The Christmas Candle: A Story of Heroism, a Story of Love

November 30, 2011

With the arrival of December, my dorm’s begun putting up Christmas decorations, including Christmas candles in the front windows.  Countless of our cherished Christmas traditions, upheld even in today’s secular world, are rooted in Christianity.  But the story behind the Christmas Candle is particularly special:  For it is a story of heroism and love that can inspire a world deeply in need of more heroic and loving Catholics.

The Christmas Candle originated in Ireland in the late 17th – early 18th centuries, when British rulers attempted to suppress Catholicism in Ireland.  Their “Penal Laws” forbade Catholics from practicing their faith and even expelled all Catholic clergy.

However, a faith so full of hope is not easily abandoned, and it kept the Irish together.  Bishops and priests traveled in circuits to minister to their people in secret.  During Christmastime in particular, a Catholic family — hoping to be ministered the sacraments by a priest — would place a lit candle in their front window and leave their door unlocked.  It was in this way that priests knew which homes to visit.  When the British authorities became suspicious, the Irish explained that it was a superstition of theirs:  They lit candles and left their doors unlocked because they hoped to be visited by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

It’s a beautiful story that demonstrates the heroic, sacrificial nature of the priesthood and the courageous commitment to the Catholic faith of the Irish.  And it’s because of that story that the Christmas Candle is a cherished tradition.

Today, Christmas Candles are recognized as a beautiful Christmas decoration, yes.  But next time you see it, remember for what it stands: the heroism of the priesthood, and the hope and love only the Catholic faith can offer.

Happy Advent!


Why we need Thanksgiving: Hard Work Doesn’t Guarantee Success

November 24, 2011

On this Thanksgiving morning, I discovered an Ayn Rand quote that really got me thinking.

Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday.  In spite of its religious form (giving thanks to God for a good harvest), its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production.  It is a producers’ holiday.  The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.

Ayn Rand, despite her atheism, has impressed me immensely on morality — especially in regards to individual responsibility.  (read: objectivism)  However, I believe that her quote shows how atheism can only take you so far.

Thanksgiving is not the celebration of success earned through hard work.  (If that is the case, what are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving?  Ourselves?)  And it’s because hard work does not guarantee success.  Countless good people sacrifice hours of planning, work, and hurt to achieve success; and yet because of an unfair circumstance, or someone else’s ill-will, or simply a bad break, they do not achieve success.  (Think about the Pilgrims who worked hard and still did not survive their first winter.)  Their heartbreak is tragic, really.

Rather, Thanksgiving is the reminder that — while our hard work can set us up for success and comfort — our blessings and gifts, ultimately, come from God.  It’s a realization that we are not automatically entitled to success because of our hard work. And it’s also the realization that we don’t have to have small gifts oft taken for granted: family, friends, food, a home.  We didn’t have to be born with these gifts.  And even if we were, they could easily be lost.

Thanksgiving reminds us that we don’t have to have anything.  And yet, because of God’s grace, we do.  That’s why it’s so appropriate to dedicate a day of giving thanks to Him, who gives us everything.

In the words of Governor William Bradford in the fall of 1623:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims … do gather at ye meeting house … on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three … there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all his blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Why it makes sense that America’s #1 Business School is Catholic

November 16, 2011

I’m taking my first business class at Notre Dame this semester (Entrepreneurial Insights, a 1-credit course), and it’s given me a greater appreciation for Business that I, as a liberal arts major, did not have before.

What’s struck me is that the Mendoza College of Business — at least from what I’ve seen — is very, if not outwardly so, Catholic.  And it got me thinking:  It makes sense that America’s #1 Business School is Catholic.  Because Catholics have values that often can lead to success in the business world.  Here are some of those values:


1)  Ethics:  Business is all about reputation.  No one wants to deal with a person who is shady or untrustworthy, but everyone wants to deal with someone who is upright and has concern for others.  Ethics play a huge part in that.

Notre Dame thrives at fostering business ethics in her students because as Catholics, we’re taught to keep the bigger picture in mind.  It’s important that we uphold our integrity and stay true to our values; temporary material gain is never the final goal.


2)  Risks:  In business, you have to take risks.  Otherwise, you will never succeed.  Catholics, too, are called to take risks.  Risk-taking, to an extent, is the ultimate sign of trust in God.  It’s the realization that God gave us certain gifts, that we are called to risk and grow those gifts ad majorem Dei gloriam, and that divine Providence will guide us to where we’re meant to be.

Consider the Parable  of the Talents.  The master punishes the servant who was too scared to invest his money.  But he rewards the two servants who took the risk of investment.


3)  Opportunity Recognition:  You have to recognize and take advantage of opportunities in business.  Catholics thrive at this because from the cradle we are taught the skill of opportunity-recognition — specifically, recognizing the opportunity for grace.  God placed us on this earth so that we can bring His presence to others and so that we can grow closer to Him (through a good deed, through an expression of concern, through a prayer).  It is our job to be ever-attuned to these opportunities for God’s grace.


4)  GrowthCatholics love growth.  The Church has been growing all over the world for 2 millennia.  Catholic families are some of the biggest you’ll see around.  There’s a joy and hope in Catholicism that makes us want to share it with as many people as we can, and that’s why the Church keeps growing.

Business, too, seeks growth — expanding influence, expanding client base, expanding the infrastructure.  The Catholic businessman would be well-served to carry this enthusiasm for growth from the chapel over into the office.


5)  Social Concern:  Businessmen need to be attuned to people’s needs.  A business has no purpose if it’s not somehow serving the people; all the time, successful business arise when entrepreneurs recognize that society has a need.

Catholics, too, are taught to respond to the needs of others.  There’s a recognition that we are not born for ourselves alone, that our lives should in part be dedicated to improving the lives of others.


Those are some of my thoughts.  Do you (dis)agree with this list?  Am I overstretching some of the comparisons?  Any additional items you think should be added?

The Self-Sacrificial Nature of Being Catholic

November 14, 2011

People have told me before that I’m one of the happiest kids they know:  I get excited easily and love to share that excitement with others; to them, I just seem to have a profound joy for life.

Which is weird because, to be honest, I don’t think I focus on being happy at all.  What defines me, I think, is that I really love to make other people happy.  Not in the cheap sense.  I don’t lie, for example, to make people feel good about themselves, and I won’t go out of my way to bring a temporary happiness or, worse, an illusion of happiness.

But I like to help others find meaning in life.  I don’t mean this in a cocky or pretentious way; I’m not saying I have divine knowledge or inspiration.  But I do like to make people feel special…I like playing a part in helping them find their place in the world.  Some of the most meaningful moments for me is when I talk to friends about finding direction — whether it be deciding a major, or how to approach relationships, or how to live life to the benefit of others.  Equally as meaningful for me, though, is simply having a short conversation with someone I don’t know well — showing him or her that I care.

I love to help people realize that they have a place in the world, that there’s a higher purpose in life, and that God’s always there for them.  Because ultimately, I think that’s what makes people happy.  And when I focus on other people’s happiness, I often find that I myself am happy.

I’m writing this post now because I’ve been focusing a lot on my own happiness recently.  I keep asking myself, “What do I want?”  and “What can I do to get what I want?”  But in doing so, I find myself dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and, yes, unhappy.  And it makes me feel wholly out of character.  When I’m focusing on me, I am no longer me.

All this stems from my Catholic values.  The nature of being Catholic, I think, is a willingness to give oneself to others.  The Catholic mission is dedicating yourself to God and bringing God to those around you.  When we focus on that — when we focus on bringing to others the Happiness that is God — we ourselves will be happy.  Because we will be doing what God made us to do.

“I think you can’t really be happy, if you are just trying to be happy. The key to happiness is to dedicate yourself to something greater than yourself, and to find a cause that is worthy of all your devotion.” (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ)

Turn Tomorrow into a Moment you Treasure

November 9, 2011

One of the things I love most about Catholicism is that we’re taught to appreciate and make use of the gifts God gives us. One of those gifts is life with all its small pleasures.

Other religious philosophies tell us to shun life’s pleasures, while still others teach us that living in the moment is the highest good. But Catholicism — as it often does — takes a “both-and” approach. We realize that our final goal is union with God in heaven and that nothing on earth can ever compare to that. But we also realize that God gave us the gift of life. We should enjoy it, because the small pleasures in life very often help us to understand the nature of God’s goodness. We should also use life to share God’s goodness with others.

Don’t waste life away. Turn tomorrow into a moment you treasure. Fall in love, help a friend, chase a dream, make memories. Because life is one of the greatest gifts God has given us.

To be a Saint, “You just need to be you.”

November 6, 2011

Totally late, but a few days ago I wrote a reflection for the Office of Vocations Blog on my fall break pilgrimage to Montreal.  Check it out!


Over fall break, the Office of Vocations, together with Campus Ministry at Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame, organized a pilgrimage for students to St. Joseph’s Oratory to celebrate the first anniversary of Saint André Bessette’s canonization. Michael Mercurio, a junior at Notre Dame, was one of the students who attended the pilgrimage, and he filed the following post for our blog.

The two most profound moments for me on the pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal were actually nothing uncommon.

The first one happened during the Sunday Mass at the Newman Center Mass at the University of Toronto: Once I had received Communion, while I was watching the congregation line up after me, my mind took a snapshot of an elderly man offering the Blood of Christ to a mother with her child.

Praying the rosary on the front steps of the Oratory

The second profound moment was at the Oratory: As our group prayed the rosary on the front steps (with more than a few groans from me), I noticed a tiny old Filipino lady struggling up each step as she prayed behind us. Yet she never uttered a sound of a complaint.

These two images are really nothing out of the ordinary, but they left such a lasting impression on me. The reason, I think, is that both exemplified so much of what Saint André Bessette stood for. Brother André is often called Pauper, Servus et Humilis – a poor man, a serving man, and a humble (or lowly) man. Brother André teaches us that you don’t have to be perfect or extraordinary to be a saint. “You just need to be you.” You just need humbly to accept your weaknesses and lowliness and to dedicate what you do have towards serving God and others.

St André's tomb in St Joseph's Oratory

Brother André was not extraordinary in worldly matters: He had little education; his parents died when he was very young; and his body was infirm. But he was extraordinary in responding to God’s call to holiness. Not allowing his weaknesses to hold him down, Brother André committed himself to the Congregation of the Holy Cross and to Saint Joseph and, even in his everyday activities of attending a door, exuded incredible love to everyone he encountered.

In my own short encounter with Brother André during this pilgrimage, I believe that this was his legacy: his humble acceptance of who he was and his dedication of himself to God and others. I think that’s why I was so struck by the old man giving the Blood of Christ to the mother with her child and by the old Filipino woman praying on the Oratory’s steps: There was no pretension – no “I’m better than you.” There was just whole-hearted, humble dedication to sharing in God’s call to holiness.

Saint André sitting

Whenever I see images of Brother André, I see a happy old man whom I would have loved to meet. The wrinkles around his eyes show that he always smiled, and the sparkle in his eyes show love of life. Moreover, he seems so unassuming. He indeed looks very small, but he looks ever-welcoming and inviting.

Whenever I look at my Brother André prayer card on my desk, I remember that I, too, can be a saint. I don’t need to be amazing. I don’t need to be great. I just need to be me, and to accept God’s call to serve Him. I think that’s the greatest lesson I learned from Brother Andre – that extraordinary man who was pauper, servus, et humilis.

Learn more about Saint André Bessette on the Spes Unica blog and the Holy Cross Office of Vocations website.