Monday, April 28, 2014

Canonizing Two Thoroughly Modern Men: The Gifts of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. John XXIII to the Church

Yesterday on Divine Mercy Sunday, two beloved Popes were canonized in St. Peter's Square -- Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. Both popes believed firmly in ushering the Church into the modern world, Pope John XXIII by calling the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II by working tirelessly to implement those conciliar reforms in a way that did justice to the Church's past and her present. But Pope St. John Paul II will always be closer to my heart.

When I began contemplating conversion to Catholicism in the late 1990s, Pope John Paul II had already reigned for more than 20 years. The JPII generation was on fire with love for Christ and his Church. They were passionately devout, fiercely intelligent, and quoted passages from the original documents of Vatican II with the same fluency an evangelical might cite Scripture. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (or TOB), with its message that our bodies and sex itself were glorious gifts from God, was just becoming the rage. Steeped in this environment and surrounded by these deeply inspiring people, who wouldn't want to become Catholic?

I entered the Catholic Church on the same day as the party celebrating my engagement to Manny, a cradle Catholic of the JPII generation. The day after our wedding in April 2000 was the first Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John Paul II had just canonized the Polish nun, St. Faustina, who began the Divine Mercy devotion. Saints almost never have feast days on Sundays, since the day of Our Lord's resurrection is considered feast enough. But for Pope John Paul II, the message of God's mercy to a despairing world was so crucial that it deserved to be proclaimed on the first Sunday after Easter Sunday, year after year.

Three years after Manny and I married, John Paul II celebrated the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy. The young Catholics of New York City were not about to let that pass without throwing a huge party. Our friend Peter McFadden, who had founded a Love & Responsibility group to study John Paul's book of the same name, engineered it all. In Fr. George Rutler's beautiful Manhattan parish, we gathered to celebrate a Mass with Renaissance polyphony, Gregorian chant, and exquisite organ music. Afterwards in nearby Bryant Park, we tried to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records by having a cake with the most number of candles. Unfortunately, the candles flamed so high that they dripped wax all over the cake and Guinness didn't accept our entry. But the sheer energy behind the attempt was electrifying.

No party is complete without a present, of course, so Peter decided we should create a pre-Cana marriage preparation program faithful to the principles of this great Pope in honor of the upcoming anniversary.  When Peter asked who would be willing to create a syllabus, I volunteered. Peter gave me a copy of the Pontifical Council for the Family’s document on Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, which provided a road map of the topics that the Vatican considered most important for engaged couples to learn. To our surprise, most pre-Cana programs skipped at least half of the recommended topics, so we had to develop a curriculum from scratch. With the approval of the Sisters of Life, who ran the Archdiocesan Family Life Office, my husband and I began teaching classes that year. 

Marriage and family mattered so much to Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII that the prayers issued for their canonizations both mentioned family. The official prayer to St. John XXIII states: "You spoke often of the beauty of the family gathered around the table to share bread and faith: pray for us that once again true families would live in our homes." In even more powerful language, the prayer to St. John Paul II states: "May you bless families, bless each family! You warned of Satan's assault against this precious and indispensable divine spark that God lit on earth. St. John Paul, with your prayer, may you protect the family and every life that blossoms from the family."

Pope Francis' similarly intense concern for marriage and the family is highlighted by his call for an Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which will occur October 5-19, 2014. This extraordinary synod of bishops will address pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization. Many people are eagerly awaiting the synod's expected pronouncements on annulment, divorce and remarriage, reception of the Eucharist after remarriage, and other contemporary issues plaguing Catholic families today.

The "Francis effect" is drawing many disaffected Catholics back to the Church, but Pope John Paul II -- and Benedict after him -- solidified its core. Pope Francis is attracting people not just to himself but to the modern Church that St. John XXIII initiated and St. John Paul II refined. It is only fitting that Pope Francis was the one to declare his two predecessors as saints in the modern Church that they brought to life.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

3 Great Spanish-language Resources for Catechesis and Evangelization

There is a growing need in the U.S. for solid Spanish-language resources to help spread and teach the Catholic faith. Here are three resources I discovered recently:

1. Blogueros con el Papa. Translated roughly as Bloggers with the Pope, this online group joins bloggers from over 20 countries. Its purpose is to support the mission and the person of the Pope and to evangelize through the Internet and social media. St. Peter the Apostle and St. Teresa of Avila are the group's patrons. My Spanish blog, Comencemos en CanĂ¡, recently joined Blogueros con el Papa.

2.Theology of the Body in Spanish. Theology professor Patricio Reidy has a website in Spanish devoted to spreading the message of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body to Spanish-speaking people throughout the Americas. Reidy also produces short videos, called Minutos, to describe TOB in brief detail to a Spanish-speaking audience. These videos are currently available on the YouTube channel of the Daughters of St. Paul. I've featured one of them here.

3. Lenten and Holy Week resources. The Diocese of Dallas has prepared an extensive list of Lenten catechetical materials for individuals, families, and children. Some materials are specifically geared towards Holy Week and Easter. Others have year-round usefulness, such as The Way of the Cross for children and guides for the Sacrament of confession.

If you find these resources helpful, please share them widely! If you know of other Spanish-language resources, please mention them in the comments.

 Photo Credit: kamerakamote via Compfight cc

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Teach These Things to Your Children

A single story that brings your child’s heart nearer to God is worth an infinite number of likes and shares on Facebook. Your Internet audience might include any number of people — friends who are already convinced, strangers who will never be convinced, and people who will forget what you said a minute later. Rarely will you exert as strong an influence over the general public as you do over your own children and grandchildren.

Parents are the primary educators of their children, especially when it comes to faith and morals. Evangelizing must begin at home. Moses emphasized the importance of parents’ teaching their children the law of God, instructing the people of Israel:

“Not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” (Dt 4:9)

Our primary responsibility is to remember the Word of God and apply it to our own actions. We must learn it and internalize it before we can pass it on. Secondly, we have the joy and the obligation of handing the faith down to our children as a spiritual inheritance.

Children will remember what we say even if they don’t agree with it or follow it 100% of the time. Years later, perhaps when they themselves become parents, they will look back and realize the worth of the values we tried to inculcate in them. We plant the seeds and wait patiently for them to flourish, letting God and the passage of time soften the ground of our children’s hearts.

So, parents, when you talk to your children today, bring God into the conversation. It’s not hard. If your kids fight, mention Cain and Abel. If they play the blame game, talk about how after the Fall, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, everyone turning against one another out of sin. If they say they feel unloved or unimportant, remind them that God has counted every hair on their heads. If they drive you crazy, remember that God “has blessed your children within you” (Ps. 147:13) before they were even born and sent them to you as a gift to propel you along the path to heaven.

Spread the Gospel by beginning at home.

Based on the readings for Wednesday, March 26, 2014: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalms 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Matthew 5:17-19. This post also appeared at Catholic Lane.