Thoughts On Work and Saint Joseph the Worker

Saint Joseph StatueToday is Saint Joseph the Worker, a secondary celebration related to Saint Joseph, whose main feast is on March 19th.

The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker was established to celebrate the Christian understanding of work. The Church has always emphasized the importance of work being about people over profits. In other words, for Christians, work is something more than just doing your part to earn a living (or earn someone else one).

I strongly believe in freedom, including economic freedom. I don’t believe it is the government’s job to tell businesses what to do. Nonetheless, I believe it is time for people to start standing up for our right to have dignity in our work. Most Americans and Westerners hate their jobs. We are unfulfilled, stressed, over-worked, and (based on the expense of the average education) underpaid. In short, work is hardly a calling and more of a burden.

The problem with modern work, as I see it, is materialism. We work extra hours, avoid doing the things we love, lack time for family, and never have time for silent time with God, so that we can earn a little more money to buy things that don’t make us happy. In short, we shorten our lives and destroy our relationships and spirituality to buy things we will never have time to enjoy anyway.

If we weren’t tethered to material goods, we could tell employers that mistreat us to “take a hike” because we wouldn’t need the extra money to finance things that are too big and expensive for us.

I know this is a simple view, but just imagine if we didn’t need so much stuff. Work would probably regain more of its meaning as a spiritually and enriching vocation as opposed to a desperately needed means to an end.

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

The Conversion of St. Paul: Taking Christianity to the World

St. Paul PreachingToday (January 25th) celebrates the conversion of St. Paul. A lot of Catholics and other Christians only know about Paul from his letters, whether through public reading or private devotion. I think most Christians really don’t know the impact Paul had on their faith and lives. It really is that huge.

Jesus, although he reached out to non-Jews (Gentiles) on many occasions, primarily tailored his message to a Jewish audience. He preached to Jews, taught about the Jewish law, and chose Jews among his closest followers. He had a plan to expand his message to the entire world. But, he chose his followers to proclaim it. One of those, and the most important, was St. Paul.

Paul preached the Gospel message to the Gentiles and, in the process, made it possible for large numbers of them to convert. He advocated against burdening Gentiles with following the entire Jewish Law. He was especially against circumcision for Gentiles.

Judaism required circumcision for its converts and didn’t have very many. Paul’s argument insured that Christianity would become a world religion, not just another Jewish sect.

So, next time you eat a ham sandwich or enjoy other freedoms in Christ, offer a prayer of thanksgiving for St. Paul. He made sure the universal message of Christianity stayed that way. Thanks to Paul, both through his tireless travels and his theology, Christianity became a worldwide religion.

Saint Anthony Of Egypt – January 17th

Saint Anthony battling demons by MichelangeloToday we celebrated our school Mass for Saint Anthony of Egypt, a well-known Christian hermit. Anthony spent most of his life alone in the desert, praying, fasting, and battling demons.

I first discovered Anthony around the time I became interested in the liturgical year. I have great memories of reading the story of his life by St. Athanasius. I was inspired by the dedication and commitment Anthony had to Christ. According to Athanasius, Anthony kept retreating deeper and deeper into the Egyptian desert to escape the crowds that would visit him. He set up a “home” near a small oasis, and lived by eating very little, and sleeping on the floor of a cave. He lived to be over a 100 years old, and was an ardent defender of the Trinity against the Arians.

I am a very extroverted and social guy, yet when I think about Saint Anthony, I often desire his life. Anthony heeded the literal words of the Lord, and sold everything he had. He left everything behind to spend all day in prayer. While I don’t think I could take the Egyptian desert, I often wonder what life would be like to retreat to the foothills of Kentucky.

However, there is no need to retreat anywhere to find what Anthony found. Soon after Anthony, monastic communities sprung up. Many communities today offer chances for retreats and getaways that allow believers to focus on prayer and fasting in the same vein as Saint Anthony.

Saint Anthony the Great, pray for us

Happy Memorial of Saint Lucy

Saint Lucy holding a platter with eyes on itSaint Lucy, whose name comes from the Latin word meaning “light” is a popular saint. Her memorial is celebrated today.

Saint Lucy is unique in that she is one of only seven women, aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is commemorated by name in the Roman Canon of the Mass.  Lucy was a Christian martyr during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Diocletian. She consecrated her virginity to God, and refused to marry a pagan she had been engaged to. She even distributed her wedding dowry to the poor. Her pagan groom, upset with her decision, turned her in to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily.

Tradition tells is that when the guards came to take her away to be executed, she was so filled with the Holy Spirit that she was so heavy even the strong guards could not move her. So they hitched her to a team of oxen, which didn’t work either. Even after they pierced her throat with a dagger, she prophesied against her persecutors. Later traditions mention an eye-gouging that came next, right before her execution. Because of this, she is the patroness of the blind and those with eye troubles.

Because of the meaning of her name, many customs and celebrations developed on St. Lucy’s Day, especially in Scandinavia. In one custom, popular in Sweden, a girl wears a wreath with candles on her head and passes out candy to children. Many other countries have similar traditions, and they seem to relate to the theme of light in the midst of the winter darkness.

Saint Lucy, pray for us!

What is the Immaculate Conception Of Mary?

A Statue of Mary with the title "I am the Immaculate Conception" behind herTomorrow is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and we have information about that feast here. This solemnity celebrates a doctrine that is unique to Catholics, which is that Mary was conceived without original sin, and thus was without actual sin as well.

Sometimes the doctrine is confused with the Virgin birth (the conception of Jesus  by Mary and the Holy Spirit), but the two are very different.

So, why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary? It pretty much boils down to the fact that Mary was the mother of Jesus, God and man. Because she was a holy vessel, carrying our Lord, she needed to be holy as well. When did Mary become sinless and holy, fitting to bear the Son of God? Catholics say it happened from the very beginning, when Mary was conceived. Other Christians place the event at different points in her life. Many Orthodox Christians believe she was purified of all sin when she said “yes” to God’s call

The concept can seem a little confusing because official Church Teaching is that Mary was made sinless by Christ. That’s right. Christ’s saving grace was applied to Mary at her conception before he was even born. It may seem a little odd, but Catholic Teaching is that God is outside of time and space, and thus applying grace before the fact is perfectly acceptable when you are God.

This doctrine basically points back to Christ. Mary was sinless to bear Christ. Mary was made sinless by Christ. While some non-Catholics criticize the doctrine for elevating Mary to the level of Christ, the truth is that Mary’s Immaculate Conception shows the power of Christ.

Saints Celebrated On November 28th

saint statues on a table with candleToday on the general calendar, nobody is celebrated. It is a normal weekday in Ordinary Time for most Catholics throughout the world. This keeps the modern Church calendar from being overloaded with saint days, taking away from the seasonal celebrations.

Nonetheless, today is the day for a lot of different saints. Did you know that today we celebrate Catherine Laboure, James of the Marches, Andrew Trong, Valerian, Fionnchu, Hippolytus, Bl. James Thompson, Rufus and Companions, and Papinianus? I have pretty knowledgable about the faith, yet even most of these names are unknown to me.

Every day of the year there are plenty of saints that we can connect to, pray to, and discover as examples of holiness. The Church is full of great sinners, but is also full of great saints. Some of them are pretty obscure or legendary. In fact, finding images for some of today’s was downright difficult, so I just uploaded a photo of some saints I took.

You can go to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Roman_Calendar or www.catholic.org/saints/sofd.php.

Try to learn about a new saint each day. You’ll find it a rewarding practice.

The Celebration of Saints Barlaam and Josaphat

Today is an interesting day in the Church, when we celebrate Saints Josaphat and Barlaam. They are not celebrated in the universal calendar, so you likely have never been to a Mass remembering them. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes their story thusly:

In the third or fourth century King Abenner (Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept in close confinement. But, in spite of all precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit. Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness. Years after their death, the bodies were brought to India and their grave became renowned by miracles. Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August).

Saints Barlaam and JosaphatThey are unique saints because their story is a Christianized version of the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The story was likely turned into a Christian saint story around 1000 AD.

This brings up some interesting tensions that exist in modern and ancient Catholicism. There has always been mutual influence among Christianity and other religions. This has expressed itself with influence between Eastern religions and Christian monasticism (as shown in this adaptation), as well as between Islam and Christianity (especially during the Middle Ages).

Even though in this age of relativism, this mutual influence can be taken too far, The Church’s view of other religions is very charitable, and summed up in Nostra Aetate, a document of Vatican II:

…other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men (2).

In other words, there is nothing wrong per se with Christianizing good elements of other faiths, because truth is truth. So, when a Hindu or Buddhist preaches “thou shalt not kill,” it is just as true as when a Christian preaches it. When the same Hindu or Buddhist preaches reincarnation or denies the existence of a personal god, then clearly we would say that conflicts with Catholic truth. However, this does not mean we can’t recognize the good things contained in other religions.

Saints Josaphat and Barlaam, pray for us.

Happy Feast Day of All Saints!

Icon of All SaintsDo you have a grandma that everyone swore was a saint? What about that priest who lived a very holy life and helped you come to know God more intimately?

We all know those individuals (or have heard of them) who lived holy lives, but are nonetheless not officially honored officially by the Church. Today, All Saints Day (November 1) is their day.

In addition to those unknown saints, All Saints Day also celebrates those Saints who are known to and recognized by the Church. This includes those that we may not find on the general calendar even though they have been officially canonized.

Perhaps they are best known to a region, a town, or even a religious order. They receive honor and celebration in those contexts, but the average Catholic may  not even know about them. We honor them on All Saints Day too.

In addition to the obligatory mass, a good way to celebrate All Saints Day is to remember them in some way. You can pray a Litany of the Saints, find a devotion to someone more obscure, or read a little bit about some of the unfamiliar ones. Whatever you choose, we hope you have a happy and blessed All Saints Day.

For more information on the history and practices of the holiday, please visit our All Saints Day page.