Caring For God’s Creation

As a recent graduate of Franciscan University, Saint Francis of Assisi has taught me much about my place in this world in relation to all of creation. It is through Saint Francis’ example that we as Catholics are called to be in harmony with God by living lives of simplicity and gratitude. Through our daily commitment to God’s creation, we must be good stewards of the wellbeing of the poor and of nature. 

Just three years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Assisi and hiking up Mount Subasio, to the Hermitage of Carceri, where St. Francis would retreat to pray. Taking the path that he was said to hike up almost daily, we ascended approximately 2.5 miles above Assisi and were immediately engulfed by nature. Looking over the “City of Peace,” it was no surprise why St. Francis had this profound connection to our Lord through the beauty of creation. This experience of God in nature and all of creation is one that we were all created for, not just Saint Francis. Pope Francis explains this relationship in his encyclical, Laudato Si. In this encyclical, Pope Francis explains that integral ecology is the notion that all things of this earth are interrelated and that there is a clear relationship between nature and our society, which is built upon it. He writes:

An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics.

Laudato Si, 156

Based upon this principle, the way in which we choose to care for God’s creation is directly linked to how we respect the dignity of all people and care for our poor brothers and sisters. While this may prove to be something that we all believe, we must identify that there is too often a gap between what we believe and how we practice it. In our developed society, it can be hard to realize our connection to God through nature, especially when most of us don’t have a mountain to retreat up, as Saint Francis did.

We do, however, have a clear duty as Catholics to protect and restore creation, so the Lord may work through more people as their eyes are opened to creation’s boundless beauty. In paragraph five of Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes: 

Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.”

This is how we practice what we believe. As Psalm 33 states, “the Earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” and as Christians, we have a duty to protect this multifaceted manifestation of His glory just as meticulously as we protect manmade paintings of Him in art museums. Why should we negligently allow pollution to damage this gift that God Himself surrounded and entrusted us with, when we wouldn’t dream of allowing similar damages to taint the human-created artwork of Him that we’ve been diligently preserving for centuries?

We must make changes to our ways of living as it is necessary to preserve nature, and we must advocate for the changes that we want to see, whether that be politically or within our own homes. By advocating for these necessary causes, we then can help those around us to recognize the integral ecology that Pope Francis describes, and we all will make better decisions because of it. By working to preserve nature, we are ultimately serving all those who inhabit this earth and thus living out our Christian faith. In a society where creation is better valued and cared for, we may begin to feel more like Saint Francis did in the little town of Assisi. May we then begin to see God moving in all of creation.

The Gift of the Present

By Grace Pollock

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

-Jesus in Matthew 6:34

Live in the present moment. Haven’t we all heard this phrase so many times and wondered what it means and why others seem to think it’s so important?

Have you ever been laying in bed, just trying to fall asleep quickly, (so maybe for once you can get a full seven hours of rest), and all of a sudden your brain decides it’s the perfect time to mentally revisit a super awkward conversation you had with that cute guy or girl last month? And suddenly it seems like all of your most embarrassing memories come flooding in— even the ones that happened so long ago that you should definitely be over by now. It’s easy to get caught up in the past, whether it’s by overthinking those uncomfortable moments that no one remembers but you, or by wishing you could go back to your favorite times in life. Similarly it can be so easy to get lost in the future. I’m the type of person that loves to have a plan. I like to have a plan for the next week, or even the next year. If I had the time, I would probably try to plan out my next 60 years.

While planning ahead and enjoying old memories are both good things, it is easy to get too immersed in them, allowing ourselves to completely miss what is going on in the moment that we’re living.

This is where that phrase “living in the present moment” comes in. Living in the present moment benefits us by helping us enjoy the little things in life and overcoming regret about the past and anxiety about the future. But let me give you something else to think about: what does living in the present moment do for the people around me? How can this idea of living in the moment bring the love and mercy of Christ to the people I meet?

Last Fall, I had an experience that completely changed my perspective on this idea of living in the present moment. I was sitting in my dorm studying with a friend for an Anatomy and Physiology test and gosh— I was just so homesick. And in the middle of our study session, I just started talking to her about my family. I told her about the funny things that had happened last summer and mused about my siblings’ personalities. In retrospect, I realize that all of this could have been so incredibly boring for my friend! But instead of cutting me off after a few minutes and reminding me that we needed to study, she sat and listened to me ramble on and on. She asked questions and made me feel like she wanted to hear everything I had to say.

After she left that evening, I realized that she had put off her own studying just to be present with me. Her ability to put aside her future problems and be there for me in the moment that I needed her is exactly what living in the present moment looks like.

Don’t get me wrong— it is hard to live in the present moment. But Jesus works in such a powerful way through us when we do. When we aren’t constantly fretting about the past or speculating about the future, it is so much easier to be aware of the needs of those around us. Focusing on the present allows us the freedom to notice others’ stress, sadness, joy, and desires to be understood, and we are able to respond accordingly. Our response doesn’t have to be big or important. Sometimes all we need to give is a smile or a few moments of our time, but in those small acts of love, we are seeing the face of Christ in the people around us and allowing ourselves to be instruments of His love for them.

As Mother Teresa said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” So I challenge you today, let us begin! Trust in the Lord, put aside your worries about the past and the future, and live life moment by moment. Far more important than the hour we could spend thinking about the past or future are the beautiful moments and opportunities to grow with those around us by relishing in the here and now.

Vulnerability: A Pillar of Charity

By Helen West

I was sitting in front of the face of Jesus in adoration one morning several years ago, desperately seeking direction in my walk with Him. I cried out to the LORD to tell me one thing, anything that He willed for me to do. He responded with a command to, “Love others as I have loved you.”

“Okay, a little cliché, but I can work with that, Lord,” I thought, and I set out to radically spread God’s love to those around me. However, I soon discovered what felt like a dam surrounding my heart, holding back the flood of love and mercy God had poured into me. I found myself being hypercritical towards others and making snap judgments of people, distancing myself from them if they behaved a certain way, said profanities, or expressed an opinion I disagreed with.

This plight went on for years as I wondered, “God, what is keeping me from loving the way you have called me to?”

It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to attend a leadership retreat in the Fall of 2021 that it began to dawn on me what this commandment entailed. One of the activities with our small groups was to share life events that had shaped who we were in the present. They encouraged us to get vulnerable, and I was ready to stay within my comfort zone, sharing the same testimony I had in the past. However, as the first person in my small group began to share the inner workings of her story, my heart was broken wide open. I began to cry with her, rejoice with her, and found that many of her struggles resonated with me.

Seeing the humanity in the people surrounding me, I was able to take a deeper look at my hardships I had endured on my own path with the Lord, share them, and be met with receptiveness and compassion in return. It was in this communion with my small group that I found a greater ability to love others as God has loved me.

Coming off of that weekend, the Lord left me with a considerable truth: everyone has past wounds and experiences that have shaped them into who they are today and may not be detectable from the surface. Everyone has the same deep desires to be known and loved, and those needs can be neglected or wounded in many different ways. We may think that our struggles are unique or that another person doesn’t struggle at all— both of which are assumptions the devil loves to see us make because they foster isolation and resentment.

Contrarily, God challenges us to embrace individuals in their woundedness just as He has embraced us. Although everyday environments do not always allow for the deep intimacy I experienced at this conference, the Lord still calls us into relationships with others in the day-to-day. We have so much to learn from those around us and their crosses, as they can speak to the recesses of our hearts as well in unexpected ways. We can only reach the possibility to see God through others if we approach them with a tender heart that is abundant in love and forgiveness.

This is not a one time decision or a demeanor developed overnight. Radically loving others takes time, patience, strength, and trust. It takes spending time with the One who loved us into existence, learning from His experiences with rejection and hatred. This call to love our neighbors as He loves us requires us to stay close to Him who is Love and allow ourselves to be open to the ability to learn more about our God’s heart through authentic connection with others.

The True Nature of Humility

By Anna Rodriguez

Humility. I thought I knew and understood what this word meant. The Lord has certainly been redefining this word for me, which has brought me to a more intimate relationship with Him.

I used to be convinced that humility was achieved after an incident or situation that led to feelings of embarrassment and feeling bad about myself. It equated to defeat in my mind. I am coming to learn that this is so opposite of what it really means to experience humility.

This last semester, my heart was in a very fragile place. I had lots of personal things going on in my life that ended up taking a big toll on me. From big transitions to changes in relationships to struggles with mental health, it proved to be a season of breaking, crushing, and purifying. I began to really struggle with depression and anxiety, both of which snuck their way into every aspect of my life. I did not feel like myself at all, and I couldn’t understand why. I also found myself isolated in my room most of the time.

As things got worse, I decided it was best to quit the band and the track team, which I was previously involved in at the college I attend. This situation was extremely difficult because I love people, I loved being involved with the band, and I loved being on the track team. They were all things I loved but also things I could not keep up with at the time. It began to feel like everything that was familiar and comfortable was being stripped from me.

I felt so defeated in every aspect; thus, I named it a humbling experience. I went through a portion of this time with the mindset of, “My life feels miserable right now, but that’s okay because I’ll just offer it up.” After a few weeks, I finally started questioning my disposition. “Doesn’t there have to be more to just offering it up? There is no way that the Lord desires me to be miserable.”I kept asking these questions in prayer, and they led to my skewed definition of humility. The Lord revealed that I was looking at humility through a lens of defeat because I was way more focused on myself than I was on him. I was putting everything I thought I had and everything I thought I was in the core of my heart instead of recognizing it as total gift from God. My eyes were fixed on the gifts and not the Giver.

As we take our eyes off of ourselves, we begin to become little. Becoming little has the potential to be a very painful thing when we are wrapped place our identities in what we do, what we have achieved, what others think of us, etc. It also leads to a very liberating way of life. The reality is the littler we become, the more room there is for God. As I began to embrace my littleness, He took up the room in my heart that had previously belonged to other people and worldly matters. Through His sheer goodness, power, and love, the weakest parts of my heart were revived to a strength that I, anyone, or anything could have never achieved.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself— it is thinking of yourself less.

C.S. Lewis

Women Who Struggle With Purity: You Are Not Alone

By Katie Collin

In a world that oftentimes promotes sexual promiscuity, it can feel especially lonely and isolating for Catholic women who struggle to live out the virtue of purity. It comes as no surprise that the devil distorts our desires when we try to live out that virtue. My struggle began in middle school with pornography and masturbation, and later involved wrestling with intrusive lustful thoughts and a difficulty viewing others chastely. Whether you are tempted by this or any other sexual sin, you’re not alone. I don’t know your story exactly, but I share in common the loneliness and shame that many women feel when tempted by sins of impurity.

I was exposed to pornography in middle school and sadly my curiosity led me down a rabbit hole. I felt trapped and didn’t tell anyone for five years. I attended Catholic High School, went to church weekly, and enjoyed participating in youth group and many retreats. But I felt so alone, like I was the only one fighting these demons. While at retreats, men’s talks were full of practical resources on how to combat temptations of impurity but women’s talks didn’t address it, making me feel even more helpless. Eventually, I decided to watch some of the men’s talks on YouTube. I felt so alone in my addiction. What made things worse is what people would say about women who struggled with impurity- that they are “disgusting” and “gross.”

I want to pause right here and say that you are not disgusting, and you are not gross— any voice that tells you otherwise is from the Enemy. You are a beautiful, beloved daughter of God. You were worth dying for. If the God who created the universe says this, why should you believe anything else?

Ironically, it wasn’t until I told someone about my struggle with impurity that I truly started to experience freedom. This was the most vulnerable I had ever been. In the fetal position and bawling, I told my friend of my struggles with purity. She looked at me with such love and acceptance- the way I envision Christ looks at us when we come to him. Then she just sat by me. I’m convinced her presence was God being present to me through her. She encouraged me to open up more about my struggles, and I did.

It wasn’t easy but I began to give my witness to others, I went to confession often, I asked people for prayers and advice, and I started to combat my sin with prayer. It was not easy. Shame had its hold on me for years. However, it is truly by the grace of God that I was able to fight this fight. The devil wants us to internalize our struggles, so I did the opposite. I began sharing my experience with people in hopes that they would help me, and as a result, God worked through these friends, and it became easier. I am forever thankful for these people’s prayers.

Was I perfect in my fight? No. But I didn’t stop and I am much closer to freedom, and I now can better control my temptations. Jesus wants us free, that’s why he redeemed us by the cross. Don’t lose sight of that.

Today, I am no longer trapped by sins of impurity. Although, temptations hasn’t totally disappeared, and Satan will occasionally try to tempt me, the devil has no power if we don’t give it to him. When I feel spiritually attacked, I immediately turn to Mary, Our Mother. I reach out to a support group I lead for women who struggle with purity. It is comforting knowing there are other women carrying this cross and knowing that I am not alone.

You are not alone in this fight either.

I encourage you if you struggle with impurity to tell someone you trust. Laying out your sinfulness to others can be one of the hardest things to do, but from that you will start to experience the freedom only God can give. He wants you to bring this into the light. Telling someone you trust provides accountability and prayerful support when you need it. It can be difficult to find resources just for women, but keep looking, even if you wind up utilizing information intended for men. You can cater them to yourself, which is okay. I have listed some resources below. In the end, your efforts will pay off. You can do this! Put your armor on and keep fighting the good fight. I will be praying for you.