As far as texting goes, I am a relative newcomer. I use it primarily to stay in touch with my two children, thus accumulating no more than a half dozen messages, at most, a week. To boot, I spell all of my words correctly. This, as my son points out, reveals something about my age and generational status. I felt that gap widen when I learned recently that young adults between the ages of 18-29 send or receive an average of 87 text messages a day.
All of this came to mind as I presented a workshop in Evansville, Indiana, last week. I was invited to speak about the implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal and how catechetical leaders might prepare and inform catechists and parents. Since these changes are mainly around the responses and prayers used during the Mass, the importance of language comes into play.
Every day we use language to communicate with one another. Consider the everyday greetings we send out – via voice, text, email, and other means of communication. “How are you?” “Have a nice day.” “Take care.” “Be safe.” Untold numbers of greetings, reminders, cautions, admonitions, and well-wishes are exchanged on a continual basis between parents and children, wives and husbands, friends and acquaintances, co-workers and service providers. My children and I end almost every text message with the same words: “Love you.” It’s a simple way of exchanging a much larger expression of mutual care and affection. Words convey more than we know.
The same holds true for liturgical language. The words we use to greet, to bless, to consecrate, to anoint, and to initiate have deep importance. They form a sacred vocabulary that is best learned by heart – not in rote, meaningless fashion, but through repeated usage within the context of prayer and ritual. Like any well-crafted message, they convey much more than a few letters or words thrown together in casual fashion; they form us as a family of faith.
Initiate a conversation in your family or group about everyday language. Ask each person to name a message he or she is likely to say or send to a family member, friend, teammate, or co-worker to convey best wishes, support, and affection. Use this as a way to talk about the words we use for our liturgical celebrations, and what those words convey about our beliefs, dreams, and hopes.
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It feels like coming full circle. I have fond memories from childhood of reading booklets called “Little Lives of the Saints.” One page had a picture of the saint, usually with eyes upturned towards heaven, and the facing page featured a short biography. I must confess that I first turned to the saints holding palm branches – symbols of the martyrs. Reading about their gruesome deaths added an exciting dimension to the stories. My older sisters ramped this up a bit by enhancing the pictures with colored pencils. Some of the most aesthetic saints thus turned out looking pretty healthy, as my sisters added rouge to their cheeks and deepened the texture of their robes.
Now I am writing about the saints. Each grade level of the We Believe with Project Disciple series contains stories and information about various saints. Since many of these are limited to a paragraph, their extended biographies are posted on the We Believe web site. This accounts for my latest writing assignment – to complete the list and make the correlation with the series complete.
This past week, I wrote the story of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. He was a German priest who left his native country in order to come to the United States and minister to the huge influx of German immigrants. His work was cut out for him. During the mid-1800’s there were only 21 German priests to serve over 45,000 Catholics. His story is a simple one – he was a good and caring pastor, an excellent preacher, a compassionate confessor, and a servant to the poor. There are no palm branches in his portrait – no visions or extraordinary events in his life. Rather, he served God with quiet humility and tremendous grace.
I discovered a much more personal connection with his story, however, as I began to ponder the details. Father Seelos was assigned for several years to a parish in Pittsburgh. It was around the time my great-grandfather also emigrated from Germany to the U.S., settling in Titusville, Pennsylvania. I couldn’t help but wonder if the two men crossed paths. If so, it gives me a “first-degree” link with this holy man, and makes my latest writing assignment all the more meaningful.
I can’t say I gave much thought to flying on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. My mind was more focused on the talks I had just given in Tucson, Arizona, as part of a catechetical conference. While standing in line at the airport, however, the significance of the anniversary took hold. The security agents shut down the screening process and we joined with millions of people across the country in observing a moment of silence for those who died on that tragic day.
That evening I attended an interfaith service of remembrance, healing, and hope. It brought together Christians, Jews, and Muslims – the three historic Abrahamic faiths – to pray, to sing, and to listen to words from the sacred texts of each religious tradition. One speaker called upon us to not only remember what happened ten years ago, but to look ahead to what we, as people of faith, have to say to the world about healing, peace, and reconciliation. We were reminded that each of us is a drop of water, capable of joining with others to wear down mountains of injustice, indifference, prejudice, and hate. A bright full moon lit my way home. I had reached the close of a memorable day.
My time in Tucson was spent speaking to and with catechists who are dedicated to passing on their faith to the next generation. Bishop Kicanas spoke briefly but powerfully to his people, reminding them of the importance and beauty of their ministry, and the part they play in countering the forces of violence and destruction in the world. In many ways, he reiterated what I experienced in the evening prayer service – that, as drops of water we flow together as a mighty sea of compassion, justice, and unending grace.
September 11th has now been added to our list of days of remembrance. The fears and uncertainty that seized us in the days, weeks, months, and years since the attacks have abated somewhat, but the possibility of other horrendous acts of violence are never far from our national consciousness. What, then, do we, as people of faith, have to tell the world about healing and reconciliation? How will our collective efforts counter the terror, and restore the peace for which the world thirsts? What light guides us homeward and restores our hope?
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For the past few weeks, my husband and I have been enjoying locally-grown produce. It’s part of a cooperative in which we pay at the beginning of the year for a share of the season’s harvest. Each week, we then go to a designated spot in our neighborhood and pick up a box of fresh food. Not only is this a way to support local farms, but it also provides us with delicious fruits and vegetables throughout the summer and into the fall. It also engages us in an environmentally-friendly practice.
“Going green” is very much in vogue these days. We see hopeful signs of it in the plethora of recycling options, the use of fluorescent light bulbs in hotel rooms, and the environmental tips that pop up in magazines and television blurbs on a regular basis. It can be tempting to view all of this as a trend that, in time, will burn itself out. In truth, care for the natural environment is an essential element of the Catholic faith. One of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching, which calls us to work for justice and peace in the way of Christ, is care for the natural environment. Heeding this call means becoming stewards of creation, so as to protect the environment for future generations. Switching off an unnecessary light, recycling a newspaper, taking the bus, or buying produce from local farmers may seem like miniscule efforts amidst the complex environmental issues of our day. Each one is, in fact, a small act of stewardship. Taken together with others, such small contributions add up to a collective commitment that can make all the difference in our vast and beautiful world.
Bright Ideas – Involve your class or parish group in a “Go Green” event that includes prayer, fun activities, and other caring for God's creation.
When I received the invitation from the good people at Sadlier to write a catholic blog, I was enthusiastic. What better way to spend my time than writing about topics that matter most to me and addressed to people I care about? After discussing initial ideas with the designers, we came to a crucial question. What to call it? Suggestions flew back and forth in a flurry of emails. Some ideas were rejected upon learning that the domain name was already taken. Others were too long, too cutesy, or too nebulous. Then we hit on one that stilled the emails – We Believe And Share. Consensus came quickly.
The name gives this space a rationale. After all, a blog should be about something, shouldn’t it? And so, with the launching of We Believe And Share, let’s break open the name as a way to unveil its purpose.
WE. Passing on the faith is a communal process. It involves lots of people – parents and pastors, catechists and teachers, deacons and diocesan directors, catechetical, pastoral and youth ministry leaders, grandparents, godparents, and anyone interested in deepening their spiritual lives. So, I invite you to bookmark this page, pass it on to friends and colleagues, use it as a conversation starter for a class or committee meeting, and add your thoughts and comments. We are in this together.
BELIEVE. Despite our different roles, interests, needs, and concerns, what unites us is our faith in Jesus Christ. This faith grounds us and gives rise to far-reaching questions about mystery and wonder, pain and suffering, justice and mercy, and the workings of God in our homes, parishes, schools, neighborhoods, nation, and the world. Like my monthly column, From My Home to Yours, I will examine the link between faith and daily life, relationships, and current events. The beauty of the web is that such issues can be taken up in timely fashion. Therefore, I hope you will return to this page on a regular basis for inspiration and encouragement.
AND. There is a connection between believing and sharing. Each posting will offer concrete ideas for bridging the two in order to bring our faith into everyday encounters and experiences.
SHARE. There are pragmatic questions connected with passing on the faith. How do I hold the attention of a group of restless third-graders? Where do I look for resources on prayer? How do I answer a young person’s question about the latest national tragedy? Where can I find the latest information on the newly revised Roman Missal? Given the access we have to a plethora of information via the Internet, searching for answers to these and other questions can be overwhelming. I hope to lighten your burden by including a “bright idea” with each posting. This might be a prayer, an activity, or a discussion starter for the home, the classroom, the catechetical session, and the ministry meeting, as well as for your personal use.
So, here it is! I look forward to staying in touch each week as, together, we believe and share our faith.