By: Erin Healy

Today as I leave work and venture home to cook dinner, many Iraqi Christians will lie in fear, starved of food and water. Tonight, as I brush my teeth, wash my face, and snuggle under my covers, Iraqi Muslim minorities and non-Muslims will awake from another uneasy night, wondering, I’m sure, if it might have been their last.

Iraqi Christian WomenGenocide is taking place 6,200 miles away and many (myself included) are left feeling helpless. We can temporarily change our Facebook profile picture, repost the horrific media reports, and support our government’s decision to deploy airstrikes and aid. But at the end of the day, this tragedy does not have an immediate human solution. In these moments, as we should with all things, we must turn to the Divine.

As we pray and fast for the safety of our Christian brothers and sisters, and all those suffering persecution in Iraq, we must also remember to ask that God’s mercy be shown to their aggressors and all those who seek to destroy human life. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded of the words of Our Lord: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

St. Therese of Lisieux, a great saint and Doctor of the Church, modeled this commandment at a young age. Upon hearing of the infamous French serial killer, Henri Pranzini, who was to be guillotined, she began to courageously pray for his conversion. The morning following his death, the paper reported that just moments before his execution, Pranzini grasped the crucifix held before him and kissed the wounds of Christ three times.

Following the words of Our Lord, let us not lose heart in tragedy, but take our prayers and sacrifices to Him, confident in His faithfulness and infinite mercy.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

This Friday, August 15, marks the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It marks when the Blessed Virgin was taken up by the Holy Trinity, body and soul into glory. The significance of this mystery should not be understated. As the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (Directory) states it, “This is an ancient memorial of the Mother of God, which signifies and synthesizes many of the truths of the faith” (Directory, 180).

Popular piety surrounds this Solemnity with great fervor and devotion all over the world. “In many places the feast is synonymous with the person of Our Lady, and is simply referred to as “Our Lady’s Day” or as the “Immacolada” in Spain and Latin America” (Directory, 181).

Titian - AssuntaAmong the towns and villages of Italy, processions take place throughout the streets. Of course, no procession is complete without music, and so, in Portugal, the Romeria is celebrated. Its signature is a brass band  accompanied by drums and bagpipes. In Portugal, though, an interesting twist is that the image of Our Lady of the Angels is crowned – I can see that.

In Poland and Germanic countries, it was customary for the peasantry to bring their herbs to Church for a blessing. The Directory shares an interesting reason for this tradition in paragraph 181:

In the Germanic countries, the custom of blessing herbs is associated with August 15. This custom, received into the Rituale Romanum 200, represents a clear example of the genuine evangelization of pre-Christian rites and beliefs: One must turn to God — through whose word “the earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seeds in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds” (Gen 1:12) — in order to obtain what was formerly obtained by magic rites, to stem the damages deriving from poisonous herbs, and to benefit from the efficacy of curative herbs.

This ancient use came to be associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in part because of the biblical images applied to her such as vine, lavender, cypress, and lily; and in part from seeing her in terms of a sweet-smelling flower because of her virtue; but most of all, because of Isaiah 11:1 and his reference to the “shoot springing from the side of Jesse,” which would bear the blessed fruit of Jesus.

And one last interesting tradition may be found at Quimper in Brittany during what they call the “Feast of the Soul, dedicated to Mary as the great consoler.”

It is here considered a day for betrothals, when young men and women come to ask her blessing on their future. The image of the Virgin is placed at the church door during the day, and at night carried into the village square, later to be returned in procession to her shrine. Then, to the light of bonfires and the music of bagpipes, young people dance and make merry.[1]

Popular piety is manifested through traditions which are practical ways to introduce to culture the importance of this Solemnity as well as emphasize its theological significance. The Assumption is for all humanity the greatest witness to the efficacy of Christ’s salvation, a pledge to the future glory promised to us by the Father, a guarantee of the Lord’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises for the humble and lowly, and a consolation and signpost of hope that one of us, in the flesh, has already been brought into heaven and we, too, are called to such a dignity.

Queen Mary, assumed into heaven, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

[1] Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, Catholic Activity Assumption Day Traditions: August 15, CatholicCulture.org, accessed August 12, 2014, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1142.

By: Lynette Wilhelm, Staff Spotlight

The start of August means that my wedding is in less than a month. It’s surreal to think that all of the emails, texts, and appointments will soon be summed up in one big, crazy, beautiful day!

One thing that has come up often in the weeks leading up to this point is other people’s comments that both my fiancé and I seem relatively relaxed. It always catches me a little off guard, but after thanking the commenter – while remembering the few last-minute items on my To-Do list – I try to remember to say a quick prayer of thanksgiving for the graces given that have allowed me, at least the appearance of, relative calm.

Couple_01Prayer is what got us to this point. Prayer is what started the relationship (on CatholicMatch.com), prayer is what caused it to bloom (by being able to share in the sacraments such as the Eucharist and confession), and prayer is what’s guiding it to the “finish line” of the wedding ceremony. Enough cannot be said about the value in prayer in dating and in marriage prep!

Even if it was a simple Hail Mary in the car as I drove off to yet another bridal show, or a quick intention during the Angelus for my fiancé, I cannot help but think that this time has been overflowing with heavenly graces from prayer. Incorporating prayer into the wedding plans kept us focused on the real purpose of negotiating the best price-per-person at the hotel or the perfect color for bridesmaid dresses to coordinate with the flowers that are in season in late August. Because even if we didn’t get the best deal on limo rentals, and didn’t interview dozens of photographers, it will be our day, the first of (hopefully) many as husband and wife.

My advice for other couples entering into this period of engagement and preparation is to keep the sacraments in mind, and to never forget to pray. A few months ago, my fiancé and I started the practice of ending each day (whether in person, on the phone, or over Skype) with at least one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and a Glory Be. Sometimes, if one of us was in a bad mood (okay, it was usually me), it was difficult to get to that prayer time. Who really wants to call upon Our Lady when we’re feeling grumpy and annoyed that the DJ – yet again – didn’t return my call? By remembering our time for prayer, we could talk, sort out the problem, and approach this sacrament together fully receptive to the graces flowing. And boy, do they come!

Another thing to pray over are the readings chosen for the wedding ceremony. Hopefully you’re not choosing 1 Corinthians just because of the cool frame you saw at Home Goods a few weeks ago! The USCCB lists all of the appropriate Catholic wedding readings at For Your Marriage. Go through all of them at least once and think about the messages they convey, and how they can start your marriage off right at the ceremony. I’m sure your mind will be racing too much on your wedding day to really listen to them, so it’s good to know and understand them now.

As I wrap up all the little details to make our wedding day special and memorable, I try to remember that it’s through God’s graces that I am here. I pray that I never forget that the vows we exchange at the Nuptial Mass. Besides, those will get us through more than trying to match the groomsmen cufflinks perfectly with the bridesmaids’ earrings!

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

Lynette Wilhelm has a B.A. in Political Science from Hillsdale College and a Master’s from the University of Dallas. She works for the Office for Child Protection & Safety coordinating safe environment training for the Diocese of Arlington.

By: Rev. Robert J. Wagner, Staff Spotlight

On some level, each of us wants to believe that the closer we come to Jesus, the less we will have to suffer. This might cause us to believe that we can reach a level of holiness where the Lord rewards us by removing the suffering we endure and replacing it with peace. Of course, such thinking can lead to spiritual frustration, especially when we realize that no matter how much we pray and fast and serve in the name of the Lord, the trials do not end. In those times, it is helpful to remember that if we want to be His disciple, Jesus asks us to pick up our cross daily (cf. Lk 9:23).

That being said, there is a spiritual correlation between sanctity and peace, for the closer we are to God, the more we experience His peace. However, it is not peace as the world understands peace — a peace that exists because the trials are gone. Instead, the Lord’s peace exists amidst the trials of the world. It is the peace of the disciple who understands that these trials, these crosses, are part of the plan God has for our salvation.

Christ at the Sea of Galilee - TintorettoIn the Gospel this Sunday, several miraculous events occur that lead the apostles to confess to Jesus, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” They had left the previous evening to travel across the Sea of Galilee, but a powerful and terrifying storm arose that kept them from progressing to the other side. By the fourth watch of the night (between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.), they found themselves several miles off shore, struggling in the darkness but getting nowhere, scared and tired as the winds and the waves continued to rage all around them and their boat.

In the midst of that storm, Jesus appeared to them, miraculously walking across the water and emboldening them with the words, “Take courage; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Further, Jesus silenced the storm and calmed the sea, which led to the apostles professing His divinity in faith (“You are the Son of God”).

He also strengthened St. Peter, who showed great faith, not only by stepping out of the boat to walk on the water when Jesus commanded him to, but also by asking Jesus to command him to walk on the water in the first place. However, Jesus strengthened Peter’s faith even more when He reprimanded Peter for being distracted by the winds and the storm around him and for losing faith that he was safely in the power of Our Lord.

Through this Gospel encounter, we marvel at the wonders the apostles saw that night and recognize how all the events they witnessed led to their growth in faith. Without the great storm, it would not have been possible. Their trust in Jesus and their ability to place their faith in Him was stronger because of their struggle on the boat in that dark and stormy night.

A surprising detail in this Gospel account is that the apostles did not enter the boat without Jesus that night by their own choice. No, “Jesus made the disciples get into a boat” while He stayed on shore to minister to the people and pray. In His divine knowledge, Jesus knew of the storm and the struggle that lay before them, but He also knew the growth in faith it would offer them all. Likewise, He knows the storms we will encounter and how they can be a means of our sanctity as well. Yes, in our weakness we would prefer the holiness without the struggle, but Jesus knows the way to our salvation. Let us pray that when the path He guides us along is wrought with trials and storms, we may faithfully keep our eyes on Him, trust in His love for us, and know the peace His presence in our midst brings to our lives.

This Gospel commentary first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

Fr. Robert Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s secretary.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

By: Natalie Plumb

One weekday night, at a bar and out with friends, I was in the ladies room washing my hands. The woman at the sink adjacent to me let out a heaving sigh, looking downcast. I asked her what was wrong. She said “boys,” and left it at that.

She seemed like she needed someone to talk to her, and so I asked: “What do you mean?”

She relented: “Well, there’s this guy out there right now; we used to date; it’s really awkward right now.”

Knowing that it was likely awkward to her because she had experienced a long, drawn-out emotional and physical connection with him only meant for her future husband (later, she implied exactly that), I was about to cheerily encourage her and even offer advice. But before I could open my mouth, another woman (call her hand-washer for distinction) stepped up to the sink next to me and piped in, saying: “Yeah, they’re all jerks.”

smiling_coupleI uncomfortably crinkled my brow, thinking that they all certainly are not “jerks.” I know plenty of good men. So do lots of women. I quickly estimated that she was exaggerating, and decided that maybe she was looking in the wrong places, and at the wrong guys altogether.

“Just don’t give those types of guys the time of day,” I said. “You can’t do that to yourself; you’re worth more.”

The hand-washer girl waited no more than half a beat before saying something that I never expected to hear in response.

“I wish I were mature enough for that.”

The girl who had been downcast began frantically bobbing her head up and down in agreement. And with that, both of them had left.

The door slowly came to a close. I probably looked exasperated and confused. Did I hear correctly?

Gazing at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I thought… “What has become of us, ladies?”

I mean to insult no one. But to say what she had said, effectively dismissing the idea that any woman should try to uphold any form of “mature” standard when it comes to going out with a man, and to just take him as he comes, is appalling.

Men will want to live up to the standards of women who have them if they are good men, and not “boys” looking for something “cheaper.” As women, we can ask for what we deserve. In turn, you end up encouraging yet another man to be a man, one who deserves you. And the rest of the “boys” in the field are not your problem.

I mean, think about natural selection – May only the good men win! I’m jesting, but it’s basically true. By marrying a good man, you’re not stealing someone else’s good man; you’re actually creating more good men in the children you choose to have or adopt. Those good sons of yours will (likely) respect the women they eventually marry. It’s cyclical.

I’m here to shout what Wendy Shalit says in “Return to Modesty.” I’d love to echo the voices of Stasi and John Eldredge in their book, “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul,” when they call for us to “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.”

That is what you are made to be, Daughter of God. Beautiful, irreplaceable, inspiring, romanced… All of these things are written on our hearts.

What has become of us that we cannot stand up for the dignity we deserve by holding the men in our lives accountable, and refusing to make excuses? What has become of us when we decide to wear skimpy clothing and encourage our sisters to do the same?

Who are we becoming when we call our girlfriends expletives? Who are we becoming if we if we compete for another woman’s husband, rather than respecting the dignity of what is truly ours, not someone else’s, and then still expect the husband we stole to be faithful to us? (Fool me once….)

Why will we not stand up for what matters? Why do we not call every single man to action, to confront the problem of pornography, and defeat it?

I’m here to speak to you, ladies. Ladies, I want you to know that you are not alone. A man of God is out there for you, God willing. Do not settle. Advice, support, teaching and encouragement are here. That’s what this intermittent series “Dating 101” aims to do, through both lighthearted and heavy topics – abuse, dating advice and experiences, etiquette, divorce, transgender issues, marriage, egg freezing, Natural Family Planning, seduction – all and more are relevant.

Comments are wholly encouraged! Let the discussion begin.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Thérèse Bermpohl

Bring up immigration in a room full of people and it’s like tossing a match onto a stack of dry hay. Emotions flare and opinions collide. As I write this, I know that there are many sides to each story, huge obstacles to bring about solutions and many political and economic realities at stake. But I cannot see past the immediate need of innocent children whose very lives are threatened as they fall victim to the harrowing experience of being brought into our country.

The situation in the United States is dire and there is certainly enough blame to go around, from the president to Congress. Yet while the powers that be haggle over ways to tackle this enormous problem, the reality looms. There are some 10 to 13 million undocumented immigrants already living among us. According to the Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB, in 2014 the U.S. will experience up to 90,000 unaccompanied children fleeing to her from all parts of Central America.1

lampedusa-pope_2611669kI cannot help but ask what hellish scenario would have to exist for someone to send his or her child, alone, on a dangerous journey to a foreign country? War? Famine? Fear of torture? Most of the children at the border are coming from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  Those countries have the first, fourth and fifth highest murder rates (respectively) in the world. Coupled with poverty, corrupt governments and drug cartels, we are no longer talking about a better quality of life. We are talking about survival.

Every day, I pass by a day-laborer site in Arlington. I can feel the discomfort in the pit of my stomach as I stare at the hundreds of Hispanic men begging for work. Not a handout, but work! In his encyclical “On Human Work” Pope John Paul II wrote: “Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family” (Laborem Exercens, 16).  I try to imagine a situation where sin, division, and hatred would have forced my own father to stand on a street corner imploring foreigners to hire him so that he could put food on the table for his family.

There is no escaping the fact that we have an immigration system in urgent need of an overhaul. We also have urgent and very legitimate border security needs. But in the meantime, what are we to do with the millions of human beings in our midst?

Arguably, the best response can be found in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,  a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me…”

[1] USCCB, Unaccompanied Migrant Children Resource Kithttp://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/unaccompanied-migrant-children-resource-kit.cfm.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

There is something profound about the sound of the breaking waves of an ocean upon the seashore. I really cannot explain why it is except to say that I sense that if I had “ears to hear,” I would be able to perceive the voice of our Lord.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Silmarillion seemed to infer the same when he wrote:

“It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”

Sacred Scripture provides a number of references relating to either the voice of the Lord or His coming:

“When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightnings for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Jer 10:13).

“And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of a host; when they stood still, they let down their wings” (Ez 1:24).

“And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory” (Ez 43:2).

“And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps” (Rev 14:2).

When on vacation in the Outer Banks, my family has a tradition of every beach (2)evening walking up to the pier and listening to the breaking of the waves. We just stand there for about an hour just watching and listening. It is peaceful. It is calming. It is awe-filled. There is power and gentility. There is the swell of a wave that bellows with a mighty roar as it begins to break and then ends in a gentle trickle of the sea foam upon the sand.

What is it about the sound of the ocean that refreshes us and seems to fill us with joy? Why do we quiet down to listen so intently? I think we are built to recognize the voice of the Lord or even its echoes; sometimes in the roar of the mighty waters (Ps 93:4) and at other times in a gentle whisper (1 Kgs 19:12). Maybe it is another way in which the Lord draws us to Himself though creation (CCC 32) in order to open us to the possibility of hearing His voice in the depths of our souls.

We are now in August and fall is quickly approaching. The summer has been busy, and not necessarily with work but play. Are we taking regular time to listen for the voice of He “who has measured the waters in the hallow of his hand…” (Is 40:12)? He desires so much to speak us. Do we have ears to hear? May we answer like Samuel when we perceive His voice in the depths of our hearts: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sm 3:9).


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