Father Edward Dougherty, M.M.
We would like to welcome Father Edward Dougherty, M.M., our newest board member, to an increased role with The Christophers. The former Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Father Dougherty is currently stationed in Rome as his order’s Procurator General to the Vatican. He will be in the United States to touch base with our operations throughout the months of April and May and again around Christmastime. He is a man of wit and wisdom, and we know that everyone who has a chance to meet him will enjoy his great sense of humor and down-to-earth manner. Welcome, Father Dougherty!
Fr. Ed Dougherty
Ten Commandments Lead to Happiness
Christ said, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This idea that God’s law pertains to how we treat others was later reiterated by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, when he wrote: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).
We know these statements aren’t telling us to ignore all other laws because Christ also said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, we must see Christ’s words as a lens through which to interpret the law. When we do this, it opens our eyes to God’s beautiful plan of love for humanity.
The Ten Commandments provide an excellent opportunity to apply Christ’s wisdom to our interpretation of God’s law. Many in today’s society look upon the Commandments as a set of strict rules utilized to condemn people for wrongdoing. But when seen through the lens presented to us by Christ, they become a trustworthy and benevolent guide through life’s trials.
For instance, we are commanded not to do certain things, like steal, kill, covet, commit adultery, or bear false witness. These commandments are all about loving our neighbor and treating them as we would want to be treated. So, we can see why love of neighbor sums up the law, and we can see the wisdom in the law being all about our relationship to others. It is also evident that the law guides us towards a fruitful life because no one who wrongs others could possibly be happy.
The other set of rules in the Ten Commandments relates to respect for God. We are told not to take His name in vain, to keep holy the Lord’s Day, and not to worship false gods. We are also told to honor our parents. This relates to our respect for God because respect for one’s parents is the first way we learn to respect the order God intends for the world. We are given these commandments because God wants us to avoid the misery that results from bad decision-making. He wants to be our guide and commands us to keep Him as our beacon and lodestar, lest we be led astray.
It’s also important to consider what Christ means in saying He came to fulfill the law, because sometimes we need a path back to communion with God and neighbor. Christ fulfills the law by showing us the way of mercy. In the Beatitudes, Christ says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Here is another aspect of God’s law relating to the command to treat others as we would want to be treated. For who among us would not want to be forgiven when we seek mercy for our faults?
Christ’s command to show mercy reveals the heart of God because we’re made in His image and are constantly being called to renew God’s likeness within ourselves. Therefore, when we are told to be merciful, we can take consolation in knowing that God is merciful. So, Christ has provided us with a lens through which to see the law as being like a treasure map, drawn for us by a loving God, who desires nothing other than to lead us to true and lasting happiness.
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Emulating Christ’s Forgiveness
Luke’s account of Christ’s Passion culminates in what might be the most astounding and transformative statement ever made. After enduring rejection by His own people, suffering ridicule and abuse by Roman soldiers, and being nailed to the cross to face a slow and agonizing death, Christ cried out to God, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
It was a most unexpected statement of divine mercy, delivered at the most unexpected time. It changed the world forever and continues to do so. There are two main takeaways from this moment that must invariably move us to action, the first being a realization of the nature of God’s mercy and what this means for our own salvation.
Consider who Christ was asking God to forgive. He was asking forgiveness for those who rejected Him. He was asking forgiveness for those who had beaten Him, for those who had driven nails into His hands and feet to murder Him. He was asking forgiveness for those involved in the power structure that put Him to death: the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, and the rulers of the Roman Empire. If God can forgive all those people for all those things, we must know in our hearts that we can be redeemed, regardless of the mistakes we’ve made.
And why, we might ask, would God send this message? Is it because He’s not offended by sin and wants us to know it doesn’t matter? We know that’s not the case from countless other statements by Christ, the Apostles, and all the prophets. No, He sends this message because He knows that forgiveness is the only thing that frees us to change.
Transformation is what Christ wants for us. It’s what He won for us. He freed us to be able to change by saying He would not let our guilt and the negative mindset of self-hatred produced by guilt hold us back, and He did this because He wants us to walk in His footsteps in a bond of friendship that is more satisfying than anything the world could ever offer.
To act on this forgiveness, we must continually accept it. When we do that, we are walking in friendship with Christ and giving thanks in a profound way for His sacrifice on the cross. But Christ’s forgiveness prompts a second takeaway: in walking with Christ, we are called to emulate Him and extend this same transformative forgiveness to others. Christ said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” These words reveal the challenge that lies at the heart of God’s forgiveness, because the ultimate gratitude we can show to God is to extend forgiveness to others. If we are to truly walk in Christ’s footsteps, we will raise our enemies up to God in prayer in the same way Christ raised His enemies up in prayer from the cross.
Consider the most challenging people you face in your day-to-day life and consider the people we hear about doing bad deeds in the world. We must always ask ourselves: are we raising these people up to God in prayer? Are we praying for our enemies? Christ said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and He not only said it but showed us what it looks like under the most challenging circumstances. It was a moment that changed the world, and we share that transformative experience with others each time we summon the courage to forgive.
For a free copy of The Christophers’ THE GIFT OF RECONCILIATION, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
The Good Thief’s Lesson
April 10, 2022
One of the great miracles of the Gospels is that the deepest wisdom is contained within the most straightforward kind of storytelling. The reason for this is revealed in Matthew, when, after lamenting the stubbornness of people in certain cities, Christ says, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.”
We see in these words Christ’s desire to share His wisdom not with those of worldly status but with the humble of heart. And in His very next statement, Christ reveals the ease with which those who are humble will enter the Kingdom of Heaven when He says, “Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
So, we see how humility leads to both wisdom and salvation, and the Gospels show that those who discover this way of humility can come from surprising places. In Luke’s account of Christ’s Passion, we discover the man who has come to be known as the Good Thief. Whatever brought him to that moment of being crucified alongside Christ, this man had the wisdom to understand his faults and to understand the difference between himself and God.
After another man being crucified beside them hurled insults at Christ, the Good Thief rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” To this, Christ responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
In this simple yet profound narrative, Christ reinforces the ease with which the humble of heart will enter His Kingdom. We also see how humility led the Good Thief into the wisdom of Christ because his question to the other criminal being crucified, “Do you not fear God?” foreshadows one of the most complex and misunderstood fruits of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
In the days that followed Christ’s crucifixion, the fruits of His sacrifice manifested themselves in His Resurrection and His subsequent revelations to the Apostles, culminating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them at Pentecost. Yet, before all of that happened, the Good Thief preached what is perhaps the most misunderstood of those gifts of the Holy Spirit: the fear of the Lord. It’s a teaching with deep roots in the Hebrew tradition, but the Good Thief had the wisdom to apply this to Christ on the cross because it marked a moment when such teachings gained their fullest meaning.
Fear of the Lord is not about being afraid of God; it is about the awe we are to have before God. For those who understand, there has never been a more awe-inspiring life than that of Christ’s. May we all have the humility of the Good Thief to sit in awe of what Christ endured for us and have the wisdom to understand we are loved by God and welcomed into His Kingdom.
The Most Powerful Human Being
March 27, 2022
In his essay “Power of the Powerless: a Brother’s Lesson,” published in the Wall Street Journal in 1985, Christopher de Vinck writes, “For me, to have been brought up in a house where a tragedy was turned into joy explains to a great degree why I am the type of husband and father and writer and teacher that I have become.”
In his essay, which was later adapted into a book of the same name, with an Afterword by Fred Rogers, de Vinck recounts how, when his mother was pregnant with his brother Oliver, she was exposed to a gas leak in their home. Although they did not realize it at the time, this had a terrible effect on Oliver in the womb, and he was eventually born with severe impairments.
The doctors said Oliver wouldn’t live past seven or eight years, but he lived for 32 years. In that time, Christopher witnessed his parents care for Oliver, and he himself cared for Oliver, often taking on the task of feeding his brother. This very act of caring for a person with severe disabilities made Christopher a better person. Oliver’s presence in his life even helped Christopher choose the right woman to marry. He tells of bringing a young woman to their home and inviting her to meet Oliver, having told her all about him. Her reply was, “No,” she did not want to meet him. Soon after that incident, he met another young woman named Rosemary, or Roe, and eventually brought her home to meet his family.
While Roe was visiting, Christopher prepared to feed Oliver. He writes, “I sheepishly asked Roe if she’d like to come upstairs and see Oliver. ‘Sure’, she said and up the stairs we went. I sat at Oliver’s bedside as Roe stood and watched over my shoulder. I gave him the first spoonful, the second… ‘Can I do that?’ she asked, with ease and freedom and compassion. So I gave her the bowl and she fed Oliver, one spoonful at a time. The power of the powerless. Which girl would you marry? I married Roe, and I never regretted. Today Roe and I have three children.”
The Christophers share this story on occasion because it remains one of the most poignant witnesses to the value of human life at all stages and in all forms. Christopher’s witness is so powerful that I’d like to end this column with the words he chose to end his 1985 tribute to his brother, which seems to me to be one of the most truthful and yet mysterious statements I have ever encountered. May it change our hearts.
“When I was a child I was afraid of the dark and shared a room with my younger brother. Our room was separated from Oliver’s by a single wall. Five inches of wood and plaster divided us from each other during the night. We inhaled the same night air, listened to the same wind. Slowly, without our knowledge, Oliver created a certain power around us which changed all of our lives. I cannot explain Oliver’s influence fully, except to say that the powerless in the world do hold great power, and sometimes the weak do confound the mighty. Even now, five years after his death from pneumonia on March 12, 1980, Oliver still remains the most helpless human being I ever met. The weakest human being I ever met, and yet, he was the most powerful human being I ever met.”
Finding Christ in Community
March 13, 2022
This year marks the 77th anniversary of the founding of The Christophers. It was back in 1945 that Father James Keller, M.M., set about to bring a message of hope to a nation recovering from the ordeal of World War II. Hope had led that great generation to risk their lives in defense of freedom and human dignity. They had hope that good could prevail and that sacrifice for the greater good was a worthwhile and honorable endeavor. And it was hope that led that generation on the road to recovery from war as they resumed the work of building up their families and communities.
The first generation that responded to The Christophers’ message of hope knew there was much work to be done to improve our society and to improve the world, but they also knew that challenges were no reason for despair, so they armed themselves with hope and set about to do the hard work to bring about positive change. That is what we are called to today, to pick up the mantle of hope and continue the good work of those who have gone before us.
The Christopher News Note Finding Christ in Community shows that the path to hope for many lies in the relationships they cultivate with others. Relationships are often where the seeds of hope are planted within our hearts because it is only in relationship to others that we realize a higher purpose beyond our own personal wants and needs.
Our News Note on finding Christ in community details the story of a young woman who realized her own calling to generosity of spirit after people reached out to her when she was in need. And in another story, a 95-year-old blind, widowed, and lonely Londoner offered affordable housing to a low-income student and, in doing so, discovered an opportunity to cultivate a relationship that revived her spirit. “You cannot believe the difference that it makes just hearing somebody in the house,” she said. “And, to me, now to hear the key in the lock ‘round about 6 o’clock at night is wonderful.”
In his effort to inspire people with Christ’s message of hope, Father Keller joined with some of the most talented Hollywood stars of his time to produce movies that gave expression to the inherent dignity of each individual in society. His film A Link in the Chain starred James Cagney as an aging college professor wondering whether his efforts had made a difference in his students’ lives. His reminiscences about those students provide him with the resounding answer that all good finds its source in God and is then passed on through humanity by those willing to act with love towards one another.
“I, too, was but a link in the chain,” Cagney’s professor says, “a chain that was first forged with the Word, the Word of God. From Him came all the great words, words that were given to us to be repeated endlessly until their inner meaning is understood and accepted.”
We are all called to take up the mantle of hope and become a link in the chain of God’s love for humanity. Each of us does this in our own unique way, utilizing the gifts we’ve been given to bring the light of Christ to those in need. When we do this, we are being Christophers, Christ-bearers, and we’re carrying on a tradition that traces itself back to Christ.
All Shall Be Well
Feb 27, 2022
Psalm 121 opens with the question: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?” That question is answered in the following line: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
This rhythm of questioning and then answering in a constant search for relief from suffering is found throughout the Psalms. Reflecting upon this in a column for Aleteia, Kathleen N. Hattrup writes, “In the Psalms…suffering is transformed into a question. From suffering to questioning.… And among the many questions, there is one that remains suspended, like an incessant cry that runs throughout the entire book from beginning to end. A question that we repeat many times: ‘Until when, Lord? Until when?’”
Humanity’s enduring question to God over our sufferings finds its ultimate expression in Christ’s cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” It is in this cry of abandonment that Christ meets us all in our most profound moments of anguish, and it is in the aftermath of this moment that God gives His answer for all eternity about the sufferings of this world. It is not an answer that comes immediately, as we know that God allowed Christ to experience the most extreme anguish and ultimately death. But it is an answer that comes in God’s time, and that answer is one of mercy, redemption, and ultimate resurrection.
In her book Revelations of Divine Love, 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich describes a time when she was 30 years old and fell so ill that she was given last rites. She had become paralyzed, and it seemed certain she was going to die. In this near-death state, she received a series of visions of God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, and she heard these comforting words spoken to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
This message resounds as the answer God gives to us all in times of turmoil. It is a message of spiritual peace that can calm our hearts even amid life’s most turbulent storms. God wants us to be at peace and to trust that we can make it through even the most difficult trials, and He wants us to arrive at this for the reason given by the Psalmist, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We must bring all our cares to God and lay them at the foot of the cross, joining our suffering to Christ’s offering to redeem all of humanity. And we must come to see our prayers in light of Christ’s cry from the cross and the rhythm found in the Psalms in which suffering is transformed into questions. Only then will our burdens be lifted as we come to see our own trials as part of a grander whole in which God does provide answers—and those answers open a window onto the mystery of His unbounded love for each one of us, a love that leads us to know, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
A Mother’s Enduring Faith
Feb 13, 2022
In Chapter VIII of his Confessions, Saint Augustine writes, “For Thou, O our God, shalt lighten our darkness: from Thee riseth our garment of light; and then shall our darkness be as the noon day.” This sentiment reveals Augustine’s journey from spiritual desolation to his discovery that fulfillment is only found in pursuit of a relationship with God.
In his Confessions, Saint Augustine describes losing his way many times and for long periods throughout his life, but his story also demonstrates how God pursued a relationship with him and continually invited him to walk in the light of Christ. One of the greatest gifts God placed in Augustine’s life was Saint Monica, his mother, a devout Christian who became a saint through the practice of an abiding faith.
While Augustine strayed from the faith often in his youth and well into adulthood, Monica remained steadfast in her loyalty to God and continually invited her son and her husband, who was a pagan, to discover the joy of sacrificial love. Saint Monica epitomized The Christophers’ motto, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” because she never gave up hope and always chose to believe her loved ones could find their way.
Monica’s influence on Augustine, who became one of the greatest saints in Church history, and on her husband, who converted to Christianity on his deathbed, demonstrates the power of faith to transform the lives of those around us. The Christophers’ recent prayer card captures this profound sentiment that faith can guide us to God and help us lead others along their own path to Christ. Our Faith Prayer Card articulates the language of the heart reaching out to God, and this was the type of faith Monica practiced as she continually spoke to God, in fervent prayer for the spiritual well-being of those she loved.
In the opening of his Confessions, Augustine writes, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” These are the words of a man who had searched the world for happiness and found that only God could lead us to true and lasting joy. Imagine what a sense of reward his mother must have felt to know her son had come home to the faith. She lived to see him baptized by none other than Saint Ambrose, who had adopted Augustine as a spiritual son after the death of his father.
Monica died in the same year Augustine was baptized, living to see the conversion of the two men she loved most in the world. What a triumph this was for her life of prayer and her patience in waiting on God to mold the hearts of those for whom she prayed.
The story of Monica and Augustine demonstrates that faith and patience go hand in hand, because it is only in patience that we demonstrate our faith. We must have the courage to believe in God even when things don’t work out exactly as we want. Faith is about knowing that God is at work in the world and is constantly guiding events to bring about the greater good. Only when we have that kind of faith can we focus on all we are called to do to play our part in God’s plan of love for humanity. And when we exercise that kind of faith, we exercise the virtues that animated Saint Monica and her beloved son Saint Augustine.
Football Coach Teaches Cardinal Virtues
January 23, 2022
Sports are such an integral part of American life, and team sports, where many people learn how to operate under pressure and direct their energies towards the greater good. But we are only assured of imparting the deepest lessons to be learned in sports when we teach those lessons in an intentional way. Catholic University of America Head Football Coach Mike Gutelius has been teaching life lessons in an intentional way ever since taking charge of the CUA program in 2016. Gutelius graduated from CUA in 1992 and went on to enjoy a long career in coaching before returning to his Alma Mater. Reporting for CNA, Joe Bukuras writes, “Now in his 30th year of coaching, Gutelius has instituted a program in which he teaches the Catholic University Cardinals the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.”
“There’s a glory to be had if you’re willing to sacrifice,” Gutelius told Bukuras, adding, “Football players in general, they have that Don Quixote internal sense of wanting to go fight against something. They’re ready to battle. No one today is pointing young men towards where the battlefield is. The battlefield is inside of each of us.”
These are truly visionary words that should be heeded and emulated by every coach who cares about utilizing their program to build character. So much of sports culture today seems to view character building as a given and also as secondary to the goal of winning. But building character in the right way is not a given of participation in sports. Building character is not just about teaching people how to achieve, it’s about teaching them what exactly we should be striving for outside of the game itself.
With the right approach, all the smaller lessons pertaining to the game can translate into larger lessons about life. The effort young people put into training and competing can translate into the self-discipline inherent to cultivating virtue. A stark dichotomy exists between those whose sports experience simply teaches them how to conquer in a worldly sense and those whose experience teaches them how to conquer themselves and gain the self-mastery inherent to the cardinal virtues that Coach Gutelius teaches his Cardinals. Cast in this light, we can see a struggle at play over the direction our country’s sports culture will lead us, and Catholics can play a big part in directing that culture towards cultivation of the kind of true character that builds joyful young people, capable of pursuing honor in service to those they love and to the common good.
So if you know any great high school football players, tell them about Coach Mike Gutelius. I’m sure he would value their contributions on the CUA football team. What’s more, they might be provided the chance of a lifetime to grow into the men God wants them to be.
CUA Athletic Director Dr. Sean Sullivan certainly appreciates Coach Gutelius’ efforts to form young men into, not just great football players, but great men. Summing up the importance of the wisdom Coach Gutelius imparts to his players, Sullivan said, “It can be difficult for any developing student-athlete to recognize the critical nature of making the right decisions off the field when so much of their focus relates to how to excel on it. However, Coach Gutelius consistently reinforces to his players how they must think beyond the immediate, the here-and-now, to position themselves through sound decision-making which will enable them to lead a life of virtue and of consequence.”
Learning to Trust in God
January 2, 2022
The 1943 film The Song of Bernadette opens with the quote, “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.” This line is derived from the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and it expresses such an important theme within the story that it is reiterated near the end of the film when the character of Abbe Dominique Peyramale, played by Charles Bickford, speaks these words to skeptics who cannot get beyond their doubts, despite the miraculous occurrences that have taken place in their humble town of Lourdes, France.
This struggle to believe in God and in his miraculous hand at work in the world around us is an enduring challenge that has been faced by people from all walks of life, and it is a challenge that even the saints have faced. In the Gospels, we see the Apostles themselves struggling with doubt, with perhaps the most famous story of doubt taking place when Thomas declares that he will not believe in the Resurrection until he sees Christ with his eyes and feels Him with his hands.
Christ’s response to grant Thomas the proof he seeks demonstrates the reality of God’s miraculous interventions in the world. This type of intervention is similar to what took place at Lourdes, where Saint Bernadette experienced visions of our Blessed Mother and then healing waters poured forth from a spring in the ground, where thousands of miracles have since taken place.
But we should also remember that, after dispelling Thomas’ doubts, Christ said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is the challenge that most of us are faced with for the majority of our lifetimes. Even those who encounter the miraculous at some point in their lives must return to everyday reality where they might struggle to maintain faith in God. But we might also see this challenge as a gift because Christ is giving us the opportunity to exercise faith in the same way we might exercise our brains or the muscles in our bodies. And when we exercise faith, we cultivate endurance that will prepare us to be tested.
The Christophers recently produced a prayer card on faith that is a beautiful meditation on the mindset that leads us to trust more fully in the providence of God. This prayer helps us to realize that, in order to cultivate our faith, we must first open ourselves to God and to realizing how He guides us through life experiences. And by exercising faith, especially in the most difficult times, we inspire others to face their own challenges and to cultivate faith within themselves.
As we start into this new year of 2022, one great resolution is to recommit ourselves to cultivating the faith within ourselves, our families, and our communities. When we do this, we will find a greater ability to see God at work in our lives and in the world around us, and we will need less explanation for those things that are inexplicable. This leads to wisdom and an understanding of how to cooperate with grace, even when we can’t predict the outcome. It is this way of being that will inspire others in our families and communities to let go of doubt and move closer to the joy of knowing and believing in God.
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Kicking the Stigma
Dec 26, 2021
As another year draws to a close, one of the things that should be left behind is the stigma around mental illness. That’s why it’s so great to hear about the initiative undertaken by the Indianapolis Colts football team, called “Kicking the Stigma.” It’s an effort to destigmatize mental illness so that people can understand how common it is to struggle with these issues and to highlight the inherent human dignity of all who suffer.
In an interview with Rich Eisen, Colts owner Jim Irsay said, “The stigma that’s attached with mental illness literally kills people and destroys families.” Irsay goes on to ask everyone to consider how destructive it would be for a stigma to be attached to seeking treatment for any other disease, and then he explains that this is exactly the dilemma faced by those who suffer from mental health issues. Irsay says, “They don’t want to come out and…be called crazy. They don’t want to be called unemployable.”
The reality is that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year, 1 in 6 youth ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34. So when Irsay says that society’s stigmatization of mental illness kills, he’s backed up by the numbers. But this does not have to be the case. We can cultivate an atmosphere where people feel comfortable talking about their problems and seeking help.
Colts’ linebacker Darius Leonard has become a leading voice in destigmatizing mental illness, grounded in his own experiences. In a story put out by the NFL, Leonard said, “It’s OK to not be OK. I knew I needed help, and for a long time, I didn’t reach out. Once I did reach out, I knew that’s what made it better for me. A lot of people have a stigma, especially as men, that you can’t show weakness. I’m letting the world know, as a professional football player, a linebacker, one of the most aggressive positions on the field, there’s still no weakness because you’re having mental health issues.”
This is a powerful message that can help break down the barriers to seeking help that exist in many people’s minds, and it’s a message that coincides with the Christian message. Within our faith, we’re encouraged to recognize our broken nature and to constantly submit to the process of seeking healing. When we walk that path, we become better people, who are better able to give of ourselves to others.
Irsay has had his own struggles that have contributed to his vision for “Kicking the Stigma.” He has battled addiction and sought help, saying, “I’m diligent about my recovery. It’s like amazing grace; it comes from a higher power, and it just starts with the willingness for people to say, ‘Help me, I surrender, I can’t do it. God, You can, I’m turning my life and my will over to the care of God.’”
Irsay now finds meaning in a life of service, which demonstrates the path we are all called to walk. We must seek healing in order to build ourselves up, and only then can we utilize our gifts to make the world a better place. Engaging in this process is the path of true courage. So let’s join in “kicking the stigma” and build a society where the acts of both seeking and offering healing are celebrated for the compassion and courage they entail.
Practice Kindness to Change Lives
A bit of wisdom from the Old Testament Book of Sirach teaches us, “Kindness is like a garden of blessings.” These words point to the rich rewards that await those who walk in the gentle footsteps of Christ. Our Christopher News Note Practice Kindness to Change Lives details stories of people who reap the rewards of following Christ by practicing kindness.
Shannon K. Evans, author of the book Embracing Weakness, exemplifies how kindness can open doors to understanding and healing. Shannon and her husband Eric adopted a son who acted out due to an early childhood trauma. It was difficult to find a place where they fit in as a family until they started volunteering at a Catholic Worker facility called Day House, which is run by people who serve the poor and homeless in their Iowa community.
In a Christopher Closeup interview, Shannon shared how they found acceptance at Day House because some of the clientele suffered from mental health issues, and so their son’s behavior was simply taken in stride. Shannon said, “Every model of that kind of volunteer work that I had been a part of was all about me giving to others’ needs…[But] here, we all cooked the meal together. We all sat down and ate together, and that was very representative of the spirit of the place, of believing that every human being is created in the image of God. And no matter what their circumstances, they do have something to offer other human beings.”
The kindness Shannon and Eric exhibited in adopting a troubled child created their need to seek out a community of kindness. But finding that community didn’t happen until they made another act of kindness by volunteering to help the poor. And there, among those who suffer and those who serve, they found a community built on kindness, and this helped them to grow and flourish as a family.
Then there’s the story of Eleanor Baker, an elderly woman who was sitting alone eating dinner at Brad’s Bar-B-Que in Oxford, Alabama, when a young man named Jamario Howard approached her. Jamario was waiting on an order with his friends, JaMychol Baker and Tae Knight, when he noticed Eleanor and wondered if she might be lonely. He struck up a conversation with her and learned she was a widow and that the following day would have been her 60th wedding anniversary. At that point, Jamario knew he couldn’t leave Eleanor alone, so he invited her to join him and his friends for dinner, and they had a wonderful evening together. When Jamario posted a photo of them all, it went viral, and CBS News did a story on their moment. Eleanor called it “a God thing,” adding, “I think God sent me there.”
Jamario said, “I used to say when I was younger, and I still say today, I want to change the world somehow, and I don’t know how. I’m not rich. I’m not famous…But we can show the world it’s alright to be kind. And then, before long, maybe the world will be a much better place.”
Jamario, JayMychol, and Tae inspired others through the kindness they showed to Eleanor. What an amazing thing to do – to inspire others with a simple act of kindness. We should all set out to inspire the world in the same way. We’re sure to reap rewards in our own lives and to see a ripple effect that creates a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate society.
Being a Christopher
November 14, 2021
Father James Keller, M.M., wrote, “The Gospels reveal how our Lord was ever on the move, not merely to enjoy Himself but always with the hope and prayer that as He moved among the people, He would reach some who could be reached in no other way.” What a poignant characterization of Christ’s ministry, which began at around 30 years of age, when His life became devoted to seeking interaction with those in need of His presence and message.
When we take the whole of Christ’s life, from infancy to adulthood, we see a balance between formation and outreach. It is a balance we all need in our lives, but we must always remember that the value of our formation is measured by how it prepares us to go out into the world and give of ourselves to others.
Of Christ’s ministry, Father Keller writes, “His was the loving purpose of bringing God to men and men to God. He went to dinners, to weddings, to all sorts of gatherings. He engaged in conversation with all types of persons in all sorts of places. And the people flocked to Him because He first went to them.”
This spirit of generosity is at the heart of what it means to be a Christopher, and it is the approach to life that inspired Father Keller to start The Christophers back in 1945. In the latest installment of a video series I’ve been working on, I discuss what it means to be a Christopher, a word derived from the Greek Christoforos, which translates to Christ-bearer. Being a Christopher is about following Christ. It’s about reaching out to others with a spirit of generosity. And it is about recognizing the gifts bestowed upon us and utilizing those gifts to make the world a better place.
Our pamphlet on Being a Christopher tells the story of a moment in Father Keller’s life that inspired him to start The Christophers organization. It occurred at the Metropolitan Opera House when he found himself standing in a completely darkened auditorium and suddenly someone lit a match. Recalling that moment, Father Keller wrote: “The sight of that tiny flame made an indelible impression on me. Insignificant as it was, it was greater than the darkness. All that was needed to banish the darkness completely was to multiply that flicker of light.”
This moment might be seen as a microcosm of what it means to follow Christ. We must first have the insight to recognize the light of God’s truth and its ability to bring change to even the darkest corners of our world. Then, we must take up the challenge to do our part to bring about that change. Each of us is gifted in unique ways, and we are called to cultivate those gifts and put them in service to God and others. When we do that, we are joining Christ in bringing His light into the world. As Father Keller once wrote, “The presence of even one Christopher in any environment is a blessing, a channel of grace, a step in the right direction—like a tiny pinpoint of light that is greater than the encircling darkness.”
So, let’s cast our nets wide and encourage all the faithful to recommit to being Christophers, to recommit to following Christ in every aspect of our lives, and let’s look for opportunities to invite those who do not yet know Christ to discover His gentle and healing ways.
Finding Joy Despite Suffering
October 31, 2021
I recently read about a man named John Scott who had just passed away. His story had been written-up by his uncle, who cared for him for many years due to the tragic circumstances of his life. When John was just a baby, he lost his father in a horrible accident during a hurricane. And when he was six years old, John suffered a terrible accident himself. He was walking on a sidewalk when a speeding drunk driver swerved off the road and struck him, leaving him with broken bones and a severe brain injury.
In the aftermath of the accident, a cast was left on John’s leg for too long, leaving him with an open wound in his left foot that would never fully heal. John came to rely on his mother in his efforts at rehabilitation, and she taught him how to speak all over again. But then, when he was just 11 years old, his mother died of a heart attack. Thereafter, John and his sister were raised by their grandmother in Niagara Falls, NY. After graduating from high school, John got a job with Good Will Industries and later with Tops International. His work ethic was so good that he once walked seven miles in a snowstorm to get to work when the roads were so bad that public transportation had shut down.
But eventually, another tragedy struck. John was walking to the library with his aunt, and they were hit by a speeding car that ran a red light. Recalling the aftermath of that incident, John’s uncle writes, “He was 21 days in a coma. The doctors said he would never walk again. I then brought John and my sister here to live with us so my wife and I could care for them. That was 25 years ago. John arrived in a wheelchair, but with his strong will power and determination and after many falls, he was able to walk again—first with a walker and then with a cane.”
Through all of John’s suffering, his joyful nature became legendary. Everyone knew him wherever he went, giving him hugs and stopping to chat. Yet another trial came when the wound in John’s foot since childhood became cancerous and his leg needed to be amputated. John’s uncle writes, “The doctors were amazed at how well he took this tragedy, not complaining or crying about it, but being so upbeat, that they asked him if he would volunteer to be on call to speak to any patient they had who was extremely distressed at the prospect of having an amputation. John readily agreed.”
This calling to visit the sick came to define John Scott. He became a third order Carmelite, and, in addition to his work with prospective amputees, he undertook an informal ministry to nursing home patients, where he had a real knack with the elderly. John’s uncle writes, “If there were some who refused to eat, John could convince them easily. If there was one depressed, he could have them talking and laughing. And he always said, ‘I pray for you,’ to each one, and he would not forget to do so.”
John’s final days were marked by tremendous suffering, and he spent hours offering prayers for the intentions of friends, many of whom claimed those prayers were answered. May John Scott, who suffered so much, be a saint in heaven now, so that he might continue to intercede for friends, loved ones, and all those in need.
Mary’s Intercession in All Things
October 3, 2021
October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary, when we honor the power of the intercession of the Blessed Mother in our lives. We focus on the Rosary during this month due to the fact that the Feast of the Holy Rosary falls on October 7th, and so we dedicate this entire month to the Rosary and pray for Mary’s intercession in all things. We also are currently celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Legion of Mary, an organization that promotes lay involvement in the life of the Church. Catholic News Agency recently ran a story on the Legion of Mary and its founder, Frank Duff, who has been designated a Servant of God, which is the first step in the cause for Beatification.
Reporting on a Mass held in early September commemorating the centenary of the founding of the Legion of Mary, CNA shared quotes from the homily delivered by Dublin Archbishop Dermot Farrell, who said of the legion’s founder, “Frank Duff, a man ahead of his time, could be described as prophetic in the true Christian sense of that word: someone sensitive to the call of God and utterly dedicated to God’s will. He translated his prophetic perspective of the universal call to holiness into a vibrant lay movement.”
Duff founded the Legion of Mary on September 7, 1921, and the legion’s centenary will be recognized throughout the coming year, with a closing Mass of Thanksgiving scheduled for November 19, 2022. Duff founded the legion in Dublin, but it eventually grew into an international organization that today is the largest lay apostolic Catholic organization, boasting over 10 million members worldwide.
The strength of the movement founded by Duff is rooted in a search for the meaning of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus and of His mystical body, the Church, and that search finds its fullest expression in a devotion to the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary. The popularity of a movement rooted in devotion to the Rosary comes as no surprise to those who understand its ability to mold our hearts in the image of Christ.
In a meditation on the growing popularity of the Rosary in modern times, Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Rosary is experiencing a new Springtime. Without a doubt, this is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and his Mother, Mary. In the current world, so dispersive, this prayer helps to put Christ at the center, as the Virgin did, who meditated within all that was said about her Son, and also what He did and said…. The Rosary, when it is prayed in an authentic way, not mechanical and superficial but profoundly, it brings, in fact, peace and reconciliation. It contains within itself the healing power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, invoked with faith and love at the center of each Hail Mary.”
Now is a great time to join with all those devoted to exploring the mysteries of the faith within the recitation of the Rosary in order to honor this month of the Most Holy Rosary and to begin a coming year of commemoration of all those who have turned to Mary over the past century through their involvement in the Legion of Mary. Our world is in desperate need of the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and when we turn to her, we find ourselves led into the loving arms of her son, Jesus Christ.
The Gift of Reconciliation
One challenging aspect of the pandemic that has afflicted the world in the past year and a half has been the curtailment of our Catholic sacraments. It has awakened many people to the value of practicing their faith and the reality of how much of our spiritual nourishment comes from the sacraments. So, as we try, in fits and starts, to get back to a semblance of normalcy and a regular practice of our faith, many Catholics are looking to immerse themselves more fully in the rich traditions we have available to us.
One of the most vital and life-affirming aspects of our tradition as Catholics is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The commission to forgive sins traces itself directly back to the person of Christ and the moment He visited the disciples after the Resurrection. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23)
In a recent video series for The Christophers, I was asked to address some of the complexities of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the hopes of helping people overcome common barriers that stand in the way of regular reception of this healing ritual. And I think some people might avoid Confession because they see it as an activity that promotes an attitude of guilt or self-loathing. On the flip side, others might find no point in going to Confession unless they have some long list of major sins. The key to understanding why both of these mindsets are flawed can be found when we ask: what is it we should be seeking to get out of the sacrament? What we are seeking, or what we should be seeking, is innocence.
In his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” In other words, the innocence of the angels is rooted in the fact that they have humility and are not weighed down by sin. This is the kind of lightness of spirit we should be seeking. It is the spirit of innocence that existed for humanity before the Fall, and it is the spirit Christ has made available for us again through His sacrifice on the cross. We are not expected to be racked by guilt over every minor fault we have, but we are expected to accept Christ’s redemptive sacrifice with humility, to acknowledge we are not perfect, and that we need His saving grace to return to the lightness of spirit God intends for us all.
We might also ask: who are we trying to be, or what kinds of things are we called by God to do in this world? And the answers to such questions are so often found in how we treat others. Well, to be attentive to the needs of others, we need to be unburdened in our spiritual lives, and this is the great gift that Christ has given to the Church. He’s given us a way back to the innocence that existed for humanity before the Fall. He’s given us a way to unburden ourselves from the weight of sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And we should avail ourselves of this healing ritual on a regular basis so that we might become light in spirit, capable of looking outward from ourselves upon the world and applying all of our talents in service to God and others.
While We Have Time, Let Us Do Good
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/ll. So much time has passed since the attack on our nation in 2001, and we should pray that healing has entered the lives of all survivors. We must also never forget those we lost that day, the heroism of first responders, and the heroism of all those who have put their lives on the line ever since to protect our nation from future attacks.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk has been at the forefront of keeping these heroes alive in our hearts. This event has been held annually on the last Sunday in September ever since 2002, when 1,500 people gathered to retrace the steps of FDNY firefighter Stephen Siller, and it has grown since then into one of the top 5K runs in America.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation—which hosts the 5K Run & Walk, along with 70 other events in their “Run, Walk, Climb” series—has grown and thrived because of the tremendous spirit of the family of Stephen Siller, a father of five whose story is one of exceptional bravery.
On September 11, 2001, Stephen had just gotten off duty at Brooklyn’s Squad 1 when he heard over his scanner that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He called his wife and told her he was returning to the firehouse to get his gear so that he could head to Manhattan to do whatever he could to help out. Arriving at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel only to find a traffic jam, Stephen got out of his car, strapped 60 pounds of gear on his back, and raced on foot through the tunnel and to the towers, where he made the ultimate sacrifice while saving others.
The following year, Stephen’s family organized The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk, a charity event that raises money for first responders and catastrophically injured veterans. Since that time, their foundation has raised $250 million for American heroes and their families, and they’ve educated over half a million people with their 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit. This year, to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Frank Siller, Stephen’s older brother, set off in early August on a nearly 600-mile walk from the Pentagon to Ground-Zero in Manhattan to honor all those who lost their lives on that tragic day.
In 2019, The Christophers were honored to present our Leadership Award to Frank for the work he and his family have done through their charity to help first responders and Gold Star families, as well as their efforts to build smart homes for injured veterans. In his remarks upon receiving our award, Frank said, “My parents had seven kids. We were very poor, but we were never too poor to do something good for our neighbors.” He also mentioned how his parents regularly quoted St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “While we have time, let us do good,” a quote Siller and his siblings have adopted as the mantra for their foundation.
The Siller family’s response to their unspeakable loss in the tragedy of 9/11 exemplifies how we are all called to respond to suffering in this world—and especially to the loss of loved ones. While we mourn their loss, we must also take inspiration from the good they have done. And we must remember, “While we have time, let us do good.”
A Historic and Divine Rescue Operation
The U.S. Maritime Administration has called it the “greatest rescue operation by a single ship in history.” Chronicling the story for Aleteia, Larry Peterson recounts that it began on December 23, 1950, when Captain Leonard LaRue, skipper of the SS Meredith Victory, a US Merchant Marine cargo freighter, spotted thousands of Korean refugees on the docks of the besieged Port of Hungnam, North Korea, 135 miles into enemy territory. With the Chinese and North Korean communist forces closing in, Captain LaRue ordered his ship cleared of everything that could be moved, including all cargo and weapons. Then he loaded 14,000 refugees onto a ship that typically carried only 47 men.
They sailed south with no doctor, no heat, no sanitation facilities, no interpreter, no lighting in the holds, no mine detection equipment, and no weapons, save for the pistol carried by Captain LaRue. They arrived at the city of Busan, South Korea, on Christmas Eve only to be told there was no room for the refugees and they would have to continue on. LaRue managed to unload the wounded and a few women with infant children, and he collected water and blankets before heading on to Geoje Island, where they arrived to safety on Christmas Day.
Recalling the harrowing voyage, Captain LaRue later said, “I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God’s own hand was at the helm of my ship.”
The dramatic rescue operation had a profound influence on Captain LaRue, awakening him to the powerful hand of God at work in the world. In 1954, he decided to become a Benedictine monk, joining St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, New Jersey, where he took the name Brother Marinus, after the Latin word for “of the sea.” He lived a life of work and prayer until his death in 2001. In 2019, Brother Marinus’ cause for canonization was opened, and in June of this year, the U.S. bishops voted to advance his cause. Now we can call him Servant of God Marinus LaRue, and we can pray for his intercession in the hopes of achieving miracles so this holy servant might one day be recognized as a saint of the Church.
The story of Brother Marinus exemplifies how true greatness can only be achieved when we surrender to the will of God. Finding himself in command of one of the last ships in a port being abandoned by U.S. forces, he saw people in need and was called by God to act.
God calls us to act on behalf of those in need all the time. For Captain LaRue, that call came in the most dramatic of circumstances. But no matter the circumstances, our answer to God’s call is always dramatic not just because it leads to great acts of mercy, but because it changes us from within, opening our hearts to the miraculous possibilities of following in the footsteps of Christ.
Leonard LaRue dumped cargo and weapons from his ship during wartime to make room for thousands of human lives. His answer to the situation before him was to value human life above all else. God responded to his courageous act by leading him and those in his care to safety, and by guiding him on a lifelong path to holiness.
Feel Your Faith Recharged on Father Kapaun Pilgrimage
For the past 13 years, the people of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, have gathered annually for the Father Emil Kapaun pilgrimage, four days of walking, companionship, and prayer, culminating in the Father Kapaun Day Mass held at St. John Nepomucene Church. As Joe Bukuras recently reported for Catholic News Agency, “The 2021 walk was unique because the Wichita diocese is preparing to welcome the bodily remains of Fr. Kapaun.”
Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun was a United States Army chaplain who served in World War II and the Korean War. He displayed tremendous heroism while on the front lines of the Korean War’s Battle of Unsan, when he braved enemy fire to rescue nearly 40 men. He was captured with other survivors and marched 87 miles to a prisoner of war camp. As a POW, he inspired his men through courage and sacrifice, stealing food for those who were starving, smuggling medicine for those who were sick, standing up to communist indoctrination, and regularly leading his men in prayer. On March 25, 1951, Father Kapaun led an Easter sunrise service in a near death state, and he died from malnutrition and pneumonia on May 23, 1951.
In 1953, Operation Glory returned the remains of 1,868 soldiers to the U.S. as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement. Father Kapaun’s remains were known to be among this number, but they were unable to be identified and were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) in Honolulu, Hawaii. It wasn’t until 2018 that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s Korean War Disinterment Project began a plan at the NMCP to disinter all remaining Korean War Unknowns. And on March 4, 2021, it was confirmed by U.S. Senator Jerry Moran and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita that Father Kapaun’s remains had finally been identified.
Father Kapaun was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Wichita, and he celebrated his first Mass at St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen, where his memory is kept alive through the Chaplain Kapaun Museum. Also based in the Diocese of Wichita is the Father Kapaun Guild, which promotes his cause for canonization. The Father Emil Kapaun Pilgrimage is a 60-mile walk in the heat and over mostly gravelly roads. It is challenging, and pilgrims sometimes need to take breaks by riding in support vehicles that follow the group. “This is a humbling experience,” said veteran pilgrim Sharon Norden, “but even Jesus needed help on His way to the cross.”
Norden describes the pilgrimage as a bonding experience where people share stories of faith, suggest books and podcasts to each other, and avail themselves of the sacraments provided by priests who say Mass and hear confession daily. “No one scoffs at saying a rosary on the road or the divine mercy chaplet between conversations,” says Norden. “It is where you feel your faith recharged, just like Father Kapaun recharged the men and they all continued to go on in their imprisonment.”
What profound insight this pilgrim shares about the call Christ extends to each of us to strengthen each other in trying times. Often, we cannot relieve each other’s burdens, but we can help each other cope with difficult situations, and we can keep hope alive for each other. So let’s all take up this pilgrimage, at least in spirit, to walk in the footsteps of Father Kapaun and answer the call of Christ to recharge the faith of those entrusted to our care.
Live the Golden Rule
July 18, 2021
“Be kind, be kind, be kind, and you will soon be saints,” said the medieval mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck. This bit of wisdom was most certainly inspired by the Golden Rule, which states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As Van Ruysbroeck’s quote exemplifies, following the Golden Rule is a perfect way to draw closer to God. Yet the world throws so many complexities in our way to obscure our vision of this clear path to holiness.
Many cultures and religions have teachings similar to the Golden Rule. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was an idea expressed in Leviticus 19:18, when God instructed Moses, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Christ later reiterated this idea in His Sermon on the Mount, saying, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
The Christophers’ recent News Note Live the Golden Rule details practical ways to stay on the path to holiness by following Christ’s command to treat others in the way we would like to be treated. In this News Note, a quote from Father John Catoir, former Director of The Christophers, puts things in perspective. He states, “Maybe you can’t be a delegate at international peace talks. But you can be a peacemaker in your own family – and pray and work for peaceful communication between people of different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds.”
One particular story tells of a woman named Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse, who wrote a piece for Today’s Christian Woman about her struggle to overcome a judgmental attitude towards others. “The other day,” Newenhuyse writes, “a rather shabbily dressed young woman walked by our house while I was working in the yard. I literally thought to myself, ‘Be kind.’ I smiled and said hello, and she gave me a beautiful smile in return. It just lit up her face. It was a small but significant encounter, because it represented a victory over my old negative pattern of judging people by external appearances.”
Processing what she learned from that encounter, Newenhuyse concluded, “When you’re tempted to think or act critically, stop and consciously substitute a positive response. Pay a compliment. It may seem artificial at first, but after a while, it will become a habit, and a God-honoring habit at that.”
What a beautiful way to honor God, by showing kindness to someone who might otherwise be treated as an outcast. This is the courage we are called to, and though it’s a courage that can manifest itself in small gestures and interactions, it’s no small matter at all. It takes courage to befriend those on the margins of society in a culture that can be as judgmental as ours. We risk being branded by the problems of those we associate with, which is why we’re so reticent to cross that imaginary line that’s been drawn between us and them.
But we are called to cross that line to the degree we are able. When we do, we are practicing the Golden Rule in the most challenging way possible. For which of us cannot say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” in regard to another person’s struggles? And if we can picture ourselves in their shoes, we can know how we would want to be treated – with kindness, kindness, and more kindness.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note LIVE THE GOLDEN RULE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
A Veteran’s Call to the Priesthood
In the lead up to this year’s Memorial Day weekend, EWTN News In Depth featured the story of retired U.S. Army Colonel Cameron Song Sellers, a veteran who is now on the path to becoming a priest. The piece was presented by EWTN Vatican correspondent Colm Flynn, who opened by saying, “Cameron Song Sellers is a veteran whose experience with military chaplains has helped him to overcome a very difficult start in life.”
Sellers was born in South Korea in 1968 during a time when extreme poverty was so rampant that many mothers would abandon their babies at birth. “I don’t know how I was found but I ended up in a hospital,” says Sellers, who was put up for adoption in the hopes he would gain access to European socialized medicine. But it was an American family who stepped forward to express interest in adopting him. “I don’t think they can really explain it in words,” Sellers says, “other than just by emotion and heart that I was the one and I was going to be part of the Sellers family.”
He was raised a Baptist in Phoenix, Arizona, and describes himself as someone who had faith but didn’t like going to church. As a teenager, he was introduced to the Catholic faith by a friend and was intrigued by the Mass, yet struggled to believe in the teachings of the Church.
“Probably the first doctrine I ever accepted and the doctrine that made sense to me was the communion of saints,” says Colonel Song Sellers. “The fact that I was connected to people not just in that church but all over the world and that I was connected to the saints in heaven and earth.” He went on to say that God wanted him there “because He wanted me to know that I was in a family and that I didn’t need to worry about my background and who I was, that my family was the Catholic Church, the Universal Church and that my family went back generations and centuries.”
After graduating from college, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and rising to the rank of Colonel. Towards the end of his career, he was called to return to South Korea, where he served in the Army Reserve Engagement Team helping soldiers get acclimated to the country. Recently, he has embarked on a completely new path as a seminarian studying for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and it is his time in the military and his experience with military chaplains that inspired him to undertake this path.
“Chaplains are a lot like medics,” he said. “They’re mysterious. But when you really need one, you’re just so glad they’re there.”
Feeling called to the priesthood, Colonel Song Sellers asked himself two questions. First, could he die for his parish? And the answer was “yes.” The second question was, did he believe in the sacraments? And he knew that he did believe, saying, “I saw in my own life how the sacraments really healed me.”
The story of Colonel Song Sellers exemplifies how military chaplains and other front line ministers can send a powerful message about the faith by meeting people in their hour of need.
“That’s what I see in chaplains,” Colonel Song Sellers says. “I see what the sacraments are about. I see why the Catholic Church is so vitally important because they give us the tools to strengthen ourselves with God.”
Former Olympian Says, ‘You Are Enough’
June 27, 2021
Writing for Catholic News Agency, Kate Olivera recently chronicled the conversion story of three-time Olympian and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes, who was part of the 1996 squad that won the first U.S. women’s team gold in gymnastics. Dawes recalled a moment of doubt at the start of the games, when she became overwhelmed by the pressure just before appearing before billions of people watching around the world. It was at that moment that her team captain, Amanda Borden, knelt beside her and together they prayed, asking God to watch over them.
Recalling that moment, Dawes said, “It was good to have that reminder that I’m not alone... because He is the one that is going to strengthen me, and He is the one that’s going to strengthen us…I remember when I stood up after that prayer with Amanda, I felt free. I felt light…And we went out, marched out together and we all made history.”
Dawes credits her mother’s Baptist faith for instilling a strong bond with God early on. She said, “The seed that my mom planted in me really took. She sowed a seed that has been one that has kept me grounded, (and) has given me this level of discernment, as I think the Spirit has protected me quite a bit in my life and has steered me away from some people and situations that maybe weren’t the healthiest for me.”
Dawes eventually felt called to the Catholic faith and to a special connection to the Virgin Mary, saying, “I always felt as a young person, while my mom did the best that she could, and my coach who many times was labeled as a mother figure, neither of them were truly happy people…. I felt as if I wanted to find... a mother who maybe was happy. Those loving arms that you can run into and just feel that sense of comfort and love, which I never felt as a child.”
Dawes’ grandmother was full Piscataway Conoy Native American and was also Catholic and named after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Dawes says, “I knew very little about this until I became an adult. And I was like, ‘Oh, and that’s my grandmother I felt calling me into this Church.”
Today Dawes is married to a Catholic school teacher and they have four children together. She also runs a gymnastics academy where she fosters a positive culture. Dawes says, “The people that I have on board, they really are so positive. I love it…It amazes me, because of the environment that I came from that was so critical. Like, nothing you could do in the sport of gymnastics was right. Nothing was ever good enough…I told my husband, when I opened these doors, I said, ‘I really want this big sign that says ‘You are Enough.’”
Dominique Dawes’ story is inspiring on many levels. Her combination of fortitude and faith led her to become an Olympic champion. But her faith also led her to realize that, as much as she had accomplished in her own life, she wanted to share her passion for gymnastics in a very different way than is common in competitive sports. And this is how God leads great people to create a better world for those who follow in their footsteps. Discovering a relationship with Christ can empower us to think outside the box and challenge the status quo so we leave a better, more loving culture, where all people can find their talents and thrive.
The Model of Fatherhood
June 20, 2021
Father’s Day takes on added significance this year due to the fact that Pope Francis has declared this to be the Year of St. Joseph, who is the model of fatherhood for all men. Earlier this year, Catholic News Agency featured a beautiful story about the fatherhood of a 68-year-old Argentinian widower named Luis Avagliano. After being widowed, and with the blessing of his two grown children, Avagliano decided to become a priest, and he was ordained on March 19, 2021, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. On the occasion of Avagliano’s ordination, Bishop Carlos Jose Tissera of Quilmes, Argentina, declared that it was no coincidence that this milestone should occur on the day that it did.
Bishop Tissera went on to compare Avagliano’s experiences as a father to those of St. Joseph, saying, “Like him, you have experienced the beauty of love as a couple, the experience of marriage, the joy of being a dad; the responsibility of forming a home, the joy of expecting your children and their birth; the incomparable joy of the first babblings of a baby looking into your eyes and saying the most wonderful word: Daddy.”
Avagliano recalled being raised in a loving Catholic family in Buenos Aires. When he was 15 years old, he experienced one of the most challenging periods of his life, when, in just a three-month span, both his father and his older sister passed away. “God never abandoned me,” Avagliano recalled, “He gave me strength to help and support my mother…With her faith we carried on. We never stopped trusting in God. His strength cannot be explained, you feel it and experience it.”
Avagliano married at 23, and he and his wife Flora raised their children in the Catholic faith, having them baptized in the same church where his mother had taken him as a child. In 2014, after 38 years of marriage, Flora passed away. Expressing the closeness he still feels to her, Avagliano said, “She is up above with God, but she is present in my life always. Just as she accompanied me throughout my earthly life, she continues to accompany me throughout her life in Heaven.”
After Flora’s passing and a period of discernment, Avagliano eventually felt called to go beyond the permanent diaconate in which he had served during his marriage and to become ordained a priest. His two children participated in the ordination ceremony, one of them taking off his diaconal stole and putting on his priestly stole and both putting the chasuble on him. Avagliano said he considers it a blessing to have been called by God to live out both vocations to fatherhood, the one in marriage and earthly fatherhood and his new calling as a spiritual father in the Church.
Avagliano’s father clearly made a lasting impression on him in the time they had together because he grew into a model of fatherhood, fulfilling his calling as a man to first look after his mother and then to raise his own family. This is the foundation that good fatherhood creates so that it prepares others to go off into the world and make their mark.
Reflecting on his own amazing call to fatherhood, Avagliano said, “How beautiful it is to fulfill what the Lord asks of you and to be open to that disposition, to be able to open your heart so that He can enter in, can transform you, can guide you, can enlighten you, can accompany you.”
Be Not Afraid
At the inauguration Mass of his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II said, “Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To His saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development.”
This message of John Paul II echoes the many biblical passages declaring that we must overcome our fears and have faith in the power of God to transform the world. But how often do we shrink from the confidence God calls us to? It is an age-old problem that can be seen throughout the Bible, such as in the story of Daniel, who trembled in fear before a heavenly vision sent by God, until hearing the words, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words” (Daniel 10:13).
We also see Christ on multiple occasions calling His disciples to move beyond their fears in order to follow Him, such as the scene on the Sea of Galilee, when their boat was being tossed about by a storm and Christ came to them, walking on the water. Rather than being relieved to see Him, the disciples’ first reaction was terror, thinking it was a ghost, until Christ said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 22:27).
How many times is our first reaction to God’s call similar to Daniel’s or the disciples’? We need to be reminded to cast our fears aside in order to do God’s will, and one of the best ways to do that is to realize the greater purpose in the good we are called to each day.
In his prayer The Mission of My Life, Saint John Henry Newman reminds us of the unique purpose to which God calls each person. Newman’s prayer acknowledges that this mission can be difficult to understand, especially in times of trial. He eventually concludes, “He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
It is this confidence in God’s purpose that will help us to overcome our fears even through the most difficult trials so that we might act upon all we know to be good and true. At the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado, John Paul II said, “This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it…. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis.”
This call to cast off our fears and any sense of shame in the teachings of Christ remains relevant today. The most profound aspects of Christ’s teachings remain countercultural, yet we are called to bring those teachings into the public square and every aspect of life in order to extend the hope of the Gospel to all who are in need. In the most challenging situations, fear will be a natural emotion. But we must trust in Christ and step out of our comfort zones. When we do that, He will lead us out of fear to the realization of a purpose and to lasting glory.
May 16, 2021
Ways to Say, “I Love You”
In a classic “Christopher Closeup” interview, theologian Dr. Doris Donnelly said that forgiveness is “the linchpin that holds a family together.” Father John Catoir later wrote a News Note entitled “Ways to Say I Love You: Charity in the Home,” in which he relates this bit of wisdom to a real-life story exemplifying how forgiveness not only brings healing but creates a chain reaction of love.
Father Catoir recounts the story of Jon West of Georgia, who learned about forgiveness from his father. When he was 10 years old, Jon was playing with a tree branch near where his father was working on a ladder. The youngster accidentally caused his father to fall and break his arm. Jon’s father’s response was to say, “Let’s forget it. I’m going to be fine, and we’ll cut more limbs together, okay?”
This response made such a profound impression upon Jon that it caused him to treat his mother with the same forgiving attitude some time later when she spilled milk on him at dinner. Jon quickly responded “That’s okay, Mama,” and he later wrote an essay in which he called forgiveness “a sign of kindness and love.”
Father Catoir explains that forgiveness is one of the best ways to say, “I love you,” and he adds that listening and courtesy are great ways to express our love for others. He tells of one family in which generations were changed by having their hopes and dreams heard in one grandmother’s kitchen in Ohio. Father Catoir writes, “Courtesy. Consideration. Kindness. These help create feelings of warmth, caring and acceptance in the home. All are facets of love.” He quotes Letitia Baldridge, who was social secretary to two U.S. Ambassadors and said that good manners are good sense “with a little extra dose of love and consideration.”
The love we show one another has a ripple effect that can profoundly impact many lives. Father Catoir tells of one couple who said that they “put one another first,” explaining, “Because of this we have developed a unity of spirit apparent not only to us, but to our children.”
Father Catoir notes that showing patience with children is one of the best ways to teach them lasting lessons, quoting Fred Rogers, who once said, “The only real discipline comes from love, not fear.” To exemplify this axiom, Father Catoir recounts the story of a woman who was marveling at a friend’s seemingly infinite patience with her three-year-old child, who kept interrupting her housework to call her outside to see a butterfly, a flower, or an ant. The woman asked the mother, “Don’t you ever want to scream?” The mother responded, “Well, I brought her into the world. The least I can do is let her show it to me.”
What a different way to look at the interruptions a child brings into the home, to see them as a gift that might enable us to view the world in a new light. And this is how we must see each individual we cross paths with and each situation that seems to interrupt our lives: as an opportunity to discover new ways to love through patience, listening, courtesy, and forgiveness.
We all have people in our lives to whom we want to say, “I love you,” and the best way to make that statement is through our actions. And when we act on love within our homes, we plant seeds of hope that can transform the world.
St. Joseph Opens Our Eyes
On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis declared the entire upcoming year to be the Year of St. Joseph. He did this to honor the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, which occurred on December 8, 1870. Pope Francis said that he was also drawn to honor St. Joseph because the coronavirus pandemic has prompted him to consider the virtues of this quiet hero from the Gospels.
In his Apostolic Letter With a Father’s Heart, Francis related the character of St. Joseph to the heroic nature of those on the front lines of the pandemic. Specifically, he referenced a line from his own 2020 Meditation in the Time of Pandemic, in explaining his desire to honor St. Joseph, saying:
“My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how ‘our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others.’”
What a beautiful analogy Pope Francis draws between St. Joseph and those who toil in our own time to serve those who God has entrusted to their care. Consider the courage of caregivers who have continued to show up for work over the past year, in situations that were invariably much riskier than most other jobs; or the cleaning personnel in hospitals and other public buildings, who have made the world a safer place for the rest of us. These are unsung heroes who have answered the call to protect, defend, and watch over others in the same way Joseph was called to protect, defend, and watch over Mary and Jesus.
Doing our duty is usually not a glamorous endeavor, yet it is often the endeavor that draws us closest to God, and this is because doing our duty requires love and fidelity to the mission God has given us. God wants us to be capable of standing up for what’s right, and we exercise that ability every time we humbly take up our cross and perform the tasks that have been put before us.
We currently find ourselves in between the two feast days of St. Joseph. The first was on March 19, when we celebrated Joseph as father figure and patron of the Universal Church and the dying. The second is on May 1st, celebrating St. Joseph the Worker. So, as we find ourselves in this Year of St. Joseph, this is a good time to reflect upon the way in which this great saint is a model for us all.
St. Josemaria Escriva once said, “Joseph’s faith does not falter, he obeys quickly and to the letter.” What a profound statement about the loyalty Joseph showed to God throughout his life. Joseph’s faith in God strengthened him to protect the Holy Family and to help Mary raise Jesus in the right way so that he could fulfill his mission. We are all called to this kind of service, to trust in God and remain loyal to all that is good and true, so that we can do our part to foster a world where Christ can flourish.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note LET YOUR INNER BEAUTY SHINE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004;
April 18, 2021
In the 2019 short film Feeling Through, a homeless teen named Tereek approaches a man named Artie who is holding a cane and standing at the edge of a sidewalk with a sign that reads, “I am deaf and blind. Tap me if you can help me to cross the street.” After a moment of uncertainty, Tereek taps Artie on the arm, and this sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a profound human connection.
As he helps Artie navigate his way, first to a bus stop and then onto a city bus that will take him home, Tereek realizes that he himself is being helped by this experience. Artie writes messages on a notepad for Tereek, who answers by tracing one letter at a time on Artie’s hand. In this way, they discover simple things about each other, like the fact that Artie is thirsty, prompting a trip to a nearby bodega and causing them to miss the bus, which in turn forces them to wait together for the next one. This provides opportunity for them to discover more about each other, and it becomes evident that, despite his own troubles, Tereek has taken it upon himself to see Artie safely onto his bus.
After getting Artie onto his bus and making sure the driver will get him home, Tereek prepares to leave Artie and asks if he’s okay. Artie assures him that he is fine. Then Artie takes Tereek’s hand, and drawing one letter at a time on his palm, says, “You’ll be okay,” and gives him a big hug, revealing that he understands Tereek is facing troubles. This is a beautiful moment, where we come to understand the generous spirit with which Artie was allowing Tereek to help him, because he knew Tereek needed to realize the power of good that resided within himself.
The connection made by these two characters exemplifies the way people can fulfill each other’s needs when they open their hearts and are willing to give of themselves. It is a theme that is reminiscent of The Christophers’ classic film A Link in the Chain, starring James Cagney as an elderly professor wondering if he’s made a difference in the world until powerful remembrances assure him of the impact he has had on others’ lives. Cagney’s character realizes that he has been a link in the chain of the wisdom of God, passed from one person to another through acts of generosity. In this same way, Tereek and Artie are a link in the chain for each other, providing a connection to God by sharing what they can to lighten each other’s burdens.
After seeing Artie safely on his way, Tereek sets off on his own for what we know will be a difficult night on the streets. Yet, as he passes a man who seems worse off than himself, Tereek makes a stunning act of kindness, demonstrating the profound impact the encounter with Artie has had on him. In the end, we learn that it is only through generosity that we can fully understand who we are in relation to God. In helping others, we come to see how cared for we are and are strengthened to brave the most difficult circumstances in life. And we find this strength because we have discovered a mission we’re all called to embrace, which is to meet people where they are and help them to know they are loved and cared for by God.
Sleeping in Front of a Closed Door
March 28, 2021
In late January of this year, Papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski offered a funeral Mass for Roberto Mantovani, a 64-year-old man who died of pneumonia in a homeless shelter near Rome’s Termini railway station. Years ago, an injury had ended Mantovani’s career as a professional soccer player for Hellas Verona F.C., and in recent years, he had been living on the streets near the Vatican, where he was befriended by numerous people who tried to help him. Some of those people held distinguished positions, such as Cardinal Krajewski, who said of Mantovani, “He was a cheerful, sunny person, at the lunches we had he made everyone laugh.”
Cardinal Krajewski concelebrated the funeral Mass with Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, along with a dozen other priests. The Mass was attended by volunteers from the homeless shelter where Mantovani was staying, police officers from the station near where he often slept, and workers from the Community of Sant’ Egidio, who distribute food to Rome’s homeless and run the Vatican’s newest homeless shelter.
Sant’ Egidio reports that since November their organization has been aware of and helped to organize at least 10 funerals for Rome’s homeless, but they speculate the number of dead to be even higher. Citing RomaToday, Catholic News Agency states that in Rome “there are an estimated 8,000 homeless people. Many sleep in tents along the edge of Bernini’s colonnade, the semi-circular columns enclosing St. Peter’s Square.”
The day before Mantovani’s funeral, Pope Francis mourned the death of a 46-year-old Nigerian homeless man named Edwin, who was found dead from living outside in the cold. The Pope said, “His story was added to that of many other homeless people who recently died in Rome in the same dramatic circumstances,” adding, “Let us think of how this man, 46 years old, felt in the cold, ignored by all, abandoned, even by us. Let us pray for him.”
It is fitting for Pope Francis to challenge the world to see the humanity in the poorest of the poor. It is that self-critical outlook that inspires volunteers and programs within the Church to meet those on the margins of society and extend a helping hand. In Roberto Mantovani’s case, those who knew and cared for him had recently convinced him to move to the homeless shelter after numerous bouts with pneumonia, but sadly it was too late to save his life. According to Catholic News Agency, Cardinal Krajewski “chose the reading from the Gospel of Luke in which Christ recounts the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, for the funeral Mass because ‘Robert always slept in front of a closed door.’”
What a beautiful gesture this choice of reading was by Cardinal Krajewski because it points to the welcome we can all hope Roberto receives in the afterlife. In life, Roberto was known to sleep in front of a closed door. May he stand before an open door now and may he follow Christ through that door to eternal glory. This is the transformation that awaits every soul that returns to God with a humble heart, to find an open door and healing for the wounds that could not heal in this world. May we all find the humility to pass through that door with the humility of a beggar, and may we prepare ourselves for that moment by answering God’s call in this life to serve those most in need.
‘Cheerfulness Strengthens the Heart’
March 14, 2021
St. Philip Neri once said, “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; wherefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” Yet, happiness can be an elusive disposition, and many today are struggling to find joy in their daily lives. It is important that we attend to the need we all have for happiness so we can be productive and inspire others to experience the joy of Christ.
Advice columnist Helen Dennis recently fielded a question that speaks to the challenges many are having in achieving happiness these days. The questioner expresses a lack of “contentment or happiness” and even guilt for this concern, given the amount of suffering others have endured over the past year, asking, “Is there anything I can do to find some level of happiness during these difficult times?”
Concern over one’s own mental and spiritual well-being, even while others around us are suffering, should not be discounted. We have an obligation to attend to our own well-being in order to be at our best at whatever point we are needed to help others through their struggles. And that very dynamic of building ourselves up for the purpose of helping others is at the heart of the ultimate answer to finding happiness. It is also a dynamic hinted at within the practical advice offered by Helen Dennis in her answer to the question.
Dennis sites Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos, who created a class on the science of happiness after living with students and observing their high levels of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and worry about grades. In her course, Santos offers some key ways in which we can improve our happiness. Aside from basic issues of self-care, such as getting enough sleep and exercise, she encourages people to be more social, express gratitude, be in the moment, and practice kindness.
Dennis highlights studies showing how these simple actions lead to a greater sense of well-being among those who practice them, writing, “Health care workers who express gratitude by writing in a gratitude journal are less stressed and depressed.”
Dennis also writes, “People who are the happiest report focusing on the needs of others. They donate money, volunteer or just do random acts of kindness. Of equal importance is being kind to ourselves. We need to remember that most often we do the best we can. Harsh self-criticism and unrealistic expectations do not lead to happiness.”
We can see this practical advice pointing back to the deeper spiritual reality of why we must attend to our own well-being. Every one of us has a purpose in life that goes beyond temporal happiness, but we need to keep our spirits up if we are to attain all that God wants of us in this world.
In short, we owe it to ourselves to be joyful in order to better serve God and others. Living in the moment is one of the greatest ways we can express gratitude because it demonstrates our trust that God is looking out for the bigger picture. And being more social not only lifts our own spirits, but enables us to do the same for others and to discover their needs in order to practice kindness towards them. The pandemic has strained our ability to do this, but we must always find creative ways to follow God’s will, and we should all be looking forward to recovering those opportunities to fully live out the call to happiness.
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Doing the Impossible
Feb 28, 2021
St. Francis of Assisi has been quoted as saying, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” It’s a roadmap to achieving amazing things but it begins in absolute simplicity. It makes sense that a saint who once renewed the Church by embracing poverty should come up with such an axiom because his life story demonstrates how all things are possible through simple acts of humility.
In one famous story, Francis was exploring the countryside around Assisi when he came upon the crumbling church of San Damiano, where he entered and knelt down in prayer, asking God for guidance. It was then Francis heard the voice of God respond, saying, “Francis, go and rebuild my church.” Francis proceeded to repair San Damiano, along with a few other churches near Assisi. It wasn’t until later that he realized a deeper meaning to the words God had spoken to him. He realized God was calling him to renew people’s faith in Christ and to actually restore Catholicism.
What an amazing arch this turned out to be in the life of St. Francis, to go from feeling called to the humble work of a laborer to leading a spiritual renewal in the Church. It’s an arch that demonstrates his axiom that, when we start with what is necessary and then do all that is possible, we will eventually find ourselves accomplishing the impossible. There are two key elements at play in this axiom. The first is found in the power of fortitude and hard work, and the second is the realization that God has a grander plan for us than we could possibly know.
It is freeing to abandon our cares to God and focus on the necessary tasks that have been put before us. And when we take up our daily cross and do all that is asked of us, we find ourselves growing in talent and expanding our ability to persevere through a myriad of trials. The reality is, God wants us to be prepared for larger trials so that we are capable of taking on greater tasks. But that does not mean we have to plan what those greater things will be. It is enough for us to do the hard work given to us and simply grow in our gifts and abilities.
God also challenges us to know that, even in doing the work of today, our spiritual lives are more important than any material reward. In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminds us of the lilies of the field and how well they are clothed without any effort of their own. We are to set about our daily work with the same abandon to the providence of God. This is the example St. Francis set for us when he abandoned the material wealth he was born into as the son of a successful merchant.
In one of the most dramatic scenes from his life, St. Francis stripped off the fine clothes his father had given him and walked off with utter abandon to follow God’s will. His renunciation of the material in favor of the spiritual was so inspiring it brought many followers to work alongside him in following Christ and caring for the poor. And this simplicity led them to renew the Church. We are called to effect the same renewal by applying ourselves to the tasks set before us and the good we are called to accomplish each day.
Look to the Little Way This Lent
Feb 21, 2021
As Lent begins, I can’t help but think of St. Therese of Lisieux’a autobiography, The Story of a Soul, where she wrote, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifices to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” This statement reveals the humility of one of the great saints of the 19th century and provides a window into her simple yet profound spirituality.
Born in 1873, Therese lost her mother at an early age, which brought about years of emotional distress that didn’t subside until she was 13, when she had what she later described as a “complete conversion” to Christ. She later wrote of that time, “I felt, in a word, charity enter my heart, the need to forget myself to make others happy – Since this blessed night I was not defeated in any battle, but instead I went from victory to victory and began, so to speak, ‘to run a giant’s course.’”
This line about running a giant’s course is a reference to Psalm 19:5, in which the sun’s arch throughout the day is compared to a challenging course traversed by a great athlete. It’s interesting that Therese should describe her journey in such glorious terms because we know from her writings that she practiced the most humble form of spirituality. But it was not worldly glory that Therese was speaking of. She had discovered the glory of God in her own life, and she began to see how this glory manifested itself in the most simple and beautiful ways.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a doctor of the Church, saying, “Her ardent spiritual journey shows such maturity, and the insights of faith expressed in her writings are so vast and profound that they deserve a place among the great spiritual masters.” Therese’s spirituality came to be defined by her “little way,” a phrase she coined to explain her path to God.
It consisted of an approach to life in which she would remain small and rely entirely upon Christ. She wrote, “Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.” So we see how Therese found her greatest strength in humility. By letting go of herself, she experienced glory in bringing joy to others.
The fact that she could find greater joy in picking up “a pin for love” than in the greatest of spiritual ecstasies says everything we need to know about Therese’s “little way.” She offers up these efforts as a way to convert souls to God.
Therese’s “little way” stands as a beacon for us all in these trying and often confusing times. It teaches that we are called to perform the basic duties God has put before us—and to bear in mind that our actions are not for ourselves but for the good of others. And we must offer up our labors for the conversion of souls so that all people we encounter might be inspired to love God and utilize their talents for the greater good.
The spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux provides a profound way to allow Christ into our lives. It is a path in which we place ourselves in service to others and allow Christ to do the job of lifting us all towards God and the promise of heavenly glory.
A Model of Charity and Justice
January 24, 2021
We recently marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Dorothy Day. In an article forCatholic New York, Editor John Woods chronicled the remembrance of Day in the City of New York, where she spent most of her life working with the poor. America Media and the Sheen Center sponsored a webinar entitled “Celebrate the Living Legacy of Dorothy Day,” which featured New York Times columnist David Brooks. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a large portrait of Day was placed in the sanctuary, and Monsignor Robert Ritchie, the cathedral’s rector, offered opening remarks at Cardinal Dolan’s 10:15 a.m. Mass, saying, “Today, we have a special remembrance of Dorothy Day, whose beatification and canonization is being considered…Please remember her in your prayers and for the fact that she might be raised to the altars.”
Day’s cause for canonization was opened in 2000 by Cardinal O’Connor and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formally endorsed her cause in 2012. In 2017, Woods notes, “The diocesan inquiry into her life, heroic virtues, and reputation of holiness and intercessory power was opened.”
George Horton, director of social and community development for archdiocesan Catholic Charities and vice-postulator for Day’s cause has been gathering documentation from her extensive writings to share with Rome. Woods writes, “Although he never met Dorothy Day, Horton said he remains influenced by her as well as those with whom she worked in the Catholic Worker movement.”
Horton points to Day as an important example for all of us today, given the intense divisions, isolation, and suffering facing our nation. Day was a person who made a point of challenging herself to see the humanity in all people. “She was always having conversations with people,” he told Woods. “She wanted to know them…. Her legacy for our time was that she wanted people to be talking to each other, in dialogue and conversation.”
Discussing the lasting impact Day has had on our society, Woods writes, “Her work reaching out to those at the margins of society and acting on behalf of charity and justice continues at Catholic Worker communities across the United States and in other countries.” Referencing Horton’s study of her life, Woods adds, “Dorothy Day’s service was fueled by her Catholic faith. She was much an orthodox Christian, prayed for saintly intercession and believed in the authority of the Church….”
It is right to see Dorothy Day as a model for our time. She would have been a kindred spirit of all those who have been on the front lines battling the pandemic over the past year. And she would have led the way in reaching out to those whose spirits have been broken due to sickness, loss of loved ones, poverty, unemployment, and hunger. In her On Pilgrimage column, Day once wrote, “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” And in her book Loaves and Fishes, she wrote, “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”
As our nation looks towards a year of recovery in 2021, let us remember the model of Dorothy Day and seek to effect that revolution of the heart in ourselves and others. Let’s give support to those frontline workers who will be helping people to recover, and let’s all roll up our sleeves to help lift each other up in body, mind, and soul.
A Saint’s Two Crowns
January 3, 2021
In his writings, St. Maximilian Kolbe recounts an incident from his childhood. He was 12 years old and had recently been scolded by his mother for some bit of mischief he had gotten into. Later, he was prompted to reflect upon his actions and turned to the Blessed Mother in prayer. He writes: “That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.”
This vision not only foreshadowed St. Maximilian’s martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, but it also revealed his character. It was in this moment of humbling himself before God that Maximilian realized the courage to rise to the occasion of whatever life would bring—and learned that the virtue of humility leads to authentic courage. Humility led Maximilian to answer the call to the priesthood and a life devoted to heroic service to God and others, and humility led to courageous acts throughout his life.
While studying in Rome to become a priest, Maximilian witnessed angry and hateful demonstrations by the Freemasons against the Pope, which prompted him to start the Knights of the Immaculata, an organization dedicated to the conversion of sinners through prayer for Mary’s intercession. What a productive response that was! Rather than cowering before the Church’s enemies or being consumed by hatred for them, Maximilian responded by martialing Catholics to storm heaven and the Blessed Mother with prayers for their conversion.
As a young priest, Maximilian served for several years in Asia, founding two monasteries, one of which remains an important church in Japan to this day. He was called back to Poland a few years before the outbreak of World War II and found himself in the crosshairs of the Nazis when he refused to declare his allegiance to Germany. After being arrested and then released, Maximilian continued to help run the Franciscan monastery of Niepokalanów, Poland, where he opened a temporary hospital and published religious works, including anti-Nazi literature. He also helped 2,000 Jews hide at the monastery from the Nazis.
In 1941, the Niepokalanów monastery was shut down and Kolbe was arrested and imprisoned, eventually being transferred to Auschwitz. There, he offered his life in place of another man who had been sentenced to death. In his final days, Kolbe ceaselessly led the other prisoners in prayer. Credited with miracles and intercessions after his death, Maximilian was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Today, he is venerated as the patron saint of prisoners, families, journalists, the pro-life movement, and those suffering from drug addiction.
Many people falsely believe that human strength is at the heart of heroism, but Maximilian Kolbe’s life demonstrates that the path to true heroism begins with humility. Only God can inspire us to do what is right in the most difficult circumstances, and it is only through humility that we are able to find the strength of God within ourselves. Let us pray that we continue to learn from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story and live out the call to humility before God so that we can find the strength to make the sacrifices we are called to make in order to give witness to our faith.
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Intercessors to Combat Addiction
December 27, 2020
In addition to the more than 200,000 lives lost to COVID-19, another tragic consequence of the pandemic has been the rise in addictions due to the depression and anxiety many are experiencing as a result of social isolation and financial hardship. From drug and alcohol abuse to gambling problems, addictive behavior has been increasing in recent months. We must remain committed in our families and communities to reaching out to help each other from slipping into the downward spiral caused by these destructive habits.
An amazing resource for those struggling with alcoholism is the Matt Talbot Retreat Movement, which promotes retreat groups to help people overcome alcohol dependency. An inspiration to many in their battle with alcoholism, Venerable Matt Talbot was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1856. He developed a drinking problem early in life, and by the time he was a teenager, he had become an alcoholic. To combat the scourge of alcoholism of the time, the Catholic Church was promoting The Pledge, a 90-day pledge of abstinence from alcohol. When he was 28 years old, Talbot took The Pledge and never had a drink again. Living to age 69, it is said he died while on his way to attending Mass. Today, he is on the path to sainthood and can be invoked by those seeking intercession for strength in overcoming alcoholism.
Matt Talbot’s life demonstrates how vital faith is in combatting addictive behaviors. It took tremendous willpower to complete The Pledge and then maintain his abstinence from alcohol for the rest of his life. His story reminds us how important it is to lean upon the sacraments of our faith, and most especially the Mass, in strengthening ourselves to combat addictive behaviors.
Another powerful intercessor for battling addictions is St. Camillus de Lellis. Born in Italy in 1550, De Lellis followed in his father’s footsteps and became a soldier at just 16 years of age. In a video on the life of St. Camillus, Father Dan Cambra, MIC, explains that, in his late teens, Camillus asked his father for his inheritance and it was granted. Camillus didn’t know what to do with his newfound fortune and became distracted by immoral pursuits, including gambling. He eventually lost everything to his gambling habit and had to take on menial work at a Capuchin friary to survive. There, his soul was awakened to the faith and he eventually discovered a call to care for the sick, becoming a priest and founding the order that has come to be known as the Camillians.
Today, the intercession of St. Camillus is often invoked by those struggling to overcome addictions to gambling. In his life, he demonstrated the path we must all walk to remove disordered desires from our hearts and replace them with pursuits that feed the soul. Camillus found the worldly pursuits that occupied him as a young man to be empty. They left him unfulfilled and destitute, yet in that weakened state, God awakened his soul to those things in life that are fulfilling.
We should take heart from the stories of St. Camillus de Lellis and Venerable Matt Talbot because they remind us that God will meet us where we are and guide us through the most difficult trials of life. All we need to do is bring an open heart into the world each day and have the courage to seek the right path—and then to follow that path just one step at a time.
Mother of Lepers
Advent presents us with the perfect opportunity to look for models of holiness that we can admire and emulate. One such person is Wanda Blenska, whose cause for beatification was announced in Poland during a Sunday Mass at the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul in Poznan, which dates back to the 10th century and is the oldest cathedral in Poland. According to Catholic News Agency, “The archdiocese reported that there was ‘thunderous applause’ when it was announced that Błenska could now be referred to by the title “Servant of God.”
How fitting it is that Blenska’s cause for beatification was inaugurated on October 18th, the feast of St. Luke, patron of doctors. Born in Poznan, Poland, on October 30, 1911, Blenska grew up with the gift of faith and felt called to pursue a career in medicine. After becoming a doctor, she worked in Poland, but her career was disrupted by World War II. She served in the Polish resistance movement during the war and afterward took the opportunity to pursue the goal of becoming a missionary doctor in Africa.
From 1951 to 1994, Blenska worked in a leprosy treatment center in Buluba, a village in east Uganda. In 1955, she became the first woman to climb to the Vittorio Emanuele summit of Mount Speke, the second largest mountain in Uganda’s Ruwenzori Mountains National Park. She served as physician-in-chief at the St. Francis Hospital in Buluba from 1951 to 1983, during which time she oversaw the expansion of the facility into a 100-bed hospital, with diagnostic facilities, residences for patients, a children’s branch, and a church.
Wanda Blenska came to be known as the Mother of Lepers and was named an honorary citizen of Uganda for her work. She gave up the leadership of the center in 1983, but continued to work there for another 11 years, at which point she retired to Poland, where she lived for another 20 years, passing away in 2014 at the age of 103. Upon announcing her cause for beatification to the people of Poland, Bishop Damian Bryl said, “Today we remember the beautiful life of Dr. Wanda. We give thanks for it and ask that the experience of meeting with her moves our hearts. May the beautiful desires with which she lived be awakened in us too.”
Bishop Bryl also reminded the people of how important Blenska believed love was in the doctor-patient relationship, quoting her as saying, “The doctor must be a friend of the patient. The most effective cure is love.” Blenska brought this philosophy into every aspect of her practice as a doctor, and her manner was known to transform the outlook on life of those who worked with her, were taught by her, and were blessed to be treated by her.
What an amazing impact Servant of God Wanda Blenska had on the world. She came into the lives of those who found themselves in the midst of a struggle with disease, and there, in that space where she met them as a doctor whose treatment they needed, she led with what was most essential to healing. In addition to her brilliance, her energy, and her tremendous fortitude, Servant of God Wanda Blenska brought love into the world, and for that love we now raise her up as a model. May her intercession bring healing to our world today and guide us to lead with love in all of our relationships.
Nov 29, 2020
As Advent begins, we turn our minds to selflessly giving to others—not just material items, but giving of ourselves. One person who does that throughout the year is Sister Teresa “Tesa” Fitzgerald. And there are many people who love Sister Tesa because she has had such a profound impact on their lives.
For the past few decades, Sister Tesa has been running an organization called Hour Children, which provides family services for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children. It all started a few decades ago when she and four other members of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Brentwood, New York, founded a home for children whose mothers were in prison. In a story for Global Sisters Report, Chris Herlinger writes, “The sisters became, in effect, foster parents for the children, even accompanying the children on prison visits.”
Soon their mission expanded to provide support for incarcerated mothers when they were released from prison so they could successfully transition back into society. Summarizing Sister Tesa’s explanation of the organization’s name, Hour Children, Herlinger writes, “The significance of the program’s name stems from the various hours children experience: the hour a mother is arrested, the hour the children are allowed to visit their mothers in prison, and the hour a mother is released.”
Today, Hour Children provides transitional housing in six communal homes and three apartment houses. They run three thrift shops in Queens, New York, a food pantry, and an infant nursery. They provide employment training for women just released from prison and they also mentor prisoners’ children.
An article published in Marie Claire chronicles the challenges faced by Makeda Davis, a woman returning to society after eight years in prison. At one point, she provides a disappointing update on her situation, saying, “I’m still in a studio [sleeping] on the floor. I still don’t make any money. I still feel uncomfortable. I still feel ugly. I just want something good to come out of all of this.” But later, in a small but significant turnaround, she sent a text, reading, “So far so good,” after taking a place at Hour Children, where she was able to bring her adult child to live with her.
Another woman helped by Hour Children is Johanna Flores, who spent four years in prison in her early twenties. In his story for Global Sisters Report, Herlinger caught up with Flores many years later. She was 40 years old and attending an Hour Children social event for Mother’s Day 2020. “It's a day to demonstrate to people I care about, who have made a difference in my life, how special they are,” Flores said. Talking about Sister Tesa, she added, “She believed in me before I believed in myself.”
Flores spoke about the Hour Working Women program, which provides job training to prepare formerly incarcerated women for careers, and she mentions how surprised she was when Sister Tesa encouraged her to pursue a college degree. “Me? College?” Flores recalls herself questioning Sister Tesa’s suggestion but then adds, “She gave me an idea I'd never had before. Sister Tesa wants me and the other women to be successful.”
Sister Tesa’s story demonstrates what an amazing gift life can become when lived for the benefit of others. What joy she must have in the difference she makes. It is a joy we can all attain when we let go of our own cares and begin to serve. It is a joy that is unlike any other.
A Witness of Charity to the Poor
Nov 8, 2020
Pope Francis recently celebrated the life of Father Roberto Malgesini, a priest of the diocese of Como, Italy, who had been murdered. Echoing the words of the Bishop of Como, the Pope said, “I give praise to God for the witness, that is, for the martyrdom of this witness of charity towards the poorest.”
Speaking about Father Malgesini’s calling, a fellow priest said, “Roberto was a simple person. He just wanted to be a priest and years ago he made this wish explicit to the former bishop of Como. For this he was sent to St. Rocco, where every morning he brought hot breakfasts to the least. Here everyone knew him, they all loved him.”
Father Malgesini was pastor of the Church of St. Rocco, where he led an outreach group to care for those on the margins of society, and he was especially known for his care for the homeless and for migrants. He was only 51 years old when he died at the hands of a troubled man who he had served in his ministry. Catholic News Agency reported that Roberto Bernasconi, director of Como’s branch of Caritas, said of Father Malgesini, “He devoted his whole life to the least, he was aware of the risks he ran. The city and the world did not understand his mission.”
What a profound statement by Mr. Bernasconi, and it gets to the heart of how we are called as Catholics to view this situation. To say that Father Malgesini was “aware of the risks he ran” is a statement made by someone who understands the sacrificial nature of missionary work in almost militaristic terms. It’s an outlook that has often been associated with those who dare to live the gospel to its fullest extent. It is not about taking up arms, but about being willing to lay one’s life on the line in the way soldiers, police officers, and other heroes do on a daily basis. And it’s an outlook we would all do well to adopt in some measure as followers of Christ.
Painting a picture of Father Malgesini’s tireless efforts for the poor, Catholic News Agency reported, “The morning he was killed, he was expected at a breakfast for the homeless. In 2019, he was fined by local police for feeding people living under the portico of a former church.”
And what should we think of his attacker? Perhaps the statement by the Diocese of Como is our best guide to that. It reads, “In the face of this tragedy, the Church of Como is clinging to prayer for its priest Fr. Roberto and for the person who struck him to death.”
It seems obvious Father Malgesini would endorse prayers for his attacker. Just as his life teaches us to reach out to those most in need, it also teaches us to pray for those most in need. To offer one’s entire life for others, and then to pray for those who persecute you, this is the way of the cross.
What a powerful witness Father Malgesini’s life was to the sacrificial nature of the priesthood. Pope Francis was right to call him a martyr. He was a martyr through his fearless outreach to the poor, and he shows us the way to abandon the cares of this world in order to seek the rewards of eternal life. May he rest in peace, basking in the joy of the beatific vision, and may he intercede for us all.
True Devotion to Mary
Oct 25, 2020
Saint Louis de Montfort wrote, “Because Mary remained hidden during her life she is called by the Holy Spirit and the Church ‘Alma Mater,’ Mother hidden and unknown. So great was her humility that she desired nothing more upon earth than to remain unknown to herself and to others, and to be known only to God.” Saint Louis made this observation in one of the opening lines of his book True Devotion to Mary, a spiritual classic in which he explains why cultivating a relationship with the Blessed Mother is so important in our lives.
Written in 1712, four years before Saint Louis’ death, the manuscript for True Devotion to Mary was not discovered until 1842, at which point it was published and welcomed as a worthy addition to his other works on devotion to Mary, including Secret of the Rosary and Secret of Mary. In True Devotion to Mary, Saint Louis explains that God gave Jesus to the world through Mary and therefore the best way for each one of us to find our way to Jesus in our everyday lives is through the intercession of Mary.
Saint Louis shows how often Mary played a mediating role in the ministry of Jesus, writing, “We see that He chose to begin His miracles through Mary. It was by her word that He sanctified Saint John the Baptist in the womb of his mother, Saint Elizabeth; no sooner had Mary spoken than John was sanctified. This was His first and greatest miracle of grace. At the wedding in Cana He changed water into wine at her humble prayer, and this was His first miracle in the order of nature. He began and continued His miracles through Mary and He will continue them through her until the end of time.”
It’s interesting that Saint Louis’ book should have remained hidden from the world for such a long time after his death. But it serves to remind us that sometimes the greatest treasures in life remain hidden and are only discovered by those who choose to search for them. Catholics know that a relationship with Mary is proclaimed by the Church to be one of these great hidden treasures in life. But it bears studying the writings of saints like Louis de Montfort in order to understand and stay in touch with this reality.
It is in Mary’s humility that we find the path to holiness, and it is humility that makes the story of her life such a quiet and hidden treasure that must be sought after in order to fully understand its value and importance in salvation history. What a paradox that such a quiet life should be chosen by God to occupy such a high status.
In True Devotion to Mary, Saint Louis highlights what may be the greatest hidden treasure of Mary’s life when he writes, “Jesus gave more glory to God His Father by submitting to His Mother for thirty years than He would have given Him had he converted the whole world by working the greatest miracles. How highly then do we glorify God when to please Him we submit ourselves to Mary, taking Jesus as our sole model.”
This statement exemplifies the treasure that awaits each and every one of us when we seek a relationship with the Blessed Mother. It is not a worldly treasure, but for those who understand its value, it opens up a world of happiness that will last for all eternity.
Award-winning Film Highlights Down Syndrome
October 4, 2020
The 2020 Christopher Awards were recently announced and many people have been excited to learn that The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of our winners in the Feature Films category. This heart-warming, poignant, and delightful comedy-drama exemplifies independent filmmaking at its best. It is a story that reminds us of the essence of what it means to be human and inspires us to open our hearts to better understand the unique life circumstances of other people.
The Peanut Butter Falcon follows the adventures of Zak, a young man with Down syndrome who escapes from a nursing home where he’s been consigned to live for two and a half years despite his yearning for a different environment. On his journey, Zak connects with Tyler, who is also on the run, being pursued by a rival fisherman along the Outer Banks of Virginia and North Carolina. Zak and Tyler are eventually joined by Eleanor, who has been dispatched by the nursing home to bring Zak back into custody. The three of them bond over shared humanity, the joy of freedom, sorrow over broken dreams, and longing for a better life.
At the heart of this story are the unique circumstances of the characters, whose personal flaws sometimes reveal good intentions underlying their mistakes, such as Tyler’s petty criminality, which is a manifestation of his frustration over the role he played in his brother’s death. The bond he forms with Zak helps to heal the wound of this painful memory as the two of them chart their course along the tranquil barrier islands, by motorboat, by foot, and by a makeshift raft with a sail.
While the adventure that unfolds within The Peanut Butter Falcon is a captivating one, the story behind the making of this film only adds to the amazing nature of this production. The project got its start when two friends who aspired to make a feature film met Zack Gottsagen, a person with Down syndrome, at a camp for actors with disabilities. It was after this encounter that they decided to make a film for Gottsagen to star in, and they wrote the screenplay specifically for him, translating aspects of his personality into character traits that suited the story. For instance, they took Gottsagen’s desire to become an actor and changed it into his character’s desire to become a professional wrestler, which in turn translated into dramatic sports-oriented tension and rollicking scenarios.
The decision to create a feature film for a young man with Down syndrome to star in might be one of the gutsiest and ingenious moves ever made in an industry so dominated by money and the bankability of actors. But, as is so often the case in life, a gutsy decision produced amazing results. The interactions between Gottsagen and his co-stars, who include Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Bruce Dern, were some of the most authentic and unreproducible ever to grace the screen.
The Peanut Butter Falcon hasn’t received the attention of major Hollywood films but it has been well received and loved by people around the country. This film sends profound messages on a number of levels, not least of which is the dignity with which it invites the world to look upon a young man with Down syndrome. In an age when we sadly face a growing movement to eradicate people with Down syndrome through abortion, this is a film we all need to watch and share and invite people to be changed by.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note SEE YOURSELF THE WAY GOD SEES YOU, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Leadership in Adversity
Sept 20, 2020
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” This quote by C.S. Lewis opens Nathan Lambert’s Psychology Today article “How Greater Challenges Help You Grow.” Lambert shows how the adaptations we’re forced to make due to adversity are often the very things that lead to greatness.
Lambert profiles a number of people with life-circumstances that prompted growth. For instance, one woman, who was particularly tall, realized that she could use her stature to become a stronger leader, rather than allowing herself to feel self-conscious about her height. She said, “I think the biggest thing is just to have good posture, be proud of it and be radiant! It does make you stand out; it makes people look to you. It can make you a natural leader because people will look to you first. So it can really be a benefit in terms of leadership and taking charge if you let it.”
Aside from learning how to use adversity to cultivate leadership skills, Lambert also shows how life’s challenges can make us stronger, help us learn to deal with our emotions, and inspire us to exert greater effort. He quotes one woman from Japan struggling to achieve academically in a learning environment that is not her first language. She says, “In school, it’s hard for me to get good grades because English is my second language. But because I know I’m different because I’m not American, I work harder to be one of you guys...because I’m different, I do put in extra effort.”
That extra effort she feels compelled to put in to overcome learning in a second language is exactly the thing that will set her apart and help her to succeed in a myriad of circumstances throughout the rest of her life. This is exactly how we should approach adversity, by adjusting to meet the challenges put before us and allowing those adjustments to form our character for the better.
Lambert writes, “Growing because of trials can be compared to the oyster that has a little piece of sand lodged inside. In response to this intruder, the oyster makes the most of its trial and makes a beautiful pearl! Without the challenge or setback of having this uncomfortable piece of sand, the oyster would never have made the pearl.”
One of the most profound observations Lambert makes is about the healing that can take place within ourselves when we learn to master our emotions even in times of adversity. It helps us to be less judgmental of others, more forgiving, and more capable of understanding where people with whom we disagree are coming from. And these are some of the most important attributes we can have during times of adversity.
The world is in need of leaders capable of building bridges between people, and in order to build bridges, we must first listen and understand where people of different backgrounds and perspectives are coming from. So we must remember that, before assuming a leadership role in life, we must first listen and understand, which requires the patience we learn through personal adversity.
It is important for us all to remember that, as we go through our own trials, we are building character traits that will not only help us to succeed, but that will prepare us to help others. In this way, we join our efforts to Christ, who showed us the true path to using all of our suffering and adversity to change the world for the better.
Alleviate Your Anxiety
Sept 6, 2020
The crisis of Covid-19 has led to an increase in depression and anxiety among people in all spheres of society and there are steps we can and should take to combat this growing problem. Catholic Charities recognized this crisis early on and shared some practical advice on their website that serves as a great starting point in learning how to cope with these issues.
On Catholic Charities’ website, clinical psychologist Michael Horne advises that we start with basic everyday health measures to combat stress. He notes that anxiety and depression often prompt us to forget these basic needs, but they are vital in preventing a downward spiral. “Eat well, stay physically active, get a good night’s sleep,” Horne writes. “While this seems simplistic, sticking to these core points will improve health, strengthen the immune system, and are good for preventing anxiety and depression.”
These basic health concerns lead us to attend to the larger issues that Horne addresses, such as maintaining a routine, staying connected, and keeping up an active prayer life. Through his advice, we can see how interconnected our physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing can be.
Routine is at the heart of maintaining balance in all of these key aspects of our lives. Routine is what turns our need to eat into a scheduled mealtime that brings people together for much needed human interaction. And routine is what reminds us to come together in prayer. These routines can exist for us even in trying times, such as a pandemic. We just have to be conscious of adhering to the routine and the need we all have to connect with one another. Especially during times of social distancing within society, we must draw closer to family in order to make sure our needs, and the needs of our loved ones, are met.
Writing for the Catholic Apostolate Center, Colleen Campbell highlights another crucial idea. She says, “Focusing on our mental health allows us to be stewards of God’s creation, specifically good stewards of the body that God has created and given to us. Though we are living in a time of panic and uncertainty, we have agency and the ability to take care of ourselves in a way that allows us to continue the hard work of bringing forth the Kingdom of God.”
As we take the time to attend to our own needs and the needs of those closest to us, we can also prepare ourselves to point others in the right direction to receive help for whatever is troubling them. When we hear about people in need, we should have answers for where they can get help, and we should be prepared to reach out within our own communities to make sure that help is offered.
We must also remember that the anxiety people manifest is often the result of a complex set of circumstances and sometimes the best way to relieve their anxiety is to address underlying problems. If we come across people who are anxious about finances and day to day survival, the best way to help alleviate that anxiety is to point them in the direction of those who can provide solutions to those financial difficulties.
So let’s remember that by attending to our own needs and the needs of our loved ones, we prepare ourselves to be a resource for others, which is ultimately the best way to take our minds off our own suffering and return to a life of joy.
Using Technology to Promote Holiness
August 23, 2020
In early June it was announced that Carlo Acutis would be beatified on October 10th in Assisi, Italy. Reporting on the announcement, Catholic News Agency quoted Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi as saying, “The joy we have long awaited finally has a date.”
Carlo Acutis grew up in Italy with a strong faith in God. He looked to the saints as models for his life and had a devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. He was a tech whiz and studied advanced level computer programming at an early age. He put those skills to use by building a website highlighting stories of Eucharistic miracles from around the world.
Carlo attended daily Mass and helped lead his parents to a stronger practice of the faith. In an EWTN report, Nicola Gori, postulator of Acutis’ cause, said, “He managed to drag his relatives, his parents to Mass every day. It was not the other way around; it was not his parents bringing the little boy to Mass, but it was he who managed to get himself to Mass and to convince others to receive Communion daily.”
Carlo contracted leukemia in his youth and offered his suffering up for Pope Benedict XVI and the Church. He died in 2006 at the age of 15. Though he was not from Assisi, it was one of his favorite pilgrimage sites, and he was buried there according to his wishes.
Carlo left a profound mark on the world around him, and after his death many people began to invoke his intercession. The miracle approved by Pope Francis enabling Carlo’s cause to proceed to beatification involved the healing of a Brazilian boy afflicted with a rare disease of the pancreas. Crux magazine reports that the child’s family began to pray for Carlo’s intercession. They started a novena with a priest devoted to Carlo’s cause, and on the third day the child showed signs of recovery, regaining his appetite after days of not being able to eat. It was later discovered by doctors that the boy was completely healed.
Pope Francis has held up the life of Carlo Acutis as a model for young people, writing in his Christ is Alive exhortation, “It is true that the digital world can expose you to the risk of self-absorption, isolation and empty pleasure. But don’t forget that there are young people even there who show creativity and even genius. That was the case with the Venerable Carlo Acutis.”
Archbishop Sorrentino connected Carlo’s utilization of technology to encourage Eucharistic devotion to the current world crisis, saying, “The news [of his beatification] constitutes a ray of light in this period in which our country is struggling with a difficult health, social and work situation…In these recent months of solitude and distancing, we have been experiencing the most positive aspect of the internet – a communication technology for which Carlo had a special talent. The love of God can turn a great crisis into a great grace.”
So let us pray for the intercession of Venerable, soon to be Blessed, Carlo Acutis, that this period of time, when people have had to turn to technology to remain connected, will be marked by positive interactions that help us to build lasting relationships based on a desire to work together for the good of all. And in all our technological activities and interactions, let us open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit to be vehicles for the message of Christ to transform the world.
Growing in Trust and Gratitude
Aug 9, 2020
In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Paul’s counsel is such a wonderful reminder of the two most important attributes to cultivate in our relationship with God – trust and gratitude. Trust in God entails letting go of excessive worries and concerns and simply asking in humility for our needs to be met. And we should have confidence that God will accompany us on our journey through life. This is not to say that anything we ask for will be granted, because sometimes God has a bigger plan for us that we can’t always understand in the moment.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). So we must continually pray for all good things and then trust that God will care for us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ instructed us to abandon worry and trust in God, saying, “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29).
The beautiful thing about trust in God is that it allows us to live in gratitude for all of the gifts bestowed upon us. When we understand the care that God has for us, we can focus on all of the blessings being showered upon us. To quote Romans once again, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
When we turn to God with trust, He responds with love, but oftentimes the result of God’s love isn’t what we expected. Trust entails knowing that God’s responses to our prayers will always be infinitely greater than anything we expected, and gratitude enables us to recognize those blessings and receive them with joy.
The Christopher News Note Living in Thanksgiving tells the story of 90-year-old Judith Viorst, who wrote the popular children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Viorst told an interviewer that the most favorite time of her life is right now, saying, “It’s not that the days themselves now are so fabulous…. My hair is thinning…. I can’t find my glasses or keys. And I spend so much time seeing specialists that, if they gave doctorates for going to doctors, I’d easily have earned a Ph.D. But still, I don’t hesitate. The best is not ahead or behind. It’s now.”
Viorst credits her appreciation for the moment with her ability to understand the blessings bestowed upon her, saying, “I’ve found that a little surplus of gratitude often has downstream effects, helping us become more tolerant, less judgmental, more forgiving.”
In the end, trust in God and gratitude for our blessings are the things that make us happier above all else. And a joyful life is the most blessed life we can live. So pray from the heart for all that is good, show God your trust and your gratitude, and be prepared to see amazing blessings poured out upon you.
Learning to Love as God Loves
In the Beatitudes, Christ taught the disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). What a poignant way for Christ to explain God’s unconditional love for all people and to call His followers to emulate that love.
An old Christopher prayer card reflects this wisdom in its plea for us to grow in the love of God. It reads, “Help us to grow in Your love – a love that doesn’t gloss over failings but one that stresses the good in everyone. Then, Lord, as we increase our ability to love as Jesus did, bring us closer to the kingdom prepared for us.”
This prayer picks up on some key ways in which we can learn to love as God loves. It shows that God’s love does not ignore our failings, but can also see past those failings to the good in each of us. This can help us to understand why God showers the blessings of this world on good and bad people alike. He understands our failings and wants us to repent and become better people, but He also sees our good qualities and knows that the best way for us to change is to increase in those good qualities rather than by simply harping on our faults.
This outlook can change the way we relate to other people. Only when we see the good in others can we respond to them in ways that invite them to increase those qualities. In a Psychology Today article titled “See the Good in Others,” neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson shows how noticing people’s positive traits can produce amazing results, but he notes that we must first understand that good intentions are often intertwined with qualities we perceive as negative. “For example,” Hanson writes, “a toddler throwing mashed potatoes wants fun, a teenager dripping attitude wants higher status, and a mate who avoids housework wants leisure.”
Hanson also shares a personal story of how he was changed when someone chose to focus on his positive attributes. He recalls always being picked last for teams in gym class as he was growing up. But when he got to college, he joined an intramural touch football team led by a quarterback who understood how to draw the best out of people. Hanson writes, “After one practice, he told me in passing, ‘You’re good and I’m going to throw to you.’ I was floored. But this was the beginning of me realizing that I was actually quite a good athlete. His recognition also made me play better which helped our team. Thirty-five years later I can still remember his comment. He had no idea of its impact, yet it was a major boost to my sense of worth. In the same way, unseen ripples spread far and wide when we see abilities in others – especially if we acknowledge them openly.”
The greater people’s faults, the more difficult it becomes to see the good in them, which is why we must practice this skill in little ways with all those we encounter. This way, we will prepare ourselves to act like Christ, even in the most challenging situations, because only when we see the good in the most hardened and challenging people will we truly love like God.
Friendships Help Us Discover Christ
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis observes that, for those who seek out Christian friendships, there are no coincidences in regard to who we encounter in life, and with whom we find common ground and ultimately strike up lasting relationships. Lewis writes, “A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ Those friendships are the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
God has reasons for placing us in each other’s lives. We strike up friendships for various reasons. Sometimes it is because we have a lot in common and our friendship becomes a celebration of those things we hold dear. But sometimes we come from very different backgrounds and our friendship forms over a need to discover some new insight that can only be encountered by venturing beyond our comfort zone. No matter the circumstances, friendship is not just an experience of enjoying the company of others. At its best, friendship is an opportunity to discover Christ.
The Christopher News Note Making a Friend of Jesus points to the lives of the saints as a guide for cultivating a friendship with Jesus. Saint Catherine of Siena grew so close to Christ that she conversed with Him throughout her day. When she prayed the “Glory Be” prayer, she addressed Christ directly, saying, “Glory Be to the Father, and to You, and to the Holy Spirit.”
Saint Alphonsus Liguori encouraged this kind of conversational approach to prayer, writing, “Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with conﬁdence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fear – of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him conﬁdently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.”
Saint Francis of Assisi’s desire for closeness with Christ led him to abandon the wealth of this world for a life of poverty. This was a tremendous leap to abandon his social status and the friendships that naturally came with that status. Yet, Francis was met with the most amazing blessings of friendship within this new life because so many people wanted to follow his example. The story of Francis reminds us that when we put Christ first, even if that entails distancing ourselves from certain social scenes accompanied by a life of status, we awaken ourselves to much deeper and more fulfilling friendships.
God brings us together because He wants us to help each other get to heaven. Discovering, as C.S. Lewis says, “the beauties of others” enables us to recognize the presence of God in each human soul. That recognition can guide our interactions with all people we meet and make us aware that we are greeting Christ each time we encounter another person. It is this awareness that deepens our friendship with Christ because He wants to be found within the souls of all children of God and most especially in the weak, the vulnerable, and the outcast. So we should cultivate strong friendships, and in this way, we will learn how to discover Christ in others and allow others to discover Christ within ourselves.
Rediscover the Miraculous
June 28, 2020
It seems like just about every community in the world has undergone some form of quarantine over the past months. It’s an experience of physical and spiritual denial that makes you consider what matters most in life. Some Catholics have been reawakened to a hunger for the Mass, while there has also been concern that time away from church attendance will lead others to stray from the faith.
I think we can all agree that, as we gather again in community in our Church, we should be aiming for things to be better than they were before. A sure way to achieve this is to highlight the importance of the Eucharist. If there’s one thing faithful Catholics missed most during quarantine, it’s the Eucharist. Yet sadly, a poll conducted last year showed that only one third of U.S. Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If we want our Church to become stronger than it was before, we need to change that statistic.
So how do we increase faith in the real presence? I believe it is to increase faith in the miraculous, because it takes belief in the miraculous to understand the Eucharist. Stories of the miraculous abound in the Church, and maybe we’re reticent to share those stories because we know that our faith must not depend on miracles. But Christ performed miracles in order to strengthen people’s faith, and stories of miracles can help us to see God’s hand at work in all things and especially in the sacraments.
Eucharistic miracles are some of the most fascinating stories in history, yet they don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve. Though there are many credible reports of Eucharistic miracles, the Church has only officially recognized five instances due to the rigorous process any claim must undergo.
The oldest officially recognized Eucharistic miracle took place in the 8th century in Lanciano, Italy. A Basilian Monk who was having doubts about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was performing the consecration during Mass, when the host turned to living flesh and the wine turned to living blood. The Church of San Francesco in Lanciano now holds the relics from this miracle, displayed in a silver and glass reliquary and proven authentic by scientific studies conducted in the 1970s.
Evidence surrounding the Miracle of Lanciano and the four other officially recognized Eucharistic miracles shows a match to the type of blood found on the Shroud of Turin. I share all of this information not to encourage people’s faith to depend on miracles. Christ did not want that, as he said to Thomas after proving the Resurrection to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). But this information is there for us in moments of doubt, and we should not hesitate to share stories of miracles with others when they doubt.
Christ wants us to believe so completely in His transcendent power that He invites us to a regular Eucharistic celebration without material proof of the real presence. We might look upon it as a profound spiritual exercise in which we stretch every aspect of our being, from our intellect to our ability to think creatively. Christ wants us to discover the faith of one who has not seen. When we discover that faith, we prepare ourselves to recognize God’s miraculous hand at work in the world and in all aspects of our lives.
A Powerful Intercessor For Our Time
June 7, 2020
During this pandemic, many people are looking to return to some semblance of normalcy even as we have yet to find a cure for Covid-19. We must pray for the success of these efforts at whatever point our leaders deem them appropriate. As I write this column from New York, the number of cases here seems to have reached a plateau, and by the time of publication, I pray that we are seeing continued success in stopping the spread of this disease. But no matter what happens, we as Catholics must remain committed to strengthening our relationship with God and calling upon our heavenly intercessors for protection and courage.
In one of my recent columns, I spoke about the importance of turning to Mary, and Pope Francis has been talking much about our Blessed Mother as well in the past few months. I encourage everyone to acquaint themselves with the four prayers that he recently wrote for recitation after praying the rosary. During the month of May, which was devoted to Mary, Catholics around the world implored our Blessed Mother’s intercession, and we must continue to turn to Mary so she may draw us close to the heart of Christ.
We must also remember the powerful saints who we can call upon during this time. Saint Francesca of Rome is one such intercessor. An April 22 article in Catholic New York entitled “Saint Francesca of Rome, Pray for Us” by Christopher contributorGaran Santicola details why this 14th century saint may be the perfect intercessor for our time.
Francesca was born in Rome in 1384 into a noble family and eventually married into an even more wealthy and influential family. Despite her status, she wanted nothing more than to live a simple life in service to the poor and destitute people of the city, and she dedicated herself so thoroughly to this cause that, after her death, she came to be known as the “Advocate of Rome.” She was associated with miraculous occurrences both during and after her lifetime and credited with over 60 healings at her canonization proceedings in 1608.
Francesca had survived a plague during her lifetime, although the deadly virus took two of her children. Nearly 50 years after her canonization, another plague swept through Italy, and the people of Rome began to pray for her intercession. Within months, the plague had subsided from the entire country and Rome had avoided the worst of it.
Afterwards, a cardinal, who would later become Pope Clement IX, commissioned Nicolas Poussin, one of the greatest artists in Europe, to commemorate Francesca’s defense of the city with a painting. But that painting vanished a century after its creation and didn’t resurface until 1998 under circumstances that have been called “miraculous.” It now hangs in the Louvre Museum as one of their prized possessions.
I encourage everyone to visit Catholic New York’s website to read the full story and view the image of Poussin’s beautiful painting. And let us remember that our faith is filled with miraculous stories like these in which heroic saints intervene amid trying circumstances and prayers of the faithful are answered. Let us also never cease to call upon the saints to join with the Blessed Mother in interceding for us and to intercede most especially for all doctors, nurses, and service providers as they lay their lives on the line for the common good.
A Spirit of Unity
America is an amazing country. In any crisis throughout our nation’s history, people have pulled together in a spirit of community to see one another through difficult times. The situation we have found ourselves in over the past few months, battling a pandemic that has swept through the entire world, has revealed this spirit once again. When Liz Klinger of San Francisco, California, learned that the hospital where her mother works had a mask shortage, she decided to act, not just for her mom but for the entire country. In an interview with SFGate, Klinger said, “My mom is a nurse, and she told me they weren’t being provided masks on her floor, which was obviously kind of concerning…And I was hearing through the grapevine that my mom’s experience was far from the only experience like that – U.S. healthcare workers across the country need masks.”
Klinger connected with Chloe Albert, who works in health care supplies. Albert informed Klinger of the long waiting period for new masks. They realized that the quickest way to get new masks was to appeal to people with their own private supplies. So Klinger and Albert joined together to form a website called Mask Match to connect people who had their own small supplies of masks with hospitals experiencing shortages. The donations began to pour in.
Another vital supply in battling this pandemic, both in hospitals and in our own homes, is hand sanitizer. We have faced major shortages from the earliest days of the outbreak. So distilleries, which usually produce alcoholic beverages, began to utilize their facilities to produce hand sanitizer and the kind of alcohol used as a disinfectant. “I’m most proud of the people on our staff,” Travis Barnes told Fox News. Barnes is a disabled veteran who owns the Indiana-based Hotel Tango Distillery, which is the first combat-disabled, veteran-owned distillery in America. As soon as Barnes heard of the need, he switched his operation over completely to making sanitizer. He said, “There hasn’t been any hesitation from day one. We’ve seen people step up every day in extraordinary ways. I hope we can continue to help each other, support our neighbors and come out of this thing stronger than before.”
From small companies to large, Americans are turning their ingenuity towards addressing the health crisis. ABusiness Insider headline read, “Tesla, Apple, and Ford are stepping up to address global shortages of ventilators, hand sanitizer, face masks, and gowns.” And in another amazing story we learned of how individuals are helping out from their own homes by running simulations on their computers to help scientists weed through data to find treatments for their patients. Reporting on the story, KFOX radio wrote on their website, “To find treatments, scientists need a ton of computing power to simulate how various proteins interact. So the website FoldingAtHome.org has been asking people to download software that lets your computer run simulations when you’re not using it. Over 400,000 people have signed up. And the raw computing power combined is already close to three times faster than the world’s fastest supercomputer.”
When you look at these kinds of stories, you have confidence in America’s ability to weather any crisis. We simply have to remember that we are so much stronger when we collaborate with each other, and that is exactly what so many people have been doing. So have faith that we will come through this and be stronger for the fight we have engaged in together.
We Entrust Ourselves to Mary
Pope Francis has entrusted the entire world to the care and protection of our Blessed Mother to guard against the current pandemic and bring an end to this terrible scourge. In an address in early March, right when so many people in Italy were falling ill, Francis prayed before an image of Mary, saying, “We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm. You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need, and we are sure you will provide so that, as in Cana of Galilee, we may return to joy and to feasting after this time of trial.”
Janice T. Connell opens her book Queen of Angels: Mary’s Answers to Universal Questions by reminding us that Christ’s gift to humanity in the last moments of His earthly life was to present Mary as a mother to us all. In John 19:26-27, we see this dramatic moment play out when Jesus looks down from the cross at His mother and the disciple John. Jesus then says, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He looks to John and says, “Behold your mother!”
It’s interesting to note that the very next line of the Gospel states that “all things were now accomplished.” What tremendous importance this places on Christ’s symbolic act of giving His mother to all of humanity, and what a tremendous gift this truly was. Only Christ could have fully known the enormity of this precious gift He bestowed on us. We are left to grasp small realizations of the magnificence of the Blessed Mother.
One way to try to wrap our minds around this gift is to recall the most special things we can about our own mothers. So many of us have tremendous emotion when it comes to those qualities, and these might be considered some of the most precious things Christ has chosen to share in giving Mary to us. This image might also help us to understand the enormous sacrifice Jesus made in giving His life up for us on the cross. In that moment, He gave up everything and even gave his own mother over to us. It was a sacrificial gift, and sacrificial gifts have tremendous spiritual power, which is why Mary remains - and always will be - such a powerful intercessor.
The apparitions of the Blessed Mother around the world demonstrate Mary’s closeness to humanity and reinforce Christ’s intention for us to turn to her for care and protection in all our concerns. This is why Pope Francis’ call for the world to invoke Mary’s intercession during this trying time is the perfect remedy for our current situation.
In one of her 1531 apparitions to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico, Mary proclaimed, “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
In a time of trial, there is nothing more powerful than spiritual support from a caring mother. Let us implore Mary to guard us from this pandemic so that we can return to the activities that enliven our hearts and people around the world can come to know Christ through a relationship with His most Blessed Mother, finding peace, health, and hope in the future.
The Loyalty of St. Joseph
On May 1st, we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, whose devotion to Mary and Jesus is one of the most inspirational models of loyalty in all of human history. Joseph and Mary’s relationship began in turmoil before they were married, yet even when he thought she had betrayed him, Joseph sought a quiet parting that wouldn’t damage her reputation. Then God sent an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream, to convince him of Mary’s purity and present an even more merciful path for him to follow.
Joseph’s response to this call was nothing short of heroic. He could not possibly have fully understood what God was about to accomplish in their lives, but he was open to a path of mercy in regard to Mary and this may have prepared him to embrace the life God was pointing him towards. This is an important lesson in our own lives. Those who adopt an attitude of mercy, even when they feel wronged, remain ready for the path of reconciliation God will present.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” We safely assume, then, that Joseph was a model for Jesus’ own human life. Joseph was protector and provider, so he taught Jesus the basic skills of survival. How important those skills must have been for a young man who lived a quiet life and did not begin His public ministry until the age of thirty.
In the time they spent together, Joseph was able to give Jesus everything God wanted Him to receive from an earthly father figure. Aside from knowing how to fend for himself, we can look at so many attributes of Christ and know that God worked through Joseph to teach Jesus how to be a man.
We can look at the sheer grit and determination displayed by Jesus during His passion and know that He must have learned something about mental and physical fortitude working alongside Joseph as a carpenter. We can look at Christ’s profound sensitivity towards the bonds of familial love in the story of the raising of Lazarus and know that He learned how to be attuned to the suffering of others from Joseph’s tenderness and care. And we can look at the mercy Jesus showed to the woman caught in adultery and know that He learned from Joseph not to judge others harshly and how to offer women the respect they deserve in a society in which they were too quickly demonized for situations beyond their control.
We can also look at Christ’s integrity in every situation He was ever in and know that He learned about integrity from Joseph through his loyal devotion to the Holy Family, which endured from the moment he accepted God’s call to care for Mary and Jesus until his dying day. Such integrity presents a model for us all in our relations with others. It’s an integrity based on loyalty to God first, and it gives rise to the truest kind of loyalty we can extend to another, a loyalty based on service and sacrificial love. God allowed Jesus to glimpse this in Joseph so that He could share it with the world. Every time we quietly model integrity for someone, especially for young people, we live in imitation of Joseph and prepare others to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
Share the Love of Christ
The Christophers recently sent a small delegation to take part in the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, an amazing multicultural event that is the nation’s largest annual gathering of Roman Catholics. The theme of this year’s congress was “Live Mercy – Be Holy,” and it brought people together in workshops and talks to explore enriching spiritual topics that allow attendees to improve themselves and return to their communities better able to serve others.
The call to reach out to others is one of the noblest pursuits a person can undertake, and we should pray that this gathering continues to bear fruit for many years to come. The Christopher News Note Finding Christ in Community features stories demonstrating how lives are transformed when we reach out to one another to build community.
One story tells of an elderly couple and a young woman they met who was new to their city and feeling very alone due to circumstances in her life. This couple got her phone number, invited her to their home, introduced her to new people, and sent her beautiful cards during the holidays to cheer her spirits.
Recalling that time, the young woman said, “In a time when I was so alone and lost in a new city, a simple conversation opened up a whole path to healing. I felt so loved by these people who truly took a stranger into their hearts and embraced her. It not only nourished my physical and emotional needs, but showed me what the face of Christ looks like, and inspired me to be that person to others.”
In his spiritual classic No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton explains how cultivating a relationship with God will help us to build healthy relationships with others. This idea is exemplified in the story of the young woman. That elderly couple showed her the face of God through their compassion, and then she became ready to reach out to others in the same spirit.
In Matthew 16:25, Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This is the lesson that all those who decide to live in service to others have learned, and there’s really no way around the fact that this is the only way to true and lasting happiness.
The path of service is the path of the saints, like Catherine of Siena, who once wrote, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire.” She proved this statement to be true through the life she led in 14th century Italy. As a young woman, she was devoted to caring for the poor and the sick, and she attracted followers who joined her in this endeavor. God kept calling her to greater involvement in community building to the point where she wound up brokering peace deals between the waring Italian city-states of her time.
Like Catherine of Siena, we are called to set the world on fire with a love for God, and the best way to do that is to allow God’s love to shine through us in our relationship to others. Heroic Catholics of our time are embracing this path of service, and we are so blessed to have them in our communities. So let us look to their leadership for inspiration and join with them in reaching out to others to share the love of Christ that is alive within our hearts.
Finding Healing After Tragedy or Loss
In his book No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton writes, “It is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.”
This statement points to the fact that our faith as Catholics provides everything we need to find healing in the face of tragedy and loss. Suffering can be so painful that it can cause us to recoil and close ourselves off emotionally in order to guard against being hurt. But our faith provides all the tools we need to face suffering and find healing so that we can ultimately help others to do the same.
The Christopher News Note Finding Healing After Tragedy or Loss tackles this subject head on. It teaches us first that grieving is a part of the healing process and one that cannot be rushed. St. Gregory once said, “Let the widow mourn deeply. Let her perceive the loss that has been inflicted on her.” He understood the necessity to grieve and was known for demonstrating his own grief publicly, which in turn helped others to do the same.
There is no predictable timing for healing from loss but there are things we can do to help ourselves get through that painful period. In his book Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems, Father Joseph Esper writes, “The saints learned a certain solace through service – in responding to the needs of others, they found it easier to bear their own sorrows.”
The story of Anthony Ray Hinton exemplifies this reality. He was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and for which he was eventually exonerated. In his Christopher Award-winning memoir “The Sun Does Shine,” he recalls being on Alabama’s death row when he received the news that his mother, who embodied love and kindness, had died of cancer. She always believed in his innocence and without her in the world, Hinton didn’t think he could go on. But then he had an otherworldly experience in which she spoke to him, saying, “This isn’t your time to die, son. You have to prove to them that my baby is no killer. Now you wipe them tears and you get up and you get in service to someone else.” From then on, Hinton became a beacon of light to his fellow inmates, and he continues to inspire others with his story to this day.
Father Esper also counsels us to hand our troubles over to God to find healing. “God is the author of Life,” he writes, adding that God can “help us find purpose and value in life, even in the midst of intense grief.”
We are able to face suffering head on because Christ has conquered all things through His death and resurrection. He has achieved victory over the suffering of this world and victory over death itself. He has robbed suffering and death of their ability to destroy us, and in so doing, He has shown us the way forward.
What Christ’s victory leaves us with is hope, which is like a spark that kindles into the fire of the Holy Spirit. In grief, we struggle to kindle that spark, but Christ will not abandon us. Therefore we must remember to be there for one another. This is the lesson we learn in suffering – when we reach out to one another in our need, we find Christ.
The Power of Persistence
In the Gospel of Luke, Christ tells the story of a man awakened in the middle of the night by his friend. This friend asks for three loaves of bread to feed visitors who have just arrived at his house. But the man tells the friend to go away because his family is sleeping and they have already locked their house for the night. It seems like a hopeless situation until Christ turns the story on its head and assures his listeners that the man will in fact give the friend what he wants.
Christ says, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:8).
After sharing this story, Christ tells the disciples, “I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
It’s important to remember these words when we consider our mission in life and how we are to go about using our talents. Our Christopher prayer card It’s Up to You utilizes the words of our founder, Father James Keller, M.M., to remind people how important it is to use the gifts God has bestowed upon us to make the world a better place. This may seem like a daunting responsibility until we realize how special we are in the eyes of God.
Father Keller writes, “The more you realize how much you are needed, the more initiative, imagination and courage you will show in bringing out the great power God has hidden within you.”
All we need to do is ask God for this strength, and we will be empowered to tap into our talents. The key is, we must realize how needed we are and how essential it is for us to take action. In the Gospels, Christ unceasingly reminds us of our infinite worth before God, saying, “Even the hairs of your head are all counted” (Matthew 10:30). Each one of us is unique and loved individually by God, who has bestowed talents upon us to accomplish some good in this world.
Discovering our talents and putting them to use requires persistence akin to that of the friend asking for bread in the middle of the night. Finding role models to inspire us on that journey can be an effective way to remind ourselves what persistence looks like. Role models are all around us, but we have to train ourselves to see in the right way. People don’t have to be perfect for us to take inspiration from them and model ourselves after certain actions that they take.
We’ve all had to fight through difficult times in life, and we know people who have done the same. Consider the persistence required to make it through those moments, and consider the persistence required of others in their struggle. Tough times create role models and we should look to each other for inspiration in the persistence we exhibit throughout our struggles. When we harness that persistence in our efforts to bring forth our talents for the greater good, then we are answering the call of God and rising to the challenge to do all we can to make this world a better place.
A Positive Approach to Life
Feb 16, 2020
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” What a profound witness this statement is to the power of hope and the importance of remaining positive even in the face of life’s negative circumstances.
Consider how this simple bit of wisdom can change the way we see the world. We all know how personal misfortune and the bad news of our times can drag us into a spiral of negativity, but St. Paul provides such a perfect solution to this problem by pointing us towards a positive approach to life.
We are constantly presented with the choice of whether to be positive or negative, regardless of the circumstances of our lives. For those who make a habit of succumbing to negativity, that attitude seems to permeate their entire existence to the point where they can be gloomy even during joyous occasions. But the converse is true for those who maintain a positive disposition. They are the ones capable of answering St. Paul’s call to believe that God can bring about good from any situation.
The world today gives us many reasons to be negative, whether its news of war and violence, stories of those afflicted with poverty and disease, natural disasters, or corruption even within our own Church. Each of these situations calls for a different response and the call to remain positive does not mean we turn our backs on these struggles. We must seek solutions to these problems, but remaining hopeful can help us to do so without allowing our spirits to be crushed.
The Christophers’ prayer card Uplift My Spirit offers some simple tips for remaining positive even in trying times. One such tip reminds us to be attentive to the media we consume – the music we listen to, the films or television programs we watch, and the books we read. Are these things mere distractions or do they contribute in some way to making us feel rejuvenated and ready to face the world with a positive attitude? Another thing we can do is to make a point of actually counting our blessings. We can call them to mind or even write them down because sometimes we need to remind ourselves of all the good God showers upon us on a daily basis. And taking care of our health by getting exercise, eating right, and taking time to enjoy the outdoors can be tremendously uplifting for our spirits.
These may seem like small things to do in the face of life’s trials, but we must remember the line from the Bible that says, “He who despises small things will fail little by little” (Sirach 19:1). So we must be attentive to those smaller things in life that can help us to remain positive people. Of course, our News Note points to the most powerful tool of our faith as well, which is prayer, and as Catholics we are provided with the most intimate way to connect with God through the Mass and reception of the Eucharist.
Drawing close to the Eucharist and the sacraments is vital, especially in times of trial within the Church. So practice your faith in trying times and your spirit will remain alive with the power of the Holy Spirit. You may also help others discover that a positive approach to life is the best way to weather any storm.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note STAYING POSITIVE AROUND NEGATIVE PEOPLE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gift of St. Valentine’s Day
Feb 14, 2020
Many people associate this month with great happiness and joy due to the Feast of St. Valentine on February 14. It’s appropriate to greet a day devoted to love with this kind of exuberance because it is such a profound gift of God to all of humanity.
Our knowledge of the facts of St. Valentine’s life has largely been lost to history, but most people agree that this third century Roman saint was martyred and buried along the Flaminian Way just north of Rome. Today, he is the patron of love, young people, and happy marriages.
Some stories say he presided over marriages of many Christian couples in ceremonies done in secret due to religious persecution of the time. Another story about the final days of his life tells of how he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to renounce his faith. While in prison, he healed the jailer’s blind daughter, then left her a note on the day of his execution, signed, “Your Valentine.”
Regardless of the accuracy of these stories, they help to reveal the spirit of a saint of the Church and bring into focus a profound message about love for our times. Valentine valued the sacrament of marriage so much that he was willing to risk his life to facilitate these important ceremonies for young couples. The love that comes into focus through these stories about his life is marked by fidelity, sacrifice, and faith, and these are the hallmarks of true love that bring about the happiness and joy associated with Valentine’s Day.
Fidelity is at the heart of the pledge made by couples in marriage, and St. Valentine understood the value of their pledge to each other in this way. The Church continues to call men and women who fall in love to form such bonds of permanence in matrimony today. In addition, Valentine’s Day can also be about more than romantic love. One mother recalled giving chocolate hearts to her children on Valentine’s Day every year to show how much she loved them.
The stories surrounding the life of St. Valentine teach us that sacrifice is the ultimate gift that love demands of us. Valentine payed the ultimate price for practicing his faith and helping others to do the same. He was a tireless evangelizer and one story even tells of how, after being arrested for practicing Christianity, he tried to convert the Emperor Claudius. It was this attempt to persuade the Emperor that led to his execution.
This kind of sacrificial love is a model for those who pledge themselves in marriage—and for families in general. Spouses need to be prepared to sacrifice for each other and for their children. The love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day can lead people to be emotionally prepared to make profound sacrifices for each other, but it is faith that can sustain our commitment to do what is best for others even under the most trying circumstances.
We see such faith exercised by St. Valentine in the story of the first Valentine note given to the jailer’s daughter after she regained her sight. Even facing death, St. Valentine showered blessings upon his persecutors. This kind of mercy is the fruit of forgiveness and it is the essence of the love of God. Let us share this love on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year so that lasting relationships based on fidelity, sacrifice, and faith blossom in our lives and in the lives of all we encounter.
Meeting God on Holy Ground
January 26, 2020
This year, The Christophers celebrate the 75th anniversary of our founding. It was way back in 1945 that Father James Keller, M.M., set out to remind a world recovering from war about Christ’s profound message of hope for us all. The Christophers became Father Keller’s vehicle for sharing that message in his own unique way.
God calls each of us to find unique ways to bring hope into the world, and looking at how others have done this can provide the necessary inspiration for us to chart a course that best fits our talents. One figure who continues to get much deserved attention for the influence he has had on our society is Fred Rogers. Last year, The Christophers honored a documentary about him, Won’t You Be My Neighbor; and now another film, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is shining a spotlight on his life and work.
In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, makes an appearance onThe Arsenio Hall Show in a recreation of an interview that actually took place. In that interview, Hall laments the problem of hopelessness among young people and then asks Rogers what we can do about it. Rogers says, “We need to let people know that each one of them is precious.”
Those familiar with The Christophers will recognize the similarity between that answer and the message of Father Keller, who never tired of preaching about the inherent value of each individual. It’s safe to say that Father Keller and Fred Rogers were kindred spirits in many respects. This is evident in the acceptance speech Rogers gave in 2001 when we honored his work with a Special Christopher Award.
He reflected on the “holy ground” that exists between the needs of others and our good faith efforts to meet those needs. Rogers said, “The Holy Spirit can use whatever we offer to speak to another person’s heart.” Then he added, “The Christophers have recognized this for many years. You have known that the most important part of any communication is what takes place in that holy ground…beyond human control. And that will always be.”
The revival of interest in the work of Fred Rogers indicates that our society yearns for the culture of respect and love of neighbor that he tried to foster. This is a yearning near and dear to The Christophers’ mission, and it’s one that all people today can be a part of.
Consider the ways in which our society could grow in respect for human dignity–and then consider the gifts or talents bestowed on you, your family, or your community. Are there ways to direct those talents towards making the world a better place? There are situations most of us already find ourselves in where a renewed effort to bring joy and comradery would lift the spirits of those around us.
These are the kinds of things people like Father Keller and Fred Rogers would have done. Both had confidence in God’s ability to use their efforts to speak to another person’s heart. This confidence is essential if we are going to make the most of our own talents in working towards a better world. So know you are gifted by God with a purpose all your own, cultivate your talents, and do not hesitate to act for the greater good. God will meet you in that holy ground and add whatever else is needed to turn your efforts into a perfect offering.
“I Was in God’s Plan”
January 5, 2020
In 1977, writer, humorist, and public speaker Art Fettig paid a visit to Jackson Prison in Michigan. He was hoping to lift the spirits of those who were incarcerated but recalls feeling as though he couldn’t do enough. He says, “I felt so inadequate. Some were murderers we visited who were there for the rest of their lives.” Returning home with a sense of wanting to give more to these prisoners who struggled daily to see purpose in their lives, Fettig began to compose what came to be known as the Self Esteem Credo.
It begins with these lines: “God made me – I was no accident, no happenstance. I was in God’s plan and He doesn’t make junk, ever.” The Credo goes on to remind those reciting it that they are special and can accomplish amazing things if they work hard and stay committed to loving God. When he began to share this Credo with prisoners, he says, “It took on a life of its own and spread from Jackson prison to as far away as Australia, where a counselor used it with prisoners there for many years. I visited a women's prison in Coldwater, Michigan, speaking for the prisoners and was informed that our Credo had quite an impact on some of the women when they recited it daily.”
The Christophers printed Fettig’s Self Esteem Credo in our News Note I Am Somebody, which was written for teens and enjoyed great success. Fettig had participated in some of our leadership activities and once was given the Firestarter Award for his ability to ignite a spirit of positivity among those he encounters, a quality that gave him great success as a public speaker.
Today, Fettig is 90-years-old and still going strong. The Christophers were delighted to hear from him recently, and we’re heartened to learn that he still feels called to inspire others with his writing and speaking. Lately, he’s been speaking once a month at a senior center, and he’s also been sharing two of his favorite pieces with people who take a poets’ walk near where he lives. Those pieces are his Credo as well as a poem he wrote entitled Growth, which is a beautiful meditation on always seeking to become a better person. That poem was recited by both Paul Harvey and Art Linkletter in their nationwide broadcasts. Fettig has written over 30 books, but his Credo and his Growth poem seem most important to him because they capture the philosophy underpinning his exuberant approach to life.
In his recent communication with The Christophers, Fettig shared that he has actually composed many songs in collaboration with his friend Greg Brayton, a blind gospel singer who passed away in 2014. One of their songs puts the Prayer of Saint Francis to music, and their version is so beautiful and unique that it deserves attention. It has a wonderful country music sound that makes it feel like a real piece of Americana.
In many ways, Art Fettig’s approach to life represents the best of the American spirit. He constantly strives to achieve great things and never forgets to give glory to God for the gifts bestowed upon him. This is a good model for us all to follow. So remember, no matter where you find yourself in life, always aim for the stars and strive to contribute to the world around you. Then you will become a Firestarter and ignite those you encounter with a spirit of positivity.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note ENTHUSIASM: THE MAGIC SPARK OF LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Bring Christ Into Your Family
December 22, 2019
The birth of Christ happened during a hectic and dangerous time for the Holy Family. They were on the run from Herod’s executioners, huddled in a stable because it was the only shelter they could find, and fearful for their future and their place in the world. Many would look at their situation and see only destitute people, but we are called to see in the Holy Family the very model for our lives.
To understand the Holy Family more fully, we should begin with Saint Joseph, because his role is the easiest to imagine. He was the protector and provider for his family, which is the role every husband and father is called to fulfill. The bible doesn’t tell us all that much about Joseph, but that may just mean that he performed his duties quietly.
Pope Benedict XVI said of Saint Joseph, “Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of Saint Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God.”
We can imagine that Saint Joseph must have been a man of prayer in order to guide his family safely through the dangers they faced around the time of Christ’s birth. When we use our logic to fill in the gaps of the silent witness of Saint Joseph, we find a man of wisdom who used his talents to provide for his family, to keep them safe, and to seek out and create a peaceful environment in which Christ could grow into the man He needed to be.
Understanding Mary in relation to Saint Joseph brings the Holy Family further into focus. Let’s face it, Mary asked a lot of Joseph – to be father to a son they did not conceive together, to live with her in a state of perpetual virginity, and what they had to endure at the very outset of their marriage, being hunted and living in fear for their lives. Yet, everything Mary asked of Joseph came from God, and he knew that, so we see a relationship between the two of them as one based on trust and sacrifice for the greater good.
That greater good came in the form of the person of Christ. With the birth of Christ, we see the blessings and trials of the Holy Family beginning to reflect the blessings and trials of our own families. To be a family is to have profound gifts showered upon us by God. It is a chance to live in a harmonious relationship with others, sharing gifts with one another, strengthening each other through the bonds we form, and being willing to sacrifice to protect each other.
But with these gifts come profound struggles, and we see that the Holy Family faced such struggles at the very outset. They also had the answer to those struggles in the birth of Jesus. And, by welcoming Him into our hearts, we make Him present in our own families.
What did Christ bring to the Holy Family that He brings to us as well? He brings a dynamic of love that is unlike anything the world ever knew before His coming. That is what sustained the Holy Family throughout their trials and what can sustain any family today that turns to Christ with openness to the sacrifice He is asking each of us to make for one another.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note PEACE: THE ESSENCE OF THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Practice Peace to Prepare for Christmas
Dec 1, 2019
In his classic News Note “Peace: The Essence of the Christmas Message,” Father James Keller, founder of The Christophers, tells the story of a woman who was out shopping on a cold December day. She stopped upon seeing a man in threadbare clothes, huddled on a bench, with a paper bag wrapped around his neck, trying to keep warm. Just then, a girl of about 11 or 12 years old approached the man, removed a bright woolen scarf from her own neck, wrapped it around the neck of this poor man, and then silently slipped away.
What a beautiful expression of the true Christmas spirit! To witness a completely selfless act of giving is to witness the peace of Christ alive within someone’s heart. “Peace is the essence of the message of Christmas,” wrote Father Keller, and Christ’s peace is special because of the way He gives, totally and completely, in a sacrificial way, to reveal the Father’s love to us.
John wrote, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him…should have eternal life.” This is why Christmas is so much about giving, because adopting a giving spirit is the best way to honor God’s gift of His son to us. Giving gifts to others is a wonderful symbol of the love we have for them, but it’s important to remember that our giving should always be rooted in the things of the spirit, just like the gift that girl gave of her own scarf.
Gifts of the spirit are often less tangible but they can have a profound effect on people’s lives by revealing the love of God to them. A gift of the spirit can be a gift of time – we can share a meal with someone, an old friend or someone we know who suffers from loneliness. We can also give the gift of hope by living in a way to raise the spirits of those in our lives. We can give the gift of peace by setting aside differences and showing an enemy what it means to forgive. And we can give of ourselves by performing random acts of kindness.
Another story Father Keller recounts in his classic Christmas News Note is that of a seven-year-old boy whose mother was busy with seasonal chores just three days before Christmas. The mother asked her son to shine her good shoes, so he went off and set about the task with love and devotion. Returning a short while later with a giant smile, he presented the shoes to his mother for inspection. She was so happy with the job he had done that she rewarded him with a quarter. But on Christmas day, when she went to put on her shoes, she felt a lump in the toe, so she pulled it out. Inside was the quarter she had given him, wrapped in a piece of paper. Upon the paper, the boy had written, “I done it for love.”
This is the essence of Christmas – to act out of love for others without care for personal gain, and this is what helps to bring about the peace of Christ in the world. Only when each individual understands the selfless gift God has made in His only Son, will peace truly reign. So allow Christ to work through you during this Advent season, performing random acts of kindness, and you will see hearts opened and the peace of Christ transform people’s lives.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note PEACE: THE ESSENCE OF THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Welcoming the Stranger
This summer, an image went viral in Italy. It was a photograph of three Italian grandmothers holding migrant children from Africa on their laps. Reporting for the online religion website Aleteia, Dolors Massot wrote, “They are three Italian grandmothers named Nicolina, Vincenza, and Maria, and they surely never imagined they’d become famous on the social networks in their country. Yet, today they have, thanks to a simple act of love.”
These three grandmothers live in Campoli del Monte Taburno, a town in southern Italy where there is a welcoming center for migrants. Soon after the photo was posted to social media, responses began pouring in from all over Italy. One person referenced the dangers migrants from Africa face on one of the deadliest migratory routes in the world, writing, “I see that the world is still able to show humanity: grandmothers who act like grandmothers for children at a welcoming center. Above all today, when 150 people probably lost their life at sea, it heals my heart.”
“This is the Italy I love,” someone else said. “This is my land!!! Solidarity, but above all, Love.” And a grandson of one of the grandmothers responded, saying, “To think that 37 years ago, I was on that same lap, wrapped in that same smile, and now miles away and a few years older, I’m very happy to be able to share the same emotions with a child I don’t know, but who deserves it all and more.”
In a time when migration has become so politically polarizing, this is a beautiful story to remind us of the humanity at the heart of issues of immigration. It’s important to remember the way in which we are called to relate to people on an individual basis, and recognizing the dignity of each individual is a great starting point for addressing such issues. In a recent story for Aleteia, Alicia Ambrosia tells of how one woman is changing the lives of immigrants in Vancouver, Canada. Her name is Trixie Ling, and she is the founder of Flavours of Hope, an organization that enables immigrants to find work preparing food from their country of origin through pop up dinners and participation in a summer market.
An immigrant to Canada who was born in Taiwan, Ling understands how isolated women can feel when they come to a new country. “Cooking overcomes that,” she said. “It’s doing something together, and cooking and eating are universal experiences.” Venezuelan refugee Maria Alejandra Reyes is a perfect example of the success of Ling’s mission. Reyes became a cook for Flavours of Hope and it broadened her community, providing opportunities for her to practice her English and improve her confidence so that she could apply for additional employment.
As a cook for Flavours of Hope, Reyes specializes in hallacas and tequenos, traditional Venezuelan dishes. She says of the experience that it “feels like...family eating together.” Talking about the community she has found there, she says, “I count on people and they count on me. That is very important.”
The stories of both Ling and the now famous grandmothers of Italy send a powerful message about God’s call to welcome the stranger in our midst. It’s important for us all to look beyond the politics of immigration and to recognize the humanity of those whom God has sent to us and to our communities. By doing this, we join with other courageous people in setting an example and building a society based on mercy and love.
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.
St. Michael: Warrior and Healer
Last year, Pope Francis urged the faithful to recite the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after praying the rosary in order to protect the Church from “spiritual turbulence.” Around the same time, parishes in the United States began saying the Prayer to St. Michael after Mass, a practice continued in many places to this day.
In an article for Crux Magazine, published last year around the time when many parishes were bringing back the prayer to St. Michael, writer Carol Zimmermann highlighted that St. Joseph Parish in Roseburg, Oregon, had been saying the St. Michael prayer since 2015. It began in the aftermath of a tragedy; and soon afterwards, parish priest Father Jose Manuel Campos Garcia made it a regular part of Mass. Zimmermann writes, “After he began leading the parish in this prayer after daily Mass, he said he saw a change.”
In an interview with the Catholic Sentinel, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, Father Garcia said, “For us, it’s been a journey of healing relationships and healing the community”
It’s interesting that Father Garcia associates the Prayer to St. Michael with healing, because St. Michael was associated with healing in the early Church, before the predominant imagery associated with him became that of a warrior. Of course, we know that it is not physical but spiritual combat in which God’s angel leads us, and such combat is carried out through prayer, sacrifice, fasting, and almsgiving. These practices help us to bring about real change and guard our souls as well as the Church against anything that would do us harm.
In actuality, both ideas of St. Michael as healer and as warrior are valid. He is a protector, and in that sense, the imagery of a warrior helps us to understand his role as one who will fight with every fiber of his being to defend those who call upon him. But the image of a healer is also valid, because Michael offers protection from that which would do us harm, and this protection allows us to heal from any troubles that would afflict us.
Through the centuries, many have found St. Michael the Archangel to be a powerful intercessor and the prayer to him remains an efficacious way to ask for protection in times of trouble. It’s important to remember that, in calling upon St. Michael, we are asking for protection so that peace might return to our lives. Many people pray this prayer daily to bring about healing, whether they need help and protection in fighting addiction, in healing divisions within families and communities, or guidance amid the difficulties of life. St. Michael can keep the worst of our troubles at bay so that we can focus on finding the healing in life that God wants for us all.
So turn to St. Michael with confidence, and you will find healing in your soul and in your community, and you will bring healing to the Church. Pray to St. Michael for protection and the strength to stand with God in the most difficult times, and he will intercede for you in powerful ways to strengthen and protect you and your loved ones. And remember that the Prayer to St. Michael is a prayer of hope in the power of God to set things right in the world. It is a prayer of hope in finding lasting peace and building a world that lives in gratitude for the love of Christ.
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Christ in Our Hearts
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-14).
This passage provides a beautiful meditation on living in the moment and keeping Christ close to our hearts in all circumstances. St. Paul wrote these words to the Philippians from a prison cell in order to assure them that, no matter what persecutions he faced, he would turn to Christ to sustain him. He also expanded this wisdom to apply not just in moments of suffering, but to an all-encompassing approach to life.
Carrying Christ in our hearts in good times and bad can be a challenge because there are always distractions and temptations to seek more immediate gratification for our emotions. So how are we to strike the balance St. Paul refers to and let Christ reign in our hearts in all circumstances? The key lies in patience. We only rush to anger in times of suffering or overindulgence in times of abundance if we lack the patience to await the deeper satisfaction offered by Christ.
Patience enables us to have mercy in our hearts for those who persecute us, and this mercy allows us to resist the destructive impulses of hatred. Patience also enables us to navigate times of abundance and joy so that we practice moderation and don’t forget the things of the spirit. How much greater is the joy of one who knows how to celebrate in moderation? Their focus is less on themselves and more on bringing joy to others. In doing so they experience the joy of Christ.
Patience can transform every aspect of our lives, from how we handle joy and suffering to how we approach everyday tasks. In a beautiful article for Aleteia, Father Michael Rennier recalls seeing his grandfather disassemble, clean, and then put back together an old rusty hinge so it could continue to function properly. Father Rennier marvels at the patience of his grandfather and notes how difficult it would be for him to have the patience for such a task.
Father Rennier says that impatience is one of the great vices of our time, and he points to St. Cyprian as someone to turn to for intercession on the matter. St. Cyprian was famously impatient in certain disagreements he had with other religious leaders of the early Church, but then he wrote a book called On the Advantage of Patience, drawing on his own experiences and the lessons he learned in striving for patience in his life.
St. Cyprian encourages us to “Wait for each other,” reminding us that patience is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another. Think about the amazing fruits that come about when we show each other patience. It creates a welcome environment for Christ to dwell in our hearts, and this in turn allows us to have the disposition of St. Paul. It enables us to navigate the ups-and-downs of life and allow Christ to reign in our hearts regardless of the situation. So, if you want to be prepared for anything in life, practice patience, and you will have the strength to keep Christ in your heart and allow His peace to sustain you.
Evangelizers in Our Midst
Oct 13, 2019
In one of His appearances to the disciples after the Resurrection, Christ said to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
This command can seem like an overwhelming task until we recognize the role that grace plays in opening hearts to Christ. He assured us that He will be with us always, so it is important to remember that it is Christ working through us to share God’s love with the world.
I spent 12 years in Africa as a Maryknoll missionary and can attest to the fact that it is only through grace that we are able to share God’s love with the world. Much evangelization in missionary work takes place through the service we provide to those most in need. Christ said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), and missionaries are certainly judged on this basis. Today, Catholic missionaries continue to bring vital aid in many forms to the people most in need in Africa. Missionaries to Africa demonstrate the transformative power of God’s love to all who encounter them. This kind of service wins hearts for Christ and now the African people are poised to share their faith with the rest of the world.
During Pope Francis’ recent visit to Africa, The New York Times published an article entitled “In Africa, Pope Francis Comes Face to Face With the Future of the Church.” Their story detailed the spread of Christianity in Africa, estimating that 40 years from now about 40 percent of the world’s Christian population will reside in Africa. Some of Africa’s growth in Christianity is certainly attributable to Protestant missionaries, but Catholics will continue to have the greatest impact due to our extensive network of missionary activities throughout the continent.
I celebrated around 200 adult baptisms every year in the parish I served in Tanzania. Vocations were abounding then and continue to abound in Africa. Now we are seeing African priests sent to Europe and America to serve our communities, and I can say that they have much to share with the world. Asked by The New York Times about this trend, Rev. Estevao Antonio Pango said, “If Europe was proud of having evangelized Africa, now God permits Africans to evangelize Europe.”
In missionary work, we gain as much, if not more, than we give, and one of the great gifts I received in ministering to the people of Africa was to gain an understanding of the importance their culture places on relationships and on being welcoming to others. These values are essential to building strong communities, and African missionaries carry these ideals in their hearts and can teach us so much.
Of course, evangelization isn’t just for missionaries who travel to far-off lands; it is for all of us in our everyday interactions. Working on relationships can be an essential form of evangelization. When others know that we believe in Christ, it is a powerful witness to show them love. And when we welcome new people into our lives, they will know that we have done this because we believe in Jesus Christ. So, wherever you find yourself in this world, adopt a missionary spirit, and you’ll inspire those around you and win disciples for Christ.
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Director
A Divine Sense of Humor
This summer, it was announced that Archbishop Fulton Sheen would be beatified, moving his cause one-step closer to canonization. This stems from Pope Francis approving a miracle attributed to him in which a stillborn child, who showed no signs of life at birth, suddenly revived after his parents prayed for Sheen’s intercession. A seven-member panel of medical experts gave unanimous approval of the miracle as being beyond scientific explanation.
The advancement of Sheen’s cause is great news for American Catholics because he is a figure who has come to represent a golden age of Catholicism in our nation’s history. He gained prominence as a radio and television evangelist during the mid-20th century, when Catholics were exerting a widespread positive influence over the culture. Catholic schools were thriving and ethnic minorities, who tended to be Catholic, were enjoying acceptance in the mainstream of American life and finding new opportunities to contribute to our nation.
Sheen was a brilliant theologian, and he did not hesitate to defend the tenets of the Catholic faith, but he always made a point of reminding Americans of their shared values, and he directed his strongest arguments against the secularizing forces in society. Those who seek to evangelize today would do well to emulate his winning style. Sheen would often punctuate his presentations with humor. For instance, he once told the story of a professor who traveled around in a car driven by a chauffeur to give the same lecture at different locations. Sheen said, “One day the chauffeur said to him, ‘I think I've heard that lecture of yours a thousand times, and I could give it just as well as you do.’
“‘All right,’ said the professor. ‘You stand up on the platform tonight and give the lecture, and I will sit out in the audience in your chauffeur’s uniform.’
“The chauffeur gave a perfect lecture but at the end someone said, ‘There's a question I would like to ask you. When you mix that H2SO4 without any CO2 and compared with the photographic plates of the sun, how do you get the equation that equals M-over-C squared?’
“He said, ‘That's the most stupid question I ever heard in all my life, and to show you how stupid it is, I'm going to ask my chauffeur to answer.’”
Sheen once devoted an entire episode of his television program to what he called “the divine sense of humor.” He pointed out that the divine sense of humor doesn’t always elicit a laugh but is marked by an invitation to see beyond material realities to deeper spiritual realities, just as Christ invites us to do in the parables. Sheen concluded his episode by listing the many amazing characteristics demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels, and then he said, “But there was one thing that he does not show… one thing he saved for those who have a divine sense of humor. It was one thing he saved for heaven that will make heaven, heaven. And that was... his smile.”
As we prepare to call him Blessed Fulton Sheen, we should feel confident in the hope that he now enjoys Christ’s heavenly smile. In his life, he helped to teach many of us how to cultivate a divine sense of humor. It’s a humor that can produce much enjoyment and laughter, but it is also a deep way of looking at the world, with an eye towards the greatest joy that is still to come.
The Wisdom and Simplicity of St. John Vianney
Sept 15, 2019
St. John Marie Vianney once said, “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” As the patron saint of parish priests, his orientation to the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith presents a model for all to follow.
St. John Vianney understood that the Eucharist has the power to transform people from within, and so he made it a priority to guide his parish of Ars back to regular attendance at Mass in the aftermath of the French Revolution. It’s interesting that he was so attuned to the miraculous power of God, found in the simplicity of Christ’s gift to us in the Eucharist, because St. John was known in his lifetime as a man whose wisdom flowed from his simplicity.
One particularly amusing story that captures how he blended wisdom and simplicity relates to the time he was struggling to become a priest. The turmoil of the French Revolution had caused an interruption to his studies, and this became a major obstacle for him in the seminary. One day the rector of the seminary summoned Vianney to inform him of negative reports from his professors, saying, “The professors do not find you fit for sacred ordination to priesthood. Some of them have called you an ass knowing nothing of theology. How can we promote you to the reception of the sacrament of priesthood?”
Vianney replied, “Father Rector, in the book of Judges, Chapter 15, we have the narration of how God made use of Samson to kill a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass to save the people of Israel. If with the useless jawbone of an ass God could do that wonderful deed, how much more can He accomplish with the whole of an ass like me.” The humility and sense of humor demonstrated in this answer revealed to the rector the wisdom underpinning Vianney’s simplicity, and he was left with no reservations in promoting him for ordination to the priesthood.
Vianney’s gift of wisdom and simplicity stemmed from many formative years in which he witnessed the heroism of priests who kept the faith alive in spite of persecution in the aftermath of the French Revolution. During the Mass in which he made his First Communion, the windows were blacked-out in order to hide the light of the candles from those who might obstruct their practice of the faith.
Vianney knew what a precious gift it was to be able to practice his faith, and he also understood the heroic virtue needed to persevere through the trials that test one’s faith. He called his parishioners to that heroic way of life, making a practice of challenging people to greater rigor in their spiritual lives. Far from alienating his parishioners, he inspired their devotion to the sacraments and eventually became a sought after confessor for the people of France looking to restore their relationship with God.
Known for his poignant teachings, Vianney once said, “A person who is in a state of sin is always sad. Whatever he does, he is weary and disgusted with everything; while he who is at peace with God is always happy, always joyous… Oh, beautiful life! Oh, beautiful death!”
Let us pray that St. John Vianney intercede for priests everywhere to lead people along the narrow road to salvation, steering their flocks away from sin and towards peace with God and eternal joy.
Your Life’s Mission
The Parable of the Talents presents a stark reminder of the expectations Christ places upon us to utilize our gifts for the greater good. In Matthew 25:14-30, we read of a master who gives a varying number of talents to his servants based upon what he perceives their abilities to be. The two servants to whom more talents are given each double their talents by the time of the master’s return, but the servant given only one talent buries it for fear of losing what little he has.
The punishment subsequently dished out to the servant who buries his one talent may seem harsh, but Christ illustrates such difficult lessons because he wants to show a clear path to his followers so we don’t waiver in moments of doubt. It was doubt that caused the servant to bury his one talent – doubt he might invest it badly and wind up with nothing. Christ intends us to see this situation as analogous to our own spiritual lives and how we use the gifts God has bestowed upon us.
The Christopher News Note Discover Your Mission in Life recounts the story of Doctor Tom Catena, who grew up in upstate New York and has spent the past decade in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains as the only permanent doctor serving a population of nearly half a million people amidst a violent civil war.
“I’ve been given benefits from the day I was born,” Dr. Catena says, “a loving family, a great education. So I see it as an obligation, as a Christian and as a human being, to help…. The need in Nuba is great and Jesus gave us some very simple instructions: ‘take care of these least of My brothers and sisters’ and ‘sell all you have, give it to the poor and come follow Me.’ Perhaps I take things too literally, but these are words for me to live by.”
Dr. Catena’s decision to serve people desperately in need of medical care exemplifies the mindset Christ wants us to have in regard to our talents. We must cast aside the doubts that might prevent us from making bold choices to do what is right. That’s exactly what Dr. Catena did. Rather than worrying about all he might be giving up, he ventured to a remote and destitute place to follow his calling.
It’s a clear sign that a calling has emerged in our lives when we see a purpose to utilize our gift in service to those in need. Such callings can happen in large and small ways at various points in our lives. They can result in monumental career decisions, but also in smaller missions we choose to undertake to help family, friends, or those in need in our community. And the most important gifts we have aren’t always those most exalted by society. Sometimes just being an able-bodied person gives us the chance to pitch in and provide necessary assistance to ease the burdens of those who are suffering.
When we do these things, when we devote all our abilities to making the world a better place, we find ourselves in the company of the favored servants of God. So set out each day to use your talents to accomplish some good, and God will shower blessings upon you, entrusting important causes to your care, and you will see the Holy Spirit work through you to bring about miracles of grace in the lives of all who inhabit the world around you.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note DISCOVER YOUR MISSION IN LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Heart of Mary
We dedicate the month of August to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a reminder that we should venerate Mary’s heart for its purity and devotion to Christ. We know from the message of Fatima that God wants Mary’s Immaculate Heart venerated around the world and especially in places of turmoil because it can bring healing and guide souls to the love of Christ.
Mother Teresa once prayed, “Mary, give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your Heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as you love Him and serve Him in the distressing guise of the poor.”
In these words, we are reminded that Mary is the one who shows us how to love Christ. To experience Christ with the Heart of Mary is to experience the Beatific Vision. This is the goal of our spiritual lives, and Mary shows us the way.
As Mother Teresa’s prayer so beautifully shows, veneration of Mary’s Immaculate Heart can lead to deeper communion with Christ in the Eucharist, and this in turn can awaken Christ in our own hearts and guide us towards service to those in need. Realizing the call to service can be a challenge in a world with so many distractions and temptations to selfishness. But this is only proof of the miraculous fruits of venerating Mary’s Heart because she can awaken us to the joys of following Christ and guide us to live in awareness of the eternal rewards that await those who persevere in service to God and neighbor.
This month we also celebrate the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, which falls on August 15 and is a holy day of obligation. The dogma of the Assumption teaches that, at the end of Mary’s earthly life, God assumed her body and soul into heaven. It is a belief we trace back to the earliest years of the Church when Christians knew that the site commonly referred to as Mary’s tomb was actually empty.
Have you ever imagined what Mary’s life must have been like between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and her own assumption into heaven. Filmmaker Andrew Hyatt brought this concept to life with his 2017 movie Full of Grace, which speculates on the last days of Mary’s earthly life. It is a beautiful film about Mary’s role in guiding the early Church with a profound message about how to follow Christ.
At one point in the film, Mary counsels, “The question is not whether we will struggle. We will struggle greatly. The question is: to whom do we look to in the struggle?”
Full of Grace is an excellent film to share with friends and loved ones during this month dedicated to her Immaculate Heart. And honoring Mary’s assumption into Heaven by attending Mass on this holy day of obligation can provide a great focal point for veneration of our spiritual mother.
It is most certainly the sacrifice of the Mass that Mary wishes to show us as the way to draw closer to her son. All we need do is open our hearts to her and she will lead us into this life-changing encounter. So remember to venerate her Immaculate Heart and have faith in the miraculous circumstances of her life and assumption into heaven, and you will prepare yourself to become a servant with a heart molded by the compassion of Christ.
Accepting the Gift
On April 27, 2019, Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church in Berlin, New Jersey, hosted a daylong conference for parents of children with special needs. The name of the conference was “Accepting the Gift.” It brought together several dozen parents for both social and spiritual activities, as well as talks to encourage participants in their journey to care for their children.
The organizer of the event was Kelly Mantoan. She and her husband, Tony, have five children, two of whom have a rare degenerative genetic disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which causes them to rely on wheelchairs for mobility. The devotion it takes for the Mantoans to care for their children, combined with the spiritual rewards their family receives from that devotion, is what gave Kelly the idea for the conference.
“As a Catholic, I've been able to see that there is nothing wrong with my child, and God can bring joy in this, and this is who he is,” Mantoan told Catholic News Agency. Her desire is to bring this message of hope to other parents of children with special needs. “From a theological standpoint, the Catholic faith is so instrumental in how I deal with my struggles as a special needs parent,” she said, adding, “We have such a rich theology of suffering.”
Kelly Mantoan’s response to the challenges faced by her family embodies the fruits of the theology of suffering at the heart of the Catholic faith. We must look for the purpose in whatever suffering we find thrust upon us in this life. It is through suffering that we connect with Christ on the cross, and making that connection opens our eyes to the needs of others.
By seeking out this connection to Christ, caregivers have the opportunity to see the world with the compassionate vision of God. In their daily actions, they tend the wounds of Christ on the cross and teach us all how to turn struggle into eternal reward. Mantoan’s desire to offer support to other families with similar obstacles is a natural response from her caregiver’s heart. And this so beautifully exemplifies how God can work through suffering to bring about a greater good. By embracing the call to care for her own children with special needs, she realized a broader mission to the world around her.
Talks given at the conference were streamed online so that all those busy caregivers who couldn’t travel to attend could receive support and encouragement by tuning in to hear the message of hope being delivered. Talks ranged from bioethical concerns to the topic of adaptive first communion preparation kits, and those talks are still accessible at the Catholic Parents of Special Needs Children Conference website (cpsncc.org), the organizationMantoan formed to keep the conference going in future years.
Mantoan is intent on growing this vital outreach, which helps families navigate the many struggles they face in society, including challenges within their own faith communities. “If you're in the middle of nowhere and your parish is telling you, ‘We don't know how to give your kids sacraments;’ if you don’t have support, if you feel isolated, we want to alleviate some of that for you, to help you understand what your rights are as Catholic parents, to help you navigate that,” Mantoan told CNA. “The message is that there is joy here,” she said, “joy in accepting your kids and who they are, and joy even in the midst of suffering and hardship.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note THE ENDURING VALUE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.
Christ of Peace
Ciudad Victoria is the capital of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. It sits at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains in northeastern Mexico about 200 miles from the U.S. border. In recent years, the Tamaulipas region has suffered from drug and gang related violence. But Ciudad Victoria could become known for something completely different, thanks to the efforts of actor Eduardo Verastegui.
Verastegui grew up in the state of Tamaulipas. As a young man, he enjoyed success as an entertainer in Mexico and eventually decided to pursue a career in Hollywood. In order to improve his English, he took voice lessons, and his teacher happened to be a committed Catholic. In the course of their conversations, Verastegui rediscovered his faith, and it was then that he decided to devote himself to using his talents to serve God.
In 2003, Verastegui said, “I understood that I was not born to be an actor or something else, but to know, love and serve Jesus Christ.”
Since recommitting to his faith, Verastegui has taken part in films that touch the soul and speak to the heart of the human condition. The most notable of these uplifting projects has been Bella, a feature film that tells the story of a woman in a crisis pregnancy and a troubled man who finds purpose and healing by reaching out to her.
Verastegui maintains close ties to Mexico and is committed to positive portrayals of Hispanic people. His latest project is a plan to build the world’s largest statue of Christ in the city of Ciudad Victoria. At 252 feet tall, it will be much larger than Rio de Janeiro’s 125 foot Christ the Redeemer statue, and larger even than Poland’s 172 foot Christ the King statue, which is currently the largest in the world. Mexico News Daily reported that architect Fernando Romero designed the statue with the goal of making it look like Christ is embracing his people.
They will call it Christ of Peace; and built around it on the same site will be a church, an amphitheater, a crafts market, a convention center, restaurants, and lodgings for pilgrims. Promotors of the project want to send “a message of faith, love, hope, and peace.” Their intent is to create a pilgrimage site to stand as a beacon in stark contrast to the negative messages brought by persistent violence in the region.
Verastegui’s life and vision for this project respond to the words of Christ, when he said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Christ calls each of us to announce the good news to the world in our own unique way. We have to remember that the most beautiful graces can work through us in small and quiet ways. But we can also take a lesson from Eduardo Verasteguiin that we should never be afraid to think big. God calls us to move mountains. Let’s pray that peace takes hold in his home state of Tamaulipas and that his actions stand as a beacon to countless more people with big ideas for bringing people to Christ.
A Graduate’s Encouraging Words and Life
June 23, 2019
Last year, a young woman named Haley Moss graduated from the University of Miami School of Law. At her commencement ceremony, she gave a speech in which she offered encouraging words to her classmates, saying, “I will always be amazed by all of your talents. It’s a big world out there and I am excited to see what you will do next.”
To know the story of Haley Moss is to understand how remarkable her giving a speech at her
own law school graduation truly was. When she was three years old, Haley was diagnosed with autism,
and she didn’t begin to speak until she was four. A CBS Newsreport on her life highlights that she was always determined to shatter expectations and prove her ability to succeed in spite of the obstacles she faced.
Haley first shared her story at a conference when she was just 13. She has told her story several times over the years in public speaking engagements, and she says of her involvement in such events, “I’ve always enjoyed getting to connect and share…. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an even bigger village to raise a child with a disability.... I realized by sharing my story, I could be a part of someone else’s village.”
Haley’s story exemplifies how struggling through challenging circumstances not only helps us to build character for ourselves, but it provides us the opportunity to show others the way through the difficulties in life, and there is no greater reward than having a positive impact on another person.
When she was 15, she wrote a book titled Middle School – The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences. She has since contributed to a book of essays. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, she enrolled in law school to further her ability to do advocacy work.
Of her decision to go to law school, Haley says, “I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to make a difference for other people…. Lawyers help their community. What better way than to become a lawyer.”
She had a job offer lined up before she even graduated. All she had to do was pass the bar, which she did, becoming a member of the Florida Bar earlier this year. Her goal is to inspire others with her success. She says, “Whether it’s somebody on the spectrum that says, ‘Thank you for sharing your story,’ or it’s a parent of a newly-diagnosed child that tells me, ‘Wow, you gave me so much hope for my kid. I can’t wait to see what my kid’s going to be able to do when they get older.’ Yes, it’s definitely an impact.”
Motivation can come from many different places, and that has surely been the case for Haley. She began with the motivation to overcome her own obstacles. Then somewhere along the way, she realized the joy and satisfaction of reaching out to others in their struggle. And that driving force of wanting to make the world a better place has motivated her to reach a point in life that truly defies the odds.
Haley’s story demonstrates how selflessness is such an empowering force in life. I’m sure the sentiments she shared at her graduation are completely reciprocated by her classmates and many others. We’re all amazed by her talents, and we’re excited to see what she’ll do next.
The Miracle of Pentecost
June 9, 2019
Pentecost is a miraculous time in the life of the Church. At the first Pentecost, the disciples gathered in Jerusalem during a harvest festival for the Jewish people. Many would travel to Jerusalem during this time and were there to witness the tongues of fire descend upon the apostles.
Christ had promised that the Holy Spirit would clothe them “with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and instructed them to wait in the city for this occurrence so they could be prepared to go out and preach the gospel to all nations.
One can only imagine how astonishing it must have been when the disciples began to speak in the various languages of all those people visiting the city from foreign lands. What an amazing miracle God chose to perform in this moment, breaking down barriers to communication and allowing the disciples to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Visitors to the city would then return to their homelands and share the story of this miraculous occurrence and be prepared to give witness to the transformative power of Christ.
The miracle of Pentecost exemplifies how the Holy Spirit works in our lives by empowering us to communicate in effective ways with all those in need of hearing Christ’s message of hope. Whenever we find ourselves in situations where barriers to communication exist, we need to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is with us from our baptism, we strengthen our bond with Him in confirmation, and the more we strive to remain in a state of grace, the more that bond will grow.
Though many in the crowd on that first Pentecost marveled at the miracles of the Holy Spirit, some were more skeptical, and it was in response to this skepticism that Peter delivered his first homily. Referencing the Old Testament, Peter showed the people how Joel had foretold this moment of the Holy Spirit descending upon them, just as David had foretold the coming of Christ. Upon hearing Peter’s inspired words, many converted that day and more joined their number in the following days as the apostles continued to preach and perform wonders and signs. Their community grew and they lived in fellowship, sharing in the miracle of the breaking of the bread.
The Church was born under these miraculous circumstances, and it bears remembering that the miracle of the Holy Spirit still guides all who follow Christ. It’s also important to remember the way of life that many were led into through this miraculous moment. It was a way of peace and love, and a way of simplicity. Pentecost reminds us of God’s awesome power, but the miracle of that special day also comes alive within our hearts every time we break bread together in a spirit of love and forgiveness and every time we seek the wisdom to know just what to say to others to open their minds and hearts to Christ.
Pentecost is a day we should give thanks for the Church and the fellowship we find in our Christian community. It’s a time to pray for that fellowship to be strengthened, to be purified, and to grow with the same awe-inspiring conviction as it grew among those first followers. Let’s pray for tongues of fire to burn forever in our hearts and in the hearts of all Christians so that we can find the inspiration to share our faith effectively with the world.
A Picture of Peace and Radical Love
May 20, 2019
Each May, The Christophers gather to bestow awards on books, film, and television programs that affirm the highest values of the human spirit. This year marks the 70th anniversary of our Christopher Awards, and readers will be heartened to know that once again we have found amazing projects worthy of celebration.
One example is the film Paul, Apostle of Christ, which is set in the 1st Century A.D., during the time of Nero’s persecution of the Christians of Rome. Paul the Apostle sits in prison at the film’s outset, awaiting execution. Luke the Evangelist, played by Jim Caviezel, enters Rome secretly to meet with Paul and help him write an account of his experiences and insights for the benefit of Christian communities in other lands.
Luke has friends among high-ranking Romans who convince the prefect of the prison, Mauritius Gallus, to allow him to visit Paul. Mauritius is a dutiful soldier and loyal to Rome, yet he is also intellectually curious and engages in conversation with both Luke and Paul. Mauritius’ daughter and only child is very ill. Although Luke is a talented physician, Mauritius refuses to ask the evangelist to treat her for fear of offending the Roman gods by bringing a Christian into his home.
Meanwhile, Roman soldiers are arresting, torturing, and executing other Christians as part of Nero’s plot to offer them up as scapegoats for a fire that burned down two thirds of the city. Luke stays with a secretive Christian community in the city and finds himself disheartened along with the others over the rampant persecution of those who believe in Christ.
The struggle to keep the faith amid such turmoil is palpable in this film, which offers an unflinching glimpse of the challenges and rewards of following Christ under the most trying circumstances. When a young man named Cassius tries to convince others to respond to the persecution with violence, Luke intervenes, declaring, “Let peace be with you. For we live in the world but we do not wage war as the world does.... Love is the only way.” Cassius later defies Luke and joins others in breaking into the prison to free Paul. However, Paul refuses to go with him, instead chastising him for bringing violence against government officials, saying, “Christ has already triumphed over every enemy by the cross, and you say you come in his name, but it is clear you do not know him.”
This picture of the peace and radical love brought into the world by the early Christians transports us back to a time when small communities lived so committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ that their lives became the seeds planted in the fertile soil of a world awaiting a better way.
At the outset of the film, Paul stares upward through the bars of his basement cell as if looking to the heavens and questions, “Is that all?” It is unclear whether this is a moment of despair or a mere question from a servant sensing he has come to the end of his mission. Yet the rest of the film demonstrates that God’s answer is always that there is so much more than we could possibly imagine. And we see that answer play out in all that happens in the short time before Paul is executed, in how much he is still called upon to do, and in how much he accomplishes through his love, humility, and willingness to share the wisdom of Christ.
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Mary’s Deep Love For Humanity
May is the month of Mary, which makes this a perfect time to begin a reflection on her miraculous presence in the world around us. Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces, meaning that we have recourse to her in prayer for the graces poured out by God. Her role as a powerful intercessor has been proven throughout history, so we should get to know stories about Mary to strengthen our faith and prepare ourselves to turn to her with confidence in times of need.
The story of the Wedding at Cana exemplifies how Mary’s intercession works. As the Gospel of John recounts, Jesus attended a wedding along with his mother and his disciples. While they were there, the wine ran out at the party. So Mary approached Jesus and asked him to intervene. His initial response was to say that his hour had not yet come. But Mary persisted and told the servants to do as he instructed. It was at that point that Jesus acquiesced to his mother’s wishes and performed the miracle of turning water into wine.
This is how Mary’s mediation works. All graces flow from God but it is a sign of great reverence, wisdom, and respect to go through the Mother of God when seeking divine intervention. Like any good son, Christ will prioritize the requests brought to him by his mother. And Mary has been interceding in this way for individuals and great causes around the world ever since.
Five of the sixteen Vatican recognized apparitions of Mary in history have occurred in France. The most famous of these occurred in the vicinity of the small market town of Lourdes in Southern France in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, who was poor, uneducated, and sickly, received visions she described as being of a “small young lady” over the course of several months in the year of 1858. The Lady referred to herself as “the Immaculate Conception” and called for penance, conversion of sinners, and for a shrine to be built where the apparitions took place, which at the time was a garbage dump.
Four years earlier, Pope Pius IX promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, a topic likely discussed only by theologians. Bernadette didn’t even understand what these words meant, so this became a perfect way for Mary to prove to the world that her appearances were real and to also confirm the dogma put forth by the Pope. A healing spring poured forth from the ground where the visions occurred and people began to visit the site in droves. Authorities tried to stop the crowds from coming but ultimately could not stand against the will of the faithful.
Four years later and after a full investigation commissioned by the local Bishop, the apparitions were declared authentic and by 1876 a Basilica had been erected over the grotto. Multiple miracles have been confirmed by the Church in connection with the healing waters of Lourdes, and countless more people claim healings and conversions due to their pilgrimages to this holy site.
Mary’s miraculous intercessions in the world remind us of her deep love for humanity and her willingness to mediate all our concerns to God. This is a profoundly powerful connection that each of us can awaken in our lives when we initiate a relationship with Mary. So pray for the intercession of the Blessed Mother and you will find her drawing you closer to the heart of Jesus.
“Alleluia is Our Song”
St. Augustine once said, “We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song!” What a beautiful reminder of the joy that accompanies this season of resurrection and redemption.
But being joyful isn’t always easy, even during the Easter season. So how do we get beyond the things of this world that drag us down so we can more fully experience the joy of the Resurrection in our own lives?
Of course, Lent is a preparation for Easter in that we practice detachment in order to open ourselves to the gifts of the spirit. But transitioning from Lent to Easter can sometimes be a challenge. Gathering in celebration with family, friends, and loved ones can help awaken our Easter joy. Something to focus on in these gatherings is making others joyful. This is the way of Christ, to put our own cares aside in favor of serving the needs of others. Before we know it, we will have connected with Christ in such a deep way that the joy of Easter found in our own sacrifices will come alive.
Another way to awaken our Easter joy is to consider the many ways Christ has already affected resurrections in our own lives and in the world around us. Christ’s Resurrection is both a miraculous and an historical event, demonstrating that sin and death have been completely overcome. But we don’t need to wait around for our own resurrection from the dead to be convinced of Christ’s power at work in the world.
Think of the many times Christ has brought people and situations back from the brink. He does this in our lives all the time. He brings good out of bad situations. He rescues us from failure and opens new doors for us to pursue our own unique calling in life. Consider that, no matter what tragedies have occurred in our lives, each and every one of us stands at a point where God allows us to be for a very specific reason. And when we open our hearts to this reality, the future holds out amazing and life-changing possibilities.
Our Christopher News Note on Easter recounts the story of Benjamin Mofta, a Coptic Christian priest living in Egypt. One day, Mofta and his fellow Coptic priest Samaan Shehata were traveling to Cairo on a pastoral visit when an ISIS terrorist jumped in front of their vehicle and attacked them, injuring Mofta and killing Shehata. Far from allowing this horrible incident to cripple him with fear, Mofta explains, “I feel like I can move even more freely. I just do what God asks of me. Fear would make me passive.... I live my life with Christ. In Jesus, there is no fear of death. Father Samaan is in a good place now with Christ, whom he loves so much.”
Consider the faith it must require to wake up every day in a world of such violence and persecution and stay committed to doing good. This is faith in the Resurrection. It’s faith in a Christ who overcame death. But it’s also faith in a Christ who can help us rise again from every tragedy and setback we face in this life. Living in this way is what it means to be an Easter people. So let’s embrace the opportunity this season provides to realize the Risen Christ at work in our lives, to allow the joy of the Resurrection to enter our hearts, and to share that joy with everyone we meet.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note EASTER BRINGS JOY, HOPE, AND NEW LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
March 31, 2019
A God With Us In Suffering
Joshua Rogers is a writer and attorney who lives in Washington, D.C., and he has a column that appears on Fox News online. His writing tends to be insightful, and he often has a way of cutting right to the heart of the things that matter most in life. One of his recent columns struck me in this way, and I wanted to pass along some of the insights he shared.
Rogers began by describing people he knows who are trapped in difficult situations. One has a dead-end job with no prospects for finding something better. Another suffers from chronic illness for which there is no cure. Still others find themselves alone, hoping for marriage but unable to find the right person.
Then Rogers spoke about his own situation and a day not too long ago when he asked God to bring the suffering in his own life to an end. “What happened next stunned me,” he writes, because he was soon gripped by a profound realization. At first he told himself, “This is my story… this is my cross to bear and I need to live my story without complaining.” Then he realized this wasn’t the right way to look at it, and the thought hit him, “This isn’t your story of suffering, this is Christ’s story of suffering.”
In that moment, Rogers gained a deeper perspective on the role Christ plays in each of our lives. He writes, “Jesus didn't stop suffering on the cross. He continues to suffer with His children because He literally lives inside of our bodies (Colossians 1:27). He goes through the very circumstances we are experiencing every day. This is His story of the suffering that came after He was resurrected.”
This is truly a realization that should change our lives. It’s not just that Christ has invited us to unite our suffering to His perfect offering to God on the cross, it’s that He has actually chosen to join each and every one of us in our daily pain and struggles. What an amazing thing to realize about Jesus! Out of all the things he could have chosen in His infinite power as the Son of God, he chose to join us in our suffering, to become a part of it, and to suffer alongside us, within us, enduring all of the pain and limitations we experience in this world. That is an amazing God and the only figure in history who will ever be worthy of the title “Savior.”
For those who know this and have already contemplated it, it’s worth considering how profound a realization this is for someone when they discover it for the first time. It should change our lives, because no longer can we look upon our suffering as a mere obstacle or burden, which it often is. But it’s also the deepest way we have to connect with God. And no longer can we be resentful of an all-powerful God who we may feel merely allows us to suffer, because He doesn’t. He’s joined us in the deepest way in our suffering and is enduring with us.
Rogers concludes, “Jesus is the valiant protagonist, ‘Christ in (us), the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). What a Savior – one who didn’t just leave us behind to make it on our own. He walks through this life with us and when this chapter is over, He will usher us into the unimaginable reality of heaven.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note EASTER BRINGS JOY, HOPE, AND NEW LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
A Catholic Apologist in the NFL
March 10, 2019
A few days before this year’s Super Bowl, Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein spoke with Trent Beattie for the National Catholic Register. Their conversation covered football, the Rams’ preparation for their match-up with the Patriots, and the huge field goals Zuerlein hit to help his team make it to the big game. But with the Register’s faith-based mission, Beattie also wanted to talk with Zuerlein about God.
You see, Zuerlein is into apologetics, the act of explaining to people what we believe as Catholics and why we believe it. He talked about the books he’s currently reading and how he doesn’t shy away from intellectual discourse on the tenets of the Catholic faith, also noting that apologetics can transcend religious boundaries by venturing into topics of universal ethics, such as abortion.
“That’s what is good about apologetics,” Zuerlein said. “You can talk with people of all faiths, not referring to things that only Catholics would care about, like encyclicals, but to facts of history, biology and other topics. Those are accessible to human reason, regardless of whether someone is currently Catholic or not.”
How refreshing it is to see someone so willing to discuss his beliefs with others. I think a lot of people shy away from this type of interaction because they fear being perceived as too forward or maybe even bullying. But apologetics exercised well is a generous approach to discourse. It infers respect for others by appealing to their intellect in a free exchange of ideas. It requires intuition about people and when, where, and how to engage them; but, at its heart, apologetics involves deep love for others and placing care for their souls above all else.
Zuerlein and his wife welcomed their fourth child into the world last year. He credits his kids with keeping him grounded and even with preparing him for big game situations, saying, “Little children prepare you, even better than specific practice situations, for anything that might happen. There’s always something going on with the children, so my mind is occupied with their concerns rather than work worries. Plus, my children don’t care at all what I do at work. They are completely oblivious to that and are just happy to see me when I come home.”
For anyone who didn’t see the Super Bowl, Zuerlein hit a long field goal to tie the game late in the third quarter and it remained tied until the very end of the game, when the Patriots scored a touchdown. Then, in the waning seconds of the game, Zuerlein was called upon to try another very long field goal, and he missed this last kick of the season. Even if he had made it, two more miracles were needed – an onside kick and a Hail Mary touchdown – to send the game into overtime. Nevertheless, I’m sure he wasn’t happy about that miss. But something tells me he’s going to bounce right back next year. Because no matter how high pressure his job is, this guy has perspective.
Talking about his role as a husband and father, Zuerlein says, “The most important goal of a single Catholic man is to get his soul to heaven, but the most important goal of a married Catholic man expands to getting not only his own soul to heaven, but also those of his wife and children. It’s almost as if, as a result of the love that you share, you have one soul as a family.”
The Eucharist and Christ’s Love
Feb 17, 2019
A while back, I wrote about the power of the Eucharist to transform our lives. It is the source and summit of our faith and the most intimate way Christ has given us to commune with Him. I closed that piece with a mention of the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, a thread I’d like to follow a bit further here.
The Mass is such a complete form of worship one might wonder why we should take the time for Eucharistic Adoration when we already consume the Blessed Sacrament on a regular basis. In John 6:53-55, Christ said to the disciples, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
This is certainly one of the most challenging statements made by Jesus in the Gospels, and it created division within the ranks of His followers, with some leaving due to their inability to accept the teaching. While this passage points to the paramount importance of consuming the Eucharist at Mass, it also highlights the reality of the real physical presence of Jesus in the Sacred Host, which is the first indication of its worthiness for veneration.
When Jesus turned to the twelve to ask if they would leave as well, Simon Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) They could not possibly have understood at this point what Christ meant by this mystery that would only be revealed during His Passion. And this is another reason to be drawn into adoration, because it places us in the position of the Apostles, who grappled over the mystery of the Eucharist as it slowly unfolded before their eyes.
So we see that in the Eucharist, Christ intends to draw us into contemplation of the mystery of God. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “When I stand up to talk, people listen to me; they will follow what I have to say. Is it any power of mine? Of course not. St. Paul says, ‘What have you that you have not received and you who have received, why do you glory as if you had not?’ But the secret of my power is that I have never in fifty-five years missed spending an hour in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s where the power comes from. That’s where sermons are born. That’s where every good thought is conceived.”
It is impossible to perfectly define what each person will gain from time spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, because it is a mystery that we have been invited to enter into. But to provide at least some glimpse of what God wishes to reveal to us through the practice of Adoration, it has something to do with His sacrifice for each and every one of us. That sacrifice is so immense, it’s one we could never fully grasp; but taking the time to reverence Christ’s presence in the Eucharist will open the door to a relationship with God that we will never want to close again in our lives.
Ultimately, Adoration opens our hearts to the reality of Christ’s love, empowering us to return to our everyday lives and relationships inspired to follow in His footsteps by making sacrifices and being willing to do what is right for the sake of others.
Bring the Light of Christ to the World
Feb 3, 2019
There are many stories in the history of The Christophers’ organization that tell of lives transformed by our Gospel-based message. One such story regards a doctor who had become so troubled that he was contemplating suicide. He had even planned when and how he would take his own life. Then one day, while riding the subway, he spotted a Christopher News Note lying on the floor. He picked it up, opened it, and began to read.
There he encountered a key element of the Christian message that we strive to highlight. It reminded him that each individual has a unique purpose in this world that belongs to no one else. In that moment, his heart was opened to the reality that he was called by God to accomplish some good in this world, and it gave him purpose to go on living.
Imagine the lives impacted by that doctor who chose to carry within his heart such a sense of purpose. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life presents a stark contrast between a world with - and a world without - the good that a single individual can accomplish. It shows that each one of us is faced with a stark choice: to allow ourselves to be consumed by our own cares - or to wake up each day and boldly bring the light of Christ into the world.
Father James Keller, M.M., founded The Christophers in order to remind people of this profound call that God extends to each of us to use our talents for the greater good. He once told the story of attending a meeting at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. He entered only to find a darkened auditorium, at which point someone with him lit a match and set off to find a light switch. Father Keller said, “The sight of that tiny flame made an indelible impression on me. Insignificant as it was, it was greater than the darkness. All that was needed to banish the darkness completely was to multiply that flicker of light.”
Father Keller recognized that the negative elements of society could only be overcome with a positive outlook. He said, “One of the best ways to cure a starving patient is to build him up with nourishing food; the best way to cure this disease in our society is to build up society itself with good ideas and ideals.”
This positive approach to life remains the remedy for what ails our society. Think about the difference you make in people’s lives when you interact with them in a positive manner. It brightens their day and inspires them to pass that sense of joy along to those they encounter. This is the multiplication of light that Father Keller was talking about, and it has the power to transform the world.
In his lifetime, Father Keller helped call multitudes of people to contribute their light to the greater good in society. Many of us still carry that message of hope within our hearts, and it’s time for us to call the next generation of Christophers to this mission. Christopher means Christ-bearer. All it takes to be a Christopher is to make that choice to carry the light of Christ into the world. So let’s make this call to friends and loved ones, children and grandchildren, so that our society can heal and hope can reign in the hearts of multitudes of people throughout our nation and around the world.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note BEING A CHRISTOPHER, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blind Football Player Transcends the Game
January 27, 2019
Towards the end of college football’s regular season, the Walter Camp Foundation announced that blind long-snapper Jake Olson (that’s right, he’s blind) was the recipient of their 2018 Award of Perseverance. A few days later, in a Thanksgiving weekend matchup with Notre Dame, Olson took the field for the final game of the season, accompanied by his father and led by his guide dog, Quebec. If you were lucky enough to be watching, you received a glimpse of Olson’s story, which truly does transcend the game.
Born with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina, Olson lost his left eye when he was just 10 months old. When he was 12, doctors determined that his right eye needed to be removed. An avid USC football fan, Olson wanted to see the team play before his surgery. Then Pete Carroll, USC’s head coach at the time, heard about Olson’s story and invited him to meet the team.
When Carroll introduced Olson, the team loudly chanted his name, and he was invited to sit next to his favorite player. In the month leading up to his surgery, Olson spent much time with the USC team. Regarding the arrangement, SB Nation quotes Carroll as saying, “The first thing was, ‘Let’s make sure that he...gets to see everything that he wants to see. God bless him; he deserves every bit of it.”
Recalling the impact of those days, the Los Angeles Times reports that Olson said, “There were nights of crying and stressful times when I couldn’t get the thought of going blind out of my psyche. But every time I was up at USC or talking to one of the players or just being around, it was just pure fun. And, truthfully, pure peace.”
After surgery, Olson took up long snapping, the only position on the football field that doesn’t require sight of the ball or the opponents. He played for his high school team and then got accepted to USC, where he was given a spot on the team as a reserve. In 2017, Olson stunned the nation when he entered USC’s opening game against Western Michigan and delivered the snap for a successful point after attempt.
Pete Carroll had moved on to coaching professional football by that time, but he watched the game and was overwhelmed with emotion, saying, “We’re all going to see him do a lot of stuff in this world. There’s nothing holding Jake back. I was so excited to see it, I couldn’t stop crying.”
Olson has only been in a few games in his college career and those situations have required certain cooperation from other teams in order to assure his safety. But such arrangements only add to the beauty of this story. To see Division I football teams appreciate and applaud the struggle of another human being amid their fierce competition offers perspective on life that we can all learn from.
After his first long snap in a college game, Olson sent a powerful message to the world when he told reporters, “If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.”
Olson may not have become a football “star” in the traditional sense of the word, but he has accomplished more than any star player possibly could. He has inspired us all to understand how God can use our faith and perseverance to bring about amazing results, even from the most desperate situations in life.
Bringing Christ to Prison
January 6, 2019
Residents Encounter Christ (R.E.C.) is an outreach program where volunteers lead a weekend-long in-house retreat for people in prison. R.E.C programs exist throughout the country and are adapted from the Cursillo model where a three-day retreat focuses on strengthening people’s faith and encouraging them to return to their daily lives with the courage to share Christ’s message of hope.
Christopher friend Jim Collins has been involved in R.E.C. for the past year and recently took part in a weekend retreat at a prison in upstate New York. He says, “The thing about these retreats is that you seem to go in focused on the idea that you’re bringing Christ to these people, and you realize when you go there that you’re taking Christ home with you to share with your community.”
Collins notes how few men in ordinary parishes are willing to go on retreat in contrast to the large numbers of prisoners who sign up to participate in the R.E.C. program. The retreat begins on a Friday afternoon with a quiet tone of meditation to take a purposeful step away from everyday life. “It’s like Jesus going into the desert,” Collins says, adding that prisoners often seem attuned to the mindset of Jesus in the desert because they are in situations where they have to do without and cope with the kind of solitude Jesus willingly confronted.
The difficulties of prison life can be tremendous, making the R.E.C. program all the more important and rejuvenating. Participants break into groups to discuss topics relating to things they have read or heard that can influence their actions for the better. The hosts present talks and sometimes provide entertainment in the form of a skit based on events in the Gospels.
Recalling a movie shown at their recent retreat, Collins says, “It was about a violin that was discarded but then found and restored, and it parallels how God can restore us when we’re broken. No matter what happens to us, we are still that violin that God created but we have to learn how to play it because God has designed us to be beautiful and have great music.”
Collins encourages more people to volunteer to help run R.E.C. retreats. Talking about his own call to participate in this powerful ministry, the impact it has had on him, and the change in his life that has led him to be able to answer that call, Collins says, “I don’t think I would have been the same way 20 years ago. I have a cousin who was murdered, and my attitude towards prisoners was that they should be locked up and we should throw away the key. But now I see the human value and dignity of each and every one of them. When you throw them away, what will God say to you? He’ll say, ‘You forgot about some of my brothers who were incarcerated.’”
Jim Collins’ witness demonstrates the importance of venturing beyond our comfort zone to help those on the margins of society. By doing so, we answer Christ’s call to show mercy to others and help them in their hour of need, regardless of what mistakes they have made. We also place ourselves in situations where we can find Christ in faith-filled interactions and grow in wisdom and understanding of the ways of God. What tremendous gifts these are that await those who walk the selfless path in life and choose to give of themselves to people in need.
December 9, 2018
St. Francis de Sales once said, “A spoonful of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.” This take on an old English proverb points to the reality that likable things will naturally be more attractive than those which are harsh or bitter. St. Francis shared this wisdom in order to highlight how to be effective in sharing the truth with others.
Kindness counts in our relationships, especially those with whom we occasionally find ourselves in minor disagreements or who may be hostile to our ideas. The Christopher News Note “Kindness Counts” is a classic that remains as relevant today as it ever was. It opens with a line by famed screenwriter Myles Connolly: “Everybody at one time or another has known such people – strangers, relatives or friends – who have changed the quality of the day for others…The shining quality of goodness radiates from them, from their mere presence. All these, humble and unaware, carry with them the kindness and generosity of their lives. These are the greatest artists; they practice the highest of arts – the art of living, the art of life itself.”
Kindness manifests itself in different ways. When we find people in desperate circumstances, kindness may call for heroic actions of rescue, protection, or advocacy to overcome seemingly impossible odds. We often see this sort of heroism in soldiers, police officers, firemen, and missionaries in various fields. But heroic kindness can manifest itself in small ways as well. We can promote harmony within our families and in the workplace, and we can stay committed to reaching out to people wherever we go. The “Kindness Counts” News Note tells of a man living alone who says, “What a difference it makes when people at Mass treat you like a family member, not someone intruding on their private space.”
One woman recalled how a neighbor cared for her children while she was in the hospital giving birth, and kept an eye on her older kids when she returned from the hospital. “She brought peace into my life at a time when I desperately needed it,” the woman recalled with immense gratitude.
Kindness can make all the difference when it comes to discourse on issues of contention in our society, such as religion and politics. If the goal is to help someone see our point of view, we must consider sharing information at those times when people actually seem open to considering what we have to say. Sometimes just demonstrating the ability to listen to others without offering heated rebuttals can open the door for someone to listen to us at another point down the road.
“Charity begins at home” is a wise old adage pointing to the fact that kindness stems most directly from what we learn in our interactions with family. The very word “kind” comes from the Old English word “cynd,” which means kin or family. This origin makes perfect sense because it is within families and close-knit communities that we cultivate an awareness of how to respond to the needs of others. The struggle to respond to those needs is an ongoing process. The moment we think we’re done having to be sensitive to others’ needs and appreciate where they are coming from is the moment our relationships will begin to degrade. So we should all commit to taking up the cross that true kindness entails. We will see our relationships flourish and the kingdom of God begin to manifest itself wherever we go.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note KINDNESS COUNTS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
The Power of the Powerless
November 25, 2018
In 1985, Christopher de Vinck, a high school English teacher from New Jersey, published an article in the Wall Street Journalentitled “Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Lesson.” His article told the story of growing up with a sibling who was severely disabled, and it garnered immediate responses from people who were inspired by his message of the value of the human person. “I grew up in the house where my brother was on his back in his bed for almost 33 years,” he writes. “Oliver was blind, mute. His legs were twisted. He didn't have the strength to lift his head nor the intelligence to learn anything.”
Christopher explains that, when their mother was pregnant with Oliver, she was exposed to toxic fumes that made her pass out for a short time. When Oliver was born, he seemed healthy but his parents later discovered that he was blind, and he began to exhibit other problems. A doctor said that Oliver’s ailments would never heal and suggested they place him in an institution. “But he is our son,” their parents said. “We will take Oliver home.”
“Then take him home and love him,” the doctor said.
Along with his parents and siblings, Christopher tended to his brother, feeding him, changing his diapers, bathing him, and keeping him entertained. In so doing, Christopher gained a profound education on valuing the human person, regardless of situation or station in life. In his article and the subsequent book he wrote entitled “The Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of Love,” Christopher recounts the way in which Oliver’s presence made an impact on him at an important moment in his life. In his early 20s, he fell in love with a girl and brought her home to meet his family. He had previously told her about Oliver, and, during her visit, he asked if she would like to meet him. Her answer was a flat, “No.”
Christopher then writes, “Soon after, I met Roe, a lovely girl. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. She loved children. I thought she was wonderful. I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. Soon it was time for me to feed Oliver. I remember sheepishly asking Roe if she'd like to see him. ‘Sure,’ she said. I sat at Oliver's bedside as Roe watched over my shoulder. I gave him his first spoonful, his second. ‘Can I do that?’ Roe asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion, so I gave her the bowl and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time. The power of the powerless. Which girl would you marry? Today Roe and I have three children.”
Christopher’s story gives witness to the way grace can work through those who are suffering when we open our hearts and our lives to them. Oliver’s presence was a gift to the de Vinck family, because it made them compassionate people. This kind of education in compassion is what all parents should seek for their children. It is an invaluable life lesson that teaches people to recognize the good in others and discern the right path in relationships.
Recalling his brother’s life, Christopher wrote, “Oliver still remains the weakest, most helpless human being I ever met, and yet he was one of the most powerful human beings I ever met. He could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note THE ENDURING VALUE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Kind of Love God Has For Us
In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa begins at the site where the Roman Empire’s Antonia Fortress once stood and where Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death. It then winds its way along the road to Calvary, where Christ laid down His life to redeem mankind. Pilgrims to the Holy Land have been walking the Via Dolorosa for centuries, and this practice came to inspire the Stations of the Cross, wherein Christ’s sacrifice is memorialized through artistic renderings that spiritual pilgrims can experience anywhere in the world.
One of the most unique interpretations of the Stations of the Cross in recent years has been a live performance called “The Cross and the Light,” a musical production that originated in Detroit several years ago and that continues to be performed upon request around the country and the world.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Kelly Nieto, creator of “The Cross and the Light,” recalls her own profound experience with the Stations of the Cross. After a conversion from atheism, she was preparing to become Catholic and attended the stations for the first time. In reflecting on Christ’s passion, she became overwhelmed with grief in realizing the depths of His personal sacrifice for her. “It changed me forever,” Nieto recalls. “I was inspired to write ‘The Cross and the Light’ to give millions of other people that same understanding.”
Nieto’s production began as a stage play, but she eventually adapted it into a musical and it has become a tradition in the Detroit area during Lent. But the stations remain relevant throughout the year, and utilizing the experience to immerse ourselves in the reality of Christ’s passion can have a transformative effect on the soul, especially during times of suffering. Christ wanted to meet each one of us in our suffering and transform us with His love. All it takes for this transformation to take root is a mind willing to contemplate Christ’s sacrifice and a heart open to the reality of His love.
Consider this: in the intensity of His suffering, Christ knew every bit of anguish you would face in your life and willingly took on His own suffering and death on the cross in order to connect with you in the deepest way and to raise you up to the hope of eternal life. That’s the kind of love God has for us, and we should take the time to contemplate it and allow it to transform our hearts. What does that transformation look like? It looks like our starting to emulate Christ in our relation to others. It looks like our becoming more sacrificial in order to raise those around us up to God.
Nieto’s original play culminated in the resurrection, but in adapting it to a musical, she added a second act. “Jesus had resurrected,” she told the Register, “but the apostles were still hiding in a locked room.” Her second act became “The Empty Tomb to Pentecost” and explored the hope that transformed the world in the aftermath of His resurrection.
The Stations of the Cross point us towards the glorious reality of the empty tomb and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Christ’s sacrifice makes possible the ultimate glory God intends for us all. By taking the spiritual journey of walking in His footsteps to Calvary, we demonstrate our appreciation for all He has done for us and awaken within ourselves a deeper relationship with God.
Catholic Relief Services Changes Lives
Catholic Relief Services turns 75 this year, and The Christophers would like to express our gratitude for the aid they consistently bring to those in desperate circumstances around the globe. Christ said, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me…” (Matthew 25: 35-36). The work of CRS reminds us all of the missionary spirit Christ calls us to live out in service to those in need.
Catholic Relief Services began in 1943 in response to the refugee crisis of World War II. CRS workers provided food, clothing, and housing to those who had been displaced, sometimes leading people on long journeys to new countries and safety. As a child in 1943, Julek Plowy was one of many Polish people rescued from a Siberian death camp. Plowy’s family then joined other refugees in making a long trek south to Persia. When CRS learned of their plight, they led the family on another long journey across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to a CRS community in Mexico.
An EWTN segment celebrating the 75th anniversary of Catholic Relief Services shows an elderly Julek Plowy returning to the CRS community in Mexico where he and his family relocated many years ago. Plowy drops to his knees at one point, overwhelmed with emotion. Asked to recall his arrival as a boy in Mexico, Plowy says, “We didn’t know what we were facing, didn’t know whether the people would welcome us or it was another internment camp.” Recalling the ordeal they had already been through, Plowy says, “We saw our friends and neighbors and family die… so you build a hatred within you, not wanting to, but you do that. This provided hope,” he says of the transforming effect of the CRS community.
With his wife by his side, Plowy walks the grounds of his former home, which now serves as a home for at-risk Mexican youth. He recalls running around the grounds of the facility in the same way the young people do today, and it brings to mind for him the many displaced youth of our time from war-torn areas around the globe. Plowy says, “History repeats itself in many different ways for evil reasons, and we don’t learn. So what can we do to learn? It starts with faith and the love of God.”
Plowy and his family eventually moved to the United States. He attended Catholic schools, became a Marine, and later went on to have a successful career in business. He sees his own experience with CRS as a model for reaching out to others in need.
Bishop Alphonso Miranda, Secretary General of the Mexican Bishops Conference, joins Plowy at one point and reflects on the vital nature of the CRS model in bringing peace and prosperity to the world, saying, “If we don’t think like brothers, countries and humankind won’t succeed.”
Catholic Relief Services continues to change people’s lives through their outreach to those who are suffering around the globe, such as the devastating flooding that recently took place in India. They consistently answer Christ’s call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick. What a profound witness CRS provides of the fruits of the Catholic faith in our time. May they enjoy another 75 years and continue to model for us all what it truly means to be a follower of Christ.
The Power of the Eucharist
Mother Teresa once said, “I would not be able to work one week if it were not for that continual force coming from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” This beautiful statement reflects the powerful graces that await us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The great saints in history have realized the deep relationship Christ invites us to have with Him through the reception of His body and blood in the Eucharist. St. Catherine of Siena has been called the Saint of the Eucharist. She experienced visions and ecstasies after taking Communion, and Pope Gregory XI issued a Bull allowing her to have a priest and altar always present so that she could hear Mass and receive Communion upon request. Suffering from illness at the end of her short life, Catherine could not stomach ordinary food, yet survived for seven years on nothing but consumption of the Eucharist.
St. Peter Julian Eymard founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament to help form Catholic communities dedicated to the Eucharist. Eymard had become convinced of its importance as the central focus of Christian life after being introduced to the practice of Eucharistic adoration during an 1849 trip to Paris. Shortly thereafter, he founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and started communities that worked to promote an awareness of God’s mercy and love through a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist.
Eymard’s message led many people to pursue a more fervent devotion to the faith and also drew non-practicing Catholics back to the sacraments. In 1862, the artist Auguste Rodin took refuge in one of Eymard’s communities shortly after the death of his sister. Rodin later produced a sculpture depicting Eymard as a strikingly holy, ascetic figure, holding a scroll with words from Eymard’s prayer, “O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.”
Like Rodin, artists from all backgrounds have been inspired by devotion to the Eucharist. For instance, author and mystic J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote in a letter, “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”
The Eucharist is a well-spring from which we can draw sustenance to fortify our souls during all circumstances of life. This is the miraculous gift that Christ has given to the Church, yet it is a gift that requires faith to enter fully into its mystery. The desire to contemplate this mystery more fully has led to the practice of Eucharistic adoration.
Mother Teresa once said, “Perpetual adoration is the most beautiful thing you could ever think of doing.” Adoration is a practice that draws us closer to God through a profound expression of reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. When we take the time to worship God in this way, we open our hearts to understand more fully His miraculous hand in the workings of our everyday lives. And this is why Christ instituted the Eucharist, because He wanted us to grow close to Him and to have Him present in all we do. This is a tremendous gift! Resolve never to let anything stand in the way of your closeness to Christ in the Eucharist, and you will follow in the footsteps of the saints who found strength to persevere in all circumstances of life.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING YOUR PATH HOME TO GOD, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Gratitude for Life
St. Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
The secret of contentedness that St. Paul refers to is all about having gratitude to God for the gift of life itself. One particular story exemplifying this kind of gratitude is that of Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, two life-long friends who traversed the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in northern Spain despite Justin’s confinement to a wheelchair.
“I’ll Push You” is a documentary chronicling Justin and Patrick’s journey across the Camino, and earlier this year the book version of their story won a Christopher Award. “I’ll Push You” details their harrowing yet joyful trek along rocky and sometimes muddy trails, over mountains, and down winding roads to reach Santiago de Compostela.
At one point in their journey, Justin says, “You know, it’s inevitable we all die at some point. But I’m making the best of it now.” Suffering from a rare autoimmune disease that has left him paralyzed and uncertain how long he will live, Justin must allow Patrick to push, pull, and carry him all the way to Santiago de Compostela, where their wives await them after being apart for several weeks. They cross mountain ranges, pass through old world cities like Pamplona and Leon, follow trails through vineyards, and make pit stops at ancient Cathedrals and monasteries.
Justin talks about the difficulty of having to rely on the assistance of Patrick and other generous travelers who help along the way, but then later he shares a profound realization, saying, “When you deny someone that opportunity to help you, you deny them the joy in life.”
Padre Pio once said, “In all the events of life, you must recognize the Divine will. Adore and bless it, especially in the things which are the hardest for you.” He meant that God can draw good out of all things, and Justin’s realization demonstrates his recognition of the good being drawn from his suffering. Reflecting on the natural desire for independence that his condition has forced him to let go of, Justin says, “Once I’ve let that go, love can flourish and there’s this weird beauty that lies around that.” Understanding the insight this love has brought to him, he says, “I’d love to have my independence back, but I’m kind of wondering, if I got that back, would my life change and would love change, in that aspect? And would I trade it for that? I’m not so sure.”
Justin’s gratitude for the gift of life regardless of his condition sets an example for us all. He has achieved that state that St. Paul speaks of in terms of knowing how to live with abundance as well as sacrifice. When we begin to appreciate life in all its stages—the joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains, moments of triumph and even defeat—we realize that God is utilizing all our experiences to draw us closer to His love. So embrace every moment of life with a heart open to transformation, and you will be content in knowing that God is leading you through it all to a state of everlasting joy.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note THE ENDURING VALUE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Patience of God
St. Augustine once said, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Everyone wants to have wisdom. We want to understand the complexities and nuances of life and be capable of acting accordingly; but sometimes we lose sight of the tremendous amount of patience needed to gain such wisdom. One might say that the first step towards wisdom is to understand and cultivate patience within ourselves, and the best way to do that is to consider the immense patience of God.
In The Christophers’ short online video entitled “The Patience of God,” Father Jonathan Morris explains that God’s patience manifests itself at special times that he calls “God moments.” These are moments when we sense the hand of God and realize that, no matter how difficult life has been, God has always been by our side.
Father Morris offers an example of a God moment that occurred while he was waiting for a train at Manhattan’s busy Penn Station. A man came up to him asking for money to buy breakfast. Father Morris told the man he would not give him money but instead would be willing to buy him breakfast right there at the station. The man said this wouldn’t work because he always bought a particular breakfast at a different place down the road. Giving in to what he perceived as the man’s creativity in trying to cajole money out of him, Father Morris reached into his pocket for a bill only to find that he didn’t have anything lower than a twenty.
Father Morris says, “By this time I was already committed, and I just felt an inspiration – maybe I should just give him a chance. I said, ‘Here. Take this money, but bring me back the change.’” Several minutes passed and suddenly the man reappeared and approached Father Morris with the receipt for his breakfast and the entirety of the change. Father Morris said to the man, “Sir, you don’t know how much you’ve blessed me today. I am a Catholic priest.” The man asked, “What’s that?” Father Morris explained, “It’s kind of like a pastor.” With astonishment, the man said, “You’re a minister?” Then he got down on his knees, raised his hands, and declared, “I won the Jesus lottery!”
This beautiful, funny, and unexpected exchange was truly a God moment. It was a wonderful reminder for Father Morris that God will never stop surprising us with the good that exists in people. And for that man who asked for money for breakfast, it was a powerful example of the joy God has in store for those who follow the right path.
Moments like these are profound manifestations of God’s patience at work in our lives, and they are proof that He knows and understands our hearts and can send the right people into our lives even for passing exchanges that can light our way. It’s important to remember that it also takes patience on our part to appreciate such moments. When we exercise that patience and look for those God moments, we gain the wisdom that will allow us to accomplish amazing things in this world.
Understanding the patience of God strengthens our faith and teaches us to be patient with others and look for opportunities to bestow little gifts that lead to surprise in the goodness of humanity at the most unexpected moments. Appreciating, enjoying, and taking part in creating those moments is the surest manifestation of wisdom in our lives.
Family is the “Yes” of God
In a letter that Pope Francis wrote in preparation for the IX World Meeting of Families, which is being held in Dublin, Ireland, this month, he posed two rhetorical questions, writing, “One might ask: does the Gospel continue to be a joy for the world? And also: does the family continue to be good news for today’s world?”
Providing an immediate and enthusiastic response to these questions, Pope Francis then wrote, “I am sure the answer is yes!”
He went on to explain that this “yes” is rooted in God’s plan for humanity and for all of creation, writing, “It is God’s ‘yes’ to the union between man and woman, in openness and service to life in all its phases, it is God’s ‘yes’ and His commitment to humanity that is often wounded, mistreated and dominated by a lack of love. The family, therefore, is the ‘yes’ of God as Love.”
What a beautiful image of the family as being representative of God’s love for the world. It is within families that God intends for us to learn the ways of compassion towards others. Growing up in a loving family teaches young people how to be considerate of the needs of those around them. Loving families teach us how to laugh together, how to gather in community, the need for forgiveness and for seeking reconciliation, and how to pick each other up when we fall.
In his letter, Francis writes, “How much better family life would be if every day we lived according to the words, ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry.’” This way of compassion that Francis talks about will not come about within families automatically. It is something that must be cultivated, and we should come to understand our faith as Catholics as a powerful resource in building up family life.
When we practice our faith together, it strengthens bonds and prepares us to weather difficult trials. Most importantly, our faith can teach us how to forgive, which is an essential element in building up strong families. The faith not only provides the model for right action in our lives, but it gives guidance for how to react to failure.
Christ said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). This is not to say that we abandon our concept of right and wrong, but sometimes we need to lead with mercy in order to affect a change of heart in others. Sometimes it is enough to know that others know where we stand and then to simply show them our merciful side.
Mercy is the most powerful element of our faith and it can keep families together even during periods when someone loses their way. What a profound tool for cultivating compassion for one another within the family—and what a profound witness this is to the world!
Christ said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” In giving witness to Christ’s love, the family truly is good news for today’s world.
The surest way to affect positive change in today’s society is by cultivating faithful families full of love for one another. In this way, the family embodies the joy of the Gospel, and becomes, as Francis says, “the ‘yes’ of God as Love.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com
Through the Heart of Mary
An ancient history of the Carmelite Order recounts a statement made by St. Dominic in 1208 A.D. in which he declared, “One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, she [Mary] will save the world.” What a profound statement about the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother that Saint Dominic made years before the introduction of the Brown Scapular into popular devotion.
The Brown Scapular of the Carmelite Order first appeared in a Marian vision to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251. In that apparition, Mary said of the scapular, “Take this scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”
The Brown Scapular has been associated with special graces ever since. The small version that many wear under their clothing dates as far back as 1276, the year that Pope Gregory X died. We know this because 554 years after his death, an opening of Pope Gregory’s tomb revealed that the little Brown Scapular he wore during his lifetime was still intact.
Mary’s final apparition at Lourdes occurred on July 16, 1858, the anniversary of her presentation of the Brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock, and she appeared on that day as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mary also appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in her final apparition at Fatima, on October 13, 1917, holding a rosary in one hand and a Brown Scapular in the other.
While miracles abound relating to the Brown Scapular, our devotion to this sacramental and to Our Lady of Mount Carmel should not be reduced to superstition or an expectation of favors simply for wearing the scapular. Like all sacramentals, these devotions are intended to draw us closer to an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. For instance, wearing the Brown Scapular entails investiture by a priest, wherein prayers are recited and a pledge is made to live a holy life. Thereafter, the scapular serves as a reminder of that pledge and of the powerful intercession of Mary, who constantly beckons us to follow Christ.
The initial Carmelite Rule was established by St. Albert in the early part of the thirteenth century, but the order claims spiritual lineage with the Prophet Elijah and a succession of hermits who followed in his footsteps, residing on Mount Carmel for centuries both before and after the life of Christ. Pious tradition holds that a group of these hermits came down from Mount Carmel and converted to Christianity on the day of Pentecost.
It is no wonder that Mary chose to appear as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in such dramatic fashion in the last apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima—or that she revealed the Brown Scapular as a significant source of grace for those who commit themselves to the promises of investiture. Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel connects us with the Judaic roots of the Holy Family and of Christianity and reminds us of Mary’s paramount mission in the story of salvation.
Towards the end of his passion, Jesus looked to Mary and said, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he looked to John and said, “Here is your mother.” We understand this to mean that Jesus presents Mary to all of humanity in spiritual adoption, so we should look to the Blessed Mother for guidance and undertake pious acts of devotion, because the surest way to Christ is through the heart of Mary.
A Response to the Addiction Epidemic
Time Magazine recently declared: “The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in U.S. history.” Consider this staggering contrast of statistics: 58,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives during the Vietnam War, while today in this country we lose 64,000 people every year to drug overdoses. It is an insidious problem that affects people and families from all backgrounds and walks of life.
A few months ago, Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, shared details of his pastoral response to the opioid crisis in an article for Erie’s diocesan magazine. Bishop Persico wrote, “Each situation comes down to a single person, precious in God’s eyes, suffering from addiction. That anguish quickly extends to family members, friends and loved ones who feel helpless in the face of this monster.”
Bishop Persico acknowledged that priests of his diocese now find themselves called to minister to those struggling with addiction, as well as parishioners touched by the crisis in their families, social circles, and in the workplace. Most tragic of all, they have had to offer funeral Masses for those who have lost their battle with addiction. He set up a task force last summer to prepare clergy for dealing with this growing crisis, and his priests now have access to information about ministering to those with addiction. They have literature to disseminate in their parishes, and they know where to direct people for professional and clinical help in battling this disease.
Bishop Persico assured members of his diocese that they are not alone. He wrote, “I want to challenge all of us to be merciful to those who are affected by this crisis. In so many cases, the victims were ensnared through perfectly innocent means – legal prescriptions for injuries or post-op pain. They represent all demographics: young and old; wealthy, middle-class and poor; male and female; rural and urban. Those who are addicted may feel abandoned by their families and may be painfully aware of the grief and sorrow they have caused.”
The Northern Illinois Catholic magazine The Connection recently addressed the importance of overcoming stereotypes of addiction and mental illness, stereotypes that invariably lead to the misguided perception that those suffering from these problems are inherently dangerous and deranged. This stigmatization only causes people to hide their problems and prevents them from getting help early and often.
Our Christopher News Notes Recovery from Addiction through God and Service and Mental Illness: Healing the Unseen Wounds both help to guide people beyond the boundaries of stigmatization to a discovery of the true path to healing. Our News Note on addiction touches on the story of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. At the height of his swimming career, Phelps struggled with depression and addiction. While in rehab, a friend gave him a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. The book, Phelps says, “turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”
Thank God for Michael Phelps’ courage in sharing his story and helping to shatter the misconception that addiction only affects the marginalized of society. It is through that example of leadership, combined with the kind of outreach put in place by Bishop Persico, that our nation will find a path to healing. Openness about suffering is the key to building a culture of mercy and can help us to finally come together and guide each other to that higher purpose we are all called to pursue in this world.