Because Being a Catholic is Full-Time Work

Posted by Webster
The Octave of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Our Lord over eight days, not just one, reminds me of another reason why I am Catholic: It’s not a part-time job. I thought of this coming into Mass this morning and seeing altar decorations still honoring the birth of the Baby Jesus.

As a teenager, I left my Episcopal church on Sundays thinking I was all set for the week. Most days now, it’s a different story. Every hour of the day—from the Liturgy of the Hours to daily Mass to Eucharistic Adoration to various forms of service—Catholics are invited to worship and work in the service of God and man.

Take one crazy example. There I was at 4:30 this morning, singing “What Child Is This?” in full voice to kick off the Office of Readings for the fifth day in the Octave. It wasn’t quite William Carlos Williams’s “Danse Russe” (I was fully clothed), but fortunately my home office is in the basement and my Kathleen (Katie) was asleep on the second floor, so my singing didn’t wake her.

Now it’s 7:50 and I am just back from Mass. I arrived at Mass early and said the Rosary before the beautiful Nativity set up in the right transept (photo below). Then I had the honor of serving at the altar. (If it’s Tuesday, it must be Webster.)

I will interrupt my work this office morning with more psalms and prayers from the Breviary. Midafternoon will find me in the Adoration chapel, and then I’ll stop in to see my dear friend and one-time RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly for an hour of Catholic talk—as per usual late Tuesday afternoons.

If I don’t get lazy (as I do more often than not), I’ll say Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours when I get home about 5:30. A quiet dinner with Katie and Marian (home on Christmas break), and then I’ll spend a couple of hours reading Catholic stuff like Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah and probably blogging too (my one really bad habit). Then, like Simeon in today’s Gospel, I will end the day with the words:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people—a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

In his memoir, my devout Protestant father wrote, “I’ve always had the impression that Catholics are in general more serious about their religion than Protestants.” That may not be true of all Catholics, but the Catholic Church does offer us the opportunity, every day, to make it true.

Another “father” of my acquaintance once wrote, “If you’re going to go on a spree, go the whole hog, including the postage.” Which inspires me to say, “Oink, oink.”

Because My Pope Said This

Posted by Webster 
I wish more people would read Pope Benedict’s interviews, talks, writings. Even the most skeptical or cynical reader, giving “my pope” a chance, would be brought up short by his thoughtfulness, his balance, his erudition, his gosh-darn common sense.

Case in point. In the interviews that became God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2002), German journalist Peter Seewald asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

In the course of two thousand years of Christian history, the Church has divided time and again. In the meantime, there are around three hundred distinguishable Protestant, Orthodox, or other churches. There are way over a thousand Baptist groups in the United States. Over against these there is still the Roman Catholic Church with the pope at her head, which claims to be the only true Church. She remains at any rate, and despite every crisis, indeed the most universal, historically significant, and successful Church in the world, with more members today than at any time in her history.

This question asked by a skeptical young journalist, no Catholic at the time he asked it, might seem to be what Frank would call a “fat pitch.” Did Ratzinger, in his answer, knock Protestantism out of the park in a grand slam of triumphalism? No, the cardinal laid down a thoughtful bunt single—then stole second, third, and home:

I think that in the spirit of Vatican II we ought not to see that as a triumph for our prowess as Catholics and ought not to make much of the institutional and numerical strength we continue to enjoy. If we were to reckon that as our achievement and as our right, then we would step outside the role of a people belonging to God and set ourselves up as an association in our own right. And that can very quickly go wrong. A Church may have great institutional power in a country, but as soon as faith is no longer there to back it up, the institution will break down.

Perhaps you know the mediaeval story of a Jew who traveled to the papal court and who became a Catholic. On his return, someone who knew the papal court well asked him: “Do you realize what sort of things are going on there?” “Yes,” he said, “of course, quite scandalous things, I saw it all.” “And you still became a Catholic,” remarked the other man. “That’s completely perverse!” Then the Jew said, “It is because of all that that I have become a Catholic. For if the Church continues to exist in spite of it all, then truly there must be someone upholding her.” And there is another story, to the effect that Napoleon once declared that he would destroy the Church. Whereupon one of the cardinals replied, “Not even we have managed that!”

I believe that we see something important in these paradoxical tales. There have in fact always been plenty of human monstrosities in the Catholic Church. That she still holds together, even if she groans and creaks, that she is still in existence, that she produces great martyrs and great believers, people who put their whole lives at her service, as missionaries, as nurses, as teachers, that really does show that there is someone there upholding her. 

We cannot, then, reckon the Church’s success as our own reward, but we may still say, with Vatican II—even if the Lord has given a great deal of life to other churches and communities—that the Church herself, as an active agent, has survived and is present in this agent. And that can only be explained by the fact that He grants what men cannot achieve.

Like this quotation, everything today seems to remind me of the Church’s miraculous resilience for 2,000 years. Still breathing heavily over his Island of the World, I am now reading Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah, which begins with a barely fictional contemporary Church under attack from all the “smart” elements in our culture. But I can look back 1,000 years and read the same story, in the life of the saint we honor today, December 29, Thomas Becket, who was hacked down on the very stones of Canterbury Cathedral when he ran afoul of Henry II. Four centuries and six Henrys later, another Thomas, named More, was similarly martyred for his defense of the Faith.

And still today we have the Catholic Church, with more members worldwide than ever.

In the reading from one of his letters for today, Becket reminds us that in order for the Word to continue spreading, for the Church to endure works are necessary. We have to help the Church and ourselves: “The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” My pope tempers this, and all triumphalism, by reminding us that works alone are not enough, that “He grants what men cannot achieve.”

Because of a Baby, a Cross, and What Happened in Between

Posted by Webster 
Since July 2008, our parish has offered Eucharistic Adoration sixty hours a week. We’re not “perpetual” yet, but don’t bet against us. I find that there are boring days in the chapel, puzzling days, and, yes, some astonishing days, too, before the Blessed Sacrament. Today was one of these.

As usual, the Eucharist was displayed in a monstrance. Sometimes, it is contained within the Tabernacle, as shown here. Sometimes, a more dramatic monstrance, the classic sunburst (although surely there’s an official name for it), stands on the altar before the Tabernacle. Always, of course, the crucifix hovers overhead.

But only during Christmastide is there a Nativity scene set up in front of the altar. And so only during Christmastide are we treated to this astonishing juxtaposition: a Divine Child, a Man-God sacrificed for us, and—between the two—the heart of the matter.

A friend asked me once if I had converted because of the Eucharist. At the time, I didn’t even understand what the Eucharist is. Now, I have some personal experience. And I will be back tomorrow.

Because of the Relics of St. Thérèse II

Anonymous guest post
(Yesterday’s guest post by Su Yam about venerating the relics of St. Thérèse in London prompted an American reader to send this account of her own encounter with the Little Flower.)

The year 2000 saw the arrival of the relics of St. Thérèse at a Carmelite monastery in a U.S. city within driving distance of our home. I asked my husband to take me; I told him it was the only thing I wanted for my birthday.

We were three hours away and my husband is a busy professional, but he did what he had to do in order to leave the office in time that day. We drove like the wind, arriving just as the veneration was scheduled to end. Being pregnant, I was quite emotional; tears were streaming from my face; and I was certain we would miss the veneration.

I needn’t have worried. There were still many ahead of us in line, so we found a place to rest until the line shortened. In the meantime, I bought a little trinket for the baby in the monastery gift shop: a tiny glass-bead rosary in a pink box with the image of a blond, blue-eyed girl on it. Back with my husband, I showed him the box and rosary. He said, “I guess you’ve decided the baby’s gender.” I already had four girls and just one boy—and was really hoping for another boy—so of course, that brought on a whole new wave of tears!

Finally, it was our turn. We approached the reliquary, knelt, prayed, and returned to the pew. After a few minutes, my husband asked me for the rosary, got back in line, and knelt once again at the reliquary, pressing the rosary against it. At that time, my husband was not yet Catholic. He was a non-baptized believer. It was quite a poignant moment.

Three months later, Madeline Thérèse was born—a blue-eyed blond, the only one of those that I have.

Seven years later, on January 3, the day between St. Therese’s birth and her baptism, my husband was baptized and confirmed in a hospital bed. When the priest asked him if he wanted to take the name of a saint, he said, without hesitation, “Thérèse.”

I don’t know what possessed me to seek St. Thérèse out. I had not yet read her Story of a Soul, and I really didn’t know anything about her.  I just knew I had to see her.

And for those wondering—my husband did get out of the hospital, and a second boy did eventually arrive, almost six years ago.

Because the Reasons are Beyond Counting

Since August, we have come up with nearly 200 reasons for being Catholic. It should come as no surprise that someone else has been thinking along the same lines, and with a far more theological turn of mind.

Check out Dave Armstrong’s “150 Reasons Why I’m Catholic and You Should Be Too” over at Our Catholic Faith. It’s right here.

What’s your biggest reason for being Catholic?

Because of the Relics of St. Thérèse

Guest post by Su Yam 
(In the early autumn of 2009, we Americans read British reports of the thousands of faithful who flocked to venerate the relics of St. Thérèse of Liseux during a nearly four-week tour of England and Wales. Su Yam, one of our UK readers, was there at Westminster Cathedral in London and offered to file this personal report.)

As soon as I heard that the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux were coming to the UK, I knew that I wanted to be there. I wasn’t certain of my reasons, but my heart felt pulled in a very definite way; so I prayed and asked God to let me go and to help me with the details.

I’m only beginning to explore all there is to know about the saints, and until recently I didn’t know many of them, but I did know St. Thérèse. My local library has a copy of Monica Furlong’s book about her, and I had read it twice over the last few years.

I didn’t tell many people that I was going, as I am an Anglo-Catholic, some of my friends are happy-clappy evangelicals, my family are not Christians, and I just wasn’t sure who would understand. Some may have said that I was going to worship some dead bones, some may have said I was being macabre, thinking that the actual body parts would be visible, instead of held in the reliquary shown here. Some might have said that I had lost sight of the fact that Jesus is the only way to the Father. But by then I had sorted out my own feelings and reasons for going.

My main reason was that I was sure God’s presence would be there in a tangible way, and I wanted to be wherever He was. My other reason was that I knew people have been healed when in the presence of these relics, and I wanted healing for myself and my loved ones.

So on October 13, I set off to Westminster Cathedral in London with a list of prayer requests, my rosary, and a plain white handkerchief. I went by myself. I had thought about asking a friend, but then I realised that I wanted to be able to be completely me, without worrying about someone else’s experience and comfort. I wanted it to just be God, St. Thérèse, and me.

I arrived at 10 a.m. and got in the queue, surprised that there weren’t more people waiting. But five minutes later I turned around to see hordes of people quietly lined up behind me. I hadn’t even noticed! Next to the queue outside the cathedral was a big screen showing live video of the relics and people venerating them. This helped me because I had never visited relics before and I was nervous about what I should do.

As the queue reached the front steps of the cathedral we passed a little stall selling St. Thérèse candles and roses. I bought a candle. Once inside the cathedral, I found that the waiting queue was patient and peaceful, and I prayed in my mind for all the items on my prayer list. The relics were in a beautiful box shaped like a treasure chest (appropriate!), and this was encased in a glass dome.

When my turn came, I took out the handkerchief I had brought along and pressed it onto the glass. As I stood there I prayed. I don’t remember what I prayed, but God does! I know I prayed for healing and blessings for myself and my children, my husband, family and friends. I didn’t feel anyone was rushing me or wanting me to move on, but after a minute or so I did move and went to sit with others who had queued and prayed and were now sitting or kneeling and praying some more. As I sat looking at the relics I felt happy, peaceful, and complete. Nothing else mattered. I knelt and prayed a decade of my rosary and then sat quietly enjoying the atmosphere.

By now the normal mass had begun beyond a screen spanning the center of the cathedral. The priest wore a microphone, so although we couldn’t see anything of the mass, we could hear it. As the priest began the Alleluia preceding the Gospel, everyone in the cathedral joined in spontaneously—it was truly beautiful! I couldn’t help smiling and thinking how lovely that must have sounded to God and how much He would have cherished it.

As I sat and watched others venerate, I thought how many different types of people had come to do the same thing. There were coachloads and small groups, solitary visitors and groups of religious. But for me the loveliest sight was classes of schoolchildren in their uniforms filing past and bowing and kissing the dome. I hope they never forget the blessing of being so close to a saint’s relics. I know I won’t.

As I left the cathedral, I felt as though my heart was burning in my chest. I felt whole emotionally and spiritually; I know that in some way I was healed.

Since then I have continued to want more and more of Jesus and to fall in love with Our Father a bit more each day. I would say to anyone who gets the chance to visit relics to never hesitate, even for a moment.

The handkerchief I took that day is safely tucked away at home. I don’t know what prompted me to take it, but I figure that one day I may be glad I did.

Comment of the Week

We have a great group of readers at YIM Catholic, many of whom have been offering excellent comments. It seems only right to highlight some of these. This week, we’ll showcase a comment by James, written in response to a post about a woman who has fallen away from the Church. The woman told us that this was largely because of what she considered poor pastoral advice in the wake of Vatican II. In his comment James wrote:

There must be hundreds of thousands of lapsed and non practicing Catholics out there, but of course the front door is always open in welcome for them. The dynamic is extremely complex. Not to oversimplify but in a case such as Rosa’s (with details understandingly few), where bad advice seems to be the primary cause, I’d respond that one should go to a priest for spiritual matters and guidance but look for advice on corporal affairs elsewhere. If I need legal advice I go to a lawyer, marital advice a trained and licensed counselor and so forth. 

The Church today (and I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently) is still and will continue to be in a great deal of upheaval from Vatican II. I think that the dust has yet to settle and it will be some time before it does. I’m not questioning the wisdom of the Church Fathers, but the transition was for many a traumatic and somewhat ham-fisted one. Previous to the Council, I was an altar and choir boy at a diocesan cathedral and there was no priest or religious shortage then and there were more masses which were mostly filled. How that’s changed! 

The second half of the 20th century has been an incredible challenge for the Church, and I spent nearly two decades adrift, but in returning I discovered that the baby was not thrown out with the bath and that the Faith, the Sacraments, the Creed, and all that is the essence of Catholicism remains—and that is what is important. Virulent anti-catholicism fueled by a perceived post–Vatican II watering down of values—followed by the nightmare scandals of the past 15 years—serves as a roadblock to those who can’t see beyond it to what is really important: the Faith, the Hope, and the Way as entrusted to the Apostles with Peter as leader. Christ was perfect, but His Church comprised of us is imminently human and as such will always be subject to human failings. So while the one, true, holy, and apostolic church will change in form and suffer from human shortcomings, it is constant and unchanging in substance, and for me that is a source of gratitude and joy. 

It is not easy being Catholic, and it requires not only an act of faith but of will. I believe that as the pendulum begins to swing back to the middle, there will be a return of some souls to the Church and will certainly pray for this.

Because My Pope Said This

Posted by Webster 
On the Feast of the Holy Family, here is what Pope Benedict recalled about his own family. There are thoughts here for those of us who ask ourselves how to be good Catholic parents:

My father was a very upright and also a very strict man. Be we always sensed the goodness behind his strictness. And for that reason we could basically accept his strictness without trouble. From the very beginning my mother always compensated for my father’s perhaps excessive strictness by her warmth and kindness. They had two very different temperaments, and this difference was also exactly what made them complementary. Yes, I have to say that it was strict, but there was still a lot of warmth and kindess and joy. That was augmented by the fact that we played with one another, even our parents joined in, and that music also had a bigger and bigger role in our family life. Music, after all, has the power to bring people together. (Salt of the Earth: An Interview with Peter Seewald)

I have often told Martha and Marian—and they understand this well—that they are fortunate to have two such different, and complementary parents, as Katie and me. God knows, two of me would be impossible! And performing together in a magic show for many years did bring the four of us together, just as Pope Benedict said music did for his family.

Because of the Good News X

Posted by Webster 
In October, I called a temporary halt to these weekly good-news summaries. But with visions of Mary over Egypt making news during the final days of Advent and with two air disasters averted on the day we celebrate Our Lord’s birth among us, this week all but screams: Good News! Even an attack on Pope Benedict was foiled.

There is a great line buried in Mark Shea’s reflection on the Mary-over-Egypt phenomenon, and it could apply to the whole week, indeed to the entire Christian Fact: We can scoff about such “visions,” Shea writes, and many do, but “The thing is, sometimes God shows up.” Isn’t that Christmas in a nutshell?

The Christian Fact became a bit more vivid this week with news that archaeologists had discovered the remains of a Nazareth village from two thousand years ago.

As I wrote at the beginning of the week, the Visitation is my favorite Mystery of the Rosary, so I was touched by The Anchoress’s meditation on the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. Especially with its quote from one of the novels I enjoyed this year, Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede. (The image here is cribbed from Elizabeth’s post.)

Beautifully, miraculously, the Visitation celebrates two women as the parents of Our Lord and his herald, John—after that endless line of men listed by Matthew.

I spent my Christmas in Vermont with the four most important people in my life, all women (Katie, Martha, Marian, and Mom). My only regret was missing the Christmas Vigil Mass at St. Mary’s and not singing with my friends in the choir, backed by bells, timpani, and Fred’s magisterial organ. So I read other accounts of Midnight Mass wistfully, but especially this one from Suzanne Temple at “Blessed Among Men.”

Of course, Midnight Mass can be a disaster too!

Since working my way through his Catholic Christianity in RCIA two years ago, I frequently have looked to Peter Kreeft for understanding, and I got it again this week with this meditation on the real meaning of Christmas.

The Pope’s meditation on the meaning of the Christmas tree also caught my eye.

And Sr. Anne at “NunBlog” reminded us that even the fat man in the red suit has profound meaning for Catholics who celebrate him as a saint.

What I love about Pat McNamara’s blog of Catholic history is how it reminds us of the countless Catholics who have contributed to our nation’s history and culture. In a week that’s alternately about the Baby Jesus and football, I enjoyed reading about Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s training at a Jesuit high school. (The pic is from Joe Pa’s senior yearbook, courtesy of Pat.)

We’re still not sure that Shakespeare was a Catholic—which would be the ultimate vindication of Catholics in Anglo culture—but the evidence continues to mount.

Finally, some acknowledgments:

To Frank, who jumped into this YIMC adventure with both feet and who has always loved “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I send along this clip courtesy of “The Deacon’s Bench.”

To Izy of Izyperspective, thanks for this lovely acknowledgment. Anyone who features GK Chesterton and MF (“Flannery”) O’Connor in her blog’s sidebar is worth following.

And to Kevin at New Advent, who has supported this blog since Labor Day and without whose daily, nay hourly, summaries of Catholic news this paltry weekly summary would be impossible—may the Christmas Season bring you joy!

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

For the past ten days, I have been on vacation visiting friends and family in Southern California—immersed in domestic life in a manner more up close and personal than usual. Sometimes I am at a loss to understand what my children are doing and where they are coming from. But I don’t leave them wondering where my wife and I are coming from.
That is why I am glad this is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. I could use some uplifting words on the vocation of parenting right about now, and I’m sure my wife could too! And I look forward to my children hearing these words as well.
Following our successful visit to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano and playing in the waves and watching the sun set at Doheney State Beach, times got a bit rocky with my children. As I wrote here, my kids (14 in a few days, 10, and 8) are “in the know” regarding Santa Claus. As Christmas Day rapidly approached, there were a number of less than kind remarks regarding the paucity of gifts sitting under the tree at grandma & grandpa’s house.
Forget about the logistics of carting presents from Tennessee to Southern California, or back for that matter. My wife and I gave plenty of advance notice that the cost of this trip would be steep in a tough economy, but that mattered little to the 13-and-under crowd. Sure, buying gifts for others upon arrival would be good, but “What about us” is what my children were saying between the lines.
Which makes the Holy Family story that much more needed for me and my family this year. The antiphon to the Invitatory Psalm intonesLet us worship Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.Consider the antiphon while also considering that Jesus is God. . . . He [God] obeyed the two human beings entrusted with his care for close to thirty years before he “left the nest.” That is the message that our children need to hear today—not just from me and my wife, but from the Church. Madison Avenue and network television aren’t sending this message, and I’m pretty sure that the government botches the message too.

The next line from the LOTH that struck me is Luke 2:41, which reads,
Each year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.This indicates that the Holy Family were practicing their faith regularly, not sporadically. The lives of the Holy Family revolved around worshiping God, and that is the model for us to emulate too: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . ..Flash back to last evening when I informed my eldest son that I would be waking him up early in the morning so that we could go to Mass (0700) before heading off to day 1 of a four-day baseball camp (0900 = show time) Merry Christmas, kiddo! Was his reaction angelic beatitude? More like Sturm und Drang. It was definitely an example of amour-propre in action.

But despite the sound and the fury of my eldest, I find comfort in the fact that Mary and Joseph lived their faith in a manner that is the very model of this verse from Deuteronomy 6:5,

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.

This commandment (note the word shall and not may in the verse) gives me the strength to ignore the whining, grumbling, and complaining of my children while staying focused on Commander’s Intent (see verse above). The Church understands this commandment because it makes sure there are ample opportunities for the rank and file like me to keep the Sabbath Holy—masses beginning on Saturday evenings and running through Sunday. Sounds like Semper Fidelis in action.

I find comfort in knowing that,

The boy grew in wisdom and in stature and the grace of God was with him.

That is my prayer for my children, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Though Christian churches of every flavor celebrate the importance of parenting, this is another example of an idea coming full circle, with completeness and amazing grace, within the Catholic Church when it marks a Feast Day celebrating the importance of family and the vocations of both parents and children.

The Short Reading from Deuteronomy 5:16 from today’s LOTH is right on the mark again:

Honor you father and mother, as the Lord God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that the Lord your God gives to you.

Amen, and thanks be to God!