spiritual journey

Advent: Long lay the world, in sin and error pining

Today’s Advent reflection for the 2nd Tuesday of Advent, 2016

Like the deer that longs for running streams, so my soul longs for God.—Psalm 42:1

Jesus’ first interaction with mankind in the Gospel of John is kind of awkward. He noticed two men following him and stopped, looked straight at them, and said, “What are you looking for?” I think he wanted them to stop and ask themselves that question before taking another step. He wants us to ask it of ourselves, too—because that question is the start of the spiritual journey.

Our longing for “something more” than this world can give us is part of who we are. It’s a longing that St. Thomas Aquinas used as evidence for God. A stomach’s growling would make no sense if there were no such thing as food. What about that “growling” in the depths of our hearts for something no amount of worldly “stuff” can satisfy? That growling has led man to think of God since the dawn of time.

If we’re losing touch with God today it’s probably because we’ve lost touch with ourselves. We tend to forget our deepest longings and highest ideals when they’re drowned out by the “noise” of passing news and countless to-dos. Or worse, we tend to suppress our highest hopes when life leaves us hurt and disappointed.

I want you to give yourself permission to ask the dangerous questions: “What do I want out of life? What am I looking for? Really?”

Beneath every answer from “a happy marriage” to “a big fat paycheck” to “fame and fortune” (all of which you may or may not get) is a deeper longing. We want more. We want happiness. We want joy. We want peace. We want LOVE. And we don’t want a little of those things. We want an infinite supply—more of it than this whole world could possibly give! We want GLORY!

. . . Let yourself feel that longing . . .

That would be cruel advice if that longing had no answer! Thankfully it does have an answer. The one who asked the question “What are you looking for?” is the answer. He just wants you to find that out for yourself. That’s what the spiritual journey is all about.

Chris Stefanick - Guest Author


Chris Stefanick  is an internationally acclaimed author and speaker, who has devoted his life to inspiring people to live a bold, contagious faith. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap calls Chris, “one of the most engaging young defenders of the Christian faith on the scene today.”  Chris is also the founder of Real Life Catholic, a Denver-based non-profit which operates as the headquarters for Chris’s various initiatives. Above all, Chris is proud to be the husband to his wife Natalie and father to their six children. To learn more about Chris’s work, please visit: www.RealLifeCatholic.com.

Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew

St. Andrew: A Saint For Advent

Today’s Advent reflection for the 2nd Tuesday of Advent, 2016

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you guest posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s guest blogger is Fr. Colin Mulhall, reflecting on the Mass readings for November 30, the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.]

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Apostle St. Andrew, the “first-called” of the Apostles.  He is so named because in the Gospel of John, he is the first of the Apostles to follow Jesus.  Andrew is the one who introduces Peter to Jesus in the Gospel of John.

It might be said that it’s because of a bit of fraternal nagging that Peter met Jesus and eventually became the Prince of the Apostles.  It is fitting that we celebrate his feast during Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.  Here was a man who was eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah, and was most likely a follower of John the Baptist.  When John pointed out Christ, the Lamb of God, Andrew was probably filled with curiosity, and followed Jesus, eventually being invited to “come and see” where He was staying.

The attitude of Andrew, that hopeful expectation of the coming of Christ, is the attitude we are all called to emulate this Advent season.  We are invited to commemorate the coming of the Christ Child, and to prepare ourselves for the triumphant return of Christ in glory.  St. Andrew reminds us Christians that our fundamental attitude is one of preparation and eager anticipation.  We are in a constant of state of tension, an eschatological tension, awaiting the definitive victory of Christ, which has been accomplished in the Paschal Mystery of His suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension, but has yet to be fully realized.  St. Andrew teaches us what it looks like to wait with the certainty of a hope based in the sure promises of God in Christ Jesus.

Take the opportunity this Advent season to welcome Christ into your life in a new way, letting St. Andrew and all the Saints lead us all into deeper relationship with the Lord.

Fr. Colin Mulhall is associate pastor at St. Robert of Newminster Parish in Ada, MI.


command to love

The Command To Love

Every Mass begins with a prayer called the “collect.” The priest prays it right before the day’s readings. While it may slip by us sometimes, it’s good to pay attention. It typically gives us a “clue,” if you will, as to what we should pay attention to during the Mass.

The collect for today’s Mass begins: Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command…”

Make us love? That seems odd. Can we be made to love? Isn’t love an emotion, something we have little control over? How can we be commanded to love?

It’s true that our culture wants us to think that “love” is a warm, fuzzy feeling that we have little or no control over. “The heart wants what the heart wants,” right? We can’t help who we fall in love with. And yet, Jesus commands us to love. John 15:17 could not be more clear: Love one another as I have loved you.

Love, for Christians, is not a feeling. Feelings come and go, are not always rooted in reality and can lead us down the wrong path very quickly. How many of us have “fallen in love” with a person who does not have our best interests in mind? What about falling in love with someone we barely know, but with whom we’ve shared an intense event?

No, love is not a feeling, but an action. It is a decision. Further, it is a decision to put the needs of someone else before our own. Deacon Keith Fournier, talking about the foot-washing of Holy Thursday:

The Love of Christ is made into symbolic action, because Love is a verb. Love is a command, a mandate. This foot-washing is more than a re-enactment; it is an invitation to participate in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ through His Church.

The Eucharist is the “Sacrament of Love”, in the words of our beloved Holy Father Benedict XVI. In that first Encyclical letter he underscored not only the depth of the Mystery revealed in that penultimate Sacrament, but he also connected that Sacrament – and our participation in it – to our choice to live lives of love in the real world.

Sometimes love requires us to do very difficult things: to confront a loved one who is enmeshed in addiction, to stand at the bedside of a dying friend, to discipline a teen who screams, “I hate you!” No parent wants to get up at three a.m. to tend to a terrified toddler who’s had a nightmare. The saints stand as example: choosing to care for the destitute and dying, the leper, taking the place of one slated to die. There is no romantic feeling when we ourselves are in pain and choose to offer up our suffering in union with Christ’s.

Christ can command us to love because love is a choice. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI takes up the question of being able to love upon command.

The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self- abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy (cf. Ps 73 [72]:23-28).

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.

“Seeing with the eyes of Christ:” this is how we are able to love upon command. We abandon our wishes, desires and needs and instead put the other first. We see them as Christ sees them: God’s creation, imbued with dignity and worthy of our time, our help, our love.

Love is a choice; God never forces us to do anything. We are free creatures. But if we follow Christ, we must follow his commands and He commands us to love. We choose to love “in the real world,” as Deacon Fournier says: that world of death, angry teens, broken relationships and sin. We love – not as a feeling – but as action, acting as Christ would, seeing others with his eyes.

Today, let us pray with the whole Church: Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command…” Let us choose to love.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

The Liturgy Of The Eucharist: Real Presence Of Christ

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is “the Source and summit of the Christian life.” (Lumen Gentium) All that we do, both at Mass and in our daily lives, should be directed toward the Eucharist.

Why does the Church take the Eucharist so seriously? Because Christ did. In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus clearly tells his disciples, “I am the Bread of Life.” In addition, He told them that all must eat His Body in order to have eternal life.

Many of the disciples said to each other, “This is too hard. We can’t accept this.” And they left. They left Jesus, the one who had  walked on water, who had cured the sick, made the lame walk. They believed He was the Messiah … but the idea of Him being the Bread of Life made them walk away.

Jesus did not call them back. He did not stop them and tell them, “No, you misunderstood me. Here’s what I really meant to say…” He allowed them to leave. If they could not handle this hard truth, they could not be His disciples.

Catholics believe that, at every Mass, the bread and wine we bring to the altar is changed: to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We call this “transubstantiation,” because the very substance of the matter (bread and wine) undergoes a change. While the appearance of bread and wine remain, the very substance is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Why do we believe this? Because Jesus told us it was true. Why do we do this? Because Jesus told us to. When we receive the Eucharist, we are as close to Jesus as we will be in Heaven. We feast on this Bread from Heaven that is our Savior. Because of this gift, we grow in holiness, in grace, in faith. Receive your Savior worthily, for the King of Heaven and Earth is now yours.

Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe: “No Greater Love Than This”

August 14th is the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a priest whom St. John Paul II said was “the patron saint of our difficult [20th] century.” It is fitting that we remember this Franciscan priest today as well, August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, as his devotion to Mary was a bedrock of his faith.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born in 1894, baptized Rajmund Kolbe in what was then a part of Russia, but would eventually be annexed into Poland. In 1907, he and his brother Francis joined the Franciscans. He was eventually sent to Krakow to study, eventually earning two doctorate degrees. He had a brilliant mind, loved science and was fascinated by military history. Yet, he served God above all else.

Maximilian Kolbe wished to spend his vocation spreading devotion to Mary, and is credited with using the most advanced printing techniques to do so. The Immaculata Friars eventually published a daily paper with a circulation of almost a quarter million and a monthly magazine that reached over one million people. Maximilian Kolbe liked to say, “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin to much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”

Then came World War II. Kolbe’s priestly life shifted from spreading the Gospel and devotion to the Blessed Mother on a large-scale basis to helping his fellow Poles survive. He is credited with saving the lives of at least 2000 Jews “in his friary in Niepokalanów. He was also active as a radio amateur, with Polish call letters SP3RN, vilifying Nazi activities through his reports.”

In 1941, he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. (While the Nazis primary targets were Jews, it is said that by 1939, 80 percent of Catholic clergy in Poland had been deported to death camps. By the end of the war, six bishops, 2,020 priests, 127 seminarians, 173 lay brothers and 243 nuns were killed by the Nazis.) Fr. Kolbe spent his time in the camp working, as did the other prisoners, but also ministering to his fellow prisoners as best he could. He would often move from bed to bed at night, gently asking, “I’m a priest. Can I do anything for you?

A prisoner later recalled how he and several others often crawled across the floor at night to be near the bed of Father Kolbe, to make their confessions and ask for consolation. Father Kolbe pleaded with his fellow prisoners to forgive their persecutors and to overcome evil with good. When he was beaten by the guards, he never cried out. Instead, he prayed for his tormentors.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus instructs His followers that they must remain in the love of God, and that love will sustain them. Then He says:

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (jn. 15:12-13

Few of us will ever be called to this test of faith, but Fr. Kolbe was.

In order to discourage escapes, Auschwitz had a rule that if a man escaped, ten men would be killed in retaliation. In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s bunker escaped. The dreadful irony of the story is that the escaped prisoner was later found drowned in a camp latrine, so the terrible reprisals had been exercised without cause. But the remaining men of the bunker were led out.

The commandant Karl Fritsch screamed. ‘You will all pay for this. Ten of you will be locked in the starvation bunker without food or water until they die.’ The prisoners trembled in terror. A few days in this bunker without food and water, and a man’s intestines dried up …

The ten were selected, including Franciszek Gajowniczek, imprisoned for helping the Polish Resistance. He couldn’t help a cry of anguish. ‘My poor wife!’ he sobbed. ‘My poor children! What will they do?’ When he uttered this cry of dismay, Maximilian stepped silently forward, took off his cap, and stood before the commandant and said, ‘I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.’

Astounded, the icy-faced Nazi commandant asked, ‘What does this Polish pig want?’

Father Kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek and repeated’I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.’

And so it was that Maximilian Kolbe too the place of the young Polish man with a wife and family, and was locked in a starvation bunker with others. Fr. Kolbe led the men in prayers and hymns, as one by one they slowly died. Two weeks passed. All except the priest were dead. It was decided that the bunker was needed for other things, and so the camp doctor was called in to inject the priest with carbolic acid. He died shortly thereafter.

And the man he saved, Franciszek Gajowniczek? He survived the war. He returned home to his wife, but their sons has perished. When Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982 by then-Pope John Paul II, Gajowniczek was in attendance at St. Peter’s Square.

Why is St. Maximilian Kolbe so important to us today? He grew up a normal kid: he farmed and played with his brothers, helped in the shop his mother owned. He could be one of any of the millions of boys who came of age during World War II (or today for that matter.) He knew Mary wanted him as a priest for her Son, and Kolbe agreed. Then he used his talents and passions for spreading the Gospel. And when it came time for the hardest decision he ever had to make, he relied wholly on Jesus and his trust in the Blessed Mother. You can do this same this. We can. We must.

tough times

How Can I Handle The Hard Times Better?

No one escapes it: the trials and tribulations of this life. It may look like some people never suffer. Glossy magazines and television shows that focus on “celebrity lifestyles” can make us feel as if we are living out a Dickens novel by comparison. But underneath all that glamour and shiny stuff, those folks have hard times too.

Maybe for you, it’s an illness. Perhaps it’s a sin you struggle with daily. It could be debt, or losing a job. Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you, and grief has overtaken your life. It happens to everyone. As Catholics, we need to ask ourselves, “How can I handle the hard times better? What is there, in my faith life, that can prop me up?”

First, we have to know that God is not punishing us when we are sick or sorrowful. In John 9, Christ and his disciples pass by a man born blind. The disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Notice that the disciples assume that someone must have done something terribly wrong, for this great burden to be laid on this man. But Jesus says no, there was no sin involved. The man’s suffering was so that God’s glory may be seen through this man. And Jesus cured him.

While Jesus may not cure every illness or problem, He will allow God’s grace to shine through, if we cooperate with Him. Let God know that you welcome Him into your life, even in the midst of suffering. If he wants to use you – even in your pain – allow Him to.

Have a sense of humor. Some of God’s best friends, the saints, were not immune to struggles, but many of them didn’t lose their sense of humor either. St. Theresa of Avila was one tough lady, a true prayer warrior. She also got malaria, had a hard time praying sometimes, and struggled with complaining about others. She also had great joy.

Once, when she was travelling to one of her convents, St. Teresa of Ávila was knocked off her donkey and fell into the mud, injuring her leg. “Lord,” she said, “you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?”

And the response in prayer that she heard was, “That is how I treat my friends.”

Teresa answered, “And that is why you have so few of them!”

When you are feeling overwhelmed, share your troubles. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill t he law of Christ.” Sharing your problems with a friend in Christ may not solve anything, but knowing that our friend cares and will pray with us and for us can relieve us of much anxiety.

When tough times hit, our instinct may be to pray less. Maybe we are mad at God for allowing pain into our lives. Maybe we think, “I haven’t got time to pray; I’m too busy trying to straighten out this mess!” The fact of the matter is, when times are hard, we need to pray MORE. Maybe a lot more. Deacon Joseph Michalak suggests praying all the Psalms, because they “offer accounts of many struggles, and end with praising God.”

Volunteer. You might do it casually, such as making sure your elderly neighbor gets a ride to church every week, or maybe you’ll be more formal and join an organization. Either way, serving others gets us “outside of ourselves.” We stop focusing on our issues, and help meet others’ needs. Offering your time and talent to someone else can also help put your own struggles in perspective.

Never underestimate the power of the sacraments. We wouldn’t never expect our car to run with an empty gas tank. Well, “grace” is sort of gas for the soul. It’s God own life within us, and God’s grace is always sufficient for whatever situation we are in. Go to Mass as often as possible (understanding that one must attend Sunday Mass to remain in a state of grace.) Take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you are sick, in need of surgery or have a chronic illness, ask your priest for the Anointing of the Sick. Even if your are still stuck in a difficult situation, God’s grace will be a fortress for your and His faithfulness a protective shield. Trust in God and in His gift of grace.

Finally, don’t be ashamed or hesitant to ask for help. If your finances are a mess, get an expert to go over them with you. If you are sick and cannot keep up with things like housework or cooking, ask your parish for help. If you are struggling with an addiction, find a group in your area (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) where you can find support. You may be surprised at how your friends and family will rise to the occasion once you let them in. Don’t go it alone.

We have a God who knows our pains, our worries, our struggles. While Jesus never sinned, He carried all of our sins on the way to Calvary. He lost people He loved. His dearest friends betrayed Him and took off when He needed them most. He was misunderstood by many, and treated as if He were a criminal, although He’d done no wrong. He understands far more than we give Him credit for. Trust Jesus with your tough times. He will not fail you.

Mary Magdalene

5 Things You Should Know About Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. (Although we tend to say “feast” for the days we celebrate saints, they are actually classified as memorials on the Church’s liturgical calendar.) Just a month or so ago, Pope Francis elevated the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast day. This means that her feast day is celebrated, liturgically, on the same “level” as that of the Apostles. While she is one of the best known figures in the Gospel, there is still plenty to learn about this amazing woman of faith.

  1. Mary Magdalene is often referred to as the “Apostle to the Apostles.” Why? She was the first to recognize that the tomb where Christ had been laid three days prior was now empty, and Christ raised from the dead. Christ appeared to her but she did not recognize the Risen Lord until he spoke her name. Then she brought this great news to the Apostles.
  2. Nowhere in Scripture is Mary Magdalene identified as a prostitute, but many people believe she was.
  3. Jesus performed an exorcism on her, casting out seven demons. Clearly, she had much to be grateful for, and we can assume that she became a devoted disciple of Christ because of this.
  4. Mary Magdalene, whomever else she may have been, was one courageous woman. When all but one of Christ’s Apostles abandoned Him as He was crucified, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, the Mother of God and the Apostle John. For hours, these three watched, waited and prayed as their Beloved died a horrific death. Despite any fear they may have had of the Roman government, their love for Christ gave them the courage to be with Him in the most agonizing moments of His life. Mary Magdalene was one gutsy lady.
  5. Her special title is “Penitent.”

What so few realize is that Saint Mary Magadalen, because her gratitude and humility are equal to her unparalleled love, is delighted to bear, through all Christian centuries, the title Penitent in order that through her the mercies of her Lord might be made manifest. For actually, in all the days of her life that followed upon her anointing the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon, the Pharisee, she grew in love and prayer and contemplation to such a height that, except for Our Lady’s ­ whose life transcends in holiness that of the lives of all the saints together ­ Saint Mary Magdalen’s life may be said to be the holiest of all the holiest women in the Church.

Today, on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, let us ask for her intercession that we too may live a faithful life of courage, despite our circumstances, despite our doubts and fears. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!


cross crucifix

A Cross And A Crucifix: Is One A Better Symbol Than The Other?

Both the cross and the crucifix are the two of the most identifiable symbols of Christianity. No matter the setting, the country, the building, a cross or a crucifix marks that place as Christian. To see someone wearing a cross or a crucifix also identifies them with faith (for now, let’s set aside pop stars who flash these as mere jewelry.)

Yet, there are differences between a cross and a crucifix, ones so distinct that even a small child can manage to point them out. Even more distinctly, a crucifix is generally identified with the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and a cross with Protestant. So, why the difference?

For non-Christians, these symbols can seem odd, at the very least. The cross is an instrument of death. It seems, to non-believers, the same as wearing a small electric chair on a chain around one’s neck. Even the early Christian community preferred not to use the cross as a symbol of faith because it was still being used in the torture and death of people. With the passage of time, though, the cross ultimately stands as the instrument of our salvation. It is the beginning of the end of death’s eternal hold on us.

Eventually the Christian community came to grips with the cross, but initially only as a symbol of triumph. In this form the cross had no corpus (figure of Christ) but was elaborately decorated and often even jeweled to represent Christ’s victory over death that made an object of shame into a beautiful thing. This type of cross is called a crux gemmata, and it was the first widespread form of the cross in Christianity.

The most marked difference between a cross and a crucifix is the corpus or body of Christ on a crucifix. Some Protestants object to the crucifix because of the belief (which we Catholics share!) that Christ is resurrected, not still on the cross and thus, (some believe) He should not be depicted that way. Others find the prominent Catholic use of the crucifix in our churches and homes borders on idolatry.

Of course, Catholics use both symbols frequently. While the crucifix holds a prominent place in most churches, you’re just as likely to see a simple cross in use by Catholics. For instance, many bishops choose to use the cross, rather than a crucifix, as their pectoral cross. Many Catholics choose to wear a cross as a symbol of their faith.

It should also be noted that most crucifixes include the sign INRI across the top. INRI is the Latin abbreviation for “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum” or Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. Recall in the Gospel of John:

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

St. Rose of Lima said, “Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” Catholics understand that both the simple cross and the crucifix are symbols of our faith, helping us to recall Jesus’ great sacrifice for us. Both give us a profound visual reminder of His Death and Resurrection, His sacrifice and His triumphant annihilation of sin and death. Yes, there are differences, but Catholics should hold both signs in high esteem, acknowledging both as powerful reminders of the Truth that is Christ.


The Rosary: Praying The Gospels

The Rosary is likely one of the best known symbols of Catholicism. It is a treasured prayer of popes and paupers, praised both for its simplicity and its deep meditative qualities. (If you’ve never prayed the Rosary, or forgotten how, check out this page for a guide.) This week, we will look at the Rosary, its place in Catholic prayer and the Mysteries that walk us through the life of Christ.

In 2002, St. John Paul II wrote on apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary). He said the Rosary “simple yet profound” and “at heart a Christocentric prayer.”

[T]he most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine “training in holiness”: ‘What is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer’. Inasmuch as contemporary culture, even amid so many indications to the contrary, has witnessed the flowering of a new call for spirituality, due also to the influence of other religions, it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become ‘genuine schools of prayer’.

Too many Christians dismiss the Rosary as a prayer to Mary. Yet, we do no pray to Mary. We beg her intercession in prayer to Christ, her Son. The last recorded words of Mary in the Gospels are “Do whatever He tells you,” (Jn 2:15) as she first instructs the waiters at the wedding at Cana and then us, the followers of Christ. St. John Paul II says that we learn Christ from Mary, who has the most profound knowledge of our Savior.

The first of the ‘signs’ worked by Jesus – the changing of water into wine at the marriage in Cana – clearly presents Mary in the guise of a teacher, as she urges the servants to do what Jesus commands (cf. Jn 2:5). We can imagine that she would have done likewise for the disciples after Jesus’ Ascension, when she joined them in awaiting the Holy Spirit and supported them in their first mission. Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to ‘read’ Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.

This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers us the incomparable example of her own pilgrimage of faith.  As we contemplate each mystery of her Son’s life, she invites us to do as she did at the Annunciation: to ask humbly the questions which open us to the light, in order to end with the obedience of faith: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38).

The Rosary is a prayer of meditation and contemplation. It is not a mindless or rote recitation of prayers. Rather, the prayers, counted on the beads as they slide through the fingers, become a sort of “background music” as one ponders deeply the events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Traditionally, these events are categorized as joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous. Those four words simply and beautifully describe the life of our Lord and the Good News He brings.

Tomorrow, we will discuss the Joyful Mysteries.

Body and Blood of Christ

The Solemnity Of The Body And Blood Of Christ: “I Am The Bread Of Life”

This year, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (traditionally knows as Corpus Christi) on the final Sunday of May. Many parishes choose to process with the Eucharist – sometimes simply around the church or neighborhood, while others make longer treks. Regardless, this celebration makes known to all who see and hear a fundamental tenet of our faith: that Christ is present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist.

Of course, this seems a bit crazy. It’s understandable how this could be a stumbling block for so many. How possibly could Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-Made-Man, be “inside” that Host, that Chalice? Isn’t it just a piece of bread and some wine that we remember Jesus by? It’s just a reminder of Him and the Last Supper, right?


It is not “just” a piece of bread and some wine, or a memory of a long ago event. How can we be assured of this? How do we Catholics know this to be true? Because Christ Himself told us.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, John tells of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The vast crowd who came to hear Jesus’ preach were fed – astoundingly – with a very small amount of food. The next day, Jesus takes his disciples and gives them the teaching on the Bread of Life.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” (Jn. 6:35-40)

Now, the disciples were used to Jesus teaching in parables: the Kingdom of God is like, or it’s as if. But they could tell his tone was different here. They started squirming: How can this guy be bread? That’s not REALLY what He meant, is it?

And Jesus clarified:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn: 6:48-51)

Well, that was it for some of the disciples. There was no doubting Jesus’ meaning: He wasn’t just saying “eat;” He was using the word for “gnaw.” He really meant eating His Body. And some of those disciples left. This was simply too outrageous.

Even today, these words of Christ are too outrageous for many Christians; they do not believe that Christ, at the Last Supper, fulfilled His words. We must, as Catholics, work to bring our Christian brothers and sisters into the fulness of faith. However, we cannot do that unless our own faith is formed. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is an opportunity to deepen our own faith.

A few years ago, Pope Francis said this challenged us on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ:

[I]n adoring Christ who is really present in the Eucharist: do I let myself be transformed by him? Do I let the Lord who gives himself to me, guide me to going out ever more from my little enclosure, in order to give, to share, to love him and others?

Brothers and sisters, following, communion, sharing. Let us pray that participation in the Eucharist may always be an incentive: to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion and to share what we are with him and with our neighbour. Our life will then be truly fruitful.

As we look forward to this celebration, let us pray that we deepen our own faith, and then share this great treasure with others.


Love: The Christian Identity Card

In Rome this past weekend, more than 70 thousand teens from Italy and the world traveled to Rome for a Jubilee pilgrimage celebrating the Year of Mercy. On Saturday, priests (sitting on chairs in the open air) heard the confessions of these young people in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis joined them, hearing the confessions of 16 young people.

On Sunday, the pope addressed the young people in  his sermon.

The Pope told the thousands of 13 to 16 year olds gathered in St Peter’s Square that “love, was the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians.  If this card expires and is not constantly renewed,” he said, “we stop being witnesses of the Master.”

Then he asked the teenagers gathered “Do you want to experience the love of Jesus? Let us learn from him, for his words are a school of life, a school where we learn to love.”

The Holy Father noted, however, that although love is beautiful and it’s the path to happiness it is not necessarily and easy path.  It is, he said, demanding and it requires effort.

Sunday’s Gospel, from the book of John, was short, but powerful. It formed the basis of Pope Francis’ remarks:

When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

It is easy to dismiss the Gospel (and Pope Francis’ remarks) as simply “feel good” words: let’s all love each other and be happy! But a closer reading reveals that Jesus is asking a great deal from us. Although the disciples did not yet know it, Jesus would show them the extent of His love: His sacrificial death on the Cross. Jesus willingly burdened Himself with our sins, was beaten, humiliated and died a slow, agonizing death – because He loves us.

Jesus is telling us that, if we truly want to bear the name “Christian,” to carry the “Christian identity card” – we must love each other in a sacrificial manner. So, what would that look like? St. Paul, in his writings to the citizens of Corinth, makes it clear:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Today, we are all students in the school of love. We must learn love, we must practice love, we must accept love, and we must love all those who cross our paths. It is our identity as disciples of Christ.


“My Sheep Hear My Voice”

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday, celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. According to the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus proclaims that he is the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Now all of this would have made a great deal of sense to the people Jesus spoke to directly. They knew all about sheep. For those of us who live in a world of minivans, suburban cul-de-sacs, grocery stores and the internet, the closest most of us come to sheep is buying a new sweater at the mall. A little knowledge of sheep will help clarify what Jesus is really telling us.

First, sheep are completely defenseless. They can’t run fast, nor can they fight predators. A shepherd and a sheep dog are necessary to keep predators away.

Sheep are also naturally social. They like being around each other and around people, so long as they are well treated. Sheep cannot thrive in isolation.

Sheep are followers. The sheep that starts walking first is the leader – not necessarily because it’s the strongest or smartest, but because it started to walk first. Sheep – sometimes to their peril – follow.

Sheep like the predictable and they scare rather easily. A good shepherd is gentle, firm and keeps the sheep calm.

Sheep have a reputation for being, well, rather … dumb. Of course, they are not rational beings, with the ability to make decisions based on facts, past experiences, the advice of others, etc. They simply do sheep things.

With all this in mind, Jesus as the Good Shepherd perhaps will be more meaningful. He is saying to us that He will defend us against evil. He is telling us that He knows we do not thrive in isolation; His church, his flock, must depend on each other in order to thrive as we seek His will.

Jesus knows we human beings are followers. We warn our tweens and teens about peer pressure, but we can all fail prey to it. We need to know that we follow Christ.

While humans are not dumb, we do dumb things. We don’t always do what we know is best. We make stupid, hurtful decisions. We sin. Jesus knows this about us. And He wants better for us, so He asks us to follow Him. He will not lead us astray.

The hymn, The King of Love My Shepherd Is, has this lovely verse:

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.

We are led astray, but Christ is gentle and loving. He seeks out His sheep, and brings us home.