We're All on One Team
Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.
Being Catholic is a team effort. God's dreams for the world are too great, too wonderful for any one of us to accomplish on our own. But we don't have to do it alone. We have the help and support of the saints.
When we use the title "Saint" we usually think of men and women of exceptional holiness. But being a saint isn't the exception; it's the rule. We are all called to be saints. As members of Christ's Body we are in communion with the other members of that Body, living and dead; we participate in the Communion of Saints. Sainthoodin other words, holinessis an essential element of Catholic identity!
The saints, both living and dead, offer us encouragement and support. We celebrate each Eucharist in union with the local Churchthe living saintsand in union with Mary, Joseph her husband, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James and John. We celebrate in the fellowship of Agatha, Lucy, Agnes and Cecilia "on whose constant intercession we rely for help." Saints of the present and saints of the past surround us. They intercede for us; they pray to God on our behalf.
God's message of "I love you" has been heard in every age and in every country. During the course of the Church's liturgical year we celebrate the memory of saints from every continent in our world and every historical period to show how God is at work in human lives in every time and place. This great diversity reminds us that while Jesus' invitation to "follow me" remains constant throughout time and space, each of us must work out the details of how the Holy Spirit is active in the circumstances of our lives and in our particular cultural and historical situation.
When we celebrate the feasts of the saints we are often amazed by their extraordinary achievements and heroic sacrifices. But in recalling their memory we don't celebrate what they accomplished. Rather we rejoice at the wonderful things that God accomplished through them. Our attention and our prayer are always directed to God. It is God's strengths and gifts that we see reflected in the lives of these holy men and women.
We learn this Catholic focus on God from the greatest example of God's holiness shining forth in a human being: Mary. The mother of Jesus proclaims, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God." If anyone could brag about having done wonderful things for God, it would be Mary. But she points away from herself and has us look to the Mighty One who "has done great things for me."
God has done great things for Mary. We honor her because through her God took flesh and she became the mother of our Savior. We honor Mary because she is the first and model disciple. In Mary we see the pattern of all that the Church itself hopes to be.
Mary, Our Model
Like Mary, we bear Christ in our bodies through Baptism and Eucharist. We are to bring forth Christ to the world by our word and example. Mary's virginity points us to single-minded devotion to the will of God. Her sinlessness is a model for the Church, a reminder that we are to be God's holy people, God's saints. Mary's assumption into heaven foretells our own destiny as Church. Where she is, we one day hope to be.
In Mary we see a most perfect example of how God acts. It is as though God depends on our cooperation for the salvation of the world. God waited for Mary's consent, Mary's "let it be with me according to your word" to take flesh and come among us. Mary is the model of all holiness, for holiness consists essentially in saying yes to the will of God as we hear and understand it.
The Communion of Saints is integral to our Catholic identity. Being Catholic is a team effort. And with Mary and all the saints on our team, we can be certain that God's dreams for the world will ultimately be accomplished.
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
Next: Love, the Vocation of Every Christian
Finding Saintly Heroes
Everyone needs heroes. Often we choose our heroes according to what we value. So adolescents, who have a strong need for peer acceptance, have pictures of sports stars or the latest singing sensation on their walls. The media does a great job of presenting today's cultural heroes. But how do our children learn about the models of our faiththe saints? More to the point, how can we help them want to learn about them?
First, we have to help them prize the vision that inspired and empowered the saints. We have to help our youngsters be proud to be Christian with an ever-growing sense of what that means. We have to get them excited about being disciples of Jesus, Kingdom-builders who work hard to bring harmony and peace to the world.
Second, our children need to hear the stories of the saints from their parents. Talk to them about the special saint they were named after. Or find an updated "saint of the day" book, and read or tell the stories of the saints honored in their birth month. Have them choose their own religious hero, and have a celebration on that saint's day. Talk about the qualities we see and admire in the saints, but make sure your child knows that saints were not perfect. Remind your children that those we now honor as saints had to pray and practice those good qualities all their lives before they could claim them.
Finally, the TV show American Idol recognizes average people's dream to be "discovered," to have their hidden talent affirmed and celebrated. Celebrate your child's good deeds and "saintly" qualities regularly. Point out how they are Kingdom-makers, helping to make the plan of God happen in the world. They may never hang a saint's poster on their bedroom wall, but in their heart of hearts they may aspire to be one.
Ask family members to talk about their favorite saints; then choose a patron for your family.
One sign of an enduring classic is its ability to speak successfully to subsequent generations. The movie Vanity Fair translates the 1840 novel of William Makepeace Thackeray to the screen as a lush, vibrant period piece that still speaks to a 21st-century audience.
Writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) create a fast-moving plot with interlocking parts, drivenas 19th-century novels are wont to doby coincidence, chance and, of course, character. Becky Sharp is an orphan who graduates as a poor working student from finishing school with no opportunity to live the life she has been schooled in because she lacks both wealth and class stature. But she has the drive to acquire both.
"Becky Sharp," says Mira Nair, "was a girl who bucked the system. She didn't like the cards that society gave her. So she created her own deck."
The complex plot offers a comparison between Becky (Reese Witherspoon) and her best friend, Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai). Where Becky is relentlessly positive and determined, the born-to-wealth Amelia is sweet, passive and self-pitying. In the end, Becky is the instrument of Amelia's awakening.
Nair gets a convincing performance from Witherspoon, creating a Becky who is at once sympathetic and selfish: determined not to be put down by life on the one hand and, on the other, willing to sacrifice even the love of her child for her ambitions. (Amelia's mother observes of her, "I had thought her only a social climber. I see now she is a mountaineer.")
In her drive for social acceptance, the talented and charming Becky never lacks for a mentor, trading up as she moves up. But when she marries into money her husband is disowned for marrying down. This adds the need for income to her need for social acceptance. When she crosses paths with the powerful Marquess Steyn (Gabriel Byrne)—his name is pronounced "stain"she proceeds to accept his favors with the brash belief that she can control the consequences of her manipulations. But as Steyn tells her, "I never forget anything, least of all an unpaid debt." His attempt to claim repayment causes her husband to abandon her.
It is ironically left for the selfish Steyn to state the theme of the film when he tells Becky that in spite of having everything he is not happy. The Thackeray story asks the ultimate questions, says director Nair: "Which of us is happy in the world? Which of us having met our desires is content?" Steyn tells Becky that at last he has found the answer: The only thing of value in this life is to love and be loved. But even as he says it he does not know how to love, and neither does Beckyyet.
The film's social critique, embedded in the Napoleonic era, does not allow for easy judgments of the good vs. the bad, but it does leave room for reflection.
What values do you find in this film?
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
Blessed Miguel A. Pro (1891-1927)
and martyred in Mexico, Blessed Miguel Pro is proudly claimed among his people
as a man who died for the "crime" of being a Catholic priest.
It wasn't only members of the clergy who were at risk in early
20th-century Mexico, but official representatives of the Church made an easy
target for anti-Catholic forces. Father Pro was educated and ordained abroad
where he could prepare for and begin his priesthood in safety. When he returned
to his native land as a young Jesuit eager to serve an underground Church, he
had to travel in disguise while carefully going about his pastoral duties:
hearing confessions, baptizing the faithful, celebrating the Eucharist with
small groups of Catholics.
The repressive atmosphere that pervaded the land, and the spies
and police who fed it, were not able to suppress the faith of the people. But
they did create a mood of resistance among many Catholics that culminated in
the Cristero Rebellion, a defense of the Church that included violence.
Following an attempt on the life of the country's former president,
Church-state tensions increased. Catholics and their leaders were at new,
Father Pro continued to elude the police for a time, but he was
finally arrested and charged with participating in the assassination plot.
Though his innocence was never in question, the anti-clerical government chose
to make an example of him. On the orders of the president of Mexico, Father
Miguel A. Pro was executed by a firing squad. As rifles were raised and pointed
at him, he extended his arms in the form of a cross and said softly, "—Viva Cristo Rey!"Long live Christ the
Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1988. His feast day is
Father Ted Pfeifer, O.M.I.
The 11 bullets fired at Father Ted Pfeifer 17 years ago by Mexican drug traffickers angry at his interference in their "business" missed their mark. But they deepened the missionary's determination to remain with the Zapatec Indians in the mountains of southern Mexico, where he was serving as their pastor.
"You can back off, let things go as they are and say, —That's not my problem.' Or you can ask yourself what the gospel is calling you to do," the Texas-born priest told Every Day Catholic by telephone from Mexico City. He now serves at a large parish there.
Father Ted, now 72, has never regretted the series of decisions he made years ago as a young missionary. He arrived in Mexico in 1963, four years after his ordination as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. He settled in, traveling on foot or by mule among 30 missions. In time, signs of trouble surfaced: the sudden appearance of airstrips, the influx of armed strangers with large sums of money, parishioners reporting being coerced into using part of their land to grow the heroin poppy, a frightening spike in violence.
Government officials were uninterested in his reports about the crimes being committed. "These are isolated Indians. Nobody really cares about them," Father Ted explained. But he knows them as beautiful people of "simple and profound faith"people who continually evangelized and inspired him.
Father Ted's story is being made into an independent film, The Oath. It's a rather lofty title for a movie about a humble, hard-working missionary whose only goal is "to help my people." He'd be content to be remembered as "someone who stood with them and stayed with them when the wolf was at the door."