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

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God's Seven Works of Art
By Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

One thing you can definitely say about us Catholics: We aren—t afraid of things. In fact, it—s quite the opposite. We know that creation is good and that created things can serve as a window through which we see something of who God is. For us, things are not an obstacle to grace but a means of grace.

This is especially true in those celebrations we call sacraments.

Human beings are body, mind and spirit, and we Catholics come to God with our whole being. We do not come to Christ with words alone. We do not simply say, —Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.— We Catholics do more.

We go down into the baptismal tomb where we die with Christ and are plunged into the waters of birth in him. We come up from the Church—s womb wet with rebirth and new life to be oiled and soothed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit and fed on the Body and Blood of the Savior at the eucharistic table. Catholicism is an incarnated religion. It uses things, the ordinary stuff of this world, to touch the world beyond.

An artist is always somehow embodied in his or her work. We can look at a painting and say, —That is a Picasso— or —That is a Monet.— We hear a piece of music and say, —That—s Mozart— or —That—s clearly Beethoven.—

In a similar way we can look at the sacraments and say, —That—s God!— We see the artist revealed in the work of art. And that—s what the sacraments are—seven great artworks revealing the Divine Creator.

Portraits of God

Baptism reveals God as the womb and source of all life. When I see a newly baptized infant in the arms of its parents, I get a glimpse of parental God embracing us—loving us, not because of what we have done for God, but because we are God—s children. When I see adults approach the font at the Easter Vigil, I see the Creator God continuing to make the earth new. Selfishness and sin are no match for Spirit and light. Confirmation reveals our destiny; we are to live so as to make visible in outward signs the —personality,— the —Spirit— of our Creator God. We are to be signs of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe.

Eucharist says it all: We become present to the Lord who died that we might have life—the Lord who feeds us with his Body and Blood so that we become one Body filled with his Spirit and are taken up into the Godhead.

Reconciliation reveals a God ever ready to forgive and embrace us. Anointing shows us a God who heals, a God who longs for the end of sickness and pain and disease and calls us—along with all of creation—to wholeness. Holy Orders gives us a glimpse of a God who shepherds the flock, leading and sanctifying all into the Kingdom.

And what a powerful sign we have in marriage! In the faithful, total, through-thick-and-thin, for-better-or-worse, no-matter-what love that the bride and groom promise each other in the Rite of Marriage, all who witness the sacrament can get a glimpse of how God loves us: faithfully, totally, through thick and thin, for better or worse, no matter what. At their wedding, the bride and groom often receive many wonderful gifts. But the gifts they receive are not as wonderful as the gift the couple give us. They give us a sacrament, a sign of who God is.

Seeing More

As Americans, we tend to value efficiency and production. We like getting to the point and getting the job done. Sometimes this American efficiency can blind us to the symbolic function of things and events.

Sacraments —produce— through symbols. Sacraments help us see something more. They help us see God in a baby—s smile or in the touch of a loved one; they help us to find God in the —I—m sorry— of someone who has hurt us. The sacraments, and indeed all of creation, reveal the divine Creator artist.

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 Eucharist—Giving Thanks to God

Questions for Reflection:
• Where, in all of creation, is it easiest for you to find God?

• Talk about a time you celebrated a sacrament that helped you to "see God."

The Power of Blessings
By Judith Dunlap

My husband and I were given a holy water font for our wedding. It hung by the front door of our first few apartments. I don't know what happened to it after that. The miniature font was a nice reminder that our home was the domestic church. Like the parish church, you dipped your hand and blessed yourself when you entered or left both places. For whatever reason, you just don't see a lot of home fonts around anymore.

I was reminded of that wedding gift recently as our parish prepares to dedicate a new church. The rite of dedication reminds us that the church is more than a building. We are church. Our parish is also preparing the people to be rededicated. Two weeks before the dedication we are having a family gathering to help folks understand this beautiful ritual, and we're giving every household some holy water to take home.

Along with the water we are sending a brief prayer service for families to bless their homes and each other. We are suggesting a do-it-yourself blessing service. Each person decides who will say a prayer when each room is blessed. The service ends with family members blessing each other and praying the Our Father.

Blessing the house reminds us that our homes are church, and blessing each other is an equally good reminder that we are the embodiment of that church. The holy water is reminiscent of our baptism into God's family. Blessing each other, just like blessing ourselves when we enter a church, is a reminder to behave like God's children. Perhaps it's time for me to go out and buy another holy water font.

For Family Response:

Have a home blessing. Even if you have already blessed your house, there is nothing wrong with rededicating your space. Make sure you take time to bless family members too.

Media Watch
Freaky Friday
By Frank Frost

We are commonly admonished to "walk in another's shoes" before making judgments about them. The movie Freaky Friday is yet another formulation of this idea, going considerably further by causing a mother and daughter to navigate in each other's body for one "freaky" Friday.

This slapstick comedy, available on DVD, is meant to be for family viewing, purporting to unpack the typical misunderstandings between teenager and parent—and, in a subplot, rivalries between siblings.

Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a psychologist and widow who is about to remarry. Focused on her own busy life, she proves unsympathetic to the forces driving her teenage daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan), who repeatedly gets in trouble at school for fighting with a petty and malicious classmate and who plays in a rocking girl band. Her mother is stressing out over wedding arrangements while dealing with an over-needy client. Anna won't accept her mother's fianc—, Ryan (Mark Harmon), because she hasn't gotten over losing her father.

Conflict erupts when Anna's band gets its big break, a chance to play the opener at a hip club—at the very time her mother's wedding rehearsal dinner is scheduled. Of course Mom refuses to excuse her daughter from the dinner. Into the conflict steps a busybody restaurant proprietor who puts mother and daughter in each other's body with the help of magical matching fortune cookies. The cookies conveniently tell us how the story will proceed: "A journey soon begins, its prize reflected in the other's eyes. When what you see is what you lack, then selfless love will change you back."

When Tess and Anna awaken in the other's body, they agree to keep it quiet and figure out how to reverse things. This means Tess (in Anna's body) will have to go to school, and Anna (in Tess's body) will have to counsel clients and make decisions about wedding details.

The complications are predictable but fun. Tess discovers that Anna's life at school is not a cinch, and she sees just how attractive and admirable Anna's boyfriend is. Anna, forced to appear on a TV talk show in an adult body to discuss her mother's esoteric new book, develops an appreciation for her mother's life. Both mother and daughter struggle with romantic feelings for the "wrong" boyfriend.

The problem comes to a head at the rehearsal dinner. Fianc— Ryan brokers a period of time when Anna can join her band at the club. But of course that means Tess, who owns Anna's body, must appear on stage despite her limitations as a performer. In the end, each woman has walked a day in the other's body, discovers selfless love and is rewarded with the return of her own body.

Freaky Friday is hardly profound, but it delivers a worthwhile message in a good laugh.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Vincent Ferrer (1350?-1419)

Polarization in the Church isn't a 21st-century phenomenon. It dominated the life and ministry of Vincent Ferrer in the late Middle Ages during the Great Western Schism of almost 40 years. He lived to see Church unity restored only two years before his death.

Born in Spain, Vincent entered the Dominicans and developed a strong interest in philosophy and preaching. He was ordained by Cardinal Pedro de Luna, who later made history as the antipope Benedict XIII at Avignon. For a time, Vincent sided with Benedict, serving as his personal theologian, confessor and adviser. At the outset, Vincent was convinced that the popes at Avignon had a legitimate claim to the papacy—not those in Rome.

That opinion changed over time and Vincent came to see the Avignon papacy as the problem, not the solution. He urged Benedict to at least begin dialogue with the pope in Rome, but to no avail. Further efforts to persuade Benedict to step down resulted in failure and forced Vincent to take a bold and courageous step. Vincent publicly denounced Benedict at an assembly over which the antipope was presiding. Benedict fled for his life, leaving behind any credibility or support he had once had.

As a priest Vincent preached all over Europe, often addressing huge crowds. He became known as the —Angel of Judgment— for his focus on sin and damnation.

The final two years of his life were quiet for Vincent as the Church inched toward unity. He lived to see that unity restored at the Council of Constance with the election of Pope Martin V—one pope who resided in Rome.

Vincent died in peace at age 70. He was canonized 36 years later by Pope Callistus III and is the patron saint of builders and plumbers. His feast day is April 5.

Maureen Willenbring

One wintry Saturday in March 1999, Maureen Willenbring saw change happen right in front of her—amazing, heartening, unexpected change.

The setting was simple. Forty or so women from the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and the Archdiocesan Commission on Women had agreed to spend some time exploring two topics almost certain to have them holding diverse viewpoints. Sitting on folding chairs arranged in small circles, they probed the changing roles of women in society and the Church and the use of exclusive/inclusive language.

The selection of such polarizing issues wasn't an accident. It was the point of the day, and part of a pilot project sponsored by the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) and the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (CCGI). Common Ground was inaugurated in 1996 by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin months before his death.

Following CCGI principles of dialogue, the women engaged in discussion rather than debate; listened with respect to people holding different points of view; struggled to learn where they agreed rather than disagreed. "I saw polarization at the start, and at the end I saw people get to a new place of understanding," Mrs. Willenbring told Every Day Catholic.

She remains active in the NCCW as well as its council in St. Paul/ Minneapolis. Mrs. Willenbring also remains convinced that CCGI builds unity and Church community. She would love to see its principles of dialogue used in parishes and among Church leaders. "It's beautiful to see people seek to understand each other. Diversity enriches us—and our faith."

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