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! 

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.

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING CHRIST IN COMMUNITY, 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    

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.

 

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 Directors

Christ in Our Hearts

Oct 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.    

 

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

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. 

 

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    

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.

 

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 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.    

 

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

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.

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING CHRIST IN COMMUNITY, 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

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.  

 

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    

“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.”

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note BUILDING A LIFE OF CHARACTER, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org    

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.

 

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

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.   

 

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

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

                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.

 

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  

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.

 

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  

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.

 

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

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.  

Ken Burns on Our Better Angels

July 1, 2018

     

              In May, The Christophers held our 69th annual Christopher Awards ceremony to honor creators of books, film, and television programs that affirm the highest values of the human spirit. Our Life Achievement Award went to documentarian Ken Burns. Having won multiple Christopher Awards in the past, Burns said, “I feel very at home here. I’ve been here many times over the last three decades, and there is a sense of recognition and comradeship and fellowship that I feel in the impetus behind the Christopher Awards and the people I meet here...We have The Christophers to remind us that the things that we do in this business of ours require something more than the pursuit of the bottom line, the almighty dollar, and some glory in this short passage.”

                Burns first won a Christopher Award in 1981 for Brooklyn Bridge. He would go on to win six more, telling iconic stories that capture the essence of the American experience, including: The Statue of Liberty, The Civil War, Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Jazz, Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip, and The War.  

                Talking about the power of stories, Burns noted that as a historical documentarian he is interested not just in those old stories that glorify our nation’s past, nor in those newer takes that, as he said, “seem to suggest that American history is only a catalogue of white European crimes.” Instead, Burns said, “I’m interested in listening to the voices of the true, honest, complicated past that’s unafraid of controversy and tragedy but equally drawn to those stories and moments that suggest an abiding faith in the human spirit and particularly the unique role this remarkable but sometimes also dysfunctional republic seems to play in the progress of mankind.”

                Burns reflected on the recurring question his documentaries always seem to ask, “Who are we?”—and on the even more complicated question this inevitably raises, “Who am I? What am I doing here? What am I supposed to be doing?”  

                He concluded on a hopeful note by quoting what he called his “second favorite sentence in the English language.” (The first is, “I love you.”) He said, “On the eve of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln...still hoping to keep his country together, he’s speaking to the mostly southerners in his audience: ‘We must not be enemies, we must be friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of affection.’ But, then this poet president went on in one of the greatest sentences ever constructed. He said, ‘The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’”

                It has been such a privilege for The Christophers to have the opportunity to honor Burns’ work from the outset of his career. Our recognition of great storytellers provides everyone the opportunity to discover and support those creators who strive to bring a message of hope to the world. I would also encourage everyone to consider the great storytellers of the future who might be in your family or parish community. Offer them support and guidance, and one day they may join the ranks of the storytellers we honor and bring a message of hope to our nation and the world.

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note on WHERE THERE IS HATRED, LET ME SOW LOVE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org

Living the Blessings of the Beatitudes

June 24

          During his visit to Chile in January, Pope Francis said of the Beatitudes that they “are born of a merciful heart that never loses hope, a heart that experiences hope as a new day, a casting out of…the inertia which paralyzes those who no longer have faith in the transforming power of God our Father and in their brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable and outcast.”

          The pontiff went on to say that the Beatitudes “are born of the compassionate heart of Jesus, which encounters the hearts of men and women seeking and yearning for a life of happiness.” Referencing the earthquakes that many in attendance had survived, he said, “How much you know about getting up again after so many falls! That is the heart to which Jesus speaks; that is the heart for which the Beatitudes are meant!”

          Pope Francis’ poignant message captures the essence of how the Beatitudes should affect us all. They are the teachings Jesus brought to deepen the lived faith of all those yearning for a better way. They are like road signs that steer us away from the empty promises of worldly endeavors and towards the fulfillment of a relationship with God.

That relationship is only realized when we embrace a spirit of poverty, as stated in the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Not that we have to be destitute, but rather that we have to be detached enough from the things of this world to be able to do what is right.

Consider the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist whose journey took him from war profiteer during World War II to heroic humanitarian who risked his entire fortune to save the lives of over 1,000 Jewish refugees by employing them in his factories and protecting them from deportation to concentration camps. The film Schindler’s List dramatizes the personal risk he took to save Jewish lives in a scene where he bribes the commandant of Auschwitz with a bag full of diamonds to release women and children after their train was accidentally redirected to the death camp while on route to his factory.

          Schindler’s went from being a man who valued his Jewish workers for the profit they brought him to the point of caring nothing for his wealth in comparison to the lives it could save. It was horrific circumstances that brought him to this realization, but Christ calls us to choose the right path and abandon worldly cares regardless of the circumstances of our times.

          In the Beatitudes, Christ calls us to humility, mercy, peacefulness, and purity of heart. Taken together, they mean that we should will the good at all times and allow our actions to flow from that good will. We are called also to hunger for righteousness, even in the face of ridicule and persecution. And, when we open our hearts to the good and to love yet experience loss, our mourning becomes all the more painful, which is why God assures us of His comfort.

          So the Beatitudes are a beautiful assurance that God will be with us always in our efforts to do what is right. To be blessed is to live in confidence of this assurance, and that blessed way of life brings about a lightness in our hearts and souls that is a treasure beyond all the riches of this world.

 

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

Foster Friendship Despite Differences

June 10

                At a 2016 World Youth Day prayer vigil in Krakow, Poland, Pope Francis told young people, “Today we adults need you to teach us, like you are doing now, how to live with diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity…Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls.”

                It was the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and Francis lamented what is too often an absence of mercy in public discourse today. He implored young people to take a different approach, saying, “We are not here to shout against anyone. We are not about to fight. We do not want to destroy. We do not want to insult anyone. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror.”

                A year before the event, Francis had encouraged young people to focus on performing one corporal work of mercy a month to prepare for the gathering. It was an appropriate way to ready the soul for such an important spiritual pilgrimage, and it is also a perfect way for each of us to cultivate the disposition needed for civil discourse.

                Francis’ call at World Youth Day for young Catholics to take the lead in demonstrating how to relate to people from different backgrounds and belief systems remains relevant, yet practicing civil discourse under challenging circumstances is a constant struggle. A first principle to remember when we have profound differences with others is that it is not our job to convert people by winning arguments that seem to be going nowhere. The Holy Spirit converts people’s hearts. It is our job to give witness to the truth and plant seeds of the Gospel’s hopeful message wherever we can.

                Christ said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And what a light burden it is to realize we are not on our own in winning people to the truth. Christ also said to the disciples, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14)

One way to apply that principle to our own lives is to be willing to agree to disagree with people when a confrontation is going nowhere. This principle is particularly helpful in regard to petty conflicts where it doesn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things who is right or wrong. But even in regard to larger matters, we need to be willing to walk away from a conflict and ask the Holy Spirit to work on people’s hearts. Agreeing to disagree even on larger matters can facilitate friendships to remain intact despite our differences, and sometimes the friendship we offer to people and the good we do for them does more to plant those seeds of hope in their lives than any argument we might present. 

                This truth is exemplified in Francis’ words to young people: “In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service.”

 

The Infinite Value of People with Disabilities

May 27, 2018

                At a recent U.N. gathering, the Holy See brought together a group of panelists to highlight  the value of disabled persons in our society. A video was presented that told of a woman who was  pregnant and had just discovered her child would be born with Down Syndrome. She emailed an organization for the disabled, saying, “I’m scared: what kind of life will my child have?” Their response  was to compile video clips of people with Down Syndrome answering her question.

                From different places around the world and in different languages, they took turns delivering 

pieces of the message written in subtitles beneath their beautiful, smiling faces: “Dear future mom, don’t 

be afraid. Your child will be able to do many things. He’ll be able to hug you. He’ll be able to run towards you. 

He’ll be able to speak and tell you he loves you.” They explained all the things a child with Down Syndrome would be able to do, including work, travel, and independent living, adding, “Sometimes it will be difficult. Very difficult...But isn’t it like that for all mothers?”

                Tears flowed at the U.N. as mothers joined their children on screen, one at a time in each different location, mother and child hugging each other as the final words of the message were delivered: “Dear future mom, your child can be happy. Just like I am. And you’ll be happy too. Right, mom?” Each in turn, they looked to their mothers, whose smiles and warmth answered the question, “Right, mom?”

                This short video message so beautifully captures the impact people with disabilities have on the world around them. The mothers in that video looked happy because of the bonds they had created with their children. It is important to remember that those bonds of love within a family or community are often strengthened through unique challenges faced together. The entire group may cultivate teamwork, learn empathy, and discover that everyone has amazing talents, if only given the circumstances to thrive. 

                On a day devoted to persons with disabilities during the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016, Pope Francis said, “The world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ – not to mention fake – people live there, but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase…. Each of us, sooner or later, is called to face – at times painfully – frailty and illness, both our own and those of others.”

                Sadly, in some parts of the world, disability-based abortion threatens to eliminate certain populations of the disabled, which the Holy See called, “the greatest hate-crime of this generation.” Francis correctly highlights that it is an illusion to think we can eradicate the obstacles of life. All we are doing by weeding out people with disabilities is creating a society that is less compassionate and less oriented towards problem solving. 

                But this is not the way that Christ has taught us to live. We are called to care for one another and in so doing we discover the joy of becoming more like Christ. This is why the mothers and their children featured in the U.N. video radiated such joy. They had discovered Christ in their relation to one another. What greater gift could a person bring into your life? So have the courage to embrace those with disabilities in your family and community, and you will awaken Christ within each other and help to build a compassionate society that values all people as children of God.    

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note WHERE THERE IS HATRED, LET ME SOW LOVE write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org

In Praise of Mothers

May 6, 2018              

                It’s fitting that we celebrate Mother’s Day during May, a month that we also dedicate to the Blessed 

Virgin Mary. Knowing a good mother opens a window onto a spiritual relationship with Mary. And for 

those who have not been blessed with that earthly relationship, Mary can fill the void when our hearts

are open to her tender guidance. 

                During this month, parishes and schools around the world will honor Mary with crowning 

ceremonies, processions, and prayers all aimed at calling to mind her holiness. Similarly, on Mother’s 

Day, we will honor mothers for the sacrifices they make in bringing new life into the world and nurturing 

that life with love and devotion.

                Mary both embodies the ideals of motherhood and serves as a role model for all mothers. When the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would conceive the Son of God, her response was, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What a profound moment of acceptance of God’s will and a beautiful example of the openness to life the Church asks of all married couples as they embark on their lives together. 

                Every mother is representative of Mary in the moment she says “yes” to the new life entrusted to her care. When we see single mothers or mothers who we think might be facing a crisis pregnancy due to poverty or other circumstances, we should recall the Blessed Mother in the early days of her pregnancy. She stood isolated, awaiting Joseph’s “yes” and fearful of the scorn of society. The “yes” of mothers in crisis pregnancies echoes the courage of Mary’s “yes” in a way that should gain the respect of all people of faith.

                In Jesus’ youth, Mary served as protector, as seen in the “Finding in the Temple,” when she frantically sought him out after he had gone missing on a journey. How often have our own mothers acted as protectors, keeping us safe and guiding us down the right path?

                Mary was present for Christ’s first miracle, acting as intercessor by approaching him with the concern that they had run out of wine at the wedding at Cana. Isn’t that so like our earthly mothers, to be there for all of our great accomplishments and to be the one who can call upon us to use our talents for the good of all?

                And Mary was one of the few people to stand by Christ in His darkest hour, when He hung on the cross. Think of all of the most difficult moments in life, such as illnesses we have faced, mistakes we have made, and moments when we have been accused, falsely or otherwise. Mothers are the first to forgive, to lend a helping hand, to point us in the right direction when we go astray.

                As Mary stood beside John at the foot of the cross, Christ said to her, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to John, “Behold, your mother!” Christ extends this invitation of spiritual adoption to all people, calling us to cultivate a relationship with the Blessed Mother. When we answer that call, we will find our relationship with our own mothers deepening in respect and love.

                So remember Mary this month, and on Mother’s Day let’s also recognize how much our earthly mothers embody the grace of the Blessed Mother, who guides their actions and inspires their loving service to the world around them.  

Good Deeds Plant Seeds of Hope

April 29, 2018

     A short film entitled “Tree” depicts a traffic jam in India caused by a large tree that has fallen across the middle of the road. People sit and wait, honking their horns in frustration and beginning to argue with each other. Police officers stand by, unable to effect any change on the situation. A dignitary is escorted from his car, beyond the tree to another car on the other side, where he continues on his way. Rain begins to fall in symbolic fashion, like tears from heaven.

     Then a boy walking to school makes his way through the traffic, comes to the tree, and stops. Rather than going around the tree, he drops his school bag, puts his hands against the wet bark, and begins to push with all his might. Children from a school bus stuck in traffic smile as though amused but also understanding his gesture. Then other children from the street join him, lining up in front of the tree, trying to push it all at once. Of course, the tree doesn’t budge. But then adults get out of their cars and rush to help, and soon droves of people are heaving the tree, lifting it just enough to move it out of the way. The rain stops and the sun peaks out from behind the clouds, like God smiling down on the boy and all those who joined him in this small effort to improve their world. Traffic begins to flow again, and people get on with their day.

     What a beautiful message this is about the power of one person to initiate change in the world. In that moment when the boy dropped his bag and began to try to push the tree, he looked eccentric in comparison to everyone else. Have you ever felt like doing the right thing would be so contrary to people’s expectations that it would make you look like an oddball?

     Defying convention shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. That’s nonsensical and often vain. But we must be willing to take the first step in the right direction when others seem unwilling or even ignorant of the truth. We must be willing to look like that boy pushing against the giant tree in order to show others the path God wants us to walk.

     Many saints of the Church have been known for their ability to go against the tide when they felt God was calling them to a role of leadership. St. Francis of Assisi ventured across the battle lines during the Crusades to initiate peace talks with the Sultan of Egypt. Francis greeted the Sultan by saying, “May the Lord give you peace,” echoing the Muslim greeting “Assalam o alaikum,” which translates to “Peace be upon you.” Francis proceeded to share his faith in a way that did not offend the Sultan, who was impressed by his peacefulness and courage. After this encounter, the Sultan treated his Christian prisoners with greater respect and sought peace with the Crusaders.

     We can never fully predict the outcome of our actions, which is a good reason to not despair before we have even tried to do what is right. Humility demands that we be willing to take the first step. There’s always a chance others will see our actions and be inspired in some small way. Good deeds plant seeds of hope, and those seeds can grow into mighty movements that can change the world one person at a time.

 

The Healing Ritual of Confession

April 8, 2018

               The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a divinely instituted encounter with the mercy of God that we should avail ourselves of on a regular basis.  In John 20:20-23, an account of Christ’s appearance to the apostles after the resurrection reads: “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

                By partaking in the sacrament that Christ instituted, we gain the certainty of knowing we are forgiven so that we can move forward with our lives. We have discussed our sins with a priest of the Church, demonstrating humility and opening ourselves up for counsel and guidance in reconciling ourselves to God through prayer and acts of penance.

                A few years ago, Northwest Catholic, the official news site for the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, published an article written by Kevin Birnbaum entitled “The Power of Confession.” Birnbaum recounted the story of Christopher Barajas, who had been raised by Catholic parents but strayed in his teenage years and began, as he said, “down the path into darkness.” Birnbaum writes of Barajas: “He was drinking, smoking marijuana, sneaking out late and skipping enough classes that he ended up not graduating high school on schedule. But when he saw his younger brother starting down the same path, he realized he had to change.”

                Barajas found his way back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and credits it with giving him the freedom to choose the right path. He says, “There’s that choice I have, to choose God or to continue on the path I was on before, where if I didn’t have that sacrament, I know that I wouldn’t have that choice. I still would be chained down to those vices.”

                What a powerful reminder of the important reasons we have for making regular confessions. Like Barajas, many of us can think of loved ones for whom we want to set a good example. Confession helps us to remain pure of heart so that we can be there for those who need us most. Many of us also have had the experience of feeling like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders after we’ve made a good confession. This is that sense of freedom that Barajas is talking about. Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation to awaken us to the mercy of God, and when we take the steps to make a good confession, we internalize that mercy within our souls.

                The Sacrament of Reconciliation contains within itself all the elements we need to put our faults behind us and live a life of hope. We get a chance to tell our stories and talk through the issues that are burdening us. We receive counsel in regard to the spiritual dimensions of our actions. And we encounter the forgiveness of God made possible by Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. What an ingenious combination of healing elements rolled into this ritual of the Catholic faith. 

So avail yourself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the mercy of God will overflow within your soul; and you will remain a beacon of light to your loved ones, who look to you for inspiration as they search for the right path in their own lives.   

In Praise of Catholic Caregivers

     In a 2017 article for the London-based Catholic Herald, Professor David Paton of Nottingham University called the Catholic Church “the largest and most significant non-state organization in the world” and “one of the biggest aid agencies in the world.” The numbers internationally are impressive – over 140,000 schools, 10,000 orphanages, 5,000 hospitals and 16,000 other clinics, with spending between two and four billion per year.

     “Even these numbers only tell half the tale,” writes Paton, who notes that Caritas, the organization that provides the numbers, does not factor in developmental spending by religious orders and other charities, nor do their figures reflect small scale charitable projects undertaken by the 200,000 parishes worldwide. “In much of the developing world,” Paton writes, “if the Church was not involved, the services would not be provided at all.”

     One study found that Catholic hospitals in the U.S. were more efficient than their secular counterparts while also managing to compile a better track record of serving the poor and marginalized of society. In education, an Australian study shows that attending Catholic schools increases students’ chances of going to college and getting a good job. And on a heartbreaking yet enlightening note about education in one U.S. city, Paton writes, “The University of Chicago Law Review recently concluded that the closure of Catholic schools in poorer areas of Chicago led to a significant increase in urban social disorder and crime.”

So what does this say about the state of Catholic outreach throughout the world? It says that people of faith have been inspired by the gospel to build a worldwide community of caregivers who are currently making a profound impact on society and in the life of each individual they serve. Christ said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) Faithful Catholics are rising to the call to produce good fruits every day.

     As Paton notes, it is important for the Church’s outreach to remain firmly rooted in the faith because this is the best way to minister to the full range of human needs when dealing with each individual we serve. The greatest threat to the continuation of a robust Catholic outreach comes from secular governments and institutions that sometimes expect the Church to conform to modern trends in morality in order to administer aid.

     It is important that Catholics remain confident in answering the call to serve while also upholding the beliefs that have been handed down to us by Christ. This will ensure the future of our mission to serve those in need throughout the world; and, as Paton writes, “If Catholic institutions are able to carry on delivering their services in the context of an ethos that has at its heart the dignity of every human life from conception until natural death, the Church can continue to be the greatest force for good in the world today.”

     For those interested in becoming part of the thriving culture of service in the Church, Catholic Volunteer Network is a wonderful place to discover information about opportunities for outreach in our nation and around the world. There is truly so much going on and so many opportunities, including opportunities for young people to earn stipends while exploring their gifts as caregivers to those in need.

     So take heart in the wonderful work done by Catholic caregivers around the world, and let us go forth as a people of faith to continue to act on the love we have within our hearts for all God’s children.

Finding Your Path Home to God

March 25, 2018

                In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” This beautiful line reveals the essence of the journey we are all on to discover and embrace the joy that comes from a deep relationship with God. 

                Edith Stein said, “Wherever you seek truth, you seek God, whether or not you know it.” This axiom reveals how essential faith is to every aspect of human life. But realizing this reality and embracing the journey can radically alter the course of our lives and lead us to progress in leaps and bounds towards living a life of joy.

                The Christopher News Note “Finding Your Path Home to God” highlights stories that demonstrate the uniqueness of each individual’s journey. For instance, Leah Libresco Sargeant was an atheist blogger who found her path to God through her love of dancing. In an interview with America magazine, she said:

                “When I started learning to waltz, I spent a lot of time just practicing the basic waltz step – the same kind of endless repetition as the Hail Marys of the Rosary. The reason I was supposed to keep practicing was so that my feet could keep the rhythm, no matter what…I wound up thinking of the Rosary as my chance to follow a ‘basic step’ for prayer. My goal wasn’t to produce epiphanies about the lives of Christ and Mary, but to fall into God’s rhythm and to be ready to move if he led me.”

                Falling into a rhythm of holiness is one of the great rewards of journeying with purpose towards God. What a beautiful account of discovering this rhythm through the circumstances of one’s life. This is how God works through all of our experiences to call us home to His loving embrace.

                In an interview with Marcus Grodi of The Coming Home Network, Leila Marie Lawlor, who was raised by secular humanist parents, found herself drawn to the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis. Later in life, the Christian themes of her childhood reading led her to discover the Scriptures, and through this journey she encountered Christ.

                When the wife of journalist and avowed atheist Lee Strobel turned to God during a family health crisis, he undertook a hunt for facts to turn her away from a life of faith. But after interviewing scholars about the authenticity of the Gospels, he became a believer himself.

                Blessed John Henry Newman spent years on his journey toward Catholicism and came to understand that, despite his towering intellect, it was only through surrender to the workings of the Holy Spirit that he would find his way home. In his poem “Lead, Kindly Light,” Newman wrote: “Meantime, along the narrow rugged path / Thyself hast trod / Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith / Home to my God.”

                It takes discernment to realize the path God is leading us along and humility to follow it. That discernment comes from recognizing the gifts we have been given and searching for ways to utilize those gifts to bring about the good in ourselves and the world around us. When we surrender to this process, we will discover the rhythm of holiness alive within our hearts. That rhythm can sustain the soul through a multitude of experiences and lead us to a way of joy that keeps us connected to God as we walk the unique path we are called to each day.  

 

Patience Keeps Us Connected to God

March 18, 2018

     Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” After contracting an illness in childhood, Keller was left deaf and blind for the rest of her life. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she broke through the isolation that her condition imposed upon her and went on to become a writer and lecturer. Her amazing resilience is a testament to the power of the human spirit to remain patient throughout a lifetime of struggle.

     Patience is one of those intangible virtues that we can only gain through perseverance in the face of trials. Keller’s line about suffering providing opportunity to build character traits such as bravery and patience demonstrates how much she came to value the strength of spirit she cultivated in taking on personal challenges. Patience provides endurance amidst suffering and the wisdom to know how and when to take action. The early Christian theologian Tertullian once said, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” What beautiful insight into the path that patience can lead us along when we allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to kindle within our hearts. That fire can direct our thoughts towards God in spite of the hardships of life, resulting in a heart filled with the hope of Christ.

     Life often does not go the way we want it to, and we all face moments of profound frustration and disappointment. It takes patience to remain connected to God throughout the trials we face in order to be guided along the path we are intended to follow. The Christophers have a beautiful meditation on patience that highlights the importance of this virtue. It reads:

     “Patience is a stillness that reaches deep within the human soul. It connects us with God by allowing us to pause and reflect on our actions. A patient heart waits for the resurrections that Christ effects in our lives, reviving us to a life of joy. Patience is the tender reaction of one heart to another. It is the essence of love.”

     The patience we cultivate in waiting on God to guide us through difficult times prepares us to reach out to others in a loving manner. This mercy that we extend to the world is one of the great fruits of the Holy Spirit. God wants to work through us to bring good into the world, and it is only through patience that we are able to recognize the needs of others and realize the call to serve.

     Patience enables us to deepen the bonds of friendship, family, and community life. These are the treasures that await all who have a clean heart in their interactions with others. Christ said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

     We store up treasures in heaven when we put the good above all else, and it takes patience to do that in this world where temptation and adversity await us at every turn. So remember to be patient amid the struggles of life so that we can recognize the treasures of heaven and allow God to guide us along the path of true and lasting joy.    

 

Joy Unburdened By Envy and Jealousy

Feb 18, 2018

                In an address to the people of Rome early in his pontificate, Pope Francis said, “A jealous heart is a bitter heart, a heart that instead of blood seems to have vinegar.” He also noted that jealousy is the root cause of much violence in the world, saying, “It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other.”

                Francis’ grave warning about the dangers of envy and jealousy echoes the centuries-old proscription against this sin, which is considered one of the seven deadly sins due to the corruption it causes the human soul. We must fight against the impulse to envy others in order to free ourselves from the hatred it sows within our hearts.

                The Christophers’ News Note “Overcoming Envy and Jealousy” recounts a story told by the prophet Nathan in the Second Book of Samuel. Nathan tells of a rich man who had many flocks and herds of animals but who became envious of a poor man who had only one lamb. The rich man’s disordered passions led him to steal the poor man’s lamb in order to slaughter it for a feast. What a poignant story demonstrating the irrationality of the sin of jealousy. 

In contrast to the materialism that leads to envy and jealousy, Christ calls us to embrace a spirit of poverty, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) The poor man in Nathan’s story embodies this spirit. He cherished the one lamb he had been blessed with and treated it with great care. Instead of envying the poor man, the rich man would have done well to emulate him, but his materialism would not allow him to be grateful to God for the many gifts he had been given. 

                Aside from fostering gratitude to God, poverty of spirit also frees us to appreciate the gifts that others have been given because we are not consumed by comparing ourselves to them. How wonderful it is to be free from the sin of envy so that we might delight in the happiness of our neighbor. Christ calls us to abandon materialism in favor of a radical trust in the providence of God, saying, “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)

               In our efforts to overcome the discord that results from jealousy, we can pray for the intercession of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, who is the patroness of victims of adultery, jealousy and unfaithfulness. She suffered from false accusations as a result of her husband’s jealousy and also bore much pain due to his unfaithfulness to her. Elizabeth’s response was to simply live a holy life, inspiring those around her and eventually winning the conversion of her husband. Her story demonstrates how to overcome the hate that results from envy and jealousy. We must begin by forgiving because forgiveness unburdens us from hatred so that we might live lives of joy.

               Joy unburdened by envy and jealousy is the reward that awaits all who let go of their own cares and trust in the providence of God. It is a joy we can carry into the world with confidence, clothed like the lilies of the field in the love of God.

In Praise of Catholic Caregivers

Feb 4, 2018

     In a 2017 article for the London-based Catholic Herald, Professor David Paton of Nottingham University called the Catholic Church “the largest and most significant non-state organization in the world” and “one of the biggest aid agencies in the world.” The numbers internationally are impressive – over 140,000 schools, 10,000 orphanages, 5,000 hospitals and 16,000 other clinics, with spending between two and four billion per year.

     “Even these numbers only tell half the tale,” writes Paton, who notes that Caritas, the organization that provides the numbers, does not factor in developmental spending by religious orders and other charities, nor do their figures reflect small scale charitable projects undertaken by the 200,000 parishes worldwide. “In much of the developing world,” Paton writes, “if the Church was not involved, the services would not be provided at all.”

     One study found that Catholic hospitals in the U.S. were more efficient than their secular counterparts while also managing to compile a better track record of serving the poor and marginalized of society. In education, an Australian study shows that attending Catholic schools increases students’ chances of going to college and getting a good job. And on a heartbreaking yet enlightening note about education in one U.S. city, Paton writes, “The University of Chicago Law Review recently concluded that the closure of Catholic schools in poorer areas of Chicago led to a significant increase in urban social disorder and crime.”

     So what does this say about the state of Catholic outreach throughout the world? It says that people of faith have been inspired by the gospel to build a worldwide community of caregivers who are currently making a profound impact on society and in the life of each individual they serve. Christ said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) Faithful Catholics are rising to the call to produce good fruits every day.

     As Paton notes, it is important for the Church’s outreach to remain firmly rooted in the faith because this is the best way to minister to the full range of human needs when dealing with each individual we serve. The greatest threat to the continuation of a robust Catholic outreach comes from secular governments and institutions that sometimes expect the Church to conform to modern trends in morality in order to administer aid.

     It is important that Catholics remain confident in answering the call to serve while also upholding the beliefs that have been handed down to us by Christ. This will ensure the future of our mission to serve those in need throughout the world; and, as Paton writes, “If Catholic institutions are able to carry on delivering their services in the context of an ethos that has at its heart the dignity of every human life from conception until natural death, the Church can continue to be the greatest force for good in the world today.”

     For those interested in becoming part of the thriving culture of service in the Church, Catholic Volunteer Network is a wonderful place to discover information about opportunities for outreach in our nation and around the world. There is truly so much going on and so many opportunities, including opportunities for young people to earn stipends while exploring their gifts as caregivers to those in need.

So take heart in the wonderful work done by Catholic caregivers around the world, and let us go forth as a people of faith to continue to act on the love we have within our hearts for all God’s children.

 

“Retired” Priest Offers Hope for Vocations

January 28, 2018

     In an article published last year in the Times Union newspaper of Albany, New York, Father Edward Deimeke, Episcopal Vicar for Bishop Edward B. Sharfenberger in the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, spoke about his call to remain active as a priest even in retirement. Father Deimeke served as a Chaplain in the Air Force for nearly 20 years, before returning to the diocese, where he resides at the St. Isaac Jogues House of Discernment and offers Sunday Mass at two separate parishes in the Hudson River Valley.

     Father Deimeke told the Times Union, “I could have retired to Florida after I got out of the Air Force.” But then he added, “I didn't want to sit on a beach and do nothing. I want to stay active doing what I was ordained to do. I don't know any retired priests who complain about it. It's a calling and a lifetime vocation.”

     In a recent interview with The Christophers, Father Deimeke reflected on his life as a priest and his hope for the future of vocations in the Diocese of Albany. He noted that the St. Isaac Jogues House of Discernment, where he lives and manages certain day-to-day aspects, will soon be at capacity with young men exploring a vocation to the priesthood.

Highlighting the efforts of the faithful to prompt consideration of religious life, Father Deimeke says,    “What they’ve done well is advertising. Everywhere you go in parishes, you see posters inviting people to consider this calling, and I think that has made a big difference.”

     A longtime supporter of The Christophers, Father Deimeke spoke about his utilization of our News Notes over the years: “When I was a military chaplain, I would always try to keep News Notes on hand because they are so effective in addressing issues relevant to people’s lives in a down-to-earth manner.”

    Accessibility is one of the most important aspects of communication in growing the faith and fostering vocations, and there is no more accessible way to communicate than to simply embody the principles of Christ in how we live our lives. This is exactly what Father Deimeke and other priests like him are doing by stepping up to fill the void of service needed in the Church today. When young people see a priest embracing his vocation as a way of life that defines his personality, it inspires a profound understanding of the priesthood. It is a call to journey in the footsteps of Christ, and it is a lifelong journey where sometimes the greatest rewards occur after much wisdom is acquired through many years of service.  

    A glimpse into the Albany Diocese’s approach to inviting religious vocations could be seen at a recent Confirmation Mass, where Bishop Sharfenberger gave a beautiful homily. He noted that sometimes people view religious life as something that is beyond them or something they haven’t been invited to. Then looking to the young Albany Confirmands, Bishop Sharfenberger said, “Consider yourself invited.”

    What a beautiful moment that is, in the midst of being confirmed, to be invited to journey with Christ in an intimate way for the rest of one’s life. If we want to share Christ with the world, let us say these welcoming words about our faith to all we encounter, whether they are people who are searching or those who have strayed, and especially to young people who might have a calling. Let us say to them all, “Consider yourself invited!”     

Allow God to Mold You

January 7, 2018

                In a Facebook post this past November, Christopher friend Jim Collins shared that he had just finished his first prison ministry visit with a program called Residents Encounter Christ. He wrote, “I think I learned a lot more than the residents. It is amazing to watch Jesus’ hand at work over the weekend with both the residents and myself.” A week later, Jim posted a picture with a glorious view of a long field in which an American flag flew in front of a browned autumn tree line framing the horizon. He wrote, “I am cooking this weekend for the women’s retreat. Look at my view while cooking eggs this morning.”

                What a beautiful way to utilize social media, to highlight the fulfillment that comes from service to others. In a recent interview with The Christophers, Jim shared some details about these encounters, recalling lighter moments such as dancing and singing with the inmates during his prison visit—and being given a hard time in the kitchen for all the things he needed to be taught about cooking at the retreat. But he also shared some profoundly moving experiences and insights he gained through the opportunity to serve others.

                Jim’s prison visit encompassed three days in which volunteers slept at a nearby Franciscan house and rose early to venture to the prison and spend all day ministering to inmates. He noted that some of the men committed horrible crimes yet discovered Christ while in prison and changed their lives.

Jim noted that many prisoners struggle to forgive themselves for the crimes they committed and that was an issue he tried to address, telling them, “If God forgives you, who are you not to forgive yourself?” He gave a talk on taking action, focusing on the command we receive at the end of each Mass: “Go forth to love and serve the Lord.” Reflecting on those words, Jim said, “It’s telling us to go forth and be apostles of Christ, and to take the Eucharist in our bodies that we’ve taken during Mass and bring it out to the world.”

                What motivated Jim to take part in these volunteer opportunities? He said, “The Christophers taught me a lot about bringing my faith out and to be outside of myself, to be an action person. I love being the action-faith guy, and I learned a lot of that from The Christophers.”

                A week after his prison visit, Jim cooked for the women’s retreat as part of a Cursillo palanca, which entails prayers and offerings for the cause of bringing about grace in someone’s life. And a week later, he took part in a “midnight run,” wherein he joined in bringing food and clothing directly to the homeless on the streets of Manhattan.       

                Talking about his journey to put his faith into action, Jim said, “I used to just go to Mass on Sundays but then at some point I started to allow God to mold me, just like Pope Francis says, ‘Allow Him to mold you, allow Him to form you.’”

                When we open our hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves bringing our faith out into our communities to meet the spiritual needs of those we encounter. It is a way of life more fulfilling than any other material pursuit. So allow God to mold you today, and the Holy Spirit will transform you and begin to work through you to make the world a better place.

A Saintly Advent Journey

December 3, 2017

             Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, recalling the hope surrounding Christ’s  first coming and looking forward to His second coming, when all things will be  fulfilled in Him. During this time, we should feel like we are on a journey away from  the bondage of worldliness and towards the fulfillment of our deepest and purest  desires. One of the most important ways to bring this journey to life within our hearts  is to pray for guidance, protection, and intercession along the way, and there are  certain Saints that are particularly appropriate to call upon, with life stories to inspire us as we prepare ourselves for Christmas.

                In an article for Catholic Exchange, journalist Stephen Beale lists his “Top Ten Saints for Advent” and explains how aspects of their stories relate to this period of expectation. For instance, St. Francis of Assisi installed the first nativity scene, using real life animals and a life-sized manger. He wanted to ignite devotion to the faith, and his actions remind us that this is indeed a time for us to create beautiful commemorations to the miracle of Christ’s birth. 

Another saint devoted to reminding others of the importance of Christ was John the Baptist, only his was a prophetic call sounded even before Christ began His ministry. John’s story reminds us that we all have a unique purpose in life. His purpose was so clear to him from the very beginning that he actually leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb upon being in the presence of the unborn Christ in Mary’s womb.

                Other saints that Beale highlights for their significance during Advent are St. John of the Cross for his meditation on the Dark Night of the Soul, a time when we wait in anxious expectation to be calmed by the peace of Christ; St. Martin of Tours, whose feast day was once a Mardi-Gras-like kick-off to start Advent; St. Nicholas, whose legend has grown around Christmas but who was also known as a strong defender of the faith; St. Lucy, who endured a torture that left her blind and is now remembered in connection to the Christmas imagery of Jesus as the light of the world; St. Therese of Lisieux, who was devoted to the Child Jesus; and St. Teresa of Avila, who was devoted to St. Joseph.

             And that brings us to the two most important saints to remember during Advent: Mary and Joseph. Beale calls Mary “the ultimate Christian believer,” who experienced the intense joy of being close to Christ and who also weathered the turmoil that surrounded His life. Reflecting on St. Joseph, Beale references an Advent sermon given by St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the special relationship between Joseph and Jesus. Bernard highlighted that God trusted Joseph to “carry in his arms, to lead by the hand, to nourish and to watch over the Infant Savior.”

             No two people could have experienced the anticipation of Christ’s birth more profoundly than Mary and Joseph. Imagine the responsibility they knew they were preparing themselves for—and then realize that God is calling you to that same responsibility. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves to welcome the Child Jesus in all His vulnerability into our lives and to see Christ in all those entrusted to us in their most vulnerable moments. When we do that, we have walked in the footsteps of the saints in preparing ourselves for Christ, and it is a journey that will not disappoint.   

The Clear Light of Blessed Chiara Badano

November 5, 2017

 

                Blessed Chiara Badano was born in 1971 in the northern Italian village of Sassello. At the age of nine, she joined the Focolare Movement, a Catholic organization dedicated to the brotherhood of all mankind. When she was 16, Badano journeyed to Rome, where she met the Focolare Movement’s founder, Chiara Lubich. In a letter to her parents, young Badano wrote, “This is a very important moment for me: it is an encounter with Jesus Forsaken...This morning Chiara Lubich explained to the children that they have to be the spouse of Jesus Forsaken.” 

                After her trip to Rome, Badano began to correspond regularly with Lubich. In one communication, Badano asked her to give her a different name to indicate the start of a new life. Lubich dubbed her Chiara Luce (meaning “clear light”), and wrote to her saying, “Your luminous face shows your love for Jesus.”

             In the same year that she began to correspond with Lubich, Badano was diagnosed with a rare and painful form of bone cancer. In response to this diagnosis, Badano said, “It’s for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too.” 

             Throughout her illness, Badano constantly reached out to others and visited those in need. One story tells of how she would go on walks with another patient in the hospital, who was suffering from depression, despite the fact that walking caused Badano great pain. She donated her entire life savings to a friend who was doing mission work in Africa, saying, “I don’t need this money anymore. I have everything.”  

             A friend from Focolare said, “At first we thought we’d visit her to keep her spirits up, but very soon we understood that, in fact, we were the ones who needed her. Her life was like a magnet drawing us to her.”

             When Badano lost the ability to walk, she said, “If I had to choose between walking again and going to heaven, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose heaven.” Realizing she wasn’t going to beat the cancer, Badano began to prepare her parents for the pain of losing her, encouraging them to treat her funeral like a wedding, and saying, “Don’t shed any tears for me. I’m going to Jesus. At my funeral, I don’t want people crying, but singing with all their hearts.”

             Badano died in 1990 at the age of 18. On the day of her funeral, the mayor of Sassello closed the village for business so that everyone could mourn together. She was declared venerable in 2008 and blessed in 2010 after the Vatican confirmed a miraculous healing of a young Italian boy suffering from a deadly case of meningitis. 

             On her death bed, Badano shared with her mother that some of her last thoughts were of the young people of the world, saying, “Oh Mamma, young people…they are the future. You see, I can’t run anymore, but how I would like to pass on to them the torch, like in the Olympics! Young people have only one life and it’s worthwhile to spend it well.”

             The torch Blessed Chiara Luce Badano wants to pass on to young people is the clear light that came to her in her love for Jesus Christ. It is a light that can sustain the soul through the darkest of storms; so let us share her story, entrusting young people to her intercession, and the clear light of Chiara Luce will shine as a beacon for them to follow throughout their lives.

The Courage of Blessed Oscar Romero

October 8, 2017

                August 15 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero. Offering Mass in his honor, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said, “One hundred years after his birth, Blessed Oscar Romero still inspires us for his humility and courage – for his love for the poor and his witness of solidarity and service to others, even to the point of laying down his life.”

                Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador in the late 1970s at the outset of the Salvadoran Civil War. On March 12, 1977, less than a month after his appointment as Archbishop, Father Rutilio Grande, S.J., a close friend of Romero’s, was assassinated. Father Grande was targeted because of the work he was doing to organize poor people into self-reliant groups.

                In the aftermath of this tragedy and in the face of growing persecution of the Church and the poor of El            Salvador, Romero realized that he had to become more vocal. He began to broadcast weekly sermons on the radio in which he informed the public of incidents such as kidnappings, tortures, and murders. These broadcasts became a primary source of information for people throughout the country. The corrupt government, as well as violent revolutionaries, began to see Romero as a threat.  

                The courage of Blessed Oscar Romero during the early days of the Salvadoran Civil War was rooted in his faith in Christ and fidelity to the Church. Throughout his life he consistently found strength in his vocation to the priesthood. He performed regular penances, engaged in contemplative prayer, guarded his chastity, and sought God in his interactions with others. He took his episcopal motto, “to be of one mind with the Church,” from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and he once said, “Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God.”

             Romero understood that speaking the truth about injustice in his country would make him a target for assassins in the same way Father Grande was targeted, yet he continued to speak out and be a voice for the voiceless. He once said, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”

             On March 24, 1980, a car pulled up in front of a chapel where Romero was saying Mass at a spiritual recollection. A gunman stepped out of the car, walked to the doorway of the chapel and fired a shot just after Romero finished his sermon. The shot struck him in the heart, and he fell to the altar floor fatally wounded. 

            Six days after his death, 250,000 mourners gathered to pay their respects at his funeral Mass. Yet Romero’s enemies would not relent. Smoke bombs exploded in the streets and shots were fired at the crowd from surrounding buildings, leaving many people injured and close to 50 dead. As the violence persisted, Romero’s body was buried in a crypt beneath the altar of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, and people continued to line up to pay him homage.

             El Salvador suffered from the ravages of civil war for more than a decade after Romero’s death, yet he inspired countless people to reject the false power of violence and live in the light of Christ. His life story teaches us that true courage is rooted in love for others and fidelity to God. We should pray for the intercession of this holy martyr so that we can find the courage to follow in his footsteps and stand for justice and truth in our world today.

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