By Thomas H. Groome
Ever wonder why Catholics put so much emphasis on
“going to church” by way of keeping holy the Sabbath? Of course Protestant
Christians, too, are committed to Sunday worship, but we Catholics add a note of obligation.
For us, participating in Sunday Mass is a great privilege but also a serious responsibility.
We may not “miss” Sunday Mass—except for some good reason.
Further, Vatican II helped us to realize that all Catholics are called
to “full, conscious and active participation [as] demanded by the very nature
of the liturgy. Such participation is [our] right and duty by reason of baptism”
(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #14). Far more than attending as
spectators, we must function as active members in a bonded community.
This sense of Sunday obligation is only one instance of the communal
emphasis that is core to Catholicism. Catholic Christian faith is essentially communal;
we are ever disciples in community and a community of disciples. We’re convinced
that God reaches out to us in and as community, and that we most effectively reach
out to God—together. So, we may not simply watch Mass on TV or go instead to
the mountaintop for our own personal religious experience.
It is in and through Christian community that we have access to the Scriptures
and traditions that forge our identity in faith, to the sacraments that sustain us
in Christian living, to the models of holiness in the saints before us, to people to
pray with us and for us when needed, to companions to uphold us on the journey home
to God. Indeed, Catholic spirituality calls us to our personal relationship with God,
but this should be in and through Christian community.
In Our Very Nature
The Bible highlights the communal nature of faith. Indeed, it seems that
God designed our very human nature as relational. When God differentiated the lonely
Adam into male and female, God made them
“companions” to each other. Then, beginning with God’s call of Abraham
and Sarah to parent a people, Hebrew faith is lived in and as community. No sin or
success is purely personal. God makes every covenant with the Hebrews as a people,
not as individuals. That “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Leviticus
26:12) was their sustaining conviction.
Likewise, the first Christians favored communal metaphors to describe
their shared discipleship to Jesus. Paul’s image of the Church as Body of Christ
was the loveliest and most compelling. Within this body, the hand and foot, the eye
and ear, and all individual parts are vitally important; yet all the organs must function
together as one body (see 1 Corinthians 12:26). By Baptism, we are bonded together
as one with Christ and each other; “we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans
12:5). And all members must contribute their particular gifts for “building up
the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
Rooted in History
During the Reformation, the great Protestant leaders rebelled against
the exaggerated power of the Church, charging it with replacing rather than representing
God. As a consequence, they de-emphasized the communal nature of Christian faith. When
the Catholic Church regrouped at the great Council of Trent, it agreed that people
must have their own personal relationship with God but that our faith must be realized
in and through Christian community—the Church. Catholicism is so intent on the
communal nature of faith as to propose that even death doesn’t break the bond
of Baptism. So, we can ask those in the eternal presence of God to pray with and for
us—with Mary holding pride of place among this communion of saints. Likewise,
we can intercede for departed loved ones who may need some “purgation” in
order to enter the eternal presence of God. In death, “life is changed, not ended” (Preface,
Mass of Resurrection) and certainly not the bond of Baptism.
This communal emphasis of Catholicism requires that we be active in a
local parish. If we don’t like our assigned regional one, the 1983 Code of Canon
Law gives us permission to “shop around” a bit. It is imperative that we
find a local Catholic community to call home, and share of our time, talents and treasure
to sustain its mission and ministries. For us Catholics at least, we’re all in
Next: Why Is It Important to Be Catholic?
How active are you in your parish? If you are active, what
benefit do you gain? If you are not, why aren’t you?
Talk about the best celebration of the Mass you remember
attending. What made it special?
Church and Family Ties
By Judith Dunlap
There is a remarkable similarity between the family and the Church. In
fact, since early times the Church has been referred to as a family, and the family
has been called the
“domestic church.” Both communities share similar visions and tasks. Church
members are called to learn, pray, play, celebrate and serve together; so are families.
Both communities are called to be welcoming and reconciling. Family and Church both
have the responsibility of nurturing, supporting and challenging their members to grow
to their full potential.
In our world of overextended schedules, it is sometimes difficult to
find time for church. It is similarly difficult to be “family”
today. It takes commitment and intentionality to be a faithful member of either community.
However, the energy and effort put into these commitments can be soul-saving.
Make time to be together as a family—to eat together, to play,
work and learn together. Compliment and affirm each other often. Take the time to talk
to each other, not just about your daily happenings but your thoughts and feelings
as well. Listen well. Pray together and go to church together. In a survey done by
the University of Nebraska, shared faith is listed as one of the six traits of a strong
family. The five other qualities are: good communication, affirmation, taking time
together, handling problems and/or crises well, and—finally and most importantly—commitment.
It takes commitment to keep being family—to face problems and crises
in constructive ways, to work things out no matter what. It takes the same commitment
to forgive the Church its human failings, to attend Eucharist regularly and stay involved
in parish life. The Church and the family were founded in love; both function best
when love is their source and sustenance.
Use the six traits of a strong family as a report card. As a family,
grade yourselves on: commitment, affirmation, communication, taking time together,
handling problems well, sharing faith.
The March of the Penguins
By Frank Frost
What is extraordinary about The March of the Penguins (now available in DVD)
is not just the way it leaped from nowhere to become the second-greatest moneymaking
documentary in history and garner an Academy Award nomination. It’s the simple,
contemplative character of the film, which, devoid of sex and violence, relates the
story of Emperor penguins making their way through their age-old cycle of birth and
rebirth in Antarctica, “the harshest place on earth.”
Viewers may not recognize immediately how bold it is for the filmmakers to let the
extraordinary visuals tell the story in their own time and at a pace that captures
the timelessness of the Antarctic winter, without letting it become boring. The casting
of the flat but warm voice of Morgan Freeman as the storyteller is a masterful touch.
The story Freeman tells attributes human characteristics to the behavior we observe
in animals. The movie never lets us leave the aura of the family drama enacted by the
penguins. We admire their fortitude; we feel the fierce wind and cold they must subject
themselves to in order to be true to their biology. We wonder at the “romantic” care
given to the choice of a mate; we admire the self-sacrifice of the parents who protect
the fragile eggs and newborn chicks from the harshest of imaginable attacks by nature.
We marvel at the wonder of new birth and the hope and pride we think we detect in
the behavior of the parents.We grieve at the death of chicks who cannot be protected
from weather or predators. And our hearts leap with the new young penguins who finally
take the plunge into the Antarctic water to begin the cycle anew.
The sheer beauty of Antarctica sets the stage for the remarkable camera work that
reveals gradations of light and color one would not think possible in what is essentially
a black-and-white world. Close-ups of primal body language in natural slow motion demonstrate
a grace and beauty that make us totally believe in the anthropomorphic love, care,
concern and family dedication that this film is all about.
Time and again the viewer wonders,
“How did the filmmakers manage to always be in the right place at the right time?” Some
of those answers are found in Of Penguins and Men, an accompanying DVD. The
behind-the-scenes story introduces us to the French film team behind the feature. This
“making-of” documentary stands on its own. It not only satisfies our curiosity
about the way Luc Jacquet and Jerôme Maison managed to capture such extraordinary
penguin behavior on film, but also relates a human drama climaxed by a near tragedy
when they barely escape with their lives from a sudden blizzard and whiteout.
Both documentaries show that true drama is found not only in the activity of the chase.
It is also found in the choices of the heart.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879)
For the first 14 years of her life, Bernadette lived the humdrum existence
of a poor, uneducated French peasant girl. Then “the Lady” came into her
life—forever changing it, and her.
On February 11, 1858, young Bernadette experienced the first of 18 appearances
from the Lady, who later identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. The apparitions
continued over the next six months from the woman dressed in a white robe and blue
sash, with yellow roses covering her feet. She always came to the same spot: a cave
Her message to Bernadette was simple and direct. She called for the conversion
of sinners through penance, urged people to visit the place of the apparitions and
asked that a church be built on the site. Since then, millions of people have bathed
in the springs at Lourdes—and many of them have reported miraculous healings.
Though Bernadette’s report of her visions brought crowds to the
cave, they also brought skepticism. She faced ridicule and suspicion from townspeople
and clergy. But she would not budge from her story: The visions were real, she insisted,
and no one was going to make her deny the truth. In 1862, after a thorough investigation,
Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions.
Bernadette eventually sought protection in a convent. In 1866, she joined
the Sisters of Notre Dame. Though in poor health, she spent many hours working in the
infirmary and sacristy. She died at age 35.
In 1933, Pope Pius XI canonized Bernadette Soubirous—not because
she had reported amazing visions, he said, but because of her life spent in simple
devotion to God and in obedience to his will. Her feast day is April 16.
Sister Rose Mary Sam, I.H.M.
The Church has officially recognized fewer than 75 miracles at Lourdes,
but Sister Rose Mary Sam has witnessed one after another there. A volunteer for the
past 32 years at Cité Secours St. Pierre, a village for poor pilgrims visiting
Lourdes, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister speaks of countless instances of
“The wonderful feeling of peace and acceptance that permeates that
fantastically holy place is beyond description,” she told Every Day Catholic. “It’s
such an intense faith experience!”
During the academic year, Sister Rose Mary teaches French at Regina High
School in her native Detroit. But come summer, she’s off to Lourdes to join other
volunteers who, like her, return year after year to Cité Secours.
Initially, she was assigned to serve meals, clean tables and mop floors
six days a week in the dining hall that serves about 500 pilgrims at a time. Then she
was put in charge of a dorm building that houses 72. In recent years, she has helped
staff the information office, answering pilgrims’
questions about Mass times or how to get to the train station and helping weary travelers
separated from their group. “Whatever the work we do, it’s a blessing.”
“It’s such a privilege to go back again and again” and
to serve pilgrims who cannot afford to stay at more costly facilities nearby, Sister
Rose Mary said. Each time she returns she prays at the grotto and kisses the rocks
where Mary appeared to a young peasant girl named Bernadette. She observes the special
care given the sick who come in search of healing waters and who feel so welcome and
loved. And each time she leaves, Sister Rose Mary vows to come back—if God will
give her another summer at Lourdes, another miracle.