Catechesis

Teaching the Cardinal Virtues: All Fun, No Fuss

I am currently preparing to speak on two topics at a diocesan conference for the first time, ever! I’m a giddy mess of facts, anecdotes, and random tidbits of far-flung Church teachings that I am organizing as a coherent narrative for my audience. Oh, and one of the two topics is that perennial favorite: Catholic morality.

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My talk on morality is centered around conscience formation, and of course the cardinal virtues make an appearance. As I collected my thoughts and random points of doctrine and Scripture, I came up with a fun way to help students of all ages remember the cardinal virtues AND connect them to the 1st Commandment as found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and repeated by Christ in Luke 10:27; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”

To help students remember the cardinal virtues, have them stand up straight with their arms out from their sides (like a cross). Point at each of the following as you explain: prudence is your head, where you reason out what brings you closer to or farther from God. Justice is at your chest, the “seat” of your soul which communicates God’s image and likeness. Fortitude is your feet, for it takes courage to take a step in the right direction. Temperance is your arms, which embrace what is good and push away what is not.

And how does that connect to the first of the Greatest Commandments? Fortitude, the heart: “Lord don’t let my heart fail me now.” Justice, the soul. Temperance, your strength to say “yes” to God and “no” to sin. And prudence, your mind.

What do you think of this little mnemonic? I see it being a fun way to get students of all ages engaged in Scripture, theology and practical morality without it being too heavy or boring, or having it be forgotten in a month. If you try this out, please let me know how it works for you!

Faith and Life

New Theories and Old Traditions

 

In the protective recesses of Yale’s museum is an ancient fresco fragment. To the average eye it is humble in appearance: the outline of a woman, bending down to what seems like a well. The long-held belief, logically, is that the fresco depicts the Samaritan woman at the Well, from the Gospel of John, Chapter 4.

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This simple fragment has been at Yale for decades, but is having a renewed moment in the spotlight because researcher Michael Peppard is proposing a new interpretation of this work of art: the fresco is not the Samaritan woman, but Mary at the Annunciation!

If you are at all familiar with the Lukan version of the Annunciation, you are already saying to me, “but Melissa, there is no well in the story. This guy is off his rocker!”

And you would be correct, if Mr. Peppard was not basing his theory off of another ancient text: the Protoevangelium of James. The Protoevangelium of James is a popular work testifying to Mary’s holy beginnings, upbringing, and early time with Joseph. It is a bold move on Mr. Peppard’s part to use this text since it is apocryphal, but not completely out of turn. The Protoevangelium of James is alluded to by Ss. Jerome and Justin Martyr, among other early Church luminaries, and continues to leave an impression on Catholic tradition and Her liturgical calendar. It may not be far off to say that the only reason the text remains apocryphal is because despite it’s lack of heretical over-or-undertones it never gained the universal traction and approbation that the canonical books did.

But you know one place where the Protoevangelium of James would have been very popular? In Syria, where James the Lesser (as far as scholars can tell) is believed to have preached after Pentecost! And this fresco fragment happens to be an artifact from Dura-Europos, a border settlement on the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria.

Aleteia featured the endangered site of Dura-Europos and Peppard’s fresco interpretation, and besides being a sucker for all things archaeology and Church history, I was struck by a bit of background information that the article offered:

The wall painting was taken from the small baptistery of the 3rd-century house church. Christians had met for liturgical celebrations there before Constantine allowed Christianity to be practiced openly, said a 2014 article at Vatican Insider:

The church in Dura-Europos kept its function as a private house on the top floor; but on the ground floor, around 230 A.D., a small room containing no more than 60 people became a Christian place of worship. The frescoes on the walls prove this; there are the first known representations of the Good Shepherd, the healing of the paralytic and Jesus walking on the waters with Peter. It is worth remembering that the very idea of a church separate from private houses could exist only after the 313 A.D. edict, through which the Emperor Constantine recognized Christians’ freedom of religion.

It is worth remembering that the very idea of a church separate from private houses could only exist after the 313 A.D. edict…” Wait, what? In the early Church, churches were…domestic? Who would have ever thought of a domestic Church?

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Sadly, the reality we often forget about the early Church is that it did not have the luxury of material ability to put the boundless love of God on radiant display as in later centuries. In fact, the treasury of stone, marble, stained glass, art, and ornamentation that many of us take for granted, or take as the epitome of faithful expression, is really just the Catholic version of Solomon’s Second Temple. And that is okay!

But the reminder that the Church began, survived, grew, and conquered within the home is much-needed today. Saint John Paul II re-proposed the Domestic Church to the world, and started a frenzy. The simple Well-woman fresco, having yet another moment to evangelize to those who have the courage to hear, is also re-proposing the domestic Church but in a very specific and simple way: bring back the practice of sacred spaces in the home!

I know many people who already do this, but I know many more who don’t. I’ve wanted to set up a sacred space in our home for a while, but it just hasn’t happened yet. When we move to O’ahu in June, planning what wall gets to be our sacred space is #1 on my list.

A sacred space (a Holy Hot-Spot? called it!) is a single location in your home that you designate as a center for prayer, meditation, and a frequent visual reminder to keep Christ front and center in your life (and the life of your family). Like the home-Church in Duro-Europa, pictures and icons that speak to you and your family should decorate the area. A crucifix is a must, as is Scripture and a selection of prayers and other devotionals. Statues are always good, especially to hold your rosaries. Candles, smells, and bells are at your pleasure; add a holy water bottle and you are set! Really, just take an afternoon to browse Monastery Icons and go nuts.

Most importantly, gather your family around your Holy Hot-Spot daily. Pray, read, or just talk about your day, but do it at that sacred place in your home. Invite your parish priest over for dinner and ask him to bless the area. Use it well, and share it with others. A time is coming, as it was in the beginning, where the Church may only be allowed behind the doors of our homes. And that is okay too. It worked the first time, didn’t it?

 

Faith and Life

God Bless the C/E-ers!

Happy Easter!

Christ is Risen

It’s that wonderful moment in the Liturgical year where churches around the US see members come out of the woodwork and actually go…to…church. Yay! Yay?

For those of us whose butts are in the pews every week, Easter and Christmas are probably considered the most frustrating times of the year. It’s a reminder of how seriously most people aren’t taking their faith, and how much we, the weekly warriors, are depended on to keep the parish or church community alive. If memory serves, less than 20% of a parish’s registered families provide over 80% of the time/talent/treasure needed to keep the lights on, the CCD program running, and the roof from falling in. In a boon year, we get excited that there may finally be enough to fix the A/C!

But what if we weekly warriors took a step back and reevaluated the value of a once- or twice-a-year church attendee? Consider this:

(1) They are at church! Right now! Who cares why, or what their rationale is for being there on this particular day and no other. Catholics believe that every human person conceived has until the moment of death to reconcile with God, and every moment we have is an opportunity. And what better moment to give God an opportunity to work His miracles than in church on Easter?

(2) If you only have one chance to be a Christian witness to someone, how would you do? Those who attend church once or twice a year offer us an incredible opportunity to evaluate how authentically we witness to our faith. Do we go to church every week and worship like it’s the last time before we die and face eternity? Do we first seek out the image and likeness of God in every person we see, including that gorgeous soul in the mirror? Do our yeses mean yes, and our no’s mean no? In short, are we habitually living and loving in a manner that resonates with others and creates an access point for the Holy Spirit after just one encounter?

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(3) Many of the encounters we read about in the New Testament are one-on-one, and are not repeated. We never hear about the Samaritan woman from the well again, or Zacchaeus, or any of the lepers, the blind, or the suffering souls who reach out to Jesus for healing. We, as Jesus likely did, only have one experience with these people before they return to their corner of the world.

Could it be that the one or two Sundays a year where weekly warriors and C/E-ers collide at church is everyone’s chance to be authentic, active participants in the Gospel, just like we read in Scripture?

We do read Scripture regularly…right? ; )

Simple Things

Return

Over the last two years I stepped away from this baby to do some incredible things. Crazy things. Overwhelming and insanely rewarding things.

And yet, just like that, I find myself called back here.

Today is Good Friday, a day where we must face the fact that if we choose to follow God we will go in some strange and sometimes uncomfortable (to say the least!) directions. But, oh man, what a journey, and what a destination we have to look forward to!

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The Veneration of Saints is About Humility, not Humiliation

Catholic stereotypes, at least the ones I’m familiar with, focus on the negative. Guilt. Sin. Damnation. Exclusion. Superiority. To my surprise, Catholic saints somehow became harbingers of these negative messages. At least, that’s how they are viewed by many more people that I expected. No, let me be clear. I never expected the saints to be viewed in such a manner. But they are, because of a misunderstanding of what it means to venerate these holy people.

I remember a phase one of my younger sisters went through many years ago. I don’t remember the trigger, but one day we come to hear that she was embracing a life of austerity in imitation of the saints. I believe there were particular saints she had in mind, but I don’t remember. She took to wearing a home-made habit, read the lives of the saints, and was ruthless in the rejection of all that she deemed un-saintly. Not only in herself, but in everyone around her. For the sake of a clear example, let’s say that the saint she focused on the most was St. Theresa the Little Flower. During this phase my sister tried desperately to become The Little Flower. She was rejecting who she was as a person and trying to turn into someone else.

For whatever reason, some Catholics and many non-Catholics have the idea that the saints are placed on a pedestal to mock our sinfulness, our weak nature, our mediocrity. They are the ones who got it right, and if we want to get it right we have to write our own Summa or embrace glorious martyrdom. Go big, or go to Hell. I have no idea where this came from, but this is the farthest thing from what the saints, and our practice of venerating them, is about.

Saints are saints for one reason. They embraced God’s will for their life. Simple as that. Some people are called by God to do big things, and God provides the tools for them to accomplish their earthly mission. Not everyone is called to do something splashy. One of my favorite saints is Adelaide of Burgundy. She is a saint because she was a faithful and loving wife and mother, and used her vast wealth to help the poor and build monasteries. That’s it. What she had, she used for God.

Sainthood is about humility. Saints humble themselves, acknowledging that who they are and what they have to offer rightly goes to God first. Saints serve God, not themselves. This is why we venerate them. They are faithful to God above themselves, and because of it produce beautiful fruit.

The saints are meant to inspire us to fulfill the potential God placed in us.  We are all given a mission, and our bodies and souls are equipped from the moment of conception to fulfill our unique mission in life. It’s not easy, but it wasn’t easy for the heavy-hitters either. Augustine struggled for decades. Aquinas was called an “ox” in his youth. Jerome was a curmudgeon. Theresa of Avila had “strong leadership qualities”. Many of the saints had debilitating illnesses. We look to these holy people to help us see how our strengths and our weaknesses can be used for God. And then we pray to these same people to support us from heaven. Pray to Jesus for us, St. Monica, that we may be patient with our children. Pray to Jesus for us, St. Francis deSales, that we may accept people where they are on life’s journey. With the saints, through veneration and prayer, we become humble. Through humility we can see God’s will, hear His voice, and become saints ourselves.