Welcome to the Ministry, Matt Lines!
Dear friends in Christ,
I am honored and excited to be writing to all of you WaHoos, past and present, as the incoming Associate Director of Campus Ministry with the Catholic Hoos at the University of Virginia! My family and I can’t wait to join the St. Thomas Aquinas family in Charlottesville in July and be on grounds to welcome students back next semester.
By way of brief introduction, I will just say our God is good, and he has been truly kind to me in my life. I was born and raised a nominal Protestant Christian but strayed from the faith as a teenager after the divorce of my parents– this was a difficult time, and I became a bitter enemy intellectually and emotionally of God’s. In his mercy, though, I was led to attend a faithful Christian college. In spite of my best efforts and arguments, I was drawn into a real, living encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ through caring, Holy Spirit-filled friends and the local Anglican campus pastor.
In time I discerned a calling to the Anglican priesthood, and was blessed to minister to college students at my alma mater for two years while I received seminary formation. It became clear after a time that, while ministry and evangelization were my first love, the Lord was calling me not to the priesthood, but rather to the fullness of communion with him in the Catholic Church!
I left seminary to become a Catholic missionary in the South Bronx of New York City– I was privileged to attend St. Vincent Ferrer often while Father Walter was there! Through my time walking alongside the underserved in New York, followed by laying the foundation for a youth ministry in the Twin Cities to be near my then-girlfriend, now-wife and some time spent in the secular business world, I have experienced a continued deepening of my understanding of the Catholic faith and what it means to be a man who lives for the sake of the others.
I am excited to continue humbly learning these lessons and share the experiences and graces God has gifted me with all of you, fellow STA parishioners and especially all of you Catholic Hoos! Please pray for me, my wife, Isabel, and our six-month old, Thomas– we’re so excited to meet you and share life with you! We love hosting and spending time with friends, and we look forward to many brunches, T-Sups, and bonfires with new friends to come.
Can’t wait to see you on grounds this fall!
All blessings in Jesus Christ,
I often get asked the question “what is your favorite part about being a missionary?” Throughout my 5 years with FOCUS, my answer has only gotten stronger with each place that I serve & with each person I encounter. My favorite part about being a missionary is watching miracles take place every single day. Whether it be someone returning to confession for the first time in years or someone making a commitment to begin praying silently every day, the Lord has shown me that He is constantly pursuing His children & He will stop at nothing to bring them back to Himself. However, the biggest miracle I have seen take place over my last 5 years within FOCUS is the miracle that God has worked through my own heart in learning to love Him more. Through leading others, the Lord has continued to pursue my own heart & has deeply convicted me of my need for Him & my need to share Him with those who have forgotten who He is.
I think that it’s easy as “leaders” to forget that God wants to pursue us through the people He’s placed in front of us & through the people we are called to serve. The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by stating “…at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” This has struck me in a deeper way recently. I have come to more fully understand that God doesn’t just want me to lead others to Him, but He wants those same people to lead me to Christ as well. Every person I encounter bears the image & likeness of God, so each person can teach me more about who God the Father is. This was radical news to me! When it was time for me to leave my first placement as a missionary, I was sad because I did not want to let go of the women I had grown in deep friendship with. Someone had suggested that I begin to give thanks to God for each of the women I had encountered. This set me off on a long journey of understanding how the women I lead can teach me about God.
Over the next couple of months, I was able to pray about a different woman I had walked with every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I began to see more clearly how each person showed me a different aspect of God’s personality, & this helped me let go & move on. I then wrote all these qualities and reflections of God down in a journal, so now when I am struggling to understand who He is, I can look back & clearly see based on the people He has given me to serve. This has been something I have done each time I move to a new campus, & I am always shocked at how much God has shown Himself to while leading others. As leaders in a Catholic community, it can be easy to become so focused on the people we are serving that we forget about our own relationship with God. However, God is at all moments drawing close to man, calling him to seek, know, & love Him. That means that even as leaders God desires to captivate our hearts & bring us more deeply into relationship with Him. The greatest miracle that God desires to work daily in our lives is our own personal sanctification, & while we set out into the battlefield of evangelizing and leading others, we cannot forget to allow God to lead & pursue us as well.
Hello! My name is Brittany Worthington & I am the FOCUS team director for Catholic Hoos. I am originally from Philadelphia (Go Birds) & I graduated from Temple University in 2018. A fun fact about me is that I still have 2 baby teeth!
“What is your favorite part about leading others?”
What IS my favorite part about leading others??? Before I can even answer that, I just have to take a minute and recognize, wow, I do lead others. I have been called to lead another person. One of my initial thoughts is a common temptation/lie that we ALL hear and it goes something like this: “Do I deserve to lead? Who am I to be leading them – I barely have a grip on my own life! Look at my faults – how am I to lead another? I am not that knowledgeable – if I just knew a little more about x or y, THEN I could lead someone but until then I am unworthy to lead another … and, therefore, I am not to be a leader.” In a sense, I am “unworthy.” I am not perfect, I do not know more about life than many of the students I serve. I KNOW that I know less about the faith than most of the people I lead – so, God, why am I leading them? And the answer I have found is twofold: it isn’t about how much you “know” to “deserve” to lead someone, and I am merely a tool to bring others to Jesus. And that is consoling. To recognize my poverty. To recognize “it’s not all on me” – and that is okay. It is on Him. And I have also recognized that the poverty I have is not to be an excuse not to be a leader.
It has been a great gift to me to be able to lead the men entrusted to me here at Catholic Hoos (and even those on the hockey team). God is an incarnational God. What I mean is God decided to enact His plan by BECOMING MAN and He invites us, in our humanity, to participate with Him in His plan for salvation. And that is wild because God could have done it without our help and without becoming a man Himself – but He did! He invites us to help and to lead. I think of Our Mother Mary. I think of St. Joseph. But in a particular way I think of St. Peter. This was a man seen as the Head of the Apostles, constantly speaking for the group as its leader, and even being recognized by Jesus – the Messiah and Lord – to be the Church’s rock and hold the keys to the Kingdom. And despite that, Peter turned from our Lord, rebuking the cross and denying his dearest friend three times. If there was any person not “worthy” of being called a leader, it would be Peter. I am sure before Jesus lovingly reinstated him as the Rock, Peter would have had a thousand reasons why he should not have been a leader: “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinner. I am a mere fisherman – I am not like the Pharisees who know the law, who know the apologetics and all the tenets of the faith. How am I to be a leader when there are more qualified individuals? Choose one of the Pharisees to be your successor. In addition, I betrayed you, even after all my bold claims to be at your side, even unto death. I left you, I turned my back, I sinned.” But, Peter WAS restored, through mercy, to be the Rock – the leader that Jesus invited him to become. Jesus did not “do it Himself,” He lets Peter be the leader again – He lets us be leaders.
So my favorite part about leading others is, truly, how humbling it is. Humbling for myself because I have been entrusted to a person even though I am a sinner and I do not have all the answers. And it is humbling to others who may know more than me, but are invited to listen. We are all obviously called to be good and receptive followers, but I often think we fear the gift of leading others. His gift for us, in an incarnational way, is to participate in His plan to lead others to Him despite our capabilities. To lead, not for ourselves or for sin, but for love which is to will the good of another. So, no, I am not worthy of leading, but it is a gift from the Lord I pray to never neglect. I am but a cup, to be poured into by Him, and to hopefully overflow upon those around me. “[Peter] was questioned about his love first and only then were Christ’s sheep (His Church and all its members) entrusted to him” – Saint Augustine
Fun fact: I once hit a squirrel with a golf ball and my favorite fruit are blueberries
Following “The Rock”
Who has been inspiring you throughout this journey?
For the past few years, St. Peter has been a special patron in my life as I have started taking on more and more responsibility in the Church. Jesus has said to me just as He said to St. Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). For as long as I can remember, I have always felt the most “myself” when I was doing something that was of service to Christ and His Church, whether that was leading a retreat when I was in high school or volunteering at a local parish’s youth group when I was in college. I love leading young people because I think they have such a great capacity for holiness that should not be underestimated and they have so much to teach me about how to truly be childlike. There is a deep desire in each of us to be loved and my goal as a leader is to respond to that need. I want to imitate St. Peter in his care for the flock that the Lord gave him, in his trust, and in his boldness.
When I went into college I knew about this peace and joy I felt when I was serving the Church and Her young people but I was content leaving that as something I did as a volunteer. But, the Lord had other ideas! When I was on a retreat during my freshman year of college, I felt the Lord calling me to work in ministry after I graduated. One of the Scriptures that was reflected on during this retreat was the call of the disciples at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. After Jesus calls Sts. Peter and Andrew on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, it says, “at once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:20). This retreat was when my devotion to St. Peter began.
I would often think about how St. Peter was able to let go of his nets and follow Jesus immediately. I wanted to trust Jesus like that but I didn’t know how to let go of the nets in my own life so that I could follow Him like St. Peter did. I wanted to hold on to my ambitions and pride and desire for recognition and success. These desires were challenged by my chaplain who asked me questions about why I wanted those things. I would answer him but there would come a point when I ran out of good answers. I started to question if I truly wanted the life I had planned for myself and started asking St. Peter to help me let go of my nets so that I could run after the Lord with no hesitation. After about a month of asking St. Peter for trust, I began to see a shift in my desires and in my prayer.
My prayer began to focus on St. Peter’s boldness in following the Lord. Often it takes me a while to warm up to a decision in my life but once I embrace it I want to dive in head first. The scene in the Gospel of Matthew that stuck out to me was when Jesus was walking on the water and St. Peter called out to Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). I, just like Peter, was daring the Lord to call me out of the boat onto the seas. I desired to make bold decisions for the Lord and I thought, “If He wants me to do big things for Him, let me start doing them now!”
The Lord has thrown so many surprises and challenges my way since I began trying to live like St. Peter. I changed majors after my freshman year so that I could reorient my priorities and what I was learning. I was chosen as the Student Campus Minister of my campus ministry in the middle of a pandemic. I was given the opportunity to lead the spiritual programming of a Catholic summer camp in Alaska. And now, I am the intern for the Catholic Hoos! Something I learned was that the Lord will never refuse such a bold request when it is asked in humility. He will respond to your boldness with situations that require boldness.
Praise God for every surprise and challenge! The stormy seas and the unknown are places where we can truly learn how to trust Jesus. It is where we learn to place our confidence in the fact that Jesus wants to fulfill every desire of our hearts, just as He did for St. Peter.
May we be filled with trust, make bold requests of the Lord, and care for the people the Lord puts in our paths. St. Peter, pray for us!
Hello!! My name is Grace Joy and I am the Intern for the Catholic Hoos. I am from Yorktown, Virginia and I graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2022. A few fun facts about me is that I know how to solve a rubik’s cube, I think chocolate is the second best thing the Lord created (after human beings of course), and have over a dozen indoor plants!
What is your favorite part about leading others?
“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
With these words C.S Lewis concludes his sermon, The Weight of Glory, originally addressed to Oxford University Church in 1941. They are ones that inspire me as a leader, and get at the heart of what true Christian leadership is. The presence of Christ in our neighbors means two things for the call to leadership. First it means that being a leader is about transforming people; recognizing the greatness and glory already present within them through Christ and making it even more visible. It also means that leadership is about being transformed by the people we are leading. When we encounter Jesus, it is impossible not to be changed in some way.
Being a Christian leader means calling people to the fullness of life we are made for in Christ. I felt this impact very personally as a student at the University of Maryland. When I first joined a Bible Study, I was seeking more in life. I had been searching for my identity and worth in all the things the world could offer me at a large state-school. I had looked in a lot of places; grades, clubs, internships, a fraternity, and was still left wanting. That’s when I started coming to Bible Study, and had a FOCUS missionary speak life to me where there was death. He saw the goodness in me and the glory I was made for in Christ that I couldn’t even see in myself.
I hope to do the same thing, proclaiming the truth of who UVA students are as beloved sons and daughters of God. I have been blessed this year to lead an upperclassmen bible study and grow in deeper friendship with the men. Each of these guys brings their own stories, desires, talents, and struggles, and all of them have helped me to know the Gospel of Christ better.
In his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16). This verse inspires me first to strive for personal holiness, becoming more of who I am meant to be. And at the same time, it calls me out of myself to build up those around me. When we put the gifts we are given into action, little by little we are building up the Church into the fullness of God’s plan.
As a FOCUS missionary, it has been such a blessing to encounter Christ in the students I serve and lead at UVA. Whether it’s a student who is a leader in Catholic Hoos and going to daily mass, or a student who is just coming back to Sunday Mass for the first time in years. Through every single person I lead I hope to gain a clearer picture of the love of God through them.
My name is Jack Guidera. I am a first-year FOCUS missionary from Baltimore, Maryland. A couple fun facts are that I swam competitively in high school, and I have a twin brother.
Trust the Process
What is your favorite Bible passage?
Coming to UVA as an out of state student, I knew only one other person. And while many people would’ve considered that scary, I was excited for the challenge. Having an (almost) blank slate to work with gave me the opportunity to start from scratch and branch out to others as I saw fit. And while COVID somewhat derailed me from meeting people outside Catholic Hoos throughout my first year, I have been able to make completely new friends from the ones I had in high school. Now in the middle of my third year, I can proudly say that I have an incredible group of people around me!
One might ask, “how did you find such a great group of friends?” or “what quality in a person’s character was most important to you when meeting people?” To those questions, I have a long answer that I will go into detail in. But my answer in a single word is trust. Since arriving at UVA in the fall of 2020, I have held complete trust that the Lord has a plan for my time here. And after realizing that, I look for that same character of trust in others.
I’ve been blessed enough to attend a Bible study since the beginning of my first year, and now lead my own Bible study every week. And every single week, I take something new away that I can apply to my life. But every time I read John 15, in a group or by myself, I sit back and admire how crucial it was, and still is, to the building up of my faith. John 15:4-5 reads “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
So what does all that mean in the context of my own life? And what can it mean for you? I struggle the most when my prayer gets dry. It has happened to everyone at some point. In those moments, it can be extremely easy to lose faith and your routine of going to prayer consistently. But I realized quickly that constantly going to God to pray, even when it was dry, was so much better than abandoning Him. We can do nothing without God, nothing without His help. I do my best to remember that daily. Every time I find myself trying too hard to solve a personal situation that seems out of my control, or when I get overly involved in making sure that my future becomes what I want it to be, I take a step back. I reset myself in prayer and surrender myself completely so the Lord can work in my life to help fulfill His plan for me. Just as the above verses state, deserting God yields nothing. Only by remaining faithful in God can a person continue to bear fruit in their life.
Now back to making friends here at UVA. I put a similar form of trust in the people who surround me as I do in my faith in God. I know that trust is something that builds over time, so I’m not saying you have to share everything about your life to someone during your first meeting. But being genuine and truly caring about someone has helped me build trust with others. While in a conversation, I give my full attention to the other person, responding with my honest opinion, not something that I think will make me more popular. On top of that, checking in on friends, while avoiding being a nuisance, is an easy way to build trust. UVA is a competitive school. Sometimes we all forget to take a deep breath and relax. When something goes wrong, even something small, I can let it take over my emotions, sometimes for an extended period of time. However, when a friend checks in on me, it can help me ground myself and refocus on what truly matters most.
Now I know that I can reach out when I need help. I know my friends have my back, just as I have theirs. Just as John 15:13 states “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” I hope that everyone reading this finds those people in their life that they will give almost anything up to keep. And while I don’t anticipate being in a situation where I will have to surrender myself for a close friend, I can confidently say I would not change the situation I am in currently for the world!
Hey guys! My name is Ryan Wood. I’m a third year from Denver, Colorado majoring in mechanical engineering with minors in computer science and data science. For those of you who haven’t gotten to know me all that well, I am a triplet. My brothers Garrett and Andrew go to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. And for those of you wondering (cough cough third years), I don’t know when they’ll come down here to meet everyone! I guess you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled for their appearance.
Our Lady Refuge of Sinners and Comforter of the Afflicted
Which title of Mary speaks to you?
“Remember O Most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.” These words open the Memorare, a prayer of the Church said since medieval times to petition the help of Our Lady in times of great need. The Memorare is one of my favorite prayers because its ask is one of both confidence and humility; it was ‘never known’ for our Holy Mother to not come to the help of her children here on earth, and later in the prayer, we acknowledge that we come before her ‘sinful and sorrowful’, a familiar disposition in my own life in times of particular worry and need. We are coming to the end of August, a month dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and are entering the daunting start of another busy school year at the University of Virginia. It is with these in mind that I want to share today two of my favorite titles of our Mother Mary: Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners and Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted, in hopes that the peace I find in petitioning Mary under these titles can help you in your present struggles and trials.
The Church, in her wisdom, bestows on Mary many titles: some describe her life and virtue, some associate her with certain apparitions and events, and others, like the two I write about today, reveal to us a particular way in which Mary intercedes for us with her Son, Jesus. As the Refuge of Sinners, Mary is a resting place for us in the moments when we feel too ashamed or weighed down by our sins and failings to come directly before Our Heavenly Father. Mary is our mother, and we are her children by virtue of being called to discipleship in Jesus Christ. In John 19:26, Jesus uses some of his final words while dying on the cross to establish this bond, saying to Mary “Woman, behold your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother!”. Her heart is our place of refuge, it overflows with a maternal love that is persistently and deeply compassionate to the cries of her children, ready to surround us with her mantle in the depths of any failing. It is second only to the Love with which God Himself loves us, and as her children, we can humbly trust that she will bring our petitions and needs to her Son, made beautiful by her intercession.
Alongside immaculate, we know Mary’s heart to be sorrowful. At the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple, Simeon tells Mary “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35). She knew incredible sorrow, even watching her own Son’s passion and death on the cross. We can share our struggles and sorrows with the Blessed Mother, taking comfort and rest in her heart which deeply understands human sorrow. When I remember Mary as Comforter of the Afflicted, it makes any burden I face at that moment just a little bit lighter. So many of us carry in our hearts these burdens, especially as we may be facing a new year, an unknown or difficult situation, or a personal trial. When you find yourself in these moments, I offer you this reminder: Our Lady loves you and wants to wrap you in her mantle of motherly love, to hold you closely and securely in the midst of that storm. Like we confidently proclaim in the Memorare: It was never known that anyone who fled to her was left unaided.
Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners and Comforter of the Afflicted, Pray for us.
Hi! My name is Lily Bernero, I’m a third-year from Northern Virginia majoring in Public Policy and Leadership. My favorite saint is St. Maximillian Kolbe, and during the year I can usually be found rowing on the Rivanna, curating a new Spotify playlist, or passionately telling someone about my latest batch of home-brewed kombucha!
The Sacred Heart and the Person of Christ
“What inspires you about the image of the Sacred Heart?”
I’ll try and make this quick. Partially because I’m no authority on this kind of thing but mostly because I hope the bulk of what you will learn about the Sacred Heart will not come from me but from the saints, the sacraments, and the pursuit of the virtuous life in Christ.
To review, the image of the Sacred Heart shows a bleeding human heart wrapped with a crown of thorns and crowned with a wreath of flames which itself encircles a cross at its top. The imagery of a heart as the seat of love is not unfamiliar to us: the heart moves the body but is also the seat of passion, and in this way it represents both the convictions moving the soul and the movement or love of the soul towards its good. But Jesus does not move alone; His person is at all times caught up in the perfect union and intimate dance of the Trinity so that his human nature, like ours, loves with the grace of the Holy Spirit and according to the direction of the Father.
John calls Him the word, and our Lord himself reveals he is the son of God. Thomas Aquinas says that “whenever we understand… there proceeds something within us, which is a conception of the object understood … and [this conception] is called the word of the heart” (I:27:i). He explains that in the eternal procession of the divine intellect, this “word of the heart” of God is the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, who is the Father’s knowledge of himself. And so we see Christ in a powerful way is the conviction which motivates the heart of God. In turn the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is the love of God, and proceeds similarly to how we move ourselves to love according to our understanding, except in the Trinity it is the Father who acts and the Son who himself is the “understanding.” Christ, then, as God, has the Holy Spirit as the movement itself of love in His heart. And Christ, also, as a man, has the Holy Spirit as the source of grace by which he moves with love, since after his baptism He “was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1) and also since He “offered himself to God through the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14, italics added). So the Sacred Heart is crowned with a wreath of flames, which represents the Holy Spirit acting with and through Christ, the same Spirit aching to crown us with fire and fill us with the love of Jesus.
Prior to the incarnation, this was the whole story, but then “the word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) and everything changed. Christ has a human heart, with human love. What is human love but word made flesh, faith meeting works, a heart wreathed in thorns? And do we suppose the Lord endured such things without the Holy Spirit? Rather we believe that the sacred heart, the fleshly heart of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit, ] represents the wisdom of God moving by the Holy Spirit with true acts of love that are manifest in the physical person of Jesus.
And somehow the eternal wisdom of God, weighing the evils of this finite world against the infinite good stored for us in heaven, considered it right for the Word of God, already humbled to become man, to endure crucifixion. This is the necessary consequence— following not from our great valor or from some theological calculus, but from the infinite love of Christ for us. It is His inestimable love for us that makes us worthy and transcends human understanding; it’s for this reason that the Sacred Heart is wrapped in thorns and topped with a cross.
If the Sacred Heart is aflame with the Holy Spirit, and we are offered the same gift of love, how could we go without it? If the eternal Word in all his glory assumed flesh and made this love manifest in his actions, and we are called to the same work, how could we do anything less? And if the precious love of God would so move Him to put our eternal life before his earthly one so that he would die for our sake, and only we are capable of allowing His work to be complete in us, then how could we love the same? So let us imitate the Sacred Heart of Christ, until our hearts look like His.
My name is Luke Malanga and I’m a rising second year studying biomedical engineering. I’m originally from Spotsylvania Virginia (no, not NOVA) and in my free time I like to play rugby and pretend to think deep thoughts with the UVA Thomistic Institute chapter. Fun fact about me, on the weekend I’m writing this my 80-year-old grandpa (a deacon and retired NYC cop and Army soldier) went skydiving.
How to Love Love Himself
“Tell me about your relationship with Jesus’ Sacred Heart”
“And I will entrust your intentions to the Lord’s Sacred Heart” was how a friend closed a letter I received last Winter. While I felt a sense of gratitude for his kindness and piety, I was unsure what his words meant or how that promise would manifest itself. At the time I ignored my confusion, writing his words off as an idiosyncratic devotion existing in the various realms of Catholic tradition, but in retrospect, I consider it safe to say this was rooted in one thing: I did not know the Lord’s Sacred Heart — not intimately, at least.
It is almost humorous that, of all aspects of the Lord I could overlook, it was His heart. As we all know, the heart is the most familiar bodily organ, pumping our blood that is rich with salt, water, oxygen, and other substances necessary for proper functioning. No human can survive without one’s heart in the physical sense, and I will venture to say that we cannot live (spiritually, that is) without the love of our Lord’s Sacred Heart, either. Since I am long overdue for this relationship in my prayer life, I find June to be an apt opportunity to remedy this oversight. Let’s explore the ways in which we can encounter our Lord’s Sacred Heart in our lives.
Step one, scripture: how often does the Bible refer to the heart? In the poetic sense, numerous mentions of our hearts as the center of love and emotion pervade both the Old and New Testaments. We are instructed to direct our hearts toward unceasing love for our neighbors and our God; we are comforted that the Lord will heal the brokenhearted; and we are warned that His teachings will perpetually elude us unless our hearts remain receptive to Him (Psalm 51: 10, Psalm 34:18, Mark 6:52). This language is not exclusive to just His flock. For instance, in Mark 8:1-10, we hear of a crowd who had been following Jesus for three days without food, to which He responds, “‘my heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they…have nothing to eat.’” How amazing is it that our Lord’s compassion is so inexhaustible that He cared for His followers’ needs before anyone else, including themselves? Further, in Matthew 9:35-38, we hear that Jesus’s heart is “moved with pity” upon seeing the crowds, for He recognized them as sheep lost without a shepherd. Note that in both scenes, Jesus directly speaks to His disciples. This is extraordinary because it shows Him instructing the future church leaders on how to love others and to extend this passion to all inhabitants of the Earth; this light will grow within ourselves if we become familiar with His Sacred Heart, as well.
Next, the saints. I am partial to St. Catherine of Siena famously calling God a “divine madman,” eternally enamored with what He had made. This label compares well with the testimonies of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom the Lord confessed that He could no longer hold back the fire of love in His heart. We have all felt love before. For eros (romantic love), the intense pulsating of our heart, combined with the rush of adrenaline, makes it hard to hold back from the object(s) of our affection! And then agape (Christ-like love) allows us to look past the many flaws our siblings in Christ may bear and help each other to reach eternity in Heaven. The intense experience of loving another consumes us humans entirely and improves how we act and perceive – so can you imagine how it must have felt for the Son of God, burning with passion for each one of His children? St. Catherine’s words were prophetic, to say the least.
But how do we experience this love today — without the helpful apparitions St. Margaret was gifted with –, you may ask? I find St. Peter Julian Eymard’s argument that it is present in the “Sacrament of our altars” convincing. That sacrifice puts the love of His Sacred Heart on full display, and at each communion, we have the honor to let it physically remain within ourselves. When you next receive the Blessed Host, I invite you to ask the Lord to let the love held in his heart enter yours. Since this magnificent, incomprehensible force exists in the Blessed Host, that means it is alive within those who receive His body, too. Therefore, another way to see the Sacred Heart is to foster a contemplative outlook. Appreciate the reflection of our Lord’s infinite love in every person you meet, for “next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”).
Name: Nora Shanahan
Year: Second-Year in SoN
Hometown: Rocky Mount, VA
Fun fact: I am the sixth of eight children and love to bake!
Where Your Heart Is
“How does the act of giving strengthen our relationship with God during Lent?”
It was in adoration one sunny afternoon recently that I read a section of Luke that felt like a callout. “And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.” (Luke 11:39-41, RSVCE)
I added the emphasis to show you what most struck me. Jesus had just said “you are full of extortion and wickedness” and followed that up with “But give for alms those things which are within.” I may have been reading this all wrong, but what I heard was “Those things that sit in the depth of your greed, deep down that you really don’t want to let go of, give them as alms.”
As a college student, it can be easy to write off excuses for not giving alms. I don’t have a ton of excess cash from my limited shift job. I don’t have a ton of excess time in the midst of my school schedule. I think it is very convenient for me to be distracted by the current, and lose sight of the eternal. I’m sure it is the same for those outside of college. However, Christ once said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay 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 will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, RSVCE).
Oh, man. The number of things I greedily cling to are too great for me to even number. As one silly example, I, like an absolute nerd and hypocrite, store up books that make me feel smart and accomplished, that I rarely even read, too blind to see myself in the characters I pity the most for being very self righteous and self centered. I am the person who oftentimes feels burdened by very small acts when they are requested of me, as I hoard my time, my comfort, and even my hair ties. Though I do honestly believe the center of my spiritual practices are rooted in a deepening love for Christ, it is also super easy for me to become too focused on the practices themselves. I am simultaneously frightened by the depths of my own sin (which are truly horrifying when separated from the immense grace and love of Christ) and prideful about the practices I do take on.
Well, this sort of ongoing inner dialogue often focuses on myself, when the solution, as always, is to look outside of myself to God. I want my heart to be with Him first and foremost, and so my treasure (whatever that may look like) should be with Him also. Where is he found? “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40 RSVCE). Christ is found in those who are in need, so serving him with our inner treasures means sharing the things we tend to cling to with those who lack those things.
He is an extremely generous and compassionate master. There has been no greater act of charity than Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. He satiates man’s greatest need through the blood of his cross, out of love for us. After reflecting on how loving our savior is this Lent, it is more difficult to then return to my habitual stinginess.
King David says in 1 Chronicles 29:14, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from thee, and of thy own have we given thee.”
That sums it up nicely, I think. When we make any sacrifice to God, we are always giving back something that He has first given us. When we give to others, we give out of the storehouse of God’s mercy. So, maybe you don’t think you have a lot of money, or time, or insert-whatever-resource-here, but it has been very helpful for me lately to see what things I am treasuring within (like books, food, money, and time), and to try to redirect the storing of them to a place that I want my heart to reside in – with Christ Himself, in the plethora of places he makes Himself visible to us. In these sacrifices, I have been finding my love and perception of Christ’s far greater sacrifice grow.
My name is Chloë Smith, and I am a third year (but graduating in 2022, so…maybe a fourth year?) from Charlottesville, Virginia (proudly raised on Bodo’s Bagels). I am entering the church this Easter, and I like to write songs in my free time. Feel free to reach out if you ever want to pray a Divine Mercy chaplet, or talk about anything 🙂
Commit Yourself to True Love: The Fast
“How does fasting strengthen our relationship with God during Lent?”
Fasting was once a pillar of religious life throughout the world: it was not just practiced in the confines of Lent, Ramadan, or Yom Kippur, but it was something regularly taken up whenever a situation called for it. We see pious examples of fasting constantly throughout Scripture: prophets decide to fast in preparation for mission, kings decide to fast in repentance for crimes, even whole cities undertook fasts to express their common unity in overcoming some spiritual battle. Indeed, Jesus declares in the Gospel that some battles cannot be won nor evils “driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29 RSVC). Jesus indicates that fasting is a critical ingredient in our spiritual lives, even going so far as to put it alongside prayer. But how possibly could fasting be this important? How could it be at all comparable to prayer, which is intimate conversation with God Himself?
Fasting is a special way of speaking with God. In a fast, whether it is the standard Lenten Friday fasts or some other deprivation that we have found necessary to impose on ourselves, we encounter a battle against the desire to fill that deprivation—to eat meat, pick up YouTube, pour a drink, etc. The battle against desire is one which constantly compels us to reorient ourselves to Christ, seeking His help to endure the struggle at hand. This results in a period of special closeness with God—fasting is a time of acute struggle, and, in the properly disposed soul, of acute intimacy with God. It is for this reason that Jesus entered the desert for forty days of fasting before beginning His ministry: He began it by strengthening His intimacy with the Father. Moreover, enduring this struggle, which has been set up on our own terms, prepares us to endure the various trials and sufferings that lay ahead of us in life that are never on our own terms. Again, this sheds light on why Jesus began His ministry with fasting: it was suffering that sturdied Him for the brutal, unfair death He knew was His to bear. Through fasting, we build our spiritual vigor, train ourselves in the habit of looking to God in our sufferings, and generally learn to conduct ourselves well once the suffering is no longer something we control. When things happen to us that are unfair, unjust, and out of our control, our fasting will have prepared us to endure them with fortitude, staying close to the Lord as a child stays near his father.
Jesus mentions “prayer and fasting” together because the two are deeply intertwined. The struggle against desire during a fast is meant to be a relentless call to prayer: “I am hungry, why don’t I eat? Ah, yes, because for what do I truly hunger? I am thirsty; but for what do I truly thirst?” Fasting reminds us that the desires of this world are but pale shadows compared to our soul’s desire to be unified with Christ. He alone will satisfy our desire for authentic happiness; He alone will bring us sincere joy. Pope Saint John Paul II famously said “it is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness,” and the fast reminds us of this. Do not mistake that donut for the greatest good; put it aside, and endure temptation lest you seek pleasure but find only further pain and sorrow. Every time you desire to break the fast, turn to heaven. The struggle of a fast is a giant arrow pointing us toward the divine.
Each fast is a miniature school of love, teaching us how to better rely on God for warmth, for strength, for guidance and protection—that is, better teaching us how to accept the love that He yearns to shower us with. We often can become so petulant to our loving Father, unexcited about His love for us, unimpressed by the miracles He surrounds us with, and unhappy amidst the prosperity He has placed us in. When we fast, our suffering reorients us to the love of God and trains us to remain there once the suffering is gone. The need for the fast and the sort of benefit we get from it are beautifully illustrated by these lyrics:
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above (Chris Rice, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)
For someone stronger than I, fasting might be unnecessary; they might already be focused on Christ for every second of the day, spending each moment in delighted conversation with Him; they might need no reminders of Christ’s love, seeing it perfectly and remaining in God’s sweet embrace unceasingly, even when things go well and worldly comforts seem like all we need. For myself, however, I know better. I am prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. Some people might be strong enough, but for us, the broken-hearted and bored in spirit, we must stay close to the practice of fasting to constantly remind ourselves of the indescribable love of God.
When we fast, we commit ourselves to a time of suffering and in doing so, offer God our hearts: we speak to Him in humble adoration: “here’s my heart, O take and seal it.” Our commitment to the fast is a commitment to remain beside God, in God, and with God; when the fast is over, our souls shall be strengthened, knowing better how to commit to a God who has never stopped committing Himself to us.
My name is Tommy Murray, I’m a third-year from NOVA (sorry) majoring in economics and PPL. One of my favorite saints is St. Francis de Sales. He is an incredible writer on achieving spiritual tranquility in the face of great worldly temptation and interior turmoil/depression. I highly recommend reading his stuff, especially since we are college students seeking to author their faith in a fast-paced college environment with little concern for the interior spiritual life. In my free time, I love kayaking, reading, and running. My favorite way to pray is the Ignatian Examen—I can’t recommend it enough. For me, it’s a great spiritual practice that I try to use daily to see God’s love more clearly.
Prayer: From a Chore to a Choice
“How does prayer ground you during Lent?”
My Lenten journey usually starts the night before Ash Wednesday, when I draft a lengthy list of the ways I will incorporate prayer into my daily routine throughout Lent (daily Mass, adoration, rosary… anything I think I need to be doing to make me a good Catholic). Most end in Reconciliation with “I have not fulfilled my Lenten promises.” I start the season resolved to do everything I think I need to do to please God, unaware of what He is truly asking of me.
I think this ambition comes from the two things that have transformed my prayer life from a chore to a choice: structure and example, both of which grew from the summers I spent at Camp Tuck, a girl’s Catholic summer camp. My faith, and my prayer life especially, would not be where they are today if I hadn’t spent that first middle school summer at Camp Tuck. I wanted to go because it was cool and all my friends were going. God, however, had much bigger plans.
A typical day at camp starts on the deck with the counselors dancing around singing “Rise and shine, and give God your glory, glory!” After breakfast comes Mass, nature, and sports. After lunch we have a virtue talk, all-camp craft, and swimming. Dinner is followed by a rosary and confessions before the evening program (counselor hide & seek being everyone’s favorite). As a camper, the prayer-time throughout the day felt like an obligation, things we had to do to move on to the exciting stuff. As stubborn as I was in allowing God to enter my fun week at camp, He found His way. The more I got to know the counselors, all high school or college age girls, the more I was amazed by their character and example. Growing up with three older brothers, these girls became the older sisters I never had, but who God always knew I needed. I dreamed about being a counselor, never thinking I would ever be fit for the role. It seemed like these girls had their entire lives figured out, and I never imagined I could be as good or as holy as them.
Cue my eager seventh grade self. I was determined to become that mentor figure for other girls in the same way that my counselors were for me. To be accepted, however, I knew I had to attend the formation programs that the center, which ran Camp Tuck, held throughout the year. Back then, these talks and meditations were still motions I was going through to get to the fun part.
Fast forward to freshman year of high school. I will never forget the counselors chanting “Welcome, Biscuit!” after receiving my counselor name. I felt accomplished, as if all the work I did to be a counselor finally paid off. It did, of course, but in ways that went far beyond what I expected. When I became a counselor, I realized those times for prayer were not just to teach campers about the Church. To my surprise, counselors looked forward to having time throughout the day for prayer. Up until that point, prayer had always been something I would do when my parents or my teachers told me to, but rarely something I would do of my own volition. I wanted to be like the other counselors, to make my own decision to seek time for God and to build a relationship with Him.
Comparing my prayer life to those of my camp friends or to the prayer routine I was immersed in during camp led me to believe I needed to be doing all those same things every day to please God. Thus, the start of a Lenten season became my cue to start doing whatever I wasn’t doing. I failed to realize that my life as a student is not the same as my life at camp. When I thought my prayer life was falling short, it wasn’t because I loved God any less, but because I allowed the many distractions and stresses of college to take over. I needed to recenter and refocus on God, and He was ready to meet me with whatever time I promised to give to Him. This Lent, my prayer promise has been daily Mass, offering 30 minutes of my day to celebrate the Eucharist. As much as I wish I could add a rosary, holy hour, spiritual reading, and Mass to my daily schedule, I recognize the limits of what I can sustainably promise to give God throughout these 40 days (and speaking from my past Lenten experiences, I would likely find myself frustrated by failure after about two days). Now, it no longer feels like I must race through a checklist of prayer items each day to fulfill my Lenten promise. Following the example that captured my spirit at Camp Tuck, I am choosing to dedicate time during my day to give to God, which is all He asks of us in prayer during Lent, no matter how big or small.
My name is Isabel Puchner and I am a third year from Milwaukee, Wisconsin! Something I can’t live without is the rosary ring I got in Rome during Holy Week, which was blessed by the tomb of St. Josemaría Escrivá!
My Journey With Accountability This Lent
What is the importance of accountability during Lent?
Let me preface with letting y’all know I am a severely flawed Catholic. I have and am still battling some demons which decided that this year will make a hard push for my soul. The only reason I have been able to put up a semblance of a fight is through the grace of God and some accountability brought on by those around me. Now, I still fall far too often into my vices, but due to my support network, I must immediately address the issues and come to terms with my own failures rather than kicking the can down the road. This accountability, which sometimes seems unbearable, has been a shining blessing that has helped me along the path to heaven.
Prayer is a massive weak spot in my relationship with God that I have been working on throughout the past year. In order to keep myself accountable in getting at least one thing right, I started a rosary group on the Rotunda Steps every Wednesday night. Although the group size varies from week to week, the accountability of having the entire Catholic Hoos community holding me to my word means that I, at least, am always out there, rain or shine. On the nights I do not anticipate anyone coming, I think to myself “if no one shows up, I could just say I said it, who would know?” The funny thing is, someone always comes. It may not be someone from Catholic Hoos, but there is always someone who asks me, much like Peter was questioned outside of the questioning of Jesus, “why are you sitting here?” It is just another way to hold me accountable to prayer as it gives me the chance to be unlike Peter and say yes in response to the accusation that “this man was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Matthew 26:71). I could deny it, but I take these interactions as times to hold myself accountable.
This repeated occurrence helped me realize why Jesus gave the instructions he did to the apostles. Mark 6:7 states “and he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” These instructions were not just some random details added by Mark, but vitally important to how we can gain authority over the unclean spirits in our own spiritual lives. The community of the church and the Sacrament of Reconciliation bring accountability that many religions lack. This accountability, this lifting up of each other, helps us grow in our relationships with God. We are not strong enough to do everything ourselves. Battling addiction or bad habits are both difficult to conquer alone. We need to be humble enough to be held to a higher standard than we set for ourselves. We need to rely on the breath of God in each other to help develop our relationship with God. Do not go it alone!
My battle call to you in this moment is to go out and find accountability. Lent is the season where it’s an expectation among all Catholics to sacrifice in preparation for Easter. There is no better time than right now to find the person whom you are going out “two by two” to overcome engrained habits and push each other to be better. This does not have to be the same person for everything, but you both need to understand the responsibility bestowed upon the other in an accountability setting. You can literally just ask people you know, let’s not make it a scary topic. If you can accept accountability with the small sacrifices of Lent, you can have experience to address core issues later.
In my experience, well implemented accountability always comes from a place of love. It is nerve wracking to tell someone you messed up. What helps is knowing that the other person is keeping you accountable to help you get better, to push you past your weakness. People are not keeping you accountable to say “ha, I knew you would fail.” They are putting themselves in a position where they are praying that you do not fail, and if you do, being the first to pick you up and put you back on the road. Embrace this accountability with open arms and reciprocate the love if you are ever asked to hold someone accountable.
I am praying for you all and would like to extend the open invite of accountability. If you need someone to keep you on track and cannot find anyone, my door is always open. I already call upon some of you to help me and it has honestly brought me to places I never thought I could reach. I am more than willing to step up and give back. May God bless y’all.
Christopher Young. 4th Year. Poughkeepsie, New York. Commerce Major. I am the guy with the Captain America Shield backpack and I love stargazing.
A Calling Back to Holiness
“How does Saint Joan of Arc persevere in your life?”
In truth, I used to have a difficult time relating to St. Joan. Her story has been so heavily mythologized by popular media that she seemed almost superhuman to me. When she experienced visions from God commanding her to fight for France against English forces, she petitioned the French Royal Court to give testimony of her visions before King Charles VII in person. To most people who lived during her time, her claim would have seemed ridiculous given her peasant upbringing, her young age, and her gender. And yet, she followed His word despite the ridicule and doubt she faced from French officials. She was steadfast on and off the battlefield, convincing her fellow soldiers to attend mass and spending long periods of time in prayer. Even when leaders of her own church abandoned her and condemned her for heresy in a horrendously conducted trial, she spent her final moments praying and repeating the name of Jesus.
There is little record of St. Joan doubting, questioning, or making mistakes. From my 21st century vantage point, reading tall tales of the 100 Years’ War, St. Joan lived her life in perfect alignment with God. She was, and continues to be, the model Christian.
In that respect, I am nothing like St. Joan, and not simply because every Christian makes mistakes. I am nineteen years old— the same age Joan was when she was martyred. But my faith certainly did not withstand the challenges of my generation the way hers did. In fact, over the past two years, I fell deeply out of my faith. This happened for complicated reasons that I don’t think I can properly articulate—there was no one definitive moment when I stopped believing. But regardless of cause and effect it came amidst a deep feeling of purposelessness and despair. At the time prayer for me was only a force of habit. I stopped receiving the Eucharist. When my grandfather passed away last summer, I didn’t believe he was in heaven because I couldn’t rationalize the perfect union with God that I had grown up accepting. I vividly remember the immense devastation I felt when I realized I truly believed that.
I began the fall semester of this year expecting I would no longer identify as Catholic because I was not sure that there was anything about me that was still faithful. I didn’t deserve the label. However, early into the year something compelled me to go to Mass. I didn’t feel forced or obligated in any way, but some part of me wanted to be there—and wanted to stay there. Many times, I would sit by myself in the back of the Church. Sometimes I became so anxious that my hands started shaking. But I still found myself going again and again.
Through this ritual I began to meet other Catholic students. Some friends whom I told about my doubts were willing to engage with and challenge them. While these conversations could be uncomfortable sometimes and we did not always reach an agreement, they helped me to realize what could be possible in my faith. During one such conversation I admitted to a friend, “I suppose I’ve never been happier than when I had faith.”
He responded, “Then why not follow that feeling?” It had not occurred to me that I didn’t have to despair. By listening to that voice—or calling—I found myself within a network of friends who, without knowing it, kept a death grip on me when it felt so easy to fall away.
I am still mending my relationship with God and with the Church. I oscillate between instances of faith and doubt. But like a meteor trapped in Earth’s orbit I feel myself getting closer to Him, pulled in by His gravitational forces with each revolution. During periods of distance, I look to Joan’s story as an example. It is proof of what a nineteen-year-old woman can do—the extent to which she can say ‘yes’ to God despite societal and personal doubts, threats of violence, and immense pressure. Maybe she too had doubts and inner conflicts, and maybe she sometimes gave into them, but I don’t think it matters. Whatever I imagine could have tested her faith, she ultimately overcame it through a lifetime of devotion to her Lord, even at the very end. I hope to achieve that someday, and I am only just beginning to say ‘yes’.
Saint Joan of Arc, Pray for us.
My name is Emma Gorman. I’m a second year English Major from Arlington, VA. Fun facts: my favorite book is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and I’m learning how to play chess, so if anyone would like to play, I’m down!
A Light in the Darkness
“What does Christmas mean to you?”
I have never cried during a movie. Each Christmas Eve, however, the final scene of It’s a Wonderful Life tugs at my tear ducts ever so slightly. Following Christmas Eve Mass, my family and I gather around the TV to watch the 1946 classic. While the movie itself never changes, it has changed how I view Christmas. Over the years some of the main themes and values of the movie have shaped what Christmas means to me.
If you have never watched the movie:
- You should
- Consider this your spoiler alert
The holiday season can be difficult. Everyone experiences suffering, and sometimes the season’s focus on material wealth, gift-giving, and family can create or exacerbate issues. Background music claiming, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” can become unhelpful.
George Bailey, the protagonist of It’s a Wonderful Life, certainly has his share of holiday hardships. An innocent mistake by his uncle, aided by the wealthy, conniving Mr. Potter, leaves the Bailey Building and Loan short $8,000. Roughly equivalent to $100,000 in today’s money, George, as the head of the company, will be held responsible for the deficit and thrown in jail. Desperate for help, George crawls to Potter to ask for a loan, offering his $15,000 life insurance policy as collateral. Potter, unmoved, smugly remarks that Bailey was, “worth more dead than alive.”
Potter’s assertion and the overall situation leave George untethered and discouraged. Hours after seeking help from Potter, George finds himself atop a tall bridge, peering over the edge at the icy river below, contemplating jumping to his death.
At that moment, God sends Clarence, George’s guardian angel, to save him. Clarence, with God’s help, shows George what the world would have looked like had he never been born. Through that experience, George comes to realize that the missing funds do not define his life and his worth. The loving relationships that George has in his family and community are worth far more than $8,000.
It’s a Wonderful Life reveals to me a special meaning of Christmas – that in the darkness God always sends His light. Clarence is George’s light in the darkness, reflecting the saving love of Jesus that we celebrate each year. Jesus delights in stepping into our lives in our darkest moments. As Clarence shows, He does so in often unexpected, creative ways, unique to each of us and our needs. He shows us that His love for us defines who we are, not our perceived shortcomings.
So, during this season, when perhaps we, like George Bailey, feel that we have fallen short, we can take courage. We can do so because Jesus’ birth shows us that darkness always gives way to the light of our Lord.
As the bells ring on Christmas morning, we know that our Savior has been born.
And just maybe, another angel has its wings.
Hi, my name is Chris McGahren, and I am a fourth-year from Charlottesville. In addition to watching It’s a Wonderful Life, my family always has quiche for dinner on Christmas Eve. The leftovers make for a great breakfast on Christmas morning too.
God Has Made a Bethlehem
“What does Christmas mean to you?”
Growing up, December was my favorite month of the year. Every year, right after Thanksgiving, my family started to prepare for the Advent season and the birth of Christ. Looking back, I remember my parents’ dedication to every detail, big and small. They always made it special; as a kid, everything felt like it had a little bit of magic. As I got older and started to help them to prepare everything for Christmas, I realized that the magic I felt as a kid came both from the love my parents had for my siblings and me, but also the love they held for our Lord.
When I started to do daily prayer, and the Advent season came around, it was hard at first to pray. I knew I wanted to prepare for the season, but I did not know how to do it. The first time I took it seriously, I went to my mom and asked her what she was doing for her Advent prayer. To this day, her idea has been my favorite, and of course, it has always helped me to prepare in the best way for the coming of our Lord.
First, I would like to explain a little bit about the Advent season. Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming. Though Christ has already come into the world, the Church invites Catholics to renew our desire for the Lord more deeply into our lives. My mom’s prayer idea helped me to do just that. She told me first contemplate the whole Nativity scene and then choose a person and put yourself in their shoes. She used to tell me that instead of trying to understand every role, it is better to choose one every year. This unique way of praying deepened my meditation of the Nativity before and after our Lord’s birth, but it also helped me understand that putting ourselves in other people’s shoes is harder than we might think. This prayer encouraged me to closely live the preparation for Christmas closely and understand the people around me.
Every year my sister and I read the book “God Has Made a Bethlehem” by Enrique Monasterio, and the plot of the book is related to my mom’s prayer method. It is an easy and short fiction story about the Nativity that provides many ideas of how the Nativity was realistically lived the first time. For example, Zabulon is the youngest son of the shepherd that had the stable in which Christ was born. Zabulon is a funny kid who plays around and talks to baby Jesus every day so baby Jesus would never be alone while Mary and Joseph rest. Through our prayer and preparation, we can be like that kid during the Advent season. There is also the shepherd’s wife that helps Mary to clean Jesus’ diaper every day. We can also observe St. Joseph’s humility and generosity in living out the mission God had for him. We can all use these examples to learn how to live better in preparation for Christ’s birth, and hence open our hearts to help the people around us do the same.
Christmas for me means everything. As we would await the birth of our little brother or a close cousin, we should await the birth of Jesus, who came to the world just for us, with the same eagerness. One of my favorite traditions we have at home is singing “Happy Birthday” at midnight on the morning of December 25. My mom always makes her famous and most delicious vanilla cake. I also love to do the Advent wreath every Sunday in the family before Christmas. My point is that there are so many ways to prepare for Christmas, but the most important lesson is that YOU find YOUR way to prepare for the coming of your Savior during the Advent season. Do not forget to live closely and deeply in the sacraments of the Church this Advent, as they are the most significant tools we have to help us grow closer to our Lord. Merry Christmas y’all!
“What does Christmas mean to you?”
As I sat in Mass this week watching the lighting of the first purple candle, I began to contemplate what the reason for the season was: I struggled, as I do every year. I felt like Charlie Brown in the Christmas special when he cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about!?” I found myself waiting to hear some Linus answer to that question for me, but it never came in words. Yet, like in the movie, that scene led me to an important conclusion: it is not a time meant for words, but for action.
The word Advent draws its roots from the Latin for “coming towards,” which is fitting since it is a time for preparation for Christmas, the birth of Jesus. We must strengthen ourselves and our virtues to prepare. This training connected to an idea Father Mike Schmitz expressed last Christmas in his homily: when Jesus is born, He wages war on sin. A baby, the symbol of innocence, is waging war? It almost sounds contradictory. Well, if Jesus is the one that wages the battle, then He needs holy fighters by his side, so Advent serves as our training for this mission.
My way of preparing for Christmas connects to two words: aspire and inspire. Both are like (yes, another Latin word) the term “spes,” meaning “hope,” where aspire is about having it and the word inspire, giving it. The Catechism describes hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817). By developing hope within ourselves, we are training to be selfless and to seek beauty in all that we do, because we know that this beauty is one that directs us to Christ.
At the core of the word aspire is the idea of direction: we must make sure that all we do and think directs us back to Christ. This requires internal training. One of the greatest sources of this in my life has been listening to the Bible in a Year podcast by Father Mike Schmitz on Audible. He reads chapters from the Bible, then teaches how their themes return to Christ. It may not seem like the season to start the Bible since it centers on New Testament events and Christ’s birth, but I recognize this differently: Advent is like the Catholic version of New Year’s since it is the start of the liturgical year, a time to take charge of aspirations or resolutions we set for ourselves that go on throughout the whole year; we do not limit our goals to this season alone.
We also do not limit hope to ourselves and should find ways to enliven it in others. At Christmas time, my family hosts relatives from Long Island and Philadelphia; doing this allows us to practice hospitality and fight the destructive feeling of isolation. How can we bring goodwill to others if we are away from others? Once we are together, we sit around the table for a traditional Polish meal known as the Wigilia, consisting of pierogies, mushroom soup, and fish. Before feasting, my brother, sister, and I each take turns reading from my grandmother’s Bible, going through the narrative of the sacred birth. Doing this allows us to recall what the season is about to refocus our thoughts and prepare ourselves for the highlight of the meal: the Oplatek. It is a thin wafer each family member holds and breaks, then gives to another. With this, the person says something they are thankful for about the other, along with a wish or blessing for the person’s year. Both then eat the wafer they received and hug. This directing of our words allows us to enkindle hope within each other.
It is fitting that the first candle we light during Advent is the one symbolizing hope: when we ignite the candle, we must contemplate how this illumination signifies freedom from darkness; we are aflame, steadfast, courageous. Christmas is a time to have hope, directing ourselves towards God to bring glory to Christ, the babe born so we could live forever. We must be merry and bright. In the fight, “Let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
My name is Finn Mokrzycki, and I am a first-year Statistics major in the college. I am from Woodbridge, Virginia and I love paper crafting (card making, paper sculptures, etc).
A Time of Pure Joy
“What does Christmas mean to you?”
The Advent and Christmas seasons have always been the most exciting for me. As a little kid, my main concerns were presents and having off from school, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to appreciate these seasons for what they truly are. They are times of pure joy. Advent allows one to prepare for Christ’s arrival while Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, and the joyfulness that comes out of these two seasons is unlike anything else.
I have always felt called to refocus and center in on what truly matters during the Advent season. Normally I’m drawn to the teachings of Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble during Advent and her emphasis on memento mori or “remember your death.” I know this can be quite grim since Advent is a time of joy, but the principles of memento mori are interwoven with the Advent season. Memento Mori is all about loving God to the fullest and pushing away distractions while remembering what is most important, living a holy life. This concept corresponds with our preparations for Christ as we give our lives to Him to receive His grace and goodness. My connection to Christ strengthens as I forget about all the material worries in life and am reminded that Christ is coming, not just by His birth, but by His second coming as well. The Advent season has this magical ability to permit happiness and joy in anyone’s life despite whatever one is going through, and that is what makes it such a special time.
With Christmas coming right after Advent, the joy continues. One of my favorite family traditions involves spreading this happiness and joy to others. Every year, my family partakes in our church’s giving tree, so we pick a tag off the tree and gift a child a present. The gift is either for Christmas or Three Kings Day depending on what is marked on the tag. By giving out these gifts, my family can pass along the gift of Christ to others, as we honor the Father’s gift of His only son. The story of St. Nicholas also deeply resides with us when we participate in this act since we look to replicate his deed of giving to the poor.
For the upcoming seasons of Advent and Christmas, I’m hoping to establish and maintain a much more personal relationship with Christ. I’ve made it my goal to go to Adoration on a regular basis during these seasons, and I encourage everyone else to as well. Adoration is a sure way to find peace and comfort throughout what is guaranteed to be a busy time. It also allows one to feel exceptionally close to Christ as we prepare for His coming. I’m excited to see where adoration will lead me.
I find it necessary to remember the true meaning of Advent and Christmas as these seasons approach. It is too easy to get caught up in all the parties and festivities and forget about what all this celebration is for. I hope all of you will join me in centering in on Christ and the joy He brings during these upcoming seasons as we prepare for and celebrate His coming.
My name is Lillian Rojas and I am a 2nd year from Manassas, Virginia. A fun fact about me is that I can juggle and I have an 80lbs Goldendoodle.
St. Joseph and Fatherhood
“Share a saint story”
Saint Joseph has appeared in my life recently in a multitude of ways. While not being Jesus’ biological father, Saint Joseph represents fatherhood by showing authentic love, caring for Jesus, and giving him every opportunity he could. Saint Joseph taught Jesus carpentry, as well as compassion. Many of the traits that Saint Joseph showed to Jesus are also embodied in my own life, by my own father. A few weeks ago, I learned that my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a horrible disease that has tested the strength and faith of my family. For the past 22 years, my father has shown the traits of Saint Joseph, by putting my siblings and me first, driving us to Mass as well as sporting games, and encouraging us in all our endeavors. But now, the roles are reversed. For the first time in my life, my father is the one needing the encouragement and the strength to get through all things. Saint Joseph stressed the importance of patience. From the time I learned of the mass in my father’s pancreas to the final diagnosis many weeks later, my patience has been tested. I firmly believe that God does everything with a purpose. God does not enjoy watching us suffer, but he will always be by our side throughout it every step of the way. Saint Joseph was there for all of Jesus’ life, teaching him traits that guided him throughout my life.
Fathers are not born but made. The Pope once wrote, “A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child”. Being a father does not just mean you have a child that you brought into this world. Being a father comes with the innate responsibility that you will love this human with every ounce of love in your body. The same goes for being a son. Being a son does not mean that you simply have 2 parents. Being a son, in my own eyes, means that you will give everything for your parents, just as they would do for you. This Thanksgiving break, I am thankful that I get every opportunity to spend time with my father, encourage him to keep fighting through his chemo and keep the faith. Tough times do not last, but tough, resilient people do. I do not think it is a coincidence that my father’s name is Thomas Aquinas Mulquin, just like the name of the STA church at UVA. Each time I walk into STA to pray, I remind myself of the duties of a loving son, as well as the duties of a loving father. During the coming weeks of this Christmas season, thank your parents for all they do and remember the role of fatherhood, which was so beautifully taught to Jesus by Saint Joseph.
My name is Will Mulquin, I am a 4th-year Electrical Engineering major from Mclean, VA. 2 fun facts: I played college basketball at The Catholic University of America for 2 years before transferring to UVA. I enjoy crosswords and sudoku.
The Saints: Role Models, Helpers, Friends
“Share a saint story”
One of my favorite parts of my Catholic faith is the guidance and intercession of the saints. Saints are a beautiful facet of the faith because they were exactly like us. Jesus took on our humanity, but without our sin, while saints share our brokenness, yet were holy and steadfast in faith despite their imperfections. They are role models and reminders that we are capable and called to take up our crosses and follow Him in our humanity, just as we are. As we grow in holiness, we grow in kinship and even friendship with the saints, which, in turn, leads us ever closer to Christ.
At least partially by necessity, Saint Anthony is my all-time favorite saint. He is known as the “finder of lost things” and I am constantly losing my belongings, and then knocking on his door, asking for help. At five years old, I lost one of my Crocs (my favorite shoes, both then and now), and tore up my garage and bedroom trying to find it. My mom taught me the rhyming prayer imploring Saint Anthony’s intercession (“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around, something is lost and must be found”), and lo and behold, my missing Croc was immediately found–hiding in plain sight, right in my shoe cubby! I remember sitting on the floor, clutching my shoe, baffled that it had been found somewhere I’d already scoured. I knew even then that I must have had some divine assistance in my search.
Flash forward to a few years ago, when I went to a football game at a neighboring high school. All night, I had been wandering around the bleachers catching up with friends. Towards the end of the game, I reached into my pocket and realized that my car keys had fallen out at some point. Trying not to panic, I found a spot to sit down, close my eyes and pray, begging for Saint Anthony’s intercession. Immediately, an image of my keys resting under the bleachers flashed before my eyes. I walked to the rail of the bleachers and looked down. About fifteen feet below me, my keys were hidden under the bleachers, having fallen all the way from the rail of the bleachers to the track. If I hadn’t been standing in that exact spot, I wouldn’t have been able to see them. I drove home with a big smile on my face, so grateful and in awe of Saint Anthony’s aid. Stories like these are proof to me that I am being watched over and remind me—as the saints are meant to do–that I am deeply cared for by my Savior.
One of my other favorite saints is actually technically a Blessed: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He was a lover of adventure, had a deep devotion to the rosary, and dedicated constant time and money to serve the poor in his community.
I stumbled into Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati sort of by accident. After high school, I took a gap year and moved to Nashville for a few months. For the Fourth of July, I drove to see a friend from home who was visiting a city a few hours from Nashville. After seeing my friend, I drove to my hotel, which was downtown, and (as I learned) in a very dangerous part of the city. As I walked the three blocks from the parking garage to my hotel, late at night, I felt deeply unsettled and concerned for my safety. I finally got to my room, but still couldn’t shake my unease. When I reached into my duffle bag to grab the UVA shirt that I had packed as a pajama shirt, I instead found the Blessed Pier Giorgio t-shirt I had bought impulsively at a conference, though I didn’t know much about him. I took this as a sign to ask for his intercession. After a little bit of prayer and petition, I felt a surge of strength and was able to fall asleep peacefully. I woke up feeling certain that he had protected me. I vowed to learn about and call upon him more frequently. After I returned home, I Googled him, and the first thing I learned about him was his feast day: July 4. Since then, Blessed Frassati has assisted me in many areas of my life, including my desire to get involved in homeless ministry, and my decision to pursue the adventure of attending UVA.
I have many more personal stories about the impact that the saints have had on my life, but I will leave you, simply, with this: God gave us the saints to further remind us how ardently we are loved and adored by Him. I implore you to find creative ways to call upon the saints in your daily life. Saint Teresa of Avila loved fashion, so I often ask her to help me pick out my outfits in the morning. Blessed Frassati loved snow, so when it snows, I wear my Frassati socks. St. Cecilia is the patron of music (and my Confirmation saint), so I pray my Saint Cecilia chaplet every time I sing. The saints show us how to live holy lives and help us to keep Christ at the center of all that we do, by constantly guiding us closer to Him. May they help us take up our crosses and stay close to Jesus!
My name is Kat Hammock. I’m a second-year from San Diego, majoring in Music and American Studies. Some fun facts about me: I celebrate Christmas in some capacity on the 25th of every month, it’s on my bucket list to visit every US state (I’ve been to 29 so far), and I’m the youngest of 5 kids. Some members of my “Saint squad” include Saint Anthony, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Saint Anne, Saint Cecilia, Blessed Carlo Acutis, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Archangel Raphael. My favorite way to pray is through novenas, but I’m also a sucker for the rosary!
Name Days & Novenas
Growing up, I had always heard about “Name Days,” and my mother would even get celebratory phone calls on July 26 — her name day. In Poland, where my mother lived until she was nine, Name Days are celebrated on the feast day of the saint who shares your name. Since this is a part of my cultural background, I decided to learn more about St. Julia of Corsica (my name saint) whose feast day is May 22.
St. Julia of Corsica was a devout woman, who was so dedicated to her faith that even in the face of death, she stood by it. During her life, she was taken from her family and sold into slavery, but still persevered in life without complaint and took time to pray and read about her faith. Sometimes, we look at life with more pessimism, or at least I do, and choose to complain and make excuses for not spending time with the Lord but seeing how St. Julia chose to look at her life with optimism and love in such difficult circumstances, I see how important it is to do the same. She died a martyr for her faith and seeing an example of this kind of real dedication to the Catholic faith is inspiring, as any of us can also strive to have this kind of faith and outlook on our lives.
Although I have not prayed many novenas before, I had one experience that will stick with me. Last year, I was asked to pray a novena (a series of nine days of prayer) with a friend of mine, which I had never done before. A few of us decided to pray for the intercession of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental health. This experience was all new to me, and we prayed together through FaceTime due to convenience, but also because of the separation we all experienced due to COVID-19 and the restrictions in place.
A lot of people have struggled with mental health throughout this pandemic, and the separation and the anxieties that have been brought up or exacerbated due to the pandemic made praying this novena that much more important. I have personally struggled with mental health, as have many of my friends. Being able to pray for the intercession of St. Dymphna, a saint who saw the realities of mental health in her father at such a young age, was a wonderful experience to have shared even over FaceTime during a time when so many were struggling.
I think that saints truly show us examples of how we can strive to be holy and grow in our relationship with God. They remind us of the power of prayer, whether through their own dedication to their faith in their life or through the opportunity we have to ask for their constant intercession. They were human beings with all sorts of backgrounds and struggles just like us, yet they made conscious efforts to strive towards holiness and remain strong in their faith, which is a commitment that we can choose to renew every day.
My name is Julia Olkin and I am a third-year from Reston, Virginia. A fun fact about me is that I’m actually a dual citizen (U.S. and Poland)
Faith, Family, and Football
How do you encounter Christ?
Encountering Christ should be an everyday sort of thing. Like, for real, He is working all around us—we just have to be still and look for it. Personally, I like to look for Him through the game of football, as it means I have very long days through which to encounter Him. Any given day, I wake up at 5:45 AM for workouts, meetings, and practices that will last until about noon. From there, I have 5 hours of classes, as I intend to major in biomedical engineering. On top of that, I have an extra 2-3 hours of homework. This leaves about 2 hours of free time, mostly used for Catholic Hoos events.
Now, by saying this, I am not trying to brag or complain about the stresses of being a first-year football player. Rather, I intend to show that although my days may be crazy, I always try to find ways to encounter Christ—even if it is through a seemingly insignificant event.
For example, during warmups, we do forward lunges with a backward arm reaching to the sky. Whenever it’s my turn, I do the sign of the cross and point to the sky when reaching back. This reminds me before every practice that I am not just playing for myself or my family—I am playing to glorify God above all. Likewise, after every practice, I take a knee at the corner of the end zone and pray in thanksgiving, regardless if it was a good or bad practice for me. Then, throughout the day, I listen to worship music when driving from class to class. Finally, before I go to bed each night, I read Scripture, read a book by Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. These small encounters throughout the day are not the only things I do to practice my faith, but they are examples of how in the midst of a crazy midseason schedule of a Division I football player, I still find time to encounter Christ—even when He is not obvious.
We must look for Christ even in the most routine events of our lives. We see Him through teammates, coaches, friends, professors, parents, and priests. There is a common misconception that to encounter Christ, you must have some great big conversion moment. But not all of us will have that moment in our lives as St. Paul did. The Lord will guide you towards what you truly desire: Himself. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). Often when things are hard or I am stressed by the craziness of my midweek schedule, I read that quote to remind myself that although I should try my hardest in everything I do, the Lord will make the final decision on where my life goes next.
I am truly blessed that He chose the University of Virginia as a part of my story, and I look forward to continuing spreading His love and allowing others to encounter Christ through football and Catholic Hoos.
My name is Joey Kagel, and I’m a first-year from Virginia Beach, VA. I like to fish, play football, and listen to country, and worship music.
He Is Near
How do you encounter Christ?
“If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are” – Psalm 139:8
For the majority of my whole life, my morning routine has consisted of these things: waking up, sitting in bed for a few minutes, organizing my room, brushing my teeth, eating breakfast, showering, dressing up for the day, and heading out somewhere. Something that is noticeably missing is prayer. Because of the lack of time I had in getting ready for the day, I did not include prayer in my morning routine. Not starting my day with God made me not have gratitude, thankfulness, and grace.
Growing up, I was shy and introverted. In social settings, I would remain quiet until it was my turn to speak, or I was interested in a topic that was discussed. When I got home, I would talk to my family about my day and many more things. A place in my home that I feel 100% conformable in is the shower. In there, I would say anything that is on my mind whether it could be related to grades, friends, events, family, and more. But soon the shower turned into a place where I would pray and encounter Jesus.
During my first year of high school, I started to incorporate prayer into my morning routine. I was unsure where to pray. (I decided between praying next to my bed or praying in the shower). I chose the shower because in the shower I was attentive and it was my safe spot of solitude. For half of the time, I would pray and after prayer, I would just socialize with Jesus about life. I felt His presence by hearing His voice and speaking to me. God would give His advice about a topic I talk about and remind me of ongoing life events. When I encounter Him, I am filled with joy and at ease. He would give me the gifts of wisdom and knowledge.
Giving God at least 15 minutes of my day every single morning dramatically changed my relationship with Him. I began to pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, listen to Christian music, and meet other Catholics. All these things draw me closer to God and eternal life. Although I don’t have the solitude of being in the shower alone that I once had at home, I still make an effort to communicate with him whenever I am alone.
What I learned from encountering Christ is He is omnipresent. He is always there and available to listen to you. Christ is ready to respond to you and say anything related to your prayer intentions and guide you through it. For me personally, I encountered Christ through hobbies I enjoy and places I like to be in. Also, I ask the Lord to be involved with my activities. Doing these two things is how I experience Christ through my daily life.
For anyone who is seeking to encounter Christ, it will happen when you least expect it. He could appear in your dreams, whisper a message to you, tell you something while doing an activity you are passionate about, and more. Be patient and always trust in His good works for His mercy endures forever.
My name is Nneoma Nosike. I am a first-year from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I love reading and spending time in nature.
Close Encounters of the Divine Kind
How do you encounter Christ?
“ Let us examine our ways and test them and let us return to the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:40
I was raised by two of the best Catholics you will ever meet, with good Catholic siblings at a good Catholic school. For most of my early childhood, my faith was given to me, and I did not consider much else. But, as I got older, I started to question my faith. I questioned the legitimacy of the Church, the fundamentals of Catholic moral teaching, even the written word of God. I doubted that Jesus would keep me above the water, so I fell in.
Through the entire first half of high school, I struggled not only with my faith but with my own anger and bitterness with myself. Years of Catholic school religion teachers telling me that they could “hear God speaking to them” had made me resent the fact that I had never heard God’s voice. I had never had an “encounter with Christ” – I didn’t even know what that meant. I tried to convince myself He wasn’t real (unless I needed help on a math test, in which case I tried to become a firm believer in God for the two minutes I spent asking Him for help). I let myself fall even further, allowing my pain to control me and turning to everything but God to ease it.
Luckily for me, God did not plan on letting me wallow in my own self-pity. A bunch of friends of mine approached me about going to a retreat through my school, and I accepted because I thought it would be fun. On the retreat, another student gave a talk about the importance of self-reflection and how it had helped them get over the anger and bitterness that had followed them all throughout high school. That hit too close to home for me to ignore, so I gave it a try.
This is when I had my first “encounter with Christ.” I sat on a bench, closed my eyes, and thought about all the pain I was experiencing. Since it was a religious retreat, I decided to give asking God for help a try. Within 30 seconds on that bench, I was sobbing.
I always thought “encountering Christ” would mean Him deciding to reach out and say something in my ear, or perform a flashy miracle, or bestow upon me Newton-like calculus abilities. I could not have been more wrong. I “encountered Christ” by realizing that he’s always waiting for us to reach out to Him. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, he is always waiting. Not only that, but he’s always within us, with us, and around us. He wants us.
From that moment on, I took my faith seriously. I do my best to pray often, I go to Mass every Sunday, I even joined a great Bible study – and these are all definitely amazing ways to encounter Christ. But ever since that day, I learned that the way I encounter Christ is through personal reflection. I encounter Him in quiet moments, in long runs through Charlottesville, in my amazing friends, and in good music.
I’m still no expert on encountering Christ; as much as I wish I could pause for a few minutes whenever I want in my day, ask God for advice, and hear His response loud and clear, I’m not sure it will ever be quite like that. But what I can do is pause for a few minutes whenever I can, ask God for advice, and sit in silence. More often than not, my heart slows, my breath calms down, and a wave of peace washes over me – I truly believe this is God’s way of reminding me that everything is in His hands. Everyone encounters Christ in different ways, but I promise it’s a whole lot easier if you don’t try to anticipate what that encounter is going to be like.
My name is Christopher Johnson, Class of 2025. I’m from Alexandria, VA (real NOVA)
Some fun facts are that 1). Everyone calls me Critter, 2). I’m half-decent at playing the guitar and 3). My backup plan for my life is to be a farmer.
Fall 2021 Student Address
Being the youngest child in my family I often found myself the center of attention. Now, this was mostly based on my personality, meaning I typically forced as much attention to myself as I could. That being said I had two older sisters who constantly looked out and cared for me. One of the things I vividly remember was during the summer months when school was not in session we would always make up games in the yard or in the pool. Without fail, there were those few days where the weather decided to exert its own will and force us to stay indoors. However, it is those days that have a longer shelf life in my memory. On those rainy days, my sisters would squeeze every last ounce of their creativity into creating different games for me to enjoy. It often took the expression of sending me on a scavenger hunt throughout the house to find small pieces of candy with the reward of a full-size candy bar at the end. Clue after clue would send me on a new adventure. Which room would I have to go to? Which piece of furniture would I have to crawl under? With each new search came a new rush of adrenaline and excitement. Each milestone immediately initiated the next search.
To our incoming and returning students – WELCOME! It is a joy to have you here in Charlottesville and to be your chaplain during your short stay here in central VA. You have reached another milestone in your life. But this is not the last one. This earthly pilgrimage of yours is filled with these moments to pass on from one phase to the next. I find more comfort in the fact that our earthly journey is more akin to the childhood scavenger hunt in the Kress household. Our lives move from one short-term journey to the next. For some, the transition brings about sadness about the completion of the previous journey. This grief is normal and appropriate. For others, the approach of the new journey brings about excitement. This too is normal and appropriate. There is always a mix of satisfaction and anxiety as we traverse this life.
As new students, you may be experiencing that blend of satisfaction, anxiety, and excitement as you begin your studies here at UVA. The next four years will provide much for you in the ways of opportunities and experiences. I can assure you that the next “search”, the next pivotal experience, the next most important thing is much closer than you realize. In this constant barrage of possible paths and journeys to take, I encourage you to remember that this milestone will only lead to the next one. The hunger that you have to go on the adventure of searching to make your way through this life and to find yourself along that journey is one that is woven into our very humanity. It is something that is unique to our humanity. But it can wear us down if we simply see life as an endless line of little adventures. Each little adventure/search will only offer a “little” and temporary satisfaction. It will fade to the next “search”. Our hearts are made to be satisfied in the eternal presence of God. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God” (St. Augustine).
It is the Lord that we hunger for and search for. It is the Lord who reveals us to ourselves. Dear students, remember that in each new opportunity and search in your life it is the Lord that you desire most. Pursue Jesus Christ as He pursues you if you desire happiness and not just fleeting moments of pleasure. For those moments fade but the mercy of the Lord endures forever.
“It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” – St. John Paul II
Fr. Joseph-Anthony Kress is a Dominican Friar and serves as the chaplain for the Catholic Campus Ministry (Catholic Hoos) at the University of Virginia.
The Way of the Cross
“Tell me your testimony”
Then they left the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
I would not pinpoint a moment or event in my life where all of a sudden I discovered Christ or finally accepted the faith I grew up with. The discovery and acceptance of Christ in my life has been (and is) a journey with consolations and suffering, moments of firmness and weakness. A while ago I reflected that it seemed all Catholic converts (including many saints) met God in one dramatic moment and spent the rest of their lives in a close and near-flawless relationship with Jesus. So, for a moment, I wished I had been a convert just in order to have some radical experience of choosing God, which would make loving God easier from that point on. It is a romantic idea of course, but it’s a bit sentimental and unrealistic. If there is one thing the Catholic faith is not, it’s sentimental. It is certainly not unrealistic to have a radical experience of God’s grace; what is unrealistic is the idea that after conversion, or after some radical experience of grace, living the faith will suddenly become easy.
The life of faith, that is, the life solely directed towards loving God, is difficult (to say the least). It is “the constricted road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). True love of Christ demands laying down one’s life, taking up one’s cross, and following Him. That is as far from sentimental love as it comes. Conversion, in the sense of turning oneself to Christ and laying down one’s life completely, is a slow and demanding journey, for converts and ‘cradle-Catholics’ alike. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux called herself “the poorest of sinners,” because she knew God’s love for her, yet she still sinned. She knew that God demanded all that she could possibly give. But what is love, if not demanding? Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Love cannot be something you must suffer and die for and something that makes you feel good all the time. But if to love meant anything less than to suffer for, then what would it be worth?
All that to say, I think conversion is, in a sense, a lifelong process. It is not enough to choose to love or to believe once when it feels good and right. One must rise every day and choose to love and to believe. I never rejected my faith and I am more or less a cradle-Catholic (my family converted when I was six or seven and I don’t remember much before that), so I do not have a radical conversion story, nor do I have a story about finally accepting my faith. Flannery O’Connor once wrote: “What one has as a born Catholic is something given and accepted before it is experienced. I am only slowly coming to experience things that I have all along accepted.” I’d say that is a fair characterization of my own life as a Catholic. But what has been perhaps the most difficult roadblock to overcome in my spiritual life has been complacency.
Towards the end of Walker Percy’s novel, The Last Gentleman, the main character reflects that the difficult thing for the Christian is living “the ordinary Wednesday afternoon.” I think there is a harsh and profound truth in that point. As Catholics, we accept that the God of the universe became man and entered creation, died for us, gave us the sacraments, and called us to follow His example. The difficulty is not really that Wednesday is so ordinary, it’s that it is all too easy to live as if it were; it is too easy to act as if Wednesday didn’t hold a profound truth that we ought to bear witness to.
My goal as a Catholic is to become a saint and nothing else (what other goal could there be for a Catholic?). The fact of the matter is, as Saint Pio said, “glory will be ours on the condition that we endure suffering with a Christian spirit.” It has become increasingly clear to me that the way to heaven is the way of the cross. I have grown most in my relationship with Christ through moments of suffering and weakness, but it is still hard to want to suffer. However, the saints, I think, are not those who find suffering easy, but those who ask for suffering as well as the grace to endure it. So, my testimony is to bear witness to the mystery that the heart of the Christian experience is suffering. If God is Love, then there is nothing else for the Christian to do than to suffer for the sake of Love. That is not an easy thing to do (and I fail at it all the time), but it would not be worth doing if it were easy.
My name is Jacob Malcolm. I am a rising third year from Spotsylvania Virginia. I really enjoy watching classic films as well as reading the great books (I’ve quoted a few of my favorite authors here).
“O Come, O Come . . .”
“Tell me your testimony”
When I was little my favorite church hymn over Advent and Christmas was “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” because, namely, it always seemed very personal to me. When I was younger, I’d slide my finger over -nuel, giggling as I proudly showed my sister and parents my namesake written into the hymnal. With time and age, as I flipped to or over the page, I would read the hymn’s title and silently be reminded of God’s very personal call to know me more deeply. Each glimpse of the title was a little whisper of God beckoning me to Him.
Growing up, my faith mostly consisted of Sunday Mass, mealtime grace, and nightly prayers before bed. These practices kept God in my life, but I still felt He was out of reach. I perceived God perched up in the clouds as a distant observer of my life–faith was almost a choice, not a conviction. It was my responsibility to impress Him and if I said and did the right things, I would catch His attention. Maybe then He would embrace me and meet me where I stood. After all, God’s love is everywhere, right? As I felt no closer to Him despite my misguided attempts, I grew weary. My futile journey to reach an unreachable God was exhausting. My soul was never satisfied so my faith grew lukewarm.
I experienced my first real conviction during my Confirmation retreat. In one of the many small group talks, we were to discuss obstacles that prevented us from pursuing God more deeply, and more so, obstacles that prevented us from more personally knowing Him. I sat for a while and felt my heart sink. How could I know someone so far away? Tears welled up in my eyes. I quickly blinked them away, overwhelmed and confused by this sudden wave of feelings that I couldn’t put words to. There were 10 or so of us in the small group and no one had spoken up. Someone would eventually start sharing so I waited, hoping to break my focus on these feelings by hearing some response. Instead, my group leader called out and said, “Emma, would you like to share? Something tells me you might.” My stomach dropped as the room’s gaze fell on me.
The next few minutes I remember like an out-of-body experience. I listened to myself concede insecurities and doubts, frustrations about how distant God always seemed to me. It felt like He didn’t know me at all, or if He did He didn’t show it. I heard myself admit to putting walls up to Him, tired of feeling like I was chasing after Him to earn His love and intimacy when I just wanted Him to come to me and love me right where I was. In my moments of loneliness, I realized it was my own hardened heart that denied me His embrace. My ears were drowned in the world’s excuses for God’s apparent absence. Self-reliance became a compulsion and false comfort that alienated me from Him. God did not distance Himself from me, I pushed Him away. The pain of His absence and my identity in mediocrity were too comfortable for me to venture out to find possible grace and peace in Him. As my soapbox testimony grew to a close, I looked around the room and saw friends and peers of mine moved. In their eyes, I saw expressions of near disbelief, as if my words finally captured the same doubts that weighed on their hearts. Their enemy was identified and our souls spoke to one another in collective yearning. The walls around our hearts began to break down. I felt love for my Lord swell. At that moment, I realized how severely I pushed my Father away. God took no other form in my life than a distant judge because I would not let Him near me. As I began to realize my identity in Him and His presence in my life, I found new joy. His call O Come, O Come was not a tease for me to chase after Him in vain, but an open invitation to accept the embrace readily open and waiting for me.
People call faith a journey because it is exactly that. I for one have faced moments of severe devotion and also ones of doubt and confusion. What remains steadfast and consistent though is God’s pursuit of your heart and soul. Emmanuel, “God with us,” is a reminder of the duality of God’s love. As He pushes us to pursue Him as equally as He pursues us, He persists in His steadfast devotion to us, ready and longing to receive us in His unending and limitless love. My Confirmation retreat allowed me to see the ways God chips through the walls that surround our hearts and encourages us to take rest by coming to Him. Since then, I have found so much joy in my identity in Christ. His love guides and lights my life which has allowed me to know Him more deeply as He is revealed to me in my family, friends, and this Catholic Hoos community. God truly is with us–I see Him in every goodness I experience and through every challenge. I know my heart and soul are only satisfied in Him, so I persist in my faith too and joyfully and richly take rest in the love of my Father. Come to Him too! There’s plenty of room in the arms of the Father. 🙂
My name is Emma Hearington, a rising fourth year from Chester, Virginia. I have recently been really into cooking and baking new recipes and absolutely love to hike. I hope everyone’s been having a happy and healthy summer!
June 30, 2021
“Tell me your testimony.” I am a Catholic Christian because of family, friendship, and the power of grace. Throughout the various stages of my life and the multiple parishes I’ve called home, each of these factors has contributed immensely to my spiritual and intellectual growth and my personal relationship with Christ. Starting with my baptism and continuing throughout the rest of my childhood, family has continued to be the primary context for my faith journey. I am a product of my parents’ individual faith stories – my father’s cradle Catholicism and deep love for the sacraments and my mother’s Protestant upbringing and passion for sacred scripture made their way into my own understanding of the Faith and of God. Due to our frequent moves, I ended up being homeschooled by my mom for seven years of my childhood, receiving a cocktail of various Catholic and Christian homeschooling programs which instilled in me a voracious appetite for reading and a lasting affinity for apologetics and defense of the faith. Being the eldest in a big family also had its effects on the way I perceived God and related to the Catholic faith– in both healthy and harmful ways. On one hand, having younger siblings looking up to me made me more responsible and more faithful. On the other hand, that pressure also made it easier for me to slide into spiritual perfectionism – I had created this warped image in my head of a God who based his love for me on my behavior, an insecurity that lay buried under all the exterior trappings of a faithful life and one that would take years for me to reckon with. In eighth grade, however, I was preoccupied with trying to translate my seven years of homeschool experience (and a hybrid third grade in Catholic and public school) into a socially vibrant and academically successful year at a brand-new public charter school in Norfolk, Virginia. The transition was exceptionally smooth, and I made friends who I stayed close to throughout high school (and even college!) and laid a solid academic foundation for the rest of high school. Moving from eighth grade into ninth, my involvement in our parish’s youth group exploded, and I was blessed to attend retreats, youth camps, and conferences in the Richmond diocese and throughout the rest of the country, deepening my own spiritual life and, for the first time, giving me an external community of believers to live alongside and draw on for support. This leap from a faith walk lived primarily as an individual to one lived in the context of a community of faith was a massive milestone in my spiritual development and one that persisted throughout the rest of high school. Even in the next three years of high school, where I really had no youth group to speak of, I was able to create my own opportunities for friendship and fellowship. Although my sister and I were the only Catholics in our grades at the American international school we attended in Portugal, we started a discussion group at our house on Friday nights for a Theology of the Body program – with 20 of our classmates coming on the first night and several of them returning for every session! That said, going from a school where none of my peers shared my faith to a college where I had upwards of thirty Catholic friends in my class was a total breath of fresh air. At UVA, I have been able to see and experience firsthand the fruits of a community of faith – one that never stops trying to better challenge, encourage, and love its members. Even with a network of faith on this scale throughout high school and in the months leading up to my first year of college, I still hadn’t begun to deal with some of the blind spots in my relationship with God. I was living as if my salvation depended on me instead of resting upon the infinite goodness of the creator of the universe. To be sure, I was going through the motions of being a faithful Christian – going to Sunday and daily Mass, going to confession, and praying with my family, but I struggled with a lingering sense of resentment towards my parents whenever they would take the initiative to do devotional activities; it was like I was somehow threatened by them striving towards holiness! This hardness of heart continued to be the single greatest obstacle to growth, even as I was surrounded by a fantastic family and wonderful new friends. One day, I opened my bible to the book of Romans and was blown away by a truth that I had heard my entire life but had never known: James. You can’t earn my love. Nothing you do could possibly make me love you more or less than I already do. All you can do is freely choose to accept the gift of grace I am unconditionally extending to you. In the words of St. Paul, “For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption, which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:22). This message hit me like a freight train. At that moment, and in reading the rest of Romans, something broke within me. All those years of striving to be “good enough” for God, of despairing under the weight of my failures and sin, of hardening my heart and closing myself off from grace – they were exposed as hollow and futile, frail and powerless against the tidal wave of God’s grace and mercy. In their place, I found an interior peace that I had never known and the realization that I could pursue virtue without making that the foundation for my salvation, throwing myself instead into the arms of Christ and ultimately relying on his grace as justification. I found myself yearning for the same promise God made to his people Israel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). In addition to dramatically reframing the way I saw justification, this shift reignited a deep desire for scripture within me, a desire that was further stoked in the bible studies I was a part of in the summer, fall, and spring of my first year at UVA. My love and appreciation for the sacraments as conduits for grace were also deepened – my friends and I challenged each other to take advantage of the incredible frequency of daily Mass, confession, and adoration at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, even amidst the global pandemic which had made access to those graces so difficult for so long. This radical reality of God’s grace is at the heart of why I am still Catholic, even in the face of my own human failings and those of others within the Church. The central truth in my faith walk, as in the spiritual journeys of so many others, has been that God has never stopped pursuing my soul. Through the family he blessed me with, the friends he has placed in my life, and scripture and the sacraments, God has actively participated in my life at every single moment – freely bestowing the saving power of his grace, the greatest gift the world has ever known. Hey y’all! My name is James de Marcellus and I’m a rising second year originally from San Diego, CA. Some of my favorite hobbies are playing piano and hyping up Portugal to anyone who will listen 🙂
“Tell me your testimony.”
Before I really started getting involved in my faith life, I didn’t have stellar friends. Instead of asking me about my week, they would ask me for homework answers. The friends in my classes made me feel strange. I can remember praying during the moment of silence and when I opened my eyes everyone would be staring at me. I would say Grace in the cafeteria, and they would stare at me while chatting with each other (honestly, they were probably talking about the homework assignments I didn’t give them the answers to). They did not give me the best mindset because I felt strange whenever I prayed in front of them.
However, Catholicism was imperative at the end of my senior year. My mom was sick in the hospital and I wanted to pray. I would pray during the moment of silence that she could come home. We could celebrate my graduation and her healing as a family. I would say Grace in the cafeteria before eating the leftovers of the dinner from the previous night. Several of my mom’s friends brought dinner for my dad, sisters, and me when she was in the hospital. As a matter of fact, some of those women were in her Bible study.
Even though I was not in a Bible study like her, I interacted with God during the prayers of petition at Mass. The lectors always mentioned my mom’s name when they offered up prayers to the sick. I also interacted with God by obtaining the Eucharist at the hospital from the priest who worked there. He was so kind and my parents enjoyed talking to him. I couldn’t imagine working there nor seeing what he saw during his shifts.
The hospital my mom was at was 30 minutes away. When I went to see her a few times, I was astounded. Her room was covered in balloons and flowers. There were cards, magazines, books, and gift bags on all of the tables. It was even more amazing that some of her friends would be sitting with her when I showed up. I saw my mom smile and laugh in her hospital bed while she talked to them.
Later I would’ve asked what was funny, but I was busy acknowledging that my prayers were answered: my mom was released from the hospital. My sisters and I decorated the house before she got home so we could celebrate her healing (I’d say it looked almost as good as her hospital room). A few weeks later, the house was decorated again for my graduation party. I was honored that some of my mom’s friends came.
Since some of her friends came, it made me think about when my international relations teacher talked about friendship a few weeks earlier. He told us to determine our friendships after graduation. Because of seeing my mom’s friends at my party and the hospital several times, that was my God moment. I had to switch up my friendships. The friendship detox happened in the fall after graduation. Because of that, that fall was the most fun I had had in a long time. I did not follow, text, or meet up with specific people anymore.
The summer before my second year of college, I was getting ready to transfer to UVA and I wanted to start making friends in the right setting. I signed up to join Catholic Hoos and was asked to join a “Small Group”. After the first meeting that year, I knew that I would be thankful for those friends. We didn’t ask each other for homework answers. We asked each other about our high, low, awkward, and God moments of the week.
As for my mom’s friends, I text them often because I’ve formed friendships with them. Whenever they come over to visit my mom, I always snatch a moment to say hi. How could I not? They are “faithful friends” (as mentioned in the book of Sirach). Besides Catholic and motherly friends, I have non-Catholic friends and they respect me.
Changing those friendships has impacted my faith life for the better because prayer isn’t ostracizing to me anymore. I’m not anxious when I see my friends. In my faith life now, I am at ease in my small group and enjoy talking about readings with my Catholic friends in and out of my bible study. The Lord has taught me that “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26). I now interact with God by asking Him to help me choose my friends. Because of my mindset with the faithful friends that God has given me, my paths are straight. I don’t want to be led astray.
My name is Bella Binder, and I am a third year from Ashburn, Virginia. My hidden talent is hula hooping! I did it for show-and-tell in kindergarten and blew everybody’s minds. I got back into it over winter break. My favorite pastimes are practicing calligraphy and spending time with my friends.
“Tell me a Mary story.”
Mary’s names are various ways we can think of her, try to understand her a little better. In my own life, I know the names that inspire the most awe usually resonate with me the most. They are the ways in which I see her best. However, this is not always immediate.
After my first year, I attended a Thomistic Institute conference. In the room I was given during the conference, there was a little statue of Mary tenderly holding our Lord as He slept in her arms. One of her names was carved underneath: Sedes Sapientiae, Seat of Wisdom.
The name filled my mind, captured my attention and I stared. I stared at it every morning and every evening of the conference. It confused me as much as it fascinated me. There was a nagging wonder tugging at me to try to figure it out. It was like seeing puzzle pieces sitting at a table, knowing that in some way they must fit, and having the urge to work on them until they do. I knew the name had to make sense, but I could not see it quite yet.
I became more and more involved with the TI and realized that the notion of Wisdom as used by St. Thomas was far-reaching and intricate. In studying with St. Thomas, I began to receive more pieces to understand Mary as the Seat of Wisdom. It is almost two years of this, and it has become a bit of an obsession I would say. I know our Lady is smirking at me, happy with how effectively she is bringing me to her Son and always helping me work on her puzzle.
I would like to present three pieces of this puzzle if I may. I hope they shed light on you as they have on me. I hope they give you the courage to pursue understanding of the mysteries of our faith. Understanding them will change you.
Piece One: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be.” (John 1:1-3)
Wisdom is the harmonious ordering of parts. There is Wisdom in the Divine ordering of everything: creation, history, the church, and everyone’s path to heaven. The Word of God is this ordering. It is Wisdom, and as the Word became flesh through Mary, she is the Seat of Wisdom.
Piece Two: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3)
Wisdom is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, the Word, is the principle of reason, Truth itself, which is meant to dwell in our intellect as knowledge of God. This knowledge, sprouting from the infused virtue of faith we receive at baptism, is meant to flourish in a soul full of grace. Mary’s soul is full of grace, and thus her knowledge of God is perfect, her intellect in perfect union. Since she knew Him as the Word made flesh, Mary’s knowledge is also incarnate, as thorough as any loving mother’s knowledge of her son.
Piece Three: “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” (Psalm 34:8):
Wisdom is also a gift of the Holy Spirit, associated with contemplation. It can be described as the Spirit granting you the experience of God as Good, an experience that is almost ineffable, dealing more with spiritual senses than material ones, a simultaneous tasting and seeing. Grace is a participation in the life of the Trinity, as defined by St. Thomas. Mary, full of grace, was thus in perfect union with the Holy Spirit as well as the Son. She was overflowing with the Spirit’s gifts and fruits, she lived a life of seeing God as good, contemplated Him in everything around her since everything is good. She contemplated Him as a mother marvels at the growth and existence of her son, but she also knew that He was God, the principle of existence for everything that is. There was nothing that did not remind her of Him, and so she pondered all things and kept them in her heart.
My name is Martina Bucheli, and I am a third-year studying architecture and art history. Three fun facts about me are that I am passionate about my favorite type of pen, I was born in Ecuador, and I became a U.S. Citizen a few weeks ago.
Recite Your Rosary
“Tell me a Mary story.”
In my family, like many Catholic families, my parents placed an emphasis on our Baptismal saints. My brother, named after St. Blaise, has the physician of souls and patron saint of throats watching over the millions of words that come out of his mouth every day. My sister has the power of all the St. Catherine’s – St. Catherine of Siena, St. Katharine Drexel, St. Catherine of Alexandria – guiding her through her high school years. Then, there is me, Caroline Louisa, with my Baptismal saint being St. Louis de Montfort.
Now, for the longest time, I didn’t know who this man was. I thought, “Gosh Mom, you couldn’t have even given me a female Baptismal saint?” I never turned to him in times of need or anxiety. I never knew the power of my Baptismal saint, until this year when he played a pivotal role in a spiritual growth spurt I experienced.
For the first 18 years and 3 months of my life, I hadn’t yet discovered the potential of my faith and the ability I had to grow in it. In Catholic school, I approached my faith the way I approached many other responsibilities by following the rules and accomplishing tasks: I was an altar server – check; I went to Mass every Sunday – check; I volunteered in my parish – check. What else did I need to do? More importantly, what more was I to gain?
More. So much more.
Coming to UVA, joining Catholic Hoos was an easy choice. However, once I stepped on Grounds, now an official adult on my own, I realized how much I still needed to grow in my faith. I am sinful. I can be self-reliant. I can be unsatisfied with all God had given me. My priorities were on all things except the Lord. Catholic Hoos and the community of STA gave me a push to dive headfirst into the glory and joy of all the Lord has to offer.
At UVA, I have room to grow and explore my faith on my own terms. Last semester was a semester of spiritual growth. I prioritized my prayer life in ways I never thought of before. I learned the importance of scripture and the Sacraments. I experienced relationships unlike any others – full of vulnerability, depth, and true love of each other and of Christ. I was finding who I was in Christ.
However, I didn’t do it alone. One of the first big steps I took in the growth of my faith was finding a love for the Holy Mother and the Rosary. Early in the semester, I received an unexpected Amazon package. Inside, was a book from my mom – The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort. Reading this book changed both my spiritual and material life. The Rosary is powerful. It is a weapon that Satan can’t destroy. Satan is weak and worthless against those who pray their Rosary. Since that moment, I have grown into the habit of praying the Rosary daily and I don’t think I can ever go back. Every morning, saying my daily “Hail Mary, full of grace” washes away any stress or fear, or worry in my life. I am brought to peace, knowing the Queen of the Holy Rosary is praying for me and by me every day.
St. Louis de Montfort also taught me that Mary is my spiritual mother. Again, out of nowhere, another one of his books, his 33 Day Guide to Marian Consecration, appeared in the St. Thomas Aquinas Common Room. For 33 days, I was reminded that Mary is praying for us, fighting for us, and loving us more than any person ever could. Jesus, weak and dying on the cross, used some of His last breaths to give us all a spiritual mother that adores us, no matter how far we stray. This consecration to Mary encouraged me to pray the Rosary every day because it was a free opportunity to talk to Mary for 20 minutes straight. What a gift!
The Blessed Virgin has been the greatest advocator of Christ and lover of all God’s children. Mary presented and made herself loved by St. Louis de Montfort. She encouraged my own mom when choosing St. Louis de Montfort to be my Baptismal saint. Mary revealed herself to me through the power of the Apostle of the Most Holy Rosary, so that I would be able to grow in love for my faith. The Queen of the Most Holy Rosary has changed my life; allow her to change yours as well.
Remember, always “Recite your Rosary with faith, with humility, with confidence, and with humility.” (St. Louis de Montfort)
Saint Louis de Montfort, Apostle of the Most Holy Rosary; pray for us!
Queen of the Most Holy Rosary; pray for us!
Hello friends! My name is Caroline Bell, a first-year from Richmond, VA, double majoring in Computer Science and Music. My biggest passions are playing the violin and dancing, and I hope to find the time to learn about 20 more instruments and master every style of dance. You can probably always find me at the AFC, prayer journaling with a smoothie bowl from Juice Laundry.
Monstra Te Esse Matrem
“Tell me a Mary story.”
Our Lady’s many beautiful titles as enumerated in the Litany of Loreto reflect her holiness, motherhood, virginity, and queenship. I have a particular affinity for her as simply my Mother Mary, as it reminds me of her tender love for me. Monstra Te Esse Matrem means “Show yourself to be our Mother.” Our Lady has revealed herself in visible ways through the individuals she has placed in my life, but also in the little, hidden moments I bring to her.
My grandmother cared for my grandfather for more than a decade as he battled Parkinson’s and dementia. During his last two years, she developed advanced, inoperable lung cancer. Our family always prays the Immaculate Conception novena each December, and when my father asked her for what intention he could pray for her, she unhesitatingly responded: “to live long enough to care for Bill.” She had an incredible devotion to Mary, particularly in the Rosary, and she implored the Blessed Mother to let her persevere so she could continue to care for her husband. Her sacrificial love reminded me of Our Lady. St. Josemaría Escrivá once wrote “the humility of my holy Mother Mary! She is not to be seen amid the palms of Jerusalem, nor at the hour of the great miracles — except at that first one at Cana. But she doesn’t escape from the contempt at Golgotha; there she stands, juxta crucem Jesu, the Mother of Jesus, beside his Cross” (The Way 507). My grandmother survived my grandfather and passed into eternal life three weeks after his Arlington National Cemetery burial. Mary’s sacrificial love at the foot of the cross inspired my grandmother’s unwavering devotion to her husband, and it also showed me how to take my small, daily struggles to Our Lady.
Mary acts as an intercessor in the seemingly insurmountable struggles, but also as a comforter in our daily trials. Though I cannot identify a particular instance when Our Lady appeared to me in a vision, cured an illness, or went beyond the natural, taking the mundane concerns to her in prayer, I often feel like a child tugging on his mother’s arm throughout the day. Watching my four-year-old brother bring to our mom dandelions, rocks, sticks, and pretty much anything he finds, reminds me that I too should bring my anxieties, fears, and worries to my most Holy Mother in Heaven. Her Immaculate Heart is a constant presence that wishes to pour graces in abundance upon my soul and the souls of those whom I pray for her intercession. “If you ever feel distressed during your day – call upon Our Lady – just say this simple prayer: ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now,’” counseled Saint Mother Teresa. Go to Mary that she may present our petitions before God. Bring to her the impossible things, but equally, bring her the everyday little things. Give her every thing.
Mary, My Mother, may I place the dandelions and pebbles of my day in your hands, that I may see your loving gaze and tender smile at my littleness. Foster in me a deep love and devotion to you in the most holy Rosary. Help me to run to you with eagerness, wishing only to rest my head near your Immaculate Heart, trusting that your loving embrace will sustain me at every moment of my life.
Grant Mantooth is a 4th-year economics student hailing from Manassas, Virginia. Fun fact: while going for a run near UNC-Chapel Hill, he booked it across 5 lanes of traffic to get a picture with former UNC PG/current NBA player Cole Anthony the one day he wasn’t wearing his UVA shirt while in North Carolina!
Home At Last
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)
One big struggle that I have faced in my faith journey has been loneliness. Throughout middle school, I was very involved in my Presbyterian Church, but I didn’t feel like I had any close friends there—friends who I could lean on when I was going through tough times. As a result, by the time I started high school, I began to feel isolated, anxious, and depressed. One of the few things that gave me hope during that period in my life was a YouTube video called “The Holy Land in 4K.” At the climax of the video, the narrator says, “I don’t know what our experience will be on Judgement Day, but I will be very surprised if, at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: ‘Did you love Me?’” I don’t know what it was about that video, but every time I felt lonely, I would come back to it. It reminded me to trust in Him, and He did not let me down. Over the course of my senior year, God slowly brought three (Protestant) Christian guys into my life who I am proud to call my best friends and who I am always able to depend on.
When I came to UVA, I knew I wanted to pursue my Christian faith just as I had back home. I tried several different Bible studies, but nothing seemed to fit what I was looking for. By the winter break of my second year, many of the deep-seated feelings of loneliness that had dragged me down in high school returned. During that winter break, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the line that had gotten me through high school, “Did you love Me?” I realized that if I truly loved God, I would put just as much effort into loving Him as I did the other activities in my life. I then thought to myself, which Christians put the most effort into their faith? And the answer seemed obvious to me: Catholics. Catholicism seemed like the faith that demanded the most out its followers, and I felt that if I truly loved God, I would not shy away from those demands. The following semester, I started reading a little bit about Catholicism, attended Mass a couple of times, and even got lunch with a Catholic friend. Nevertheless, although I respected Catholicism intellectually, it hadn’t yet reached my heart, and I wasn’t ready to make the leap of faith, so I didn’t give Catholicism any more thought for almost an entire year.
By the winter break of this year, however, I finally admitted to myself that even though I had a loving family and Christian friends with whom I could be completely vulnerable, my loneliness had become overwhelming. I reached back out to the friend with whom I had gotten lunch and started opening up about how I was feeling. I also started watching Ascension Presents on YouTube, and eventually stumbled across the 2015 SEEK talk by Father Mike Schmitz called “The Hour That Will Change Your Life.” Within a week of seeing that video, I called Father Joseph-Anthony over Zoom and told him that I wanted to start RCIA. The first thing he recommended that I do was to start praying in front of the Eucharist/the tabernacle at a Catholic Church near me. For the first time in my life, I began praying outside of the context of a church service or a Bible study, and not just a little bit, but multiple times per day. As I sat in front of the Eucharist at my local Catholic Church, I would ask God, “Why? Why am I feeling so lonely? Will this actually help me?” He responded, “just trust in Me.”
Again, He did not let me down. I decided to come back to Charlottesville earlier than normal to start RCIA, and praise be to God, my friend invited me to SEEK, which was the first weekend of the semester. After Thursday and Friday of the retreat, I finally began to see that the Church and the Catholic Hoos ministry were where I was meant to be. I experienced more grace in those two days than I had ever experienced before. At the Saturday morning Mass, when I saw the priest raise up the Eucharist and everyone bow, tears started rolling down my face. By the end of the Mass, I told my small group leader, whom I had met just two days before, that I needed a spot to pray in private. After much trial and error finding me a place that wasn’t crowded with people, he said I could just pray in the kitchen, and almost immediately when I was alone in the STA kitchen, I just started sobbing my eyes out. I was home.
My name is Ben Gustafson, and I’m a third-year from Edina, Minnesota. You can find me playing all kinds of pick-up sports or biking around Grounds on a bike that is slowly but surely falling apart. I love La Croix, all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants, and talking about faith!
Suffering & Sunflowers
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
My best friend’s dad died halfway through our senior year of high school.
We had been going through a rough point in our friendship, and we had finally made up about a week before he passed away. Some of our close friends were at the hospital with her the night he died, and I wasn’t. My inability to be there for her was something I struggled with and continue to struggle with during her grieving process. At times, I wasn’t sure if she’d even want me there, or if she had forgiven me for the previous issues in our friendship. Even now, it’s hard to tell if I’ve forgiven myself.
Throughout senior year and into college, two big stumbling blocks for me in my inner life that emerged because of his death became apparent. I was struggling with the issue of suffering, a problem that many Christians wrestle with, especially why bad things happen to good people. My friend was one of my first role models with my faith, she was the first woman I saw veil, and her relationship with God was seriously impacted by her dad’s death. I watched her mom attempt to raise her children as a single mother after losing a man she was very much in love with, I watched her brothers refuse to let her take down their Christmas tree because putting it up was one of the last things they did as a family before he went into the hospital. I saw their pain, and I suffered with them.
When I got to UVA, I really felt like my faith became my own. I started going to daily Mass, I started veiling, and when I couldn’t go to daily Mass I would stop by the perpetual Adoration chapel at STA. One day when I was in the chapel, I just remember looking at the crucifix and seeing Jesus there and asking Him about why my friend and her family were suffering. His response was, “I suffered for them.”
I still struggle with the issue of suffering, and I don’t know that I will ever overcome that short of Heaven. What I do know is that the promise of Christianity was that crucifix, that we have a God who knows and loves us and suffers with us. I still am upset for my best friend. I probably always will be. But God is not upset with me. And that doesn’t make it okay, but it makes it beautiful.
I think the other thing I really struggled with was blaming myself for not being more for her there both senior year and afterward. I think the hardest part of forgiveness can be forgiving yourself, but something I’ve come to realize as I’ve grown closer to Jesus is that we shouldn’t be harder on ourselves than God is. Part of trusting God is trusting that He tells us the truth about ourselves, and that truth is that we are His, we are loved, there is nothing we do that He won’t forgive us for. Humility is giving credit where credit is due, and that also means recognizing our goodness as His children. I felt like I’d failed my best friend for a while, but God loved me in spite of that and so I also should love and forgive myself.
I guess my final thought with all this would be that these mountains in my faith life are still mountains. They’ve definitely gotten better, but they’re not gone completely, and that’s okay. Something a priest told me in confession once when I was upset about habitual sin is that God made the sunflowers and the sunrises all the same. He loves doing repetitive things with you, and I may never get over those mountains. But I know that He is climbing them with me and will be there for me every step of the way.
I’m Rebecca Bailey and I’m a second-year from Suffolk, Virginia. I’m a theater nerd, and I love trying strange foods (including escargot, a chicken heart, rose petal ice cream, and a dill pickle snow cone).
Peace, Not Perfection
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
I’ve been Catholic my whole life, but I never had a relationship with the Lord until college. The extent of my faith until a few years ago was attending Christmas and Easter Mass in the high school auditorium where it was held. I did not know anyone who was faithfully pursuing Jesus, nor I had ever read the Bible.
In high school, I had a constant struggle with the desire to be perfect. I would spend copious amounts of time on a morning routine that included perfecting my hair, clothes, nails, and makeup. At school, I would volunteer to answer questions and memorize every word from my teachers’ mouths. At cross country practice I struggled with the fact that, after an injury and surgery, I was never able to get over the mental hurdle of getting reinjured. All of my friends were getting faster, and I was getting slower. After dinner, I was awake into the morning hours working harder, not smarter, on homework. As an editor of the yearbook for three years, I meticulously reviewed every page every night because of fear that something with my name attached to it would be less than perfect. I did everything I could think to do to be the perfect student, athlete, friend, and daughter.
Obviously, I was never able to live up to these self-imposed standards. When I failed, I would blame myself for falling short of imaginary expectations, and my habits of perfectionism led to an unbearable and invisible weight on my shoulders. In college, rather than striving harder in all aspects of my life like I had done in high school, I became exhausted with the constant feeling of failure and I gave up. I accepted that classes were hard, and my grades fell. I became anxious about meeting someone new because I wanted to be perfect, so I simply resorted to not meeting anyone. When I became overcommitted with clubs, I just stopped going.
Eventually, I came to the realization that I needed some friends, and I needed something to do. One night, I was moved to join my roommate for her Bible study. All I remember is feeling how out of place I was and how perfect these Christian women seemed. I would have done anything to regain a feeling of perfection, so I started going every week. I bought a Bible and started reading, reasoning that if I was going to attend, I should probably figure out what they were discussing.
Since then, my journey of learning about and pursuing the fullness and depth of Catholicism has transformed my life. I now understand that I will never be able to reach the earthly perfection that is reserved for Jesus alone. God is still working on softening and shaping my once hardened heart, but I find peace in knowing that being in a relationship with God will never lead to becoming a perfect person like I once thought. Rather, it provides the freedom to acknowledge how truly sinful, broken, and imperfect we are, and the grace to accept that we are deeply loved, known, and desired by our creator despite it all.
“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” –Galatians 2:20
My identity is no longer in things of this world, but now in the fact that I am a child of God. As I’ve learned to surrender my burdens, insecurities, and anxieties at the feet of Jesus, I’ve found immense peace in prayer and trusting that God will provide for me and guide me.
You are loved and desired just the way you are. So much so, that Jesus suffered and died for you. Rejoice in your Savior and in the new life He has given you on Earth and the gift of the one to come in Heaven! There is a Christ-shaped hole in everyone’s heart that calls us to return to the arms of our Father. He wants us to rest in His power, faithfulness, wisdom, justice, and truth, and to accept His unimaginable, unfailing, and unending love for us. I have, and I hope you will too.
Hi! I’m Elena Becker and I’m a fourth-year from Northern Virginia. A fun fact about me is that I know almost every word to the movie Elf:) I love spending time with friends and enjoying all the yummy food in Charlottesville!
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12-13
Coming from a military family, starting college with a virtual semester from home in the middle of a pandemic just felt like another move for me. Because of my age each time we moved, I ended up going to seven different schools in seven years, and every time that I started at a new school, I had to meet new people and form new relationships. However, as a “new kid”, there was a barrier between me and my classmates that was as if I were on a Zoom call, and everyone else was in-person since everyone else either already knew each other or had the shared experiences of growing up in the same area. Needless to say, it was difficult for me to form the meaningful or lasting connections that are an important part of growing up, but the Lord guided me through this challenge using one of the only constant factors in my life: church.
As we profess in the Nicene Creed each week at Mass, we believe in the Four Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Each Mark is important in its own way, but I think the one often taken for granted within the Catholic Church is “one”. The Catholic Church is unique in that you can attend Mass anywhere around the world and it will always be celebrated exactly the same, no matter the language spoken or the culture of the area. This was huge for me and in the six places I’ve lived, both in and out of the country, it was one of the only consistent aspects of my life. Not only was Mass itself consistent, but the community surrounding each parish was as well, and it was made up of amazing people who already shared the same important core values and beliefs as myself. I knew that I could go to church and be surrounded by people who may not know me personally but could connect with me through the sacrament of the Eucharist each week. In this way, I was able to grow closer to God, and through His love, I found friends and family in each place that I lived.
Now as I transition to my second semester of college and first semester on Grounds, I can clearly see His influence once again. College is, as I’m sure all of you know, an extremely formative part of life and is filled with a litany of new experiences, good and bad, as students learn how to be completely independent for (usually) the first time. This transition was particularly abrupt for me since I took my first semester virtually from home and have gone from complete isolation from my peers to a game of catch-up to try to make up for the Fall semester. But as I meet all kinds of new people and see all of the different activities occurring around Grounds, I continue to be drawn to the Catholic community here, as I have at each place I’ve lived. The Catholic community stands out as a place where I can grow in my relationship with the Lord while being surrounded by individuals who are actively working towards the same goal. In this, the Lord is working through the fellowship of the community to guide me towards Him, and I know that I can trust Him to show me the right path here at UVA.
I’ve only been here for two months as of this week, but I know that I have already made some of my most meaningful friendships here through the Catholic community and these friends will stand with me over our four years here as we face the challenges and temptations of college together. God has shown me that I am not alone and never have been, and regardless of where I’ve been or how alone I’ve felt, His love and His guidance will always be present through His one Church.
I’m Julian Bowes and I’m a first-year who loves playing volleyball and the cello. I don’t really have a hometown, but I’ve lived in Florida, Italy, Tennessee, and three parts of Virginia (most recently Norfolk where I live now). My favorite place that I’ve lived in is, of course, Italy especially because of all of the traveling I got to do while living there.
Easter Sunday Reflection
Today we find the tomb empty. The violence of Good Friday, followed by the deafening silence of Holy Saturday, and now the sun rises on an open and empty tomb. I love putting myself there, at the scene with Mary Magdalene and the disciples. What would I have felt? Would I have rejoiced even in my fear like in Matthew 28:8? – “Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.”
When I think of that moment-of realizing that the tragedy of Jesus’ death was not the end, I am filled with hope. If He’s not in the tomb, where is He? I think this is a vital question I forget to ask myself. If He’s not dead, He’s alive. He’s on the move. He’s completed the sacrifice, and now His mission is to give us His new life.
I think new life means I have to let Him roll away the stone on my heart. I have little tombs in my heart – things I hide away, ugliness I don’t want to show Him, the parts of me I gave up on and buried. Sometimes I hide myself behind seeking approval, acceptance, perfection, not wanting to change or be different. That hiding quickly turns into building barriers to love. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in his Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
So this Easter season, I’m going to ask myself over and over again “If He’s not in the tomb, where is He?” and I will choose to hope that He is breaking open the tombs I make for myself, bringing me new life, fresh air to breath in His Spirit, and ultimately a love beyond understanding. He’s on the move.
My name is Mary Schneider, and I’m one of the FOCUS missionaries with Catholic Hoos. This is my 3rd year as a missionary, and it’s a wild ride that’s taken me to many places, but I’m originally from Alexandria, Louisiana. I’ve been really getting into St.Joseph’s life these days, and he’s lowkey saint-stalked me in the past. Two of my favorite ways to pray are definitely just sitting with Jesus in Adoration, and prayer journaling.
Holy Saturday Reflection
I’ve always held an appreciation for the suffering of our Lord. Good Friday has always been for me a deeply serious day during which I find it quite easy to enter into the severe and dramatic details of our Lord’s Passion. All of this drama, however, left me confused, on Holy Saturday. I never knew what to do, or how to feel. The child-like spirit in me wants to enter into a place of all-out despair, but I seem to come up short of an “All is lost!” mindset with the foreknowledge of the great triumph that is to come on Sunday.
A few years ago, I came across an ancient, first-century homily that is found in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. Within the very first lines, I was offered a new insight of how to feel on this day:
“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth; a great silence, and stillness. A great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”
Whoa! “The King sleeps… The underworld has trembled.” That is our God…our King! Our king is the king of the universe! Does that not fill you with great pride? Is your spirit not roused up within you? Your Lord- your Ruler- the one who suffered for you has made the underworld tremble! So where are we this Holy Saturday? How should we feel? Is this simply a necessary time of waiting to add more anticipation for Easter? The homily continues, providing an account of where we are and the spiritual realities that we recall on this day.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son. The Lord goes into them holding his victorious weapon, his cross.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. (Psalm 91)” Like a knight in shining armor, Jesus descends into the depths and rescues the faithful. He fulfills their faithfulness, validates their hope, and lays all of those in the bosom of Adam into eternal rest, in the bosom of the Father. Let us meditate on the raw emotion of this scene of redemption.
When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
I imagine this scene with the same excitement as any action movie may rouse up in me in the first few moments after a triumphant battle. The smoke begins to clear. The dust begins to settle. And for the first time that day, I can see that healing sunlight that was previously hidden behind the smoke and chaos. And all is well. And I rise…. as though a new man. So let these words pierce your heart and rouse your very own spirit.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
Perhaps this Holy Saturday you may be struggling to believe that you are worthy of Jesus’ redemption. Maybe you’ve recently begun to notice character flaws or impurities that were once aloof to. It can be very easy for us to choose to believe that “one day when I’m a better person I’ll believe a little more in my worth.” If any of that feels familiar to you, let me be an ambassador of Christ’s Love, and an ambassador of truth to you. You are worthy. You ought to celebrate this Easter, even if you didn’t think your lent was hard enough. Why are you worthy? For one reason alone: because He- your Lord- says so. If God is infinitely perfect in himself, and he claims you as his own, then that’s the final word on the issue. Accept his love and embrace his Passion. Allow yourself to imagine the beautiful face of Jesus, gazing upon YOU- his beloved brother and sister- as he suffers. Choose to accept his love as he says to you:
“See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
‘The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”
Be prepared. The time of newness is close at hand. The King is sleeping, but soon the whole world shall awake.
I’m Dan. I’m a corn-born Catholic from Lincoln, Nebraska. I’ve spent most of my life on a baseball field, where, after quite some time, I began to combine my love for sports and my identity as a Christian.
I absolutely love my Catholic faith; even more than I love kombucha and Buffalo Wild Wings! Catch me at the frisbee golf course, or Meadow Creek until this whole pandemic craze dies down.
Good Friday Reflection
Please read the gospel for the day, John 18:1-19:42
Today the Lord will be crucified. Jesus will die. In the Gospel of John today we read the story of Jesus’s betrayal, His interrogations by the Caiaphas and Pilate, and His crucifixion and death on the cross. This a unique short period of time for the church, and especially for those disciples in the moment, where we embrace a somber attitude. It’s unique because every Sunday is a recelebration of the resurrection of Jesus and throughout the year, we celebrate how Jesus conquered death. But in these couple of days, we act as if He is truly dead. We embrace the disciples’ sorrow and confusion of seeing Jesus taken and put to death. Having followed Christ for three years, seen many miracles, and come to love Him deeply, they must have had terrible pain and confusion at seeing Him dead. Live today well by entering into that sorrow. Celebrating Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus will be more joyous the more we embrace Good Friday. Jesus must die before He is resurrected.
So I encourage you to embrace His death in a couple of ways. Give large amounts of time to prayer today, meditating on the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus died around 3 in the afternoon, the hour of mercy, so make that a time of prayer as well. Enter into fasting as well as a sign of sorrow. I highly recommend practicing silence today. Take away noise, music, and unnecessary conversation to embrace a somber attitude and dive deeper into prayer. Prepare for His resurrection by respecting what it cost and remember that we put Him on the cross. Be sorrowful today but be hopeful for Christ has a plan and everything He did was to fulfill the scriptures. He died to save us, and He comes back to be with you.
Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross while Jesus is being crucified. What do you say? What does He say?
My name is Nick Farmer, and I am a first-year missionary with Catholic Hoos. I graduated from George Mason last year with a degree in Civil Engineering. I’m from Sterling Virginia. One of my favorite saints is Isaac Jogues. He was a French Jesuit priest that set out to evangelize the Iroquois Native Americans in the 1600s. After being captured by some Mohawk Native Americans he was tortured for a year in which they cut off all his fingers. He was released and returned to France, but after deep prayer realized his place was still in the New World, so he returned to those Iroquois and those Mohawks who then killed him. He is part of the group of Canadian Martyrs or North American Martyrs. I like to play golf and frisbee golf.
Holy Thursday Reflection
“What I am doing now, you do not understand now, but you will understand later…”
Peter didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. Was his teacher, his Rabbi who he had seen perform miracles and even bring someone back from the dead, really going to wash his feet? Was he really going to do that which no one but a slave would be asked to do? Peter didn’t get it. He did not understand that what Jesus was doing was a two-fold cleansing: as his Lord removed the dirt from his feet, He was also removing the dirt of worldliness that tells us that power and status are everything. Peter expected his messiah to show up to Jerusalem on a horse of war but, as we saw on Sunday, Jesus chose the simple beast of burden.
I don’t know about you but there’s a lot from this past year that I do not understand. There was pain and suffering that I witnessed and experienced that, to be honest, I would not have chosen. Yet tonight we enter into the most tender, holy, and sacred days in our entire liturgical calendar––the Triduum––where we will see Jesus willingly choose to kneel at the feet of his disciples and remove the dirt from their feet. Tomorrow we will see him choose to bear the pain, suffering, and humiliation of the cross.
I am with Peter… I don’t understand. But though I may not (and will not) always understand why things are the way that they are, I can have the steadfast hope of knowing the one in whose hands I am in. They are the same humble and gentle hands that wiped the dirt from the feet of men who didn’t understand. The same hands who endured nails for my sake. Today, as we prepare for these most holy of days, I pray that you and I would, like Peter, allow our protests to quiet down and that we would allow ourselves to just sit in the presence of Jesus whose humble and gentle hands desire only to cleanse and to bless.
Gazing at Christ is one of the easiest ways to pray. In the Way of Perfection, St. Theresa of Avila writes to her religious sisters: “I’m not asking you to think about him (Jesus) or draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at him.” Look at the one who desires to kneel at your feet and make you clean. Take some time today to––in both truth and gentleness––reflect on the “dirt” your feet are carrying? Is it placing your worth on things of this world such as grades or achievements? Is it a sin you just can’t seem to shake on your own? Then, grab a Bible and take some time in silence (maybe come to St. Thomas Aquinas) to pray through the washing of the feet again (John 13:1-17) and place yourself in the story. What does it feel like to have Jesus gently remove those things from your life? How are you called to follow his example and wash the feet of others?
Today, rest in the knowledge that the hands that led a donkey instead of a warhorse, held the feet of friends who would desert him, and were pierced for love are the same humble and strong hands that desire to hold your heart.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Hello––my name is Belén Loza, and I am one of the FOCUS Missionaries! I moved here from NYC but I hail from a land flowing with brisket and roasted pecan coffee: the great state of Texas. I am a proud alum of Texas A&M University (Gig Em Aggies!) and I enjoy reading and going to Target to look at all things Chip + Joanna Gaines in my free time. My absolute favorite way to pray is drinking coffee while praying in Lectio Divina with Scripture.
“My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms. ” ― Servant of God Dorothy Day
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
In high school when my parents split up was around the time when I received the sacrament of Confirmation. It was pretty rough, but outside of that life was great. I had a blast in high school – my friend group was a lot of fun, I played some sports, was in a few clubs. My teachers were so passionate- in fact, one of my only regrets from that time was not appreciating them more. However, the one flaw in my experience was that my friendships did not feel very deep to me. Don’t get me wrong, they were all great guys, and I loved every minute I spent with them, but I never felt comfortable enough to talk about the deep stuff with them. Stuff like my home life, my dreams, and my faith, which I had just started to understand. I didn’t realize what I was missing out on until my lifelong friend Jack invited me to join the Teen Leadership Team for Life Teen at my parish, a group of juniors and seniors that helped alongside the adults.
The Teen Leadership Team, which we called TLT for short, gave me the deepest friendships I have ever experienced. They showed me love and compassion in ways I never felt from “the boys” back in high school. No matter the rough patches I had been through, I knew that I could always fall back on my TLT friends for support. Most importantly though, they helped me grow tremendously in my faith. My only family for 400 miles that could help me along in my faith was my grandparents, who lived about 15 minutes from me. Even my parents, when I asked them what confirmation was, would just tell me to ask my grandparents. With my TLT friends, I always had people to sit with at Mass, which being 17 was pretty huge for me. When you’re the only one in your family who goes to Mass, you can feel like such a stranger there. These friends were such a blessing that I never felt like a stranger at Mass again for the rest of high school.
When I got to college, I tried to keep the ball rolling with my faith, but instead found myself drawn to the other allures of college life. My first couple years here I was in a men’s small group for Catholic Hoos which was wonderful, however, I made the bone-headed decision in the Fall of my second year to take four upper-level math classes. The schoolwork left me going to my small group less and less, the stress led me to those other allures more and more, and then by spring of my second year, I hardly went to my small group all. Not only that, but I stopped going to Mass. Without the anchor of my small group or those TLT friends from high school, I was swept far from the faith. Luckily, all was not lost. I still prayed every now and then, still had lingering guilt over being so far from the Faith. So, then I thought I could just come back to the Church after college. However, later after my third year, some pretty awful stuff that was out of my control happened that led to a falling out with most of the crowd that I fell in with the spring of my second year. I found out that just like in high school, a lot of the friendships I made here weren’t that deep. I don’t hold anything against anybody though, it just be like that sometimes. I took a good long look at myself, swore off those other allures for good, and decided to rededicate myself to my faith.
Fortunately, I spent the summer many hours away from home, so I had space to get away from things. Mass was off the table since I did not have access to a car, so I downloaded an app to pray the Divine Office and did that as often as I could. At the start of the new school year, I walked into Confession for the first time in years and met Father David. I met with him a few times in the following weeks and told him I wanted to go big – daily Mass as often as I could, Sunday Mass for sure, and as much prayer as I had time for in between. Coming back to Mass was nice, but with all the social distancing stuff and with only really knowing a handful of Catholics still here, just like in my first half of high school I felt like a stranger at Mass again. Doing a 180 from high school to college and then another 180 coming into my fourth year gave me a pretty wild 360 for these past few years. I persisted though, and while I still feel like a bit of a stranger at Mass since I still don’t know almost anyone, I’ve felt better over time. My faith helped me so much through the isolation of the pandemic and of losing many friends. Without those friends from TLT way back then and without the help of Father David this year, who knows how I would have handled those rough patches in my life.
The Faith can be a solitary journey at times, but if you’re in the midst of an absence or just want to dive deeper, know that you’ll have a friend in me. These days you can find me at Mass a few times a week, and truly content and happy for the first time since my TLT days.
I’m Kyle Hoffmann, a 4th year from Richmond, Virginia. I like math, fantasy football, and the outdoors.
Individually Felt, Universally Known
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
It all feels like a distant memory at this point – the start of the pandemic. My daily routine in quarantine seemed to become one of collective monotony: every day meshed into one, the good and the bad times becoming clouded by the fog of uncertainty and anxiety. It is crazy to me to think that things like Tiger King happened an entire year ago! I realize as I write this that probably the last thing that anyone wants to hear about is another sob story about how hard the pandemic has been. We all know how hard it has been and we continue to experience it every day. However, as I reflected on my life and past challenges, nothing seemed to come close to what we are currently experiencing. It dawned on me that one of the hardest challenges I have faced, one that has undoubtedly helped strengthen my faith, was one that is universally known: the pandemic.
My experience in quarantine started like any other. I enjoyed the time to slow down, spend time with my family, and I passed every day with the naïve hope that this would all be over soon. However, as time went on, things began to slip. One of those being my faith. As we can all agree, virtual Mass is not the same. Not being able to experience the beauty of the Church, the reverence of the music, or receive the Eucharist sacramentally makes the entire experience of Mass different. And although I would like to say my faith and knowledge that God was there regardless of whether I attended Mass physically was strong enough to sustain me through the pandemic… they did not. The pandemic for me acted as the great revealer: unearthing and amplifying all the cracks and faults in my faith that I largely had no knowledge existed. I became complacent, falling into old habits, skipping Mass, and praying less and less often. The less I did, the worse I felt.
However, through it all, I continued to attend my small group bible study. I do not know exactly what kept pushing me to keep going to our Zoom meetings, but something kept telling me to not completely shut Him out and to keep making at least some effort. Our meetings gave me time to reflect, lament about the quarantine, and ask questions that had arisen as a result of the pandemic. I relied heavily on my Bible study to sustain me, probably more than my leaders know. When I got back to Grounds in the fall, I knew I wanted to get back to the Church, but I delayed for a long time. Not only was I ashamed for being away so long, but I was ashamed for neglecting my faith amidst the multitude of time I had in quarantine. My pandemic “rut” had made me question the Lord’s love for me and I was struggling to rediscover it. Yet, I still went to Bible study and did my best to hold myself to that weekly standard. Finally, at long last, I worked up the courage to return to 9 pm Mass. Immediately upon sitting in the new worship space, I knew I was back home. I was where I was meant to be and I felt silly for being worried. All I can remember from that service is relief.
I realize now that the Lord was calling to me through Bible study. He was continually calling me back to Him, asking me to just show up, be present, listen, and simply recognize I was not alone. The Lord never left my side throughout the pandemic. He has never left any of our sides. But in my moment of weakness, I became blind to His presence and deaf to His calls. This experience that we are all so familiar with taught me to be more accountable for my own faith, but more importantly, it taught me I am never alone, not only spiritually but physically as well. Since being back and being able to attend Mass in person at STA and interact with all of my Catholic Hoos community, I realized that not only does God not leave my side, but my friends and family and faith community do not as well. There are and have been so many people to support and guide me throughout my time at UVA (including my Bible study leaders) and I could not be more thankful.
If this reflection relates to you in any way or speaks to what you are going through currently, please know you are not alone. Know He has not stopped calling to you and is happy just to have you back. It may have been a while, but trust me, take that first step and come back home.
My name is Ian Courter from Mechanicsville, VA, and I’m a second-year (Class of 2023). Fun fact: I play the French Horn and I won a male “beauty” pageant in high school.
Blessings & Strength
At the age of 15, this was the first verse I ever memorized. It is now a verse I think of when I need strength and a good verse to keep in mind as you read this post.
As a kid, I was healthy. In prayers I would hear people thank God for their health and as a young teenager I thought, “yeah, yeah, me too I guess.” Health wasn’t something I realized I should be thankful for because I had always had it and as a 15-year-old, I didn’t see it going anywhere. That was, until one day in late 2015, at the age of 15, I passed out on Thanksgiving, and from then on, my health would never be the same. I did not know it at the time, of course. I thought I just had overworked myself or had something bad to eat. I thought I would get a good night’s rest and feel better in the morning. But then the next day came and the next day and eventually it was Monday and I had to go back to school, but I still did not feel any better. It just felt like I was going to pass out any moment and I could not shake the feeling. In the end, what I thought was a reaction to some bad Thanksgiving stuffing or simply not enough sleep was actually the beginning of a chronic illness.
I was diagnosed within a month with POTS syndrome and to spare you the technical description, basically, my body decided to just forget how to function when I am standing. My body went, “you know how I like to keep blood flowing to your brain and heart when you stand so that you can function? I think I’m gonna just stop doing that.” POTS syndrome is not well understood yet and there is no one treatment and there is no one cause. Some people are only mildly affected, and others are bedridden and barely able to function. I’m somewhere right in the middle.
My life changed really quickly, and I ended up finishing my last two years of high school online from home and took two years of medical deferral from UVA before starting this past fall. I spent lots and lots of days in doctors’ offices, doing tests, getting blood drawn, and trying everything to feel better. All of a sudden, my life went from having order to chaos in the matter of one evening, but the ensuing faith journey was only just beginning.
In my newfound free time, I eventually came to realize something. When I was younger there was this sea of open doors and blessings that were mine and I stared at it every day but it never changed and so I took it to be a given. Then when the blessing of health was taken from me, I got upset, like I had a right to that blessing and it shouldn’t have been taken. But when I turned away from looking at the health I had just lost and the doors that had just been closed, I saw all the blessings and open doors I had neglected to be thankful for. He gave me amazing parents, a great childhood, food to eat, clothes to wear, a place to sleep, financial security, just to name a few. Even today, He has given me so many blessings that far outweigh the physical struggles I go through every day.
There have also been so many new blessings that have come out of my illness. I especially have loved the time I was able to spend learning from my parents, my grandmother, and the many, many members of my extended family that I know I would have never had the time to do with the busy life I was leading before. I also now have the ability to empathize with others who deal with chronic illnesses and I have met a lot of wonderful people who also deal with them every day.
It took me a while, but I eventually reached the point where I can love God, not despite my illness, but because even in the hardships He uses it to draw me closer to Him.
So, I may not be able to do all the things other 20-year-olds can do and I may not have the energy to attend all the events I want to. But it makes the good days and the things I can do even more special to me and I am thankful for all blessings in my life and for all the people who have helped me when I needed it.
I always remember now to thank God for the good days, and for the strength He gives me to get through the bad ones.
Hi, my name is Hannah Billing, and I am a first-year from Virginia Beach, Virginia. I have a love for all things plants and flowers, and I try not to take life too seriously because laughter truly is the best medicine (trust me, I know).
“Tell me about a challenge you faced and how it influenced your faith.”
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
My relationship with my older brother has been both one of the biggest blessings in my life, and one of the heaviest burdens. It is an area where I have undeniably experienced God’s provision and omnipotence. When I was 11, my older brother T.J. was diagnosed with autism. Being as “high-functioning” as he is, T.J. was diagnosed unusually late at 17. Growing up with my brother came with many challenges. When we got along, we shared in some fun, mischievous pastimes (one I remember involving lighter fluid), but when we did not get along, we fought in the worst ways. I will not go into detail, but T.J. could be surprisingly cruel to me. As a result, I harbored an immense amount of resentment to him, which I only started to examine when he was diagnosed.
T.J. has told me that he was relieved when he found out he was autistic, because it explained so much of his life, but his life hardly became easy after the news. As he entered early adulthood, he was diagnosed with clinical depression and began to experiment with self-harm, and it was in this context that we started to become close. Our nightly chats became a time when T.J. would sometimes share his discontent with himself and life.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to one’s faith is watching a loved one suffer. Sin, and as a result, pain, are so contradictory to God, that their presence in our lives feels inconsistent with what we know about faith and our Lord. Watching my brother struggle and succumb to deep-rooted self-contempt hurt me so much. I wanted him to know how loved and appreciated he was, not just by my family and me, but by his heavenly Father. As much as I listened, encouraged, prayed, and implored, T.J.’s pain was not something that I could heal. But my bitterness associated with how we treated each other when I was young did heal. It was impossible to hold onto that hostility, and through prayer and laying down my own pride, I was able to completely forgive T.J. He moved out of our parents’ home when I was fifteen, and during my high school years we fell out of frequent contact.
Over this past summer, I was especially convicted to revitalize my relationship with my brother, and to pray earnestly for his healing. We began texting more, sending each other music, and sharing parts of our lives with each other. T.J. was still suffering from many symptoms of depression, but he assured me that my listening was the best gift and help I could give in that respect. We were both home for Thanksgiving this past November, and one night we started chatting like we would when he was in high school. The topic turned to our childhood, and he shared that, as a teen, he felt like no one had attempted to understand him, except occasionally me. Then, out of nowhere, he apologized for his unkindness to me when we were younger. For the first time in twenty years, I saw my brother cry.
It’s difficult for me to stress the significance this conversation had on me. For years, I wanted my brother to hurt and feel remorse for the hurt he had caused me. I had craved his apology, but when it came, all I felt was empathy for him and the hardships he had faced. God’s timing blows me away. I could not even guess that T.J. and I would be so completely reconciled to each other, and that night we experienced so much healing.
This February, T.J. texted me, “I am happier than I’ve ever been.” He ceased his self-harm patterns in December and completely went off his depression medication in January. His transformation has had a profound influence on my spiritual life. After inviting God into my relationship with my brother for years, I started to doubt my role in T.J. ‘s life, and questioned God’s hand in it all. But, “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:26). Even if we passively put God’s abilities in a box, He will fulfill His plans in His timing, especially when we might least expect. I’ve also learned how God can use the simplest of our gifts for a much larger purpose. Though it never felt like I helped much, God used my offering of time to T.J. to fit into a greater story of redemption. My relationship with T.J. was an emotional strain for many years, but God used this hardship to teach me his ability, trustworthiness, and compassion. He truly does make all things work together for good, as he did when he healed my relationship with my brother.
Hi! My name is Amy White and I am a third year from Nelson County, VA. In my free time I enjoy any outdoor activity, especially hiking and skiing.
The Best Kind of Peer Pressure
I have a distinct memory of telling my mother during my senior year in high school how reassuring it was to come into college with faith. As I realized how lonely and disorienting it might be to come into a brand-new place with a bunch of people trying to make community in different places and different settings, I found myself at least resting in the fact I could walk into a chapel for Mass or Adoration and feel the comforting warmth of God. What I hadn’t realized before college, and upon reflection of the last four years has become quite clear, is what a massive impact the community that also worshipped in the chapel had on my life.
One of my first memories in college was at breakfast with my Catholic roommate and a young woman in our dorm we met on our way to the dining hall on our second day at UVA. Halfway through breakfast, my roommate saw she was wearing a cross necklace and asked her about it. She mentioned she was a devout Catholic, and the rest of breakfast consisted of the three of us talking about faith. It was here I realized that faith in college was not something people had to keep personal or just mention quietly in passing, but something upon which friendships and community could be built.
A highlight of my year at UVA has always been Holy Week. Not solely because of the implications for our faith, but also because of the community that was so apparent during that season. While Holy Week is marked by the incredible sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross, for the past three years it’s been marked by a joint experience of the Masses, the viewing of the Passion of the Christ, the early O-Hill dinner before the Easter Vigil Mass, as well as the famous milkshake party at the missionary house following the Vigil. Having never been to an Easter Vigil Mass, I was nervous my first year and hesitant to go, but my group of Catholic friends made me commit to going and experiencing it in all of its beauty. This is the best form of Christian friendship.
Over my time at UVA, I have seen attempts by Catholic Hoos to try to build community, both successful and unsuccessful. There were always fun events like T-Sup and Fireside Mass (as well as the excellent addition of the subsequent Cookout run), not to mention the sporting events (both intramural and going to games). Of course, there will be varying degrees of success at any social event designed to build community, but the biggest change I’ve seen in the last couple of years has been the recognition of many Catholics at UVA that oftentimes, they must make an intentional effort to build Catholic communities and friendships.
What is so powerful or different about these friendships and communities than other ones on Grounds? I wonder about this often. What is the draw? (And perhaps, how do we embrace it even more?) Several Catholic men and I were at breakfast at O-Hill dining hall a couple of years ago, and before we ate, the fifteen of us stopped and prayed together for our meal. The dining hall was relatively quiet, so the prayer seemed to echo, and I’m sure we received some curious glances. For the younger guys though, or at least certainly for me, I was impressed that this was the standard. Not to simply pray before meals, but to encourage all the others seated, too, as well without any feeling of awkwardness or discomfort.
Similarly, this past summer, I was at a bonfire with a couple of Catholic UVA friends who just graduated. We heard an ambulance in the distance, and without missing a beat, we all started a Hail Mary. It was second nature and built into all of us, and even if it hadn’t been, one of us would’ve joined in and not found it odd at all. This is the difference in these incredible Catholic friendships and communities I’ve seen grow and been thankful to be a part of at UVA. It is the incredible feeling of not having to hide or downplay the foundation of one’s life but instead be encouraged to dive deeper into it all the more.
Rest. Ahhhhhh. As I write this post, one week into classes, I’m already craving the profound rest that will animate my mind and body. I’m twenty years old; I am not supposed to be weary. I have DECADES of existence ahead of me and shouldn’t feel weighed by heavy burdens. Certain aspects of my life do feel heavy, though, and I easily slip into mental fatigue when my life gets crowded by assignments and responsibilities.
Two years ago, during my first semester of college, I faced previously inexperienced levels of anxiety. This anxiety fastened itself to the academics and relationships in my life and dominated my thoughts. I was fortunate to have met many wonderful other first-years, but these friends felt a lot like nice acquaintances, and not yet like genuine friends. I fixated on the lie that I might not find best friends with which to share the happiest parts of college. My classes distinguished themselves from the predictable safety of high school, but the expectations I had for myself did not adjust to match the harder courses. I was consumed with stress over grades and assignments.
As the semester continued, I fought to let go of the stress. My grades were mini-idols. I had defined myself by academic ability for years, and felt that much of my identity and self-worth came from an exemplary transcript. The semester climaxed into a horrible finals week during which I struggled to function normally because of my anxiety. I did not feel secure enough yet in any of my friendships to reveal the extent of my distress, so I spent most of the week alone, pushing myself to an unhealthy extent for perfect exam scores.
I wanted rest. I wanted to escape from the pressure I put on myself. I had done what I just did in this blog post: made myself the sole focus.
But it has never been about me. It has always been about God.
God met me in my anxiety. These moments of human frailty are when God does some of his most powerful work for “my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).” That finals week I was faced with the extreme insufficiency of my abilities. I knew logically that I needed God, but I was also powerfully convicted of how much I needed God. Through the remainder of my first year, I began the work of surrendering aspects of my self-image. The idol of academic perfection had proved a burden that I wanted and needed to cast off. These were the burdens that I brought to adoration and prayed to leave at the foot of the tabernacle holding the Blessed Sacrament. Standards I used to define myself became unimportant as I understood there was nothing I could do to change my worth as a daughter of the King.
I had tried to carry all my brokenness and bundle it up inside of me without spilling. The more of myself I could surrender, the more I could invite Christ’s healing, and I began to experience true rest from my anxiety. Not only did I feel my weariness dissipating, but I also found genuine friends who sought to help me surrender my burden. Somehow dramatic, first-year me encountered a group of friends who love me with an intensity that reflects that of the Father. I have found rest in knowing that I lean first on God, and then on these virtuous friends.
This fall, as I started comm classes, those familiar feelings of academic inadequacy resurged in my mental space. I am trying to remember that this is an opportunity to depend more fully on God. I can rejoice in my complete reliance. May we all lean on each other as we follow the cross. St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of our ministry this year, said, “God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.” Check on your friends. Be bold in inviting people into friendship. Help one another carry burdens as we receive God’s perfect rest.
Standing By Him
Throughout my whole life, I had never thought about leaving the Catholic faith since I felt a connection to Christ that made me not want to outright leave him. But, like every human in this world, I had my own sins and faults that made me turn my back from Jesus time and again. Around middle school, I had developed an idea that I should try to avoid making a fool of myself and being thought badly by others; instances where I saw others make these mistakes and my own mistakes probably led to this attitude.
I didn’t want to seem bad or unusual to others, especially in high school when I was done with CCD and no longer seemed to talk to any of my other friends and students about my faith openly. I had felt that in my home area of Sterling, Virginia, there was an idea to not talk about your religious beliefs to others. This mostly stemmed from the fact that no one had a desire to talk about it during high school. At the time, I would hear someone who I found out was Catholic turn away from the faith outright, or become indifferent to Catholicism.
While I believed what the Church had taught and wanted to love Christ and God, this attitude of keeping my faith to myself allowed me to lie to myself that my sins were fine in the times we live in and that I did not need to improve myself as long as I was happy. The only problem being that the sins I committed did not make me happy, and I had kept myself away from confession out of fear of being judged and looked down upon.
When I first came to UVA by the grace and love of God, I felt the desire to go to the Catholic Hoos Bible study for the first time in my life. It did take me three weeks to decide this, and I was extremely nervous about how the other people there would think of me for not showing up earlier, but all I could think about there was how unusual they were. The people at the bible study were talking about the Catholic faith that I shared with them, and they were filled with joy to reflect on the passages we read to understand what God was telling us through the Bible.
Soon after the first Bible study, I came back each and every week that I could, even when I felt sick and even when I was fifty minutes late for the Bible study about the new covenant (btw JESUS is the new covenant!). I went to the Tuesday Supper, the Thursday night fireside mass along with the rosary before the mass. I even started to go to confession regularly in the second semester after years of convincing myself not to go. I would even start talking to my other non-Catholic friends openly about my faith and the love for God that I had.
I still sin and try to improve myself for the faults I have to better be perfect like our heavenly Father and better follow Christ. I’ve realized that to love others that aren’t close to you or don’t love you back means that you will be unusual. If I truly believe that Christ died for our sins and that He established the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, then shouldn’t I joyfully proclaim the gospel to others not only through my words but also with the way I act?
I wish I had learned this sooner in life, but now I know more and can follow Christ knowing these truths. I may be rejected by others for what I believe as Jesus told us, but I know that being Catholic and following Christ brings me more joy than any other thing in this world. Being Catholic means that we will be unusual to others because we do not live of the world as Jesus does not live of the world. Jesus has shown us that we are meant for eternal life with him in heaven, and so if that means that to spread the joyous news makes me unusual, then I am now happy to be unusual, so that I may try to be perfect like our heavenly Father and truly love others.
I’m thankful to the friends who have shown me how to better follow Christ from my Bible study. If there is something that you feel a calling to such as joining a Bible study or doing service for God’s sake, answer His call and follow Christ.
In the Desert
Deuteronomy 8:2, 5-6
Recently, I’ve been reading about Moses leading the Israelites out their oppression in Egypt and into the Promised Land. One thing I had never realized before, is that Egypt and the Promised Land weren’t super far away. Instead of the journey taking the eleven days it could have, it ended up taking forty years. Was Moses lost, or afraid to ask for directions from locals? Of course not. Did people keep asking to stop at a bathroom, or to get a snack? Maybe, but not enough to cause this kind of delay. Was God using their time on pilgrimage as an opportunity to purify them? You bet.
The transition from being a heavily oppressed group in Egypt to being the ruling power of “a land flowing with milk and honey” in less than two weeks would have been too abrupt for the Israelites. The shock of suddenly having so much freedom can be overwhelming and destructive, like giving a preschooler complete control over his Halloween candy or letting a toddler decide her own bedtime. I mean, even when the change was spread out over four decades, the Israelites still somersaulted back and forth between confessing a true dependence on their Heavenly Father, and an utter betrayal of that relationship by worshiping pagan gods and trying to survive on their own. They needed the time in the desert to grow. They needed formation.
In the realm of education, there’s a lot of emphasis on the idea of “scaffolding” learning, meaning teachers (including parents, religious leaders, and other mentor figures) introduce concepts slowly with lots of support. As students become familiar with the idea, teachers can slowly step back so students have a chance to broaden their understandings and use the information more independently.
God “scaffolds” for His chosen people while they are in the desert by giving them laws and guidance on how to worship him. He tells them when to celebrate by marking certain times for festivals (Leviticus 23), how to worship Him by making offerings and setting up His dwelling place (Exodus 35-40), how they should handle wrongdoing in their communities (e.g. Leviticus 20), etc. He even sets up ways for them to remember their God, such as wearing tassels on the corners of their clothes (Numbers 15:37-41) or keeping the Sabbath holy (Exodus 20:8-11). Knowing that it would be incredibly difficult for His people, God also provides ways for them to restore the relationship when they inevitably fall short (e.g. Leviticus 4-7). His rules are a source of guidance on how to live holy lives and protection from themselves.
If they were to have the strength to live as God’s people, they needed to spend some time growing closer to Him, allowing Him to form them into a group strong enough to endure hundreds of years of opposition but still be faithful. After all, these people are Jesus’s ancestors. The decisions of individuals ended up being part of the plan to save mankind from its sin.
God doesn’t “make rules” as a weird kind of power move, or to make living a Christian life harder for His people, but to protect them from themselves and provide guidance on how to live holy lives as a good parent would. He does the same today for anyone who chooses to become one of His people by giving us natural times and places of formation in our lives.
Many of the Old Testament practices are no longer in place because Jesus served as the ultimate sacrifice; however, the Church today still has guidelines for Catholics to help us live like saints in the making. Going to Mass at least once a week, praying regularly, celebrating feast days, studying the Bible and Church teachings, or surrounding yourself with others who prioritize growing in relationship with God are all ways that our own “time in the desert” or earthly pilgrimage can be a time of growth. Do you like to be told when to pray? Try Liturgy of the Hours. Want to build in quiet time for reflection? Go to Adoration or have a Holy Hour. Need examples of how to live? Look to the Saints and the Holy Family.
The setting of guidelines for oneself can also help with spiritual growth, plus the added bonus of growing in virtue. For example, I found that if I spread my “prayer routine” throughout the day, it is noticeably more fruitful than if I keep pushing it all off until bedtime when I’m usually more rushed and already falling asleep. Getting regular exercise makes me less irritable, and therefore more patient with the people around me. Always putting away distractions when I am with other people (including my siblings and parents) makes it easier to maintain loving relationships with them. Believe me, I am far from the perfect Catholic, but I know that by continually trying to improve, I eventually will.
No matter who you are, or what your spiritual life looks like, I encourage you to perpetually keep building a life (little by little) that glorifies God and draws you closer to His Kingdom. Everything of this world will eventually fall prey to destruction and oblivion, but our lifetimes on Earth cannot even begin to compare to an eternity of perfect love and joy with the Father.
Stare into the Son Part II
We have discussed the Eucharist, the Son of God, as an image of the natural Sun, and the object of the liturgy in facing both the Sun and the Son. But we should also now consider the subject – that is, our role in the directionality. In other words, how do we look? I mean, what does it mean to look, to turn one’s eyes to another? In human love, as in every human relation, there is always an unknowingness, always an otherness that is impossible to overcome: the lovers, no matter how close and how intimate they have grown in this life, will never know each other’s thoughts as they wish to. And so, even though almost all our information comes from sight, when lovers gaze into each other’s eyes, they do not see each other’s hearts – only a reflection, an intimation. The eyes are the window to the soul, but the world of flesh has murky glass only. The intimacy of this world is only ever an intimation: not even the deepest love of man and woman will ever know the other fully, even though they desire it. We cannot see each other, really.
Actually, only God can truly see – and what He sees is what really is. A corollary is that only with God is true Intimacy: in fact, His Intimacy is the same as His Essence. We say that God is Love; what does this mean but that He is in fact Intimacy, so deep as not to be named? “I am Who am.” This Intimacy is manifested even in this world: He is always with us, always knowing us, always seeing into us. He is also true Light, in His Being: “I am the Light of the world.” His own Light shines on us, and He has been looking into us from all Eternity, peering into our being and searching it through, mesmerized. Mesmerized by His own creatures, because of His Love! Shall we look upon this Light; shall we return the gaze of these Eyes of Intimacy? In this life, if we do choose to look back at Him, it is like with a human lover: we do not search His Thoughts as He searches ours. We look at Him; we do not look into Him, as He does us.
It is again like looking at the Sun: it is blinding, and we cannot pierce its rays to see what lies beneath, what the Sun really looks like – if we try to look straight in, it hurts. There is too much light for us to handle. I remember when I was younger it struck me that the Sun was like a great Host in the sky; I only made this connection, though, when I was able to see its circular, white shape behind a thin layer of clouds on an overcast day. So it is with God: there is too much Light, too much Love to handle, and that means there is too much of Him to handle. It is for this reason that He has veiled Himself under the appearance of bread, for our eyes.
But we must still stare into this Son, even if because of the mortal veil our eyes cannot see clearly. As Venerable Fulton Sheen said in his autobiography, “Sitting before the Presence is like a body exposing itself before the Sun to absorb its rays.” It is enough that the Son sees us, both from all Eternity as God and in the physical moment of our gazing upon His Sacred Incarnate Body as Man. The Host in the Monstrance is the Gift by which we are able to gaze on Him, allowing His rays to pierce into us. My mother told me when I was a child that every time we look at the Eucharist, we take one step closer to Heaven. “I got a lot of looking at Jesus to do then!” I thought. After this, I was very intent on forcing a profound religious experience with the Blessed Sacrament. Not because I did not believe – I always did. But I wanted to feel – and this is something that only the Lord gives to us. I have never felt Him in the Host, any further than my own efforts took me (not far). I have never even made a profound Communion, I think – according to my own feelings. But I continue to look at Him, knowing that He has been looking into me, “already always and forever” – even as I write right now!
The practical message of all this, and the message of most of what I think about, is Eucharistic Adoration – both during and outside of Mass, whether the Lord is exposed or not. Let us remember His Body sitting for us in the church nearest to us when we pray – I try to face the nearest Tabernacle always at prayer. (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton would do this even before she converted, attending services in her Anglican church). Maybe go to the corner of your house facing that direction – congratulations if that also happens to be the East! In any case, let us look upon His Precious Body in the Host, daily if we can. He did call Himself “the Light of the world.” Let us look to the Light from the East, and stare into the Son.
Stare into the Son Part I
Summer is in full swing, and the Sun is out for the longest time of the year, lighting our days (and early nights). The Sun is a special character in the storied, creative symbology of Christianity. From the earliest days of the Church, in the Divine Liturgy (called the Holy Mass in the Latin rites we are familiar with), and customarily in all prayer, every member of the congregation faced the same direction – to the East. This directionality of liturgy was a tradition adapted from the Jewish custom of worshipping facing the Temple in Jerusalem. It gained a clearer, more profound, and important significance in the new Christian paradigm: the “facing” was toward the rising Sun, a symbol of the Heavenly Jerusalem. In addition, the Resurrection of the Lord instilled a new supernatural symbolism to the natural import of the rising Sun: namely, that the True Sun, the Son of God, had risen from the dead and given new Life to the world, a singular extra-cosmic revolution of the Life-giving Christ that superseded the perennial cosmic revolution of the Sun’s light-giving role. There is an identification of light and warmth with Life, Truth, and Love, and the significance of the rising is of course pretty pat. Throughout at least the first millennium of the Church, in both the East and West, all churches were built with the altar facing the East – recalling that the priest led the people facing the same direction – to the Sun in the Heavens.
With the development of the tabernacle in the Western (Roman) Church, in which God was actually reposed so that the church building became not only a place where He descended at every Consecration but also a continual dwelling of the Word Made Flesh, the significance of the directionality, where everyone was looking, evolved. They were no longer merely looking to the East – symbolically looking to God; they were looking to the Tabernacle – literally looking to God. By Divine Providence, we have in English the harmonious homophony of the “Sun” and the “Son”, which allows for our ears the metaphor to reach to a whole other level. In our language, then, Christians in the Roman Church were no longer looking merely at the Sun in the Heavens, but at the Son of Heaven, in the Tabernacle, throughout the Mass. Sadly, this newfound significance of the Tabernacle also contributed to the loss of meaning of facing the Eastern Sun, so that some churches began to be built facing in other directions in later centuries. But the much more important significance of facing God in the Tabernacle remained – until 1970, when some Masses errantly began to be said facing the people, and Tabernacles in some churches were displaced.
It is significant that one saint during the Counter-Reformation (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me) compared the Mass to the Sun that rises on the world daily to shed its rays of grace. St. Pio of Pietrelcina also said that it would be easier for the world to exist without the Sun than without the Mass – he might have said, in English, “…than without the Son.” Consider the shape of the liturgy these saints were speaking of, which remained unbroken for nearly two millennia: 1) Mass was by canon law required to be read or sung in the morning (because it was when the Lord rose from the dead). 2) The Latin Church had perfected its tradition of using an unleavened, circular, white host as the bread matter for the Sacrament (unlike the Eastern Church, which uses to this day leavened loaves). 3) At the Consecration, the custom arose of elevating the Sacred Host over the priest’s head, he himself still facing the Tabernacle (this Elevation became enshrined perpetually in the Roman rite after Pope St. Pius V’s official rubrics). What emerges from the shape of this holy liturgy is an extraordinary augmentation of the cosmic and solar symbolism, which permeated the sense of the faithful and popular piety: every day for centuries, a Western Christian attending Mass early in the morning would observe a white circle being lifted up high over the head of the priest, shining spotless life on the whole world, reuniting Heaven and Earth, redeeming Creation and transforming it into something new – in other words, he would see the Son rise.
Lessons From a First Grade Religious Education Classroom
When I signed up to become a RE teacher, I thought I knew what I was doing. I had led tons of groups for my home parish’s Vacation Bible School and had nine years of Sunday Religious Education classes under my belt. I would get to hang out every week with six- and seven-year-olds, and meet some upperclassmen who could help me navigate my new school. I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn, about myself and about the faith, and the people in this classroom were the ones who would teach me.
It’s well known that a room full of first-graders gets rowdy when students don’t want to listen it becomes frustrating. But the women that I taught helped me to find ways to see the good. When our prayer intentions became silly the other teachers knew how to adapt. A prayer for pizza turned to us asking God to keep us fed, healthy, and strong. A prayer for a cow (who sounded like a chicken) became a prayer to be good stewards to God’s creation. Even when our students did not want to be serious there were always ways to make our prayers fruitful. One student struggled to sit still, always moving, talking when others were, etc and I began to wonder if we were getting through. Then, one day, they came up to me and asked if we could go to the adoration chapel again. It was little reminders like that that reaffirmed us in what we were trying to do. At the end of class, the team of teachers would discuss what happened that day, funny stories, new ideas for how to help our students focus, and there were always at least two or three moments where we would see the love of God in our students, and their earnestness to know more about Him.
I cannot count the times that I was humbled this past year. As a seven-year-old corrected me or brought up a Bible passage that I don’t remember. There are times that I needed one of my co-teachers to explain a concept to me before I taught it ten minutes later. At first, I felt embarrassed and inadequate as an instructor but I have since realized that we don’t have all the answers. The wisdom of the Catholic Church is so expansive that there is always more to learn and we each know different things about our faith. While we taught our students as much information as we can, to help them begin to understand the Mass; tell them about Mary and Joseph; show them how to navigate the Bible; our task was not only to inform. We were sent to show them the love of God and teach them how we can be more like Him. Our lessons so often went back to the concept of love, receiving it from God and our families, or showing it to those who we meet every day. We are all learning, and sometimes an elementary schooler knows more than I do, but the goal is for all of us to walk on that path together.
During this time I was reminded how full of wonder the Catholic faith is. I have found that as we get older we can get used to our faith. As children, we are amazed This truly became evident to me as I sat and read to my students from Exodus 3, when Moses comes upon a burning bush and hears the voice of God. As we read I would pause and ask my students questions to keep them engaged.
“What do you think you would do if you saw a bush on fire?”
“Probably run away.”
“But what if it was God trying to talk to you?”
“Then I would stay.”
We continued on in this way throughout the story, trying to place ourselves in it, how we would feel if we were Moses. By placing ourselves within the Bible story we got more of a sense of how mysterious the Lord is and questioned what our own actions would be if we were put in these situations. When I find myself in a rut with my prayer life, unmotivated to read Scripture, I try to read it to myself the same way I do to my students, asking questions, emphasizing events that are out of the ordinary in our everyday lives in order to recognize the power and goodness of our Lord.
For each lesson I taught my students they taught me one back. Children have not dealt with the same questions about God or the Church that we face as we get older. As we turn to our peers and our elders for clarity and guidance, we should also turn to those younger than us. Those who hear Bible stories and are still surprised by what the Lord can do, those whose sense of wonder is less tarnished than ours, they will bring you back to the basics of our faith and show you God’s love in countless little ways.
Bodies With Heart Part II
So, after all that, what about broken hearts? ” …a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (RSVA; -Psalm 51:17). Ven. Fulton Sheen said that “sometimes the only way the Good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them”. I for one have an uncontrollable, broken heart. All of us do, ever since the Fall happened. One minute we are on a seemingly everlasting high, the next we are plunged into the depths of eternal sorrow. Some of us have more frequent and wider-ranging mood swings than others, to the point of ingrained habits of aberration called mental illness, but all of us are blown about like so many grains of sand in the wind on some level. It’s not something we can deal with on our own; the impressions we get from outside of us and the suggestions of thoughts within us are too great to handle by our own power, in our fragile bodies. If we think we can just learn to master our hearts, we are mistaken – our bodies, too, get away from us all eventually. God is the Master of our hearts, our bodies, our whole being; He alone can give us the remedy we need. Even as much as our own efforts can actually come to have beneficial results, in reality, it is all by His provision for these things to actually work out. It is all we can do, and must do, to offer our hearts in unity with His Heart.
Many people are suffering now. Times are bleak. Many people ask what the point is; they really want to know what the hope is. Many claw out their insides seeking some kind of compass or guidepost or totem for inspiration, a reason for fathomless reality in the shallowest human shell: a broken heart soon becomes an empty one, having lost all its lifeblood. God’s great wisdom and delight in man was to place infinite yearning in a finite heart; it was man’s great sin to distrust that God would fulfill this and proudly try to do so himself. It is only God’s Heart that fills the void of the torturous human heart. When time is rough, we tend to ask, “Where is God?” I bet He thinks that’s a ridiculous question. He’s right where we left Him – His Heart is where we left It aside!
Think what happens when we do not regard the Beauty of this Body and Its Adorable Sacred Heart, if we do not sacrifice ourselves in that Temple, burning on the Altar of that Heart: Sin is an aberration of the heart, and the spirit of the age is one of sins of the body. Why abortion; why contraception? Because of disregard for the body of the child and over-regard for the body of the self! Why masturbation and pornography? Because of the disregard of the sanctity of others’ bodies and the over-regard for one’s own body! Why the abuses in the Mass – because we have disregarded the Body of God, and overly regarded our own senses! And if we disregard His Body in the Sacrament, how can we hope to persevere as His Body the Church?
Maybe our life is nothing but a cross. What was Christ’s? All His Life, from the manger to the crucifix to the tabernacle where He remains today in Body and Heart has been an immolation of Love. Maybe we are in constant temptation, ceaseless, without end in sight, in our minds, in our eyes, in our hearts. Christian life is war against three things: the world, the devil, and the flesh (our own) – God’s Body, His Flesh, will bring us victory over ours; God’s Heart will bring ours Peace. Maybe, then, we are exactly where our Lord wills us to be; He only gives what is best for us. Amidst the torment of the roiling human heart, give yourself over to Him – it is a continual motion of self-giving, daily as is His. Our life on this earth is to be an unceasing Spiritual Communion, punctuated by physical, Sacramental Communions – in Heaven, these will both be one and everlasting, and our hearts will beat entwined with His forever, as Lover and Beloved, one Body.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.
Lily Heart of Joseph, pray for us.
Bodies With Heart Part I
“More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart…” (NAB)
“There is no riddle like the twists of the heart; who shall master them? Who but I, the Lord, that can see into man’s heart, and read his inmost thoughts…?” (Knox)
Last Thursday was the Feast Sanctissimi Corporis Christi, the Most Holy Body of Christ. In the U.S. it is transferred to that Sunday. Tomorrow, Friday will be the Feast Sacratissimi Cordis Iesu, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, to which the entire month of June is dedicated. Our devotional life does not have to be tied to the liturgical calendar (and should never be limited by it), but it deepens when it is. So, I thought, instead of waxing about my own experiences having just graduated as I originally planned, I would talk about the heart of the matter – the matter of our bodies and of Christ’s own Body.
There are three kinds of persons: angels, humans, and God. To the angels God did not give the gift of the matter He created and “saw as good”, which we have been given, which he animated, and which has a heart. The heart pumps blood and is the center, the core (cf. Latin cor ‘heart’) of the body; since our being is a composite, indivisible, of body and soul, it is thus the center and symbol of the soul as well – a symbol is just an incarnation of some spiritual element, like a crown, is the symbol of kingship or the lily of purity. In this sense, the heart is really a symbol of the personhood of a human person. The ancients were more in tune with this idea; to us, the symbol of the personality is more likely the brain, and that is fine; the face is also such a symbol, quite literally. But it is the heart that captures at once all that it means to be human. So, though the angels have no hearts, God does have a Heart, since He also has become a Man.
It is one of the three most beautiful hearts God made: this One He made for His Son and Himself, a Sacred Heart: it is on fire – the immolating Fire of the Holy Spirit. It bears a Cross and is crowned with thorns, and It gushes forth Blood and Water. Drink from this Heart, from the gash in Its Side, where the Lance of Destiny of St. Longinus pierced, between His Ribs, to fulfill a prophecy of the Old Testament. Go to it and drink; drink from it every day, when the priest raises the chalice to catch that same Blood, flowing, as it were, from the Crucifix above the altar. The second Heart is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady’s heart; It is pierced by Seven Swords for Seven Sorrows, none of which was on account of her own misery, but on that of her Son’s and those whom He loves – us, for our sins against His Heart. Her Feast is the Saturday after the Sacred Heart, the next day; Cora’s post covers this Heart better than I could now. But there is another precious heart not to be dismissed, as it is the third greatest of all hearts: the Lily Heart of Saint Joseph, which was so pure that it could be united in matrimony to the Immaculate Heart and command on earth the Sacred Heart as Father.
A word about the body: God so loved the bodies of men that He came to take One for Himself – His finest Creature, which in being hypostatically united to His Personhood He does not count as separate from His Eternal Substance: It is Him, all of Him. God knows our bodies need bodily consolation; He made us that way, male and female, for the other. Many sin by taking consolation in their own bodies, or the stolen and used bodies of others, misappropriating the ecstasy of love. But God made His own Body, that we might rather take consolation in His Body for all Eternity, in the Ecstasy of His Love. Eat this Body; eat this Body every day, when the priest raises the host to be transubstantiated into It, the Living Host, the Victim – It is the Tissue from the Flesh of His Heart, that beats only for you! If His Body is the Temple, as He says, then His Heart is the Altar.
And so it is supposed to be for us: each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, of God, and each of our hearts is to be an altar of immolation unto Him. But it goes further: through Baptism, each of us is integrated into the Body of Christ, a connection which is spiritual, but it is real and substantial so that we are each truly members of His Body; and if we receive His Body and His Heart in Communion, then this becomes a literal, physical membership: so each of our hearts becomes a real member of His Heart. They are to be little side altars united to the High Altar of His Sacred Heart in the Great Cathedral of His Body, of which we are living stones.
What does it mean as a Catholic to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? I asked this question to myself during my sophomore year as I sat outside near my school’s fire pit with my friends during our Catholicism class. Our teacher had placed us into small groups to depict scenes of how we might live-out the Christian virtues to be both the salt of the earth and the light of the world, especially to the secular world around us. While these were just skits, these verses have continued to be ever-present in my mind especially in my transition from my life in North Carolina to attend UVA.
Until I started my time at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, I never really lived out my faith. Yes, I tried to be a good person and yes, I attended Mass on the weekends, but I can’t really say that I was the brightest light or saltiest (in the right way, of course) to those around me. St. Thomas More Academy changed that. Not only did I meet some of the most devout Catholics that I know, but many of them were my own age. They brought joy into the environment around them. There was no stigma around seniors, no bullying…simply a community of people who knew their faith, and tried to live it to the fullest. At the same time the faculty, creating this environment, helped us to live out our faith, encouraging us both academically to understand the coherent Catholic tradition and doctrine, and socially to engage with our peers the ways in which Christ desires.
The community that I had in high school was the perfect opportunity for me to learn to embrace my faith, but not necessarily the greatest opportunity to spread light as it was a place that was already full of light. For me, the test came more so as I interacted with peers who did not share my beliefs or values, many of whom held entirely dissimilar beliefs. As my time at Virginia began, I finally had the chance to start to live out my faith in a place where it was needed, but not always welcomed. As a first-year, especially in my new curriculum engagement courses, I no longer felt included in discussions. I found a few allies to my Christian beliefs, something that would have been abundant in high school. My opinions went from being the view of the majority to “radically conservative” and “oppressive.” They went from being encouraged and praised to being suppressed and unacknowledged. However, I came expecting this and I knew that my faith would face backlash. At the same time, I realized that religion I had grown to love, especially in the last four years, might just have a chance to reach those who had never experienced it.
Ultimate Frisbee, the very athletic and intriguing sport which some confuse with disc golf (let me know if you ever want to throw), wasn’t exactly the initial way I intended to live out my faith, but in a very weird way, it became one of the most important. After trying out for a few weeks with the club team at UVA, I met a wide range of very coordinated and athletic girls, some of whom made Virginia a true home for an out-of-state kid like me. While I never explicitly shared my strong Catholic opinions, the way I interacted with these girls showed them my faith. As time went on they understood that I didn’t always enjoy some of the events they participated in outside of frisbee. They knew that I always requested the early car ride to grounds after tournaments to make it to the 9 pm mass, and they always made it possible for me to be there.
The relationships I was able to build with the girls over the course of the season were unlike those I formed in high school, but nonetheless they formed in a beautiful way of their own. I was met with many unique backgrounds, opinions, and strong convictions. I was, for the first time in my life, able to experience and better understand those around me that I often ignored or avoided in my “sheltered” Catholic environment. But at the same time, I was able to empathize with those who weren’t Catholic as I became friends with some of the people I would never have encountered at my Catholic high school. Through these friendships, I was able to see something that was missing in some other the Catholic environments I had experienced.
As opposed to the formulated skits that I acted out in high school, there isn’t one set way to live out your faith. Each unique person that you will encounter in life has a different story, a different opinion, and a unique view of the world. As Catholics, the way we interact with each person, regardless of their faith or opinions, says something to them about our own faith. Therefore, there isn’t one set way to evangelize. There isn’t one way to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But, whether it be a profound act of kindness, a debate, or a small set of actions over time, the way we go about our lives as Catholics should point back to Christ.
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.
We all have guardian angels, but we often forget that they are always beside us each day. I know I have. But after being challenged in my high school small group to reflect on and remember the presence of my guardian angel, I have made a more conscious effort to do so. This has brought much consolation and helped me to grow closer to the Lord in prayer.
I love adoration. I love adoring the Lord quietly in a small chapel, but I also love praising Him with thousands of other young people singing songs of adoration from the depths of their hearts. In such an environment, the power of the Holy Spirit can become almost overwhelming. God is really with us. His love and presence draw us out from the depths of our souls.
During these moments, I watch as, one-by-one, each person’s guardian angel rises, and forms a protective shield around the group of young people adoring the Lord. They form a dome above us with their wings interlocking. They protect us. Their wings block the arrows of the evil one as he tries to disrupt our time with the Lord. The more we call out to the Lord, the more the evil one tries to break in. But the Lord sends His armies of angels to fortify the shield. Their shield keeps us safe. They allow us to worship in peace with the intercession of the saints. I watch the saints circle around the young people, lining the edge of the dome, all praying and interceding for us as we adore the Lord. And at the front of the dome, the Lord sits there, watching over all of us in a ball of brilliance so bright that it almost hurts to look at. He sits there and smiles. He sits there loving us as we sit there and learn to love Him back. I love these moments when the power of the Holy Spirit overwhelms my senses and transforms a simple auditorium into a glimpse of Heaven on Earth.
But not all prayers can be like this. I cannot always be in adoration, and I surely cannot always be in adoration with thousands of other people sitting under the protection of a heavenly shield. But in personal prayer, too, our guardian angels watch over us and protect us so that we can spend time with the Lord. No matter where I pause to pray, my guardian angel wraps its wings around me in a comforting embrace. Its wings protect me from the arrows of the evil one. Its wings drape over my shoulders and the shoulders of Mother Mary and St. Gianna, my confirmation saint, as they stand beside me and worship the Lord. Under the protective embrace of my guardian angel, the three of us are able to sit there and be with the Lord. They intercede on my behalf and show me how to love our Heavenly Father. These quiet times of prayer are just as powerful and important as prayer under the heavenly dome.
Our guardian angels are with us always, even when we are not directly in prayer. When I am running, my guardian angel runs alongside me. When I am driving down a dark road late at night, I know my guardian angel is sitting on top of my car with its wings outstretched watching over me. When I am working on a paper on the first floor of Clem, my guardian angel is sitting beside me, offering encouragement, and guiding my efforts. Our guardian angels are always with us and are guiding us to a closer relationship with the Father. They are a gift from God, a constant reminder of His steadfast love for us.
I encourage you all to remember your guardian angel. Ask them to help you, to protect you, and to guide you to the Father. They cannot wait for you to join all the choirs of angels, the saints, and our Father one day in Heaven.
I have a Saint Squad. That’s what I call the five saints to whom I have the greatest devotion (and whose medals I wear around my neck): St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Joseph, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and St. Christopher. Yes, there are a lot of Thomases there, but that’s a conversation for another day. Today I’m going to focus on St. Christopher. Or maybe my mom. Or maybe a little of both. We’ll see where this goes.
One night back in November, Shannon dragged me along to an SLS fundraising meeting. The deal was that if I sat in on the meeting, she would give me a ride back to Lambeth. Halfway through, someone suggested a road trip. To ARIZONA. My family has always been big on road trips. My dad doesn’t like to sit still, so relaxing beach vacations or mountain cabin stays have never really been his thing. Instead, we travel, and he plans our trips meticulously. The goal of each one is always to see as many cool things as possible in as many states as possible. As soon as I heard the words “road trip” come out of someone’s mouth (even though I think it was originally intended as a joke), I was hooked. After basically drawing up the entire route with Craig and Shannon, I turned to Shannon and said, “THIS is why I don’t come to interest meetings: I always end up getting dragged into stuff!”
This Christmas was the first I’d spent in Virginia Beach, my hometown, in years. We had spent the previous few Christmases with my dad’s family in Maine, but this year it was just me and my parents at home. My sister was even out of town. All of that, coupled with the fact that I was leaving for Arizona the next day, made for quite a weird Christmas. As I was opening my presents on Christmas morning, all I could think about was what was missing. Then, last of all, I opened the smallest package under the tree. Actually, it wasn’t even under the tree for fear of losing it; it was in my stocking. It was about the size of a quarter and slightly heavy for its size. On the tag, it said, “To: Will, From: Mom”. I tore open the paper and… my jaw dropped. It was a St. Christopher medallion.
St. Christopher’s story is awesome. I’m going to give you the shortened version here for brevity’s sake, but the conversion part is really cool too, and I suggest you read it at some point if you’re interested. However, post-conversion St. Christopher had a job helping people cross a dangerous river. One day, a child walked up to him on the riverbank and asked to be taken across, so he put the boy on his shoulders and began to wade across the river. As they went, the child became heavier and heavier. When St. Christopher finally struggled out of the river on the other side, he asked the little boy why he was so heavy. The child revealed to the bewildered man that he was the child Jesus and that St. Christopher had just carried the entire weight of the world’s sins on his shoulders. As a result, he is the patron saint of travelers.
Now hold on a second. There’s something really important that you need to know so that you understand the significance of that gift. My mom is not Catholic. Any of you who have ever prayed the rosary with me know the three intentions I always specifically mention those struggling with mental illness, my family, and the conversion of my mom. So it was a huge deal that she gave me a saint medallion.
Thus began my devotion to St. Christopher. My mom came across him because of his patronage to travelers. She knew I was going on a long road trip, and she wanted to give me some sort of protection. So I took St. Christopher with me as we set off. Earlier I mentioned that the trip to and from Phoenix was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Well, it was also great because we had a consistent prayer routine. Every day the six of us started our drive in prayer, said a Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 pm, said a rosary before we arrived at our destination, and said night prayer before we went to bed. Every time we prayed, we asked for the intercession of St. Christopher. Ever since he’s been a part of my Saint Squad.
This conclusion part was the hardest for me to write for some reason. I struggled for a long time trying to decide what my closing message was to be, my call to action if you will. But I just kept reflecting on the fact that all of these things happened because someone joked about a road trip to Phoenix. You never know just how the Holy Spirit will work in your life. As I look back on this story, I realize that the Holy Spirit definitely showed me St. Christopher just when I needed him. So I’ll leave you with this: Keep an eye out for the Holy Spirit’s suggestions and build YOUR Saint Squad.
Not Up to Me
If it were up to me I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.
If it were up to me I wouldn’t even be at the University of Virginia. If it were up to me, I would be finishing up my third year at Villanova University. I wouldn’t be pursuing a degree in public policy, but I would instead be studying in their business school. If it were up to me, I would have missed out on the opportunity to make some of my best friends–friends who have helped me become a better Catholic. If it were up to me, I never would have been a TA and I would have never discovered my love for teaching. If it were up to me, I would not be the person I am today.
I’m glad things weren’t up to me.
Going into my senior year of high school, I was dead set on going to Villanova University; another kid from my high school was going there and he loved it. But when it came down to actually choosing colleges, Villanova turned out to be double the price of UVA and so I made the decision to enroll at UVA. While I’m sure Villanova would have been a great school for me, UVA has been everything I could have hoped and more.
I looked back throughout my life and I recognized that there are a lot of times where–despite my meticulous planning–God seems to throw a curveball my way and uproot everything that I wanted and instead, give me something even greater. And really, that’s how my whole faith journey began.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always always been Catholic. Sure I was baptized at a young age and received the sacraments all Cradle Catholics do, but I wasn’t living a Catholic life. This all changed one day during one of my religion classes. Me, being the stellar student I am, I stopped paying attention one day and decided to just flip through the Bible and see what I could read. I ended up landing on Luke 16, and more specifically, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In sum, the parable is about a rich man who lives his whole life ignoring the poor man, Lazarus. They both end up dying and the rich man looks up from Hell to see Lazarus in Heaven with Abraham. After the rich man pleads with them to have mercy on him and to warn his family, Abraham finally says, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Since that day, this verse has always stuck in my mind. One reason is that reading that was the moment I began to take my faith more seriously; it was a momentous occasion in my life. The second reason (and arguably more important) is that it helps me remember every day that my life is not up to me. One of my favorite quotes comes from St. Francis of Assisi (I went to a Franciscan high school, sorry Dominicans). He says how the only thing he owned that was truly his was his sin; everything else was a gift from God.
The life that we’re given is a gift from God–and God won’t just give us such a great gift if he didn’t have a plan for us. When Adam and Eve committed that first sin, God began to set in motion a plan to draw us back to Him–a plan to redeem us. The culmination of which was Christ’s resurrection. Just like the prophet Isaiah said, we are the clay and God is our potter, and God doesn’t make crappy pottery. While it’s not easy to surrender your life to God–I still struggle with it every day–it’s one of the most rewarding things there is.
Those of you that know me understand that I’m a bit of a movie buff. I think we all have special connections to particular art forms, and, for me, film hits me as much as any. I love the opportunity to see the finished project of what is essentially a combination of a stage play, a photography portfolio, and a symphony; all wrapped into one two-hour (three if you’re Martin Scorsese) performance.
Art is a beautiful gift from God that allows us to contemplate His glory with our human capacity to imagine and create. Some of the greatest works of art in history are directed towards praising God– just look at Renaissance paintings, listen to musical settings of the Mass, or walk into literally any random room in the Vatican. Music, painting, and sculpture are full of examples of people using their gifts to worship the Lord.
But many times, we encounter art that isn’t praising God. Sometimes, it’s doing the exact opposite. Believe it or not, not every movie is The Passion of the Christ or God’s Not Dead. What do we do about this? Should we just reject all forms of art that aren’t explicitly Christian? Or should we just say, “welp, too bad!” and just engage superficially with any and every piece of art that comes our way?
I like watching movies because they so vividly portray the human experience. We watch a character change along the course of a plotline, react physically and emotionally to events in their life, and sometimes even get a window into their inner thoughts. A good movie will immerse you and make you feel like you’re right there. But, even in the most immersive movies, we are removed from the world of the particular characters. With this distance, we are invited to reflect on the choices of these people and to intimately try and understand them. What then, is this experience, other than a window into the experience of God, with his divine sight?
Even in the most secular, non-religious movies, I have found enormous evidence for the common human thirst for God. Even though the writers, directors, and actors have no intention of including the Lord in their films, they can’t help but inject them with their raw and honest human experience, which is ultimately rooted in our common purpose: knowing Christ.
One that I specifically remember is American Beauty. Be warned — it is very R-rated — but American Beauty is about a group of people who thirst for intimacy, purpose, and meaning in their lives, grasping desperately at whatever they can to fill their inner void. God is never mentioned, but by the end of the movie, you can tell the filmmakers are on the right track. Some other films that come to mind are Short Term 12, Ex Machina, The Truman Show, and 1917, but almost every movie I’ve ever watched (and I watched 121 in 2019 alone) has something to say about the human person– whether it shows us the things that lead us towards God, or, as in many cases, it shows us the things that turn us away.
What we learn from this is that God is not confined to the parameters we set on him. He is not limited to acting only when we call upon Him. God is everywhere, waiting for us to let Him in. This means we can seek him out outside of Mass, outside of the rosary, outside of only watching Veggie Tales and The Passion. And this is not to diminish the value of these more explicit encounters with God– in fact, it does the opposite, because we develop all the more grateful for how God generously reveals Himself so clearly to us in those places. However, we also have the opportunity to find Him in the less obvious places. We just have to look.
There’s, of course, a line to be drawn. Many works of art are obscene and aren’t worth our time. But there are a lot that are— and we can learn an enormous amount from those. So, next time you’re listening to your favorite pop song, looking at a Picasso, or giggling at a Netflix rom-com, ask yourself these questions– What does this tell me about the human person– about our desires, our brokenness, about where we find completion? And, ultimately, where is the Lord speaking to me at this moment? The answer may surprise you.
The Pursuit of Happiness
“Plan for the future,” or “set yourself up for success,” we hear these things as mottos to get the most out of life. I’m not going to lie, it’s good advice. However, I find it also can blind us from what really matters. That seems like an oxymoron; to get the most out of life but miss out on what really matters, but this is the trap everyone is falling into myself included.
I look around and see people like me who in high school were working towards college, and in college are working towards a career, and people in a career are working towards the next rung on the ladder of “so-called” success. Now this is all fine and dandy, but recently I have been thinking, what do I want out of life? So, I would mentally make a list: (1) a good relationship with my family, (2) good friendships, (3) to live out High School Musical (okay maybe not that last one, but you get the point), and the list would go on. Then I asked myself why do I want each of those things, and I had the same answer for all of them. I want to be happy.
It’s ironic that the goals we set are to achieve happiness, yet our happiness is the thing we sacrifice to achieve those goals.
During third year I found my workload was increasing dramatically, so naturally, I cut out my social life, and I was miserable. I would find it hard to focus on the task at hand and easily get distracted by social media or video games. I used these as a reprieve from my work for some semblance of happiness. I know a fun phrase to use to “justify” procrastinating is made under pressure, but you know what can also be made under pressure? Cooked chicken. And I don’t want to end up like cooked chicken.
Long story short, I was looking for happiness in my distractions, and I wasn’t finding it. Now I am sure you are on the edge of your seat thinking “Well Craig, what happened? You are addressing this now, so clearly you must have had some sort of epiphany!” I’m so glad you brought that up. Well, I could just say “Jesus happened,” then drop the mic and figuratively walk off stage, but I think I owe you more of an explanation than that.
What happened was I said yes more often to friends, even to things I didn’t really want to do, such as going to a $15 concert because “they basically pay you!” What happened was I made opportunities instead of waiting for them to present themselves. I had the mindset (and sometimes still do) that if someone wanted to talk to me or do something with me then they can let me know, but I won’t approach them because I don’t want to interfere with their plans. It never occurred to me that they might not be reaching out for the same reasons. What happened was I started having meaningful conversations with friends. What happened was I put less pressure on academics, but still gave them the attention they deserved. What happened was I prayed. What happened was I started cherishing the present instead of planning for the future, because the future will always be a day away.
It is important to note that these changes were not made overnight and some took months or even years for me to recognize as a change. Personally, if someone told me two years ago that I should stress less about school, I would say “yeah, I know” and do nothing about it, some things I am only able to achieve through discovery. Although I still yield to distractions instead of pursuing true happiness but going forward I need to feed these changes in my life endlessly so that the Lord’s work may flourish.
Right now, as a fourth year, I have never been more unsure of my future. Will I just take the first job I find? Will I work in the field of my major? Where will I be a year from now? Amongst all these questions, I do know one thing. I am pursuing happiness, and by definition, that means I need to pursue the Lord.
God Woke Me Up
Fun fact: I go to Mass every Sunday. In fact, Mass is so integral to who I am that I simply cannot fathom missing it. At the same time, however, I sometimes go to Mass and work through the motions instead of recognizing the Mass for its beauty: a miracle of Holy Communion with God.
During the Spring semester of my first year, I had an experience that I will never forget, and it started as a habit: with Mass. Every Sunday, my robot subconscious alerts me that I need to go to Mass, and oftentimes I will go as a robot: there in person, but not fully engaged with the message the Mass is trying to give me.
This particular Sunday was different. At UVA, I have only ever gone to Mass at noon at the church, or at 9 pm Mass at the UVA Chapel. But that day, for some reason, I decided to go to the 4 pm Mass, a choice I had never made before. Mass was going along smoothly and routinely until the homily. During the homily, I had one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
The priest opened the homily with politics. That immediately got my attention; I am fascinated by politics! He quoted the Virginia State Governor, who endorsed infanticide the previous week (as in, the death of babies outside the womb). He linked the Governor’s words to Catholicism by saying that the Catholic Church supports life in every sense of the word. This includes life inside the womb and life outside of the womb. The priest, in a peaceful and loving manner, said we shouldn’t support what the Governor said because it goes against our Catholic values. Instead, we should pray for him and work to show our love for all human life in our daily lives.
At that moment, I was thinking, “Yeah, this is definitely an above-average homily!” But I didn’t realize it was only getting started. I looked across the pew and saw a pregnant, single mother. The mother started crying in the middle of the homily. At that moment, time stopped for me. I zoned out on what the priest was saying. I couldn’t stop staring at the mother. Where is her husband? Why is she crying? I could only make assumptions, but I didn’t want to pass on judgement.
Then, I started crying myself. I almost never cry, but here I was, in the middle of Mass, tears rolling down my face. I couldn’t imagine the pain the mother was feeling right now, especially in this extremely public setting. So many questions came into my head, but ultimately, I wanted to know: did she ever consider an abortion?
I could not stop crying in Mass. Eventually, I got myself back into reality, but I had no idea what the rest of the homily was about. What was especially weird was the aftermath of Holy Communion. I saw the mother leave to go get Communion but never saw her return. The place where she was formerly sitting was instead occupied by a different family. She had completely disappeared!
What did I just witness?
As I walked back to my dorm after Mass, I texted all my Catholic friends for prayers and advice. When I finally got into my dorm room, I immediately called my dad. I didn’t know what I was gonna say. I didn’t even know why I called him. I dialed his number and simply sat in silence.
“Hey, Jack, what’s up? How are you?”
Immediately, I started bawling my eyes out. I cried so hard. I didn’t say a single word. I was so emotionally distraught that I couldn’t speak and I was choking and coughing. I knew I was on speaker with my whole family, but I just couldn’t stop myself. My dad and my family consoled me, and eventually, I calmed down.
That night, I had time for reflection. In this experience, God taught me two things. First, that His love knows no bounds, whether that love be for a pregnant woman and her child, or a naive first year such as myself, God will find ways to remind you that you are loved, and He will never let you forget it.
The second lesson I learned is that going through the motions hinders the practice of love, and the Mass embodies love through the person of Jesus Christ. More practically, I learned that the Mass should never be a habit: our hearts, minds, and souls must be engaged with the message we are receiving. We must take that message, apply it to our lives, and never let go. After this experience, God certainly got me to pay attention during Mass, and it’s been very effective since then. No longer is the Mass a box I need to check off. Mass is an opportunity to experience God’s divine love.
Not Good to be Alone
I am an introvert. This may be a surprise to many who know me, but this is the truth. I have been surrounded by people my entire life, but I enjoy my alone time. I have always been very individualistic and self-reliant, or so I thought.
When I finally got into college, my first feelings were joy and excitement, however, part of that happiness came with the realization that I was going to be on my own for the first time in my life. This was the most exhilarating part of my new college experience.
As I arrived at UVA, I was ready to go out and be my own person (how ironically typical). And at first, I was happy. But this happiness quickly faded as I began to realize I couldn’t rely on myself entirely and I needed to be around people. So I joined a club and convinced myself of the lie that I was entirely satisfied with who I was and what I was doing.
Never in my life had I felt so alone while being surrounded by the largest number of “friends” I ever had. Why was I so unhappy? I finally had everything I wanted, but, still, something was lacking. It took me two entire years at UVA to fix the problem, and the entire way I resisted. Truth be told, I hated going to UVA during my first two years. I felt unwanted, unnoticed, and unhappy. Every minute I wanted to leave, and whenever I had a chance to go back home I would, because I felt truly known there. The moment I came back to school, it felt like I was playing a masquerade for these “friends,” while I actually dreaded being around them because I detested who I was with them.
It took me so long to finally, fully come back to my faith. I never truly lost it, but I was just going through the motions during my first and second years. My prayer life suffered during this time; I only really prayed when I wanted something from God. Our relationship became transactional, but Jesus was calling me to come back all that time and I fought Him every step of the way. My pride stood in the way between me and Jesus. Every day, He picked away at my pride and brought me closer and closer to Him, until I finally made that step to leave my lonely, prideful life behind, and accept true friendships.
Now, this is not to say that I am perfect: I am far, far from perfect. The difference here was that I made a step to surround myself with others who were looking to be called higher and were calling each other higher. As I mentioned earlier, I am an introvert and I enjoy figuring things out on my own. I thought I could continue this former life of mine while still trying to be a “good Catholic.” In my pride and neglectfulness, I thought I could find my way to God alone. How very wrong I was. Instead of being a “good Catholic,” I was afraid to share my faith, and whenever others pointed it out, I was ashamed. Jesus kept pushing me to embrace my faith, just by being open about it, and after two years, I gave Him everything: my fears, my anxieties, my dreams, and my heart.
The start of third year was an explosive one, but how better to mark such a significant change? In a single day, I made the choice that my soul was begging me to do since day one of college, and I have never looked back.
But there I was starting at square one, with virtually no true friends who were looking to be called higher. But I joined Catholic Hoos with an open mind and an open heart, and incredibly, I was welcomed with open arms. I felt more loved and known in my first day going back to the Catholic Hoos community than I had in my entire past two years at UVA. The earliest events in Catholic Hoos like the Pig Roast, Floats on the Lawn, and the Blue Hole Hike are where I began my closest and deepest friendships. I am beyond grateful for this community, and how my faith has grown because of it. I have had more trials and tribulations this year than ever before in my life, but I was not alone, and Jesus made sure of it. He blessed me with this community and these incredible, God-given, vibrant, loving, amazing friendships. I went from hoping graduation would come faster, hoping it didn’t come as fast.
Thank you all for this opportunity to write to you and have a blessed Easter season.
Our Lady of Sorrows
Sorrow. It’s not a happy word. Most of us would rather do anything than feel sorrow, but it is central to the Paschal Mystery and our Catholic faith. Especially the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So why am I talking about sorrow when most people would rather experience anything else?
Well…Our Lady of Sorrows is following me. It’s true. She had been popping up in my life somewhat discreetly the past few months, but recently, it seems like she’s been everywhere. To preface, I have been praying the 7 Prayers of St. Bridget every day for a few months now, but it was only recently that I discovered that St. Bridget passed on the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows! As Holy Week approached, I resolved to learn more about this title of Our Lady. As I finished up renewing my Marian Consecration (a process of furthering and deepening your relationship with Jesus through Mary) I remembered that there is a special rosary honoring the 7 Sorrows of Mary. On the day of my consecration, I bought myself a 7 Sorrows rosary (which has 7 Mysteries with 7 Hail Marys each) and prayed it for the first time. That same night, I cracked open a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf forever, only to have an Our Lady of Sorrows prayer card fall out of it. Less than a week later, a friend wrote me a letter telling me that his favorite title of Mary was…you guessed it…Our Lady of Sorrows.
This past Holy Week, I felt Our Lady’s presence in a special way. Before, I had never truly pondered her unique role in the Passion. Watching the Passion of the Christ on Good Friday, however, I found myself especially moved by the portrayal of Mary. I felt intense compassion for her as she watched her only son be mocked, scourged, beaten, and killed for our sake.
I’ve recently had to deal with a sad and difficult situation at home, in addition to various other crosses. I felt defeated and overwhelmed. But as I prayed the 7 Sorrows Rosary and reflected on the pains of Our Mother, I realized that Our Lady of Sorrows understands my struggles completely. It was only when Our Lady of Sorrows entered into my heart that I began to truly experience her intercession. After all, Mary procures incredible graces for the souls who are devoted to her as Our Lady of Sorrows. She promises to bring peace to their families, console them in their pains, defend them in their battles against the devil, and protect them at every instant of their lives.
I saw that she has been with me every step of the way, allowing me to share in a small part of her suffering. It has been tragically beautiful to realize that Jesus wants us to unite our crosses not only to his own but to his Mother’s! After all, apart from Our Lord, she was the one who felt the pains of the Passion most acutely. She understands us more than we know and is always waiting for us to unite our sorrows to hers. So fly to her, and she will console you in whatever you are facing–I promise!
Almost a Year Ago
I’m rather fond of talking about my high school days. Though, that was rather surprised at their onset. I was determined to hate my time at the Catholic school my parents decided I should attend. We had family there and they spoke rather glowingly of it. I was successful and my freshman year was about as miserable as I could make it. I said goodbye to the friends I had struggled against making and thought I’d barely remember by my college days.
Back to my old school and old friends, just like I wanted. Suddenly they weren’t quite so friendly. We didn’t sit at the same lunch table all the time like we used to. We’d wave. Hang out less. And less. And less. Until all our friendships were waving. Meanwhile, the friends I had made during my freshman year kept inviting me places. Their houses, a farm, a rugby match against rivals, so on and so forth.
With a sunken head and swallowed pride, I asked my parents if I could go back midway through my sophomore year. They let on no pride or feeling of victory but had me back where I belonged by my junior year. It was a time of growth for me. My mind and heart were opening, and being opened, to timeless truths. I saw unity in families praying together. I saw love in friends’ sacrifice for and trust in one another. I saw fortitude and resolve and patience and every virtue under the sun exemplified by my friends. These are the timeless things for which we are born. By the end of that year, I was ready to learn about the Catholic faith.
During my senior year, I began an RCIA class and opted to study apologetics rather than philosophy. Long before I told anyone, I was ready to convert. God guided me along and brought me to leap into a life of faith. Soon, my friends told me of a trip to Rome that would happen over Holy Week. They dreamed about my confirmation in Rome. They dreamed about my own good and joy, and that was enough for them. I told them that it was too huge of a dream, inspiring but ridiculous. They dragged me before the teacher planning the trip. He smiled, said, “I will talk to the people,” and that was that. I was confirmed in Rome on April 20th, 2019. It was the Easter Vigil Mass. My high school chaplain gave me first communion.
Before I had ever gone to Rome or my friends thought of the idea, I began going to Mass every day. I’d kneel with crossed arms and watch the Eucharist be given to everyone but me. I wanted Him desperately. Still, I bore my cross and arms obediently, waiting for the day when I could receive. One day, I slipped into the confessional and said, “I don’t know if I’m allowed to like do confession but I… I just think I need to.” The priest heard my confession and gave me absolution. I’m not sure if that was wholly legal or if he understood what I was saying (he had a thick Spanish accent). Time passed and the sacraments became common to me; they felt like nothing special. I thought about those times the other day while sitting in adoration. It had been so long since I burned for the sacraments since I felt the absence so sharply. I feel that pain again, that cross over my back. I think we all do.
In high school, we had to read Animal Farm for English. My teacher, always the jokester, spent the last five minutes of class calling us sheep; claiming that we were, “sheeple”. And, obviously, this was meant as an insult; to mean people who just constantly repeat what was said over and over again and had no brains of their own. And, while I disagreed then (I mean, I ended up going to UVA…and my teacher was from Tech), now I find it near impossible to say that I’m not, especially when considering the story of Exodus.
In that story, it is the Lord who wanted to lead the Hebrews into the desert, into the wilderness, to worship him. Why? Because in their daily lives the Pharaoh, through their enslavement and harsh work, had prevented them, and so they needed to be removed to fully worship God. It seems that it is in the wilderness that God wants us to find him. And, I hadn’t really thought of the significance of that until, in the first week of Lent, I had my Bible Study. The passage for that day was the exact same passage that I had already read in my “Bible in a Year,” was the same passage in my Lenten Bible Study, and was the Gospel reading for that Sunday. Four times I would’ve read the same passage and, when expressing my frustration, a certain member shouted at me ever so passionately, “That’s because it’s important!” With his face becoming a brighter red than the hair on his head.
“Yeah, whatever.” I so geniusly replied, being the free-thinking intellectual I am. And now I have to revert into a sheep, to repeat what he said to me. It’s important! For, what was the wilderness if not the meaning of a place savage, untamed, disunion? For the Hebrews, was it not their enslavement? For Jesus, was it not the desert? Yet, where is our modern wilderness; our world connected, developed, and civilized: outer space?
The answer: wherever we are faced with the temptation to sin. Think back to the Pharaoh, who wouldn’t allow the Hebrews to worship God, and thus, sin. So too do we when we don’t allow ourselves to worship when we give in to the wilderness of daily life. For what was the reason that one sheep went astray? Perhaps it saw some grass that looked rather scrumptious; perhaps it saw a similar herd and got turned around; perhaps it stumbled on a rock and got too far behind to catch up. Or even in Animal Farm, was it not the sheep that had been so greatly deceived by the lies of the pigs? Where the Pigs not acting as Pharaohs, claiming that all they were good, and to stray from them, evildoers in it of themselves, would be to ruin the farm, the ruin of the whole world.
Sheep are pretty dumb; it could’ve literally been anything.
And so what are our reasons, our temptations? How many times have we been fed anything, like news or a game or a show, that it becomes so distracting it consumes our minds? How many times have we been told an alternative, that we’ve been shared some “new thought” to what will gain us true happiness and comfort? How many times have we slipped up once, only to find that God seems so far gone out of sight and that we are so impossibly behind?
Yet the Shepherd found his sheep. The Pharaoh eventually “let his people go,” so to speak. And while even more Jesus said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Whatever the high and mighty wilderness we face, remember that they are truly small when compared to our Lord and that God overlooks no child who is faced with injustice; God will drown the pigs. For, truly, if the Lord is the Shepherd than we are his sheeple.
The Joy I Found in 40 Chicken Nuggets
Disclaimer: I have always been and always will be a die-hard Mcdonald’s fan. However, desperate times call for desperate measures.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother and I embarked on a journey to retrieve some essential goods from my dorm. It wasn’t under ideal circumstances and we had to get up pretty early, so you could say we weren’t in the best of moods as we headed down to Charlottesville, but it had to be done. We began our journey, knowing exactly how it would end. Or so we thought.
We drove an hour and forty-five minutes, only to spend about fifteen minutes trying to stuff my things into the car. Fortunately, my brother is very good at Tetris. We couldn’t fathom jumping right back into the long drive, so naturally, we decided to look for food.
My parents are quite the savvy shoppers and they’ve instilled that thrifty nature into their children. As we pondered what to eat, my brother’s photographic coupon memory brought up a Burger King deal selling eight nuggets for $1. You heard, er read, that right. Eight nuggets for one dollar! They basically paid you! There was no way we were passing up this deal. So we set off in search of the nugs.
Using my 2.75 years of Charlottesville knowledge, I remembered there was a Burger King conveniently placed in Barracks shopping center. Our excitement began to build as we neared the big building. It didn’t help that I had made the revelation that we could get forty nugs for $5. We could barely contain our excitement. As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed that the Burger King seemed emptier than usual and our hearts began to sink. My brother walked up to the door and APPARENTLY IT’S BEEN CLOSED FOR WEEKS! That shows how often I go to Burger King. So we quickly turned to the miracle of technology that is Google maps and found one about five minutes away. We hopped onto 29 and were one step closer to attaining our precious nugs.
It’s difficult to describe the emotions I felt as we pulled into the Burger King parking lot. We decided that my brother was the worthy one that would go and order, mostly because I didn’t want to pay. Suddenly, the whole trip was worth it, thanks to a brown paper bag holding forty chicken nuggets.
Jesus calls us to be joyful. 1 Thessalonians tells us to rejoice always and in all circumstances give thanks. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy feat. Part of this is because we often equate being joyful to being happy all the time, or that joy is just a more intense form of the emotion happiness. However, joy isn’t just an emotion. Joy is a gift that we receive through Christian living. It isn’t as conditional as general happiness. This is why one can find joy in suffering and tribulations. When one is living a life centered around Christ, one has hope during times of suffering, and therefore, joy.
Joy often doesn’t come naturally to us, especially in times of trials and suffering. Just like I had to go out and find my chicken nuggets, we often have to actively find the joy in our lives. We have to train ourselves to look beyond our current circumstances and see the gift of living in communion with Jesus. Thankfully, we have the support and guidance of the Holy Spirit, because we cannot find, or even attain, joy without Him. My brother and I recognized the joy our chicken nugget adventure brought us. In the midst of fatigue and dreariness, we were able to spend some quality time together that I am sure we will both look back at very fondly. We recognized that this good thing, like all good things, came from the Lord, even if this good thing was a bag of 40 chicken nuggets accompanied by many laughs.
I want to challenge you to grow in joy. How? Make a Joyful Jar! Every day, write down at least one thing or moment in the day that brought you joy and drop it in the jar! At the end of the month (or week) open the jar and read all the amazing gifts God has placed in your life. Soon, you’ll find yourself looking for moments of joy in your day to drop in your jar. As you all know, this week is Holy Week, culminating in the most joyful day of the year, so there is no better time to start looking for joy than now! Also, don’t be afraid to look for joy in the small things. Chicken nuggets are small and they brought me a lot of joy.
Lastly, remember that trials and tribulations shall pass. Probably not as fast as we devoured the forty chicken nuggets, but they shall pass. How blessed are we to be able to receive a joy that is everlasting in Jesus Christ.
My mother has a different tea for every ailment. Do you have a cold? Hierba gripal. Do you have indigestion? Dandelion root. Do you have insomnia? Manzanilla. A migraine? Plan A: tea.
I inherited my mother’s love for tea, but my brothers did not. “It’s just dirt,” my older brother says to annoy me, “It’s dirt-water.” I’d never admit it to him, but in a way, he has a point. It’s basically hot water which, as of two seconds ago, had crumbly old leaves or roots or flowers floating around in it. But I drink it, and I drink lots of it. And whenever I have someone over, or whenever I am putting the kettle on, or whenever I see someone feeling anxious or sick, I offer him or her tea.
Some months ago, I remember hanging around the Common Room at STA. Maybe I was doing homework and probably I wasn’t getting any work done. One of my new-found friends walked into the room, looking like death warmed over. He, feeling a bit under the weather, headed straight for the couch. Those of us around him stayed quiet, trying to let him rest. I couldn’t do anything to help, but my friend looked miserable and I hated that. So I made him some tea. As I suspected, the tea did not instantly cure him. In fact, I hesitate to say it, but I’m not sure it had any effect on his sickness.
It’s one of those sad facts of life that we can’t cure the common cold, nor solve everyone else’s problems. Let’s face it: we’re not omnipotent. There will always be times when we see a friend hurting and we can’t fix it. Maybe someone in your small group has to deal with the craziest professor of all time, or maybe your best friend has a lot of strife in his family right now. Whatever it is, we can’t fire that professor, or be their personal family therapist. We can’t fix it.
So, should we just accept that life’s tough and ignore it? Precisely the opposite. Notice your neighbor, your brother, your sister. Notice their problems, their needs, and wants. And if you can, help them. But as we already know, sometimes you can’t. In which case, what do we do?
The answer is, unsurprisingly, love. More specifically, be compassionate. Some of you may already know this, but compassion comes from the Latin “compati,” or “to suffer with.” Consider the implications of this concept. We don’t need to stop someone’s suffering to show him or her love. God never commands us to fulfill impossible laws, and when he tells us, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He knows full well that we often can’t cushion our friends from the hurt. True Christian fellowship doesn’t stop at the end of our own finite capacity to solve problems, because true fellowship is based on the supernatural grace given to love, to love beyond what we can do as humans. So, have some compassion for your fellow man, and be with him when he suffers.
One thing that I struggle with is remembering others and being present to them. I don’t pay enough attention to names, to faces, to personal details, because it’s scarily easy to get wrapped up in my own troubles. By contrast, I have a friend from high school who remembers all the tough classes I have and asks about them. She recalls which books are my favorite, my likes and dislikes – in short, she keeps her friends present in her heart.
Am I saying you’re a terrible person if you forget things? No, definitely not. In the Old Testament, Israel constantly asks God to “remember” his people. That doesn’t mean they thought that God is absent-minded and needs reminders that we exist. No, this call to “remember” is a petition to God that he turns his face and heart to them, that he be present with them in their plight. Ultimately, God answers this plea for compassion in the Incarnation, when God entered our history to dwell and suffer among us. This is the meaning of Emmanuel: “God with Us.” . This is true fellowship.
Remember, “quality time” is a love language. It may not be your primary love language, but it is a love language. We can express love by presence: a call, a letter, Zoom, whatever. We are a lonely people, a people starved for love, especially love in fellowship with each other.
So, yes, we’re relatively powerless, and we can’t perfect everybody else’s lives for them. At the end of today, next week, and forty days of Lent, everyone will still have problems, tasks, and crosses to carry. And no one can carry someone else’s cross.
Sometimes, all we can do is be there. All we can offer sometimes is ourselves, our fellowship, some company, a listening ear, a loving check-up. Sometimes, all we can offer is a cup of tea.
Littleness and Taking it One Step at a Time
“I need my Jesus time.” It was nine pm on the Friday of Spring Break. I grabbed the car keys and drove the silent ten minutes to Church, toting along my prayer books. Down the large empty aisle to the very front, my beautiful Jesus sat. I was tired and it had been a long day of cleaning rooms, folding laundry, picking up smelly shoes, making dinner, and taking care of little siblings. I knelt down and gazed. “Hi, Jesus.”I read my Bible passage for the night but struggled to focus…I was very preoccupied with thoughts of the future: “What should my major be? What will life after college look like? Who, if anyone, is my future spouse? Maybe I should switch majors. Maybe I should reconsider what I’m doing with my life. Maybe I’m not even called to marriage.”
“Or maybe you should just sit here with Me. This is where you are, and this is where you are meant to be.”
The present. That is where we are called to be. Trust is not knowing exactly what your entire life plan is going to be, it’s knowing that you are with God in this present moment. So, abandon yourself to God; He loves you so tenderly. Be His greatly loved little one.
There’s a quote from Saint Faustina that goes, “O My God. When I look into the future, I am frightened, But why plunge into the future? Only the present moment is precious to me, As the future may never enter my soul at all. It is no longer in my power to change, correct, or add to the past; For neither sages nor prophets could do that. And so, what the past has embraced I must entrust to God. O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire. I desire to use you as best I can. And although I am weak and small, You grant me the grace of Your omnipotence. And so, trusting in your mercy, I walk through life like a little child, offering You each day this heart Burning with love for Your greater Glory.”
It is only when we realize how little and how incredibly loved we are that we can place our trust in God and take life one day at a time. We are called to place our tiny little hand in His gentle, pierced, and life-giving Hand, and walk with HIm on the beautiful adventure which He wishes to lead us. Yes, there are twists and turns that mess with our plans, but that allows us to come again to God and realize our littleness, and the beauty of His plan. Otherwise, we quickly start building castles in the clouds, develop anxiety about the future as well as regrets about the past, and that, my friends, is most certainly not the road. If we are always worrying about what the path ahead looks like or what a mess we feel we have left behind, we are never going to appreciate the beauty of the steps we are taking now. And it is in those steps we learn who God is, and who we are.
When your mind starts struggling with the past and future, realize God is standing right beside you in that present moment. That is where we find God. That is how we walk with confidence, not trusting in our own strength and knowledge of the future but knowing that we are held by Him who transcends all time.
Know that in the many ups and downs, and goodness even upside-downs, you are going through, God is there. The present is where time touches eternity, where we delve into our relationship with God. I pray that you all find peace and strength, that you sit in His gaze and soak in His love, as He walks with you today.
Be Not Afraid
I have spent almost seven months in this country. They have been some of the most meaningful months of my life, but even the most memorable moments they have offered seem oddly distant right now. Could it be because this past week has had the intensity and news-output of a decade? And all the while the Coronavirus is raging, life is so still here in Charlottesville. The air feels clean, the squirrel community is as vibrant as it is on any given day, and the few people who are out and about are talking and smiling. Thank God they are.This is not the first time I have been by myself in a quiet Charlottesville, and for all the tragedy of the present moment, I was worse off back then. I did not go back to Sweden for Christmas break, so apart from going to Gloucester to stay with a friend for a few days and celebrating Christmas with a wonderful Baptist family, I was mostly on my own here. I was on my own, during a time I probably shouldn’t have been. After Christmas, through the first few days of 2020, I had a pretty hard time. I think a combination of loneliness, anxiety, and baggage full of stuff I should have dealt with ages ago caused me some kind of a breakdown.
I am embarrassed to talk about it because nothing actually happened like things are happening now, but then, the selfish mind is not always responsive to reality. At times, I could do nothing but lie on my couch, being genuinely afraid of all sorts of things. I know that sounds over-the-top, but that’s what I was: afraid.
I am sorry to dump something this bleak on the blog, but I think there might be something of value here. This breakdown namely occurred just days after my conversion. Granted, it wasn’t a chariots-coming-down-from-a-heaven-set-on-fire kind of conversion, but over the days leading up to Christmas, I came to resign to the truth of the most shocking proposition ever made; a proposition I had previously done much to ridicule: the proposition that Jesus is Christ, that He was dead and buried, and then walked out of the grave. It was very much a resignation – I could no longer find excuses to object to faith so full of beauty, goodness, and truth. And Lord knows I was scrambling for excuses.
I was then, naively, dismayed to find that this newfound presence of grace in my life didn’t completely fend off the anxiety that awaited me about a week later. Why wasn’t Jesus working His magic on me? ME! Had I converted for nothing?! Looking back, I am embarrassed by my reaction, knowing that He did, in fact, work His magic on me. This magic, called grace, came in the form of gratitude. Even on the most painful of those wintery nights, I still knelt by my bedside to pray. Out of all the things I could have said, and had said (even when I didn’t believe in God, I was never slow to blame Him for my problems), I thanked Him for all the blessings in my life. Craziest of all – I think I actually meant it. For at least a moment during this dark night of the soul, He rid me of fear, through gratitude.
Fear, friends, is not a harmless condition. Thomas Merton writes that fear is “inseparable from pride and lust”. Being constantly afraid reveals an over-concern with the self, and obsession I have been severely guilty of, and still am. I am not suggesting that prayer can fix all mental health problems, but over Christmas break, it did help me.
Our God can credibly assure us: be not afraid. He can do so credibly, because whatever we are afraid of, whether mental monsters or concrete catastrophes, He knows them. He knows them and takes them seriously. He is not a Stoic Sage, who is never upset by anything. Our God weeps with the mourners. He is upset with injustices. He loves us so much that He willingly died for us. Because He launched Himself into the barren wasteland of ultimate suffering and came back, we need not be afraid.
It is good to remind oneself of this right now, although I am not silly enough to think that I can say anything original amid the growing Corona-panic. I am writing this primarily by way of gratitude. I arrived in this country a lost skeptic, pretending to be a profound seeker. I will leave this country a believer in the risen Christ. I know that God used you, all of you in Catholic Hoos, as vessels of His grace. I owe you so much.
If, over the coming months, you find yourself in doubt, in agony, at loss or in fear, please remember that God, through you, changed my life. He can, and will, change yours as well. Keep calm, express love, be patient and kind, be prudent and helpful, take things incredibly seriously, but be not ever afraid.
How I Ended Up in the Common Room
I was raised Catholic, albeit in a somewhat nominal sense; I never prayed the Rosary growing up; I’m still learning the Apostle’s Creed; and, worst of all, I never had a routine prayer life. My Catholicism originated more from an inclination to follow rules than a love of God.
Throughout high school, I struggled with anxiety. Midway through my senior year, this anxiety came for my lukewarm faith. I began to build misconceptions about the faith, chief among them being a misunderstanding of joy. I thought the Church was an authoritarian institution seeking control of my life and within a matter of weeks, I became agnostic.
Chasing secular fulfillment was remarkably unsatisfying. There has to be something outside of this life; life itself is both too joyful and painful to exist in a vacuum. There were questions that needed explaining. I entered college searching for my soul, and the person I was destined to become.
On move-in day, I discovered my old friend from the Arlington Diocese WorkCamp, Nick, was living in the room directly next to me. I feared telling him I had left the Church. At this point, while I began attending Southern Baptist services, I kept a disdain for the Catholic Church as an institution. Much to my dismay, Nick kept inviting me to mass. One day, I sat him down and told him “I kind of had a falling out with the Catholic Church. I attend a different church now.” He responded “okay” and stopped inviting me to mass.
I was blessed to have great friends in my dorm during my first year. There was a great deal of diversity in religiosity (everyone was either a Christian or atheist but to varying degrees). There was something different about the way Nick carried himself. I told people I was a “Christian” but Nick lived it. He loved his neighbor, put God first, and showed a firm dedication in the faith. I remember thinking “I want to be that kind of person.”
One day, I knocked in the door to his room and asked him if he wanted to go to mass together. We went to the 4:00 mass and it genuinely felt like a homecoming. A few weeks later, I prayed my first full Rosary on the lawn. I attended mass weekly for the rest of the semester.
During the second semester, I joined Nick’s bible study. These guys, like Nick, showed me just how much my relationship could grow. In economics (my major), there is a principle called the “catch up effect” where less developed countries tend to grow at accelerated rates due to gains from trade from richer economies. Similarly, spending time with this great group of faithful men allowed me to learn and grow my relationship with Jesus Christ. Today, I am proud to call them friends.
Eventually, I ended up in the adoration chapel for the first time since my CCD days; it was an amazing experience. While in the adoration chapel, I felt safe from all anxieties. It was almost like having a shield around me. I continued going to adoration regularly throughout the semester. Constant prayer strengthened my faith.
One day, I had an epiphany. The key to defeating my anxiety might be found in one of the fruits of the holy spirit: joy. The Catholic Education Resource Center sums it up pretty well “Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in feelings and the mind. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self.” My anxiety came from a sorrowful attempt to seek happiness in place of joy.
Why did I come back to the Church? It was not the work of Theologians or an apparition, but rather one friend’s witness to Jesus Christ. Most people have heard of Jesus, but many people have not seen him. Let the Lord’s gifts flow through you. You might just bring a lost soul home.
I would just like to thank the Catholic HOOs community for welcoming me in with open arms. It’s been remarkable. I’ve never been a part of a community like this. Thank you for always encouraging me to be a better person and grow in faith.
An aspect of my life that was under lots of stress before entering SLS (a large conference run by FOCUS for Catholic college students) was evangelization. I felt I was well equipped to defend my faith and explain the reasoning behind our doctrine. But, for some reason, I was unable to spread the faith outside of Catholic Hoos.
Lots of times I felt I was properly defending the faith and being logical, but the person I was talking to was not opening their mind. In my Bible Study, I was able to share my past experiences along with the bits and pieces I had gained through my various books about Catholicism. It was always well received and made me think that my actions could possibly contribute to our mutual strive for holiness.
However, in my other friendships, I was beginning to find myself drifting further and further away from my other friends. With God slowly becoming the center of my life, I could sense an odd tension between myself and my non-Christian friends. Going into SLS, I knew that evangelization would be a major topic, so I took the opportunity to dwell on the points they offered me.
At SLS, we broke up into small groups to share what we had learned each day. One thing we touched on in our small group discussion was how everyone truly desires a genuine friendship, whether they are Christian or not. This seemed simple enough, but adding Biblical justification made me apply it to my other relationships. Before Jesus called Peter to put down his nets and follow him, he spent a significant amount of time with Peter, building a strong fraternal relationship. When Peter was finally called to follow Christ, he immediately dropped his obligations and obeyed the Lord.
This idea reminded me of my own search for the truth. I had been exposed to aspects of the Church many times throughout high school and early college but found reasons to reject them. I had not properly prepared myself to receive God’s love. I had not made a habit of going to Mass every Sunday and I had not been to confession in years, so how could I expect to obey the God that I had neglected for so long?
Until recently, I thought my spiritual journey started with the Catholic Theology that I had stumbled upon while on my computer or in my first real Christianity class at UVA. I thought merely exposing myself to the truth through non-sacramental means was what it took to desire God once again. Not even close! It was making the sacramental encounters with God, whether I was aware of it or not, a regular part of my life. When I had spent enough time with God and improved my relationship with Him (like Christ had done with Peter), His call was easy to hear. This is what I needed to bring to my friends.
The two things I could do to lead them into the Church would be to encourage them to receive (or understand) the sacraments as much as they could and to be the friend Christ needs me to be. One of the first steps I took in my journey back to the faith was going to confession on a random Friday morning last March. Making that strive on my own volition gave the Holy Spirit the opportunity to guide me closer and closer to accepting the truths that I would eventually stumble upon.
Getting my friends to mass is tough, but encountering God is truly what they need most, whether the impact is felt or not. A smaller thing that helps is dedicating prayers to them. Truly desiring the good for my friends is best understood when making God a part of the conversation. As for the friendship aspect, being there for when they need advice, playing the N64 we found in our house, and eating meals with them hopefully reminds them that I care about them despite our difference in lifestyles. I have to be a living vessel for the Holy Spirit, as we are all called to do.
Overall, SLS was a fantastic week with lots of insights gained on evangelization. In addition to learning about the proper way to evangelize, I greatly strengthened my relationships with the friends I traveled with. Also, going to daily mass and getting reconciliation is always nice when you are surrounded by thousands of Catholic college students in a strange city.
Loving the Person in Front of You
This is a quote from Les Misèrables, which has been sung in my head since late January. At the moment, I am studying abroad in Siena, Italy, which is a small Medieval city sitting in the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Rome. It is just as picturesque as it sounds. My program is rather small, a quaint seven people including myself. Five of us come from all different corners of UVA and the two others come from their own universities. Upon the realization that I was more or less stuck with the same six faces for the next four months, I was faced with the decision to either embrace the discomfort of a small, new community or run from it. I made the decision to love the person in front of me, despite our differences, because of Christ.
Loving the person in front of me was easy at UVA. I was able to surround myself with like-minded individuals who made it easy to love them. Even beyond Grounds, I found that loving the homeless on the Downtown Mall was the obvious thing to do. My passion for loving the poor and neglected comes so naturally, how could I not love the stories of Miss Peggy’s squirrels or Johnny’s mantra of peace? I am so in love with the person of Christ that I see in each of their faces. But what about the people at UVA that are not of my social-stratosphere?
I quickly realized that I have not given myself space or the opportunities to love those who are different from me in the University setting. Sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, and art buffs are all people whom I have shamefully separated myself from on Grounds. It was not until the intimacy of this program that I have gotten to know and have been able to love these people, whom I probably would have never sat down with at UVA. I had only seen these people, without ever trying to get to know them. Each person on this program has proven to be a blessing and to be pivotal in the narrative God has written for my life. I have learned to look beyond our differences and love them anyway.
My heart is expanding in ways that can only be explained by the love of Christ. I am convicted that loving the person in front of me is loving Christ himself. As Christ reveals Himself in those around me, I will continue loving them with the purest of ways, with the love of Christ.
A veil? Veils? VEILING? This was basically my thought process when I first saw a woman wearing a veil at my home parish in Roanoke. I became curious about what a veil signified but never thought deeply about it until my first year of college when I started to attend daily Mass at the UVa Chapel. Three women always wore a veil to this Mass and I became enamored with the veil’s beauty. It occurred to me that maybe I should wear a veil, but I knew nothing about its meaning, so I brushed the thought aside.
However, as I continued to attend Mass and sit with the Blessed Sacrament at St. Thomas Aquinas, the thought of veiling kept reoccurring in my prayers. This thought consumed me for the next couple of months and I decided I NEEDED to know more about this tradition. I scoured the internet for hours at a time to discover its significance and I fell in love with the idea of wearing a veil for all its many beautiful reasons. It’s an outward expression of humility and whole-hearted submission to Christ; it imitates Our Lady’s fiat; and, since women represent the Church, the Bride, and men represent Christ, the Bridegroom, veils become a symbol and reminder of this spousal relationship between Christ and His Church.
After reading these, I saw veiling as a way to fulfill my desire of becoming closer to Jesus and like St. Faustina, “I want[ed] to be completely transformed into [His] mercy and to be [His] living reflection.” (Faustina, Dairy 163)
My second year rolled around, I finally decided to buy a veil. However, veils can be very expensive, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to commit to buying a $50 veil. I jokingly searched “free chapel veils” on Google. I wasn’t expecting many search results, but surprisingly I found a veil apostolate that gives out veils for free (except for shipping). The veil arrived at my apartment and I was very excited, but also nervous. I opened the package and instead of wearing the veil the first opportunity I had, I kept it on my desk for two months. Now that I had finally purchased the veil, I was too afraid to wear it. I feared what other people would think.
Every time I passed my desk, I was reminded that I was saying “no” to Jesus. After talking to a friend about these fears, she validated my feelings, but she also made me realize that if I am worried about others’ opinions about my veil then I am not veiling for Jesus, I am veiling for myself. She later offered to let me borrow her veil and ever since that night, I have been wearing a veil in the presence of Jesus.
Most importantly, I veil because the veil recognizes the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. God came down to humanity, suffered, and died to give us the gift of Himself contained in the tiny, white Host. Every Mass, the altar transforms into Heaven on Earth, where the angels and saints descend to sing the “Sanctus” with us, glorifying God by adoring His sacrifice on the altar. Once we receive the Lord through the act of Holy Communion, we become living, breathing tabernacles as Christ dwells within us. Everything that is holy and sacred in the church is veiled: the altar, the chalice of the Precious Blood, and the tabernacle. The veil is a proclamation that we become holy tabernacles of the Lord.
Wearing a veil is about more than theological reasons, it is a way for me to become more intimate with our Lord. As I fell in love with the person of Jesus, I wanted to become more radically His. I wanted to be changed by His love and mercy. St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said, “Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart…” He is there for me alone, so I am there for Him alone, and the veil becomes a sign of this submission to Jesus Christ.
I veil because Jesus is the Beloved Bridegroom and I am His beloved and I want to give all of myself to Him when I am in His presence.
The Pit and the Pendulum
I have waited for the Lord, and I have left Him waiting for me. I have run to the Lord, and I have run startling distances away from Him. My relationship with Christ has been tumultuous — due in no small part to the pits of destruction fallen into and formed of my accord, the muddy clay dwelled in by my own acquiescence, and the flailing feet I refused to let be steadied, choosing instead to persist in my own stubbornness, crushed by the weight and the ruling thumb of my own fears and inadequacies.
My faith, my relationship with Christ, has always seemed to abide on a pendulum, coming and going, ebbing and flowing depending not on how I perceived him to be — who I knew Him to be — but on how I perceived myself to be. Far too often, I think, we allow ourselves to succumb to the lie that we are unqualified for a relationship with Him and we allow ourselves to then disqualify ourselves from the love He consistently offers. I know I certainly have fallen and certainly still do fall into this pit — often when I least want it and when I least expect it.
The arc that the pendulum of my faith has followed possesses two extreme ends: a complete overwhelming desire for God and a complete overpowering contempt for self.
Rarely has the pendulum found itself at rest; rarely has it found itself settling at an equilibrium between the two extremes that have ruled my heart and my mind for a little over a decade. The highest of highs linger for a second, only to be swayed, combatted, and followed by a low of an equal and opposite emotional force. And so on and so forth the pattern has repeated itself, the pendulum swaying from one end to the other, drifting and gliding through empty space.
This repetitious, vicious cycle is one I have experienced time and again for years, always with different intervals between the painful peaks, the swift declines, the steady climbs. I remember it beginning at the age of fourteen when I was baptized into the United Methodist Church. I remember accepting Christ intellectually, recognizing the Truth of his existence, his divinity, his goodness, and beauty. I remember being able to accept all of these but being unable to extend my acceptance of Truth to what he said about me. I remember having the capacity and the audacity to tell God that I could believe what He has revealed about Himself, but that I was wholly unwilling and unable to believe in the beauty of His creation — well, one singular aspect of it: myself.
Throughout my life, I have made myself an exception, oftentimes the exception. The one that cannot be loved. The one that is not worthy. The one that is wholly undeserving. The one that defies that reality of being fearfully and wonderfully made. I have called God a liar. I have projected my own thoughts onto the Creator of Heaven and Earth. I have put up walls and barriers, plastering propaganda of the lies I have told myself across their surfaces — the lies I have told myself He has told me.
I have been wholly untethered, lost, and searching for answers, for pieces of a puzzle that seemed to be missing. I remember hitting my breaking point, kneeling and pleading and crying out to God on the floor of my first-year dorm. I remember the contentment — the reprieve — I found for a short while afterward. It was a contentment that lasted the duration it took Pride, in his often-used disguise of humility, to rear his inflated head and place his familiar hand upon my shoulder, luring me back into my own head. I remember searching for Christ on grounds but never fully committing, allowing my own insecurities and anxieties to perpetually turn me inward, afraid of vulnerability, and fretful of community. I remember desiring and wanting a relationship with Jesus but feeling ill-equipped and disqualified: a nuisance, a burden, an excess to what He could possibly ever want or need.
I remember seeing intellectual dishonesties and religious inconsistencies around me: yellow square tags and rainbow buttons cohabitating on the same backpacks. I remember being able to recognize this as an offense to His natural plan, but feeling incompetent, not knowledgeable enough, too distant from Him myself to confront it. I felt a hypocrite, a fraud, an imposter — the thoughts in my head inconsistent with the longing that had been ravaging my heart for years.
For a couple more years after all of this, the aimless roaming continued. I tried to relegate God to the background of my mind and compress Him into the recesses of my heart, convinced that I would never have the know-how to know Him in the way that I so desired. Yet, in the summer before my third year, I was left with an experience that would no longer allow for running. In a wooden pew towards the back of a sanctuary in a building I little thought I would one day call a second home, God confronted me with Truth, Goodness, Beauty; He confronted me with Himself. As I sat in a heap of muddled, raw emotions — confusion, shame, regret, awe, wonder, reverence, joy — I began to harbor a heavy heart at the realization that I had two options: accept Truth where I had seen it or continue to run. Sitting in a wooden pew, staring at a golden tabernacle, I came to see Christ’s face.
I came to Him face to face, found Him present in sacrifice, a sacrament, a space that had previously only ever been a symbol. Like many, I had floated, scrambled, trudged through life embodying the first half of something St. John Chrysostom once said: “Many people nowadays say, ‘I wish I could see his shape, his appearance, his clothes, his sandals.’” Yet, it wasn’t until this moment, attending Mass for the first time in my entire life, that the second half began to take shape, that it began to hold meaning in my own life: “Only look! You see him! You touch him! You eat him!”
I remember consistently and constantly wanting all of these things and more. I remember seeing how the Catholic faith — her Church and her beauty, the wonderful bride of Christ — held so much more depth and abundance, so much more care and dignity, so much more glory and reverence than I had ever been exposed to previously. And once I had been exposed to it I couldn’t help but to pursue it and then begin to see it in everything.
I remember being at a concert, witnessing the excitement and the build-up of emotions as the anticipation of the headliner coming on stage became palpable. I remember hearing the screams, the chatter, the cries, the laughter. I remember being surrounded by all of this commotion and emotion, yet being unable to focus on the moment I was in, wholly consumed by another. While most were preoccupied with what seemed like a once in a lifetime experience, a once in a lifetime encounter, I became entranced by the reality that the most important encounter we could ever possibly have is offered to us daily in the form of the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is present, able to be encountered and delighted in every single day. Only look and you can see him, touch him, eat him!
All of these things came full circle recently — the bonds that held me back and the truth that flung me forward — when a friend asked me if I felt I was known and loved. If I’m honest, I couldn’t really answer, knowing that my instinctive response was of nature I still longed to be rid of yet still had an infant’s grip on. It is here that my past and present collide, however, as that first encounter with Christ in the Eucharist — albeit from afar and not a direct connection — allowed me to know what it means to encounter Truth, to behold it in all its beauty and thus become beholden to it. So, it has never really mattered, the answer to that question, what I have felt, and what I have thought. It is more a matter of if I know it — if I am able and willing to accept Truth when it is revealed. For even when I cannot recognize Christ’s love for me and His knowing me, even when I falter into stubbornness and dig a pit for myself to fall into, even when I choose to deny these truths and linger in disbelief, even though I do not deserve it and have not earned it, this Truth remains: I am known and loved by Jesus Christ.
When all else fails, this truth remains. His love is constant, perpetual, existent outside of ourselves, and not contingent on what we can do or be for him. It is out of our control. It is a love that seeks to pick us up out of the pits of destruction, out of the muddy clay; it is a love that desires to steady our steps, to place us on a solid foundation that begins with him; it is a love whose authentic response is a new song from our lips — a song that praises him and gives all glory to the One who draws us up, the One who is overwhelmingly jealous for us.
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” ~Ephesians 4:3-6
Uno is one of the few card games I actually know how to play. You don’t care if the cards are bent, greasy, ripped, or have teeth marks of various sizes on them because the game is too fast-paced to really think about what that strange spot on the blue reverse card is. Growing up, I felt that the Lord had dealt all the right cards to me, and I was more than ready to win the game. I’m not really sure what I wanted when I was applying for colleges, I just knew that after over three hundred hours of volunteer service that I must have been close to my last card.
“Uno!” I shouted as I checked community service off my bucket list. At last, I didn’t have to help people anymore so a college admissions officer would think I’m a decent person. But in my celebration, I didn’t notice that the Lord had casually laid down a draw four wild cards.
I forgot who I was playing Uno with. The Lord isn’t just the wizard who knows how to shuffle the cards with the fancy waterfall technique or the quick dealer who never loses count. He’s not just a pro player or that lady who knows all the rules, but in fact, He is all of these and more. He literally invented the game. He wrote the rules, cut out the cards, and even put them in a cute little package for me.
But the crazy thing is that He didn’t stop there. He even went so far as to sit on the floor so He could play the game with me because He knows that since I don’t buy the required textbooks for my classes I probably didn’t read the instructions on the back of the box. The Lord wants to show me how to play the game so I can have “Uno” with others, that we may be one.
Just before Christ was crucified, one of the last things He wanted to do was to “pray not only for them but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17: 20-21). This is no mere game. “Uno” is what we were made for, it’s what Christ came to redeem. It’s so important that the Holy Eucharist can be called simply, “Communion”.
Weaving through the UVA first week activities fair, I was a little disappointed in the available clubs. Sure, Indian Beatboxing and Duck Watching sounded interesting, but I wanted to be a part of something deeper. Somehow I walked through what appeared to be ten different Christain fellowships packed in one row, each trying to get me hooked in a Bible study. I couldn’t find a way to say no, not because I’m a nice dude, but because the person in front of me stopped walking and the aisles were too thin to walk around. Trapped for a solid twenty minutes, I figured I would talk to some of the other campus ministries.
At first, I was hesitant to join any Protestant groups, but I decided that we had more commonalities than differences. I started going to a couple of different Bible studies, but one group instantly got me on board after the small group leader said, “If God is your everything, and God is their everything than you have everything in common.” I drew my four cards.
After months of “fellow-shopping”, Halloween rolled up in C-Ville. My small group leader invited me to participate in Trick or Treating on the Lawn with the fellowship, where I had the opportunity to experience “Uno” at UVA. We dressed up as Vikings and sword fought children for candy, occasionally posing for pictures along the way.
I’m not sure if it was the kids laughing, smiling parents, or the scruffy beard but something in that moment helped me see the oneness of the kingdom of God present among us here at UVA. Carrying the wooden ship down McCormick road while rocking traditional Viking garb was not something I had anticipated in my spiritual journey at college, but clearly, the Lord had better plans.
I’m going to conclude by plagiarizing one of Father David’s homilies but subtly adapting it to fit my theme: When you play Uno with the Lord, He wins. And when He wins, you win. Even if you don’t think you have a good hand, the Lord always provides you with all that you need, even if He has to drop a draw two cards to give it to you
by Caitlin Mea
February 13, 2020
“I found him whom my soul loves” ~Song of Songs 3:4
Last fall, I sat in the Adoration chapel. Among all the things that I could have been praying about: being in a new school, trying to make friends, and not being afraid to ask anyone for a ride home even when it’s dark, I was praying about the thing that I have been praying about for years… boys.
I finally realized that God would not lead me into a relationship until I was ready, and that getting ready involved a lot. I knew upfront that dating is a process of discernment, that I would not be defined by any one relationship, and that my fulfillment in life would not come from dating, or even marriage; it could only come from God. I needed to be in a relationship with God before I could be in a relationship with a significant other. No man can be my Savior except for Christ Himself, and no man’s love can fulfill me perfectly like Christ’s love does. However, knowing these facts was much different from understanding them or actually believing them.
I realized all that, and I wanted that relationship with God. “I’m doing it for Your sake, and not just so I can be ready to date.” I told God in prayer. I wanted to want God, and I believed that I was doing it for the sake of my relationship with Him, but I still couldn’t anchor my desires in Him alone. I was still feeling lonely and wanted love, validation, and emotional intimacy.
Fast forward a few months, and I was sitting in the back of a former FOCUS missionary’s car after FOCUS’s SEEK conference, driving from Indianapolis to Charlottesville. She told me about her experiences being on a dating fast during her time with FOCUS, she explained that it had led to much personal and spiritual growth.
So I, a single 19-year-old who had never dated before, decided to go on a dating fast…like fasting from meat on Fridays. Except, instead I’d be fasting from going on dates every day. No dates for me for the entire stretch between winter break and spring break. Gosh, this was going to be hard.
I didn’t really know what to call this, since you can’t really fast from something you didn’t have in the first place, so I explained it to others as “Jesus is my Number One, and there’s no room for a Number Two.” Emotionally, I was no longer single, and I focused my attention on Him whom my soul loves.
I decided to really commit to this new relationship. I would prioritize my time with Him. I would make a conscious effort to see Him. I started talking to Jesus the way I would talk to someone very close to me: when I was sad, I went to Him. When I was happy, I went to Him. When I was frustrated, I vented to Him. When I needed comfort, I welcomed His embrace, and He comforted me. These gradual results, however, were not the fruit of my own efforts in prayer. Jesus Himself guided me through many hours of Adoration. All I had to do was commit to letting Him be my Beloved, and He, in His love, pursued my heart.
In this relationship with Jesus, I found the intimacy with God that my heart had so desperately desired. I had someone to lean on and someone to love. God was able to show me who I was, and I could finally see myself as He sees me, rather than in the extremely critical way in which I had viewed myself before. I had needed this time to fall deeply in love with Jesus without any other distractions and to believe God after he had told me over and over how much He loves me.
So spring break came and went, my “dating fast” was over, and suddenly, the dates started pouring in. Just kidding. They didn’t. But finally, I truly believed and knew in my heart that being in a relationship with God wasn’t just a step to take before I was ready for a relationship, but it was the one relationship that I definitely needed, and could not go without. I knew who I was, and I had begun to have just a glimpse of the infinite love God has to offer us.
God is constantly calling us into a relationship with Him, and is always asking us to trust even more in Him, that we may fall deeper and deeper into His love. Say yes to Him, and allow Him to pursue your heart and love you in a way that no one else can.
This Valentine’s Day, remember to spend time with your Beloved.
Click . All that I’ve worked for these past four years. Click . Every single test, class, and homework assignment. Click . Lord, please. I’ve done everything that I could. I know this is where I belong. Enter . I’ve wanted this forever, Lord. Please. *Slowly scrolls down* . For a moment that I thought was going to be the most important one in my entire life, it was over in a flash. I remember lying on my bed, absolutely crushed that I had been rejected from Notre Dame. A few months later I officially committed to UVA (even after taking some slack for the loss to UMBC… I’d say I got the last laugh on that one).
Full disclosure, I was unsure about my choice to come to UVA. Was it the right decision? Was I rushing so as to avoid any extra stress? Should I go to a Catholic school like Villanova? These thoughts swirled through my head as I arrived on Grounds and met my super tall roommate as we moved into the best dorm at UVA (Tuttle > Lile).
I got to the pig roast and found a spot at one of the tables. I sat and sat and sat trying to think of how I was going to quickly make my escape (the inner introvert in me would’ve been screaming, but that would have taken too much social excursion). Eventually, I filled out an interest form and met some really cool Catholic students!
A couple of days later I received an email from a woman I had never met about meeting with her to discuss high school ministry at STA. I thought I was going to an interest meeting but that was not the case. Before long, I was holding a shirt in one hand, a taco in the other, and had a 150-page semester guide in front of me. I had been thrown into the EDGE team.
If you told me five years ago that I would be working with a youth ministry program I probably would have laughed and thought you were crazy. A few months ago, in prayer, I remember smiling and just thinking, You got me, God. Well played. At that moment, I was able to see the pieces that God had laid before me and put them together (although let’s be honest, He put them together it just took me years to see them).
In high school, I had been involved in ministry and grew close to a few mentors who were invested in me. They led to understanding and fully taking on the faith as my own. I went into my college search with the idea that I had to go to a Catholic school because only there would my faith be nourished and challenged. God had other (much better) plans. He (lovingly) slapped me across the face and said, Trust me, and led me to Charlottesville. He gave me Catholic friends who would walk with me towards Him. I thought that I would come here and study to be a diplomat, but God had bigger plans.
Working with EDGE middle school ministry has been one of the highlights of my UVA experience. Each Sunday, forty kids come to EDGE following the 5:15 mass for two hours of food, games, and Christ! We start each night with dinner following the example of the Apostles (Acts 2:42). Following our shared meal (normally homemade!), we play a large group game ranging from anything like life-size foosball to the mini-Olympic games. The night is highlighted by a talk and the small group discussion that follows. For me, the small groups have been an absolute blessing. Working with the 7th-grade boys is definitely an amazing opportunity to serve the Lord through these youth (when they are not trying to tackle me!). As with all good things, we end the night with some form of prayer; a beautiful way to send the kids out for the rest of the week rooted in their faith.
Mary’s “fiat” is the perfect example of listening to God’s will, not out of submission, but out of unrelenting trust. Her example is one that always points to Christ and one that I have grown a strong devotion towards over the past year. I challenge each of you to listen in prayer to where you are called to serve the Lord and our STA community whether it be through something like EDGE or one of the many other ministries we offer. Following God’s will has guided me to the absolute best place for me and I am honestly in awe of his plan. Step back, look up, and find the pieces he has put before you. Even if they are not all there yet, He will give them to in time. All you have to do is have the courage to say yes and put them together.
We are always looking for more EDGE and Lifeteen (High school ministry) volunteers. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]!
St. Maximilian Kolbe
St. Maximilian Kolbe has become a spiritual director for me. Having learned he was my namesake, I sought out to learn his story in the hope that something may resonate with me. And what I discovered was a man constantly giving, full of courage, and his endurance in suffering.
While in Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed not only his time and security by meeting with others to pray and hear confessions (something that if caught would’ve received severe punishment) but, also his physical wellbeing by sharing his already devastated cut food rations with others.
This constant giving to others struck me, as in my own life I find it hard to think about those around me. To think about how my words or actions impact them, or how their needs may precede mine, and even in those few moments I try to be accommodating, there seems to be an underlying selfishness to it all.
And yet, here is St. Maximilian Kolbe, in that place where every man was beaten down physically and spiritually, to the point that their own survival became the dominant fear on their everyday minds, giving to others so gracefully. How could I give to others in that situation, when I hardly give myself to them in a place of comfort? I thought to myself before it struck me, that this all came out of a deep and true love of his neighbor.
After a prisoner escaped, St. Maximilian and his fellow prisoners were lined up, awaiting the decision if they would be one of the ten killed in that prisoner’s place. After a man was chosen, he broke down crying and pleading it not be him for the sake of his wife and children, St. Maximilian stepped forth (against the rules) and said:
“I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.”
“Who are you?”
The Commandant agreed, and St. Maximilian was sent to starve to death with the nine others. In a moment where that fear of death was pounding in the minds of all the inmates, St. Maximilian saved a life by giving his.
This sacrifice is so awestrucking because of how easily he was able to stand up to deep-rooted hatred, to share God’s love. Often times, I find myself retreating away from even the simple expressions of love such as saying grace when around strangers out of a fear that they would mock me. Yet, St. Maximilian could stand up to the Nazis, risking not only his life but maybe possibly even the man’s life, to share it. But, it worked, the man was saved and St. Maximilian was able to save nine other’s souls.
While locked in a room, with no food and the only water their own micturition, St. Maximilian lead them in frequent prayers, heard their confessions, and wished the conversion of those imprisoning him. He used his immense suffering as an offering to the Lord.
I suffer, too, though not as intense a way. Yet, do I ever offer that suffering to God? When it’s cold, I don’t say a Hail Mary or a Glory Be. When I’m behind on homework, I instead give up sleep. And when I’m hungry, I go and get something to eat. If St. Maximilian in these moments of great suffering can still find closeness to God, then so should I in the mild inconveniences of day to day life.
He eventually died in that room, though not from starvation, but lethal injection. The Nazis had gotten impatient with the prolonged death.
St. Maximilian shows how to take as a standard for our lives and our actions; the insanity that constitutes all saints, the love for others, and the love for God. Obviously, it is hard, especially on our part, but he shows us that it is possible to continuously love.
And so, I encourage us all to pray more. Pray to St. Maximilian Kolbe, that we may be able to dedicate our lives to God and for others. Pray to the Blessed Mother that we gain a tender love for those whom we fear. And pray to the Lord that in and through our suffering we may grow closer to him on the cross.
May We Never Forget 09/11/01
September 11, 2019
18 years. That is such an exciting point in our lives. We are finally old enough to vote, and even if you don’t always feel like it, you are officially an adult. Thus it is hard to believe that it has been 18 years since the events of September 11, 2001. It has been 18 years since we were completely shaken as a nation. On that day, everything changed. National security was changed forever. For some the event brought them closer to God, but others were left questioning how He could let something like this happen.
I was alive when it happened, but I am not old enough to remember. My mom told me that she was dropping me off at the babysitter’s when my father called her to let her know what happened. My parents were both stuck in a state of “What if?” They had both lived in Washington D.C. and had worked jobs that sent them to the Pentagon on numerous occasions. If God had not brought them together and given them the faith to move away from high paying jobs to the safety of the country, they could easily have been in the Pentagon that day. So many people around the world have stories such as these.
I have read so many stories of the kindness and humility of people as a result of the attacks, but one has stuck with me. As a musical theater buff, I became familiar with this story largely through the musical Come From Away. On the island of Newfoundland, Canada, there is a town called Gander which used to have one of the largest airports in world. It was used as a fuel stop for planes crossing the Atlantic, but with the creation of jets, the airport and the town had become forgotten. The population of the town at the time was approximately 9,000. When the four planes were hijacked, the American airspace became closed and all transatlantic flights had to be diverted, including 38 of which were diverted to Gander. In a matter of hours, the population of the town grew by 7,000. But that town did not see a potential threat. They did not see an inconvenience. They only saw children of God who were in need of help.
The people of Gander provided the “plane people” with food, water, shelter, medical attention, and prayers. The needs of the people were met by a town that was not equipped to handle an extreme overnight increase in the population. We can see God’s work in these people of Gander. They did not hesitate to help the strangers, many of whom did not speak English. One of my favorite quotes from the musical comes from an interaction between a Canadian and an African:
“But then I notice his wife — well, she’s clutching a Bible. Now, obviously I can’t read it, but their Bible — it’ll have the same number system ours does — so I ask to see it
And I’m searching for something and then, in Philippians 4:6, I give ‘em their Bible and I’m pointing, saying: ‘Look! Philippians 4:6 — Be anxious for nothing. Be anxious for nothing!’ And that’s how we started speaking the same language.”
I am a firm believer in two things: that God never gives us more than we can handle, and that everything happens according to God’s plan. Despite the horror of the attacks, God brought those travelers and the people of Gander together for a reason. He needed the townspeople to act in His name and show the travelers His love. One this day, let us never forget those that went to God. But let us also never forget how His love was shown in a little town called Gander and around the world 18 years ago.
Prayer of Remembrance for 9/11 (from Old St. Patrick’s Church of Chicago):Lord of Mercy, Prince of Peace,
This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory.
This day does not pass in the calendar without our remembering.
We remember images of death and destruction. Images that human eyes were never meant to see. We remember words our ears were never meant to hear, the tender last words of husbands and wives who would never embrace again.
We imagine the feeling of emptiness in the arms of children who at the end of the day could not find mom or dad for their welcome home hug. We remember our own feelings of emptiness as our sense of security, as our own confidence in the predictable order of life and work was radically shaken.
This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory.
We remember the heroism of the many that lost their lives in saving others. We remember all those who suffered and died, we grieve for them still, friends and strangers alike, along with their families and friends.
This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory.
And it is right that it should not pass from our memory. But today and in this prayer, along with our remembrance of profound loss, it also seems right that we give voice to our deep longing for peace, and with this prayer, commit ourselves to those actions that will draw us closer to our most ancient and most holy desire, peace among all God’s children.
Dona nobis pacem.
Lord, grant us peace. Amen.
Photo by: Carlos Restrepo via Shutterstock
Reilly Price is a second year Biology major and Dance minor. She is currently the Website and Aesthetics Coordinators for Catholic Hoos. She is also the Concert/Event Chair for the Dance Committee and Dance Minor Program. In her free time she enjoys long-distance running, reading, watching Netflix, and praying the Rosary. Her favorite saint is St. Teresa of Calcutta.