Ours Is a 'We' Religion
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Joan of Arcadia
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.
What values do you find in this film?
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660)
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
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—
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
Sister Patricia Cruise, S.C.
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.