Tag Archives: sacraments

10 ways Good Pope John still is guiding

May 4, 2015

0 Comments

Just for Today cover“Just for Today” meshes the words of the late Pope John XXIII with the imaginative artistry of illustrator Bimba Landmann in a children’s book that will stir the soul and energize people of faith of any age.

Graphically displayed in type meant for young readers on 34 pages across Landmann’s creative scenes, Good Pope John’s 10 ideas for living a better, holier life can become a meaningful morning prayer for young people, especially, for example, first communicants.

As a seven-year-old making his first communion, Angelo Roncalli declared, “I want always to be good to everyone.” When he went on to become pope, the 10 thoughts for daily living that he wrote became well known, valued as much for the humility inherent in them as for the down-to-earth advice they offered.

The daily decalogue of now St. Pope John XXIII is worth finding on the Internet and taping to your bathroom mirror to start your day in a saintly way.

Here is just one example:

“Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not enjoy, and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.”

It’s another fine edition from the Eerdmans Book for Young Readers collection.

Continue reading...

Catholics, time to brush up on things about your faith that you used to know — or thought you did?

March 21, 2012

0 Comments

We walk into church and the first thing we do is reach our fingers into the Holy Water fount.

Why?

Even better questions are, what benefit are we supposed to be getting, and, what are we supposed to be thinking about when we do it?

Johan van Parys, a Minneapolis liturgist, has the answers to those questions and more.

The director of liturgy and the sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary, he’s packaged them nicely in 150 reader-friendly pages in “Symbols That Surround Us: Faithful Reflections.” (Liguori Publications, $16.99)

Folks who haven’t had any exposure to things Catholic will find explanations for everything from church architecture to garb, from gestures to sacraments. But if it’s been some good while since Sister Mary Whats-her-name taught us that blessing ourselves with Holy Water upon entering church is a reminder of our baptismal vows, that we are members of Christ’s church, that we’re entering a holy place, a different atmosphere than the rest of the world, then you’ll get something out of reading this, too.

Van Parys reminds us that those ordinary elements of water, fire, bread and wine are symbols that “enable us to communicate on a deeper level . . . to express our faith in ways that would not be possible if we were to rely exclusively on words.”

He’s right on the money when he adds, “Although we may not always be aware of them, symbols surround us, connect us to sacred images found in our churches, remind us of our faith, and support us in our private and public prayer.”

Much to learn — or re-learn

Like a good teacher, van Parys sets the stage for comprehension by helping readers grasp the concept that nonverbal communication and symbols touch us everyday. Body language, for example, flowers on Mother’s Day, a hug to a grieving friend.

He quickly moves from the secular to the sacred, explaining, “When it comes to our faith, we use symbls even more readily to approach that which by definition cannot be explained or captured by words: the mysteries of creation and salvation. . . . The liturgy and the sacraments of the Catholic Church use symbols to share meaning and reveal deeper meaning.”

After that, the author is off and running, effectively quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, the documents of Vatican II and other authoritative works.

There’s much to grab onto here, the what and why of vestments worn at Mass, the meaning behind the use of the various oils during sacramental rites, how sacred art can connect us to God and the saints, and of course, the superb symbolism of bread and wine.

Bread, he simply writes, that becomes the Body of Christ, is for Catholics “weekly nourishment on our journey of faith.” And he’s honest enough to note this about the use of wine at Mass:

“Wine has been ascribed medicinal qualities: It was used to settle an upset stomach and to clean out wounds. Still, the principal quality of wine is to add festivity to a gathering and emphasize unity among those who share the cup.”

Perfect for discussion by groups

He’s unafraid to explain how some Catholic ritual evolved from pre-Christian peoples.

And there’s a marvelous chapter on sacred architecture as symbol that tackles why our churches look the way they do and how they’ve changed through 2,000 years. The book is richer for the personal anecdotes van Parys relates: I loved the one about the choir members who tossed their coats casually on the altar only to have the pastor come by and sweep the coats off in one fell swoop!

Each of the 10 chapters ends with a brief reflection and three questions to ponder and/or discuss.

After reading “Symbols That Surround Us” I could easily see it serving as the text for a small group for a number of sessions and as the focus of an adult faith formation series. Those who facilitate gatherings for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) might find it a nice supplementary resource.

But let me go back to my very first thought: I wasn’t halfway through “Symbols That Surround Us” when the lightbulb was turned on: I’d forgotten so many of these symbolic connections that enrich Catholic life. Reading van Parys’ little book will remind those of us in the over-50 crowd of some what we used to know — or at least had studied for the religion class test!

Continue reading...

Reflections from Deacon Evan Koop – Part 2

July 26, 2011

0 Comments

My time here continues to be amazing especially when experiencing the Sacraments and other Catholic activities with parishioners,  all devoted to helping the communities in the barrios.

Evan with Neli who is ill and homebound

Sacraments

The parish has baptisms twice a month, which I have only observed thus far, but will be celebrating myself in just a week or so. Before each baptism, the parents and godparents are required to attend two sessions of baptismal catechesis, which I will also be leading soon. Many of the children to be baptized here are slightly older than most in the U.S., in part because of family breakdown and lack of catechesis, but also because many parents put off the celebration until they are sure the child will survive and they will have money for a party.

One of the gravest problems facing society here is the incredible breakdown in family life—though whether it is the cause or effect of the poverty and violence in the city is hard to tell. Most children here (who are particularly beautiful, I must say) are born out-of-wedlock. The vast majority of couples move in together before marriage—if they ever get married at all. Anecdotally, it seems, the average home in the parish (even among those who practice their faith) is made up of a single mother with several children from different fathers, none of whom are anywhere to be found. There is a real crisis of fatherhood here, and it is the rare and happy house that consists of a husband and wife and their own children. This reality probably accounts for why such a low percentage of Catholics receive the Eucharist at any given Mass in the parish.

As a result of all this, the parish has a program, which I will be involved in, for couples who are living together (usually with children) and who now wish to be married sacramentally in the Church. They meet every Saturday to receive marriage preparation from mentor couples as well as from the clergy in the parish. Next week I will be giving them two talks, one on “Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and the other on the theology of the sacrament of marriage. I don’t know yet if I will be witnessing any marriages as a deacon while I am here, but I do already have one blessing scheduled for a couple on their 60th anniversary (!).

Another regular aspect of parish life down here, as everywhere else, is the celebration of funerals. Here, however, there are a few differences. First, partly because of the poverty of most families, and partly because of the climate, the dead are buried as soon as possible, which means that most ‘exequias’ (funeral services) take place in the home, and with very little notice—usually we are called on the same day, or even only an hour beforehand. The service is quick, usually about twenty minutes, and then the body is taken immediately to the cemetery.

Another difference between funerals here and back home is that they are a more frequent occurrence here, and not because of an ageing population. Due to the level of poverty and social breakdown, violence is a regular part of life in San Felix, as is, unfortunately, violent deaths. I have already assisted the priests here in two exequias of teenagers who were shot to death, most probably while trying to steal something. Eventually, I will be doing exequias on my own to lighten the load for the priests.

Finally, there is the sacrament of Confession (which is offered several times a week), Confirmation (which usually occurs in the Spring) and Anointing of the Sick. Of course, as a deacon I cannot celebrate any of them—though I have had the blessed opportunity to accompany Fr. McCabe on a few sick calls as he anointed members of the parish.

Other Aspects of Ministry 

 As I indicated already, the sacramental life of the parish is much as it is in parishes back home. In reality, however, the sacraments are just the beginning of what the priests are called upon to do here. A priest in this environment really has to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades,’ since he is inevitably the first person the people approach for help when they have a need. And so, Frs. Schaffer and McCabe (and I, in my own capacity) do everything from buying medicine for the sick and paying for medical costs, to tutoring young people in English, giving financial aid to help families get small businesses off the ground, and even just offering rides to those without cars.

In addition to this miscellany, I also have several areas of ministry that I will be focusing on during my time at the parish. There is, for instance, an orphanage just a block away from the parish called ‘Casa de Hogar’ (literally, House of Home), which houses boys, from ages 8-18, who have been living on the street. Some of them may in fact be orphans, but most have simply been abandoned or otherwise found themselves without care and having to fend for themselves. This apparently happens frequently when mothers take up with a new boyfriend who wants nothing to do with the children from a previous relationship. As sad is this situation is, the Casa is itself a very bright and happy place and, with ten boys living there currently, full of energy and activity. It is dedicated to St. John Bosco, the 19th century Saint who took in and educated street boys in Turin, Italy, and it is run in part by his religious order, the Salesians. So, in addition to receiving their education at the Casa, the boys are given religious instruction, pray together, and of course, play together. One thing I’ve noticed in my visits there is that the boys seem to be starving for affection from adult males, and so they literally hang off me and hug me spontaneously. I’ll be going over there a few times a week to help out with their education and just to have fun with them. This afternoon we are going to play soccer at a nearby field.

Evan visiting home with St. Vincent de Paul group

Another aspect of my work here at the mission is with the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a group of parishioners who go out each week on Saturday morning to visit some of the most desperately poor and sick members of the parish. They bring food, pray with them, and even clean their houses for them on occasion. This ministry has, I think, been the most powerful and fulfilling one in which I have been involved so far. One of the main reasons for this is that the group itself is made up mostly of the youth of the parish, and to see such young Catholics generously giving of themselves with such joy and dedication is intensely edifying.

It has been an incredible privilege for me just to tag along with this group, and yet from the very start they also looked to me—a complete stranger at the beginning—to lead them in prayer at each house we visit. At first this was a bit difficult for me, as I struggled for the words in Spanish that I wanted to say, but that in itself has been a formative experience for me. In this struggle, I really have come to understand better the heart of Jesus who, “though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Any missionary who comes to a foreign land, knowing neither the language nor the culture as well as he would like, will go through this experience of feeling a certain poverty before the immensity of the task upon which he is engaged. No longer can he rely on his human resources—such as attempts at eloquence in speech or personal charm—in order to win souls over to Christ. Yet, as Our Lord has been showing me in prayer, the answer to this is not to attempt to become ‘rich’ again in these resources, which are illusory in any case, but to become ever more poor, and to consent to remain so, so that souls may meet in him not his own person, but that of Jesus Christ, and thereby become rich themselves. Indeed, there have already been several occasions on these visits to the sick where, even before I said a word, the person began weeping merely at the sight of the collar I was wearing—because in it, they saw what, or Whom, it represented, the presence of God and His Church coming to meet them in the midst of their most desperate moments. I can tell you, there is nothing more humbling and, at the same time, fulfilling than that!

Evan reading to 85-year old Epifania

Thank you for bearing with my reflections.  More to come!

In Christ Our Risen Lord,

Deacon Evan

Continue reading...

Most popular stories of February 2011

March 1, 2011

0 Comments

Stories about Sacraments and rites caught the most attention in February.

The Rite 3 comment(s) | 380 view(s)

Real presence is a four-sided reality 6 comment(s) | 372 view(s)

Rebuilding Haiti is unprecedented challenge for CRS 1 comment(s) | 292 view(s)

Vatican today – January 14, 2011 0 comment(s) | 288 view(s)

Developers of new app say it could bring Catholics back to confession 1 comment(s) | 285 view(s)

Continue reading...

Infant Baptism

January 4, 2011

0 Comments

Sacrament of Baptism at Immaculate Heart in Cross Lake

The Sometimes-Heard Objection to Infant Baptism. Some parents and Christian groups believe that the Sacrament of Baptism should be delayed until adolescence or adulthood, to a time when the person is fully capable to maturely and freely decide on their own to be a Christian.

Adult Baptism at First. The earliest persons to receive the Sacrament of Baptism were adults. After Peter delivered his speech on the first Pentecost, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added that day” (Acts 2:41). It is presumed that these first converts were adults because they had to be old enough to accept the message. After Peter’s second speech, “Many of those who heard the word came to believe” (Acts 4:4); and no infant is old enough to hear and comprehend. After the apostles worked signs and wonders, “Men and women were added” (Acts 5:14). The Ethiopian eunuch was an adult convert (Acts 8:38). So was Saul (Acts 9:18) and Cornelius (Acts 10:48).

An Early Biblical Precedent for Extending Baptism. When Paul first preached in Philippi, Lydia became the first Christian believer in Europe. Lydia was not the only person to be baptized. Wonderfully both she “and her household” (Acts 16:15) were baptized. A typical household is a mother, father, and children. The entire family was brought into the Body of Christ on the basis of Lydia’s faith, including the children who, if young enough, would not have been old enough to decide for themselves. Other examples of household baptisms include the families of the jailer (Acts 16:33), Crispus (Acts 18:8), and Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16).

Infant Baptism from the Outset. “The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on” (No. 1252, Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Official Church Teaching on Infant Baptism. “Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks” (Canon 867.1). This teaching is based upon the high rate of infant mortality over the centuries, even in some areas today; the need to blot out original sin; and the desire to access sacramental grace as quickly as possible. The urgency for Baptism within “the first few weeks” has been modified somewhat in light of improved infant survival rates and a better understanding of the gift of salvation. The Church also teaches that “For an infant to be baptized licitly: the parents or at least one of them must consent; [and] there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed” (Canon 868.1, 868.2).

A Family of Faith. When it comes to Baptism, it is “the sooner, the better.” Infants should be incorporated into the Body of Christ without delay. If the parents are members of the Church, their children should be members with them. If the parents are practicing their faith, their children should be raised in the same faith and practice it together as a family. The greatest privilege and duty of parents is to pass on the gift of faith to their children.

Learning the Language of Faith. When it comes to learning a foreign language, it is easier for a child than an adult. This is evident in school curriculums in which foreign languages are taught in earlier grades, and in adult learners who have difficulty speaking without an accent. It is the same with our Catholic faith. It is easier to learn as a child. Children assimilate the faith from their parents. If the parents believe in God, say their prayers, go to Mass, and love each other, so will the children. Then, when they are older, when the time comes for them to choose for themselves, because they have learned the language of faith and have built a firm foundation, it is much more likely that they will choose the Catholic faith for themselves.

Beware of Empty Arguments. Some say, “Let them decide as adults.” When an unbaptized child becomes an adult, it is much less likely the person will choose to become a baptized Catholic. Why? Because people rarely choose what they do not know or do not value. Please, do not be fooled. The Church’s teaching on infant baptism is on solid rock.

Continue reading...

‘To forgive, divine’

July 3, 2008

0 Comments

“The Forgiveness Book,”
by Alice Camille & Paul Boudreau

and

“The Power of Forgiveness,”
by Kenneth Briggs

Two very different approaches tackling the same subject isn’t unique. Two very different books tackling the same subject happens frequently.

But that authors tackle the same subject for the same reason — that a book on forgiveness has never been more needed — maybe that’s a message that the subject is not just interesting but vital.

Just over 100 pages long — counting the useful and worthwhile appendix — “The Forgiveness Book” is an easy read that offers countless good reasons for making a “divine” response when others err.

Camille, an award-winning writer and Father Boudreau, an oft-published priest-columnist, come at the rationale for forgiveness from an admittedly Catholic perspective. This is a little book laced with down-to-earth reasoning that explains significant theology in simple, easily understood language.

Alternatives no bargain
They acknowledge that forgiveness is “an ugly job,” but that “the alternative to forgiveness is far uglier: hardened hearts, broken relationships, memories full of shrapnel, and families or communities paralyzed and divided.”

If we don’t choose to forgive, we get trapped in the addictive pattern of condemnation, blaming, open hostility, self-righteousness, hidden resentment, cold anger, cynicism — the list goes on and on — and the one we do the most damage to is ourselves, because not to forgive “weighs us down, saps our energy, hurts our bodies and leaves us weary.”

There is a platitude or two of advice here, but most helpful is a brief, seven-point list of what forgiveness is — and what it is not. Importantly, the authors aren’t afraid to address the concept of sin, and do so in the healthy express of “missing the mark” in what we ought to be aiming at in our actions, decisions and relationships.

They stress that forgiveness is a choice, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation gets high marks as a structure that makes that choice easier.

Camille and Boudreau summarize their work well:

“Forgiveness is not just a thing nice people do. It’s not a tactic we might consider for personal improvement or to tidy up our spiritual lives. As the world we live in spirals toward greater feats of injustice, greed, violence and bigotry, the reasons to forgive mount astronomically. The cost of unforgiveness, too, becomes ever more apparent. . . . The human race must learn to forgive, to practice forgiveness, to choose it, to seek it, to value it, and to want it. That means each of us individually must do the same, because the whole world begins in the human heart.”

From film to print
Kenneth Briggs’ “The Power of Forgiveness” is based on a film by Martin Doblmeier and delves into the topic by looking at specific instances of forgiveness and analyzing them, then going several steps deeper.

The most recent, the murder spree that left five Amish schoolchildren dead and five wounded in a Pennsylvania classroom, is the opening to view forgiveness from the religious perspective. The most interesting portion of this was Briggs’ parsing of the idea that the Amish’ forgiveness of the madman murderer was “a spiritual reflex,” something the Amish learn “by watching parents and neighbors forgive and by looking at the example of Jesus.”

Several of the world’s religions get a similar analysis.

A section on the sociological perspective wonders if those who forgive may be healthier than those who don’t. Another chapter discusses how very difficult — even impossible — forgiveness can seem. There’s brief mention of the death penalty debate and the film “Dead Man Walking,” plus the complex grief of a mother of a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11, and even a few paragraphs that touch upon the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

The most interesting quote from that latter part?

“Somehow a refusal to pardon guilty priests provides a balance to years of having forgiven them too much. . . . For most lawyers fighting for huge cash settlements, forgiveness is unthinkable, even laughable.”

There’s much more, but let me recommend this book by quoting from one quoted in it, author and lecturer Marianne Williamson:

“At a time when we see so much evil, we are called upon . . . to stand for the possibility of human redemption that turns even the hardest of hearts.” — bz

Continue reading...