This weekend our priest challenged us to not become armchair Catholics. It really struck a chord with me either because it’s always been one of my fears, or I’m already on the road to laziness.

On the last day of the Divine Mercy Novena we pray for those who are lukewarm in their faith. It’s telling that the last day is saved for the lukewarm souls as these are the ones who pain Jesus the most. “These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: ‘Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.’ For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy.” (Diary, Saint Maria Faustina)

In the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Both love and hate evoke the color red meaning passion, fire and deep feeling. Indifference is just blah, nothing, empty.

And to be honest, being lukewarm is comfortable. It’s inside a well-cocooned comfort zone where I don’t have to confront my shortcomings or stretch my abilities.

I’m going to assume that you can relate. For me the verve with which I pursue God waxes and wanes entirely based on my own effort. I find myself practicing laziness, resulting in getting better and better at it. Instead of saying a rosary, I say a decade, then just a handfuls of Hail Marys, then later “God – you know I love you, but I’m tired and going to bed now.”

And poof. A hard-won habit is lost.

I read things like what Lis writes about her wonderful experience with adoration and my initial reaction is jealousy at her relationship with God. Seriously. I need to get over myself.

But coming in behind the jealousy is a ray of inspiration. I want what Lis has and I’m the only thing standing in my way. Or sitting in my own way – in that darn armchair Father mentioned on Sunday.

Now is the time to get uncomfortable. Through actions, learning and prayer I once again fuel the flame of love of God. There can be no waiting or excuses. “I don’t have the time” doesn’t cut it. We have one job to do in this life and that is to get to Heaven.

Time to once again role up my sleeves.

1. Learn – even on just the topic of Catholicism there is so much to discover that I won’t be done in my lifetime. Guided education through your parish or online with sites like Formed.org are a great place to start.
2. Act – Using the Corporal Works of Mercy as a starting point. If you’re more than happy donating money to help a cause, ask yourself if that’s too easy. Perhaps it’s time to nudge a little farther out of ye olde comfort zone and try something different.
3. Pray – prayer should not be boring. If you find your mind wandering or anticipating the end of a rote prayer, it’s time to use a different approach. Lectio Devina is one method. Another is just turning your stream of consciousness into a prayer. God knows all your thoughts anyway, you might as well direct them toward him.

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelations 3:14-16

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Guide to Planning a Traditional Catholic Wedding

An engagement and the planning of a wedding is an exciting time for all couples. This is also a time for couples to decide in what ways they want God and their Catholic faith to be present in the ceremony. This is the service that, for many couples, will set the tone of how their faith will be a part of their daily lives.


First and foremost, you need to determine if you are eligible to get married in the Catholic Church and, if you are, determine the next steps to take in planning your traditional Catholic wedding.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Before You Start: Are You Eligible?

Many Catholics find themselves wanting to include their faith in the ceremony that will begin the next chapter of their lives. After all, marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic faith and adhering to Catholic tradition can create a unique bond between a husband and a wife. However, before two people decide to be joined, not only legally but spiritually, they must meet some standard criteria.


While both people who are going to be married do not have to be specifically Catholic, they are required to be a baptized Christian. One partner, however, must be Catholic, and they both need to be free to marry. If you were or your partner was previously married, and then divorced, you are ineligible to be married in the Catholic Church. However, if either of you has been married and had the marriage annulled or your previous spouse has died, you can continue to move forward with your faithful marriage plans.

Alter at Catholic wedding ceremony

There are additional criteria when it comes to whom you are planning to marry. To be married in the Catholic Church, you and your partner must be of opposite genders. While this newer form of marriage of same sex couples is constitutionally legal, and members of the Catholic Church are condemned for acting in hatred toward homosexuals, homosexual marriage is not viewed as a sacramental marriage in the Church.


If you have a question about your ability to get married in the Catholic Church, ultimately it is best to consult your parish priest. He will have an excellent understanding of the criteria necessary for a sacramental marriage, and he will tell you what needs to happen if you and your partner do not meet these criteria.

Traditional Catholic Couple

So, You Are Eligible: What’s Next? The Engagement

Set up a time to meet with the priest who will perform the ceremony well in advance of the date you are planning for your wedding. There are many pre-marriage phases you must take before walking down the aisle, and you want to ensure you have plenty of time to complete those steps.


Couple completing pre-marital inventory

First, you and your partner must complete a pre-marital inventory. This is essentially a discussion with a facilitator to make sure you and your partner have talked about important issues that might arise during your marriage. You and your partner each answer the series of questions separately, and then you see whether your answers match up. Some examples of pre-marital inventory topics include parenting, lifestyle, finances, and the in-laws. A facilitator, who is likely to be the priest that is facilitating your wedding, will lead these questions.


You will need to complete some additional in-person marriage preparation steps to be able to be married in the Church. This includes meeting with the priest as a couple. This is a great way for him to get to know what your relationship is like, as well as make sure you are both there for the right reasons. It will also aid in making sure your wedding has a personal feel.


Pre-Marriage Requirements

Couples will also be required to attend a marriage preparation program, otherwise known as Pre-Cana. This can take shape in many different forms depending on your dioceses. Through this, couples will engage in thoughtful conversations about issues that might arise in their marriage, similar to the pre-marital inventory.


However, this is also a course that ensures couples go into more detail and discussion. These programs can take place online, in the form of a weekend retreat, in weekly classes, or in one daylong program. Additionally, it is suggested you complete a Natural Family Planning course. Consult your parish priest to determine what option is available to you and exact details about what is required during your marriage preparation program.


Finally, the priest will also need to see documents as part of your marriage assessment. In addition to your pre-marital inventory, you will need to provide the priest with a recent baptismal certificate. This certificate can be retrieved from the Church you were baptized in. You will also need to supply a form from the parish that states you and your partner are free to marry.


If you are intending to marry someone who is a baptized, non-Catholic Christian or a non-baptized person, or if you wish to marry in a venue that is not a Catholic church, you are required to complete a dispensation form. The local priest or Diocese who handles the paperwork will have this form. Most parishes take about a month, on average, to grant dispensation. Most routinely grant dispensation requests.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Choosing Your Wedding Date

While setting the date may seem like something only you and your partner should be concerned about, there are specific dates you will be unable to marry in the Church. It is best to know these dates ahead of time so you do not conflict with other church programs when trying to schedule your wedding date.


Calendar with date set for Catholic Wedding

There are certain Liturgical seasons discouraged for wedding ceremonies. These seasons are Lent, or the period that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter, and Advent, or the period that begins on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas and which ends on Christmas Eve. While weddings are not technically prohibited during this time, many parishes suggest you do not celebrate a wedding during a time that is for preparation and penance for an important Liturgical holiday.


Additionally, while certain days may not be off-limits for weddings according to the Church at large, there are days and times your parish may not allow weddings. It is imperative you double-check with your parish to make sure the date and time you want the church and priest for your wedding are available before you make other plans.


Finally, there are days during the Liturgical calendar that are not off limits for weddings; however, they are off limits for choosing your own readings. The days that require you to use specific readings are Sundays and Saturday evenings, as well as feast days. So, if you are set on specific readings for your wedding Mass, you will want to make sure you avoid these times.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Mass or No Mass?

While the traditional and preferred method for a marriage in the Catholic Church is performed during a celebration of the Eucharist, there are instances where couples may choose not to marry within the context of a traditional Mass. This decision is based on whether only one or both partners are Catholic.


Catholic Church alter with chalices

If you or your partner is not a Catholic, you must obtain your priest’s permission to have your wedding performed within the context of a Mass. However, since the non-Catholic partner would not be able to partake in communion, this is not generally encouraged.


If both you and your partner are Catholic, you can choose whether you would like to celebrate your wedding during Mass with the Eucharist or if you would rather have a Liturgy of the Word service. The Liturgy of the Word service is similar in style to the Mass; however, it does not include partaking of the Eucharist. While the Liturgy of the Word service is typically shorter than a full Mass, the inclusion of the Eucharist does not add significantly more time onto your service and can start your marriage on a special note. If you decide to include the Eucharist, you might want to think about how to address non-Catholic guests who may not partake of the Eucharist at your ceremony.


Consider having your priest make an announcement with an explanation or including a clarification in your program. It is ultimately up to you and your partner to determine which service is the best fit for your personality and ceremony.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Decorations and Photographers

When planning the decorations, it is best to consult your parish. However, there are some basic guidelines you can expect to follow. The general rule is you do not want your decorations to distract from the Mass or from the overall nature and structure of the church. In fact, you can use this to your advantage by heightening the natural beauty of the worship space with simple decorations while still maintaining the celebratory effect. This will enable you to cut costs on wedding decorations without sacrificing a beautifully decorated wedding space.


Madonna and Child Statue

Another thing to consider when planning decorations is what your flower girl and guests will be tossing. Consult your parish to find specific guidelines. Many parishes disallow flower girls to toss flower petals or for guests to throw rice when you and your partner leave the ceremony due to the difficult cleanup. If your parish adheres to these rules, there are other options to keep your exit festive. For instance, try giving your guests strands of ribbon to wave or sparklers to hold as you and your new spouse make your entrance into the world as husband and wife.


Many couples want to capture their special day with pictures or videos. Photographers and videographers are typically allowed in the Mass; however, they must adhere to some general guidelines. They must not disrupt the Mass, get in the way of your guests, or enter the sanctuary space. If they follow these rules, you will still have beautiful documentation of your ceremony without ruining the special significance of the service.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Music and Musicians

Most churches do not require you to use a specific band or set of music. This gives you the freedom to choose a musician with whom you have a close relationship or one who fits your style and budget.



Dancing legs at Catholic Wedding

However, there are guidelines to the type of music you can play during your ceremony. Since the songs you pick will be sung during a Catholic service, they must maintain a religious nature and honor the Lord. It is also typically recommended you choose some songs that can be sung by the musicians, as well as you and your guests, as an act of praise and prayer. Many parishes require you to send in your music choices to be approved for a liturgical service.

Traditional Catholic Couple
Catholic bride and groom dancing

Final Thoughts

While planning a traditional Catholic wedding may seem tedious and like it would be significantly more time-consuming than planning a secular wedding, a Catholic wedding has its major advantages. It is important for Catholic couples to understand that a wedding is not only about the one day your ceremony takes place but about setting you up for a committed relationship with your life partner. When couples take this into account, the strict pre-marital actions and longer service are worth the investment of time.


The Church does not make couples participate in Pre-Cana because it can but, rather, it is intended to make sure a couple is better prepared to withstand the difficult times that come along with the joys of marriage. Couples can consider this a type of pre-marriage counseling which will strengthen their relationship in a time that is often stressful for an engaged couple.

Priest consecrating the Eucharist

Including the Eucharist and the liturgy in your ceremony sets the precedent for your marital relationship being centered on Christ. This will make it much more natural for you and your spouse to continue reinforcing your relationship with each other and with the Lord through weekly Mass attendance.


Similarly, it will likely increase your drive to raise your children in the Church, which will enable you to strengthen your family and set your children up for a positive, faith-filled life. Remember, when in doubt about anything concerning planning, your parish priest is your best resource.

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Jesus Christ Mosaic

Liturgical worship is one of the greatest traditions in western Christianity. Shared by Protestants and Catholics alike, the rites and rituals of the mass date back as far as the second century. When we worship, we sing the same songs and pray some of the same prayers as Christians have for millennia.

This liturgical heritage is more than just an order of worship. It is the most important teaching tool for Catholics who participate in the mass. For many, the mass is the only time they hear God’s word and the teachings of the church. The liturgical calendar helps to emphasize different episodes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each season, from Advent to Pentecost, examines a different aspect of the identity and story of Jesus.

The Holy Name of Jesus

The church dedicates the month of January to the Holy Name of Jesus. It begins with the celebration of the day Jesus received his name. The gospel reading for the day contains this passage from Luke 2, “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” While the sentence is short, the details are very important.

Luke mentions the eighth day because it refers to God’s command in Leviticus 12 that all Israel circumcise their sons on the eighth day after birth. This seemingly small detail reminds us that Jesus followed God’s law perfectly, even when he was eight days old.

Jesus’ name, itself, is also significant. It comes from a Hebrew word ישוֹע, pronounced Yeshua, which means, “He saves.” In the gospel of Matthew, an angel tells Joseph in a dream to name Mary’s son Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus Reigns in Heaven

St. Paul also writes about the name of Jesus as the highest name in all of creation. Because Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on the cross, he was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father. The name of Jesus not only represents sacrifice and salvation, but it also reminds us that he rules all of creation for the benefit of his church. He will return to judge the world and raise the faithful from the dead to eternal life.

The church uses many symbols for the holy name of Jesus. We find the first symbols for his name in the handwritten copies of the New Testament. Out of respect for holy names, called nomina sacra by academics, the copiers abbreviated the Greek words for God, Lord, Spirit, and others. Most often, they wrote the first letter and the last letter with a line drawn over the top of the symbol.

IHS

IHS Symbol

IHS is one such symbol. It comes from the Greek spelling of Jesus’ name, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, so you can read the name, Jesus, whenever you see it. This symbol almost always appears superimposed over the cross or over a crucifix. The symbolism connects the name of Jesus to his sacrificial action on the cross to save us. This symbol appears frequently in the church, most notably in the coat of arms for Pope Francis.

Chi Rho

Chi Rho Pyx

We also use other symbols to refer to Jesus Christ. Chi Rho is an ancient symbol used by the very first Christians to represent the word, Christ. It looks like a combination of an “X” and a “P,” but it derives from the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, χριστος or Christos. One of the most common symbols in the church, you can find it anywhere you might find Christian symbols like stained-glass windows, vestments, altar decorations, and pyxes. Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, used the Chi Rho in his military standards, too.

IH Monogram

The IH monogram is a similar combination of letters to make a single symbol. This one comes from the first two letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. Combined, the symbol looks like an “H” with a line struck vertically down the middle. A striking symbol, you can find explanations for it in the earliest letters in the church like the Epistle of Barnabas or from the letters of Clement of Alexandria.

Ixthus or the Jesus Fish

Jesus Fish Symbol

The fish is also a common symbol for Jesus, and it is popular today among Christians. A stylized version of a fish drawn with a simple line, the spelling of the Greek word, Ιχθυς or Ichthus, is an acrostic for the titles of Jesus, Jesus (Ι) Christ (Χ) Son (υ) of God (θ) Savior (ς). Legend has it that the early Christians used this symbol to identify themselves secretly when they were being persecuted by the Roman government.

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus reminds the Catholic Church about the earliest days of Jesus’ life, his circumcision, and naming. Even in his first eight days, he began to fulfill God’s law, which he continued to do for the rest of his life. We use symbols for the name of Jesus Christ in art and vestments to remind us of him and the salvation he gives us.


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Fountain outside Basilica Church

Between the years 1769 and 1833, Franciscan priests founded 21 missions throughout Alta California—a province of New Spain that encompasses what we now know as California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico—to bring Christianity to the Native Americans living in that region. Theses missions were also a part of the Spanish government’s attempts to expand their rule over their claims in New Spain.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

The Carmel Mission’s official name is Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Named for Carlo Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, it was originally founded in what is now called Monterey, California, the capital of Alta California at the time. Founded by St. Junìpero Serra, from 1770 to 1778, it was the site of the first confirmation of a Native American in California.

St. Serra moved the mission to Carmel-by-the-Sea after a conflict with the governor of Alta California, Pedro Fages, over how the governor treated his soldiers and the Native Americans.

They used adobe, a combination of mud and organic material, to build the first chapel at the Carmel mission, but St. Serra dreamed of having a permanent stone structure for worship. He drew up the plans for the chapel, but he was unable to build it during his lifetime.

Building the Chapel

St. Serra’s successor, Father Fray Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, convinced the government of New Spain to send qualified architects and skilled stonemasons to carry out St. Junìpero Serra’s plan for the chapel. The government licensed Manuel, an architect, and Santiago Ruiz, a master stonemason, to head up construction. The centerpiece of Manuel’s design was a series of vaulted parabolic arches across the ceiling.

Construction lasted between 1795 and 1797 when it was dedicated for worship on Christmas Day. A major earthquake in 1812 moved the Franciscans to remodel the Basilica. They were terrified by the news that the parabolic ceilings of another church collapsed on worshipers during mass, killing many. They tore down the vaulted ceiling, leaving the stone arches that had supported it, and filled the rest in with wooden planks to prevent a similar disaster from happening at Carmel.

They remodeled the exterior of the basilica between 1817-1822. Among many other improvements, they built true towers to house the bells. The original bell towers weren’t towers at all. They were just walls with arches cut out to house the bells.

Basilica Church at the Carmel Mission

The interior of the basilica was much more opulent than it is today. There were seven major side altars with more than twenty statues of saints. The most beautiful side chapel held a massive crucifix with statues of St. John the Evangelist and Our Lady. Another beautiful statue of La Conquistadora, or Our Lady of Bethlehem, was the center of the large reredos decorated with crystal and fine gilded wood.

Disrepair and Collapse

In 1833, the newly independent government of Mexico secularized the Carmel mission. The roof collapsed in 1851, and many of the statues and altarpieces were destroyed. When the Catholic Church regained control in 1864, the mission was in complete ruins.

Restoration

Father Angel Casanova began the long process of restoring the mission in 1884. Monsignor Philip Scher chose Harry Downie to oversee and to complete the restoration process in 1931. Shortly after that, the Franciscans transferred the mission to the local diocese and the chapel became a parish church. Downie worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to bring all the buildings of the mission back to their former glory.

Because of Downie, the Carmel Mission is one of the most faithfully restored of all the missions in California. It most completely represents the style and design of the original building. Some of the original decorations remain, having been rescued by Fr. Sadoc Villaras when the ceiling showed signs of collapse.

In the 1960s the Diocesan Bishop, Aloyisus Willinger petitioned the Holy See to have the church declared a minor Basilica. There are four major Basilicas in the world: St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major, and they are all in Rome.

The Holy See designates a church a minor Basilica because they have history, dignity, architectural value, and have significance as a worship site. Pope John Paul XXIII honored the Carmel Mission with this title in recognition of St. Serra’s work establishing Christianity on the west coast of North America and for the work done at the Carmel Mission. It is one of only 69 basilicas in the United States.

Crucifix carved from wood

One of the most important historical California missions, The Basilica Church at the Carmel Mission is not just a relic from the past. Its faithfully restored nave is also a parish church, where priests still celebrate mass. The Carmel Mission, like many historical worship sites, connects the faithful to the living history of the church, helping us to see our place in the long tradition that is our faith.

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Jesus baptism depicted on stained glass

The church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord on January 9th, the Sunday after Epiphany. While the Gospels tell the story in only a few sentences, it is one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ life, since the baptism of Jesus is the archetype for every baptism that follows his.

Sometimes we miss the rich meaning in the rites of the church. We speak our assigned parts and do the assigned actions, sometimes without knowing the symbolism behind each act. When you understand the Biblical stories behind the sacraments and the images we use, you will see the beautiful liturgical tradition the church has given us.

The Baptism of the Lord

The story is simple. Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. John, knowing that Jesus was the Son of God, tried to stop Jesus by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) But Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). When John baptizes Jesus, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. The Father speaks to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners, our baptisms are like Jesus’ baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live as faithful Christians. We are adopted as sons of God through the Son of God, which means we can pray the prayer of the church which begins, “Our Father.”

Symbols in the Sacrament of Baptism

The historical details of Jesus’ baptism play a role in our own rite of baptism. The first symbol a priest uses is in the reception of the child when the priest makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The sign of the cross reminds us that baptism would just be water without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Water

Priest performing first sacrament

Other symbols focus on more concrete parts of the story. Jesus’ baptism begins when he enters the water. You can see images of water in most baptismal artwork. Sometimes the artist depicts the water as a flowing river, evoking the water of life that springs up inside us when we are baptized.

Other times, you will see three drops of water suspended below the bottom of the shell, representing the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom were present at the baptism of Jesus. They also recall Jesus’ own command regarding baptism, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In the rite of baptism, the church confesses the Apostles Creed. The priest asks the parents and Godparents whether they believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. After each of the three questions, they recite together the relevant passage from the creed.

The Dove

After Jesus had been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. While the Bible does not tell us whether the Spirit was visibly in the form of a dove or not, the image of a dove is a symbol that represents the Holy Spirit. When artists use the symbol of the dove, they depict it diving down to earth from heaven. In baptism, the Holy Spirit does not float around aimlessly. Rather, he dives from heaven to us just like he did when Jesus was baptized. A downward facing dove reminds us that the Spirit comes down to us.

The Fire

Holy Spirit depicted as fire in mosaic

Sometimes, fire, a common symbol for the Holy Spirit, accompanies the dove. In the gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist preaches to the crowds, and he predicts that Jesus would come to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. On the day of Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire float above their heads. Fire reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit that rests inside every Christian.

In the rite of baptism, fire also symbolizes the light of Christ entering into the child. The priest lights the child’s baptismal candle from the flame of Jesus Christ’s Easter candle. It shows both our connection to Christ through the one flame passed from him to us, as well as the scattering of the darkness of sin with that light.

Baptism may be the most recognizable sacrament in the Catholic Church. For infants, it is the beginning of their life as members of the church. For adults, it comes as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Either way, baptism is the first step in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. It enlightens the eyes of the heart and gives a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

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Monument to St. Catherine in Rome, Italy

2016 was rough. Or it was great… depends on your perspective and if you’re a glass-half-full or half-empty type of person. Either way, we are now facing 2017. And each time we face a new year, it’s shiny and new and full of possibility.

As we approach the New Year, we ask God and Mother Mary for a peaceful, more harmonious world. Praying to a patron saint to intercede on our behalf brings great comfort and hope to Catholics. Even if you don’t see them, miracles happen every day and, as the Bible tells us, prayer is the answer.

Below is a list of seven patron saints to whom you can direct your prayers to heal you or your loved ones in 2017 in seven different ways.

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican

#1: Health: Raphael the Archangel

Known as the patron saint of healing, Raphael is a familiar figure in Christendom. His name indicates his healing powers. When translated ad litteram, Raphael means God Heals, or, God, please heal.

Raphael the Archangel is mentioned in the Gospel of John, as well as in the Book of Tobit. He is also the protector of travelers, Christian marriages, matchmakers, happy meetings, and medical workers. So, if you are praying on behalf of you or your loved one’s health, Raphael the Archangel will be there for you.

#2: Faith: Saint Monica, Patron Saint of Lapsed Catholics

Saint Monica is another powerful patron in the Catholic Church. The mother of Saint Augustine, she prayed for her son and her pagan husband. After 17 years, her prayers were answered, and her husband converted to Catholicism. She became the patron saint of all those who stray from the Church.

So, if you have someone dear to you who has left the Church, pray to Saint Monica, and, through the grace of God, she will help you bring your loved ones back into the protective arms of Catholicism.

#3: Love: Saint Valentine, Patron Saint of Happy Marriages

Widely known inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Valentine’s Day is universally celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike. However, as little is known about Saint Valentine, in 1969 the Church removed the recognized date of February 14th from the Roman Calendar.

Saint Valentine is best remembered as a martyr (something most sources agree on). Considered to be the protector of happy marriages and love that is pure in the eyes of God, Saint Valentine is the patron to pray to if you are planning to get married.

Orchid with Madonna and Child

#4: Physical: Saint Sebastian, Patron Saint of Athletes

As a new year begins, we all make promises to ourselves—to be better humans, to read more, to be closer to God and his light, to take better care of our bodies, and so on. Among all New Year’s resolutions, the most common ones are to exercise more for the good of our bodies.

Saint Sebastian is known to be the protector of athletes and soldiers, and, although you may not be a pro athlete, he can still help you maintain the willpower to make exercise a regular part of your routine in 2017.

A soldier himself, Saint Sebastian became a martyr in the early days of Christianity. Nowadays, people who want healthy bodies and a clean soul look up to him, and, with prayer and God by your side, he can help you, too!

#5: Heart: Saint Vincent de Paul, Patron Saint of Volunteers and Charity Workers

Saint Vincent was a priest who lived in the 17th century and dedicated his entire life to helping the poor. People often pray for him and ask that they lead the same kind of life: to volunteer and help those less fortunate.

If you want to be a better person next year and help those less fortunate, Saint Vincent de Paul will stand by your side. Pray to him and God to give you the strength, willpower, and love to help create a better, more caring world.

As our Lord Savior Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

#6: Personal Finance: Saint Matthew, Patron Saint of Those with Money Problems

We should not pray for riches but, rather, for the generosity of our souls and for our power to overcome obstacles. And, yet, God understands that in today’s world we need a stable financial situation to help ourselves and our families deal with life’s troubles.

Saint Matthew, the author of the first gospel in the New Testament and one of Christ’s twelve disciples, was a tax collector during his life on Earth. He is the saint to whom you pray to help you manage your money and increase your earnings in God’s name.

If your financial situation needs help, pray to Saint Matthew. With faith, your prayers are sure to be heard.

#7: Business: Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Patron Saint of Entrepreneurs

Although Saint Maximilian Kolbe was canonized relatively recently compared to many other saints, his life proves God is still with us and miracles still happen. Maximilian Kolbe’s life is one of true candor and generosity. Saint Kolbe founded monasteries, a publishing house, and charities. He was imprisoned at Auschwitz and eventually killed.

In addition to being the patron saint of entrepreneurs, he is also the patron saint of the pro-life movement.

Saint Kolbe, with God’s help, can assist you in healing your new business in the coming year. Pray for the ability to think clearly, make good decisions, and achieve prosperity.

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O God, whose Son was born
in Bethlehem, on that
wonderous night, lead us to
that same place, where Mary
laid her tiny child.
As we look on in wonder and
praise, make us welcome Him
and all new life, and care for
His handiwork; the earth,
the sky and the sea.
O God, bless us again in Your
great love. We pray for this
through Christ our Lord,
Amen.

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As Catholics, we are familiar with the powerful sacramental holy water. Placed at the entrance in every Catholic church around the world, this sanctified water is part of our life from baptism onward.

Holy water is a very powerful sacramental and should not be taken for granted. It is blessed by God and should be used daily.

Understanding its true significance and uses is an important part of our upbringing.

The History of Holy Water

Although it has not been determined exactly when the Church first started using holy water, it was an integral part of Catholicism beginning after the death and resurrection of Christ.

The use of holy water is closely intertwined with Jewish Law. In Judaism, the Rabbis use blessed water to purify the body and the mind before conducting rituals, such as prior to entering the temple, offering sacrifice, or even eating.

In Christianity, the first uses of holy water are usually associated with Apostle Matthew. According to the writings attributed to Pope Saint Clement, Saint Matthew instituted the rite of using holy water to “protect the soul and body.” Saint Clement’s Constitutions also lists a specific prayer St. Matthew supposedly would say when using holy water.

Where Does Holy Water Come From?

Canon law has evolved, but at one point sacramentals were only blessed on the Epiphany, including exorcised salt, which is sometimes used in Holy Water. However, priests can now bestow these blessings at any time. Water is made holy when it is blessed by a priest. Once it is blessed, the holy water is reserved in a water font at the church entrance. Upon entering the church, we dip our fingers into the font and make the sign of the cross. The holy water reminds us of our baptism and union with Christ. In baptism, we are born anew spiritually, freed from our sins and brought into the covenant family of God.

The Significance of Holy Water

Holy water cleanses the soul. Sanctified by a priest, holy water repels evil and is used to bless those with whom it comes in contact. The rite of purification before entering a church and baptism, as well as many other Roman Catholic rituals, involve the use of holy water.

When a baby is baptized, holy water expunges the original sin that a person is born with and, in an adult baptism, it removes all mortal and venial sins.

By using holy water as part of mass, we are reminded how God has the power to forgive all our sins. Holy water also prepares us to receive the sacraments and protects us from demons.

The Uses of Holy Water

Baby being baptized in Catholic church

Some of the most common uses of Holy Water:

Baptism. Holy water is a fundamental part of the baptismal sacrament. Just as our Lord and Savior Jesus was bathed in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, the priest uses sanctified water to wash away original sin.

Holy Water Fonts. At the entrance of a Catholic church is a font filled with holy water. Catholics use this to bless themselves and purify their souls before entering the church, so they are spiritually cleansed prior to entering God’s house.

There are three categories of holy water fonts: stationary (as in a church), portable fonts (such as those used for baptism), and private fonts (usually found in homes).

Eastern Orthodoxy still has holy water fountains that are used to wash and hands and feet (likely derived from ancient Jewish rituals).

Home. As Saint Teresa of Avila says, there is “nothing like holy water to put devils to flight.” You can never have too much grace or blessing in your life. A holy water font in your home is a great way to renew your spirit and cleanse your home.

Cars. Though technology has created engineering marvels and changed lives everywhere, Christianity does not change. Holy water is just as effective today, despite technological advances, as it was at the time of Jesus. Many Catholics choose to bless their car using holy water. Blessing your vehicle with holy water reminds us that God is always watching over us and our loved ones.

The Sick. Holy water has the power to heal. Blessing someone with holy water is a spiritual work of mercy. You can use holy water to bless their hospital room and help bring comfort to them.

Font for holy water

Your Pets. Pets are beloved companions and can be blessed with holy water because all creation gives glory to God. On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, many parishes have a rite of blessing for pets. This blessing can be given to farm animals, too.

Holy water can truly work miracles, and it can help you remain clean, pure, and closer to the Light of God.

Holy water is an integral part of what it means to be Catholic. When you dip your fingers into holy water and make the sign of the cross, you should be mindful of the significance of your baptism and renunciation of Satan. Remember, holy water receives its power through the authority and sanctity of the Church.

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Nativity scene with Three Wise Men and animals

As one of the most powerful and popular symbols of Christmas in the Christian world, the nativity scene is familiar to everyone. Nativities can be carvings, art, ceramics, or even living depictions of the night of Jesus’ birth.

The scenes contain the same five basic elements: Baby Jesus in a manager, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and barn animals. Often the Three Wise Men are added to the scene.

This iconic symbol of Christian hope and redemption celebrates one of the most important events in the history of mankind: the birth of Jesus.

The Story Behind the Nativity Scene

Saint Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene, or crèche (these terms are used interchangeably), to promote the true significance of Christmas. He wanted to remind everyone that Baby Jesus was born into a humble, poor, but loving environment. He felt Catholics were missing the message of the Gospel because they were ensnared in materialism.

On Christmas Eve in 1223, Saint Francis started what would later become one of the most widespread and familiar Christmas traditions of all time. Outside Greccio, in a cave, he re-created Jesus’ birth and its modest conditions to remind people of how Christianity has never been (and never will be) about material richness. Rather, Christianity revolves around spirituality and worship. Catholicism has nothing to do with earthly wealth, and everything to do with God’s love and the forgiveness of sin through His sacrifice of His only Son.

A few decades later, in 1260, Saint Bonaventure described the beauty and awe in the scene created by Saint Francis. His description and praise resulted in St. Francis’ nativity scene becoming a permanent part of Christian tradition.

Christ Child in manger scene

The Common Symbolism of the Nativity Scene

Saint Francis created the original nativity scene using live animals and hay in a cave. Today, live nativity scenes are still very popular, but other methods of reenacting the birth of Jesus are more common, whether it is an olive wood carving or an elaborate icon.

The presence of animals is an important element of any nativity scene. Saint Francis used an ox and an ass in the original because he wanted to portray the extremely humble conditions under which our Lord and Savior Jesus was born.

Most believe the ox represents patience and the people of Israel. The donkey represents Gentiles, humility, and readiness to serve. Brought together, these animals tell the story of Christianity—and, ultimately, the story of a world united under the name of God and his Son, Jesus.

The central character in the nativity is Baby Jesus in his manger. Most scenes depict him with open arms inviting us to accept salvation.

The Virgin Mary is sometimes larger than other characters and usually wears a red gown representing blood. Her cloak is blue, symbolizing the sky and heaven, conveying she is the link between heaven and earth.

The Three Wise Men represent different continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—and sometimes they are portrayed in different age groups, representing the various life stages. Their gifts are also significant. Gold represents Baby Jesus’ kingship, incense symbolizes His divinity, and myrrh foreshadows His death.

The shepherds represent the common man.

Nativity scene with Three Wise Men and animals

Some Not-So-Common Symbolism Expressed in the Nativity Scene

Sometimes there are some subtle differences in various versions of the nativity scene that have important symbolic meaning. For example, the Virgin Mary is often depicted with her hand clutched over her heart. This refers to the verse in St. Luke that states “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Final Thoughts

The most important thing about the nativity scene is its message. Our Heavenly Father sent His own son to earth to be sacrificed for our sins. Those who believe in Him may receive forgiveness and eternity in heaven.

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How cool is it to get mail that’s not a bill or advertisement or form letter? How often does that happen?

I love all the mail we get at Christmas. Seeing the pictures and watching my far-away friends’ kids change from year to year is sweet. Sobering – because of how fast they grow, but sweet.

When it comes to sending Christmas a Christmas mailing, there are many options out there, including postcards, letters, photos and the traditional card. Continue reading Add Prayer and Love to your Christmas Cards

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