Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Ordinary" Time?

The longest period in the Church’s liturgical year is the second period of Ordinary Time, and boy, does it feel like it this time of year.  When we get to the thirtieth, thirty-first, thirty-second, and thirty-third Sundays in Ordinary Time, it can start to feel like we’ll never get out of the doldrums of plain old Ordinary Time.

But Ordinary Time isn’t called “ordinary” because there isn’t anything special about it.  It is called “ordinary” in the sense that we are ordering our weeks (with ordinal numbers).  We are counting the weeks until we enter a special season of the church such as Advent when we prepare for Christmas, or Lent when we prepare for Easter.

So, how do we make Ordinary Time feel less ordinary?  Treat it like a journey.  The Gospel readings during Ordinary Time often tell us of Jesus’ public ministry, the places he preached about the Kingdom of God, and the reasons why God the Father sent His Son into the world.  They tell us, most notably, the parables that Jesus used to convey truths about His Father’s Kingdom.

God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows that we need ideas we can relate to in order to understand just a little bit what the Kingdom of Heaven is.  So Jesus uses comparative language:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”  Through Jesus, God speaks to us, even today, in terms we can understand.

If we treat Ordinary Time as a journey to discover the truth about God’s Kingdom, we are in essence walking a journey of faith.  Be mindful of this journey as we take the last few steps in the coming weeks.  Journeys can often be transformative.  How will you allow God to change you in these last few weeks leading up to Advent?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Christian Roots of Halloween

Today is Halloween.  As with many things in our culture today, many people – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – tend to view Halloween as a secular holiday.  This is unsurprising given the amount of commercialization surrounding the day.  Very few realize that Halloween has its roots in Christian tradition.

The word “Halloween” itself comes from All Hallow’s Eve, meaning the Eve of All Saints, the day before All Saints Day.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not a “Christianization” of the pagan celebration of Samhain, though there are some similarities.  The Celts believed that spirits of the dead rose on this night because it was when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinnest.  In medieval England, some of the traditions of Samhain might have been incorporated into celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve, such as leaving out offerings to the spirits of the dead.  This is similar to Dia de los Muertos traditions in Latin America, which of course is a celebration related to All Souls Day, celebrated on November 2nd.

Further, European medieval tradition would have people dressing up in scary costumes to ward off evil spirits.  Few people realize this today.  Now secular culture emphasizes trying to scare each other rather than some supernatural beings.

Some Catholics have tried to “reclaim” Halloween, dressing up as Saints or other religious figures rather than scary monsters.  In fact, I recall times when Halloween fell on a Sunday when children in our parish religious education classes were encouraged to do this for the holiday.  Other Christians might not allow their children to participate in Halloween activities because they view it as satanic. 

I favor a more “middle of the road” approach.  I have never been a huge fan of dressing up simply to scare other people.  Nor am I of the opinion that people should boycott Halloween.  Let your kids have fun.  Let them participate in the parades, trick-or-treating (or trunk-or-treating), and pumpkin carving.  Let them be kids.  Then you can choose if you would like to explain what Halloween was originally and how that relates to the ways in which we celebrate it.  And remember, tomorrow is a Holy Day of Obligation!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Good and Bad Distractions

What draws your focus the most during the day?  For some, it could be their job.  For others, it could be their children.  For others, it could be some external form of stimulus, such as a cell phone, or social media, or something else entirely.  Some things that draw our focus are good.  Mihály Csikszentmihályi, a psychologist, came up with the idea of cognitive “flow”.  When one is in a state of flow, one becomes absorbed in an activity to the point of losing track of the passage of time.  For example, if you have ever read a really good book, and glanced at the clock to realize several hours had gone by and you hadn’t noticed, you might have been in a state of flow.

It’s great if you can achieve this state when you are working on a particularly important project, either for work or for pleasure.  It is less helpful if you happen to get into a state of flow with something which is a distraction from more important things you need to do.

At first glance, the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, can seem to disrupt the “flow” of a day.  It can seem like a distraction to have to think about praying every few hours.  But, when viewed differently, the Liturgy of the Hours can be a necessary “reset button”.  When the day isn’t going quite how you expected for whatever reason, taking a few moments or minutes to re-center yourself with prayer can actually save you time in the long run.

The “Hours” of the Liturgy of the Hours are morning prayer (lauds), mid-morning prayer (terce), mid-day prayer (sext), mid-afternoon prayer (none), evening prayer (vespers), night prayer (compline), and the Office of Readings (which can be said at any time throughout the day).  For laity, joining in with praying the Liturgy of the Hours does not have to be an all or nothing venture.  The more principle of the hours are morning and evening prayer.  They are a good place to start. 

Priests and other religious men and women commit to praying the Liturgy of the Hours each day.  When we as the laity join our prayers with theirs, the Church as a whole is stronger.  Over time, you may start to feel as if you are missing something when you don’t get a chance to pray.  And, what may have seemed like a distraction at first can help you avoid other less helpful distractions in the future.

If you would like to start praying the Liturgy of the Hours, there are several options:  You could invest in a Breviary, if you prefer a physical book.  If you would prefer a website or an app for your phone there’s iBreviary (free app available) or Universalis (free on the web, or a one-time fee paid app).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Do I Have to Believe That?

Do I have to believe that?

It’s a question we may have to contend with in our own lives and also one that comes up in RCIA sessions for those discerning whether they are ready to become Catholic.  During the first half of our sessions here at Saint Ambrose, we tackle the basic beliefs of the Catholic Church throughout a unit which the Symbolon program calls “Knowing the Faith.”  What’s nice about Symbolon is that it takes a catechism-based approach, and the first unit is centered on the Creed.

I heard a story once of a Catholic boy participating in Boy Scouts with his neighborhood troop, which was predominantly LDS.  During one scout meeting, he was asked to “bear his testimony.”  The boy thought about it, and then stood up and recited the Nicene Creed.  The Creed (Nicene or Apostle’s) is a condensed but nonetheless complete statement of our basic beliefs as Catholics.  If there are parts of the Creed one does not agree with or one has issues with, perhaps the Catholic faith is not for you.

This isn’t to say that religion itself is not for you.  Plenty of religious denominations share core beliefs with Catholicism but differ on some key points.  For instance, in 1054, the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church over one word (in Latin) or phrase (in English) in the Creed regarding the Holy Spirit:  qui ex patre filioque procedit – who proceeds from the father and the son.  It may seem trivial to have such a big disagreement over one Latin word (or English phrase), but if it affects belief significantly enough, it may be justified.

After Christmas in RCIA, as we approach Easter, our focus shifts to Living the Faith.  How do we put into action the beliefs that we hold?  Throughout the RCIA process, it is important for those participating to engage in discernment – deciding what their beliefs are and if they match the beliefs of the Catholic Church.  It is important for them to do so, because this is a major life decision they are making.  We on the RCIA team emphasize to the participants that the Catholic Church has held beliefs for centuries, and we as Catholic faithful, hold these same beliefs today.  We do not change beliefs because it is trendy or culturally acceptable.  We may adapt to changing times, but we apply our beliefs to changing situations.  As the Serenity Prayer states:  Lord, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Today is my brother’s birthday.  We don’t tend to make a huge deal of birthdays in my family, but this is one of the big “milestone” birthdays.  His girlfriend threw him a party on Monday night, and we are celebrating tonight and next week.  It got me thinking about milestones in our spiritual lives.  We tend to celebrate at weddings, whether they be church weddings or more secular events.  But do we celebrate other “milestone” sacraments?

Of course, there are some sacraments that seem to make more sense to attach celebrations to:  the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, First Eucharist, and Confirmation) and Matrimony or Holy Orders.  These are definitive milestones in our lives.  We become members of God’s family.  We receive Jesus for the first time in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.  We are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  We join ourselves to another, or we make a commitment to serve God as a priest or religious brother or sister.  These are causes for joy. 

It may not make sense to celebrate a “first confession” or an anointing of the sick, since those are typically more solemn sacraments, but there could be an element of celebration to them.  When a person goes to confession for the first time, he or she is restored to right relationship with God.  Isn’t that worthy of celebration? 

The sacrament of anointing of the sick is meant to give consolation and strength to those who are ill.  In this case, a celebration might be going “too far”, but we could still give thanks that God is with us in our trials.  And certainly, in the case of Last Rites, when the dying person receives the sacraments for the last time, we could celebrate that they are now ready to go to God.  Perhaps we don’t think of it as celebrating when we gather for a funeral, but part of a Catholic funeral liturgy is giving thanks to God for the life of the person who has passed away and praying for his or her soul.

Have you celebrated milestone sacraments in your life or your children’s lives?  How?  How could you incorporate a sense of celebration to other times of receiving sacraments?

Friday, October 4, 2019


Some Saints are easier to relate to than others.  One of the more popular Saints, which the universal Church recognizes is Saint Francis of Assisi.  Many people love Francis for his devotion to animals and for his work with the poor.  There are prayers and songs attributed to Francis (whether correctly or not), which are much beloved.  Maybe it is because Francis was a member of multiple social classes throughout his life.  He appeals to the well-to-do as a model of charity, and he appeals to the lower classes because of that charity, and because he took a vow of poverty later in his life, living as one of them.

Today there are religious orders for both men and women who follow a Franciscan spirituality, but you don't have to belong to one of these orders to emulate their lifestyles.  Francis stands for us all as a model of Christian living.  It is good, therefore, that he is so relatable.  Let us strive to live as Francis did.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Give Us A Chance

A new group of RCIA inquirers has begun meeting here at Saint Ambrose on Tuesday nights.  We call the first “stage” of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) the inquiry stage because at this point, those who are participating in the process are checking out the Catholic Church.  They are deciding if this is a good fit for them, if this is what is right for them at this stage of their faith journey.

At this point, the inquirers are giving us a chance.  Obviously, we want to put our best foot forward.  We want to show the best side of the Catholic Church and why it is a great “place” to call “home” (even though the Church with a capital C is much more than just the physical building).  This can be tricky, especially given the events and scandals of recent months and years.  But as one of our newly baptized Catholics who received the sacraments at the Easter Vigil in April said to us at about this time last year, the Church is more than the actions of some of its priests.

Our inquirers have taken the first step.  They are giving us a chance.  And whether the average parishioner in the pew realizes it or not, the entire parish is a participant in forming each new potential member of the Catholic Church.

Help us help them give us a chance, and put our best foot forward.