Archive | February, 2012

Living (Room) Stations of the Cross

29 Feb

Many of us may be familiar with “living” Stations of the Cross, in which actors (often high school students or members of the youth group) dramatically reenact Our Lord’s Passion. This can be a very powerful experience for all involved. I also recall the Passion Plays performed by Doug Barry with RADIX, which has come to so parishes around the country.

In addition, during Lent we are accustomed to the Stations of the Cross devotions that typically take place on Friday evenings in our parishes. These celebrations take place all over the world, culminating in the Holy Father’s celebration of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

I’d like to suggest another manner of celebrating the Stations of the Cross, which we do as a family in our own home, or “domestic Church.”

During Lent, we strategically place pictures that depict the 14 Stations of the Cross around our house. Over time and with practice we have figured out the best places to put them. On Fridays during Lent, often with another family joining us, we will have our meatless soup and bread dinner followed by the Stations of the Cross in our home, during which all of us process from one station to the next.

We have collected different Stations of the Cross prayerbooks over the years and have settled on the ones that seem to work best for us and allow for the active engagement of our children. (Click here for more resources on praying the Stations of the Cross with children.)

I’m all for larger celebrations of the Stations of the Cross, but after a busy week of work and school it’s nice to be able to stay home and pray the Stations in a more intimate setting. Plus, it is one further, tangible way to teach our kids that the Christian life isn’t just about what goes on over at the church building. Rather, our own “way of the Cross” is lived each day in the world–and in our homes.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).


The Glory of These Forty Days

27 Feb

My favorite Lenten hymn is “The Glory of These Forty Days.” What I like so much about it is its simple melody coupled with lyrics attributed to St. Gregory the Great that clearly teach us–or at least remind us–what Lent is all about.

The glory of these forty days / We celebrate with songs of praise; / For Christ, by whom all things were made,  / Himself has fasted and has prayed.

This opening stanza proclaims the dignity of the season, and immediately links Lent to Jesus’ 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness, which is the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent.

Alone and fasting Moses saw / The loving God who gave the law; / And to Elijah, fasting, came / The steeds and chariots of flame.

Here we receive teaching on Moses, who represents the Law; and Elijah, who represents the Prophets. Their special role in salvation was accompanied by fasting. They appear at the Transfiguration, which is the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight, / Delivered from the lion’s might; / And John the Bridegroom’s friend became / The herald of Messiah’s name.

Now we hear about Daniel and St. John the Baptist, figures who also come to mind during the Lenten season. Prayer and fasting are connected with deliverance and heralding Jesus as the Messiah. And there’s also the catechetical point that Christ is the Bridegroom, wedded to His Bride, the Church.

Then grant that we like them be true, / Consumed in fast and prayer with you; / Our spirits strengthen with your grace, / And give us joy to see your face.

The hymn here concludes with a personal application, that with Christ and in imitation of the saints and heroes of the Bible, we might devote ourselves to prayer and fasting, as we continue on our journey to our eternal home, where our joy will be complete.

Sure, there are other excellent Lenten hymns. I personally tend to be more patient with contemporary hymns that have doctrinally sound lyrics but a less agreeable melody. Where I tend to lose it is when I start reading a hymn’s lyrics and can’t readily figure out (a) what it means, and (b) why it’s even considered a Christian hymn, suitable for liturgical worship.

Yet our celebration of the liturgical year isn’t limited to Sunday Mass and dependent on the hymns that are selected by the “music minister.” I strongly recommend that families sing hymns together–whether at the dinner table, during evening prayers, or other suitable times. “The Glory of These Forty Days” is an easy song to learn, and singing it as a family is a two-fer: we’re praying (twice, according to St. Augustine) and catechizing, and in the process we’re building an authentically Catholic culture.

Top Ten Confirmation Saints You Never Considered

23 Feb

Today the Church commemorates St. Polycarp (c. 69-155), a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and a significant figure in the early Church.

When my friends and I started having children, we considered naming them after great saints whose names seemed a little strange to modern ears. And typically Polycarp was on the short list of such saints–in fact, one friend would refer to his unborn child as “Polycarp.”

Yet in most instances we eventually came up with a saint’s name that was a little more mainstream. After all, what poor kid wants to go through grade school as Polycarp?

Choosing a Confirmation name is a different deal, though. For one thing, the person is a little older and can choose the name himself or herself. In addition, while one can and should have a special devotion to his or her Confirmation saint, the fact of the matter is that no one goes by their Confirmation name. So it seems to me the door is opened a little wider when it comes to choosing a Confirmation saint.

And so, now that Lent has begun and Easter season is just around the corner, I’d like to propose ten saint names that may be a little off the beaten path. I’ve limited the list to saints whose annual feast is celebrated by the Church worldwide. Here it is:

(1) Polycarp

Second-century bishop and thus an early witness to apostolic succession. The edifying account of his martyrdom is available here. Shortly before his death, he is reported to have said, in essence, “I’ve served Christ for 86 years, I’m not about to deny Him now.” This guy was tough as nails–the nails of the Cross.

(2) Hilary

Fourth-century Bishop of Poitiers and doctor of the Church. (Yes, Hilary is a boy’s name.) He is known as the “Doctor of the Divinity of Christ” because of his outstanding defense of the faith in opposition to the Arian heresy. And while Hilary Clinton may be a negative factor in choosing the name (hey, let’s reclaim the name for the forces of good!), Hilaire (form of Hilary) Belloc was one of the greatest Catholic intellectuals of the past century.

(3) Hedwig

No, she’s not the patroness of toupe-makers. She was a duchess, wife and mother of seven, widow, and ended her life in Cistercian convent where she had taken religious vows. She’s not well-known in this country, and she suffers from “St. Blaise Syndrome” (see number six, below), in that her feast day gets overshadowed by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. But Hedwig is a biggie, and she is deeply loved and revered in Eastern Europe.

(4) Irenaeus

Bishop of Lyons around the year 200 A.D., and another important early witness to the apostolic faith. Wrote some great stuff (e.g., “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God”). He wrote at length in opposition to the Gnostic heresy. That may not seem all that relevant today, except when we consider that Gnosticsm is the engine that drove the wildly popular Da Vinci Code series just a decade ago.

(5) Gertrude

Thirteenth-century saint known as “the Great.” She was a Benedictine mystic and visionary who helped to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Teresa of Avila, among others, have had a strong devotion to her.

(6) Ansgar

Ninth-century archbishop and missionary who did much to spread the faith in Scandanavia, and for that reason is called the “Apostle of the North.” Unfortunately, the Church double-booked his feast day, such that February 3rd is the feast of both St. Ansgar and St. Blaise. And since it’s cold season and people want their throats blessed, 999 times out of 1,000 the priest will opt to celebrate the feast of St. Blaise instead of poor St. Ansgar. But especially for those with Scandanavian roots (or a fondness for the Winter Olympics!), Ansgar is a most worthy patron saint.

(7) Isidore

There are actually two St. Isidores on the Church’s calendar. There is the feast of St. Isidore the farmer and also that of St. Isidore of Seville, a seventh-century bishop and doctor of the Church. Some have suggested that the latter should be the patron saint of the Internet. (On that score, I’m willing to wait for the canonization of former Chiefs’ offensive tackle Damian McIntosh!)

(8) Scholastica

Especially during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it seems appropriate to choose as a patron saint St. Benedict’s beloved sister Scholastica, who has the distinction of being the first Benedictine nun. (No wonder she got to be abbess!)

(9) Athanasius

Tremendously heroic fourth-century bishop and doctor of the Church. I would put him higher, except I already know several people who, despite the name’s length, have named their sons Athanasius because of his staunch defense of the true faith, which led to his being known for all time as the “Father of Orthodoxy.”

(10) Ignatius

Another two-fer. Many probably think of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits who developed the immensely helpful “spiritual exercises” as a means of spiritual growth. But there’s also St. Ignatius of Antioch, who succeeded St. Peter as Bishop of Antioch and then was famously martyred in 107 during the reign of Emperor Trajan. Click here for more on St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of my favorite saints.

Well, I hope this partial, lighthearted list is helpful to you and/or any confirmandi in your charge this coming Confirmation season. Our hope is in Christ alone, but we do benefit from developing devotions to saints who inspire us to grow in holiness.

Time to Fast

22 Feb

Fasting involves refraining for a time from the satisfaction of human needs, especially the needs for food and drink, as an expression of interior penance. This spiritual practice is a proven means of decreasing our selfishness while increasing our dependence upon God’s fatherly provision.

The only days on which Catholic adults (until the age of 60) are required to fast are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals, which, if added together, would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Snacks and meat are also prohibited on those days.

However, penance is an integral part of the Christian life, and fasting is a traditional, biblically based penitential practice strongly encouraged by the Church (see Catechism, no. 1434). Further, all Catholics fast for at least one hour before receiving Our Lord, the “Bread of Life,” in Holy Communion.

Catholics in the United States are required to abstain from eating meat not only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but also on all other Fridays during Lent. This explains all the Lenten “Soup and Stations Nights,” fish fries, and cheese enchilada sales!

May these and other Lenten observances of our own choosing bring home to us the Gospel truth that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4).

Family Suggestions for Lent

17 Feb

Lent can be a hard season to get excited about.  Whereas it’s easy for us to get excited for Advent, Lent not only lack the jingle and sparkle of the season, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and more to the point: it involves sacrifice.  Further, it’s hard to explain to kids.  Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born.  Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy.  Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to… the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God.  The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.  I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer).  Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    •  help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
    • For older children:
      • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
      • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross.  If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week.  If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc
      • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
      • For teens:
        • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
        • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
        • Have teens write a “teen stations”, relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
        • As a family:
          • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary or one Station of the Cross each day
          • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home.  Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
          • Choose a short scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal.  You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for.  When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one.  Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else.  For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu.  We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns”.  Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown.  This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar… that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (ie doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
    • For teens:
      • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc.  If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays.  Hint: agree to do it with your child!
      • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal.  They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
      • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
      • For families:
        • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!).  Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
        • Join in with one of the other activities above.
        • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed.  Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it!  The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family.  You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned.  I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness.  Happy Lent, everyone!


16 Feb

Overall, my 7 year old son has adjusted well to life in Kansas City after our move from up north in September. There are times, however, when he is almost brought to tears in thinking about all that we left in Minnesota. What I find fascinating is the specific things he laments losing.

For instance, he talks a lot about his “best friend,” whom I will call Cole. Cole is a kid who is a grade ahead of my son and with whom he had maybe a total of five play dates the whole time we lived there.  When he talks about Cole and how much he misses him, I am sympathetic, but I can’t help but picturing what things would have been like if we had stayed. Cole, now a 2nd grader, would be so wrapped up in school and activities that my son and he would rarely, if ever, have time to play. I marvel at the other friends he left that I know he misses, but that he forgets to mention.

Likewise, I know that when my son talks of moving back to Minnesota, he is picturing life there just as it was last year when he was in kindergarten.  Yet I know that even in the few short months since we left, our friends there have changed, and so have we. He doesn’t realize that if we moved back tomorrow that he would miss the new group of friends he has met here. He doesn’t take into account that we made a commitment to our job here and have no jobs in Minnesota anymore. He doesn’t get the fact that other people are living in our house and that we have signed a contract to rent our Kansas City house until the end of the summer. He definitely does not understand that moving an entire house full of things so soon after moving them the first time would certainly turn his mother’s head prematurely gray!

What he understands when he suggests we move back is are his feelings at the moment, his affection for all that he loved about living up north. A good parent empathizes, but also sees that granting the request will not make him as happy as he thinks. As parents, we have a greater perspective.

Lack of perspective is not a 7-year-old’s problem. It’s a fallen humanity problem. Continue reading

Pure Religion

15 Feb

All this week and into next week we are treated in the sacred liturgy to selections from the Letter of St. James. While there is some debate concerning “which James” this is, most consider this to be St. James the Lesser, the son of Alphaeus, one of the Apostles and the Bishop of Jerusalem–not to mention a close relative of the Lord Himself (see Gal. 1:19)! So clearly this teaching is not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, but also comes from a most revered leader in the early Church.

Mindful of this, let us ponder the inspiring words from today’s reading, taken from James 1:19-27:

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger for anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts; such a one shall be blessed in what he does.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Six More Things to Know About the HHS Mandate

14 Feb

The USCCB has provided some helpful bullet points on the new so-called accommodation of religious organizations with respect to the HHS mandate:

(1) The rule that created the uproar has not changed at all, but was finalized as is. Friday evening, after a day of touting meaningful changes in the mandate, HHS issued a regulation finalizing the rule first issued in August 2011, “without change.” So religious employers dedicated to serving people of other faiths are still not exempt as “religious employers.” Indeed, the rule describes them as “non-exempt.”

(2) The rule leaves open the possibility that even exempt “religious employers” will be forced to cover sterilization. In its August 2011 comments, USCCB warned that the narrow “religious employer” exemption appeared to provide no relief from the sterilization mandate—only the contraception mandate—and specifically sought clarification. (We also noted that a sterilization mandate exists in only one state, Vermont.) HHS provided no clarification, so the risk remains under the unchanged final rule.

(3) The new “accommodation” is not a current rule, but a promise that comes due beyond the point of public accountability. Also on Friday evening, HHS issued regulations describing the intention to develop more regulations that would apply the same mandate differently to “non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations”—the charities, schools, and hospitals that are still left out of the “religious employer” exemption. These policies will be developed over a one-year delay in enforcement, so if they turn out badly, their impact will not be felt until August 2013, well after the election.

(4) Even if the promises of “accommodation” are fulfilled entirely, religious charities, schools, and hospitals will still be forced to violate their beliefs. If an employee of these second-class-citizen religious institutions wants coverage of contraception or sterilization, the objecting employer is still forced to pay for it as a part of the employer’s insurance plan. There can be no additional cost to that employee, and the coverage is not a separate policy. By process of elimination, the funds to pay for that coverage must come from the premiums of the employer and fellow employees, even those who object in conscience.

(5) The “accommodation” does not even purport to help objecting insurers, for-profit religious employers, secular employers, or individuals. In its August 2011 comments, and many times since, USCCB identified all the stakeholders in the process whose religious freedom is threatened—all employers, insurers, and individuals, not just religious employers. Friday’s actions emphasize that all insurers, including self-insurers, must provide the coverage to any employee who wants it. In turn, all individuals who pay premiums have no escape from subsidizing that coverage. And only employers that are both non-profit and religious may qualify for the “accommodation.”

(6) Beware of claims, especially by partisans, that the bishops are partisan. The bishops and their staff read regulations before evaluating them. The bishops did not pick this fight in an election year—others did. Bishops form their positions based on principles—here, religious liberty for all, and the life and dignity of every human person—not polls, personalities, or political parties. Bishops are duty bound to proclaim these principles, in and out of season.

Click here for the “first six things” you should know about the mandate.

Be My Methodius

14 Feb

Very few of us will walk up to someone today and greet him or her with the words, “Happy St. Cyril’s Day,” or even “Happy Cyril’s Day.” And surely no one will tell their sweetheart to “Be my Methodius.”

And yet, today the universal Church commemorates Sts. Cyril and Methodius, not St. Valentine, notwithstanding the latter’s larger-than-life appeal.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius, brothers from what in biblical times was known as Thessalonica, were ninth-century missionaries to the Slavic people in Eastern Europe. Not only did they learn the oral language of the people, but they developed an alphabet and written language so that the Bible and liturgical texts could be translated into the living language of the people. They were truly remarkable men of God.

Interestingly, Blessed John Paul II authored only one encyclical on the lives of saints, and that short encyclical was entitled Slavorum Apostoli, the Apostles of the Slavs. Yes, it’s about Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Read it here. These first-millennium saints have much to teach us about the “new evangelization.”

O God, who enlightened the Slavic peoples through the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, grant that our hearts may grasp the words of your teaching, and perfect us as a people of one accord in true faith and right confession. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius, pray for us!

Mary’s “Obedience of Faith”

10 Feb

The Church calls the act of hearing God’s Word and taking it to heart the obedience of faith. St. Paul bookends his Letter to the Romans with that expression (1:5, 16:26; see also Catechism, nos. 144, 2087).

In our time, Vatican II says that the obedience of faith “must be given to God as He reveals Himself,” which entails freely committing one’s “entire self to God.”

Interestingly, in both Greek and Latin there is an etymological connection between the word “obedience” and the verb meaning to “hear” or “listen.” We’re familiar with expressions such as “to hear is to obey,” and many an exasperated parent has complained that a disobedient child “just doesn’t listen.”

Not surprisingly, then, there’s a connection between effectively hearing God’s Word and what we call the obedience of faith. For example, St. Paul emphasizes that faith comes from “hearing” the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Our Lord Himself also stresses that merely hearing His words but not acting upon them is as futile as building a house on sand. He calls His followers to build on rock–to hear His words and put them into practice (cf. Lk. 6:46-49).

That, in a nutshell, is the obedience of faith.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which recalls the Blessed Virgin Mary’s 19th-century appearances to St. Bernadette, in which she identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” Our Lady gives us profound insights as to what the “obedience of faith” is all about.

Mary’s obedience of faith is anticipated in her Immaculate Conception. “Full of grace” from the womb, and by a singular gift of God preserved from the stain of original sin, she was uniquely prepared to give her free, unflinching consent to God’s will for her.

Today when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done”), on the other hand, was completely self-giving. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord” to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51). Continue reading