After three years of medical school, I am taking a leave of absence to enter religious life as a Religious Sister of Mercy (RSM) of Alma, MI, on August 1st! Though I first felt called in fifth grade, I turned away and even rebelled against my call numerous times, but God kept pouring graces into my heart until I couldn’t resist Him. My call is now so persistent and irresistible that I must go – and I am going so joyfully!
Let’s rewind to high school – I wanted to live what I saw as a “normal life.” Though I prayed daily, went to Steubenville, and joined Most Holy Trinity (MHT) parish events, I often went through the motions and did the minimum in my faith. I remember weeping in Adoration during a MHT high school retreat since I was away from God. Suddenly, Fr. Mathias Thelen walked to the podium and said, “I feel that God wants me to say: ‘My daughter, you can always come back to me.’” I began crying even harder because I knew God was speaking to me.
At Michigan State University (MSU), my faith was challenged for the first time, and I became so thankful for my strong faith foundation instilled by MHT and my parents. I began claiming my faith for my own, but I still tiptoed into a deeper relationship with our Lord. Because God’s tug on my heart persisted, I went on my first “Nun Run” (visiting multiple convents) through the Lansing diocese during my sophomore year. I felt pulled toward the RSMs during our visit, but I was freaked out by this real possibility. I was afraid of what God might ask me to do if I said “yes” to Him.
During this time, the Holy Spirit gave me the idea to become a “Mother Teresa physician.” Though I always planned to go straight from undergrad to medical school, I felt a stirring in my heart to devote a year in service beforehand. Through the Catholic Volunteer Network, I chose the Franciscan Change a Heart program, through which I would serve with the Street Medicine program of Pittsburgh Mercy Health (founded by the RSMs!). Before leaving for Pittsburgh, I still felt curious about the RSMs, so I requested a visit.
Journal entry from July 2015: “Today, I was supposed to go to Holy Hour with the Alma Mercy Sisters. I had been praying up to this day that God would open my heart to His Will and give me the courage to accept whatever vocation He has for me. This morning while trying to fall back asleep by repeating Hail Mary prayers, I had a vision in black and white. Jesus was on an altar, and I could barely see His face, but I knew it was Him. I immediately fell prostrate on the steps before Him, and He said, ‘Brianne, do you love me?’ I answered, ‘Yes,’ and He said, ‘Then come follow Me.’ I know this was Jesus speaking because my soul burned for hours afterwards, just like it does during Adoration.”
I was then quite surprised that the Sisters requested we postpone my visit. Encouraged by this vision, I finally visited the weekend before moving to Pittsburgh. I prayed fervently that God would speak to me. While in Adoration with the RSMs, I asked if God wanted me to enter. He clearly and gently said, “Not right now.” I wasn’t sure if He meant not ever, or just not at that time, but I then felt at peace leaving for Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh, I fell in love with serving people struggling with homelessness. They taught me so much about our own humanity and the dignity of each person. I vividly remember visiting a client under a bridge when I suddenly saw Jesus in Him. I was quite taken aback, but there Jesus was in this man.
Feeling at peace when my volunteer year ended, I began medical school with the idea of religious life remaining on a shelf. While visiting home during my second year, I journaled: “I was in the MHT church sitting on the bottom step of the altar. It was a beautiful, peaceful time with God. I kept asking, ‘Lord, how much do You love me?’ I looked up at the crucifix with Jesus nailed to the cross, arms spread wide apart, and He said, ‘This much.’”
Soon after, I felt God stirring in my heart again. I was surprised that dating now felt wrong – almost like I was cheating on God since I was not being true to what He was asking of me. I began longing for time in Adoration as I searched for the meaning of this renewed stirring (yet, I couldn’t help thinking, “Seriously, Lord, You’re potentially asking me to enter in the middle of medical school?!”).
Throughout the ensuing months of summer, my relationship with our Lord grew deeper than ever before. I did not realize how rich our faith and a relationship with Him could be! The question of my vocation went from years ago of, “Maybe I am called to religious life,” to the past couple years of, “I think I might be called,” to now, “I am called to religious life.” Daily, I prayed, “When, where, and how, Lord?” God was patient with me for so long, and He now asked me to be patient with Him.
Another Nun Run was offered in November when I happened to be off from clinical rotations. I prayed, “Lord, I will go. Please reveal your plan to me in a way that I can understand.” The last stop was with the RSMs. As we pulled into their driveway, my heart skipped a beat as I realized their entire house had been imprinted in my mind from my Nun Run six years previously. During this visit, I felt so strongly called to their Institute that if I had not been in medical school, I would have requested to enter that day! Filled with joy and wonder, I prayed, “Lord, if this is what You want for me, this is all that my heart desires.”
Trusting that God would provide the way, I scheduled a MSU academic advising meeting to discuss taking a leave of absence from medical school to enter religious life. Aware that I may encounter resistance, I repeatedly asked God to help the advisor (whom I had never met) be open to this possibility. When our meeting day arrived, I explained my request, and she responded, “I lived with a community of religious Sisters for two years before discerning God was calling me to marriage!” Awestruck, I thought, “Woah, Lord! You completely delivered!” The MSU advisor then assisted me with the process, and said she would pray for me.
I then spent four days with the RSMs over Christmas break. Within a couple of hours, I knew I was called there. I felt more at home with the RSMs than anywhere else I’ve lived in years. Jesus radiates so vibrantly from each Sister. I told one of the Sisters how spoiled I felt to be with them during their Christmas retreat, and she responded with a smile, “God will continue spoiling you!”
I have since been accepted to the RSMs (praise God!), and I enter on August 1st, 2019! I never dreamed that I would enter religious life in the middle of medical school, so I am convinced this can only be the work of the Holy Spirit.
Though many RSMs are practicing physicians in their ministry, it is possible that I may not be called back to medical school. With our vow of obedience, this decision will not be in my hands, but it is completely my choice to surrender this possibility into God’s hands! I am amazed by how little fear I feel – for I trust that whatever God has in store is way more amazing than anything I could plan. By embracing my vocation, I do not feel that I am letting go of myself, but rather, I am becoming more of myself.
I struggled with, “How can God be calling me, when I’ve messed up and turned away countless times?” But God loves to work through the sinner if we let Him. After years of living in the secular world, I found that He is full of such great richness that the world cannot offer. Jesus is all that will ever quench the thirsting of my soul. Since saying “yes” to my vocation, my heart has been so peaceful and full of joy that it’s as if His joy has overflowed into my own heart. I am excited to jump into His embrace! All praises be to God, now and forever!
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely.” -St. Catherine of Siena
This weekend, I’m kicking off our investment fundraiser for the youth traveling to the Steubenville Youth Conference. This conference holds a special place in my heart because it’s where myself and countless others encountered the Lord for the first time.
Steubenville also has a special place in our youth ministry that many people have seen before. I think possibly it’s become such a regular event in our schedule that it’s lost some of the priority that it had in the past. I think all the events that we put on and take part in during the year are important, but Steubenville is where our whole ministry year culminates. It’s where some people meet the real person of Jesus Christ for the first time, or are reconvicted that Jesus is real and actually cares about them. To have that experience with 2,000 others and 80 people that you know from your everyday life is a unique opportunity and can’t be matched anywhere else.
Steubenville is also where I get to see how much all my leaders have grown over the year and how much they are going to show Christ to those around them. An example of this was one of our students went to the weeklong LEAD program last year and was picked out of 60 kids to speak before Saturday night adoration during the regular Steubenville weekend. I’ve discipled this student for the past 5 years, and seeing her step onto that stage and share what Jesus has done for her was an extremely powerful moment. Where else can you get an opportunity like that? It was powerful for that student in particular, but it was also very powerful for our group to see her step up like that..
Over the last year especially, I know that the Lord has been putting things together for our community of youth in Fowler. There is a desire and a hunger for Jesus that I haven’t seen across all grades since I’ve been here. The Holy Spirit has been stirring hearts individually and I believe that the youth of our parish will grow together even more in the spiritual life. We almost broke the record of the largest amount of kids that went on the High School Retreat, and we have had a huge growth in numbers on Mission: Wixom, our Spring Break Trip, and our 8th grade retreat. We have great kids in our parish that need God in their life, and I want to facilitate their faith journey and their growth. I would like to invite you to join us in this mission. Below is a list of all of the youth that are currently signed up for this years conference. Please consider praying for each person listed below.
I am very grateful for the tremendous support members of our parish have showed our youth over the past few years by donating to offset the cost of this trip. This year’s cost is $300 per student and we would invite you to help us once again. Making an investment in any of our youth now will not only create these opportunities to help them grow, but it will also feed the future of our parish life. Thanks again for all of your support!
Suffering is one of the great human mysteries. Why do we suffer? Why does God allow suffering in our world? These are questions people have been asking since the beginning of time.
Suffering is very real and very personal. There are no simple answers. Suffering is complex and challenging. We often want simple and easy answers. But there are none when it comes to suffering. In what follows, I will try to provide some starting points for further thought and prayer, but please forgive me if anything I say comes across as if I am not taking seriously any real-life suffering you may be experiencing. My hope is that will not be the case, and that amid the suffering of this world each of us will find strength, comfort, and meaning in our faith and be willing to do the difficult work of prayer and seeking answers.
In order to understand the question of suffering, we need to look at three things:
· Sin and its consequences
· Can suffering have meaning?
· The Good News: The power of faith and the possibility of healing
Sin and its consequences: Christian revelations teaches us that what God values above all is relationship. But for relationship to be meaningful, it must be freely chosen; for it to be freely chosen, there must be the possibility of it being rejected; and wherever there is the possibility of rejecting relationship, there is also the possibility of pain and suffering.
The truth is that God never intended us to suffer and die. But our first parents, Adam and Eve chose to disobey and brought death and suffering into the world. And before we go blaming Adam and Eve, we have to face the fact that we too choose to sin and act selfishly and we perpetuate the effects of sin in our world. I think that our pride often gets into the way of our being willing to admit the truth. God created us in freedom, in love, and we freely chose to reject His laws. This reminds us of one of the first steps for us as Christians, that we must come to a point where we admit we are sinners and we are responsible – we must stop blaming and pointing fingers. We, not God, not anybody else is responsible for my choices. The truth is, once we admit our sinfulness, there is a type of healing that takes place in us. As Jesus taught, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
Can suffering have meaning?: There is a modern heresy in many evangelical churches today, called “the prosperity Gospel.” These churches claim that authentically turning our lives over to Jesus immediately results in abundant health and financial prosperity. The idea seems to be that faithful Christians should never be poor or experience sickness.
First of all, this contradicts the Gospel. Jesus taught, “If you want to be a disciple of mine, you must pick up your cross every day and follow me.” He also challenged one of His potential disciples, the rich young man: “You are lacking one thing, Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and come follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)
We don’t go and look for suffering, but suffering and the cross are simply a part of discipleship. The truth is, Jesus’ passion and death also gave meaning to suffering. Suffering and death were not part of God’s original plan for the world. They came along as fallout from the sin of Adam. Nevertheless, Jesus never promised to rid the world of suffering. But he did show us that suffering can be embraced and offered back to God the Father as a kind of atonement for sins and for others.
St. Augustine said that God “would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, as the Supreme Good, he is able to bring forth good out of evil” (“On Faith, Hope, and Love,” iii, 11). Maybe the best example of this was how God took the suffering of Good Friday and brought forth the Resurrection of Easter Sunday. God the Father’s sending of his only Son to suffer and die for our redemption shows his deep love for us. That alone should remind us (and maybe even those without a strong faith) of God’s love for mankind.
The Good News: The power of faith and the possibility of healing: First, and foremost, I want to say that for believers, everyone of us will be healed. Whenever I anoint someone with the Sacrament of the Sick, I always say:
“Lord, help us to remember that the ultimate healing we will experience is to be with You forever in heaven.” Even for those who are healed in this life, that doesn’t remove all suffering and the other challenges of life. Miracles and miraculous healing are signs, not ends in themselves. They are signs of God’s love and Him revealing Himself to us.
Having said that, miraculous healing is wonderful and is to be welcomed. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, writes that “Healing is an essential dimension of the apostolic mission and of Christian faith in general. It can even be said that Christianity is a ‘therapeutic religion, a religion of healing.’”
Let us remember, Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. But he would die again one day. All of Jesus’ healings are signs. They are signs of the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world, and they are signs that God does want us to be whole and know that He loves us. So why isn’t everyone healed? First, everyone can experience healing. It’s just that the healing God wants for us may not be the healing that we think we should experience. In my ministry over the years, many times people need to experience spiritual and inner healing first. Some people have lived very dark lives. Some have been traumatized by life through no fault of their own. So sometimes God needs to allow us to invite Him inside of us so that we can be healed emotionally and spiritually.
The truth is, this world is very broken, and sometimes our brokenness causes us to turn from God and become bitter and cynical. How many times I’ve seen addicted people who have become so manipulative and obsessed with the need for control. Some people give into their rebellious and sinful nature. Remember faith is a decision, to be free means that we can freely choose to reject God.
In the end, only God knows, in His wisdom, His plan for our lives. But we must choose and invite Him into our hearts. No one can do that for us.
Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada struggled with this issue for a long time. As she recounts in her book, she sought physical healing of her quadriplegia. She prayed and fully believed that God would heal her. In her words, “I certainly believed. I was calling up my girlfriends saying, ‘Next time you see me I’m going to be running up your sidewalk. God’s going to heal me’” Yet Joni is still in a wheelchair today, 45 years after the accident that left her paralyzed. God did not physically heal her. Yet, her perspective is one of great faith: “God may remove your suffering, and that will be great cause for praise. But if not, He will use it, He will use anything and everything that stands in the way of His fellowship with you. So let God mold you and make you, transform you from glory to glory. That’s the deeper healing” God will not be put into a box.
The question we need to ask in any given situation is, what does God want? Does He desire to heal the individual in this life, or does He have another plan to show His glory through weakness? Someday, all sickness and death will be eradicated. Until then, there is a greater healing, the cleansing of sinful hearts, that God performs every day.
On the image of Divine Mercy are the words: “Jesus, I trust in You.” I want to ask all of us this question. Do we really trust Him? Can we love Him whether we’re healed in the way we think God should heal us? Or is God calling us to be like Joni Tada? One thing is sure, God is sovereign and supremely wise.
Our next Holy Spirit Encounter is Friday, June 7th at 7:00 pm. in our church. I would like to invite all of you to come and be open to whatever God has in store for you.
The picture above is one of my favorite religious images. It’s an icon of the resurrection, specifically, of Jesus’ descent into “the place of the dead”. This is the event we remember every time we say the line in the Apostles’ Creed about Jesus “descended into hell”. After his death, Jesus went to the place where the righteous figures from the Old Testament were waiting for the Messiah to defeat sin and raise them to Heaven.
Notice in this icon that Jesus is clothed in the white robes of resurrection, and the robes are flowing upward, like he’s dramatically breaking through the ceiling of Hell to rescue the souls waiting there. The two people Jesus is holding onto are Adam and Eve, the people who started this whole mess in the first place.
When we reflect on Jesus’ passion and death we often focus on how our sins caused Jesus to suffer this way. There’s a lot of truth in this kind of reflection, the Catechism says “our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross” (CCC 598). However, I think we also sometimes forget that Jesus freely suffered and died because of how much he loves us. The Catechism goes on to say, “In suffering and death [Jesus’] humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death” (CCC 609).
Jesus didn’t become man and die on the cross in order to scold us and make us feel bad about our sins. He did all that to show us how much God loves us, how good God is. Jesus suffered through all the torture and humiliation because that’s how desperately he loved Adam and Eve...that's how desperately he loves me. The cross is a symbol of God’s goodness!
Go back to the icon and notice the skeleton in chains there at the bottom. This figure represents sin and death. Suffering and death are not part of God’s plan for us, rather, they are things that God allows because of our free choice to reject God and reject life. Jesus came as a conquering king. He came to bring about the Kingdom of God and to destroy sin, suffering, and death. God didn’t create these terrible things but he took them upon himself. Everything that causes us to suffer, everything that kills us, Jesus freely let kill him. Then he defeated them.
This isn’t merely an historical event. God wants to enter into every one of our deaths, into everything that kills us, whether it’s illness, suffering, depression, loneliness, etc., and transform it. And he wants to do that right now, not just after we die and go to Heaven.
God became man, God suffered on a cross, so that we may experience healing, so that we may be restored, so that we may receive the Holy Spirit, so that we may become God. Jesus didn’t come to simply bring us back to the Garden of Eden, he came to transform us, glorify us, and share his Divine Life with us.
And this transformation isn’t our work, it’s God’s work. We cannot heal ourselves or make ourselves Holy, but God can. And all God asks for is our consent, our cooperation. We can stop carrying these burdens ourselves. We can stop trying to be perfect. We can stop beating ourselves up when we struggle with a habitual sin. We just have to surrender our sins and weaknesses to God and let him transform us step by step. We don’t have to convince God to love us, forgive us, heal us, or transform us. We just have to let him.
As we celebrate Easter, I encourage you to take a few moments and reflect on this infinite love that God has for you personally. Ask the Lord how he wants to heal you, how he wants to transform you next. Reflect on what’s keeping you from accepting that next step. Is it sin, fear, shame, or feeling unworthy of his love? Surrender all of that to the Lord and let him heal you.
I want to end by sharing a passage from the pope’s recent letter to young people. I encourage you to open your heart to our Holy Father’s words and let them settle deeply there:
“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you’. It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not. I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved.
...For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands. That is why he is concerned about you and looks to you with affection...He does not keep track of your failings and he always helps you learn something even from your mistakes. Because he loves you. Try to keep still for a moment and let yourself feel his love. Try to silence all the noise within, and rest for a second in his loving embrace.
...The second great truth is that Christ, out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you. His outstretched arms on the cross are the most telling sign that he is a friend who is willing to stop at nothing....The same Christ who, by his cross, saved us from our sins, today continues to save and redeem us by the power of his total self-surrender. Look to his cross, cling to him, let him save you, for ‘those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness’” (Christus Vivit 112-119).
Christ is risen, truly risen. Alleluia!
As we enter Holy Week, the solemn atmosphere of Palm Sunday prepares us for the mysteries of Holy Week. We are journeying with Our Lord toward His life-giving Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The Son of God came into the world “to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37) and “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Holy Week guides us to Golgotha and beyond—to the empty tomb.
Father Sergius Bulgakov wrote, “The beauty, the richness and the power of these services take possession of the soul and sweep it along as upon a mystic torrent” .
During Holy Week we are challenged to do our best to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ, to enter in to His life-giving mysteries which can become a source of life for us. Holy Week draws upon all our emotions, sadness, fear, contemplation and joy. Try to put aside worldly entertainments and invite some quiet and time for reflection so that you can enter deeply into Holy Week.
In a special and unique way during Holy Week, each one of us receives Christ as our personal Savior, and it is possible to make our own all the events of Christ’s life through personal experience, to whatever extent we can. Holy Week is a “now event” that occurred once in time but is always happening outside time.
At the services of Holy Week, we enter into the “today” of the events being made present again to the saving power of God’s love. Thus, we are not simply commemorating a past event for its dramatic impact or presenting something of a passion play. Rather, the Holy Spirit makes present again the event of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. We see this in the saints who knew that Easter was not a single day of the year, but an eternal reality in which they participated daily.
That means that our presence at the Holy Week services confronts us with a series of choices and decisions, as it did the original participants: to be with Christ or to be with any of those who chose to crucify Him. Will our lives reveal us as imitators of the sinful but repentant woman, or as imitators of Judas the betrayer? Do we show signs of repentance or do we betray Christ in the small events of daily living? Or, perhaps like those for whom a moment of decision was at hand, we remain apathetic bystanders whose very indecisiveness keeps us distant from the company of Christ. This is essential to bear in mind precisely because we are referring to actual, concrete historical events that occurred at a particular place in time among a particular people. As we contemplate the harsh realities of a fallen and sinful world that is even capable of putting Christ to death, we need to mourn human corruption as it even tempts us within our institutions and within our hearts today. Would any one of us have stepped forward to defend Christ when unjustly condemned, or would our own passivity and fear have left Him just as alone and isolated today as during the end of His earthly ministry? Yet, God was “working” throughout this unbearable human drama to fulfill His will for our eternal salvation. Christ was not the victim of an unjust verdict, but the Victor who was fulfilling His vocation as the Suffering Servant who would be vindicated by Easter Sunday. Just as Saint Peter was forgiven his weakness and restored to fellowship with his Lord, so are we today, by the grace of God so abundantly poured out for us this Holy Week.
Over the last year, we’ve had 6 Healing Services and Holy Spirit Encounters. These are the landmarks of what’s been a noticeable shift in our ministry, and it begs the question: why this shift? Where are we going?
I’m going to start by saying that two years ago, I went to a healing service at another parish and I hated it. I was in a really tough place in my life and felt stuck. I had a vague hope of experiencing relief from depression, but I walked into that church and felt like I had no idea what was happening. Everyone was so excited to be there, and seemed to know to arrive over an hour early so as to be toward the front of the church. Then, as soon as individual prayer teams were announced, there was a huge line in a matter of seconds, a line which would move 2 feet in the course of 30 minutes. If someone would have suggested incorporating Holy Spirit-driven healing ministry into parish life at Most Holy Trinity to me right after that event, I can’t say my response would have been music-minister appropriate!
As a staff, we had a lot of questions after our varied experiences with the healing event I just mentioned, so we started reading, researching, and talking to people already involved in these ministries. Ultimately this lead to a huge perspective shift in our approach to parish ministry, encapsulated in these basic concepts:
Three of our staff, including myself, have been attending a weekly class with Encounter Ministries this academic year. One of our first homework assignments was to read the Gospel of Mark and write down every instance of supernatural power, including healing, deliverance from evil spirits, miraces, and prophetic revelation. There are 16 chapters in that Gospel, and not a single one of them lacks one of these demonstrations of power; in total, I recorded 70 instances. If you took out all of these, you’d be left with a couple measly paragraphs. This evidences our first prerogative shift: Jesus wasn’t just here to tell people to love each other. He came to reveal the Father’s love in power. Healing and prophecy were the very essence of his mission.
It’s really incredible that as Christians, we go our entire lives reading the Gospels and not noticing this. We fixate on Christ’s moral teachings without realizing that these were preceded by demonstrations of God’s desire to bring healing and wholeness to the world.
This is all well and good, but even in recognizing this, it’s easy to put up a mental wall between what Jesus did and what we’re called to do as Christians. We’re eager to do what Jesus told us to do in his teachings, but pick and choose which acts of his to imitate. I’m guilty of this; I like to bring God’s love into the world in ways that are more comfortable for me, or at least not as intimidating to the people I encounter. Healing and prophecy are for Jesus and the really holy people; I can take care of encouraging others and volunteering and praying in solitude.
But Jesus’ commission is not that comfortable. When he tells us to “make disciples of all nations,” he also says “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” We know what Jesus did, and it was a lot more than preach. He healed, he drove out demons, he gave people encouraging and challenging words for their futures. And contrary to our experiences, He meant for those acts to be commonplace in Christianity. He spent so much time with his apostles modeling supernatural power and then challenging them to do the same. He was inviting them to become more like himself, to share in His authority and union with the Holy Spirit. Things didn’t always work out for them, and at times the disciples returned to Jesus frustrated because they were unable to heal or deliver someone. But he doesn’t say “I’ll take care of it, stop trying.” He explains and equips them to go out and do more. He promises to give them His Spirit to make these things possible.
If the Gospel of Mark becomes a few scattered paragraphs when we remove supernatural ministry, the Acts of the Apostles does the same. This book is a picture of the early Church, the field in which the Apostles go out and literally do what Jesus did. Again, we can paint the early Christian church as simply a warm community of people who shared everything and prayed together. But when we look at it through a new lens, we can see Jesus’ powerful works carried on in his disciples.
Why is this important? Because the very prayer we were instructed to pray by Jesus asks for the Father’s will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” There is no suffering in Heaven, no sickness, no emotional brokenness. We’re missing out on so much when we believe that Earth is a pit of suffering and we just have to make it until Heaven for everything to be better. While it is true that pain and loss are to an extent inevitable experiences, God wants to begin Heaven now in us. He wants to break into our sickness and pain through others, and He wants to use us to break through others’ suffering. He wants to invite us into loving intimacy with Him now, not just after we die.
In summary, there has been a major shift in our parish ministry because it has become apparent that healing and transformation aren’t just a kind of Christian lifestyle. They are the very building blocks of Christian life and ministry.
We are going to spend a few articles explaining this concept further, including how to understand suffering in light of this knowledge. Our hope is to lay the building blocks for seeing God’s power in a new way, and ultimately to invite you into this journey of healing and transformation. We’re learning along with you, and are excited to continue to see God’s work in our parish community. Please consider inviting God in a new way at the Holy Spirit Encounter this Sunday at 7:00 PM. He wants to love you and make you whole. Let’s allow His kingdom to truly come on Earth as it is in Heaven!'
Thirty-two young adults from our parish will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation this Monday, April 1st, from Bishop Boyea. So I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about Confirmation and encourage you to pray for them in a way perhaps you haven’t before.
First, it’s good to step back and look at what sacraments are and their role in our life. I think we are so used to the sacraments that we forget how essential they are to our Christian faith.
The Catechism says that sacraments “are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (Catechism 1131). Without all the big words, this is saying that the sacraments are the primary ways that Jesus set up for us to encounter Him and be transformed into His likeness.
Catholics often speak of grace as sort of a spiritual vitamin or a divine energy boost. That is, we speak of grace as something added to our efforts that makes them holy or fruitful. But this isn’t true. Rather, grace is the very life of God within us, transforming us into God. Next time you go to Mass pay attention to the words the priest says at the altar as he mixes the water and wine, “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
Jesus instituted Confirmation then, together with all the other Sacraments, so that we might participate in His Divine Life. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers of the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the Son of God (Catechism 1129). Thus, in Confirmation, The Holy Spirit anoints the candidate with Himself, bringing the candidate into a more profound union with God.
In other words, Confirmation is not merely something we do, or even something we receive. Rather, it is a necessary moment in God's plan, God's unwavering desire, to draw each one of us deeper into the Life of the Blessed Trinity.
Further, to understand Confirmation we need to look to Pentecost. The Catechism says that the effect of Confirmation “is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (1302). The second reading for the Confirmation Mass describes what that outpouring of the Spirit looked like at Pentecost:
“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:2.4).
The book of Acts goes on to say that three thousand people were baptized that day and that the Apostles went on to perform many signs, wonders, and miraculous healings. This is the kind of life that was normal for the first few centuries of the Church. This is the kind of life available to all who are baptized and confirmed. The sacraments fill us with the divine life of God so that all who receive them are able, in Jesus’ name, to do the things Jesus did.
With all that in mind, I want to ask each of you to pray for our Confirmation candidates. Please pray specifically that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit as the Apostles were. Pray that the Spirit will reveal Himself personally to them. Pray that they will be empowered to perform signs and wonders. Pray that they will have a renewed relationship with the Holy Spirit and, like Mary, hear His voice and respond to His promptings throughout their entire life.
This week marks the beginning of our youth group spring break trip to New Bern, North Carolina. We will be partnering with St. Mary’s in Westphalia to take 30 kids for a week long mission with Habitat for Humanity. Last year when we embarked on this trip, it was a new and exciting addition to what we do throughout the year. I could feel that the Lord was taking us deeper during that trip. In addition to that we were able to do a solid amount of work on 3 different houses, as well as have dinner with different volunteers from around the community. This gave an incredible insight to the area that we were working in as well as some interaction with people who volunteer regularly with this Christian organization.
The different dynamics of this trip, between physically doing something in the world to benefit others, as well as encountering God, is a holistic feeling of what the Christian life should be like to the kids in our community. The Christian life and the love of Christ should always call us out of ourselves to share the goodness of the Gospel with others. Sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be building a house for those in need, but it’s an obvious sign of giving something that grows hope in the world.
Many of the retreats that we offer throughout the year give all students the opportunity to truly encounter the living God. In those encounters I have seen many students come alive and seem personally transformed because of the love of their Heavenly Father. But the obvious next step is taking that love that you have received and giving it to others that need it.
The Catechism states: Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own "to the end," He makes manifest the Father's love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
Being able to love the people in our world in the way that Jesus did takes a lot of grace, but it is why He came to earth. Not only to reveal himself, but also to point us towards our mission, which is to reveal His love to the world. All of our retreats are essential to having kids know and fall in love with Jesus, but trips like these spring break service trips are also essential in giving our students the ability to step up and into the mission of the Church.
So during the next week, please keep all of us in your prayers for a positive experience and safe travels. I am absolutely grateful for the support and prayers we receive at the parish for these sorts of events. I see this as where the Lord is leading our Youth Ministry Program in MHT. That not only through our retreats can we bring God into the lives of our young people, but that we as a parish can facilitate their growth in those encounters and have them transformed and on mission. Without your prayers and support that growth and transformation wouldn’t happen! I’ll be posting pictures and updates on Facebook, so please join in with us on our mission this week!
Dear friends in Christ,
In the midst of the Lenten season we have a special Solemnity on March 19th, which is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. It’s one of those rare moments when the Church encourages us to break the Lenten fast and celebrate this holy man of God.
Not long after Pope Francis was elected to the office of St. Peter, he added the name of St. Joseph to the Eucharistic Prayer, after we commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, her Spouse, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ.”
As we pray the Novena to St. Joseph I am drawn to reflect on the men of God in my life and the men of our parish, and to pray for them in a special way. It seems in many ways that manhood is under attack in our society. Hollywood gives us the image of man as rebel, angry, sex fiend, drunkard and party animal. The politically correct blame men for many of the problems in our present culture. Where do men discover their true identity?
Saint John Paul wrote an Apostolic Exhortation on Joseph, the Guardian of the Redeemer. Saint John Paul writes:
“Joseph was a man of faith and courage. Along with loving his betrothed, he loved His God courageously. He had a close, intimate personal relationship with the God of His Fathers. In fact, this just man was, in a sense, the last Patriarch, completing the lineage. Through his response of faith, He would receive the great gift promised for all men and women and hold in His arms the One that His fathers had only longed to see. God's messenger, an angel, visited Joseph in a dream. He was ready to receive. He was disposed not only to the encounter but to the invitation it presented to pour himself out in love and for Love. He heard the message and, without hesitation, did what the Lord commanded! This is, in a real sense, Joseph's Fiat, his Yes, his exercise of human freedom to advance God's eternal plan. How refreshing such manly faith and courage are in an age filled with cowardice and rebellion.”
“Joseph was a humble man. There was not an ounce of false bravado or machismo in this servant of God. Named after the great Patriarch who was sold into slavery in Egypt; he bore the name with similar humility. As the Old Testament Joseph embraced his lot, rejecting the temptation to bitterness or victim-hood and actually came to rule Egypt, forgiving the very brothers who had sold him into slavery; so too this son of the Covenant embraced the One who would establish the New Covenant on the altar of Calvary.”
“In so doing, Joseph is a model to all men who choose to walk the way of the cross. Joseph emptied himself of self - and became filled with the love and life of God. He gave himself fully to God through accepting his unique and specific vocation as a guardian of the Redeemer. The child Jesus, God in the flesh, was given to Joseph. A Carpenter, Joseph taught this child how to work with wood. That was, after all, what he had to give. During these so-called hidden years" Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph was with Jesus.”
Jesus learned to work and received from his foster father, Joseph, a work ethic, that we can follow throughout Jesus’ life and ministry. He learned perseverance, hard work, selflessness and humility. In an age that has lost its way, given over to the selfish pursuit of illusory pleasure, Joseph should again be lifted up as a model, particularly to men who desire to follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus has entrusted the work of that mission to all men who accept the invitation to empty themselves in order to be filled with the very life and love of God and then be used in His redemptive mission for the world. Through the Fount of living water called Baptism, he invites each one of us into His new family, the Body of His Son, the Church. He still gives His message to men who, like Joseph, hear and then choose to exercise authentic manly virtue and act out of courage. He still invites men to turn the ordinary into extraordinary through cooperation and participation. He is truly looking for a few good men like Joseph who will work in the workshop of the world that he created in order to recreate it anew in His Son. In this age so desperately in need of men of courage, we need to turn to this man's man named Joseph. We need to follow his example by courageously, humbly and faithfully loving Jesus Christ.
Joseph is our teacher and shows us the way, a true Man's Man, calling all men to follow Jesus. Teaching us that actions speak louder than words
"His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. Let us allow ourselves to be "infected" by the silence of St Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God." ~~Pope Benedict XVI, December 18, 2005
I thank God for the godly men in my life who encouraged and prayed for me, but most of all, gave me an example of Christian manhood. Please join me as I pray the Novena to St. Joseph, for all the men of our parish that they would be godly, humble and courageous witnesses of the Gospel.