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A group of the faithful in Westchester County, New York, put aside their own needs — and think of those who have far less.

I pulled into the Ferragu residence in Scarsdale, New York, at 5 p.m. on a frigid and snowy December afternoon just a few weeks ago. Over 20 high school boys and girls, along with several of their parents, were in rapid motion for the good of others.

They’d put down slices of bread on the kitchen counter and were carefully applying  peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese. Large pans of chicken soup and hot chocolate were brewing on the stove, soon be deposited into thermos containers.

Nearby, plastic bags that had been packed with Handi Wipes, toothpaste, and other personal-care items were going into a large box — while piles of winter coats and gloves were already neatly stacked on the living room floor. The younger children were placing pieces of chocolate and plastic rosary rings in small boxes to give as gifts — and everyone was doing all of this work with a great attitude.

Aude and Pierre Ferragu soon assembled the entire group in the living room and said, “Let’s remember that during our ‘Jesus Run,’ we’re trying to communicate the love of Jesus to every person we meet along the way. Let’s say a little prayer to Jesus and the Blessed Mother, so that we can be effective instruments of His love tonight.”

Because of the heavy snow that evening, it took our group about two hours — twice the normal time — on slippery and icy roads to make it down to Penn Station in Manhattan.

Just outside Penn Station, members of the homeless community were waiting for our group with grateful hearts and deep smiles on their cold and tired faces, and I could see they’d developed a connection with many of these kids and their parents. They stood chatting for some time — people on both sides seemed to be catching up with each other.

As I handed one woman a cup of hot soup, she told me, “Father, I appreciate the soup on this cold night, but what I most appreciate is that you all do it with love.”

Pierre Ferragu is one of the business leaders in our Lumen Institute group in New York City; he helps his wife, Aude, coordinate this run every month. After that evening, I asked him to share his insights on this effort, and he did so generously.

“What we want to achieve with the Jesus Run is not so much finding a solution to poverty, but offering people around us (and ourselves!) the opportunity to experience charity on a regular basis,” he said. “It works admirably well. We typically see a family show up to help the first time because their teen needs to fill some community service hours. Then they become regular participants because they enjoy the time they spend with the homeless. We believe we can help transform people by offering them regular opportunities to experience practical charity — and we definitely feel transformed by this monthly routine.”

He added, “Involving the children is an amazing experience. The other day our nine-year-old was asked what was good about being a Catholic. Her first response was, ‘As a Catholic, you can give food to the poor.’ Every time we take our seven-year-old to the city, he gives out one-dollar bills to the poor. Even very young children are incredibly at ease during this Jesus Run. They have no difficulty going toward the homeless and engaging with them, and the joy they bring is indisputable. We encourage families to bring young children — the same thing happens with our teenagers. They love it. Our oldest, for her Sweet 16 party, wants to organize a dinner in the city with her friends, followed by a run to share meals with the homeless.”

Ferragu summed up the experience this way: “We create bonds with the homeless. We give out about 40 meals in an evening, and we’ll typically meet about 10-15 ‘regulars.’ They show up most of the time. We know their names, they sometimes know ours — and we know a bit of their story.”

Patrick Coughlin, a 29-year-old lawyer in our fellowship program, had also joined us that evening, and he noted later, “I was most struck by the kids who regularly make the trek into New York City to serve the poor. They were all joyfully and enthusiastically engaging with those who came by for hot soup or clothes. It was inspiring to see young people making a habit of celebrating the humanity in others.”

One of the high school girls shared an encounter that she and her friends had with a 40-year-old homeless woman in the subway tunnel. This woman said these touching words: “I have been homeless for over 10 years now and it has been really tough. I have not had much faith along the way, but the joyful and compassionate presence of you and your friends makes me think God just may exist. Thank you for spending this time with me.”

The joy of giving and the joy of receiving — this is God’s love in action for all of us.

Must everything be wrapped up with a bow on top? One intangible but priceless possession is worth some reflection.



I am amazed to see the heroic sacrifices so many moms make for the good of their kids. It’s the same with the hard work and sleepless nights so many businessmen and women endure to provide for their families.

But how willing are they to sacrifice for their spouse? And do they realize that if they do, they’re giving a tremendous and lifelong gift to their children?

I recently asked a mother of four, “What percentage of your day do you spend thinking about your kids?”

She responded, “Ninety-nine percent — actually, probably 99.9 percent.”

So I asked next, “What about your husband?”

She said, “My husband is a big boy now. He can take care of himself.”

During dinner with a family in Washington, D.C., I asked the husband about his role within the family and how he perceived it. He replied, “That’s pretty clear. I’m here to provide for them. I work hard to pay the bills and keep this ship running. My wife focuses on the kids.”

Another gentleman once told me, “Father, if I died today, I would be good with God. I provided my wife and kids with this beautiful house, a safe neighborhood, and a top-class education. They have nothing to worry about.”

Many years ago, a successful business leader shared a very telling concern. His name had been in the papers for his business successes, he said, and “accolades were pouring in from all sides. But I am deeply hurt,” he told me, “because the one person who matters most to me is not recognizing my success. My wife even belittles me and tries to minimize it as much as possible. Her esteem is what I would most appreciate — this is so painful.

Revealing, isn’t it?

Another business leader I know once told me that if a colleague at work stops by to make a joke or to comment on a current event or a bit of sports news, he will always make time in his busy schedule for that kind of chitchat. But if his wife calls him during work, he immediately gets impatient and tells her, “Honey, I am overwhelmed at work right now. Sorry, I can’t discuss this now. It’ll have to wait.”

I could continue with more anecdotes, but the point is clear. The greatest gift parents can give their children is the love and respect they have for each other. Moms need to be wives and dads need to be husbands, first and foremost.

Looking back on my own childhood, I recall how I sensed when my parents were in a good spot with each other — and I loved how they would spend some time together with each other, sometimes with a glass of wine as they chatted. At other times, they’d pray together, play tennis, and go dancing. They also went on several European trips and cruises together.

I noticed so many little sacrifices and acts of kindness that they extended toward each other — it was easy to see they were each thinking of the other, all the time.

This gave me great peace and still does — and it showed what true love and commitment are all about. I encourage all parents to focus more on the needs of their spouses — and to give this tremendous and lifelong gift to the children.
Dear Friends,
Thy Kingdom Come!
Greetings from Montreal. I hope you are enjoying this beautiful weekend.
God bless you!
Fr. Stephen
If one were to ask an ordinary American Catholic today who his favorite authors were, I doubt very much that any of them would be among the so-called “Fathers of the Church”. These influential Christian scholars, living in general before 700 A.D., set the theological foundations of Christianity. Today, however, they seem distant at the best. This probably is not too surprising. Even among those committed Catholics who do read, most of them will dedicate their reading time to contemporary Christian writers who at least seem capable of responding to today’s challenges with today’s language. St. Athanasius’s “Apologia Contra Arianos” (Apology against the Arians) might be a Catholic classic, but for our contemporary reader, the problem of the Arians seems as antiquated as a grandfather’s style of dress, and why one would have to “apologize against” them seems an even greater, and non-relevant, mystery.

There is one exception. St. Augustine of Hippo. The Share Faith Magazine (a Protestant publication)[1] rated Augustine’s Confessions as the third most important Christian book of all time (before Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” and Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”), while Church Times, (self-proclaimed as “the world’s leading Anglican Newspaper”)[2] placed it number one in their list of “100 Best Christian Books”. Catholic surveys nearly always put it among the top five spiritual classics read even today.[3] Such examples as these could go on and on; there is little doubt that St. Augustine has remained one of the very few ancient Christian authors, if not the only, still read widely in the world today. Why is this?

I think the reason lies in St. Augustine’s passionate and constant concern for spiritual realities that today we need, and nevertheless neglect, more than ever. In 1986, Saint Pope John Paul II wrote to the entire Church an apostolic letter about St. Augustine (Augustinem Hipponsensem). At the end of this letter, the Pope addresses himself to St. Augustine, and asks the great Bishop what he has to say to modern man. St. John Paul describes in this way Augustine’s answer: “It seems to me that one must bring men back…to the hope of finding the truth. One must seek the truth with piety, chastity and diligence, in order to return into oneself, to the interior realm where truth dwells; and likewise to overcome the materialism and rationalism which prevent the mind from understanding the “mystery” of the human person.”[4] At the end of the letter, the Pope reminds the young people of the world that Augustine constantly recalls them to the great things in life without which they would not wish to live: love, freedom, and beauty.[5] More compelling still is that he recalls them not only with his teaching, which is indeed brilliant, but even more so by his example and sincerity. In his Confessions Augustine opens up his personal history and struggles with a style centuries before its time, and arguably more personal, poignant, and authentic than even that of our modern Robert Lowells and Sylvia Plaths.

When I first turned to St. Augustine (and his Confessions in particular) in my early 20’s, I suppose it was because I saw in Augustine’s life aspects of my own. I suppose this is also true for that great mass of struggling Catholics who, though they would like to be good and faithful, are a bit overwhelmed by their weaknesses, failures, and downright confusion. Constantly pummeled by an ever-more secular and aggressive society, contemporary Catholics struggle with those same themes with which Augustine struggled: sexual practice outside of marriage or the norms of the time, flirtation with peripheral religious and spiritual tendencies, exacerbated rationalism, love of fame, fortune, and well-being, etc., etc. If all these we recognize only too easily today, they were also the bread and butter of Augustine’s everyday life. The pre-conversion Augustine really was not so different from a Brad Pitt “Fight Club style” wild young man, confident and cocky on his self-destructive path, or from a Camus-like rebellious freethinker set on carving out his own way through the meaningless forests of the world. Add to this fascinating history a man fearlessly sincere and capable of brilliant writing, and it is little wonder that his writings still appeal to readers today.

Nevertheless, it is finally one thing above all these that probably makes Augustine not only a perennial, but also a contemporary favorite: his deep-seated love of truth.   For a world plagued by relativism, where everyone would have his own truth and feel morally obliged only by it, Augustine represents the man that the partial, the individual, or the relative will never satisfy.   The great fault of relativism is that it locks us into our individual cages; the hope of an ultimate truth and love that binds us all is lost, and with the loss of that hope, we lose our hope of happiness. Augustine, however, would never submit to that. In his passion for man and for the truth, Augustine strove to seek the source of that truth in a God he imagined as the great and inaccessible One. He found instead, in a blaze of faith-filled light, the Incarnate Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI once wrote: Christ made him (Augustine) understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us… (and taught us that) a man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, alienated from himself, and can only find himself by encountering God.[6] Through his own experience, Augustine becomes the great teacher of the possibility of finding the Truth, and with the Truth, love, and with love, peace. Even for the most contemporary of men, even for those most sold out to the cynicism of relativism, these never lose their force of attraction: they are simply too tempting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the first famous American poets, wrote a little-read poem entitled “The Ladder of Saint Augustine”. The poem speaks of how Augustine teaches us to use our weaknesses as rungs of a ladder that will eventually lead us to God if we are not afraid to climb them. Perhaps this is why Augustine remains so pertinent and popular even today: a strange and wonderful mix of realism and faith permit us not to lose “the hope of finding the truth”.

‘We have not wings, we cannot soar; But we have feet to scale and climb By slow degrees, by more and more, The cloudy summits of our time.

Standing on what too long we bore With shoulders bent and downcast eyes, We may discern — unseen before — A path to higher destinies,

Nor doom the irrevocable Past As wholly wasted, wholly vain, If, rising on its wrecks, at last To something nobler we attain.`[7]

Fr. Bruce Wren, August 2017
[1] Share Faith Magazine, May 6, 2015.
[2] Church Times, https://ct100books.hymnsam.co.uk/
[3] A simple Google search under “Top Ten Catholic Spiritual Books” will make this immediately evident.
[4] Augustinum Hipponsensem 4, August 28, 1986
[5] Ibid, 5.
[6] Cfr. Papal Audiences of Benedict 16th, January 2008, 3 and 5.

Lumen Speaker Series: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. Houston Chapter Speaker Series Luncheon – 3/31/17.

His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo is the metropolitan archbishop of Galveston-Houston and pastor to its 1.3 million Catholics (and over 4 million non-Catholics) and 440 priests in 146 parishes and 60 schools spread over 8,880 square miles. His seats are St. Mary Cathedral Basilica in Galveston and the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston.

Continue reading Lumen Speaker Series: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
In our Gospel today, we read about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus was in the southern part of Palestine, near the Jordan River when he heard that John been arrested. So he made a decision: he left the Province of Judea and his hometown of Nazareth and he moved to a city in Galilee called Capernaum. That city was to become his home, his base of operations for the next three years, and those three years that followed that decision were going to be the most influential years ever spent by a human being: they would change history dramatically forever. So how did that happen? How did Jesus go from being a young 30 year old man, barely known outside of his home town, who had never drawn particular attention to himself of done anything extraordinary, to this? I ask the question because if we think over the last three years of our lives, I would bet that we would say that we were quite busy, we did many things, but did they change history, even a little? Or perhaps more realistically, did they change the lives of at least some people for the better? If our answer is no, or at least not very much, what were we doing?

The first reading, the psalm, and the Gospel all speak about Jesus’ decision as the birth of a new light for the people: the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. I suppose we too would like to think our lives are, or have been, a light for people around us. But this decision of Jesus just didn’t happen: his decision to begin his public ministry, and the way he spent his next three years, wasn’t automatic. One all important thing preceded those three years, and was the cause of it. Do you know what that was? If you go back to the Gospels and read what Jesus did before this decision, you will see it. First, He had just finished forty days of prayer in the desert; second, He had been baptised by John, where he also was praying. And before that? Before that Jesus spent about 30 years of his life in the longest retreat ever recorded, with Mary and Joseph, learning how to pray, read the scriptures, and understand Himself and what He was supposed to do in the world.

We spend most of our lives as very busy people; perhaps some of us have even been quite successful, made a lot of money, or have a certain status. But if we ever want to really do something that will become a light for the world, I am convinced that will come about only if make our decisions after doing just what Jesus did: pray. It certainly worked for Jesus, and if even Jesus had to do so, how much more must this be for us? So I think that a very good resolution for this New Year would be to schedule in a retreat, and the longer the better. And don’t make excuses, don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert at prayer, or know how to pray like some saintly mystic: just give yourself some time to try. There is no better investment of our time if we want to do something important with our lives that really would help our loved ones and the world around us.

H. James Towey is in his sixth year as president of Ave Maria University (AMU). His career has included previous service as a college president, senior advisor to the President of the United States, key aide to a Congressional leader, member of the cabinet of Florida’s governor, founder of a national non-profit organization, and legal counsel to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. During his tenure as AMU’s second president, Mr. Towey has ushered in record enrollment, over $50 million in fundraising and 19 new majors.
Continue reading H. James Towey: Mother Teresa & Catholic Higher Education