Loving Him More

My pastor used to lead our youth group in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, having us repeat after him: “Jesus, I love you. Help me to love you more.”

Help me to love you more. It’s a prayer I continue to pray.

But what does that mean? How will we know when we are loving Him more?  It won’t necessarily translate to a certain feeling when we pray. It probably won’t be a glow in our heart or feeling as we walk around, our mind constantly on Jesus. It might not even mean prayer is easier.

Rather, it’ll mean we begin growing in virtue. It will mean we begin living differently – because we want to live differently. Because it’s better to live differently.

A friend was relating this to me the other day. She has begun to stop into the church during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every day, and her prayer to Jesus is simply, “Help me to love you.” And what has she noticed? She has more patience with her grandchildren.

Loving Jesus more means more patience with our children, spouse, or coworkers. It means more perseverance in the monotonous or small tasks of our lives. It means being able to smile at someone even when we’d rather scowl. It means taking the next step in a project when we don’t feel like it. It means not just picking up our cross, but loving it.

Loving Jesus more is not a feeling, but a doing. If we ask him to help us love Him more, that will translate into the strength to live the Christian life: to love Him in our neighbors and to enter more deeply into prayer.

At times we have the warm glow of consolation in our prayer life, but other times we won’t feel anything. The measure of our prayer life is not the feeling we have when we pray, but the way we live our lives.

If we don’t pray daily, we won’t have the strength to accomplish our daily work virtuously or love our neighbor. We can’t live the Christian life without an active relationship with Him. Jesus prayed … so why do we think we don’t need to?  Or maybe we know we need to, but do we actually do it?

Saint Teresa of Avila likened the Christian without a prayer life to a crippled or paralyzed body. The body has hands and feet but cannot use them. We must speak to God daily. We can do this throughout the day, with aspirations or short prayers repeated as we work. The Jesus prayer is a tried and true way to keep your mind close to God while you go about your day.

It’s also important, however, to set aside time specifically for prayer. While we should pray while we work and offer our work as a prayer, we also have to have specific times where our minds and hearts are least trying to focus solely on Him. It might not be easy, especially if our days are full of taking care of a family or long hours at work. But it’s necessary.

And if we find ourselves caught in a routine of rote prayers, we can heed the advice of St. Josemaria: “To avoid routine in your vocal prayers try to say them with the same ardour with which a person who has just fallen in love speaks… and as if it were the last chance you had to approach Our Lord” (The Forge, 432).

We must be a people whose lives show we are in love with our Lord. So, we repeatedly ask Him, “Help me to love you more.” It’s a prayer He will answer – perhaps not in the glowing consolation of a warm feeling, but with the strength to live the Christian life.

 

This post first appeared on Integrated Catholic Life.


Following a God Who Suffered

Today’s Gospel came at a good time for me, and for perhaps others in the Church too. I have attempted to write a post several times about various topics… my feelings during this latest crisis, my opinions about what we need going forward, my thoughts about the situation in general. But it has been too raw, too confusing, and too overwhelming.

Then I heard today’s Gospel. I was taken back immediately to Caesarea Phillipi, where I stood earlier this summer. Carved in the giant rock face at that place (there are many natural details of geography that make this a fitting and fascinating place for Christ to enter into this exchange with Simon) are the abandoned niches of shrines to pagan gods. One can visualize Jesus walking among the shrines before turning to his Apostles and asking that all-important question: Who do you say that I am?

The answer has become easy – perhaps too easy. You are the Christ. And you are not one among many gods – you are God.

But are we ready for what that really means? It’s one thing to say it. But do we really believe it? And are we ready to do what follows from it?

As I walked around the ruins at Caesarea Phillipi, I looked down at what remains of the Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats. I think I audibly thanked God that He came in the flesh and founded a Church. I really don’t want to worship Pan and Dancing Goats.

Temple of Pan

But do I want the Church on my terms?

Yes, I do. Just like Peter wanted the Christ on his terms.

Frankly, over the past few days I have struggled with why Jesus chose to do things the way He did. There’s so much … humanity in the Church. So much humanity.

I have struggled over the past few weeks with anger. Probably a healthy dose of righteous anger (the kind that Augustine supposedly said is the daughter of hope), but anger nonetheless. I have not had a crisis of faith, but I have had several frank conversations with God. Today’s Gospel reminded me that if I’m truly going to profess Jesus is God, and abandon the life of worshiping dancing goats, I’m going to have to accept the Church He founded.

I’m going to have to accept the Church He founded … on His terms. And that’s a Church made up of sinners. That’s a Church that often falls short. That’s a Church that will disappoint me at times. But it is also a Church that is made up of saints. It is also a Church that will forgive me. It is also a Church that will give me Jesus.

It is a Church that has what I need to be holy.

Thankfully, the Church doesn’t depend on us. But it is made up of us. And so it’s time to roll up our sleeves and work. It’s time to work towards healing and reformation. It’s time to support the priests who are struggling and laboring for us. It’s time to call our leaders to follow Christ. And it’s time to follow Christ ourselves.

Heck, maybe in some ways, life would have been easier if we were still worshiping dancing goats. But we aren’t called to an easy life. We are called, as He reminded his Apostles again and again, to follow Him.

And we follow a God who suffered greatly. Wrap your mind around that one.

Learning to Carry Your Cross

Five years ago, I was in the middle of a rocky phase of life.  I was moving apartments, there were major changes at my workplace, and a priest who kept me sane was suddenly transferred to another mission.  There was change in my personal world, my work world, and my spiritual world. Lent was still several weeks away, but I felt like I was already living it.

During those days, I realized that while I often prayed “Your will be done,” I really didn’t trust Him. It was a prayer far easier to say than to live.

Just when I thought I couldn’t deal with any more change, two days before Lent began Pope Benedict announced his resignation.  I almost laughed at the absurdity through my tears that day.  Was this really happening?  I thought January had been full of change… now I was even losing my Pope?

I had been in St. Peter’s Square for Benedict’s election and again for his installation.  In the eight years of his papacy, I had devoured every word and followed every trip.  I had a Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club mug years before he was even elected.  If there had been one thing I thought would be free from change at that moment, it was the universal Church. Boy, was I wrong.

I learned that Lent about control and sacrifice. Ultimately, I learned that I liked to control my sacrifices!  I can give up chocolate, not eat between meals, or turn off technology.  These things may really help me grow in the spiritual life. But while there is a lot of good in self-imposed sacrifice and it can be pretty difficult, I’m usually far more willing to impose sacrifice on myself than to accept the crosses I’m given.

If only I could barter with God:  “Um, thanks, God, but I don’t really want what is happening in my life right now.  How about I fast tomorrow instead?  Thanks.” Needless to say, that isn’t the way it works. In the end, the best sacrifices are the ones that we don’t need to seek out and are already being asked of us.  Rather than running away from them, it’s time to pick up our crosses and follow His lead.

Scripture repeatedly reminds us, “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.” (Psalm 40, as in the liturgy).  It is not that God doesn’t want our sacrifices, but that He wants our obedience more.  The book of Hebrews applies these words to Christ Himself. Christ gave the ultimate and perfect sacrifice, but what was pleasing to the Father was His perfect obedience in that sacrifice (Hebrews 10:5-9).

The greatest gift we can give God is obedience, and the hardest time to tell him, “Behold, I come,” is when that obedience requires our childlike trust.

Perhaps the greatest sacrifice we make this Lent is not one we choose for ourselves, but one that is found by humbly accepting the crosses that come into our lives every day.  God knew I needed to learn how to trust Him that Lent.  And while I still struggle with it, I know those months helped me learn an important lesson: when all feels shaky around you, your cross is actually the safest and most stable place to grip – because Christ is holding it too.

 

 

Originally published on Integrated Catholic Life.

Good King Wenceslaus and Christmas’ Call to Holiness

Most Christmas carols are about that first Christmas night or the celebration of Christmas today.  But one stands out as something different. In a way, the carol “Good King Wenceslaus” isn’t as much about Christmas as it is about what Christmas requires of us.

“Good King Wenceslaus” always gets stuck in my head on two days: September 28 and December 26. The carol recounts the story of Wenceslaus I, the Duke of Bohemia, walking with his page on the feast of St. Stephen (December 26).  Wenceslaus is now a canonized saint who has has own feast (September 28).

The carol tells the story of Wenceslaus and his page walking through the bitter cold snow. Wenceslaus sees a poor man gathering wood to keep his home warm. The king tells his page to give him not only wood, but also food and drink.  As the song ends, the page is getting colder and fears he can’t walk with the king much longer. The king tells his page to follow him and walk in the footprints he has already made in the snow.  When the page does, he finds there is warmth in the saint’s tracks:

In his master’s steps he trod / Where the snow lay dinted / Heat was in the very sod / Which the Saint had printed / Therefore, Christian men, be sure / Wealth or rank possessing / Ye who now will bless the poor / Shall yourselves find blessing.

Why are we singing a song about a duke walking in the snow on December 26, and why do we consider it a Christmas carol? What can this carol teach us?

Christmas is not a day, but a season. First, unlike most Christmas songs that describe either the preparation leading up to Christmas or the Christmas carols that describe the coming of Christ, this carol speaks of the day after Christmas.  It serves as a reminder that Christmas is not a day, but a season.

In our society, it can actually be hard to celebrate Christmas for the season it deserves. People look askance when you still have your decorations up after New Year’s Day, as if you’re the laziest person on earth.  Try telling someone “Merry Christmas” anytime after December 25 and they will probably think you need to move on to the next holiday. We need to reclaim the season of Christmas.

It is a carol of holiness.  This Christmas carol never mentions Christ, Mary, or Bethlehem. Instead, it is the story of what it looks like to follow Christ. In a way, this is a carol of the universal call to holiness. Despite his rank, Wenceslaus sees himself first as a Christian, and therefore seeks to serve his fellow man.  Sainthood is not reserved for the priests and nuns, but is the vocation of even the king of the kingdom.

It is not just the fact that Wenceslaus seeks out the peasant and gives him “flesh” and “wine,” but also that Wenceslaus treats his servant with respect.  That is a uniquely Christian act.  While our modern culture likes to pretend that societal values such as respect for others is a natural way to live, these values are actually the product of a Catholic culture and the counter-cultural message of Jesus Christ (see Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again by Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea).

We need witnesses and community. Wenceslaus’ page found that following in the footsteps of his master made his journey easier.  We also should follow in the steps of the saints, who have finished this race of life before us.  They show us that the Christian life is livable, and that the vocation to holiness is possible. Holiness is not easy, nor is the path of the saint an easy one. But when we fear we can go no longer, we look to the saints for intercession and example to help us continue down the narrow path.

Similarly, we also find that surrounding ourselves with Christian friends makes living as Christians easier. The Christian life is meant to be lived in community, and we need a culture where we can live, celebrate, and mourn with people who share our Catholic values. If you don’t have such a community, begin cultivating one. If you desire witnesses, begin by being a witness to others.

Holiness always costs. As the carol evokes St. Stephen, it hints at the fate that awaits Wenceslaus as well. Remember, the Catholic Church doesn’t just remember Wenceslaus in this carol, but also on his own feast day. That day, the priest celebrating Mass wears red, as he does on the feast of Stephen, because Wenceslaus was also a martyr for the Faith he held dear.  His brother killed him while he was on his way to Mass.

Wenceslaus followed in the footsteps of St. Stephen, who had followed in the footsteps of Christ.  Holiness is not just about caring for the poor, but is also about having the courage to stand up for the Faith when it costs us. We may not be persecuted for the Faith to the point of shedding our blood, but as Augustine reminds us, “Every age is an age of martyrdom.  Don’t say that Christians are not suffering persecution; the Apostle’s words are always true… ‘All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3:12).  All, with no one being excluded or exempted. If you want to test the truth of this saying, you have only to begin to lead a pious life and you will see what good reason he had for saying this.” (Sermon 6,2)

The carol “Good King Wenceslaus” reminds us that Christmas is more than just a day of celebration with friends and family.  Christmas should change us, because that night changed the world. We have to answer the call that was made that night in Bethlehem and follow in our Master’s steps. While it will cost us if we do, we also will find blessing.

 

Originally published on Integrated Catholic Life.

What Will I Give Him?

Have you marked everything off your Christmas to-do list? Last year, Advent was the longest it could possibly be and I still felt like I was running behind the rest of the world. Strangely enough, this Advent – the shortest it can possibly be – I’m not stressed at all about Christmas shopping, baking, and card-writing. Maybe I’ve finally decided that regardless of what the world might say, I know Christmas doesn’t just last for a day.

When you look at your list of Christmas presents to make or buy, have you remembered the most important Person on that list?  Maybe you remembered the mailman and your niece’s boyfriend. But have you remembered… Jesus?

What will I give the Christ child this Christmas? It’s easy to become distracted by making sure we have presents for everyone on our list and a few extras for those we might have forgotten.  Have we thought about what we are going to give Jesus? It’s His birthday, after all.

For some of us, perhaps we need simply to give Him more time.  Maybe it’s easy for me to busy myself serving on seven different organizations at church and helping my neighbors, but it’s hard for me to slow down and be with Him.  Christ wants us to love Him through serving our neighbors, but that doesn’t replace the need to pray and be with Him, too.  I’m sure you love receiving presents from your friends and family, but if they’re just buying you a bunch of stuff and never actually spending time with you, the presents feel a little hollow.  Perhaps this Christmas, you could give Christ your time.  Just sit with Him, whether in the silence of an Adoration chapel or even in your own bedroom (or closet, locked away from relatives, if necessary!).  You don’t even have to speak. Just be there with Him. Maybe he wants to speak to you.

For others, maybe we need to give Him more attention.  Maybe I try to set aside time for prayer or even daily Mass, but they’ve become items to mark off my to-do list.  Perhaps I say the Rosary but find my mind on the mysteries of my life rather than the mysteries of His.  We all know the feeling of buying someone a present simply because we know we should buy one – there is no feeling or sentiment behind it, but it’s simply something to get so we can mark it off our to-do list. Sometimes, this is the best we can do.  But other times, we know we’ve simply given up and phoned it in.  Some days all we can do is offer even our measly attention spans to Christ. But other days, we know we could try harder, we know we can ask Him for help.  Prayer isn’t just words, but our heart united to those words.

For others, you feel you have nothing to offer Christ but your pain. He wants it.  For others, you have great joys in your life and you’re a little afraid that you offer Him those, He will take them away. He wants these, too.  He wants whatever we have to offer Him – because most of all, He wants us.

Do not worry if you feel you feel you have very little to offer Christ.  He wants your time, your attention, your pain, your joy.  We may feel that we can’t give Him something grand. We forget that He created us, and He created us very grand.  Have the courage to give Him your heart for Christmas.

 

On Pilgrimage

As you read this, I’m on pilgrimage in Italy. One of my favorite parts of my job is leading trips to places in important to our Catholic faith. While you might assume it’s my favorite because it means traveling to Europe, seeing the Pope, and eating good food, it’s actually my favorite for a different reason.

I get to experience people experiencing. I get to pray with people as they climb the Holy Stairs on their knees for the first time. I get to see people reach out to touch the Pope as he drives by. I get to witness the joy of people praying in front of the Crib of Our Lord and weep as they see the relics of the Passion.

Each time I take a group over to Rome, I’m shaken out of my own jadedness towards the Eternal City. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t express my love for Rome enough. But familiarity breeds complacency. As the trip approaches, I calm the jitters and answer the questions from people who have never traveled abroad. Both their excitement and concern reminds me of the importance of pilgrimage – something that I fear I take for granted.  Packing for Rome is little different than packing for the East Coast for me, and I can almost do it in my sleep.  I need the reminders of the pilgrims in my charge to awaken me.

That is why I love to experience people experiencing Rome. This is my tenth time hopping on an airplane to Rome (and two of those trips were extended stays for studies), and although each trip has always involved seeing something new, mostly I will revisit places I have been dozens and dozens of times. But I will go there anew – because I will go there with people seeing it for the first time.  I will be at Mass with permanent deacons who have never set foot in Europe – and now are assisting at Mass in the great basilicas of Rome.  I will witness people praying at the tombs of their confirmation saints. I will see people gaze at the Sistine Chapel for the first time.

These experiences are an important part of one’s faith formation. As director of adult formation, I offer speaker series, write bible studies, and film catechetical videos for social media. But these pilgrimages provide formation in a way sitting in a classroom or listening to a podcast never can.  Touching the Catholic faith as one does on pilgrimage is life-changing.  I was abundantly blessed to have parents who realized importance of this, even to the point of taking me out of school for two weeks so that I could travel to France and Italy.  At only fifteen years old, I stepped into St. Peter’s Square for the first time. And although I didn’t know it then, my life would never be the same, thanks to that piazza.

Not everyone has the chance to travel to Europe, and I know that for many, something like seeing the Pope or praying at these sites might always remain on the bucket list. That is why I must never, ever take it for granted. I must never become jaded at the sight of Michelangelo’s dome, rising over the rooftops of Rome.  I must never tire of walking through the Forum on Via Sacra, my steps tracing the steps of our first Pope and St. Paul.  I must never lose the joy I had that very first time I walked into the loving embrace of Bernini’s colonnade.

That is why I bring others. Because I have to experience it for the first time – again.

Pray for my group, as we begin our pilgrimage, and pray for our diocesan seminarian Anthony, who will be ordained on September 28 to the diaconate in St. Peter’s Basilica with his classmates from the North American College.

(And if you’ve never considered a pilgrimage, pray about that, too. You won’t regret it. Especially if you go with my friend Mountain.)

A Story Still Being Written

This spring, four of my friends and I had a mini-reunion. We have all gone our separate ways since college, and it usually takes a wedding to get us all back together. That was the case this time.

As we were all traveling by car or plane to the wedding destination, one of my friends reminded us via group text about the liturgical feast that weekend: Divine Mercy Sunday. Thirteen years earlier, we had spent Divine Mercy Sunday in Paris. Now, the exact same five of us would be spending it together again, for Sarah’s wedding. Where some would see coincidence, I only saw Providence.

How much had changed in thirteen years… and how little had changed. As we stayed up talking into the wee hours of the night before the wedding and danced the night away at the reception, you might have thought nothing had happened in the past decade. Sarah still danced the same, albeit now she was in a big white dress. We still had the same inside jokes, the same laughs, and the same memories. But now there were husbands and babies for some, various careers and professional successes for others, and additional degrees for all of us. There were heartaches and losses, crosses and triumphs, lessons learned through mistakes and maybe a few regrets. The grey hairs poking through and the first signs of wrinkles were signs that the five girls sitting up at 1 am talking about doughnuts had wisdom which the five girls in Paris did not (although we had probably discussed doughnuts then, too). But our friendship had been forged in Christ, and there was a resulting eternal feel to it, despite maybe our own failings here and there.

None of us could have predicted life and its twists and turns. And that’s a lesson not only to look back with, but to look forward with as well.

We are in the midst of the story.

We all have a story, and part of knowing God is knowing our story. But we can’t forget that the story is still being written. Ultimately, it is being written by Him, although looking back we can probably all see the smudges where we tried to take the pen all by ourselves.

As long as we take in breath, that story is in the middle, not the end. And that must give us consolation. Not every story looks like a fairy tale – in fact, contrary to what that grass looks like on the other side of the fence, none do. And no story is the same. But even when the light seems dimmest, the road seems to lead nowhere, or we think we messed up the story – it’s still being written.

And perhaps in those confusing times, looking at the previous chapters is most necessary. Because we can be reminded that just as the joys might be passing, so too are the sorrows. Whenever the present moment seems too heavy, we can look back in the story and remember that no story is stagnant. And every story has marvels that only He could write.

Thirteen years ago, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, the five of us were standing in a hotel room in Paris, staring as the world news on a tiny French TV told us the only Pope we had ever known had died. We headed back to our home in Rome the next day, knowing our lives would be forever forged by the experiences we were about to have.

Some days, those experiences and graces are forgotten. Other days, they are my life preserver. Did I know in Paris what life would look like 13 years later? Of course not.  I don’t know what the next 13 years will look like, either. And that’s okay. Because if I look hard enough, I see a beautiful story, marked with God’s grace, that is still being written.

Whether you worry about your own future or the future of a child or grandchild; whether it’s a spiritual struggle you’re experiencing or a more earthly need; whether you’re in a joyful time right now or a particularly dark one; the story is still being written.

It was fitting to be reminded of it that weekend, because it’s one of the greatest reminders of God’s mercy. Wheat and weeds are growing side by side right now, the cross and the resurrection seem to be coexisting. But all God asks for is love, hope, and perseverance. Trust Him – He’s still writing the story.

 

 

This post was originally published on Integrated Catholic Life.

Being satisfied

Today after Mass I stopped to get a bagel and coffee, and the man making my bagel looked up in the middle of the process, paused, and said, “You have really great hair.”

Talk about making my morning! As I left, I had the desire to write an open letter to every high school girl who hates her hair. I was there.  I would yell – and probably cry – about my huge, coarse, frizzy hair that never did what I wanted it to do.

And now look.  I just had to wait fifteen years, and wah-la!

What seemed to be the end of the world wasn’t.  It just takes a little perspective. (Something that teenagers tend to lack. no offense.)

On the topic of perspective, I wanted to share some thoughts on the day we celebrate today: Satisfied to be Single Day.  Yes, a completely made-up holiday to anticipate another completely made-up holiday, Valentine’s Day.  (All props to St. Valentine, but while he’d love for you to celebrate his feast day, he could care less about diamonds and chocolates.)

A good friend in college told me about Satisfied to be Single Day, and I distinctly remember celebrating it with her.  We went shopping at a huge mall, ate Häagen-Dazs ice cream, and then went to Mass and a Holy Hour with my sister (who, at the time, was also still single).  It was a really fun day.

Over the years, it’s harder and harder to find friends to celebrate the day with me. And it’s not just because many of my friends are now married. It’s because there’s the idea that to be “satisfied” with something, it must be what you planned and wanted.  Now, granted, much of that is due to the nature of the creation of the “holiday,” I’m sure, which was probably invented by bitter people sick of the hype around Valentine’s day and who want to try to pretend they could care less.

But that’s not why I celebrate it. (Although Valentine’s Day does make me want to gag.)

To be satisfied with something does not mean you chose it, you never want things to change, or that you are perfectly happy with it every minute of the day.  I’ll be the first to say that being single can be very, very lonely. It comes with lots of headaches and heartaches, from the profound to the mundane.  It comes with having to listen to the complaints and problems of your married friends, when you really just want to shake them and say, “Don’t you understand what you have!?” And it comes with a lot of questions and uncertainty.

But I’m still satisfied.  Why? Because, for one reason or another, this is where I am. This is the road I think God has placed in front of me.  Frankly, and I don’t mean to sound cocky, but if I didn’t want to be single right now, I wouldn’t have to be.  But I have come to discover that love is much bigger than your marital status.

So yes, I am going to celebrate Satisfied to be Single Day.  Not out of bitterness, not out of jealousy, and not out of hatred for marriage.  But because I’m grateful for the abundance of blessings and gifts God has given me, and I want to thank Him by using those to His glory. The man with three talents didn’t get angry that he wasn’t given five.  He went out and used the three he had been given. The man with five wasn’t angry that he was given different talents than the man with three.  Everyone is given gifts, and to sit around and bemoan we weren’t given different ones is a slap in the face to the Giver.

I used to dream of white dresses and numbers of bridesmaids.  Not anymore. Not because I’ve necessarily given up that dream, but because I have found so many other dreams in the process. Why waste my time reading bridal magazines when I can write a Bible study, experience a new craft brewery with friends, or play trivia and eat guacamole?

I have to admit, much of this sanity and perspective came from a woman who has become a very dear friend. (I would link to her blog, but she’s so busy living life her latest post is a review of a vacuum cleaner from several years ago.) She taught me – not with words, but with actions – how full one’s life can be, even – gasp – if you aren’t married.  She is a wonderful teacher, one of the most diligent workers I’ve ever met, and a constant inspiration to me. When we’re together, which is sadly not as often as we both wish, we don’t spend our time talking about boys or lamenting the struggles of our lives. We talk about movies and books and theology. We cook and we laugh and we shop and we eat good food and we love life together.  She has taught me – probably without even realizing it – that life is very, very good, and that even though in many ways our field is still a man’s world, there is something very satisfying and life-giving in what we do.

It’s not easy to be satisfied with where we are in life, but everyone can find a reason not to be satisfied.  Stay-at-home moms can forget that they dreamed their college days away thinking about babies.  Busy professionals can forget that they thought that next promotion would make them happy. Rather than always looking at what we don’t have, why don’t we spend some time today being satisfied for what we’ve been given?

Sometimes happiness is all about perspective.

Bl. PierGiorgio Frassati

Two hundred and forty years ago, on July 2, about 50 men gathered in Philadelphia and voted to declare independence from the British Crown.  Two days later, the men approved a document called The Declaration of Independence.

This is the anniversary we remember today, the great event we celebrate with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other,” just as John Adams predicted we would in a letter to his wife on July 3, 1776.  He also said “it ought to be commemorated … by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

Fittingly, many of us will go to Mass, thank our Father in heaven for this beautiful land of freedom, and beg that it remain that land of freedom.

Because his feast day lands on this great anniversary, most will not even remember young Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.  But he shares this day of celebration with America.

On July 4, 1925, Pier Giorgio died in his bed from polio at the age of 24.  He had twenty four short years to make an impact on his country and Church.  And that’s exactly what he did.

Most people think of Pier Giorgio as an active, joyful, handsome young man, who is pictured on holy cards climbing mountains and laughing with his friends.  He loved mountain climbing, art, the opera, reading Dante, and playing practical jokes.

He is remembered for his charity to the poor, sick, and less fortunate.  Despite his wealthy family, he rode third class on the train and then spent the money he saved on medicine and food for the poor.  When asked why he rode third class, he merely joked, “Because there is no fourth class.”   He went to the poorest, dirties parts of Turin to minister to the sick.  He served them to the end, eventually contracting polio while working amongst them.  He suffered for six days in silence, not wanting to take his family’s attention away from helping his dying grandmother.  When he died, his parents knew they had lost a son.  They had no idea that thousands had lost a friend.

His sister later wrote, “The boy whom we thought was unknown to all but his family, suddenly was revealed to us to be the friend of thousands…those whom he had assisted or those he had merely passed near, leaving the unforgettable memory of his spirituality.”  “The street—it was nine in the morning—could hardly contain the thousands of persons who had come from every part of the city.”  “A blind man wanted to touch the coffin, another struggled to approach his benefactor. The crowd pressed around his mortal remains. Some wept, some prayed, while that coffin, without a single flower, seemed to rock above a tide of heads.”

What many don’t realize about Pier Giorgio is that he lived in Italy during a sensitive time for Church-state relations.  Italy had only be unified for thirty years, and Fascism was on the rise.  He became heavily involved in political and social reform, belonging to groups such as Catholic Action and the Federation of Italian Catholic University students.  He organized his fellow students and workers. He was arrested during peaceful demonstrations.  He physically protected priests who were attacked during protests.  He dialogued with workers during strikes and uprisings.

At age 21, during the rise of Mussolini, he wrote to his friends, “I glanced at Mussolini’s speech and my blood boiled. I am disappointed by the really shameful behavior of the Popular Party. Where is the fine program, where is the faith which motivates our people?  But when it is a matter of turning out for worldly honor, people trample on their own consciences.”

When John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio in 1990, he called him the “Man of the Beatitudes.”   Just like the young John Paul II, Pier Giorgio enjoyed mountain climbing and picnics and spread the Gospel through joy.  But also like the young John Paul II, Pier Giorgio did not sit and watch his country and his Church suffer.  He became politically involved.  He not only fed the poor, he fought for them.  He not only lived justice, he worked for it.

Our country needs us to be men and women of the Beatitudes today.  We need to thirst for justice.  Our Church needs defending.  Our freedom needs rescuing.

Our poor need serving.  And yet it is precisely the freedom to do this that is being taken away from us.

In his homily to open the first Fortnight for Freedom, Bishop Lori pointed out:

“[E]mbedded in the HHS mandate is a very narrow governmental definition of what constitutes a church; and if it is not removed, it is likely to spread throughout federal law.

In the HHS mandate, the federal government now defines a church as a body which hires mostly its own members and serves mostly its own members, and which exists primarily to advance its own teachings. In a word, so long as a church confines itself to the sacristy, then it is exempt from having to fund and facilitate in its health insurance plans government mandated services which are contrary to its own teachings.  But if a church steps beyond the narrow confines of this definition by hiring those of other faiths and by serving the common good – then the government is telling us that such institutions aren’t religious enough, that they don’t deserve an exemption from funding and facilitating those things which violate the very teachings which inspired churches to establish their institutions in the first place.

Friends, we must never allow the government, –any government, at any time, of any party–to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved Church or any church! Our Church was sent forth by the Lord teach and baptize all the nations.  It was commissioned by our Savior to announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  It was sent into the world to do the corporal works of love and mercy.  Don’t we see this all around us – in inner-city Catholic schools, in Catholic hospitals, in the work of Catholic Charities so critical for the well being of local communities?  ‘The Word of God cannot be chained,’ St. Paul wrote to Timothy, and now it is up to us to defend the Church’s freedom to fulfill her mission to freely manifest the love of God by organized works of education and charity” (emphasis mine).

May Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Man of the Beatitudes, intercede for us as we suffer persecution for justice’s sake.  On this anniversary of our country’s founding, may we work for justice — so that this country may always be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

(The Star-Spangled Banner, 4th verse)

St. Thomas the Apostle

The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle is a great celebration in India.  It is tradition that St. Thomas was the only Apostle to leave the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, traveling to Syria and Persia and then to India, as far south as the southwest region of Kerala.   He was eventually martyred, fulfilling his declaration during Jesus’ public ministry, “Let us also go [with Jesus], that we may die with him.”

Despite Thomas’ courage and missionary spirit, he is best known as being “Doubting Thomas.”  Perhaps it’s a bit unfortunate that he is best remembered for his lack of belief in the Resurrection of Christ, since the other Apostles were also unbelieving until they saw Jesus in the flesh.  On Easter Sunday, Thomas was not with the Apostles in the Upper Room when Christ appeared to them. When he heard their testimony, he declared, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

The following Sunday, Christ appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was with them.  Jesus did not reprimand Thomas, but told him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:24-28)

Thomas must have had a close relationship with Christ to be allowed such intimate contact with him.   Such a personal experience, a prying into one’s hand and side, must not be taken lightly.  Clearly, Thomas was Christ’s friend.  The Apostles had spent three years with Christ — spending time day in and day out, walking with him, confiding in him, working with him.  They had accompanied Him in his ministry.  They had learned from him.  They had left everything for him.

They were his friends.

We too are called to that intimacy with Christ.  He desires each of us to enter into that close relationship with him — and we call that relationship “prayer.” (CCC 2558)  We spend time with him.  We confide in him.  We work with him.  At times we use formal prayers.  Other times we just sit in his presence.  He reaches out to us in the sacraments and allows us to touch him —  “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”  And as unworthy as we are, we marvel at his goodness to us and exclaim, “My Lord and My God!”

As we reflect on our struggle to preserve religious liberty, we must never forget the power of prayer.  It’s often difficult for us to remember that nothing is more effective or powerful than prayer.  We feel like we should be doing something — and often we should be!  But sitting in the silence of our room in conversation with God or waking up early to go to daily Mass before work — these are the most effective things we can do for anyone or for any petition.

Praying with others is an especially powerful experience.  Not only did Christ promise us he would be with the community in prayer — “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:2o) — it can also increase our own faith to hear voices united in common prayer.

America’s hope is the recommitment of families to prayer.  When our families begin praying together again, the effects will be seen throughout this country.

Our families are busy, and we may think there is no time to speak with each other- much less to pray together.  But if we sacrifice and specifically set aside time to pray as a family, we will give our children a valuable lesson they will not quickly forget.

During the first Fortnight for Freedom, in 2012, I was on vacation with my family.  We decided to pray the Bishops’ prayer for religious liberty together at the end of the day.  My sister’s family already gathers for prayers at bedtime, so the prayer was added to the end of their nightly prayer routine.  Every night we would gather in the boys’ room (ages 7, 5, 3, and 1.5) and I would pass out the holy cards with the prayer on the back.  It was moving to pray “for our children and grandchildren”  in the presence of my seven nieces and nephews- to hear my father’s voice praying for the boy playing at his feet, to vocalize that petition while seeing their innocence and wondering what America would look like in their future.

On the last night, some circumstances arose and we decided my sister’s family would go ahead and pray their night prayers without the rest of us.  Unbeknownst to anyone else, before they started, my five-year old nephew left the room in search of me.  He finally found me and reported, “We need your cards!  Come hand out your cards!”

Did he know what we were praying for in that prayer, as he clutched the card in his hand and tried to follow the words?  Of course not. Did he know it was important?  Yes — because we had made an effort every night to gather together.

We prayed together that night.  And I think God heard Andrew’s prayers extra clearly.

Some days we may feel overwhelmed by the threats against religious liberty.  Other days we may feel complacent about them.  And other days we may feel like demanding proof that God is even alive.  But every day he is calling us to himself, asking us to come to him in prayer, and waiting for us to fall to our knees and declare, “My Lord and My God!”