To be a Catholic is to hold certain beliefs. We need to understand, claim and celebrate our Catholic identity.

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Ours Is a 'We' Religion
By Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

One reason I am a Catholic is because Catholicism is a healthy corrective to the way I would prefer to live and pray. Catholicism is a —we— religion. It is essentially about community.

Why do I consider Catholicism a healthy corrective? Let me offer an example. Three times a week I get up and go to the gym for aerobics class. When the alarm goes off in the morning I—d much rather stay in bed for another hour, but I know—deep down I am convinced—that even though I don—t like it, exercise is more healthy than sitting in front of the computer all day, typing with one hand and eating with the other. And just as the gym is a wise antidote to my inactivity and overeating, Catholicism is a healthy corrective for my American individualism.

There are many wonderful things about living in America. But besides being the land of the free and the home of the brave, America is also the land of the —Lone Ranger.— We Americans love our individual freedom and independence—not only in the way we live but also in the way we pray and in the way we worship God.

Studies show that Americans in general, regardless of their religious denomination, like to be independent in their religious beliefs: I decide what I want to believe, and I decide how and when to pray. Identifying with an established religious denomination (Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.) is not important for most Americans, who tend to move easily from one church to another. Conversion and salvation are understood as deeply personal, individual experiences. —Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,/That saved a wretch like me!/I once was lost, but now am found;/Was blind but now I see.— Yes, —American religion— is about —I,— —me— and —my.—

Community: The Heart of It

The Catholic religion is a healthy corrective to the excessive individualism of —American religion— because Catholic identity is essentially a collective identity.— All of our official Catholic prayers are first person plural: —we,— —us— and —our.— At Mass we pray: —Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord....Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit....Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ— (Eucharistic Prayer III).

All of our official liturgical prayers are the prayers of the whole Church community. They are the prayers of the Body of Christ, both head and members, addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Family and community are at the heart of our Catholic identity because the very God we worship is a triune community of life and love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The principal petition at every Eucharist is not for some individual gift of grace but for the gift of unity, the grace to become one body, one spirit in Christ. We pray that we become family, that we become community, that we become Church.

Jesus— Mission—and Ours

As Christ—s Body the Church, we—all of us together—are to continue Christ—s mission to the world. It is not about what I want, but what Christ, in his Body the Church, wants. Together with the whole Church, we pray: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.

Personally, I don—t always find this —community aspect— of Catholicism comfortable. Often I would rather pray the way I want. I get upset when the needs of the community disturb the way I have always prayed. Why do I have to listen to the Bible proclaimed in Spanish or Vietnamese at Sunday Mass just because the neighborhood is changing? I like to sing but I am not comfortable singing a hymn in Korean.

But, in a deeper place, I want to welcome and be considerate of my sisters and brothers because I know that what is most comfortable for me is not always what is best for my growth. It—s more comfortable to stay in bed than to get up and go to the gym for exercise. I have to know when I need a healthy corrective.

Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, Father Richstatter teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana) School of Theology. His latest book is The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger Press)..

Next: The Sacraments, Signs of God—s Presence

Questions for Reflection:
• In what ways are you uncomfortable experiencing the Catholic faith as a "we" religion? In what ways are you comfortable?

• What do you think is the best thing about belonging to a Church that sees itself essentially as community?

The Family As Church
By Judith Dunlap

There is a great similarity between the family and the Church. In fact, since Vatican II, the family has been called the —domestic church.— Both communities share similar visions and tasks. Family and Church both have the responsibility of nurturing, supporting and challenging their members to grow to their full potential.

Both communities were founded in love and function best when they remember love is both their source and their sustenance. Both communities are called to be welcoming and reconciling. Parish members are called to learn, pray, play, celebrate and serve together, and so are families.

Understanding that home is a sacred, holy place is an important facet of our faith. When Jesus was born he broke the barrier between sacred and secular. He became a part of our world, reminding us that the entire world is a part of him. Everything we do from praying to playing together, all activities that reinforce the bond of family are holy and blessed.

This Lent, help your family see itself as Church. Burn last year—s palms and bless each other with the ashes. Make a Lenten centerpiece for your table; a candle with a purple cloth will do. Light the candle before meals and say an extra prayer together. As a family choose some small sacrifice you can make or a good deed you can do. Have your own reconciliation service; ask family members to consider how they can treat each other more kindly.

By spending some time this Lent sharing your love—God—s love—with each other and others, your family becomes the body of Christ. And the light of that love makes your —home church— a beacon in today—s world.

For Family Response:

Write the words welcome, reconcile, pray, play, learn, celebrate and serve in large letters on a piece of paper. Talk about one way your family can be like Church in each of these functions. Post the paper on the refrigerator to remind you during this Lenten season.

Media Watch
Joan of Arcadia
By Frank Frost

Every now and then a TV series comes along that reminds us of the positive power that television can exert at its best. Joan of Arcadia (Friday nights, CBS) is one of them.

The Joan of Arc reference in the title alerts us to look for a young woman hearing voices from heaven and taking up arms in God—s name. And indeed that—s what we find—in a way. This thoroughly modern take on Joan of Arc features a teenager who encounters God in a variety of guises: a fellow passenger on a school bus, a military officer, a woman at a vending machine. God can speak through anyone, no matter the age, race or gender.

And what does God ask of Joan? Well, God is not too specific in stating expectations, but rather expects her to figure things out for herself with a few hints. More often than not, God is asking Joan to listen to and be attentive to the needs of someone else.

The battles that Joan (Amber Tamblyn) fights are not earth-shaking. They are ordinary challenges in her ordinary life in an ordinary family. Her father (Joe Mantegna) is the chief of police in Arcadia; her mother (Mary Steenburgen) is a stay-at-home mom. One brother is a brilliant nerd (Michael Welch) and the other brother (Jason Ritter) is an athlete facing life as a paraplegic after an accident. What makes members of this family different is their effort to always do the right thing, even when it is not the easy thing.

Joan can be impatient with God and reluctant to do what she needs to, and God never overrules her freedom to choose. And she—s been known to be mistaken when she thinks someone is God talking to her.

One recent episode manages to deal effectively with death, grief and suicide with poignance, not piety. A young boy Joan has babysat in the past dies, and in dealing with her grief she learns that a school friend is struggling with the fact that his mother had committed suicide several years before.

The story manages to mix humor and profundity. Joan mistakes a man at a vending machine for God, when she asks him for change and he deadpans, —Change comes from within.— In the next beat there stands God, in the form of a woman, advising her that —Death is just a dividing line.— When God goes on to say, —There are those who don—t end their mortal lives, yet they stop living, which is another kind of suicide,— Joan divines that her mission is to be attentive to her friend and help him accept his mother—s death.

The series is created by Barbara Hall, who describes herself as a practicing Catholic. She manages to engage the culture of a pluralistic audience in dialogue about things that matter most—that God is manifest to us in many ways, but we need to listen for it; that caring counts; and that we don—t need to be heroes to make a difference.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660)

Perhaps it—s because Louise de Marillac faced so many struggles herself—depression, self-doubt, a difficult son, strained family relations—that she helped to create one of the most effective and extensive social networks on behalf of the needy in Church history.

Born into a French aristocratic family, she never knew her mother and lost her father early. She was widowed at 34 and left with a young son. However, she was blessed with a spiritual director—Vincent de Paul—who helped her deepen her faith and realize her unique skills.

The two built a potent partnership. Monsieur Vincent, as he was known, had developed a wide range of charitable projects serving the sick and destitute with the help of volunteers, often women of wealth. Over time, Louise discerned that such important and difficult work was better done by women fully dedicated to and focused on service to the poor in whom they could see the face of Christ.

For Louise, the solution was a new congregation of women made up primarily of country girls she would educate and guide. Initially unconvinced, Monsieur Vincent finally agreed to the idea. The Daugh-ters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul were co-founded in 1633. Louise had abundant energy for the work: care of orphans, galley slaves, the aged, the poor, the insane, condemned criminals as well as administering hospitals and schools for the needy. Women flocked to take up the work with Louise, who preferred the title —Sister Servant— to superior.

Louise de Marillac worked with great energy and skill until shortly before her death. Her final wish to see Monsieur Vincent, himself ill, went unfulfilled. Within six months he joined her in heaven. She was canonized in 1934 and later named patron of Christian social workers. Her feast day is March 15.

Sister Patricia Cruise, S.C.

This time last year, Sister Tricia Cruise was an administrator at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Today she—s president of Covenant House in New York City. Quite a dramatic difference in the two settings, but sad similarities too.

—Pine Ridge is in one of the poorest counties in the nation. I saw there what poverty does; I saw the effects of drugs and alcohol,— the Sister of Charity of Cincinnati told Every Day Catholic. Now she sees it daily at Covenant House in the heart of Manhattan, where a steady flow of young people in crisis arrive.

They come dirty, hungry and with little trust in adults. Most have experienced family disintegration and dysfunction, including abuse. Many of the youngsters then turn to drugs and/or alcohol to escape their pain. Dealing with that pain is at the heart of the mission of Covenant House, which has 15 other houses in the U.S. as well as Canada, Mexico and Central America.

Various programs are designed to meet the differing needs Sister Tricia and her staff encounter daily. The crisis center accepts walk-ins as well as young people found roaming the streets. A new facility provides housing for young mothers and babies as well as a day-care program so moms can stay in school. The Rites of Passage program prepares young people 18-21 for the world of work, further schooling or an actual job. The Covenant House 1-800-999-9999 number is staffed 24/7.

For many who come through its doors, says Sister Tricia, Covenant House is the last chance and best hope for survival. Her goal is to help them come to —the realization they are important— and to leave —with a sense of themselves and others.— That—s her covenant with them.

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