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Connecting the Camino

By: Michael Arias

            I sat there, hunched over, in the dark of an old cathedral, crying. I’m not one for crying, unless there’s something in my eyes, but that’s a different story. I was legitimately and genuinely crying, for the first time I could remember in a long, long time.

            I was all alone on the Camino of Santiago in Spain, a country relatively foreign to me.

spanish cathedral

            The country was undergoing a heat wave, and more importantly, I was getting sick very quickly, with a fever looming on the horizon. I could feel my energy draining with every step I had taken since I woke up that morning. The day started with me feeling like trash when I woke up at 6 a.m., and now, after four hours of walking only half the distance I could normally walk in that same amount of time, I was feeling like I had nothing left. It was a bad situation to be in. The next sizable town was easily six, if not more, hours ahead of me given my current pace. The village offered little to nothing, and the thought of going backwards: akin to giving up.

            It was big question-and-answer time for me. Why continue walking the Camino? It was at that moment literally turning into a living nightmare of pain and loneliness.

            I originally started the Camino half because I love the outdoors, half as a pilgrimage, and half because I had a month left on my student visa. I know that adds up to three halves, but hey, that was my deciding logic and motivation up to that point, and it had been totally sufficient before I got sick. Now though as I felt my strength disappearing, I needed better reasons to go forward.  

            But that’s when it hit me. I wasn’t alone. I mean, not as alone as I thought I was. I had already lived five months in Spain, studying Spanish. Being in a foreign country, a foreign continent, was no longer a radically new experience. Having been alone, without known family or friends, for five months had taught me an important lesson, and that lesson was about to be my saving grace: I had God with me, the same God that I saw every time I visited my church at home in Florida, prayed to at home, and talked to at home.

spanish statue camino

            Jesus knew how to understand not only my English but also my American mannerisms and ways of thinking, an ability that suddenly became so very attractive when trying to live on a day-to-day basis as the foreigner in a very communal university student-residence. Those previous five months had taught me that I could rely on Jesus always. He always looked out for me, understood me, and helped me.

So in that dark, cool cathedral where I sat crying, I turned to Him.

            To this day I don’t know if those tears I cried were of joy or sadness. Joy because I had realized how truly present God was with me, or sadness because I had forgotten how truly present He was and had thought I was alone.

            The important part was that He was with me, and if He had gotten me through five months in Spain, he could get me through one more on the Camino, sick or not sick. Consequently, I got my new and ultimately more powerful source of motivation: the Camino would continue has a walk with Christ.

            It may sound obvious to you: Camino de Santiago translates to the Walk of Saint James, James was a Saint, Saints walk with Christ, so it’s a Walk with Christ. You get it, I get it, great.

            But here’s the catch: (I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) There’s a big gap between knowing something with your mind and knowing it with your heart.

            It took me to be in a very much not-so-fun situation to finally connect the two dots: knowing that God was with me and feeling and acting upon the knowledge that He was with me. My hope is that by recounting this little portion of my experience I am in some way helping you connect your dots too.

 

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The Final Countdown

               No one wants to admit how much time is left of Summer 2k17 but the truth of the matter is that, it’s not a lot. In less than a month we’ll be moving back into the dorms or our apartments, and embracing our vocations as students. Some days I have a countdown to reunite with my amazing Catholic Gators community (and Gator football!), and other days I’m overwhelmed when realize how much I have left on my to-do list for this summer. However you’re feeling, the final countdown for the next school year has begun. [It’s 22 days, by the way.]

               While most of us are excited to reunite with all our friends and live according to our own schedule, in reality, we just want to get to a place where we’re comfortable and known. Being at home for the summer has countless challenges. You might be living under your parent’s roof again, have to check in with them about your day-to-day plans, get asked questions by the entire family about your major and post-graduation plans, or other personal questions you’re not comfortable sharing. Living at home can be hard and uncomfortable, but it’s what God is calling us  to do right now, at this moment. It is His will for us.

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               In life, there’s a lesson in everything, even if the lesson is to learn what not to do. Life is about the choices we make and the actions that follow. When we’re at school, it’s easy to choose our friends because they often bring us great joy. At home, it’s often much more difficult because not everyone gets along all the time. But we must choose to love them because it’s God’s will for us, our vocation. Friends may be temporary but family is for a lifetime. That’s why it’s worth building these relationships with our loved ones because they’ve invested in us and will be there for the rest of our lives.

               Love is a verb and to love is a choice. I’m sure growing up, your parents did not always want to get up in the middle of the night to a fussy baby. But they chose to. They loved the best way they could or knew how to. This summer, I encourage you to be active in loving them back. Do the dishes without being asked, take out the trash, clean up your room, maybe buy them a meal or their favorite candy when you’re at the store. You can walk the dogs, drive your siblings around, or volunteer to babysit. You can even just ask them how their day was and be intentional about listening like you’re intentional with your friends. I recommend putting the phone in another room altogether so it won’t even be a distraction. Love through the simple actions, and use that to pray for your family and other friends and families who may be going through a hard time.

love through the simple

               Summer is a time great time to grow and become a better version of yourself. I encourage you to pray about the lessons learned so far this summer or challenges you may face in this last month. Make small commitments to love your family through specific actions and, who knows? You might even learn something new about your family members or their past, and be able to pray for them better. We’re called to be saints, and to be saints we can’t be comfortable. Pope Benedict XVI said, “You weren’t made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”

               Choose to love, especially when it’s hard, and your reward will be great in heaven.

FOCUS Series: We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are

By: Drew Decker, FOCUS Missionary

              I think it’s fair to say every Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary enters their first year on campus with a bit of swagger in their step. For most missionaries, leading a FOCUS Bible study or discipling students was part of their college experience; many of them were pretty good at it, too! But then that first week on campus arrives, and the floodgates open. Fall outreach, meeting inherited disciples, moving to a new city (or in my case, moving literally across the country) and getting used to team life combine for one crazy start to the year. And then comes the inevitable drop-off: It happens at a different time for each  missionary. For some, like myself, it came very quickly. No matter the experience level or confidence, every missionary ultimately hits a wall, and realizes that they can’t save souls on their own. Maybe Bible study isn’t going well, teammates have different personalities, or they’re simply homesick. This is the “make or break” moment for every missionary. For me, it was a giant step into a new phase of my life. Continue reading “FOCUS Series: We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are”

Prayer Over Playlists: My Annual Lenten Journey

Every year as Lent begins, I close the Spotify app and make a promise not to listen to music until Easter. No, I don’t plug my ears anytime I hear music anywhere, but I do refrain from plugging in my headphones on the bus, while I’m studying, or any other time that I would be listening by myself.

I get crazy looks from my friends when they ask me what I give up for Lent and I understand them completely. For our generation, music is constant, the beats are everywhere and sometimes you just need that favorite rhythm of yours to take you somewhere else or bring you back from it. I depend on music, which is exactly why I give it up every Lent.

I want to depend on God like I do my music. While any good Catholic knows in their heart that God will always come first, everyone has had that week when they’ve replayed that Kendrick song more times than they’ve prayed.

Lent is the chance to break from that, or rather put our regular habits on pause. For 40 days, I break my bubble of beats and look up to the people around me on the bus and on the walk to class. I try to pray and ask what God wants of me this day and every day.

The first few days of my music fast are always hard. My favorite songs stream into my head unbidden and it would make me feel so much better if I could just listen to a couple seconds of a couple songs.

But every year I push through. Sometimes I stumble, but never for that long. Lent isn’t about perfect prayer, but honest effort to grow closer to the One you really couldn’t live without. For me, I need silence to hear Him. Quiet moments where it’s just Him and I, no music to run to when I don’t want to think about the hard stuff.

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Photo by: Jonathan Assink

Despite this being the third year I have completed this fast, I’m still surprised by how much more I enjoy the music at Mass during it, because I sing in praise of Him and not in fulfillment of my desires. Even after Lent is over, I always feel less inclined to drown myself in music, too. The songs that get stuck in my head are gone, and for the most part, I find that I can think more clearly.

After my fast, it’s as if I have been strengthened in these 40 days to reach into next year, always a little less dependent on my playlist. After all, we sacrifice things during Lent not just out of duty to suffer in a small way as He suffered in a big way, but to fortify and remind ourselves of our priorities to God and to each other.

Don’t get me wrong—I still listen to music once Lent is over, and I still always need these 40 days to disconnect every year. There’s nothing wrong with listening to music regularly and I am certainly not one of iron will. I get caught in music when I’m stressed and distract myself from prayer at some point every year, so I really believe it is a blessing that we have Lent every year to break from our habits.

 

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Photo by: Ben White

If you’ve only just decided to give up or begin something for Lent, it’s not too late. Start something good now, like praying a certain prayer every day, and keep going after Easter. Lent, much like New Year’s, isn’t the only time when we get a new beginning.

If giving up music altogether is unfeasible, try listening to it less or just listening to music that glorifies Him. Or better yet, pray and reflect on what it is that you lean on that isn’t related to your faith, something that might distract you often or pull you away from Him. We all have our comforts and there’s nothing wrong with that.

This Lent and every Lent I pray that my earthly comforts do not become my crutches, and that I always remember that it’s God I truly depend on.

 

Written by: Dolores Hinckley, Restless Heart Communications

Featured image by: Jan Vašek

The True Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day

It’s amazing to see that Saint Patrick’s feast day is celebrated internationally by many different cultures and peoples, but his popularity may not always be for the right reasons—many that participate celebrate not for Saint Patrick’s sake, but for the sake of partying and celebrating in itself. This tendency to lose sight of the reason behind the celebration dominates many American’s perceptions of the feast day of Saint Patrick, and drowns out the great history, faith, and victory that his feast day celebrates. Saint Patrick’s life offers an amazing story of how God can be a major source of relief in our lives, how He works in mysterious ways, and how He guides us to where we need to be if we allow Him; by keeping these things in mind, we can celebrate in a way that can be fulfilling.

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Photo by: Andreas Franz Borchert

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain to a Catholic family, but according to his memoir, he “knew not the true God” until he was captured and placed into bondage. As a teenager, Patrick was taken to Ireland by pirates, and was forced to work as a slave by tending to farm animals. In this suffering, and in his lonesome despair, Patrick learned to see and rely on God’s love—in his memoir, The Confession of Saint Patrick, he explains how his reliance on God for hope and solace offered incredible fruit: “The love of God and His fear grew and grew in me more and more, as did faith… I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.” Eventually, after years of enslavement, Patrick had grown much in his faith, and God came to Patrick in a dream instructing him to escape and return home.

Once at home, an angel appeared to Patrick in a dream, compelling him to return to Ireland and share his faith. Trusting God’s plan, he studied to join the priesthood, and was eventually ordained a bishop before being sent to Ireland to spread the Gospel. He dedicated forty years of his life to the Church, and suffering and enduring much as he converted people, built churches, and worked miracles across Ireland. His perseverance against adversity contributed greatly to the development and prosperity of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and ­offers an inspiring example of dedication to spreading His word.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ireland: Photo by Kayla Thurber

Although he lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, the struggles and actions of Saint Patrick can still be admired and related to our lives as Catholics today. In a lonely, unfamiliar land, Saint Patrick turned to God, and was provided with shelter from pain and distress. Likewise, when our lives move in unexpected directions, giving us reasons to despair or panic, we must try to remember that our lives and fears can be trusted to God, and that He will console us. One can imagine that Patrick was overwhelmed when he was brought to Ireland, but God used this as a part of His plan: He drew Patrick closer to Him, and then used him to reach out to and bring many to the light of His love. Saint Patrick’s life, although marked by difficulty and suffering, is surely one to be celebrated as noble and holy.

Saint Patrick’s Day offers us a time to reflect upon the life of a great man, how the Lord works in our lives, and how we can give ourselves to the Lord for His noble purposes. So celebrate: the Bishop granted a dispensation from fasting from meat this Friday* for this life lived so gloriously and graciously, so a special meal for this occasion can offer a reminder of how a life lived with Him in mind can be truly satisfying.

 

Written by: Alex Esperanza, Restless Heart Communications

Featured photo by: Quentin Rey

*You can only eat meat this Friday if you abstain from meat the following day, Saturday, March 18.  This is the official decision of Bishop Estevez for the diocese of St. Augustine.

 

4 Things We’ve All {Tried} Giving Up for Lent & 4 Things We Should

Lent is upon us, all of the sudden it is Ash Wednesday and we think, Oh right, what am I giving up again? We rattle our brains to come up with something realistic yet meaningful, practical yet clever, and that can be a difficult thing to accomplish. Here are 4 things many, if not all of us, can relate to when it comes to sacrificing things for Lent:

  1. School

Let’s face it, college is hard. Whether you’re thinking about the wedgie-riddled days of grade school or about your upcoming exam that you haven’t studied for (like me), school can really drag you down sometimes. So, obviously the most logical solution is to just give up school altogether, right? It’ll be fine, you think to yourself, I’ll stock up on food from the Newman Dinners and I’ll live at Hurley Hall. That’s how I’ll live. No big deal. While this sounds incredibly enticing, Lent shouldn’t be the time to pick something you can give up easily; rather, it’s a time to sacrifice something we indulge in so that we may spend more time growing closer with God.

  1. Coffee
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Photo by: Matt Hoffman

Coffee (tea too, if you’re into that) is the lifeblood of the college population; without it, we revert to an animal-like state consisting of single word responses, torn up Smokin Notes, and awkward facial keyboard imprints from sleeping on our laptops (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything). As college students, many of us live off of less than 8 hours of sleep, so sometimes an energy boost is needed. If you’re able to give up coffee for Lent, I applaud you. For others of us, though, coffee may keep us from acting like something out of The Walking Dead.

  1. Our Phones

If you’re daring enough, you might’ve thought, “Hey, why don’t I regress to the days where people had actual in-person conversations with each other and didn’t have the burden of timing out their text responses to not seem needy?” Ok, maybe not. But maybe your parents made the choice for you in 6th grade and said you’re giving up your phone for Lent (again, not speaking from experience here). I thought I was back in the dark ages. Anyway, while giving up your phone for Lent may free you up a lot for prayer or studying and whatnot, you also don’t want your life to fall apart as a result of giving up something that you may actually need. You can still answer the twenty texts a day you get from Mom, and still grow in your relationship with God during Lent.

  1. Giving Up Things

Come on, we’ve all thought — “What if I give up giving up things for Lent!?” (and subsequently patted ourselves on the back for being so clever) — at least once.

While we may have tried giving up one or more of those things for Lent, they may or may not have helped us in our journey to grow closer with God. The sacrifices we make during Lent should make space for our relationship with Christ. To aid in your search, here are 4 things that we can both succeed at and also use as opportunities to glorify our Lord:

  1. Sweets or Fast Food
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Photo by: Rachael Gorjestani

Running around campus with barely enough time to eat can make it tempting to run into Chick-fil-A or Subway every day, and those P.O.D. Market freezers full of Ben & Jerry’s seem to stare at you every time you walk in. However, by giving up fast food or sweets for Lent, we’re taking care of our bodies, which are temples of God. Plus, it could be motivation to pack a healthy meal rather than resorting to unhealthy habits.

  1. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter… (Take Your Pick)

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I spend at least a half hour a day scrolling through Instagram photos and mildly stalking Facebook profiles (I’m not creepy I promise). Rather than lurking about in the depths of social media, why not cut out one of your social media platforms and spend that time doing something more productive and fulfilling? Saying the Rosary only takes about 15 minutes; you’d be honoring our Blessed Mother, and you’d be breaking an unhealthy habit! It’s killing two birds with one stone! (Sorry birds.)

  1. TV or Netflix
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Photo by: Victor Semionov

We’ve all needed our weekly dose of Game of Thrones or The Bachelor, right? Soon enough though that weekly dose becomes a daily dose, then an hourly dose, and eventually we end up spending 6 hours straight catching up on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, glancing guiltily at our unfinished research paper on our desk. Yeah, we’ve had those moments. However, by giving up Netflix (or TV in general), we can reclaim those valuable hours to study, spend time with friends, or go to daily Mass (*cough* which is at noon and 5:30pm Monday through Friday *cough*).

  1. Hiding Your Faith

This one may be the most difficult of all. There are times when one may be embarrassed or even ashamed to talk about or even identify with their faith, due to fear of looking like a “Jesus freak” or not looking “cool” around non-Catholic friends. It’s so easy to slip into a secular mindset and go along with things that don’t agree with your faith just so you can fit in. I’ve fallen into this many times, and it’s sad when you feel like you have to hide such an important part of yourself from others. Taking pride in your faith and in your relationship with God is a beautiful thing that should be nurtured, not stifled. By identifying yourself as a young man or young woman of God, you stay true to yourself and might also encourage others who are hiding their faith to do the same. If living out your life as a faithful and proud Catholic isn’t an act of glorifying our Lord, then I don’t know what is!

As you begin your journey through Lent, you may wonder, What’s the point of me giving up something anyway? By sacrificing a worldly pleasure, you make room for the heavenly joys God has to offer you through your relationship with Him. Stay strong during your journey. It’ll be worth it.

Written by: Kaitlin Anouge, Restless Heart Communications

Featured photo by: Royce Abela, Restless Heart Communications

A Call to Greatness

This piece is a homily from January 22, 2017 given by Fr. David at St. Augustine church in Gainesville, FL.

 

Believe it or not I am actually a child of the ’60s.  It might not seem so, but I was, in fact, born just a few weeks before Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon.  Some of you, I’m sure, remember that event quite clearly.  You know far better than I what a sense of accomplishment and national pride that was.  Probably some you can also remember the speech that President John F Kennedy gave in 1962, challenging us to strive for such an ambitious undertaking.  Or what a sense of hope and optimism accompanied his inaugural address 56 years ago almost to the day.

I bring this up, not to delve into presidential politics, but more so to contrast the high, missionary call of the early 60’s to what has followed it in the subsequent decades.  And more importantly to hear, in the readings of the liturgy and in the voice of our holy father, Pope Francis, that same call to greatness, elevated to the supernatural level and applied to our own times and to the challenges that face us in this decade and those to come.

But first, let’s listen to a few excerpts from Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University:

 

“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding…

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Photo by: SpaceX

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war…

 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

 

Pretty stirring stuff, right?

It was, in many ways, the product of the times:  the boundless confidence of modern progressivism.  The great hope that science and technology would be the answer to all of life’s most pressing questions.  That was the way we began the 60’s.  We ended them in a purple haze of confusion, violence, disillusionment and despair.  Caught in the quagmire of an intractable civil war in a far off country we didn’t understand, wracked by violence, racial discord and civil unrest at home.  Martin Luther King, who in 1963, dared to dream a dream, by the end of the decade was dead.  And even the Catholic Church, which had long stood as a bulwark for Western civilization, was being torn apart by dissent and mass defections, even by the clergy and religious.

Many of us here today–most especially the students who make up such a large portion of the parishioners in this parish–have lived our whole lives in the fallout from that turbulent decade.  We have lived in a postmodern world where all truths are relative, all commitments provisional, where even the meaning of the word “is” can be publicly debated by a sitting president.

This era, this young generation of Catholics, needs desperately to hear a new call to greatness, to be more than the generation of the “meh.”

Pope Benedict XVI is often quoted (perhaps erroneously) as having said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”

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Photo by: Magnoid

Whether he ever said those exact words or not, the gospel origins of this message are as clear as the call of Jesus to His first disciples that we heard in today’s gospel reading.  You were not made for nothing.  Your lives are not accidents of blind chance.  You are not simply what you choose to identify as.  You were created with a purpose.  You are called to live lives of holiness and missionary discipleship.  You WERE made for greatness.

 

Just last month Pope Francis announced that he is calling a global synod of bishops to meet in Rome in October 2018 to treat the topic, “Young people, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”  I am pleased that our own bishop, Felipe Estevez, has asked that our parish be actively involved in preparing our diocesan delegation to that synod.  Clearly there is good reason, given the number of faith-filled young people who have discerned or are discerning their vocations while part of the Catholic Gators.

Beyond the particulars of our own individual vocations–and we know that it belongs to Christ to call each one of us individually to the state of life He wants for us–we all share in the universal call to holiness.  That is, we are, all of us, called to be a light to the nations, so that a people that dwells in darkness and gloom might see, in and through us, the true light that is Christ.  We are called to live lives that radiate the joy of the gospel and, in so doing, to build up a civilization of love.  Jesus–in the first Christian century–called to Himself disciples to share in His mission to proclaim that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  Christ now–in the 21st century–is once again calling for missionary-disciples, especially from the young Church, to proclaim to good news in every corner of the world.

Pope Francis, in his letter to young people announcing the upcoming synod writes,

 

“I would also remind you of the words that Jesus once said to the disciples who asked him: ‘Teacher […] where are you staying?’ He replied, ‘Come and see’ (Jn 1:38). Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.

In Krakow, at the opening of the last World Youth Day, I asked you several times: ‘Can we change things?’ And you shouted: ‘yes!’. That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a ‘throw-away culture’ nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves! Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: ‘Do not be afraid, […], because I am with you to deliver you’ (Jer 1:8).

A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.”

 

The Holy Father’s words represent a new call to greatness for young people and for us all.

Surely there are many challenges that await us in the coming decades and the century that lies ahead of us.  But equally certain is that the solution to these challenges will not lie in blind faith in science and technology.  If the past fifty years (or even the past 150 years since the industrial revolution) have taught us anything, it is that with each new technological “miracle” comes some new moral horror.

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Photo by: Nick Harris

Life saving developments in chemistry and biology brought on the horrors of chemical and biological weapons.  The promises of limitless, cheap nuclear energy resulted in the threat of nuclear war.  The widespread use of the internal combustion engine has resulted in a global threat to our environment of unprecedented magnitude.  And even the Internet–which promised to draw together the whole human family into one global village–has resulted in crippling psychological isolation and an addiction of epidemic proportions.

Clearly the promise of a scientific solution to humanity’s current ills is not what our world needs to restore our hope.  That ship has sailed.

And so it will be in every age.  Technology is not the solution to the most fundamental human problem because the fact of the matter is that our technological capacities have always outstripped our moral capacity to use technology for the good of all, ever since Cain first picked up a stick and said, “I wonder what I could do with this.”

No, the response we need to the challenges that face us is not technological but relational.  What humanity needs is not more gadgets but more…well, humanity.

Perhaps the moon shot of our day is to recapture and boldly defend the intrinsic and immeasurable value to every human life.  To single out from among all the shining lights of God’s creation the unique beauty of the human person–created in His image and likeness, created male and female, created for union with one another and with their Creator.

Perhaps the bold mission of today is not to the moon or Mars–though those are exciting places I’m sure–but to have the courage to discern carefully my own God-given vocation and to live it out fully, faithfully, fruitfully for the rest of my life.

Let us ask God today for the gift of greatness.  Let us beg for the courage to leave behind whatever would hold us back.  Let us resolve ourselves here and now to boldly go, not just wherever we would go, but where our Savior leads us.

 

Written by: Father David Ruchinski

Featured image by: Quang Vũ Trương

Get Excited for Alpha, from a Catholic Gators Alumna

I’m assuming that if you’ve attended at least one Catholic Gators event, or even been at the student center for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably heard something like, “So have you been on Alpha? Have you heard about the Alpha retreat?”

So what is Alpha? Well, that’s the kicker – it’s full of secrets! (Like Gretchen Wieners’ hair.) I went on the Alpha retreat for the first time during my first semester at UF, mostly out of spite, because I was so annoyed that no one would tell me what happened! I had been on retreats in high school, so I figured I had at least a decent idea of what would happen – there would probably be a speaker or two, some skits to illustrate current social problems or a particular Bible passage, some small group discussions, and, depending on how spiritual the retreat was, some time for confession or adoration. So, despite not knowing many people outside of the few friends I had made at Newman Club dinners, I decided to take the plunge and go on this secret retreat. At the very least, it would be a break from schoolwork.

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Photo by: Juliana Schmidt

Alpha was so much more than I had expected. Every person I met on the retreat team was so friendly at all times. They often stopped to ask me how I was enjoying the retreat, if I had any prayer intentions, or how I had felt about the previous hour’s events (did you think I was going to spoil anything in this blog post? I’m too smart for that). Though the emphasis was on getting more integrated into the St. Augustine’s community, which definitely was comforting and helped me make more friends than I had ever expected, I was surprised at the amount of spiritual growth Alpha afforded me as well. God has never intended for us to worship alone – 1 John 1:7 tells us, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Being surrounded by a community of people who love Jesus was never really a blessing I had experienced. Though I had had a strong youth group back home, I always felt like an outsider among them. No one I met on Alpha gave me that feeling.

 

The fruits of Alpha did not end after the retreat, though, and I think that’s my favorite thing about it by far. I was so encouraged by everyone I met that weekend and their constant selflessness that I was inspired to do the same for others. As soon as applications came out for the Alpha retreat team the next semester, I applied and was accepted. At the end of both my freshman and sophomore years, I even got up the courage to run for an officer position of Newman Club. I continued to serve on Alpha team until the semester I graduated, making connections with more and more new members of the Catholic Gators community ready to serve their faith. It has truly meant more to me than anything I’ve done in Gainesville in the more than 4 years I’ve been here.

Please pray for the retreat team and all those attending Alpha Spring 2017 this weekend, particularly those who may be experiencing God’s love for the first time ever.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” –Matthew 18:20

 

Written by: Juliana Schmidt

Featured Image by: Catholic Gators

Seeking a Lasting Love

It’s Valentine’s Day. Which means you’ll probably see a lot of posts on social media of people in happy relationships, at least from the outside. Some of you might think, “Can’t I just have that?” or “I wish I was that happy.” But the question you should really be asking yourself is “Why does my desire for romantic love equate to having joy and fulfillment in my life?”

People, especially young Catholic college kids, want to find a lasting love.

They want someone that loves Jesus and will treat them right. And they think that their life will be so much better and happier with this person in it.

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Photo by: William Stitt

As a big hopeless romantic, I know all about that feeling. I’m a sucker for Nicholas Sparks books and sappy romantic movies. I’ve probably watched A Walk to Remember way too many times than what is acceptable to admit. So I get it. We all want to find love.

Valentine’s Day reminds us of how much we want that romantic love. But if you’re not in a relationship, don’t waste your single days hoping for a boyfriend or girlfriend to make your life better. Trust me, I’ve been there. And if there was one thing I knew before being in a relationship, I wish I knew that.

I’m not trying to take anything away from being in a relationship. It’s true that being in love is awesome and incredible. It makes your head spin sometimes because you just can’t believe that God was so generous to put this person in your life.

But here’s the thing: That someone will never fulfill your life or bring you perfect happiness, so don’t expect them to. It’s just unfair.

It is not their responsibility to be the foundation of your happiness. Jesus Christ should be your source of lasting joy.

Our culture constantly reinforces in our minds this idea that if we find that special someone, we will live “happily ever after” etc… That this person will fill this void within us. That we will no longer have to be afraid of being alone. That they are the answer. Our culture constantly reinforces this in our minds, especially around Valentine’s Day.

But no one person can ever make you truly happy. There will always be a void in your heart that only Christ can fill. Why do you think there are so many divorces in today’s society? Chances are you’ve probably seen someone that you thought was happily in love, break up. Why?

Many times people are searching for something in their significant other that they won’t find from romantic love. They thirst for something more than just romance and affections. The romance and affections will fade over time, but the couples that last know that there is more to love than just feelings. A Christ-centered relationship means that you strive for the love of Christ with the other person.

As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

I know you’ve probably heard it a million times, but it’s so true.

We will always be restless and have this emptiness in us screaming for something more. And only Christ can satisfy that hunger that we desire. No boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, etc. can or will fulfill this responsibility that is Christ’s, so don’t expect them to

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Photo by: Mayur Gala

Sure, if your vocation is marriage, you will find great joy fulfilling that vocation alongside your husband or wife, but Christ and His love should always be the center of that relationship. So if you want your current or future relationships to prosper, start by fostering the love of Christ BEFORE any romantic love. And what better time than right now??Your focus should be on challenging yourself, your boyfriend or girlfriend to grow in their faith and grow closer to Christ. In turn, Christ will lead you closer together.

Men- Be the spiritual leader. Take your girlfriend to mass or surprise her with a Holy Hour as a date night. If you love her, take care of her soul. She will love you all the more for it.

Women- Challenge your man. Ask him to pray with you or suggest volunteering together. Do acts of service. Don’t get so caught up in the emotional and romantic aspects of your relationship, but foster a relationship that brings about spiritual growth by having deep, meaningful conversations.

Receive Christ in the Eucharist.

Adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

Speak to Jesus from the depths of your heart.

Because it is only with quiet time with Jesus that we will truly find peace, meaning and happiness in our lives and relationships.

So I’m just here to remind you that, as Catholic college students, we need to be constantly seeking our true love: Jesus Christ.

He is the One who died for you.

He is the One who will always love you no matter what you do.

He is the One who just wants to be with you.

He is the One who has this perfect plan for your life that He just wants to share with you.

So trust this love.

Trust Jesus.

And I urge you on this Valentine’s Day, whether you’re in a relationship or not, to seek the love of Christ before any other love. Because that is the ONLY love that will bring you true peace and joy.

Without the love of Christ, you won’t have the blissful and lasting relationship that you’re looking for.

So seek Him first, and all else will follow.

Written by: Josie Kuhlman, Restless Heart Communications

Featured image by: Laura Ockel

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