Holy Heroes: Helpful Resources for Parents to Teach the Faith

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2207,

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.

Parents pledge during the Baptismal rite to educate their children in the faith and be a model for holiness. Increasing challenges for the modern family such as technology, work/home balance, and a pagan culture make it difficult for moms and dads to pass on the faith. Taking children to Sunday Mass is not easy. Children can lack interest or even give your resistance.

It is absolutely necessary to have a network of resources to help you in teaching the faith. I have been blessed with the opportunity to gain a degree in theology. But I still need help in conveying doctrine to my young kids in a clear and understandable manner.

Bookmark this Website

This year I discovered Holy Heroes: a website dedicated to the helping families pass on the Catholic faith to the next generation. Check out this link:  https://www.holyheroes.com/?Click=47699 for educational and fun coloring page and quiz to prepare and reinforce the Mass readings for every Sunday. My daughter loves coloring and my oldest son is a fact-machine so these FREE downloadable resources are a godsend.

Visit Holy Heroes this week for those Mass prep resources. This would be a great family activity or something you could do with your kids on an individual basis as well. Check out their selection of quality books and Marian consecration resources . I will write more about this topic next week so please stay tuned!

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3 Things about the Holy Trinity I Learned from Elementary Students

Holy Trinity Icon

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The soul is healed by being with children.” This Sunday, I experienced the truth contained in that quote. It was the first class for Religious Education at my parish.  Going into my third year of volunteering as a catechist, I was comfortable with the subject matter, but I was a bit nervous about teaching third and fourth graders for the first time ever. Previously, I taught high school and middle school students. 

The starting lesson was on the Holy Trinity. While that teaching is the most essential belief of Christianity it is also the most misunderstood and easy to fall into heresy. How could I explain this doctrine to younger students without getting too theological or technical?

In hindsight, I always am reminded that it was actually pointless to worry. Everything turned out fine. St. Paul wrote, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6-7).  I have since bookmarked this passage. Although I failed to petition God for aid before the lesson I am expressing my gratitude in Him using my students as instruments to remind me of wondrous truths contained in the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

God Welcomes Us

Entering the prayer room the students and I sat before the icon of the Holy Trinity (above). This famous religious artwork was painted by Russian artist Andrei Rublev in the 15th century.  Another catechist acted as a prayer facilitator. She asked us to gaze at the iconic (no pun intended) image and asked about things that stood out.

One of the students raised her hand stated, “It looks like there is an empty seat at the table.” When asked who is the seat for the fourth grader replied, “Us! God is welcoming us to the table.”

Her simple statement goes to the heart of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 237, The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God”. Only by inviting us into the life of God will be able to know God.

You Don’t Have to be Old to be Wise

Another thing the children taught me is that wisdom does not come from old age, but rather it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Lucy described it best, “Those whose hearts are pure are temples of the Holy Spirit.” Children’s hearts and intentions are free from prior motivation. The excitement and wonder of a child is something to be celebrated not stymied or stamped out. I have been struggling a lot with seeing the purity in my own children. Instead, I selfishly mistake the energy as causes for messes, extra noise, and an inconvenience at bedtime!

Watching the elementary students talk about the icon of the Holy Trinity with wonder and curiosity made me realize my pride and impatience at my own children. Our three year old with autism spectrum disorder had a week of regressions. Mass was basically a zoo with uncaged animals. He had several meltdowns and slipped the holy water at the entrance.

I should have been angry. Frustrated. Defeated. But somehow I did not let that accident before me. Later during the Mass our son finally calmed down. Walking over to the holy water fount after communion he dipped his hand in the water (thankfully he did not spill it again!!). “Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen!” he said with a grin on his face.

The Holy Trinity is the most central mystery of Christianity. How could I be mad at my kid when he expressed that important doctrine with such joy. Wisdom is given by the Holy Spirit. More often than not those less “educated” or “less worthy” will teach the prideful. It definitely happened to me with my students and son.

Equality Matters

A third aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity my students taught (or reminded) me was a different way to look at the Holy Trinity icon. One of the other things the students noticed about the painting is that all three persons of the Trinity had a halo. The catechist asked, “Why do you think they all have halos?” Quickly, one student quipped, “Because it would not be fair. They would not be equal if only one or two had a halo.” Another simple and profound observation. But it cuts to an important part of the teaching of the Holy Trinity— equality matters.

Sign of the Cross Meme

Christians profess belief in One God in Three Divine Persons not three separate gods. The Catechism teaches, “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire” (CCC 253).

This image below is a common diagram used to explain (as best as humanly possible)

Holy Trinity Diagram

 

All analogies will fall short. This mystery of the Holy Trinity was revealed by God through Sacred Scripture and confirmed at the Council of Nicaea through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to spend time in prayer before the icon of the Holy Trinity.

Reflect on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity this Week

Ask your local parish if you go get access to view a copy of this image. If possible you could purchase this icon as part (or the start) of your home prayer chapel or icon wall. Or simply print off the image from the Internet if you are pinched or time and cannot get access to an actual painting of the icon. Bring your Bible and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration pondering this wondrous Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, understanding, patience, joy, gratitude, humility, and amazement. I am grateful for the gift of my students and my children who reminded me of the greatest gift—  the Holy Trinity!

Related Resources/Links

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p2.htm

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/12-things-to-know-and-share-about-the-holy-trinity

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/06/10/toddlers-an-adorable-trace-of-the-trinity/

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/05/02/3-reasons-why-st-athanasius-is-my-favorite-saint/

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5 Reasons Why Mary, Not St. Michael, is the True General of God!

Mary crushing serpents head

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!

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Insight from Fulton Sheen

According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).

We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!

Insight from St. Louis de Montfort

Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,

Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).

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When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God?  The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.

Insight from Genesis

Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull.  Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!

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Insight from Judith

Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.

The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.

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Insight from Judges

Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville,

“The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”

Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the  King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:

Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O
good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy
Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy
Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.

Mary meme

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5 Astonishing Facts about Your Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel

October 2nd is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. These messengers of God played pivotal roles throughout the events of the Bible. In fact, the word angel derived from the Greek word angelos which meant “messenger”.  Angels visited Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and  Gideon to name a few examples. In the New Testament, the angel Gabriel visited Mary recognizing her holiness and that God called her to be the mother of Jesus.

Growing up I was fascinated with the topic of angels. My parents always had us recite the Guardian Angel prayer before bedtime.  This tradition has continued in my family and my kids even say that prayer that before school. Catholics believe in spiritual beings, yet on a practical level and in “adult” conversations I have to admit this has been a teaching of the Church that I need to be better at living out and believing in myself.

Unfortunately, life gets busy, stress-inducing, and chaotic. It gets easy to forget out spiritual matters when all your troubles are tangible. Mortgage payments, hospital bills, strained family dynamics, or dissatisfaction at work are things people often battle. These are definitely pain points in my life. We crave truth, peace, and joy. Catholics live in the world while dreaming and hoping for the world to come. St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until it rests in You (God)”.

The Feast of the Guardian Angels is a reminder that we should never give up hope and that we always have a someone to help us out even if our eyes cannot see.

An Angel for All

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 336, “336 From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” You. Me. Everyone now, in the past, and who will live in the future has a guardian angel to protect them from harm.

We Don’t Transform into Angels

It is common for people to post in reaction to the death of a love one: “He/she just received their angel wings in Heaven!” Angels are separate beings from humans. If you go to Heaven in Union with God after you die, you will remain yourself. You will receive a gloried body, but you will not become an angel.

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5 Reasons Why October is the Holiest Time of the Year

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” stated Albert Camus the 20th century French Novelist. Fall is my favorite time of the year. Colorful leaves carpet the lawns in my neighborhood. I enjoy seeing the visible transformation occur on trees and watching animals prepare for winter. My wife’s birthday is during October—the middle of fall. I am indebted to God for the gift of my marriage. Without my wife, my fervor for Divine Mercy and St. Maria Faustina—her confirmation saint— may not exist!

Reflecting on autumn, my wife, and the Polish saint allowed for me to have a profound revelation: the first week of October contains an all-star line-up for saint feast days!

Five of my personal favorite saints, and historical favorites among Catholics as well, have a feast day in the first part of October. On top of this amazing realization, October is also dedicated to the Holy Rosary and respect for all life. I will be dedicating other posts on these topics so I will focus on the five feast days of five stellar saintly role models:

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Guardian Angels

My children and I ask for the intercession of our guardian angels every night before bedtime. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 336, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” God sends his messengers from Heaven to keep us safe and remind us of His Presence.

St. Therese of Liseux quote

Therese of Lisieux

According to St. Therese, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Known as the Little Flower, the saint’s words provide a fresh perspective on my daily living and struggles. As a person who focuses on problems as something to be overcome, I sometimes place an emphasis on the amount of effort I have to put forth on a task. I also struggle with desiring recognition toward my works. Instead, if I focus on love as St. Therese teaches us, my life will be more joyful!

Francis of Assisi

Francis serves as an example of holiness, but for me, it is  a personal reminder for my college days. I attended Franciscan University graduate schooling. The legacy the Italian saint left on me is truly immeasurable.

His transformation from a wealthy individual to a beggar of Christ is tangible example of the Gospel lived out. Struggling with envy and greed myself, I am able to look to Francis of Assisi as a role model. Lord make me an instrument of peace like your servant Francis!

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Maria Faustina

No other 20th century saint, besides John Paul II and Maximilian, has impacted me as much as St. Maria Faustina. Known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy, the Polish nun is to the 20th century what St. Paul was to the 1st century Church—the evangelizer of truth to the Gentiles! Sister Faustina helped console my wife after her best friend from high school died by suicide.

The Polish sister led my wife to convert to the Catholic faith as well! She became instrumental in deepening my relationship with God over the past decade. St. Faustina is probably the biggest influence on viewing God first as a merciful Father as opposed to a vengeful Judge. Through St. Maria Faustina I heard God’s truth in her words, “Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who our true friend is.”

Teresa of Avila

The final heroic example of holiness the first week of October is St. Teresa of Avila. Her life differs from Maria and Therese as the Spanish saint lived a much longer life. Teresa also experienced more of a 180°-type of conversion. As a young adult, Teresa enjoyed the allure of the world. It wasn’t until her entry into the convent that the Spanish nun learned the importance of meditative prayer. Teresa’s The Interior Castle is a profound spiritual work that explores the vastness of our spiritual journey. This spiritual treatise has helped aid me on my journey.

While autumn is akin to a second springtime, my communion with the saints during October is like a second spiritual springtime for me. My guardian angel, Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, Maria Faustina, and Teresa of Avila reflect God’s merciful and transforming love.

Through communion with these exemplary role models I am given hope that my personal vices of greed, envy, and pride are able to be overcome! The Church teaches “We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!” (CCC 957). I pray the communion of saints will continue to guide you in your path toward holiness and ultimately lead us closer to God.

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3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

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Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. During the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.”

When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.

Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”

Bilbo exiting his hobbit hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persistence pays off

Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Luke 19:4).

Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.

Jesus Chooses the Imperfect

Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle to physically see Jesus among the crowd, he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen—he was a tax collector! According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)”

Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).

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Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing

A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness.

Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus.

Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.


I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

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