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! 

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: mail@christophers.org

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.    

   

For free copies of the Christopher News Note HOW GOD CAN LIGHT YOUR WAY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org 

      

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

July 26

     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

July 12

            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

May 17

            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

May 3

            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

April 26

            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

April 5

            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

March 22

     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

March 1
          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. 

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note FAILURE ISN’T FATAL, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org   

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: mail@christophers.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: mail@christophers.org

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: mail@christophers.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: mail@christophers.org  

Welcoming the Stranger

November 17

     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

November 3

                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

October 27

          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. 

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note GET YOURSELF SPIRITUALLY FIT, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org  

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.

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note TAKE TIME OUT: A SERIES OF MEDITATIONS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:mail@christophers.org     

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.  

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note HEALING BROKEN FAMILIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:mail@christophers.org   

Your Life’s Mission

August 25

                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: mail@christophers.org   

The Heart of Mary

August 11

                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.      

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note GET YOURSELF SPIRITUALLY FIT, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org    

Accepting the Gift

July 28

                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: mail@christophers.org     

Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.

Christ of Peace

July 7

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”

April 21   

     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: mail@christophers.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: mail@christophers.org                               

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: mail@christophers.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.   

Kindness Counts

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: mail@christophers.org       

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: mail@christophers.org    

The Kind of Love God Has For Us
Nov 4

                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

Oct 28

   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

Oct 14

                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: mail@christophers.org  

 

Gratitude for Life

Sept 23

     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: mail@christophers.org   

The Patience of God

Sept 2

               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

August 26

                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: mail@christophers.org  

Through the Heart of Mary

August 12

 

     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

July 15

                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.  

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