40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #10 The Saints

“You Catholics are crazy! You  worship saints, and even worse, you worship statues of saints!!!”

First, let’s make one thing perfectly clear:  We don’t worship saints and we don’t worship statues.  That would be crazy.  We venerate saints.  According to Webster the word venerate means ” to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference.”   That is definitely not the same as worship.

So, who are these people we venerate?  What makes someone a saint?  Saints are people who exercise heroic virtue.  They are people we can emulate as we try to live holy lives.  A canonized saint is someone the Church has recognized officially as having met the qualifications for sainthood.  The Church doesn’t make anyone a saint.  The fact is that you and I know a lot of saints who will never be recognized by the Church, but who definitely meet all the qualifications for sainthood.  In fact, our goal as Christians is to live a saintly life.

Canonized saints are designated as patron saints based on their lives on earth.  For example, Saint Joseph is the patron of fathers and of workers.  Saint Francis is the patron of animals.  If you’re bothered by snakes, Saint Patrick is your man.

Your non-Catholic friends may tell you that you don’t need to pray to saints, that Jesus should be the focus of our prayers.  Guess what?  They’re right.  Jesus is the one we should be talking to.  Your patron saint can’t answer your prayers.

Let’s use this analogy.  When you have a particular need how often have friends and family promised to pray for you?  It happens all the time.  If it’s ok for my living friend to pray for me, why isn’t it ok for my friends in heaven to pray for me?  Saints can’t answer your prayers but they can sure pass them along to Jesus.  As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  And our friends, the saints, have Jesus’ ear.  Think about the Litany of the Saints.  After we name each saint we ask them to “pray for us”.

So, what about all those statues?  Aren’t we worshiping graven images which is against the Ten Commandments?  My church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis has forty five statues.  Once again, we don’t worship statues.  We use statues of the saints in the same way that we use pictures of our loved ones in our wallets, in our offices, or as wallpaper for our computers.  We don’t worship the piece of paper (or the computer screen), we use those images to remind us of the ones we love.  When we’re separated from them we may even take out their picture and talk to it.  “I love you.  I’ll be home soon.”

That’s what we do with statues.  They exist as reminders of the ones we love, the saints.

Having thousands of friends in heaven to pray for us is definitely one of the ten coolest things about being Catholic.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #11 The Early Church Fathers

Let’s face it, Jesus lived a long time ago, more than 2,000 years to be exact.  The writers of the New Testament did a great job of telling us about the life and times of our Savior.  But they could only do so much.  In the Bible that I use most of the time, the New Testament is just about 400 pages long.  Keeping in mind that many of the Gospel stories are repeated by the four Gospel writers, that’s not much space to tell us the whole story.  One of my favorite authors, Tom Clancy, writes huge novels, some over 900 pages, and the stories take place over a few weeks.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters will tell us that the Bible is all we need.  It’s called sola scriptura, the Scriptures alone.  But, we don’t agree.  There were just too many events in Jesus life (and the time immediately after His death and resurrection) that aren’t in the Scriptures.  So, where do we turn for the whole picture.  The Catholic Church believes that many men who wrote about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection who are not included in the Canon of Scripture are authoritative as well.  These men are called the Early Church Fathers.

Chances are you’ve never heard of many of these writers.  Here’s a link to a listing of the fathers along with some of their writings.  Some you’ve probably heard of are Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the GreatSaint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Jerome, Saint John Chrysostom (the patron saint of preachers.  His homilies are brilliant.), Saint Justin Martyr, and Saint Leo the Great. Every Church Father isn’t a saint though many of them were.

The earliest Fathers are called Apostolic Fathers because they were taught by the twelve Apostles.   For example, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who lived during the first century and was taught by John, wrote on the Eucharist among other things.  His is the first known writing that refers to the “Catholic Church.”  Remember, he is believed to have died around the year 100.  He wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.  — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.

The perpetual virginity of Mary isn’t clearly spelled out in Scripture, thus the sola scriptura crowd don’t believe in it.  But Saint Jerome defined it very clearly in 383.  Again, I could go on for several pages about the Fathers and what they wrote, but I’ll just say that the Catholic Church teaches, and rightly so, that everything we need to know to be faithful Catholics wasn’t written in the New Testament.  In his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul wrote, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”.

Some things were so well known, so widely accepted, that the New Testament authors just never wrote them down.  Thankfully we have the Early Church Fathers who did write them down and those writings still exist today.

It’s worth mentioning that in the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, one hour is called “The Office of Readings”.  There are two readings each day, one from Scripture and one from the Church Fathers.  Granted, these writings have been translated into English from their original language, but it’s really remarkable how contemporary they seem to 21st century readers.

The Church Fathers were cool!  The put pen to paper and provided us with a rich tapestry of our Catholic faith.  Even cooler, all of these writings are in the public domain.  Follow the links in this post and drill down to find some great reading.

Beginning tomorrow, my Top 10 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #18 Saint Joseph


Saint Joseph

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin.  Like many Catholic men, Saint Joseph is my hero.  Here’s a man who was the step-father of the Son of God yet we don’t know a single word he ever said. We don’t even know when he died.  The last reference we have to him in scripture is the incident where he and Mary found Jesus in the temple when He was still a young boy.  Yet he was a key player in our salvation.  Without Joseph’s participation God’s plan for our salvation would have come to a screeching halt.  We don’t know how old he was at the time he took Mary as his wife though legend has it that he was an older man.

One thing we know is that he had tremendous faith.  He accepted God’s call.  He accepted Mary’s explanation of her pregnancy.  He agreed to allow Mary to remain a virgin, even after their marriage.  At the angel’s command, he abandoned what we assume to be a successful carpentry business and move his family to Egypt.  Then, after he must have restarted his business there, the angel came again and told him to move back to Nazareth.

When the child was left behind in the temple, he helped Mary search for him, and when they found Him, what did Jesus say?  “Didn’t you know I must be in my FATHER’S house?”  How painful must that have been for him?  Yet, he followed his calling and did everything he could do to raise God’s son.  As his human role model, Joseph taught Jesus how to be a man.

When I think of Jesus, I’m reminded of my late father-in-law.  He was a devout Catholic but he didn’t make a big deal out of it.  He did what he thought God wanted him to do in a simple, humble way.  If he had been born a generation later, Harold would have made a much better deacon than his son-in-law.  He lived his faith and, as Saint Francis said, he preached the Gospel every single day without using words.

In spite of what the media and anti-Catholic pundits would like us to believe, the Catholic Church is not dominated by men.  Granted the ordained leadership is male-only, as Jesus wants it to be.  But take a look around you on Sunday at mass.  Women are in the majority.  Our society makes it much more difficult for a man to be a devout Catholic.  It’s just not “manly”, especially in the United States.

One example, and it may not be particularly insightful but it’s still a common occurrence, would be professional sports.  Catholic athletes from other countries, particularly those from Latin America, regularly make the sign of the cross before stepping into the batters box in baseball, and when they’ve had a successful at-bat.  Hispanic goal keepers kiss the goal posts and cross themselves before every game.  But, when was the last time you saw an Anglo-American do the same thing?  Not often.

We men are very blessed to have Joseph as our spiritual role model.  He may not have said anything that the Gospel writers felt was worth writing down, but his actions spoke volumes.

So, here’s to you, Saint Joseph, on your feast day.  You answered God’s call.  You suffered much hardship and raised God’s son to be a man.  You went about your faith and your business with quiet dignity.  Thank you for your example.  It couldn’t have been easy to be you.  Being the only member of the household who was capable of committing sin must have been quite a challenge. Whenever anything went wrong, it had to be your fault.

Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and mentor to the Son of God, thank you for showing all of us what it really means to be cool!

40 Reason’s Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #20 Saint Patrick

I arise todayThrough God’s strength to pilot me:

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save meFrom snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

rom everyone who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,Alone and in multitude.

From the Breastplate of Saint Patrick

Surprisingly we don’t know a whole lot about the patron Saint of Ireland.  We know he died on March 17, around the year 460.  Patrick was not Irish.  He was English.  His father was a deacon, but according to the History Channel, he probably assumed the role of deacon to obtain certain tax breaks.  (Click on the History Channel link for links to some other cool Saint Patrick sites.)

As a teenager Patrick was taken prisoner by the Irish and spent six years in Ireland herding sheep.  During his captivity he became a devout Christian.  (He could talk to God or he could talk to sheep.  Clearly he made the right choice.)  He escaped his captors and returned to England where a voice told him to return to Ireland and convert the Irish to Christianity.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Since the natives tended to worship the sun, Patrick combined the symbol of the sun with the Christian cross, creating the famous Celtic Cross.   (That’s a Celtic cross in the right hand column of the blog–>).  Using his knowledge of the Irish language and local customs, he was able to convert huge numbers of Irish.

Today, Irish and would-be Irish all over the world celebrate March 17.  Some even celebrate the day as a Catholic holy day.  No doubt Patrick would be scandalized to see what some people do to celebrate his feast day.  Drinking, especially Guinness and Irish whiskey, carousing, overeating “Irish” food (Corned-beef and cabbage is an American invention), and other activities many people associate with the Saint would cause Patrick to shake his head in disbelief.

But I guess the fact that a saint who passed from this world more than 1,500 years ago gains so much attention, some of it possibly religious in nature, can’t be all bad.  Personally, I’ll go to the Paddy’s Day parade, raise a glass or two, and enjoy the other trappings of the day.  I’ll also bow my head and give thanks to the young man who converted an entire nation to Catholicism.  I’ll enjoy my Irish heritage knowing that few other men in history have left a legacy that’s lasted so long, and makes so many people pretend to be Irish, no matter where they come from.

In fact, if you read yesterday’s post, you know that Catholicism would have faded away during the Dark Ages if it hadn’t been for Irish monks.  Consider this:  If it hadn’t been for Saint Patrick there would have been no Irish monks.  No Irish monks—no European civilization.  Ne European civilization–no Catholic Church.

Saint Patrick was a cool guy, no matter what your ethnic heritage.

NOT Saint Patrick

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic-#21 The Irish Monks Saved Western Civilization

Page from the Book of Kells

As we approach the biggest day of the year for Irish Catholics (and Irish protestants too) it’s good to give the monks of the Emerald Isle credit for saving Catholic and secular civilization way back in the sixth century.  For a detailed description of these events, Thomas Cahill‘s excellent book, How the Irish Saved Civilization is a wonderful resource.  This post only skims the surface.

The early Irish were fascinated with letters.  Since they were poor people, they would often borrow great books and then painstakingly copy them, letter by letter; word by word.  They would combine Greek and Roman alphabets with their own Ogham alphabet to create books that were also works of art.  Any visit to Dublin should include a trip to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, a hand-copied book of Scriptures, created around 800.

Monks living in monasteries all over Ireland, as well as several on islands off the Irish shore spent their days copying the great works of European literature.

As the barbarians overran continental Europe, the Irish monks were minding their own business, copying everything they could get their hands on. In the process of conquering the Continent, the barbarians destroyed the literature of the past.  The past was obliterated, except on that tiny island in the North Sea.

To make a long story short, the barbarians couldn’t be bothered conquering a small, desolate island like Ireland, so the literature of Greece and Rome lived on in the monk’s libraries.  While the continent suffered through the “Dark Ages”, the Irish were keeping the candle lit and would bring the light back to the Continent, possibly flavored with a little Irish wit and humor.

The “White Martyrs”, so named because they sailed off into the white horizon never to return, would replant the seeds of ancient civilization in the many monasteries they founded all over Europe, even as far south as present-day Italy.  So, when we read the ancient works of the great Greek and Roman writers, we have to assume that the Irish monks copied them exactly as written.  But who knows, since they all passed through Irish hands, there might be just a little bit of blarney here and there.

It’s cool the the Irish Catholic monks of the Emerald Isle kept this great literature alive, especially if you happen to be a descendant of the Auld Sod yourself.  And this weekend, who isn’t?

Tomorrow:  What do you think?

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be a Catholic #32 Daily Mass

For the time being I’m going to take it for granted that Mass is cool.  We’ll get into why as we work our way up this top 40 list.  For now, let’s just say that the Mass, especially the reception of the Eucharist, is the heart and soul of our Catholic faith.  If Mass is cool, then being able to go to Mass every day is extra cool.

It wasn’t always possible to attend Mass on a weekday.  The early Church celebrated Mass only on Sundays and Holy Days.  It wasn’t until about 700 AD that daily mass was widely available.  For example, it’s believed that Saint Monica, who lived in the 4th Century, attended strangers’ funerals so she could partake of the Eucharist every day as she was prayed for her son Saint Augustine’s conversion

While we may not go to Mass everyday, isn’t it awesome that we can if we want to?  In most cities you can find a church or chapel where you can attend Mass at almost any time of day; in the morning, at lunch time, or even in the evening.  We can even attend daily Mass at Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions.

Some of our protestant brothers and sisters are able to attend services on days other than Sunday, (When I was growing up in the Baptist tradition, we went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays).  But we not only have the opportunity to worship God in church every single day, we can also receive the Body and Blood of Christ on days other than Sunday.

We may choose to attend Mass every day or we may not.

But, being able to receive the Eucharist seven days a week is really cool.

 

First Wednesday of Advent–Saint Andrew

 


A quick word-association:  What do you think of when you hear Saint Andrew‘s name.  Hopefully you think “Apostle” or “martyr”, buy if you’re like me you probably think “Simon’s brother”.  Even the Ordo, the Church’s book of daily prayers, mass readings, and other helpful stuff for clergy says “Andrew, + 1st c.; brother of Simon Peter“.

 

We  can learn a lot from Andrew.  All of us live in someone’s shadow.  Whether it be a spouse or a sibling, someone in school or someone at work, there always seems to be someone who gets more recognition, more respect than we do, at least in our own minds.  Think of Andrew.  He’s the one who brought Simon to Jesus.  Yet, Jesus always seemed to favor Simon in spite of the fact that he was constantly messing things up.  It was Simon who Jesus called “Satan”.  It was Simon who cut off the centurion’s ear.  It was Simon who denied Jesus three times.  In spite of all his failings, it was Simon who Jesus put in charge of His new church.

What about Andrew?  He did his job.  He spread the Gospel just as Jesus had called him to do.  And he suffered a martyr’s death.  Twenty centuries later we remember Andrew, but primarily as Simon Peter’s brother.

It’s appropriate that Andrew’s feast day falls within Advent.  As we pray and reflect in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s birth we can compare Andrew’s life with our own.  Who are the Simon Peters in your life?  More important, how do you interact with them?  Are you jealous or are you glad to have them in your life?  Are they positive role models?

Like I said yesterday, God made each of us to be unique individuals.  Rather than envy someone else’s accomplishments, embrace them and learn what you can from them to make yourself a better you.  I have four grown-up children.  Each of them is a unique individual.  Each one excels in different things.  I’m sure that at one time or another they’ve all felt like they were living in one another’s shadows.  But the reality is that each one is the wind beneath the others’ wings.

Today’s challenge is to think about the people in your life who seem to get all the attention.  What can you learn from them?  More important, how can you use the gifts God has given you to be a better “you” instead of an imitation “them”.

After 2,000 years we may think of Andrew as Simon Peter’s brother, but the thing is we’re still thinking about him.