Preparing for the end

November is the time in the calendar year that is the end and the beginning for the Church. It’s the end of one liturgical year cycle and oftentimes is the beginning of the new liturgical year. There’s much that the Church feeds us during this month.

The month starts out, November 1st, with the most appropriate feast there is when considering the end: the Solemnity of All Saints. The goal for all Christians is to become a saint, that is to be face-to-face with God for all eternity. This celebration is for all those in heaven — both known and unknown. Some may be our ancestors! In 20 generations, which would be about 400 years, we each have approximately one million ancestors. Have you ever considered seeking intercessory prayer from one of your great grandparents or another ancestor? If you’re not comfortable reaching out to unknown family members, there are plenty of saints from which we can ask assistance. This month is a great time to pray a novena to our patron saint or a saint that we admire and would like to emulate. Even if there is no official novena prayer, praying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be asking for their intercession over the course of 9 days during the month is a wonderful way to focus precious prayer time.

Hot on the heels of the saints, the Church celebrates All Souls day on November 2nd. This day is for all those in purgatory who are being cleansed of the stain of sin. This is our opportunity to pray for the ones who have come before us, both family and friends, and to offer charitable deeds on their behalf. While not obligatory on this day, Mass is the most perfect prayer we can offer and participate in, and a wonderful way to remember those we love. This opportunity is a reflection in two aspects: those that have gone before us, and ourselves who may one day also require the same purification process. If we take the time in prayer to focus on how we can improve our relationship with God, we can begin to make the necessary changes now. Even St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians urged, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2) 

Preparation for the end continues in the daily Mass readings and especially on Sundays. The Gospel themes include a discussion of the resurrection and the destruction of the Temple before the final feast of Christ the King, which is celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The readings remind us that although we are living in a tangible world, our destiny is beyond what we can experience with our senses. They are not meant to scare us, but to prompt us to actively prepare ourselves for what’s next to come, no matter what stage of life we’re in, as we do not know the hour or the day when we will be called by Jesus to eternity. So how can we prepare for the unknown? The mystery of eternity seems daunting and it’s understandable if we want to ignore it and not dwell on it. Yet the best preparation is a relationship with God, and continuing to practice trusting in Him and His will for us. This is done many times a day in the choices we make. The celebrations of these feasts along with the scripture readings for these last weeks of the liturgical year give us the opportunity to reflect and focus on our relationship with God with a special emphasis on our eternal salvation rather than our day-to-day needs. 

The Church gives us the time to prepare ourselves for eternity, to take inventory and resolve to make necessary changes in our lives. The result will be a stronger relationship with God and allows us to “ring in” the new liturgical year with open hearts and minds.

Entertaining saints

As I was reading a daily reflection recently, what jumped out at me was the notion of “entertaining saints and angels.” I started to question if I live as if I’m surrounded by saints?

A saint is someone whose soul is now in heaven. During the course of their life, they either had an exemplary faith-filled life or some conversion to the faith prior to death. Most people think of saints that have been named by the Church: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Katherine, St. Dominic, and all those that are celebrated by the Church during weekday Masses each year. Enter “how many catholic saints are there?” in Google and the response returned is, “There are more than 10,000 saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, though the names and histories of some of these holy men and women have been lost to history.” We have no idea how many souls, or saints, are in heaven with God. All of them were human, just like you and me. None of them, with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was without sin. Despite their faults and weaknesses, they persevered in faith to the end and interacted with countless people during their lifetime. Some have identified previous saints as inspirations, while others may have been influenced by various people they encountered.  

I assist with teaching for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and I alway wonder if anyone that I’m sharing my faith with will someday be a saint. I should correct my thought process, and hope that ALL of them will be saints! Yet the thought of journeying with someone in their relationship with Christ and to be recognized by the Church as a saint after their death somehow seems … cool. While the Church does not have celebrities, perhaps the saints fill our need to have a person that we admire. We look to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her “little way” to encourage us on our journey. We look to St. Vincent de Paul and the organizations set up in his name to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We look to St. Thomas Aquanias to help us plumb the depths of the mysteries of God. Perhaps we wonder what it would have been like to meet them while they lived; or what will it be like to meet them in heaven? 

It will be wonderful to meet the saints, but what about all the individuals we meet today? Could we be walking right past future saints and not even notice them? It may be impossible, especially in a city setting, to see and acknowledge every single person that you come upon, it may be worth reflecting on our response to those with whom we interact. Whether they become a named saint or not, doesn’t matter as it most likely won’t be in our lifetime, but our response to them does matter. The people in our everyday life — family, friends, coworkers, service workers, etc. — could be saints in heaven someday. Do we encourage their faith in God, support them in their challenges, and pray for God’s blessing upon them? What would the world look like if we treated all people as if they are future saints? 

Living in a culture that is all about what’s in it for me, the thought of  living as if we’re among saints may sound unrealistic. Yet people of previous generations also entertained saints unbeknownst to them. To change one’s mindset, perhaps the next time we hear a saint’s name, pray for their intercession for all those on earth to become saints.

Scrubbing Guilt

One thing that Catholics are known for, and teased about, is guilt. Yet this past weekend, the communion meditation song caught my attention when it mentioned “scrubbing guilt.”

The seminarian at the church I attended studied music prior to pursuing holy orders and used his God-given talent of singing to provide a backdrop for heavenly reflection. As the feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen was on Saturday, he read the English translation before singing the Latin song composed by the saint in Gregorian chant. Accompanied by the organ, his lone voice was strong, yet gentle as he sang. I could do nothing but close my eyes and let the music surround me and just be in the moment. When he finished, my thoughts went back to the translation he read… what was that about scrubbing out guilt?

There are times when the internet is a wonderful thing. After a brief search on songs by the saint, I found Spiritus sanctus vivificans and the translation according to the website is as follows:

The Holy Spirit: living and life-giving,
the life that’s all things moving,
the root in all created being:
of filth and muck it washes all things clean—
out-scrubbing guilty staining, its balm our wounds constraining—
and so its life with praise is shining,
rousing and reviving all.

St. Hildegard of Bingen

The wording of this translation differs slightly from what was said at Mass, and much more blunt, but the meaning is the same. I know the Holy Spirit is considered the sanctifier, the one who makes things holy — that is set apart for God. That’s things like church buildings, altars, and holy water, but for people? Okay, maybe deacons, priests, and bishops as they are anointed to be servants for God, but everyday people? Here is a song praising the third person in the Trinity for washing “filth and muck” and “out-scrubbing guilty staining.” We’ve been conditioned to see the Holy Spirit as a pure white dove, so how can anything so pristine deal with the refuse? And yet just as Jesus came down into the dysfunction of the world to deal with us as a human person, God does not allow our dirtiness to stop Him from getting close to us. He continually sends out His Spirit to heal our wounds and revive our spirits.

If I can get my head wrapped around the thought of the Holy Spirit cleansing me from the muck and mire, what about guilt? Isn’t having a bit of guilt a good thing, since it makes us stop and think about the consequences of our actions and help shape the choices we make? Guilt is a two-edged sword that can quickly cut us in ways that can hamper our relationship with God. We can use guilt as an identifier for when we choose against God’s will, but once we seek true contrition with God, guilt for that choice no longer has a place in us. Too often guilt harbors in our intellect and instead of turning towards God, we turn further away with feelings of unworthiness. We are all unworthy, whether we are doing God’s will or going against it. Efforts do not secure our place in heaven; it’s all on the mercy of God. Yet if we seek a relationship with Him, even when it seems to be two steps forward and a few more backwards, our contrite hearts He will not spurn. 

I’m very grateful that the seminarian shared the work of this 12th century Doctor of the Church. And I’m even more appreciative of the saint’s reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit, almost a millennium later.

Final step: a saint

The final step, and goal for all Catholics, is to be a saint. Some will be declared a saint by the Church, others will remain known to those in heaven, for that’s what being a saint is all about: living in the presence of God in heaven. 

As we close out the final week of the liturgical calendar, the Gospel readings for daily Mass remind us to be vigilant for the end — be that the end of the world or the end of our lives. This reminder harkens to the celebrations that began the month, the feast of All Saints and the memorial of All Souls. While we may be waylaid in purgatory to cleanse us of any residuals of sin and heal us of any scars caused by it, we know that we will make it to heaven. We can help the souls in purgatory now by our prayers and acts of charity. Likewise those in heaven are cheering us on and interceding for us. We look to those named saints as role models for our lives and provide spiritual guidance of how to do God’s will. 

Being declared saints first requires living the missions given by God, putting God first in life and sharing His gifts with others. As Bishop Barron says, “Your life is not about you.” Exit living in the ego and accept the role God gives for participating in His will. Illustrating a connection with God by charity in life, perhaps after passing from this life the cause will be taken up to propose sainthood. After passing through the various steps of Servant of God, Venerable, and Blessed, it is with another miracle attributed to intercession of the candidate that the final review and approval of the pope completes the journey to being canonized as a saint. 

The road to sainthood may be fast, happening in mere decades in earthly time, or can linger across the centuries. Canonized saints included the poor shepherd children of Fatima (canonized in 2017) and the Queen of Scotland (canonized in 1250). From the first martyr, Saint Stephen, whose death is documented into the Acts of the Apostles, to Saint Teresa of Kolkata, who died in 1997 and was canonized 19 years later in 2016, the lives of the saints are documented across the span of Church history. Young, old, rich, poor, laity, and religious, there is a saint for each person to find a kindred spirit. 

While it is good to have a spiritual mentor, let us not forget that God calls us to our own mission in His will. He has put us in this time and place to be His hands and voice. Our goal may be to be a saint in heaven, but let us not seek the glory of being declared a saint, but rather accept God’s purpose for our lives and let His glory shine through all the way to heaven. 


On the road to sainthood, the third stage is beatification . This changes the person’s title from Venerable to Blessed.

In order for a person to be beatified, a miracle needs to be attributed to their intercession. This can be misinterpreted as the saint causing the miracle, but closely reading official documents clearly indicates that the miracle is via their intercession. Why the distinction? Because only God can perform a miracle. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a miracle is a scientifically inexplicable occurrence by the grace of God through the intercession of a Venerable or Blessed. Often in recent times, an unexplained healing has occurred to a person having a disease or malady to which there is no treatment. By praying to a singular Venerable and seeking their intercession, when a miracle occurs, it seems likely that the Venerable is in heaven and able to intercede on our behalf. Rigorous investigation is conducted by both medical professionals as well as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. If the investigation proves in favor of the Venerable, the cause is presented to the Pope, who will grant the beatification. A special prayer, Mass, or Divine Office may be authorized by the Pope for the candidate, who is now considered Blessed.

How long does it take to be beatified and made a saint? It depends. In researching those with the title of Blessed, I found Blessed Notker the Stammerer. Notker was born around 840 and died about 912. He was beatified in 1512. It took this Swiss monk 600 years to be beatified. And he has remained at that title for over 500 years. Will he ever achieve the title of saint? Perhaps that’s the wrong question to ask. Does it really matter if he’s declared a saint here on earth? If he is in heaven, he is with God and he is a saint. Our declaration of him as such means little to him now. In a way, his longevity as a Blessed is an excellent opportunity to look at the how’s and the why’s of sainthood and the process involved in declaring a person a saint. The Church put this process together to avoid declarations of saints by popular sentiment. The Church requires the proof of a miracle so that when we look to a person as a role model of faith, we can be assured of God’s approval. After all, it is God who performs the miracle. 

Yet the process of beatification can also occur quite quickly. Just last October 2020, Carlo Acutis was beatified. This 15-year-old from Italy died in 2006 of leukemia, but left a legacy of devotion to the Eucharist. Carlo is best known for documenting Eucharistic miracles around the world and cataloguing them onto a website, The miracle attributed to Carlo was of a young Brazilian boy with a serious birth defect. The boy and his mother attended a prayer service the parish priest organized to encourage his congregation to seek Carlo’s intercession for whatever healing was needed.  The boy was cured immediately after the prayer service and leaves little doubt as to whom to attribute the healing intercession

The road to saint illustrates that the candidates, whether they are Servants of God, Venerables, or Blesseds, seek God’s will in all things. They can only intercede for us; God is the true miracle worker. Their elevation to Blessed is not a glory to them, but rather a glory to God. We thank the Lord for each and every miracle.


There are several steps to being declared a saint. It can be a process that takes decades or even centuries. The prerequisite for the process is death. Once a person dies, the diocese at a local level will gather evidence to submit to the Vatican. The hope is that the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints will determine the person’s life is one of heroic virtue. With their recommendation, the Pope will review and declare an upgrade of their title from Servant of God to Venerable.

The package of documentation is quite rigorous and requires sealed or certified originals to ensure authenticity. The Vatican Congregation spends as much time as it needs to pour and pray over the received information, conducting interviews and reviewing the person’s life from many different perspectives. This review occurs in two stages, first by a group of theologians then by the cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation. There are fourteen Venerables identified by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 

While preparing a presentation about saints for RCIA, I stumbled upon the story of Venerable Pierre Toussaint. He was born a slave in Haiti, was brought to New York by his master’s wife, and allowed to train as a hairdresser. He was so successful that when the family fell on hard times, he was able to provide for the family that owned him. He was freed at the age of 41 and continued his charity, not only among the poor but also donating in the building of Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in the early 1800s. The story is told that at its dedication when he was refused entrance because of his race, he apologized and turned to leave but was stopped by another usher who recognized him and immediately invited him into the building he helped finance. Both Pierre and Old Saint Patrick’s crossed my path again when “The Oratorio: A Documentary by Martin Scorsese” about the roots of opera in New York City aired on PBS. I was delighted to see Pierre’s story included as part of the history of this church.

In reviewing the life of Venerable Fulton John Sheen, I was surprised to see his birth year as 1895, which seems so long ago. Yet he is no stranger to modern conveniences, as he pioneered television evangelization back in the 1950’s when there were only three channels available. His charismatic style mezmorized viewers both Catholic and non-Catholic alike. To date, he’s the only American bishop to win two Emmys for Most Outstanding Television Personality. Numerous times have I been researching Catholic topics and Google suggests one or two of his Life is Worth Living episodes on YouTube. I alway seem to end up watching in rapt attention, even when it is only in black-and-white! The way he passed on tugged at my heart, as he died in his chapel during Adoration. I don’t think there could be a better way to go.

These two men are another example of the diversity of people and lives within the Catholic family. Each continues to impact people today: Pierre through the support he gave to Old Saint Patrick’s and Bishop Sheen with his television programs. In the Communion of Saints — both named and those on their way, it does not matter if we are separated by a few decades or a century, we are still connected as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. 

Servant of God

November is the end of the liturgical year for Catholics and our focus turns towards the end of time. The readings for Mass take on a sense of ugent remembering for what awaits us at the end of life. It should not be surprising that the month starts with the feast of All Saints. The Church in her wisdom draws our attention to those who are cheering us on from their place in heaven. Yet the path to being declared a saint has several steps, the first is being named a Servant of God.

The process for sainthood begins at a local diocesen level. After a person who has the reputation for living a life of holiness dies, an investigation into their life begins the process of potentially being declared a saint. During this investigation, the person’s life is examined to determine if their life reflected a pursuit of improving their holiness and heroic virtue. Every aspect of their life is reviewed, any correspondence, writings, journals, and the like are scrutinized. While a person’s past may contain some less-than-holy times, it is how the person responded to those times that matters: did they repent and seek a closer walk with God? Once a cause is opened at the diocese level, the person receives the title of Servant of God

I read Black Elk Speaks way back in my college years as part of a Native American Literature class. I remember enjoying the book with its rich details of tribal life. And in researching people who are considered Servants of God, the name Nicholas Black Elk caught my attention. Wondering if the two were related, I was surprised to find out they are one in the same! In reviewing the website supporting Nicholas’ cause, I was amazed to find that he embraced Catholicism and had become a catechist to his people. While it was sad reading his disappointment in how the story of his life only included, as he referred to it, his pagan life, his passionate embrace of God was still equally refreshing. He was proud to be a catechist and the story of his life is not complete unless one includes all of it. He lived about 20 years more after the book was written, and from a Catholic perspective, those were the best years.

I read He Leadeth Me over several months during weekly Eucharistic adoration. It is an amazing reflection of the spiritual struggles of Servant of God Father Walter Ciszek, S.J., who was born in Shenandoah, PA (my parent’s hometown.) After ordination, he served in Poland and made his way into Russia, where in 1941, he was captured as a “Vatican spy.” He spent 20 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps in Siberia, working in dehumanizing and soul-sucking conditions. Yet even here, Fr. Ciszek was able to minister to his fellow inmates (mostly in secret.) And long after his family thought he was dead, his family began to receive letters from him after his release and he was returned to the United States in 1963. 

The lives of these two men cannot be more different, more diverse. Both answered the call from God to fulfill the purpose He had for their lives. Each is a model for us in how to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. No matter if they are officially declared a saint or not, we can ask these holy men to intercede for us in our moments of challenge and affliction. 

Life pursuits

I think most Americans are familiar with the line from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But as Catholics there is one pursuit that ranks above these, the pursuit of holiness.

When we think of a holy person, we immediately think of the saints. But they lived  life on earth just as we do, facing all the temptations that we face. Sometimes they succeeded in the battle against sin and sometimes not. Only two people lived without sin: Jesus and His Mother Mary. There may be a priest or religious that we may consider as holy, chalking it up to their vocation. But holiness is not limited to those professing religious vows. All baptized Christians are called to a holy way of life that will result in eternal happiness with God, and thus also becoming a saint. So what does it mean to be holy?

In the Old Testament, to be holy was to be set apart from the everyday, the ordinary, and to be dedicated to the service of God. God is what made things holy, His blessing and His grace. Israel, as a nation, was to be holy — set apart from the rest of the nations and called to live according to God’s commands. Israel, however, struggled in this endeavor. They sought a king to rule them, just like the other nations around them. Interaction and intermarriage with those nations exposed them to other religions. They soon began to practice them and failed to keep God’s commands. 

How can following God’s commands make us holy? That’s not quite the right question to ask.  We cannot make ourselves holy by what we do, but instead we need to participate and respond to God. We need to seek a relationship with God. If we ask how we can seek this, the answer is by following the Commandments, especially the first three.

First, in order to seek God, we need to put Him first in our daily lives. We need to reach out through prayer, being open to His response. While we may pray through words and speech (or thought), God can answer in a myriad of ways: in another’s response to us, in coincidence, in a surprise or in an unexpected event or encounter, etc. Secondly, we need to be mindful of our speech. What we say indicates our attitudes towards that of which we are speaking. If we deny God’s ability to help us, He will respect just that, even if deep down we wish that He would. If we throw around God’s name, or even the name of Jesus Christ, as if it is like any other word, we abuse any relationship we have with Him. Thirdly, we are called to take time weekly to dive deeper into our relationship with God, dedicating time spent with Him in the Mass as well as other spiritual practices. Lastly, we need to follow all other Commandments and Beatitudes, as a relationship with God does not mean excluding or ignoring everyone and everything that bears the signature of the Creator. 

If we want happiness in our lives, if we want to live free, then we need to pursue holiness first throughout our life on earth. The result will be to have the best life there is: eternal life spent in the presence of God.

Catholic Girl Journey

Dining with the saints

Starting out the month of November with All Saints’ Day has me thinking about the saints with whom I feel a connection. Modifying a question that pops up from time to time: if you could dine with any saint, whom would it be and why?

While that may seem like a wild question, it may not be that absurd. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the message of God preparing a banquet feast is a recurring theme. While some may argue it is used as an analogy, even if the purpose is not meant to eat, there is a gathering taking place. In heaven, it is called the communion of saints.

Since Jesus is the only one who has come to earth from heaven, it’s hard for us who live in time and space to grasp what heaven is and what it will be like. God has given us an imagination and I can’t help but think this is to help us prepare for heaven. While we will be able to see and experience God as He is and He will be all we need, the communion that the Trinity shares amongst the three persons I would think would be mimicked by the communion of saints. Our interaction with other saints may not be to see, hear, and talk to them as we do on earth, but there would be some sort of communication between all members, otherwise we would be in total isolation.

If I was able to talk with only one saint, I think it would be Saint Peter. I would love to hear his stories, from fishing to following Jesus and how much alike he thought they were. I would love to know about his family and how they handled his career change. I also think it would be fascinating to hear how his intercession has helped people over the past 2,000 years.

If heaven does allow us to get to know the other saints in on an individual basis, it may take eternity to get to know each person. What better harmony can there be in heaven, than the communion of saints truly being a family and getting to know one another.

Catholic Girl Journey

Feeding the beast

There is a legendary story, credited to the Native Americans, about the internal struggle using the analogy of two wolves. One has anger, envy, and greed and is considered evil. One has hope, kindness, and compassion and is considered good. As the story goes, the wolf that wins is the wolf that is fed.

The movie Tomorrowland was recently on television, and I happen to come across it right when it started. I had the time, and it seemed interesting, so I watched it. Early in the movie, the father was reminding the young girl that we all have good and bad inside us, using the analogy of the two wolves. This was the underlying theme of the movie. The young girl learns that Tomorrowland has found a way to see into the future, but the more it tries to show humanity the consequences of their bad actions, the more humanity wants to see those consequences eventually progressing until the end of the world is predicted in 59 days. The girl realizes that it’s the broadcast of the constant bad actions and their consequences that is causing mankind to behave so poorly, feeding its destruction. Of course in true Disney fashion, she saves the day and all of humanity by stopping the broadcast. At the end of the movie, the thought that came to my mind was Halloween.

Somehow, over the course of the generations, Halloween has become a major holiday. While the retail spending may not rival other holidays, the time spent decorating, preparing costumes and celebrating can rival many. Even pets get into the spirit with costumes made just for them! But instead of celebrating what this All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve is supposed to be — the vigil of All Saints’ Day, it has turned into a celebration of horror, gore and evil. Especially in today’s secular culture, the lack of belief in God also translates into a lack of belief in Satan. The movies about demons and possessions are just stories; people enjoy being scared when they know no harm will come to them. But are they feeding the wrong wolf? While Hollywood may have invented the stories they present, real exorcisms are being performed around the world by select Catholic priests trained for that battle. Fighting the devil is serious business, not to be taken lightly.

So this year to prepare for a celebration of all the saints — everyone in heaven, not just the canonized saints — may we invoke their aid by telling their stories, praying for their intercession and praising God for the miracles he allows through them.