Archive | October, 2015

Saints and angels

October 29, 2015

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Mary and Joseph in Nazareth - Stained glass window at St. John the Baptist, Vermillion, MN

Mary and Joseph in Nazareth – Stained glass window at St. John the Baptist, Vermillion, MN

A Special Feast Day.  November 1 is the Solemnity of All Saints, not “All Angels” nor “All Saints and Angels.”  In fact, the Archangels have a separate feast day on September 29 and the Guardian Angels on October 2.  If the saints and angels are both together in heaven gathered around God’s throne forever singing God’s praises, are they the same or different?

Angels.  An angel is a spiritual being without a body that has existed across the ages, dwells in heaven, has been and continues to be totally loyal to God, serves God in a variety of capacities, and may be dispatched as a messenger or representative of God to earth or to a specific person to carry out a special function.  There are many references to angels in Sacred Scripture.

Saints.  A saint was a human being that had a physical body, lived in a specific time and place, has died and gone to heaven, and lived an exceptionally good and virtuous life.  The saints were guided by Sacred Scripture on the path of holiness.

Special Classes of Angels.  The classes of angels are the Angels and Archangels, the Thrones and Dominations (Dominions), the Principalities and the Powers, and the Virtues, as well as the Cherubim and Seraphim, and the Guardian Angels.

Special Classes of Saints.  The classes of saints are the apostles, the foundation of the Church, its first shepherds and teachers, who watch over it and protect it still; the martyrs, those who have died for the faith and given heroic witness; pastors, great preachers and teachers; virgins and religious, those who have consecrated their life to Christ for the sake of the Kingdom; and holy men and women.

The Purpose of Angels.  The angels serve as God’s messengers and they bring God’s call to individuals; God’s instructions, commands or announcements; and they speak God’s Word.  The angels also convey God’s divine presence and companionship; lead the People of God on the journey; bring comfort and consolation in times of sadness; act as guardians and protectors; provide divine assistance throughout life, particularly in times of trial or hardship; give strength in the battle against sin and temptation; sing God’s praises in choir around God’s throne in heaven; and will assist the Son of God on Judgment Day.

The Purpose of Saints.  The saints are examples of holiness, and their virtuous lives teach us how to live in a virtuous manner.  The saints, particularly the martyrs, were heroic, and they show us how to live with courage and conviction.  The saints are proof that it is possible to live a good and holy life; if they can do it, we can do it.  The saints offer hope; if they have gone to heaven, they show us that heaven is reachable and that we can follow them there.  The saints are intercessors; they are in heaven, near God, and enjoy God’s favor, and they are in an excellent position to present our prayers to God on our behalf.

Famous Angels.  The best known angels are the Archangels:  Michael, the mighty warrior that led the heavenly host against Lucifer and the bad angels and expelled them from heaven; Gabriel, God’s messenger to Mary and Zechariah; and Raphael, the companion and protector of Tobiah on his journey.

Famous Saints.  The best known saints are Mary, the Mother of God, and her husband Joseph; John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the arrival of the Messiah; Peter, the first of the Apostles, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; Benedict, the father of western monasticism, and Francis of Assisi, the saint regarded by many as the one who best patterned himself on the life of Jesus.

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The priestly vocation, a calling from God

October 25, 2015

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IhavechosenyouThe Letter to the Hebrews says that, when it comes to the priesthood, “no one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God” (Heb 5:4).  The priesthood is a special calling.

When someone says, “I have decided to be a priest,” it is cause for caution.  Too often those who desire to be priests “want to stand and pray in the synagogues … so that others might see them” (Mt 6:5); or, “love places of honor” (Mt 23:6), or “the salutation ‘Rabbi’ [Father]” (Mt 23:7).  There can be an excessive concern with “phylacteries and tassels” (Mt 23:5), the perfect Roman collar, the right cassock and surplice, the most appropriate chasuble, and the proper liturgical rubric.  The self-chosen desire for priesthood can be an attempt to improve one’s state in life.

The call to the priesthood comes from God.  It emanates from the outside, from God to the person, and not the other way.  Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John – and Paul.  He called each one individually, and he called them by name.  It was not their choice.  It was Jesus’ choice. Jesus was the “Hound of Heaven,” relentless, in pursuit of them until they submitted their will and obeyed.  Each apostle was unworthy, but Jesus called them anyway.  Jesus calls mere mortals, sinners, the undeserving, and he asks them to be his personal agents and to serve and lead in his name (see Lk 5:8,10; Jn 18:15-18,25-27; 21:15-17; 1 Tim 1:15b; Acts 9:15).

The call to ordained ministry can also come through the community.  God can call directly, but God often calls through intermediaries.  When Peter and the first apostles needed assistants, they asked the community to help them identify individuals who had good reputations and appeared to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom (see Acts 6:3).  The community is very capable of surveying its own membership to identify individuals with the character traits appropriate to ordained ministry.  Anyone in the community, a parent, teacher, catechist, or fellow parishioner, can invite someone saying, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?  You seem to have the heart of Jesus.  You have many virtuous qualities that would be a good fit with the priesthood.”

If someone applies to the seminary and reports that God is calling, it may be true, but it is the duty of the community to confirm the call, for seminary officials and the laity where a seminarian is training, to verify that he has the spiritual qualities needed for priesthood.

When it comes to spiritual prerequisites for priests, humility stands at the forefront.  Hebrews says that a priest is “beset by weaknesses” (Heb 5:2).  Priests, like everyone else, are vulnerable, subject to temptation, and fall to sin.  Any priest who aspires to holiness is keenly aware that he has offended God and has hurt his neighbor by his misdeeds, and as Hebrews says, he “must make sin offerings for himself” (Heb 5:3).  The priest is no better than anyone else.  He, too, is in desperate need of God’s mercy.  As he stands before the congregation leading them in prayer, he is praying not only for them, but he is also praying repentantly for himself.

The other spiritual quality that the Letter to the Hebrews stresses for priests is compassion.  A priest should be able to deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring because he himself is beset by weakness (Heb 5:2).  How can a priest be hard on anyone else after all of the poor choices he has made?  After all of his missteps, he should be merciful, lenient, and give others the benefit of the doubt.  If a priest wants God to go easy with him, the priest should go easy with others.

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St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456), Priest

October 23, 2015

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capostranoSt. John of Capistrano is well known in the United States as San Juan Capistrano, his Spanish name, which is also the name for one of the most popular California missions, the seventh mission founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1776.  Father Serra, a Franciscan himself, named a number of the California missions after Franciscan saints for whom he had a special devotion.

St. John was born in Capistrano in the Abruzzi region of Italy in 1386.  He was brilliant, studied law in Perugia, and became the governor of the city in 1412 at the young age of 26.  He was also married.  A war broke out between Perugia and Malatesta, he was captured and imprisoned.  His confinement was a time of intense prayer.  St. John reported that he had a vision in which St. Francis of Assisi appeared to him and invited him to join his religious order.  Upon his release, he petitioned for a dispensation from his marriage so he could enter religious life.

St. John entered the Order of the Friars Minor (OFM), the Franciscans, in 1416, and he was blessed to study under St. Bernardine of Siena.  He was ordained to the priesthood in 1420.

St. John was one of the greatest preachers Europe has ever known.  He traveled extensively and drew crowds that numbered in thousands to listen to his sermons.  His double purpose was to exhort Christians to live holier lives and to fight against heretical teaching.

There was inner strife among the Franciscans between the Observant, the Spiritual, or the stricter friars and the Conventual, the Relaxed, or the more lenient friars when it came to poverty.  St. John made attempts at reform and reconciliation that were resisted and had disappointing results.  He was a contrite penitent and strict with himself, an ascetic:  he went about barefoot, wore a hairshirt, and deprived himself of food and sleep.

St. John had a reputation for a fiery style and tremendous toughness, and was commissioned to undertake a variety of papal diplomatic missions.  In 1426 he was appointed by Pope Martin V as the Inquisitor in the proceedings against the heretical Fraticelli; in 1439 he was sent to Milan and Burgundy to refute antipope Felix V; in 1446 he was sent as a special envoy to the King of France; and in 1451 he was appointed by Pope Nicholas V to go to Vienna, Austria, to fight against John Hus and the Hussite heresy, and as Inquisitor, he took stern, harsh measures against them.  In 1452 he was appointed Commissioner General for Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, and he preached widely throughout the region with much success.

In 1453 the Turks conquered Constantinople, and subsequently he was asked by Pope Pius II to preach a crusade against the Turks.  While his preaching roused little support in Austria and Bavaria, he had outstanding results in Hungary which was under the threat of imminent attack.  St. John personally led the left wing of the Christian army in the Battle of Belgrade of 1456, while Janos Hunyady led the right wing.  The Hungarian army inflicted severe losses upon the Turks, fended off the Muslim advance, and saved not only Belgrade but Christian Europe.  After the battle thousands of bodies were left unburied and disease was rampant.  St. John walked among the corpses, contracted the plague, and died at Villach, Austria, on October 23, 1456.  He was canonized in 1690 and is the patron saint of military chaplains and lawyers.

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St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, (d. 107 AD)

October 16, 2015

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St. Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Rome c. 107 AD.

St. Ignatius was from Antioch, the capital city of the Roman province of Syria.  Little is known about the first part of his life.  He was born around the year 35 AD, probably to pagan parents, and he later converted to Christianity.  He may have been a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.

St. Peter the apostle presided over the newly formed church of Antioch as its first bishop before he moved to Rome.  St. Evodius served as the second bishop, and upon his death in 69 AD, St. Ignatius became the third bishop, and he served for thirty-eight years.

The first portion of his episcopacy was relatively peaceful, but circumstances changed dramatically when the Roman Emperor Trajan came to power in 105.  Trajan believed that he had achieved his military successes because of the pagan gods, and because he honored them, he expected others to do likewise.  According to a popular legend that is historically unreliable, Trajan made an imperial visit to Antioch, ordered the arrest of St. Ignatius, and personally interrogated him (see Butler’s Lives of the Saints).  Because St. Ignatius refused to renounce his faith or to worship pagan gods, he was condemned to death, and Trajan ordered that he be taken to Rome to be thrown to the animals to die.

St. Ignatius was taken to Rome by ship with a military escort of ten soldiers who treated him with cruelty.  The ship hugged the coastlines of Asia Minor or Turkey and Greece, and the ship made a number of stops along the way.  At each seaport St. Ignatius was warmly greeted by the Christians of the area.

St. Ignatius had extended stays at two seaports, and during these delays he was able to write seven letters.  His first four letters were written in Smyrna, and he addressed them to the Christian communities in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. His last three letters were written in Troas, two which were directed to the Christian communities in Philadelphia and Smyrna, the other to St. Polycarp.

St. Ignatius wrote on a variety of topics and proved to be one of the greatest teachers of the early Church.  He declared that “Jesus Christ is our only teacher.”  He emphasized the two natures of Jesus, his humanity and divinity, and that he had a real human birth and suffered a real human death, and he repudiated Docetism, a heresy that denied Jesus’ human nature and claimed that he was only divine.  He stressed the value of the Eucharist, “the medicine of immortality,” and reflected upon the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, and salvation.

St. Ignatius also wrote about the character of the Church.  He explained that it is both a mystical and hierarchical reality:  mystical in that Jesus is truly present in the community of believers, hierarchical in that it is well-ordered and unified under the authority of the bishop.  He was the first person to describe the church as “Catholic,” a term he used to refer to all Christians.  In his letter to the church of Rome, he acknowledged its place as first among the other churches, and aware of his impending martyrdom, he pleaded with them not to interfere so he would be allowed the grace to die for Christ and witness his faith with his life.

St. Ignatius arrived in Rome on December 20, 107, the last day of the public games, and he was taken directly to the amphitheater where he was devoured by two fierce lions before a large crowd.  He is an Apostolic Father, and his name is included in the second martyrology of Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

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Pope Francis’ ‘Prayer for Our Earth’

October 15, 2015

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prayingNeed a prayer?

If you’re ever called upon for a prayer or struggle finding words to express yourself in prayer, Pope Francis has you covered.

The following is a prayer the pope included in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si’.”

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

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Turkey talk proves fun

October 12, 2015

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I decided to buy a fall turkey tag this year. Part of the reason was to gain more woodsmanship and knowledge of the birds, which will hopefully bear fruit next spring when I chase gobblers.

Another reason is for food. Wild turkey is excellent to eat, and I don’t have any left in my freezer. I got just one bird this spring, so I want to get another one for the freezer.

I should be writing about doing just that, but the truth is, I blew two golden opportunities. It showed that I’m rustier than I thought. Despite getting a late start, I had a shot opportunity minutes in to my hunt at Spot No. 2. I was walking along a narrow cow pasture, then spotted movement just on the edge of the woods. I saw two hens walking into the woods, but thought they were out of range.

Looking back, I don’t think they were. I could have raised my shotgun and fired, and more than likely would have dropped one of the birds, but instead I pulled back and tried to circle around and stalk in on them. But, when I got there, they were gone. Fall turkeys move almost continuously in the fall, so you’d better take a shot when you get the chance.

I moved to another area of the property, and set up at the top of the ridge. The landowner said there were birds in the area, so I sat down and did some yelps and lost calls (called the kee kee run). To my delight and surprise, a hen yelped back. She was either at the bottom of the valley or up on the other side. I couldn’t tell.

We went back and forth for probably about 10-15 minutes, but she didn’t seem to get any closer. Then, she shut up. I figured she wasn’t willing to come that far, and that I would have to go to her.

That’s exactly what I did. I hoofed it around to the other side of the valley. Just as I got there, I heard a yelp. To my utter frustration, it came from right where I had just been sitting and calling. She came after all.

It was not a happy moment for me. I sure learned my lesson. From now on, I’m going to stay put. The flocking instinct is strong in the fall, and turkeys just seem to want to gather up with other turkeys, even if they take their sweet time. Now I know.

Hopefully, I will be a better hunter next time. I definitely want to get after fall turkeys again this season. I have until Nov. 1 to hunt. But, I want to save those last few days in October for bow hunting. That’s when the real fun begins!

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Promised yourself you’d pray daily? Help is here

October 11, 2015

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Sacred ReadingHow many times have you told yourself you’re going to do it this time, you’re going to take time to pray every day, no matter what?

“Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer” will help you keep your promise. It’s a page-a-day, affordable paperback ($15.95) that eases users into reflecting on how they are following Jesus Christ in everyday life, challenges with thoughtful questions and prompts prayer to flow naturally.

Published by the Apostleship of Prayer through Ave Maria Press at Notre Dame, “Sacred Reading” offers a simplified wrinkle on “lectio divina,” and, if you’ve been put off by the Latin name of that approach to prayer, fear not, this is for you.

This version offers six steps — steps repeated each day so you’re not paging back to the introduction — that are extremely easy to follow:

  1. Know that God is present with you and ready to converse. This puts you in the frame of mind to pray well.
  2. Read the Gospel. The day’s Gospel is printed for each day. No need to find your Bible or buy another resource.
  3. Notice what you think and feel as you read the Gospel. This is the “lectio divina” piece that is so key to prompting one to reflect on gospel-based values. Here is one example: “The disciples were blessed to see Jesus, to hear and touch him. They recognized him instantly. Do we? Or are we often too self-absorbed and skeptical to see the Lord at work in our lives? As you read this Gospel, what impression does it leave with you?”
  4. Pray as you are led for yourself and others. It’s conversing with God, sometimes thanking, sometimes praising, sometimes questioning, asking, sharing what’s troubling you, and doing the same for others.
  5. Listen to Jesus. What is he saying to you through this Gospel?
  6. Ask God to show you how to live today. This is the call to action. How will you react?

Here’s an example of how one is guided into prayer:

“Lord, I repent of my sins so that you can come to me. Show me the ways I resist your love, help me to forsake all habits of sin, and give me grace to . . . (Continue in your own words.)”

And here’s a sample of an action step:

“Lord, lead me to do something today that is pleasing to you, perhaps something I have never done or even thought of doing. Glory to you, Lord. Amen.”

Now here is an important point. “Sacred Readings” starts with the beginning of the church year, the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29. Don’t wait for the new calendar year to start keeping that promise to pray every day.

 

 

 

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Jesus, the great high priest

October 7, 2015

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THE SECOND READINGS OF WEEKS 27-33, YEAR B, FROM THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

A Continuous Reading.  The second readings for Weeks 27 through 33 of Year B, the final portion of the church year, all come from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Their selection follows the liturgical principle of Lectio continua, Latin for “a continuous reading,” a series of Scripture texts all taken from the same book of the Bible in sequence.  While the first reading at Mass usually is selected to compliment the gospel, the second reading has no intended connection to either and stands on its own.  The texts chosen for the second reading are those judged most significant in a book or, as a group, work together to unfold an important spiritual concept.

The Letter to the Hebrews.  The letter itself is peculiar because so little is known about it.  For many years the author was thought to be St. Paul, but that proposition has been disproved due to differences in literary style and theological content.  It is not so much a letter as a long written homily intended to instruct and encourage.  The intended audience, “the Hebrews,” is also unclear.  Generally “the Hebrews” is another term for “the Jews,” so it may be directed to Jewish converts to Christianity, or to Jews who were contemplating conversion, or to Gentile Christians who could benefit from a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Theological Thread.  A thread is a theme that is woven through a series of chapters of a book of the Bible; two or more readings on a particular Sunday, a horizontal thread; or a sequence of readings over a number of consecutive weeks, a vertical thread.  The thread that connects the seven consecutive readings from Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus.

Week 27B, Hebrews 2:9-11.  The first passage explains the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ priesthood:  “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).  Jesus was perfect so his self-offering was a perfect sacrifice.  It is the work of a priest to consecrate, to make holy, and Jesus consecrates or makes every person holy before God (Heb 2:11).

Weeks 28B and 29B, Hebrews 4:12-13 and 4:14-16.  Chapter 4 goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest from whom nothing is concealed (Heb 4:13); he is all-knowing, omniscient.  He is the wise priest whose word is living and effective (Heb 4:12).  He is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), not only human, but a priest who came down from heaven, the Son of God, a divine high priest.  Because he was tempted and knows first-hand the struggles of the human condition, he is a compassionate priest, approachable, merciful, and helpful.

Week 30B, Hebrews 5:1-6.  Jesus is not a self-appointed priest but was sent by his Father (Heb 5:5).  His priesthood is eternal, not like other priests who serve only for a time.  It is the duty of a priest to offer sacrifice for sin.  Temple priests offered animals, Jesus offered his own body; Temple priests were sinners and offered sacrifice for themselves, Jesus was sinless and offered sacrifice for the human race.

Week 31B, Hebrews 7:23-28.  This passage repeats key points made previously about Jesus’ priesthood.  His priesthood is eternal, it “remains forever,” it “does not pass away” (Heb 7:24).  He is a priest who is “holy, innocent, and undefiled” (7:26) which enables him to make intercession on our behalf.  He is the priest who has the power to save us (Heb 7:25).

Weeks 32B and 33B, Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:11-14,18.  These texts highlight the glorious nature of Jesus’ priesthood.  Jesus now reigns as the exalted priest in the sanctuary of heaven, seated forever at the right hand of God, revered because he offered himself in sacrifice, not multiple times, but once, to perfect and sanctify, to remove sin once and for all, so that when he returns a second time at the end of the age, he will bring the gift of salvation.

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Kids will like zoo founder’s story as much as the zoo

October 5, 2015

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Fur, Fins, and FeathersNext time you take a child to the zoo, thank Abraham Dee Bartlett.

He’s the one who came up with the idea of putting labels on the exhibits with information about the animals such as what part of the world they can be found in, what kind of habitat they thrive in and what they eat.

The story of this boy who loved animals is told in a 34-page children’s book that bursts with color and all kinds of critters, just the thing to corral the interest of its intended audience of youngsters age five to nine.

“Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo” is a joyful telling of the life of someone few know of yet whose work many enjoy.

Cassandre Maxwell both wrote and illustrated the Eerdmans book, and, if the story of the boy who grew up to be the superintendent of the London Zoo is a bit too historical for the youngest ones, her charming, detail-filled artwork will keep them searching for species from aardvarks to zebras.

Both informative and entertaining, “Fur, Fins, and Feathers” should be in the hands of moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas all over with little ones on their laps. And the vocabulary isn’t so difficult that young readers won’t be able to handle it themselves.

 

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8 steps toward Catholic-Protestant understanding

October 5, 2015

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Forming a Catholic-Protestant discussion group to read Pope Francis' book, "The Church of Mercy," is one step to take toward Christian unity say the authors of "Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar."

Forming a Catholic-Protestant discussion group to read Pope Francis’ book, “The Church of Mercy,” is one step to take toward Christian unity say the authors of “Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar.”

If there is ever to be unity among Christians, people will have to take practical steps that bring them wisdom and understanding about Christian traditions other than their own.

book coverPresbyterians Pastor Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus offer ideas for those steps at the conclusion of their Westminster John Knox Press paperback, “Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar.”

The ones below apply to Catholics, but the original list offered similar steps for Protestants:

  1. Visit a Protestant worship service; “Go with someone who can explain what’s happening while it’s happening and what it means.”
  2. Ask a well-versed Protestant to speak to an adult education class at your church about “why he or she has chosen that tradition and what it looks and feels like from the inside.”
  3. Form a Catholic-Protestant discussion group to read Pope Francis’ book “The Church of Mercy,” together.
  4. Explore the official websites of major Protestant denominations, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Southern Baptist.
  5. Visit websites of local Protestant congregations to learn about their activities and widely different statements of belief.
  6. Find out if your community has an interfaith organization that sponsors gatherings and learning opportunities.
  7. Read a book on world religions and discuss it with a group from your church “to expand your knowledge beyond the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
  8. Form a group to read and study Stephen Prothero’s book, “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t.”
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