St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena are among those who received this marker of faith.
Some Catholic traditions are strange. After all, our “big tent” of traditions includes relics—oftentimes the body parts of saints—apparitions, weeping statues, and exorcisms.
Among these strange traditions is one worth examining more closely: stigmata. Stigmata are mystical phenomena where holy men or women (mainly women, including Catherine of Siena) receive some or all of the bodily wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. This tradition is a sign of closeness with God through sharing in Christ’s suffering.
What is the significance of abstaining from meat during Lent? And why eat fish?
Christians have fasted (gone without food) and abstained (gone without certain foods, especially meat) since the beginning. The Book of Genesis teaches that all the plants and animals that God created and entrusted to human beings are good, especially those given to us as food (Genesis 1:29). Jesus taught that nothing that a person eats makes him or her evil (Mark 7:18). So why then do Christians fast and abstain?
Mary faced many risks when telling the angel yes. Nevertheless, she persisted.
When I was a boy attending Catholic school, the annunciation was one of the joyful mysteries that the good sisters had me commit to memory: The angel visits Mary, offers her the central human role in God’s plan of salvation, and Mary says yes.
Mary could have chosen otherwise; God respects human freedom. But far too often Christians take her yes for granted. Mary’s consent to God’s plan warrants more attention, especially in today’s world, a time when the #MeToo movement has brought to attention the sacred importance and easy abuse of women’s right to consent.
I have 12 rolls of toilet paper. Am I prepared to share the wealth?
I called my mother last night. She’s 91 and lives alone in another state. Because of the COVID-19 state of emergency, I wanted to be sure she was OK and not feeling too anxious. It was reassuring to hear her bubbly laughter over the phone as she reminded me her house always enjoys a stuffed-to-the-gills pantry and refrigerator, virus or no virus. It’s true: Whatever else may happen, Mom won’t starve.
Lent did not always begin on Ash Wednesday.
In the Ash Wednesday gospel reading Jesus directs us to clean up: “Put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others” (Matt. 6:17–18a). And yet shortly after hearing these words we line up to receive ashes on our foreheads, a mark associated with penance and fasting. Clearly the Ash Wednesday ritual does not come from the gospel.
Lent did not always begin on Ash Wednesday. In the sixth century, Gregory the Great identified the season of Lent (Quadragesima, or the “Forty Days”) as beginning on a Sunday and lasting until Easter Sunday.
It turns out that scripture doesn’t say a lot about the nativity figures we take for granted.
Growing up, my siblings and I would take turns arranging the figures in my parents’ large crèche. I liked to display the three magi walking in a procession up to the manger, showing them on their journey following the star to Bethlehem.
My siblings were more about cramming the three wise men, shepherds, angel, and various farm animals into a tight circle around the manger, all ooh-ing and aah-ing at baby Jesus. I put my foot down one year, though, when my brother tried to add a toy elephant to the crowd. The scripture, after all, says nothing about pachyderms.
How we name something shapes how we understand it.
Names matter. St. John Paul II clearly writes in Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy) that Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) and Sunday (the first day of the week) are different. Sunday fulfills the Sabbath. Naming Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath”—or worse, “the Sabbath,” which eliminates Judeo-Christian differences—neglects the true importance of the day.
“We will all be changed,” according to Paul.
If you’re hankering for the storybook heaven in which you get your heart’s desire and live happily ever after, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews just may support it. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1).
Take note: Trust in God is the nonnegotiable price of admission. Eternity as the land of hopes is not a bad way to envision the hereafter. This may or may not include an endless supply of blue corn chips—but for me, heaven would be a nonstarter without them.
Ordinary Catholics once played an important role in the selection of bishops. What changed?
In 374 the bishop of Milan’s death sparked a deep conflict over the election of his successor. Fearing a threat to public order, the local governor, a man named Ambrose, appeared at the cathedral to appeal for calm. His eloquence so impressed those assembled that they began to chant his name and demanded he become bishop. Ambrose would go on to become a doctor of the church and the man who baptized St. Augustine.
Nothing in the church’s liturgical books or canon law regulates the display of flags in churches.
After September 11, 2001 and the subsequent war on terrorism, the American flag became more visible than at perhaps any other time in U.S. history. From car antennas to window decals to lapel buttons to commercials, it seems the flag is now everywhere. But what about in Catholic churches?