Sunday, March 17, 2013
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity's most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.
It is known that St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. Although his father was a Christian deacon, there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate. They took him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. It was here, during his captivity, that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice — which he believed to be God's — spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland. To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where he was held, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called the Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, through his ministry Christianity became the religion of the Emerald Isle.
Each of us is invited to do the same as St. Patrick. Choose to reject “victim-hood” and self-centeredness. Embrace the way of the Cross by carrying on the redemptive mission of Jesus. Develop a personal relationship with God through deep, constant and abiding prayer. Most importantly, discern the voice of the Lord in your daily life.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Many have begun spending an hour on Sunday evenings watching the History Channel’s epic 10-part miniseries, “The Bible”. Some people have said that this earthy portrayal of stories from Sacred Scripture is helping to bring them closer to the Bible. Others say that they prefer the well-scrubbed characters in movies like 1956’s “The Ten Commandments.”
Whatever style you like your Bible characters portrayed in, the reality is that most of us know more about Scripture from watching movies or TV series than from actually reading the Bible itself.
Average Catholics asked how often they read the Bible say that they do not read it regularly. However, if asked how often they read Scripture, the answer would be different. Practicing Catholics know they read and hear Scripture at every Mass. Many also recognize that basic prayers Catholics say, such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, are scriptural. But for most Catholics, the Scripture they hear and read is not from the Bible. It is from the missalette in the pew.
Many of us know that we are not to interpret Scripture ourselves, because our understanding of what the Scriptures mean has been handed down to us by the teaching authority of the Church. But we are encouraged to read and study the Bible. Pope Leo XIII in 1893 challenged Catholics to take advantage of the truths found in Scripture and to defend it from the attack of those who twist it to fit their meaning. In his 1943 encyclical titled, Under the Inspiration of the Spirit, Pope Pius XII called Sacred Scripture a “heaven-sent treasure” that the Church has “kept with all care.”
Scripture awareness grew after the Second Vatican Council. Mass was celebrated in the vernacular and so the Scripture readings at Mass were read entirely in the language of the people. Adult faith formation programs began to develop, and the most common program run at a parish was and is Scripture study. The Charismatic movement and the rise of prayer groups exposed Catholics to Scripture even more. All of this contributed to Catholics becoming more familiar with the Bible and more interested in reading the Scriptures and praying with them.
We can become uncomfortable when we’re around someone who quotes Bible passages. Don’t let the ability of people who can quote a dozen or so favorite verses discourage you from opening the Bible. It’s not about memorizing passages or reading the Bible from front-to-back — it’s about letting God speak to us through Scripture and allowing Him to transform our hearts.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
We have become a casual society. It hasn’t been that long ago that people put on their best clothes when preparing to fly, whether they were going for business or on vacation. Gentlemen removed their hats when entering a building and tipped them when a lady passed them on the street. Everyone stopped talking and stood for the singing of the National Anthem, and we never addressed anyone older than us by their first name unless we’d been invited by them to do so.
As our society has become more casual, in many ways, so has Sunday Mass. Not all the casualness is bad or wrong, but much of it can lead to a lack of reverence.
Our worship space is special. Nowhere else in our weekly travels do we encounter a place like the Sanctuary of the Church. Unlike the world outside these walls, the church is a place for quiet reflection; a special place that doesn’t resemble the high-pitched staccato cacophony of the world. Here individuals and families come to pray quietly before Mass and to stay in the quiet presence of the Lord after Mass has ended.
In addition to quiet, another way we show reverence is by giving a sincere genuflection before we enter our pew at the beginning of Mass, and again when Mass is over. Many have gotten into the habit of nodding their head and slightly bending their knee – this is not a genuflection. In reverence we lower ourselves to our right knee and sign ourselves with the cross.
Reverence also dictates that we don’t chew gum, eat snacks, or drink beverages during worship or prayer services. We know that many of our children have grown-up learning to eat Cheerios in Church before they learned to make the sign of the cross, but unless one has a serious medical condition, food or beverages should not be consumed by older children or adults. Remember that Catholics are called to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion.
Another way we show reverence in Mass is by becoming fully active and conscious in our participation. We join in the songs and the prayers; we pay attention to the reading of Sacred Scripture and the Homily; and we receive Holy Communion with awe and respect.
Finally, we extend our reverence to the Lord and the community by not leaving before the end of Mass. Mass is not a “me and God” moment; it is our communal prayer, and it requires all of us from beginning to end.