener to acknowledge one’s sins, and return to the arms of God the Father:

Wherever you are, whatever you did
it’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end
your father will meet you with arms open wide
this is where your heart belongs…

Come running like a prodigal
Come running like a prodigal

There will be nights, when you hear whispers
of a life you once knew, don’t let it linger
’cause there’s a grace that falls upon you
don’t you forget….

Yesterday, Pope Francis was wrapping up his trip to Mexico. It’s no secret that Pope Francis loves to embrace the people, literally. His delight towards young people is especially evident.

In the following video, Pope Francis calls two young women with Down Syndrome from the crowd to himself. The Holy Father’s gestures – walking towards them, holding his arms out wide, his tremendous smile – all symbolize God the Father’s anxious heart when His prodigal child returns.

We are all prodigals. We all sin, running from God’s grace, straight into the arms of evil. However, we always have the choice, the ability, to turn and run right back into the arms of the Father. And He will always reach out to us, smiling, beckoning us to return to His unbelievable embrace.