Because the Church Needs a Few Good Men (and Women)

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, as I writing Part 6 in the series on my conversion, I re-read something that Thomas à Kempis wrote that motivated me to become a Catholic Christian. In chapter 25 of The Imitation of Christ he writes:

There is one thing that keeps many from zealously improving their lives, that is, dread of the difficulty, the toil of battle.

I read or hear words like this and the theme music of Onward Christian Soldiers starts playing in my head; and I think to myself, “Where do I go to sign up?!” Thomas continues on with this,

Certainly they who try bravely to overcome the most difficult and unpleasant obstacles far outstrip others in the pursuit of virtue. A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and mortifies his will. True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a diligent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he have more passions than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue.

These don’t sound like the words of some namby-pamby cloistered monk, now, do they? His last sentence seems to be a call to arms for guys like me! Monsignor Charles Pope has a piece up over at the Archdiocese of Washington website today entitled “The Priest is a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”. As I wrote once before here, those called to Holy Orders , to my mind anyway, are the Officer Corps of the Church. And as Webster wrote just yesterday, without priests, there is no ball game.

Monsignor Pope says the priests are the soldiers, and I say he’s right, because St. Peter said so too. But we lay Catholics are all called to “the royal priesthood,” as well. Shown here is one of my favorite recruiting posters from the pre–WW II era Marine Corps. The same motto could be used for Catholic Christians and those who are feeling the call to the faith as well. Want Action? Join the Catholic Church!

Not to disrespect any of our female readers (whom we dearly love!), but gentlemen—the Church Militant needs you! Now! You want action, don’t you? Well, what army is worth anything without the grizzled non-commissioned officers, the First Sergeants, the Chief Petty Officers, the very backbone of the organization playing a major role? That army is calling guys like Mike and Ferde, and now Webster and me. I would think that without us, it is something less than it can and should be. Have Catholic men been asleep at our posts?

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts all Christians to—

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.

What’s that you say? You hadn’t noticed we’re at war?

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

See your parish recruiting office today!

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!


The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!


The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.

Because Confession Can Change the World

Posted by Webster 
To set this world spinning the right way round, I think we Catholics might need to do just one thing: Start going to confession again. Then take our kids to confession. Once a month would be OK, once a week even better. Don’t believe me? Listen to me brag about my fourth-grade CCD class.

I’m sure you could change the world if you could just get your kids alone to go to confession, as my fourth-graders did today. Stand and watch as each of them prepares in silence, goes nervously through the door into the sacristy, and comes out again with a huge grin and a “whew,” then settles down on a kneeler to say penance. You yourself would start going to confession again just because the whole thing is so impressive, so moving—and the kids look so happy when it’s over.

Last week, we prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by going over what you say and conducting a collective examination of conscience. I gave each child a piece of paper and a pencil, read them a series of questions, then told them after each question to write down any sins that occurred to them. Of course, their notes were “for their eyes only.” Here are some of the questions:

Do I think of God and speak to Him by praying each day?
Do I use the Lord’s name with reverence and love?
Do I attend Mass on Sunday or on Saturday afternoon?
Do I obey my parents and teachers quickly and cheerfully, or must I be reminded many times?
Do I obey the rules of home and school?
Am I kind to everyone?
Did I hit, kick, or in any way hurt others on purpose?
Do I make fun or say mean things to anyone?
Do I tell the truth?

There were more such questions on the list given to us CCD teachers to help our students prepare.

My kids have never been anything like this serious in any previous class. These kids chatter for a living. Suddenly, not a word. Last week, as I read the questions, they were hunched over their crib sheets like law school graduates over a bar exam. It was that intense. Biting their lips. Biting their erasers. Jiggling their feet nervously. And barely saying a word. Which is about as amazing as an entire amusement park going stone silent all at once.

I was very proud of the fourteen, out of sixteen, who showed up today. They could have blown it off, found any excuse to miss it. But I honestly think they wanted to come, even when they thought they didn’t. Even C., who was waiting nervously in his mother’s car as I walked up to the parish school building, where classes meet. His mom said he was nervous about confession and had lost his workbook for the second time. I crouched down to speak through the car window and tell C. that when I had my first confession two years ago, I was nervous as heck. I think I even used the word heck.

When attendance had been taken, Father Barnes led the way to the chapel in the convent next door to the parish school. He told the boys to remove their hats when entering the convent and showed boys and girls how to genuflect on their right knees before sitting in their pews. He asked them to be silent and prepare themselves while waiting their turn, and most were pretty good about keeping silence. Denise, the other fourth-grade teacher, and I counseled kids who looked especially nervous. Otherwise, there was that amazing, eerie phenomenon of thirty nine-year-old children sitting quietly for half an hour.

As each child came out of the sacristy, he or she pulled down the kneeler at their pew and said their penance. Then we walked back to our classrooms. I asked the children if anyone felt worse now than they did before confession. No one raised a hand. Who felt better? Everyone. Every single child.

Each child had an opportunity to talk about the experience. Then we ended with a prayer.

Because the Real Santa Story is Amazing Enough

I’ve told my children that there is no Santa Claus. I make no apologies about that either. My reason? It takes away from the story of the actual miracle man who is Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker.

As I’ve stated before, I’m a newcomer to Catholicism. However, I was baptized when I was ten years old and have been a Christian for (do the math) thirty-six years. So I’m not exactly a newcomer to Christianity.

And I truly believe in the Spirit of Christmas. But I never really knew the true story of Saint Nicholas until I went looking for it. I had no idea that he is commemorated on December 6, the day of his death in 347 A.D.

This guy is amazing! And yet there isn’t much really known about him. We do know that he was the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century. Myra is no longer around, having been superseded by a new city called Demre in the Anatalya Province in Turkey. Here he is in a painting entitled St. Nicholas Saves Three Innocents From Death. The painting is hanging in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. (Note, it is St. Petersburg again, and no longer Leningrad.)

So I have sat all three of my children down (ages 13, 10, and 8) and spilled the beans on Madison Avenue’s version of Santa Claus and the unlimited wish-fulfillment powers of same. (Hey, personally, I love that guy too.) Now, my 13-year-old has known the truth since he was 8. My daughter started getting concerned when she was about 8 and couldn’t see ash footprints or any other convincing evidence of his visit, and my youngest is 8 now so . . . I did what had to be done. I told them the truth.

This has caused a bit of a dust-up within our extended family, and I understand why. You can’t convince kids aged 13, 10, and 8 to continue telling a fiction about Santa Claus to their friends. Well, maybe the 13-year-old, but the 8-year-old will sink the party pronto. This is like a state secret that “need to know” will not keep safe. And that is the concern of certain relatives, which my wife and I fully understand.

But that doesn’t do St. Nicholas justice, nor Our Lord and Savior whom he serves. So if your child comes home from school one day with the idea that Santa isn’t real? Blame my kids. Or tell yours the truth and donate an unwrapped new toy to Toys for Tots.

Semper Fidelis


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