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?
Our status in the church shouldn't be relegated to a set of rules.
As the director of faith formation at a Catholic parish, I’m frequently asked questions about the logistics of the sacraments. Can I miss the confirmation service and still be confirmed? Do I need to prove I’ve gone to confession to receive the Eucharist? Can I doubt my faith and still partake in the sacraments? While these inquiries are easily answered (no, no, yes), I trip over my words every time I’m asked, “What does it mean to be a Catholic in good standing?”
The celebration of Pentecost began long before its appearance in Acts 2.
Heirloom wedding rings are powerful markers of personal heritage. Having one is a reminder of the family member with whom it originated (even if we never knew them) and the person(s) through whom it has passed. But for its original owner, it was not an heirloom at all but rather a symbol of their marriage covenant with a particular person. Only as that ring becomes an heirloom, passed on from person to person, does its meaning shift. No longer just a wedding ring, it increasingly becomes a symbol of ever widening family connections.
All people have both the right and moral responsibility when it comes to the things they own.
Catholic social teaching’s defense of private property traces all the way back to Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor). Today, however, given anxieties over data, privacy, and digital rights, Leo’s concern for “land and chattels” seems quaint. Thankfully, Catholic social teaching in the 20th century has a growing understanding that what private property is is less important than what private property does. Used rightly, private property secures and improves the lives of its owners and society at large.
The gospels leave us desiring a host of details about Jesus’ early life.
How did you get to be who you are? It’s a question we ask of those who impress us. It’s also a question that fuels most criminal biopics. We want to know how exceptional souls get from there to there. Experience indicates that who we are now has something to do with where we’ve been.