A Cause For Hope: Seven New Saints

Saint Kateri TekakwithaPope Benedict recently canonized seven new Saints for the Catholic Church. The canonizations certainly represent God’s perfect timing to provide inspiration to the Catholic Church in important ways.

First, the new saints include a Filipino (Pedro Calungsod) and a Native American (Kateri Tekakwitha). Right now, the Church is declining in Europe and the West, but gaining in the developing world. These newest saints remind us that, while the European heritage of the Church is vital, there is much more to Catholicism than white Europeans.

Second, one of the new saints, Pedro Calungsod, is a teenager. The Catholic Church (and all Christian groups) face a hostile, yet hungry youth. Meeting their needs will be a challenge, but we have the rich tradition to succeed. People like St. Pedro Calungsod (a martyr for his faith) are reminders that teens will embrace the Gospel message and even die for it.

Third, several of the new saints were missionaries. Right now the Catholic Church has a wide open mission field. While it’s typical to think of an overseas mission, in reality, the biggest mission field is in the United States and Europe. In the West, Christendom isn’t just crumbling; it’s already fallen to the ground. Americans and Europeans have an amazing spiritual heritage. Now it’s time for the modern day missionaries to rise up and call them back to their roots.

In spite of all the negative news on the Catholic Church, events like this canonization ceremony remind us that there are many positives as well. The witness of these seven saints should give everyone who worries about the state of the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) a good sense of hope.

Below is a video about St. Pedro.

Practicing Friday Penance

Image of Jesus on the crossFridays in the Catholic Church have traditionally been a day of penance. It’s a practice that dates to the early Church, when Fridays, in addition to other days of the week, were specifically devoted to fasting. The Catholic Catechism specifically notes Fridays throughout the year are in memory of Christ’s death.

Specifically, on Fridays, the Church asks its members to engage in “spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1438)

Traditionally, Catholics have abstained from non-fish meat every Friday throughout the year. However, in some regions, including the United States, the bishops have allowed alternatives to the abstinence requirement, except during Lent. The Catechism, as quoted in the last paragraph, spells out nice alternatives.

While abstaining from meat may be preferable and is certainly the traditional practice, it’s acceptable in some places to do any wholesome practice that involves some form of penance. A few things I’ve done in the past include:

Reading the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, or other theologians
Saying a few penitential prayers or litanies. Doing an act of charity
Praying the rosary, chaplet, etc.
Making a pilgrimage to local churches or shrines

While there are options in some places, what ultimately matters is that we do a penitential act and commit ourselves to greater union with the crucifixion and sacrifice of Christ.

Reconciliation: The Underutilized Sacrament

A baptismal font in the narthex of a churchThe Sacrament of reconciliation (aka penance or confession) is one of the most available, but underutilized Sacraments in the United States. As many regular confessors know, the lines during confession times aren’t exactly out the door. In fact, in many parishes there aren’t any lines at all.

There are, I believe, many reasons why confession isn’t very common in the USA anymore. However, these three strike me as primary.

First, a sense of sin and weakness is becoming rarer. The “everyone’s A-OK” attitude is pervasive. While I’m not in favor of being overly focused on our sins to the exclusion of joyfulness, we still have lost a real sense of our flawed human nature, especially in the United States and Europe, even though the evidence is all around us.

Second, schedules are becoming busier. Most families, between sports, work, and other commitments, are lucky to make it to mass once a week, let alone throw in an extra few minutes for confession. And, since it’s not a priority (see number one), it’s often forgotten.

Third, confession can be strange and scary since most Catholics have gotten out of the habit. I know Catholics, even regular mass attendees, who haven’t confessed regularly since they were in elementary school! Going back into a small room and admitting all of your shortcomings to another person can be difficult, especially if you’re out of practice.

While I can’t personally change the first and second reasons, I do have a good resource to help those Catholics who are scared of reconciliation or fail to see its purpose.

Visit Reconciliation: The Sacrament of Conversion to learn more about this practice, including its history, contents, some personal experiences, its place in Protestant traditions, and even a FAQ.

Christ The Teacher And You

Jesus with children b and w imageJesus was a great teacher. He met people where they were, called them to holiness, and did it all with humor, grace, and compassion. He wasn’t afraid to call out hypocrites and shake things up when necessary (quite literally when he overturned tables in the temple). And, he was very effective, drawing in large numbers of people as followers.

When was the last time you modeled Christ the Teacher? If it was a long time ago or never, you’re not alone. Many people think that the job of teaching the Catholic Faith belongs to theologians and Catholic school teachers and university professors. While they make a living doing it (although not much of one!), the role of teaching the Catholic Faith belongs to…every single Catholic!

That’s right. Every Catholic, by virtue of his or her baptism, is called to spread the good news of Christ. While it may not be formal education, this sharing of the Gospel is a form of teaching. In our words and our deeds, every single day, it is our job to bring the message and teachings of Christ to the world.

For those of you who are parents, the role of teaching is even more important. The Church is clear that the parents are the primary teachers of the Catholic heritage to their children. While Catholic school is a great investment, ultimately the job of teaching falls to the family, which is sometimes called the “domestic church.”

What kind of teacher are you? Do others clearly hear the teachings of Christ in your words and deeds? Do you share your faith with compassion and kindness? If you’re not so sure, remember the example of Jesus in all your dealings with other people. He taught the Truth without compromise, but did so with love and compassion.

The Memorial of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Saints Cosmas and DamianSeptember 26th is the memorial day of Saints Cosmas and Damian, twin Christian martyrs who died near the end of the third century. The brothers were doctors and gave their services away for free. According to the ancient sources, these selfless acts of charity attracted many pagan Romans to the Christian faith.

Although theology is important and very worthy of study, for most people, the Christian faith is most attractive when they see that it can meet their needs (whether emotional, physical, etc.). In the case of Cosmas and Damian, their charity towards other people showed the unconverted that Christianity was a better alternative to the uncaring philosophy of the pagans.

As we go about our daily lives, it’s always good to keep the examples of Cosmas and Damian in mind. We have no idea how our acts of love and charity, no matter how large or small, could be impacting those people we meet who may either be indifferent or hostile to the Gospel message. Let’s make sure our behavior brings them closer to, not further away from, God.

Living In The Eucharist, Living In Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday in November.

For Catholics, our union with Jesus in the Eucharist should be a time of giving thanks. And, since the Eucharist is being celebrated somewhere each minute around the world, all Catholics should strive to join in that thanksgiving wherever we are.

Living a life of thankfulness can be difficult. Even the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament only has four psalms of Thanksgiving (compared to many more asking for God’s help). Human nature seems to focus on our woes, rather than our blessings.

One of my favorite practices is to write a daily gratitude list. After Evening Prayer, I write down five things I’m thankful for from the previous day. I keep this running list in a journal. This activity not only reminds me to be thankful, but also lets me look back on my incredible blessings whenever I may feel less than thankful.

Ultimately, as Christians we have a lot to be thankful for, especially the love of God as shown in Jesus Christ. If we can’t think of anything else (but I’m sure we can), that alone is enough to be thankful for every second of every day.