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At the beginning of the school year, this past week has just been one orientation after another. Important people you don’t know tell you important things you won’t remember. And, we hope, everyone sets off in the right direction.

The very word orientation has fundamentally to do with direction. Its Latin root—oriens—refers to the rising sun, and of course, the sun rises in the east. Hence an old word for the Far East is the Orient.

So after a week full of orientation at Baylor, maybe you seek out the chapel at St. Peter’s for some peace and quiet, something familiar, maybe just like home.

Only, you then notice that Father Daniel is celebrating the Mass—facing away from me? With his back to us?

You might feel a little disoriented, maybe even mildly offended. We even use the phrase ‘to turn your back on someone’ to describe betrayal. Plus, your priest at home probably doesn’t do it this way. Is that even Catholic?

It actually is. And the reason why has everything to do with orientation. When a priest celebrates Mass facing the same direction as the people, he is said to be saying the Mass ad orientem—toward the rising sun, towards the east.

This orientation is even written in the architecture of churches. Some churches, though not all, were built so that we all face east when at Mass. So it’s been for centuries. The beautiful gothic cathedral in Cologne, Germany, faces east, as does St. Patrick’s in Manhattan. And St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the middle of Vienna, Austria, is actually lined up so that the sun rises exactly in front of it on the feast of its patron, St Stephen, on 26 December.

But architecture aside, still the question remains: why? Why face east? What does ad orientem actually mean?

It’s actually something early Christians learned from their Jewish elder brethren. Synagogues outside of Jerusalem were built so that worshippers faced the direction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the site of God’s presence on earth.

But when Christ came, he claimed to be the Temple himself. He is the Word made flesh, the incarnate presence of God on earth. (The place to look is John’s gospel, chapter 2.) With his advent, the long night of sin, death, and ignorance was over. The day that the prophets had long foretold had finally come, when God would dwell with his people in a new and decisive way.

Anyone looking for the dawn to come is inevitably going to be looking in one direction: east. As a result, the orientation towards East became associated with Christ himself.

What that means for us Catholic Christians is that the very direction we face at Mass symbolizes and expresses our hope in and love for God. Just as kneeling embodies humility, and genuflecting expresses respect and honor, even the very direction you face while standing is rich with significance. Even if your parish doesn’t technically ‘face east’, still the common orientation ad orientem of everyone at Mass—priests and laypeople alike—can be breathtaking to behold: a whole host of believers gathered, expectant, looking in the same direction, awaiting the coming Lord.

But maybe you find all this ad orientem stuff off-putting or strange just because it seems so impersonal. ‘With his back to the people!’ It’s true, it may look that way. But Father has no more turned his back on you than has everyone else who’s standing in front of you at Mass. The reality is, we’re all just facing the same direction.

At bottom, it’s about a common direction of prayer. Father actually will turn and face you from time to time—that’s when you know he’s talking to you. But most of the time when you’re all facing the same direction, that’s Father praying. That’s when we’re all praying. Ad orientem is about a common direction of prayer.

Prayer is a tough thing. If we’re honest, most of us would rather not do it. We’re comfortable with lecture halls, political rallies, and sporting events. We’re comfortable with what’s merely human.

But with prayer, we have to do with God, and Masses celebrated ad orientem remind us of that. We aren’t there to face a priest. We’re there to behold God. We share in the work of the Mass, but Christ is the reason we’re all there. He’s the one we’re waiting for.

Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist likened the tabernacle, the place of God’s presence, to the sun, which, “as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way” (Ps 18.6 [19.6]). Today we all turn to watch the bride walk down the aisle, but back then it was the opposite. It was the glory of the bridegroom to break forth like the dawn and stride towards his bride in marriage.

The Church Fathers saw in that verse the figure of Christ: he is the decisive presence of God with his people. The apostles say that when Christ comes again, it will be like a wedding. Christ the bridegroom will burst forth again like the dawn for his waiting bride. What direction will that bride be facing?

 

-Adam Myers

 

These past three weeks was a time that changed me and millions of others in unforgettable and massively significant ways.

My brother and I spent time in four different countries on a pilgrimage for our faith. That is the simplest way to sum it up. We traveled from Chicago to Austria to the Czech Republic and finally to Poland with over 80 other university Students. Each day walking miles to visit Holy Shrines, all the while bearing our hearts to each other and the world.

WYD lasted from July 26th through August 1st, but my pilgrimage started about a week and a half earlier. Evan and I met with our fellow FOCUS pilgrims in Chicago on July 17th and from there we flew to Berlin to catch our connecting flight to Vienna, Austria. Outside the Vienna Airport (which might be the nicest airport I’ve ever seen, I highly recommend international travel just to hangout in its many food courts) our group of over eighty collided with the CCO (Catholic Christian Outreach, a Canadian organization similar to FOCUS.) Then all 150 of us hopped on a bus to travel to our first pilgrimage sight—the Melk Monastery. This was my first glimpse of Europe. The monastery sat upon a large hill over looking a very very European town. The castle-like monastery, with its expansive library, high walled courtyards, and grand gardens, was everything I ever hoped Europe would be. The first Mass we attended was at this monastery, in a beautiful church with walls and ceilings covered in gold and frescos.

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The week following this first day was spent in Gaming, Austria at the Franciscan University Austrian campus. During these days we lived snuggled in a valley at the base of the Alps, surrounded on all sides by hills that made Mount Bonnell look like a lump of dry Texas dirt. We attended daily Mass, spent at least an hour every day in prayer, and attended talks by FOCUS and CCO representatives. This was a time of peaceful reflection and spiritual growth. We were able to form friendships with our fellow pilgrims that would be tested and strengthened repetitively for the next twelve days.

The next leg of our journey was to Zory, Poland for the Youth Arise Festival. We made several stops at gas stations in the Czech Republic (Waco friends, let me tell you this was a very different kind of Czech stop than what you are thinking), one of which included a comical misunderstanding with a Czech woman that resulted in Monique and I using the men’s restroom. With short notice we were informed of our unexpected accommodations for the weekend—we would all be staying with host families. Everyone was spread throughout Zory. Our families welcomed us with, very literally, with open arms and tables full of food. Most of the families, including mine, were elderly couples who did not speak a word of English. We conversed using a rebellious Google Translate app that often resulted in of lots of pointing and miscommunication. Despite the language barrier, the generosity and kind spirits of my Polish host parents—Edmund and Stefania—will stay with me forever and will always have a very special place in my heart. It is truly beautiful to see the Holy Spirit shine through a stranger who gives everything out of the goodness of their hearts.

After Zory, we came to Krakow, Poland. The five days we spent there stretched and suffocated me. Upon our arrival, it seemed a peaceful town, but as the day went on it, became quite clear that the whole world had shown up. World Youth Day is an international gathering of Catholics meant to glorify and honor our one true king, Jesus Christ. What it looked like was two million young people, soaked in rain and mud, crammed into a tram car. Two million young people hiking 16 miles to sleep in a spider-filled field. Two million young people giving everything they have to our God.

Krakow is the home of some of our greatest saints—including Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina—because of them Pope Francis invited the youth of the Catholic world to this city. Every street, every shop, and even every puddle seemed to reverberate Catholicism. The streets were packed with people from six continents and 187 countries. Every flag imaginable was waved, every national anthem sung. In one city I experienced the whole world.

It was during these days that I learned many new things about the Catholic faith. I learned that everyone suffers, whether it be from heartbreak, devastating loss, or physical weakness, but the absolute joy that comes from living the Catholic faith makes it all worth it.

Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Ps 84:10)

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“Be demanding of the world around you; be demanding first of all with yourselves. Be children of God; take pride in it!” – JPII Czestochowa, Poland, 1991


Erin is a sophomore, English major from Austin, TX.

 

 

 

As our group arrived in Houston and prepared to leave for Mexico City, we were told, “when you encounter God, there will be great joy, but also great sorrow.” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this when when I first heard it, so instead, I just let myself get the experience.

Our group consisted of five FOCUS missionaries, one priest, and sixteen students from FOCUS campuses all across the country. We were told that every single one of us was a missionary doing God’s service everyday. Our mission was to serve the women of Villa de Mujeres and encounter Jesus in everyone we met. Some of my personal fears about the trip were that I wouldn’t be useful without fluent Spanish. I was afraid of my own ignorance of Mexican culture and I hoped that I would be able to hear what God was speaking to my heart above the noise of distractions and lies from Satan, who was waiting eagerly to work on us.

In Mexico City, we stayed with the Conceptionista sisters in their convent, which was only a short walk from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I found myself excited to walk out of the doors of the convent everyday to go where I could look straight up at the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe during our daily holy hour. The attitude of constant prayerfulness on the trip is one of the ways I know that God held me together and bound our group together in blessed friendship.

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Monday was our first day of service at the Villa, and it was nothing that I had expected it to be. The conditions of this women’s shelter were heartbreaking.We walked around to see the lonely, abandoned, bruised, hungry, anxious, and dying filling the buildings, congregating near radios, and sitting on the bare ground to feel the warm sunshine and breathe fresh air. At first, the whole scene was hard to take in. The needs of the shelter became more apparent in every step and in every conversation. Debrief for me on that first night was emotionless as I was still processing all that I had seen. The rest of the time we were able to spend with the women was filled by praying rosaries with them, painting their nails, and rubbing lotion on their hands and legs. Cleaning and feeding tasks were also split up between our group and we did our best to see that all of the workers had the help they needed. One of the most moving encounters I had was when all I could do was simply to hug one of the women to keep her warm. The women just wanted to be loved and listened to. They did not even care that we were unable to understand everything that they were saying.

God entrusted us to give hope, and I was comforted to know that we could show them through a simple smile. Our theme verse for the trip was Matthew 25:40 which says, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.’” Though our work was hard, especially seeing the incredible suffering of the women, this verse kept us going. I will never forget looking into the eyes of those beautiful women and seeing the face of Jesus. My life was changed forever by encountering Christ, and as promised I found incredible sorrow, but also overwhelming joy in Mexico City.

Andi Kitten (far left) is a Freshman, Baylor Business Fellows major from Lubbock, TX.

We pray at every Mass for those who suffer from religious persecution. But what is actually going on in the world when it comes to persecuted Christians? And what can we do about it here from Waco?
 
To help answer these questions–to raise awareness about persecuted Christians and to do something to help them–the Baylor Knights of Columbus Council is proud to be hosting the first Benefit Dinner for Christians at Risk.
 
The issue is getting more and more attention in world of politics and media. The Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, recently spearheaded the publication of a nearly 300-page report about the persecution of Christians especially in the Middle East. The report was submitted to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who as a result officially deemed the actions of ISIS as genocide.
 
To support the efforts of the Knights of Columbus in defense of persecuted Christians, we’re hosting this benefit dinner. It will be the classic Knights’ three-course meal: salad, entree, and dessert. 
 
Dr. Thomas Hibbs, Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University, will be giving a keynote address based on his own involvement in efforts, especially in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about and give help to persecuted Christians.
 
We hope this event can bring together Christians from the greater Waco to support what Dean Hibbs has called “the most important issue facing the church universal.”
For details, see the attached flyer.
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Here are 3 links to help you get ready for Lent, which starts tomorrow:

7 Reasonable Ideas for Lent

Don’t Waste your Lent

6 Simple Ways to share your faith on Ash Wed. 

Why do Catholics do that? will quickly answer a common question asked to Catholics and provide a few links for further reading. We hope this will help you learn the faith and share it with those around you! 


Why do Catholics Do That?

 

Why Do Catholics Worship Mary?

 

Short answer: we don’t. Catholics venerate Mary and ask for her intercession.

Okay woah big words. Venerate? Intercession?

To venerate is to honor. We respect Mary because as a 13 year old girl she said yes to God and bore Jesus, the son of God, in her womb, for 9 months.

Alright that makes sense… what about intercession?

We ask Mary to intercede for us, or pray for us to Christ. It is the exact same way that we ask our friends to pray for us. The only difference is that Mary is in heaven already. So it’s sort of like she can walk up to Jesus and ask Him our petition directly. Pretty cool stuff.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to Mary and Intercession. For more information check out what the Catechism has to say on them!

On Mary: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p6.htm

On prayer and intercession: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s1c1a3.htm

Mary, Mother of the Church, Pray for us!!

 

Hello, friends! October is in full swing, which means cooler weather, Halloween, Homecoming, and the first real taste of fall.
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As it’s not quite cold enough for coats and scarves in the heart of Texas, one great way to transition into the cooler temperatures is to layer thin clothing!
 Black is always a chic choice, whether for Mass or class (see what I did there?), so thin leggings and a tunic/dress says “I’m ready for fall” with all the classiness + style of Audrey Hepburn. And when in doubt, wear black.
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 Of course, you also can’t go wrong with a pop of color, especially cobalt blue!
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Happy fall, friends!​

At first, I thought I would write about John Paul II’s canonization that is happening this Sunday and his life. Or maybe write about what the devotion to the Divine Mercy is (since this Sunday is also Divine Mercy Sunday). But, let’s be real, I’m no good at writing about peoples’ lives and if you want to know about JP2 or the devotion to the Devine Mercy then you can read about that on Wikipedia.

Instead, let’s talk about something that you can’t find the answer to on Google. As the school year is winding down, I have been reflecting a lot on how the year went and my time at Baylor. As some already know, there is a good chance that I will not be at Baylor for my second year on staff with FOCUS. I could sit here and write about how I am sad to be leaving Baylor (which I am) and the friends I have met here, but let’s leave the sobbing for later. I would like to take a moment to point out some of my favorite memories from the past year.

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10. Nap times.

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9. Having Father Daniel as our fearless leader.

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8. Pranking Sam’s (Regional Director) and Marcus’ (Director of Collegiate Outreach) car when they visited.

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7. Teaming up with The Stackers. #YouKnowWhoYouAre

6. Ana telling me that I “glisten like a Greek god”. You can ask her about that one. #DatingFastProbs?

5. This picture.

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4. Dancing at Wild West!

3. Seeing Father Daniel avoid Ana like the plague

2. Bible study at IHOP! #TFM

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1. Getting to meet and spend a year with all the lovely people of St. Peter’s at Baylor. But seriously! This year has been awesome and it has been so much fun getting to know everyone. I will miss you guys so much. It has been great seeing the St. Peter’s community growing and thriving. Keep Christ as number one in your life and He will continue to do amazing things at Baylor!

Love you guys!

Adam

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This Sunday, the Sunday of the Easter Octave, is Divine Mercy Sunday. It will also be the day that Bl. John XXIII and Bl. John Paul II are canonized as saints. Bl. John Paul II, being from Poland, had a special devotion to St. Faustina and to the Divine Mercy, was the one who formally designated the Sunday after Easter Divine as Divine Mercy Sunday, and died on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.

This devotion to the Divine Mercy is based upon the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun (1905-38) who experienced private revelations from Our Lord asking her to spread this message of the merciful love of God. There is also the famous image based upon St. Faustina’s visions that show the blood (red) and water (blue/white) flowing from the pierced side of Christ that is the source of mercy with the phrase “Jesus, I trust in you” written at the bottom.

A simple acroymn of ABC is sometimes used to remember the essential message of Divine Mercy:

A — Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach
Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and
asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon
the whole world.

B — Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy
and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to
extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does
to us.

C — Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know
that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our
trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will
receive.

There is a plenary indulgence attached to the Divine Mercy devotion. Here is a good, quick introduction on “What is an Indulgence?”

In order to receive a plenary indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday, these conditions must be fulfilled (if these conditions are not met, the indulgence becomes partial):

1. Be in a state of grace at the time of performing the devotion, have the intention of receive the indulgence, and have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.

2. Have gone to Confession within 20 days before/after this Sunday.

3. Receive Holy Communion, on the same day preferably, but up to several days before or after is ok.

4. Pray for the intentions of the Pope (no specific prayers are specified, but an Our Father and a Hail Mary would suffice).

5. (a) In any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy OR (b) in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!”)

For more information on this devotion click here.

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Chastity: is that even a real thing?

Inspired by the Gen-Life missionaries who I had the pleasure of meeting last week and some of the amazing girls who are showing me this is something worth talking about!

If you’re anything like me, chastity may be a topic that’s a little difficult to understand (can I get an “Amen?). There are so many different thoughts that can cross your mind. Whether you’re barely coming to understand your faith or can recite the Baltimore Catechism backwards and forwards (mad props to Trad-Caths), this can be a tricky one. And don’t even get me started on emotional chastity because that one’s even harder for me to understand (I could write a novel solely on the questions I struggle with!)

All through high school I knew I wanted to save myself for marriage even though my faith didn’t really mean much to me. I knew that was still something of high importance in my life. Senior year, that changed and it made me question my strength as a human based on sexual sin. The way I viewed myself radically changed and I didn’t really think I was worth much anymore. I kept thinking, “I did it already, I guess I can do it again.” It became routine to just give into temptation and use my body in order to unite myself to the men I thought I “loved”. Relationships after that became sexual way faster because that is what I thought “love” was. And I had no idea how much it was affecting my own life, instead of helping it. I became attached, and for all of you out there (male or female), who have struggled or are still struggling with this; you can become a completely different person. You seek attention, you can’t see yourself without them, you can’t break up because you feel “safe” with what you know, you stalk them on social media (don’t lie, I’ve done it too), you start treating others differently; the list goes on and on. Some of these things can also become a lot more dangerous and can even lead to things like multiple sexual partners, illness, excessive drinking, addiction, depression, and even suicide.

Now, I don’t consider myself an expert at this by any means. I don’t have a degree in Theology, I’m not a chastity speaker, heck, I haven’t even finished JPII’s “Theology of the Body”! I’m writing only as a human being, who still struggles to see my self-worth because of my past sin, and I know EVERYONE can relate to that on some level. I’m still tempted and continuously growing in my own faith walk. Plus I really think this is worth talking about. And even though we may already know the basics of chastity, pornography and the advice given to build self-control (thanks Jason and Matt) it isn’t as black-and-white as it may seem sometimes.

Once I started asking God for help I began to realize there was a reason why I wasn’t happy with what I had been doing; it’s because I was created to BE IN A RELATIONSHIP, but I thought it came from humans, not God. We all want to love and be loved and as cheesy as it may sound it’s the essential truth that is in our hearts.

“But Ana, I know all of this already. I’ve read the books, I’ve heard the talks, so why can’t I move on?” Well, it takes time to heal and we’re still human. We’re broken, but God can purify our hearts and show us actual love. Stay close to the sacraments, go to mass, receive communion, do NOT stop going to confession (This is the one I struggle with. Even if you feel like you keep confessing the same thing or you’re not worthy enough to be forgiven yet, don’t stop going) and go to adoration! You may not “feel” forgiven or healed but you need to allow yourself to sit there and BeLoved (see what I did there?) by Him! Receive His goodness; He WANTS to heal you and He’s honored to be your Savior.

And lastly, you’re not alone in this process! Find a group of friends (preferably same sex friends) that will hold you accountable. If you fall into sin, text each other and fast together, go to mass together, or go to confession together (or all three). Look after each other and find people who will support you but also challenge you to be better. You’re not the only one going through this and you can all relate to some of the obstacles you face.

Trust me, it’s never too late to start over with God. It won’t be easy, but it is SO worth it!

P.S. don’t be afraid to talk to us missionaries or Father Daniel about it. We’re here to help and may be able to relate more than you think. 🙂

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Our new FOCUS team for the upcoming year. Keep all our Bears serving with @focuscatholic in your prayers while they continue their training.
pc: @briannacasias Happy Father's Day to our dear spiritual father, Fr. Daniel! We are so blessed! Class of 2017 🎓We are so excited for Commencement this weekend. We hope you will share this special weekend with us at Baccalaureate Mass Friday at either 11am or 6:15pm. For all of you still up studying for finals tomorrow, we're praying for you. Finish strong!