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!

Signature Artist Series - Jen Norton

“Art Is My Language:” An Interview With Artist Jen Norton

Diocesan Publications is thrilled to have kicked-off its “Signature Artist Series” with California artist Jen Norton. (You can read Norton’s bio here.) While our in-house artists and graphic designers are very talented, it is exciting to collaborate with artists such as Norton. Even more exciting is getting the chance to speak with her, and learn more about her work.


Signature Artist Series - Jen NortonWhat’s your earliest memory of creating something artistic?

JN: Probably age 2, sitting at the kitchen table at my parents’ house.

I was debilitatingly shy as a child; I don’t know what they’d call it today, but somewhere in grade school they evaluated me and said, “She’s retarded.” It could have been anything – something on the Asperger’s spectrum, selective mutism, social anxiety – some kind of debilitating social illness. I didn’t really talk to anyone but my mother for the first seven years of my life.

My preschool teachers figured out I’d be perfectly happy if they put me in the corner with artistic materials and let me go at it. It was the only place I felt safe. It [art] is a part of my being.

I was no child prodigy; my art looked like every other kid’s art. It was about expression; I could express what I needed to express with art. And I could do this on my own and make myself happy without having to interact with other people.


As your talent developed, were there other artists who influenced you?

JN: My third “real” job after college was as a graphic designer in Silicon Valley. As a designer, you get these giant illustration books, and on my downtime, I’d flip through them. I admired these beautifully hand-done illustrations. Gary Kelley is one name that comes to mind, and Mary GrandPre who’s done all the Harry Potter stuff.

In terms of art history, the Post-Impressionist period, when people began to really experiment with paint. I’ve gone to d’Orsay and been in the Degas room, staring at one painting for twenty minutes and my husband is like, “What are you looking at?

It’s when you take the technique and you start to experiment – the color and the experimentation is interesting to me.


I know, as a writer, that an artist can find inspiration just about anywhere. You can see a billboard and go “Aha!” What are some of those “triggers” for you as an artist?

JN: Oh, gosh. Just nature. You know, you have the elements of design: color, shape, texture, space, form, harmony, balance … Pattern and color do it for me.

It can be a pattern in a leaf or a flower – those little bits and pieces get into my paintings. Getting out of my own head space, you know. Being an introvert, it’s very easy to be happy and stay happy inside my own head, but when I get out – to the ocean or the mountains – it refreshes you. It gives you new eyes.

I love to read Scripture or read, well, I’m reading this book on Mary Magdalene right now because she fascinates me.


During his papacy, St. John Paul II wrote a beautiful letter to artists. He spoke about their role in culture. How do you see your work as not just creating a beautiful “thing” but as a spiritual act?

JN: Art is an emotional language, so just like learning English or Spanish, it is absolutely necessary to learn some form of art (writing or music or painting or whatever) as your emotional expression.

You see so much violence in schools, and we all complain about [the loss of the arts in schools] but we realize it’s not just about “She wrote a great book” or … It’s an expression. For me, it’s in doing the art, working out problems. When it gets to the point where I like it and I think “that’s authentic” – there’s no way you can lie in art. If it’s authentic, it’s from your soul. It’s how you think your way through it.

Our society absolutely has to have a way to express itself on a more emotional level. Most of us have some level of disability of expression – like not being able to have a normal conversation – and we need another way to do it. If people were allowed to do that, if art were held in the same esteem as math and the sciences, recognizing that it’s a different animal but equal, I think we’d have a much healthier society.

Especially in America, we quantify everything by money. How much can you earn as an artist? Well, I don’t know; if you’re creative in how you do it, some make a lot of money. I’m making enough to help pay for my daughter’s college right now. It’s not a lost cause, and it’s not for everybody [as a career.] But to say art is “less” is to deny those who need [the belief that] they are just as important as those in math and science.


Much of your art combines the visual with language. This is sort of a “chicken and the egg” question – which comes first for you, the visual or the words?

JN: Like I said, art is my language so it goes together.

Both ways, I guess. There have been times when I’ve been commissioned to do something around a prayer and then I figure out the visual. And there are other ones where the image and the words kind of “gel” together. Or maybe I’ve done the image and I think, “This could use a little more…”

The first Catholic piece I did (because I was doing landscapes and such) came out of a difficult year, and the mantra that kept coming to me was “Let it be.” I felt like it was Mary, like saying a rosary, and it was her saying, “Let it be. Let it be. It’s okay. Everything’s going to be taken care of.”

It’s all different. There’s no format.


Obviously, your faith influences your work. How do you stay spiritually  healthy so that  your art continues to be true and beautiful?

JN: Well I don’t know if I do; I just try to stay indoors if I’m not feeling it [laughs.]

It gets really busy sometimes. I do a lot of production work because I sell copies of my work online. But I think for me giving myself time every day to reflect. I get up in the morning, make the coffee, feed the dog, and that’s when I’ll say a rosary. Somedays, I get really distracted: three prayers in and my mind is gone.

I have a daily Scripture reading that come through my email. I’ll try to take that half hour and just enjoy that moment. My mind will start to get busy with things I have to do that day, and I’ll go, “Wait a minute. I get this half hour for me.”

The rest is just day-to-day learning. If you’re trying to do right, and you do something wrong, you think, “Ok, I did that wrong. I don’t want to do that again.”


What’s your favorite part of the creative process?

JN: Every time you start, you look at that blank canvas and you think, “Ugh, that’s going to be so much work!”

You have to trick yourself into it. “I’m just gonna throw some color on this…” Part of my style has come around because I don’t want to take a lot of time sketching something out, or do an underpainting. I don’t have that kind of patience!

So I trick myself into it. I throw some paint on it, put some collage on, make some texture. “It doesn’t matter; I can paint over it.” I paint in acrylic because once it dries you can paint over it. So I paint and I get into it and there’s always this one point where I think “I’ve absolutely screwed this up. I have to fix it.” But I have to go through that frustration.

It’s between that point and the final touches that I’m beyond thinking of composition and structure; now I’m just doing textures and palettes and fun colors and balancing things. That’s where it’s much more emotional and intuitive and less thinking. That’s where I get the most enjoyment.

Thanks to Jen Norton for taking time to speak with us. We urge you to visit her website and take in more of her work.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa Of Kolkata: Our Newest Saint

In one month, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa of Kolkata the Church’s newest saint. While most of us are familiar with her public work in India and elsewhere, it is good to learn more about this holy woman.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910, Mother Teresa was Albanian by birth, but lived most of her early years in Yugoslavia. At the age of just 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish order of teachers. During those years, she worked in India. However, God called her to something more.

Mother Teresa (the name she received when she entered the convent of the Loreto order) received a call from Christ to serve the poorest of the poor. In order to do that, she needed to leave her beloved Loreto Sisters and found a new order. She was determined that this order live among the poor, and that these sisters would live as the poor did: with as few possessions as possible.

Founding this new order took a great deal of determination. Mother Teresa was a tiny woman, with a warm smile and a heart for service. She was also one very determined lady. Although it took several years, she was finally given permission from the bishop to found her order: the Missionaries of Charity. These new sisters would wear simple saris, just like the women they would serve. The sisters would have only two habits: one to wear and another to change into when the first was dirty. They would wear sandals and carry rosaries. That was to be the sum total of their possessions. Mother Teresa felt strongly that in order to serve the poor, they must be poor themselves.

Her sisters would go out into the streets of Kolkata daily, feeding the poor, offering simple medicine for those who were ill and gathering the children for teaching and religious education. In twenty years, the order grew, as did their work.

Trusting entirely in God’s providence to sustain their work, in only three years they had built a motherhouse, established an orphanage, and set up a program to serve lepers throughout the city of Calcutta. Twelve years later they opened their first home outside of India. By 1971 the order ran 50 homes throughout the world, and many more were yet to come. Mother Teresa once told several sisters who were about to begin a new mission, “If there are poor people on the moon, we will go there.”

The work of the Missionaries of Charity was not without detractors. Many in India believed that the Sisters had set out to Christianize a Hindu nation. Others believed that the Sisters’ work was not enough: their hospices were not up to modern health standards, and they did little to actually help the poor, beyond offering food, simple medications and shelter. Through it all, Mother Teresa simply worked, serving her beloved poor.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. In her acceptance speech, she implored those in the West to spread her mission of love themselves:

I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbour – do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long – do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shinning with hunger – I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her – where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also.

Following her death in 1997, Pope John Paul II waived the five year period normally required for the process of canonization. He declared her “Blessed” in 2003 and Pope Francis will declare her a saint on September 4, 2016. The tiny woman who began her work with a call from God left a worldwide legacy that touched the lives of millions. However, she had only one focus: to serve God.

Mother Teresa’s spiritual vitality can be described with these words. “Don’t search for God in faraway lands. He is not there. He is close to you. He is with you. Just keep that lamp burning, and you will always see him.”

In the coming weeks prior to her canonization, we will explore more of the life and works of Mother Teresa. for now, let us take her advice and focus on the God who is with us here and now.


Prosper The Work Of Our Hands!

At the end of Psalm 90, there is a beautiful cry to the Lord:

Fill us at daybreak with your mercy,
that all our days we may sing for joy.
Make us glad as many days as you humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
Show your deeds to your servants,
your glory to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God be ours.
Prosper the work of our hands!
Prosper the work of our hands!

It is easy to leave God out of our professional life. Some of us may think that our faith and our work don’t really have much to do with each other; what does driving a truck have to do with being a faithful Catholic, for instance? Maybe we work somewhere that has strict rules about displaying religious signs or affiliations – a government job, perhaps. Or maybe you just think that all the “holy roller stuff” is for Sunday mornings and not for work. All that Jesus talk is best left to Father, not me.

If you work full-time, you spend at least 40 hours a week, or 2,400 minutes a week working. That does not take into account the time any of us spend working on chores at home: mowing the lawn, doing laundry, preparing meals. If we leave God out of this time because we’re not sure He belongs there, that means the majority of our lives is spent without Him. He simply becomes someone we think about for about an hour or so once a week.

How much time do you spend chatting with a co-worker or customers? When you’re home, do you take time from your family to complete projects from your job? All of this is common and sometimes necessary. But how often do you talk to God during your work day? Have you invited Him into your cubicle, your office, the factory floor, the hospital rooms? Do you begin your day asking Him to bless your work that day with His presence?

“Prosper the work of our hands!” This is not about asking God to make us rich. No, it is about reminding ourselves that first and foremost, we serve God. Everything else in our lives springs from that.

“Prosper the work of our hands!” St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Work), wrote:

[T]he basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person. The sources of the dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one. . . . [T]he whole labor process must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person and his or her forms of life, above all life in the home.

God gives our work dignity, because He gives us dignity. No matter the task at hand, no matter our job or career, God wishes for us to invite Him in.

“Prosper the work of our hands!” Today, give over your work to God. Allow Him into your work, paid or unpaid, serving a boss, a company or your family. Remember Him throughout your day. Whatever your task your hands are busy with, ask God to prosper their work.

World Youth Day

World Youth Day 2016: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

This week marks the 14th World Youth Day. St. John Paul II established World Youth Day in 1986, out of concern for the world’s young people:

In his homily, John Paul II explained to young what according to his plan the World Youth Day should be, both in diocesan and international dimension. He said: “Today you are here again, dear friends, to begin in Rome, in St. Peter’s Square, the tradition of World Youth Day, the celebration to which the entire Church is invited. (…) World Youth Day means just this, going to encounter God, who entered into the history of man by means of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. He entered in a way that cannot be undone. And he desires to meet you above all.”

In 1995, St. John Paul II met the youth of the world in Manila. Four million strong, the young people heard the pope exhort them with the message that they were to be Christ’s messengers to the world.

World Youth Day 2016 is set in Krakow, Poland – very fittingly, as this was where St. John Paul II came of age and was eventually (and secretly, due to World War II) ordained. Pope Francis meets the pilgrims of this World Youth Day with the message of mercy in this Year of Mercy. The pilgrims will have three days of catechesis, along with praying the Way of the Cross, a vigil with Pope Francis and the final Mass. The pilgrims have been encouraged to prepare for World Youth Day by Scripture study, prayer and reflection on questions such as: “Do you live or do you only vegetate?” and “Do I trust in the Word of God about His unwavering love to me…?” Even the event’s logo is rich in meaning: a cross laid over an outline of the map of Poland and the flame of God’s mercy.

Krakow has been deemed the “City of Saints,” having been home to St. Stanislaw, St. Jadwiga, St. Faustina and St. John Paul II, among others. In opening this World Youth Day, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, welcomed the pilgrims:

As WYD Krakow 2016 is about to start, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz appeals to the young pilgrims: “You will feel endangered by the society you did not choose. But, you’re still a part of it. This means you still have responsibility to be a part of the solution.”

Let us keep the pilgrims in our prayers that they may be safe as they travel, that they may come away spiritually enriched by this pilgrimage. and that we may all learn from their example of being willing to go where God has called them. This is the official prayer of World Youth Day 2016:

God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman”.
We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love
that you have enkindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts
and renew the face of the earth.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
Saint John Paul II, pray for us.
Saint Faustina, pray for us.


“There Is No Freedom Without Truth”

As we Americans head into the 4th of July weekend, most of us will take a moment or two to reflect upon the founding of our great nation. There is always a cost to such freedom, and we know that our liberties were gained with great sacrifice.

It might seem odd to talk about St. John Paul II in regards to the 4th of July and freedom. After all, he was Polish. He was a pope, not a politician. However, this man knew the price of true freedom. He lived under the threat of death by the Nazis, saw his beloved Poland struggle under the jackboot of Communism, fought  to retain the Polish culture in a dangerous underground cooperative, and even had to be ordained a priest in secret. St. John Paul II knew the price of freedom.

He knew, as well, that there is no such thing as freedom without truth.

[I]n his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis (1979) John Paul II quoted the words of Christ, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ He added: ‘These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world.’

Cardinal Avery Dulles once wrote, “The truly free person is one who does what is good out of love for goodness itself.” Freedom is not doing whatever one feels like doing; that leads to self-destruction, anarchy and pain. All it takes is one person to commit to the lifestyle of, “I’m going to do whatever I want” to cause damage. Take, for example, the image of a busy expressway. Three lanes of cars are rushing in one direction, three lanes of cars move in the opposite direction, divided by a barrier. But one person decides he does not wish to follow the “rules;” he does what he wants – he drives the wrong way, headlong into oncoming traffic. Has this man practiced freedom? No, he chose not to do the good; that is not freedom.

We are blessed to live in a nation founded upon Truth: that humans, created in God’s image and likeness, have rights endowed to them by God. These rights are not given to us by a king, an empress, a prime minister or any earthly ruler. Yet we are also seeing the unfortunate consequences of what happens when these truths are abandoned. St. John Paul II again:

If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power . . . . In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden. (Centesimus Annus, 46)

Our 4th of July holiday should be a wholehearted celebration of our wonderful nation. It should also be a time of prayer, that we, the people, recognize both truth and freedom and live our lives accordingly.

Bishop Robert Barron

Are You A “Beige” Catholic?

Beige is pretty boring. It’s an easy choice for paint. Throw on a pair of beige pants because it won’t clash. But, being a beige Catholic should never be an option, says Bishop Robert Barron.

Catholics in America today need to find ways to engage the culture with truth, and avoid ‘beige Catholicism’ that seeks to be dominated by the culture, Bishop Robert Barron said Thursday.

‘Beige Catholicism,’ the bishop said, is the ‘dominance of the prevailing culture over Catholicism,’ where Catholics are ‘too culturally accommodating’ and ‘excessively apologetic.’

Yesterday was the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. No one could accuse them of a “beige” faith. No, they were bold. They might have been shaking in their shoes occasionally, but they preached the Gospel with fervor and zeal. In all honesty, no saint is “beige.” The men and women who are the Church’s faith heroes stand tall in the Truth of Christ, even when everyone around them is saying (like Pontius Pilate), “What is truth?

Bishop Barron says that “beige” Catholicism allows the culture to set the agenda for the Church, rather than having Christians engage the culture with Truth. He, too, used the saints as examples.

Instead, he suggested, ‘the question is not whether the Church ought to engage in a dialogue with the wider culture, but rather, how?’ And for this, the Church can look to the centuries of saints who successfully dialogued with the culture of their day while still proclaiming Jesus Christ, he said, giving examples like St. Paul and St. Augustine.

The saints did not fall into the modern trap of letting particular worldly experiences ‘measure doctrine,’ he said. Rather, they had a Christo-centric dialogue where, as St. Paul wrote in his epistle to the Colossians, ‘in Him [Jesus] all things were created, things visible and invisible’ and ‘He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.’

He goes on to acknowledge that our culture tells us that faith should be a private affair. We are constantly told not to “push our beliefs” on other people. Yet, we cannot live a true life of faith in private, locked in our houses, cowering. No, our faith must be a constant revolution, a radical way of living that speaks to everyone with whom we interact. Bishop Barron points to the example of the papacy of St. John Paul II:

St. John Paul II set an example of this when he praised the Western human rights tradition, Bishop Barron said.

The Pope did not endorse the modern belief of human rights as grounded in ‘desire,’ he explained. Rather, he grounded human rights in ‘every individual’ being ‘a subject of inviolable dignity and worth, and from this identity flow rights and a claim to justice.’

In taking the existing human rights tradition and elevating it, Pope John Paul II was ‘transforming water into wine’ in ‘assimilating a key feature of secular culture into the organic life of the Church,’ Bishop Barron said.

Let us truly examine our faith; are we too timid? Too “beige” when we are “in the world?” We must be willing, like St. Paul in the early Church and St. John Paul II in our own time to truly engage culture and society with the Truth that is Christ Jesus.

Ss. Peter and Paul

Peter And Paul, Pillars Of The Church

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul. In 1999 St. John Paul II, in a homily for this feast, called Peter and Paul “pillars” of the Church. Yet we would be hard-pressed to find two different men.

Peter was a fisherman, married and working in the family business. He loved Christ; Peter was willing to follow Him because he knew Jesus was the Messiah. Peter jumped in with both feet, but he also stumbled every chance he got. He couldn’t quite reach out to Christ, who assured Him that Peter could, indeed, walk on water. Peter trembled, hid, and denied Jesus as the Passion of Christ played out. Yet, Peter was the one Jesus chose to lead the Church: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. (Mt. 16:18)

Paul was a man with a past. He even had a different identity: Saul. He was zealous – about ridding the world of this new religion that proclaimed the Messiah. He tormented Christians, and for this, God knocked him off his feet and blinded him. Saul takes on a new identity: Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. Despite their differences, these two men, more than any others, shaped the early Church, spread the faith and became leaders in the name of Christ Jesus.

In a sermon in the year 395, St. Augustine of Hippo said of Saints Peter and Paul:

‘Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.’

This feast tells us two things. First, we have two incredible men who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses,” and we should beg their intercession, as well as follow their examples of faith. The other thing we learn from this day is that God uses everyone, flaws and all. Christ chose a fisherman who couldn’t always be brave and a Jew who hated Christians to lead his Church. If these two men can find the strength to follow Christ, then so can we.

World Youth Day 2016

“Grant that we may bear witness to your mercy:” World Youth Day 2016

In 1985, Pope John Paul II instituted the first World Youth Day, which was held in 1986. Since then, millions of young people have taken part in World Youth Day pilgrimages. This year, July 25 – 31, young people from around the world will travel to Krakow, Poland to pray, sing, learn about the City of Saints, and reflect upon the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt. 5:7) The theme is in keeping with Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy; the two patron saints of this World Youth Day are St. John Paul II and St. Faustina.

World Youth Days are more than simply a gathering of young people. In 1984, Pope John Paul II entrusted to the youth gathered in Rome to celebrate the Jubilee of Redemption two symbols. The first is a plain wooden cross.

I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the Cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, and announce to everyone that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption.

The second symbol is an icon of Mary the Mother of God. John Paul II told the young people:

Know, however, that in difficult times, which everyone experiences, you are not alone: like John at the foot of the Cross, Jesus also gives His Mother to you so that She will comfort you with Her tenderness.

These two symbols travel every year to World Youth Day.

Pope Francis will join the young people in Krakow, and he has spoken to them as they prepare themselves for this event.

You, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt the gaze of everlasting love upon you, a gaze that looks beyond your sins, limitations and failings, and continues to have faith in you and to look upon your life with hope?  Do you realize how precious you are to God, who has given you everything out of love?  Saint Paul tells us that “God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Do we really understand the power of these words?

I know how much the WYD cross means to all of you.  It was a gift from Saint John Paul II and has been with you at all your World Meetings since 1984.  So many changes and real conversions have taken place in the lives of young people who have encountered this simple bare cross!  Perhaps you have asked yourselves the question: what is the origin of the extraordinary power of the cross?  Here is the answer: the cross is the most eloquent sign of God’s mercy!  It tells us that the measure of God’s love for humanity is to love without measure!  Through the cross we can touch God’s mercy and be touched by that mercy!

For those who cannot travel to Krakow, many dioceses are offering WYD events (such as the Archdiocese of Detroit) so that young people can come together to pray, worship and learn. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also offers information on state-side events.

The official website of World Youth Day 2016 is an excellent resource for this event. For parishes, youth groups and dioceses that wish to support WYD and raise funds for those traveling, Diocesan Publications is offering WYD t-shirts that proclaim the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” No matter our age, home or circumstances, we should all join the world’s young people in their contemplation of God’s mercy this summer.


The Rosary: The Luminous Mysteries

The Rosary is an example of the term “ever ancient, ever new.” Despite the centuries old tradition of the Rosary, St. John Paul II caused a stir when he announced a new set of mysteries to pray: the Luminous Mysteries, the mysteries of light.

Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became “sin” for our sake (cf. 2Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (cf. Jn2:1- 12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers. Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 7:47- 48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22-23). The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to “listen to him” (cf. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit. A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the end” his love for humanity (Jn 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.

The foundation for all these mysteries, St. John Paul II said, was the admonition Mary gave at the wedding feast at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.”

St. John Paul II also tells us that the Rosary beads themselves are a meditation  upon Christ:

Here the first thing to note is the way the beads converge upon the Crucifix, which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him, everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father.

As a counting mechanism, marking the progress of the prayer, the beads evoke the unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection. Blessed Bartolo Longo saw them also as a “chain” which links us to God. A chain, yes, but a sweet chain; for sweet indeed is the bond to God who is also our Father. A “filial” chain which puts us in tune with Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk1:38) and, most of all, with Christ himself, who, though he was in the form of God, made himself a “servant” out of love for us (Phil2:7).

A fine way to expand the symbolism of the beads is to let them remind us of our many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all in Christ.

“A chain that links us to God:” who would ever refuse that? As Catholics (and the many non-Catholics who pray the Rosary) we should be willing to “chain” ourselves to God every day, asking that Mary join us in our most fervent prayers to become more and more like her Son, Christ the Lord.

glorious mysteries rosary

The Rosary: The Glorious Mysteries

Continuing our week-long series on the Rosary, we contemplate today the Glorious Mysteries (prayed on Sundays and Wednesdays.) We bear in mind just how powerful this prayer is; Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.

The Glorious Mysteries are:

  • The Resurrection. What could be more glorious? The power of sin and death have been conquered, and Heaven won for us. Alleluia!
  • The Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” (Acts 1:1) Jesus ascends to His Heavenly throne, and we faithfully wait for His return.
  • The Coming of the Holy Spirit. What starts off as a room of tired and frightened men, along with the Blessed Mother, becomes a day like no other. Wind and fire sweep through the room, and the Holy Spirit reigns down upon them. We, too, are endowed with the Gifts of the Spirit.
  • The Assumption of the Blessed Mother. While Jesus ascended under His own power, Mary is assumed by God. She became the vessel, the new Ark of the covenant. Born without sin, death holds no power of Mary. We are saved because of her willingness to say “yes” to God’s plan.
  • The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. As mother of the Prince of Peace, Mary is rightfully Queen. Her reign is one of prayer, sacrifice and motherly love for all her beloved sons and daughters. We continuously implore her prayers and intercessions before her Son, our Lord.

Saint John Paul II reminds us that Mary is our example of true witness to the Truth.

The Rosary is at the service of this ideal; it offers the “secret” which leads easily to a profound and inward knowledge of Christ. We might call it Mary’s way. It is the way of the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, a woman of faith, of silence, of attentive listening. It is also the way of a Marian devotion inspired by knowledge of the inseparable bond between Christ and his Blessed Mother: the mysteries of Christ are also in some sense the mysteries of his Mother, even when they do not involve her directly, for she lives from him and through him. By making our own the words of the Angel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth contained in the Hail Mary, we find ourselves constantly drawn to seek out afresh in Mary, in her arms and in her heart, the “blessed fruit of her womb” (cf Lk 1:42).

The Glorious Mysteries remind us that, despite the turmoil and troubles of this world, we must always fix our eyes on Christ. He has promised us everlasting life. By following Mary’s humble example of “Do whatever He tells you,” we see with the eyes of faith that unending glory awaits the faithful.

sorrowful mysteries

The Rosary: The Sorrowful Mysteries

Continuing our discussion of the Rosary, today we ponder the Sorrowful Mysteries. These are typically prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays. Let us begin with this reflection from Romano Guardini’s The Rosary of Our Lady:

The essence of the Rosary is a steady incitement to holy sympathy. If a person becomes very important to us, we are happy to meet someone who is attached to him. We see his image mirrored in another life and we see it anew. Our eyes meet two eyes that also love and see. Those eyes add their range of vision to ours, and our gaze may now go beyond the narrowness of our own ego and embrace the beloved being, previously seen only from one side. The joys that the other person experienced, and also the pains he suffered, become so many strings whose vibrations draw from our heart new notes, new understanding, and new responses.

It is intrinsic in the virtue of sympathy that the other person puts his life at our disposal, which enables us to see and to love not only with our own senses but also with his. Something of this sort, only on a higher plane, happens with the Rosary.

This perhaps explains the Sorrowful Mysteries best of all: to see the suffering of Christ through the eyes of his mother.

The Sorrowful Mysteries are:

  • The Agony in the Garden: Christ contemplates his suffering and death, along with Judas’ betrayal. His suffering causes Him to cry out to His Father: “Let this cup pass over Me.” In the end, He assents to His Father’s will.
  • The Scourging at the Pillar: After being taken to the High Priest, Jesus is handed over to Pilate. Pilate sentences Him to be scourged, and to death.
  • The Crowning of Thorns: In a cruel mockery of Christ’s true priesthood, the Roman guards force a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. He is spat upon, while the soldiers cry out with derision, “Hail, King of the Jews.”
  • Jesus Carries His Cross: After being whipped and beaten, Jesus must now carry His own cross, the instrument of His death. The cross is made all the heavier by our sins, which He gladly bears.
  • Jesus is Crucified: “It is finished.” With his mother, Mary Magdalen, and John, the beloved Apostle looking on, Jesus is nailed to the cross and dies a painful death. His affliction is our salvation.

St. John Paul II writes:

Ecce homo: the meaning, origin and fulfilment of man is to be found in Christ, the God who humbles himself out of love “even unto death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). The sorrowful mysteries help the believer to relive the death of Jesus, to stand at the foot of the Cross beside Mary, to enter with her into the depths of God’s love for man and to experience all its life-giving power.

In praying and pondering over Christ’s suffering, we come to realize our own sinfulness and the misery it causes. The fact that Christ died for our salvation is truly a mystery, but one for which we must feel both sorrow and joy. It is a mystery that we can pray over our entire lives and yet never plumb its depth.