The most boring way to be Catholic is to sit in the same pew every Sunday, listen to the homily, receive the Eucharist, and then change nothing. 

No one can make you change except God and yourself, but you need to be a willing participant. You need to make that choice for yourself and act on that choice. (And by "you", I mean "me" because, let's be real, these blog posts are really me talking to myself where it just so happens other people can read it.)

So when it comes to making the choice to be a very active participant and enjoy​ the richness and blessings of the Catholic faith, what are you actively doing to make sure you continue to grow? How do you keep it fresh?

Our parish, although small, has a dedicated adult education program. Even if it didn’t, I have a plethora of parishes in Sioux Falls that offer fantastic opportunities to constantly be learning. When it comes to the spiritual resources at my fingertips in our relatively small community, I’m pretty blessed.

In these classes we have covered in depth Lectio Devina, Mary, Book of Revelations, Marian Consecration, and so much more. With each class my prayer practice gets deeper and wider.

Not to say that I never fall back on old practices. Rote praying is my default, and not to say that it’s “bad”, but when I lose my place within the “Hail Mary”, I know I could do better when it comes to seeking God.

The adult education at my parish pushes me outside my comfort zone of prayer. And as we’ve heard – outside our comfort zone is where growth happens.

But alas – my daughter’s Monday night basketball schedule has kept me out of class for quite some time and I won’t be able to return until March. I’m finding it is way too easy to fall back inside my comfort zone and get lazy.

So I’m looking for ideas. How do you all expand your prayer life? Those of you without access to adult education at your church – where do you turn to grow in your Catholic faith?

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Praying to win the lottery… or not.

Like every other American over the age of 18 as the Powerball is stretching far past the billion dollar mark, I found myself daydreaming about what winning such a windfall would mean for me, my family, my business and quiet life here in South Dakota.

The thought process starts with the basic math… the lump sum less 40% federal tax, less at least 10% tithing (20% tithing to assuage a bit of my Catholic guilt and maybe get on God’s good side so He’d consider me when it came time for the drawing), a large lump for family, leaving us with more money than we would ever be able to (responsibly) spend in a lifetime.

Of course I dream of the impact it could have on our community… feed the hungry, elevate our schools to the mythical ivory halls of learning, wipe out parish debts. Then to thoughts of how it would benefit our parents and siblings and their families…

Then something dark started to creep in. What if they spent it wrong? What if I didn’t like how they spent it or they ended up destroying their own lives with it like so many lottery winners before? (Already it's me vs. them and "them" is people who are more precious to me than anything in the world... this line of thinking isn't going to end where I thought it would.)

Of course I am too smart to let that happen to me because my judgement is perfect and under no scenario would I ever become a penniless has-been.

But then what? What of all those other friends and a bit-more-distant relatives who I love dearly? The line needs to be drawn, somewhere, right?

I read an article featuring a lottery winner who won $30 million, and somewhere it talked about how he found out who his real friends were.

That phrase stuck with me – “real friends”.

I don’t think being a “real friend” has anything to do with it. As I think of my small circle of truly close friends, it’s difficult to predict how I would respond if one of them were to suddenly happen upon millions of dollars. I’d like to assume that I would be ecstatically overjoyed for them - without any jealousy or feelings of entitlement, but I don’t think that’s how it would go in my heart and head.

So I can’t expect from them what I wouldn’t be able to do myself. ALL my friendships would shift in ways I can't predict.

As for family, no matter what amount we gave, a bit of me would always be paranoid that someone resented the amount they received.

What about my marriage? We have a solid marriage with a rock solid foundation… but $1.4 billion strong?

And finally … my girls. Would we be able to deny them their every whim? How would we ensure they’d learn the value of hard work?

And I’m sure there are piles of troubles that I didn’t think of (or didn’t want to even bring up). But this is plenty. So much is on the line already, what more convincing do I need that $1.4 billion has no place in my life.

How many of you have spent a bit of prayer on asking for God to give you the chance to prove what a great person you would be if you won the grotesquely large jackpot? I will sheepishly admit to this too.

But the more I reflect and pray on what I’m REALLY asking for, the less appealing the jackpot becomes. Loss of priceless friends and family?

How about just a million bucks instead? I could totally live with that.

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Have you ever noticed — in artwork such as paintings, statues and sculptures — how saints are depicted with certain objects or symbols?

For example, the young St Maria Goretti holds lilies. St Teresa of Avila is usually seen with a book or pen, and a dove hovering above her. St Anthony of Padua carries the Infant Jesus and/or loaves of bread. St Therese of Lisieux is pictured with roses. St Peter the Apostle is portrayed as looking to the heavens and holding keys.

 

What were the symbols for?

You may have even noticed that some saints have similar symbols. These symbols have certain meanings, enabling those who were unable to read to understand what that saint’s story was all about.

“When Christian religious ceremonies were conducted entirely in Latin, foreign or written words were therefore inappropriate for conveying the Christian message to the majorities. However, the Catholic symbols which were adopted enabled people, who adhered to the same Catholic Christian religion, could understand the meaning of a symbol regardless of understanding the written word or whatever county they were in. The use of Catholic symbols made it possible for everyone to understand the figures and the messages which were portrayed in Christian art or in the images and objects included on stained glass windows or the actual architecture of Catholic Churches.” (Source: http://www.catholic-saints.info/catholic-symbols/)

 

Here is a list of some saints and the objects portrayed with them:

St Peter – crossed keys, symbolizing the keys to the Kingdom and his God-given authority to “bind and loose”.

St John the Apostle – a chalice, referring to what Jesus said, “Of My cup, you shall drink”.

St Paul – a book, pertaining to the epistles in the New Testament that he had written.

St Lucy, St Apollonia, St Stephen – these saints, all of whom are martyrs, are depicted with a palm branch, symbolizing the ultimate victory of life over death; palm branches are also reminiscent of Jesus being greeted with palm branches as He entered Jerusalem before His Passion.

St Maria Goretti – her white garb and white lilies refer to her purity and virginity.

St Francis of Assisi, St Mary Magdalene – they are sometimes depicted with skulls, skulls representing the meaninglessness of vanity.

St Teresa of Avila – shown with a book to show her important writings and a spear symbolizing the vision she had of an angel piercing her with a spear that set her afire with love for God.

There are many other symbols and objects attached to various saints. Aside from telling the stories of the saints, they also teach the faithful various elements and concepts of Catholicism, as well as “add mysticism to the Catholic Christian religion.” (Source: http://www.catholic-saints.info/catholic-symbols/)

 

Who are your favorite saints? What symbols and objects are portrayed with them? How do these deepen your knowledge of their exemplary lives?

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The Role of the Holy Angels

“Angels we have heard on high/Sweetly singing o’er the plains….” So goes a classic Christmas carol. With the holidays in full swing, decorations related to the season abound, among them various forms and styles of angels.

But there is so much more to angels than the images that beautify shelves and mantles.

All these halos and wings have me wondering how much my mental image of angels matches up with what the Church teaches about angels. Are they real? What is their purpose? How do we know they’re real?

 

Holy angels are not fantasy; they are real. The most obvious place to turn to first is the Bible where we find these examples:

In the Old Testament —

  • An angel called out to Abraham, telling him not to harm his son, Isaac, while the former was about to sacrifice his son. (Genesis 22:11-12)
  • An angel appeared to Moses as fire in the burning bush. (Exodus 3:2)
  • An angel accompanied Israel as they were brought out of Egypt and through their sojourn in the desert. (Numbers 20:16)

 

In the New Testament —

  • The Angel Gabriel announced the good news to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior. (Luke 1:26-35)
  • Angels came to minister to Jesus after He was tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:11)
  • An angel, sitting on the stone of the empty tomb, proclaimed to the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead. (Matthew 28:5-6)

 

What are angels?

The word “angel” comes from the Greek “angelos,” which means “messenger” or “one who is sent.”

They are pure spirit — meaning they have no physical bodies — who have intelligence and will. They may, at times, take on human form as is seen in the book of Tobit when St. Raphael helps Tobiah on his journey (St Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica).

From the Catechism:

St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.’”188 With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”. (CCC329)

 

What do angels do?

Fr John A Hardon, SJ, explains that angels have a twofold role: “They are to worship God and venerate His divine majesty through all eternity, and they are to assist us in our probation here on earth in order that we might join the angels in heavenly glory.”

 

Guardian Angels

Guardian angels are not bedtime stories to make our children feel better. They are a very real and important part of the Catholic Church. Each of us has our own, as do nations and churches.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (334, 336) shows us their current function: “The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels…. From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’ Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”

 

Angels are here to aid us

Holy angels are wonderful blessings from God. Of the more popular prayers are the St Michael Prayer and the Guardian Angel Prayer. Let us thank God for the unseen holy angels who have come to our aid numerous times, for they are “ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).

 

Learn More

Hopefully this has provided you with a little more clarity concerning angels.

As for me, now I’ve started down this rabbit hole and I can’t wait to learn more. I highly recommend you read the CCC 328-336 found here.  My next stop will be to read this book on angels from Father Pascal Parente. I’ll update a reading list as I find more.

 What are your thoughts on angels? What have you read that has helped you understand these beings?

 

Sources:

 

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We didn’t have advent wreaths growing up (except the construction paper one I made in 3rd grade). So establishing the tradition in my home now seems a bit intimidating.

With that in mind, we’ve done the research for you and hopefully will help you on your way to starting your own family tradition (with the potential for a bonus family dinner).

The Meaning of the Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath is one of the Catholic symbols for Advent. It not only serves as a reminder of the meaning of the season, but it is also a call to prepare for Christ’s coming through prayer.

History

This wonderful tradition has its origins in pre-Christian times. “There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreaths with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of spring,” writes Rev. William Saunders. “In Scandinavia during winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn ‘the wheel of the earth’ back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.”

It was in the 16th century when German Catholics began to use it as a sign of Christ’s coming. The tradition spread, albeit slowly, as the Germans immigrated to various countries.

Symbolism

The wreath, which is made of evergreens, is a circle — signifying that God has no beginning and no end; thus, everlasting life. It is also a sign of hope.

The light from the candles’ flames symbolizes Christ as the Light of the World — that no matter what darkness exists in the world, His light prevails.

The four candles — three are purple and one is pink — represent the four Sundays of Advent. On the first Sunday, only one purple candle is lit. On the second Sunday, two purple candles are lit. On the third Sunday, two purple candles and the pink candle are lit. And on the fourth Sunday, all candles are lit. Purple is the color for penance, while pink is the color for joy — since the third Sunday of Advent is also Gaudete Sunday (“rejoice” in Latin).

Additionally, a white candle is sometimes placed in the middle of the wreath. It symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve to recall the Savior’s birth.

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Starting your own Tradition

Rev. William Saunders suggests: “In family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food. A traditional prayer service using the Advent Wreath proceeds.”

The wreath, if not used before, can be blessed by you or someone else in your house with the following, and sprinkle with Holy Water:

Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.

Leader: O God, by whose Word all things are sanctified, pour forth Your blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from You abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Each evening following, begin by praying over your food, praying the advent prayer, and then light the appropriate number of candles. (The candles stay lit until the meal is over).

Week One: 

Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, That by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Week 2

Leader: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Week 3

Leader: O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Week 4

Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy Grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

So gather the family together and make the Advent Wreath part of your Christmas preparations. It will help you quiet your heart, regain peace amid all the festivities, and focus on the real meaning of the season.

 

Sources:

 

For Advent Prayers:

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We’ve been going through the 33 Days of Morning Glory Marian consecration at our church. One suggestion is that we wear a Miraculous medal once we are consecrated.

While I’ve seen the medal a hundred times, I haven’t fully understood its symbolism and purpose. So here is what we found out:

Mary’s Design: The Miraculous Medal

What would you do if Our Blessed Mother appeared to you one night and revealed to you her very own design of something you could actually wear?

This happened nearly 200 years ago to a young woman named Catherine Labouré, a novice with the Daughters of Charity in Paris, France.

On July 18, 1830, Catherine first sees the Virgin who tells her, “My child, I am going to give you a mission.” A few months later, on November 27, 1830, Catherine has another vision of the Blessed Mother. Referring to the vision, the Blessed Mother tells Catherine, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”

Catherine then shares her experiences to her confessor. With the Church’s approval, the first medals are made in 1832. And in 1836, the apparitions are declared genuine.

The result is the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, now more popularly known as the Miraculous Medal.

The Design and Its Meaning

The front side of the oval medal shows Mary standing on a globe, recognizing her as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her feet crushing a serpent depicts the defeat of Satan, in reference to Genesis 3:15 — “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Rays of light emerge from her outstretched hands, symbolizing the many graces that can be obtained through her. And around this scene are the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee,” which confirm her Immaculate Conception.

The opposite side displays a cross with a bar on its base, and a large “M” suspended on the bar. The cross refers to Christ and the salvation of the world, while the bar is the sign of the earth. The “M” is for “Mary” and “Mother.”

Below the “M” are two flaming hearts: the left with a crown of thorns, the right pierced by a sword. These symbolize the love of God through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The twelve stars encircling these elements refer to the 12 Apostles that signify the Church.

Back of Miraculous Medal

Miracles and Purpose

Since the distribution of the medals, miracles have been attributed to its use, including healings, protection from serious illnesses and a dramatic conversion of a former hater of Catholicism.

Today, many people have a devotion to Our Lady through the Miraculous Medal. Most important to note is what the Association of the Miraculous Medal declares: “There is no superstition, nothing of magic, connected with the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous Medal is not a ‘good-luck charm.’ Rather, it is a great testimony to faith and the power of trusting prayer. Its greatest miracles are those of patience, forgiveness, repentance, and faith. God uses a Medal, not as a sacrament, but as an agent, an instrument, in bringing to pass certain marvelous results.”

Product Plug: Find Miraculous Medal related items here: http://www.discountcatholicproducts.com/Search.aspx?k=miraculous

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She was born blind, without any pupils in her eyes. But at seven years old, through the intercession of her Confessor, Padre Pio, she was then able to see — even without pupils. Her name is Gemma di Giorgio.

On October 13, 1917, as tens of thousands gathered near Fatima in Portugal, a phenomenal occurrence of the sun happened, coinciding with an apparition of Our Lady to three children.

He was once a persecutor of believers, but one day, had an encounter with Jesus that changed the course of his life. He then became the apostle to the Gentiles.

These three stories have one thing in common: they all are miracles. Miracles take on different forms — from signs and wonders in nature, to physical healings, to inner transformations. They supersede the natural realm, and thus are deemed supernatural.

The word “miracle” comes from the Latin word “miraculum,” from “mirari” which means “to wonder.” Miracles are “wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

So what makes something a miracle?

Biblical Scholar John Paul Meier maintains that there are three basic parts that comprise a miracle, namely: 1) It must be an unusual event that can be observed by others; 2) It cannot be explained on a natural level; 3) It appears to be the result of an act of God.

Miracles may come directly through God’s immediate action, or through creatures as means or instruments. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is an example of the former, while St Peter being delivered from prison through the aid of an angel is an example of the latter.

Today, miracles — especially physical healings — help in determining whether someone can be considered for sainthood. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints is responsible for this, requiring a verification process where the potential miracle has to be instant, complete and without scientific explanation, as well as attributed to the candidate’s intercession.

They then turn over their findings to the Consulta Medica, a board of doctors who scrutinize the reports. Upon declaration that there is no scientific explanation for the cure, a panel of cardinals and priests will come together to verify whether the healing took place because of the candidate’s intercession. Once proven, the incident is declared a miracle.

More than anything else, miracles are signs of God’s presence. They are not just meant for the individual’s welfare; rather, on a larger scale and greater purpose, they are meant to lead people to salvation.

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You find yourself at Mass, and when it’s time to say the Apostles’ Creed, you recite with the rest of the congregation: “I believe in…the communion of saints….”

But have you ever wondered what “the communion of saints” actually means?

Connection. Unity. Family. All these words have something to do with the communion of saints. It is the relationship among members of the Church who share a supernatural bond, with Christ Himself as the Head.

Blessed Pope Paul VI explains it in his “Credo of the People of God,” which is also quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (962):

“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers.”

There are three states of the Church: 1) The Church Triumphant; 2) The Church Militant; and 3) The Church Suffering.

  • The Church Triumphant. This refers to the saints and angels in heaven who have gained the crown of victory and are experiencing the full light of God’s glory.
  • The Church Militant. This is us, the faithful on earth. We are “militant” because we pilgrims on earth continue to struggle against sin and temptation.
  • The Church Suffering. This refers to the souls in purgatory, who are being purified from their sins and will one day share the eternal joy of heaven.

All these members of the Church are connected to one another and help one another.

  • The blessed ones in heaven pray for the living and the souls in purgatory.
  • The faithful on earth pray to the blessed in heaven and pray for the souls in purgatory.
  • The souls in purgatory pray to the angels and saints, and also pray for the faithful on earth.

Thus, a cycle of spiritual merits and graces flows through the Church, the Body of Christ, a family of love. Now isn’t it great to know that we are part of this family?

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Product Feature Post: Chaplets

I admit it… I hadn’t heard of a chaplet until I was 33. I had no idea what they were. So I know there are many of you who know what a chaplet is, but probably many more who, like me, are continuing to discover many beautiful things about the Catholic Church.

Sometimes things are new to us that are old hat to others, and we think “I’m supposed to know all of this already. Does that mean I’m not a good Catholic?” This is the same question I asked myself when I first came across chaplets. Continue reading Quick Lesson on Chaplets

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It’s human nature. Something incredible happens, people are inspired, spirits are lifted… and then… what?

Most of the time it wanes away.

What of Pope Francis’s visit? His inspiring words challenged us to be better people. But many times we make the mistake of saying “see – people should be better” without actually reflecting on what I can do to help bring Pope Francis’s vision alive.

It’s actually a little uncomfortable to think about. It certainly takes me outside my comfort zone. What can I be doing to follow Pope Francis’s example? Not to duplicate it, but just to move my life a little bit more towards that direction? Continue reading Now what?

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