The Headless Bishop (and other Halloween costumes that work for All Saints Day)

We have a pretty good record of getting cast out of every Catholic community we stumble into. This is good news, because it means we never have to make costumes for All Saints Day (we do have fun making Halloween costumes, though).

But how about you? Did you suddenly realize that, in a fit of good Catholic momming, you promised to whip up costumes for both days? I’m here to save your bacon. These costumes are suitably edifying for any church-sponsored party, but edgy enough to earn you all the Mary Janes and Raisinets you can eat on October 31.

Your most obvious twofer choice is martyrs. Grab whatever weapon catches your fancy in the Halloween aisle, and you’re guaranteed to find some Catholic somewhere who was killed with it. We’re just that popular! Buy two tubes of blood, one for the gorefest and one for pious reenactments, and you’re set.

Hilarious on October 31
:

inspirational just a day later:

image

Everybody loves a good sight gag:

(instructional video here)

especially when it’s Biblically sound:

And finally, you can terrify the normals with this fantastic cephalophoric illusion:

(instructional video here)

Or, well, terrify the normals with something from the more obscure annals of martyologies.

(Not recommended: St. Agatha)

But there are non-bloody saints, too, and even some adorable sidekicks. You wear a ratty bathrobe and skip showering for a week or two, and you can pass as either a civic-minded individual tirelessly lobbying for societal and legal acceptance of an all-natural homeopathic remedies

(credit Todd Huffman via Flickr; Creative Commons)

or St. Francis, whatever

And who’s this tagging along behind you?

 

Awww, it’s da widdle wolf of Gubbio! Or a werewolf, take your pick.

Who doesn’t appreciate the time, effort, expense, and attention to detail that goes into a great mummy costume?

(Credit: Allen Lew via Flickr; Creative Commons)

Replace that sinister moan and lumbering gait with a fervent gleam in the eye and a pleasant, un-decompopsed scent, and you become, ovulously, Lazarus:

Here’s an idea which clearly marks you as one of those people who may be a little bit too enthusiastic about Halloween for someone your age:

(instructional video here)

But wait! With a few tweaks done in a sensitive and reverent way, you could easily be St. Christopher.

But don’t tell anyone it was my idea.

In closing, here is a joke I will keep telling until someone else thinks it’s funny. You can buy a Dobby mask, and BOOM, Curé of Ars.

What’s that you say? What are my kids going to be this year, if I’m so smart? I’ll give you a hint: So far I’ve sewed two furry leg warmers together, hemmed a black cloak, spray painted a few acorns gold, and bought some tulle that was on sale, and also kind of a lot of fake teeth. That’s right: We’re going, en masse, as the domestic church, and I just dare you to get in our way.

Something to say to God

“I like praying the Liturgy of the Hours,” says Leah Libresco

because, at a bare minimum, it gives me something to say to God.  Not just the words of the prayers but, basically, “I’m really grateful for prayer traditions because I’d pretty much suck at having to make all this up on my own.”  Instead of just being grateful for language period, it’s kind of like being grateful for slang — the shared set of references that characterize a relationship or a community.

Jennifer Fulwiler addresses a related phenomenon when she speaks of praying the Liturgy of the Hours:  She realizes that, when the words don’t apply to her life, that’s a good thing, because she is praying as part of the Body of Christ.  She says,

I found myself saying “we” and “our” more often than “I” and “mine.”

We all need the discipline of praying about things that are not immediately relevant to our needs.  She says,

 It all finally clicked. For the first time, I think I really understood the power of the Liturgy of the Hours as the universal prayer of the Church …

As my heart swelled to think of the great drama playing out all over the world that morning of which I was only a small part, I thought back to my words at the beginning of the office — “But this Psalm doesn’t have anything to do with me!” — and realized that I had learned something critically important about prayer: It’s not all about me.”

This is not to say that we can never pray about things that do concern us.  But in my experience, the formal, selfless, ritualized prayer comes first, before there can be any depth of sincerity in individual prayer.

We can, for instance, try to flog our hearts into a sensation of awe during the consecration, but we probably won’t get anywhere.  But if we simply humbly accept what is being offered, and obediently participate in the ritual of thanksgiving, that is what lays the groundwork for heartfelt awe and wonder.

So both kinds of prayer are necessary for us and pleasing to God — both the formal, “ready-made” prayers that we participate in as an act of will, and the personal, immediate outpourings of our own soul.

Praying only in own language is limiting and inadequate — but so, I believe, is only ever praying in the formalized language of the Church, because it’s all too easy to keep it formulaic, and to forget that prayer is conversation, and conversation implies a relationship.

We ought to pray, at least some of the time, in our “native tongue.”  Leah has already discovered this:

When I think of immaterial things, I tend to think of Morality, which might not be that bad as a focus of prayer, even if I need to expand it out a little.  The trouble is I also think of Math, and since it’s much easier to think about clearly and distinctly, I was running into a problem.  I certainly wasn’t intending to pray to the Pythagorean theorem (which would make me a very strange sort of pagan), but I was drifting away from trying to talk to a Person and over to just thinking about immaterial ideas.

And kudos to her for noticing the problem!

So, basically, instead of fighting these thoughts, I kept thinking about whatever math concepts popped into my mind.  I thought about when I’d learned them, how exciting they were, and the way I got to share that joy with my friends.  Then I basically reminded myself, “God is Truth, so he totally shares your delight in these things.  In fact, he delights in your delight and would love to draw you further up and further in to contemplate and be changed by higher truths in math and in everything else.”

And that meant I was basically thinking about a person and a relationship again.  In my own weird little way.

Brilliant.  Leah is drawn to truth; it’s her native tongue. For others, it’s goodness; for me, it’s beauty.  Pythagoras doesn’t do much for me, but corn on the cob bubbling away in my blue enamel pot as the steam sifts through a shaft of evening light? This is something I invariably hold up to God, so we can delight in it together.

The saints all found different ways of praising God according to who they are, according to the native language He gave to them.  And so we have St. Francis in his tattered robe, and also Josemaria Escriva with his precisely groomed hair; King David with his wild dancing, and Mother Theresa washing wounds.  All of them related to God with some combination of formal language inherited from the Church, and spontaneous outpourings of their particular kinds of heart. These individual orientations are not something to struggle against; they are languages which God gives us so we can sing love songs to Him.

Do you speak to God in your native tongue?  Or do you hide your personality from Him?  Do you compartmentalize your spiritual life from your daily experience?  Or can you remember that everything that is good comes from God?

This is the main thing to remember when we pray, and when we live our daily lives:  “He the source, the Ending He.”  Both root of idea and flower of expression.  Here’s Hopkins:

the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This is how we become more like Christ:  by allowing God to refine who we already are. We become more like Him by speaking to Him in our native tongue. If, like Leah Libresco, we are looking for “something to say to God,” we could hardly do better than, “Here is what I am, Lord. Make me more like You.”

***

This post originally ran in a slightly different form in the National Catholic Register in 2012.

Image: The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St. Damien wasn’t a white savior, but he was like Christ

His mission wasn’t to bestow salvation on them, but to help restore them to a life of dignity that they deserved as fellow human beings, by teaching them about Christ, by helping them to take care of themselves, and most of all by becoming one of them.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: By Sydney B. Swift [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Blessed are the ungifted. Everything’s a gift.

The music of Bach is not something that, say, Barry Manilow could have achieved if he simply put in more hours. You can gather tinder all day and stack it like an expert, but without a spark, there will be no flame.

I used to fret over this problem a lot as a child. I obsessed over a book of saints, where the common thread seemed to be that these people had been different from the very beginning. Tiny Ludwiga could lisp the Pater Noster long before she even learned to say her own name; pious Edelbert would toddle away from his nurse every chance he got, only to be found once again sound asleep under his favourite spot, the tabernacle in the village church.

“How the heck can I compete with that?” I used to think.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

HOW TO BE A HERO: TRAIN WITH THE SAINTS is fresh, clear, and useful

When Julia Harrell’s new book, How To Be a Hero: Train With the Saints (Pauline Kids, 2017) arrived in the mail, my shoulders slumped for a minute. I just didn’t expect much from it, based on the cover.

Happily, my first impressions were way off!

It’s a manual on the virtues for kids age 9-11 (although I think older kids would benefit from it, as well). In each chapter, Harrell defines a cardinal, theological, or little virtue, gives a short biography of a saint who exemplified that virtue, and ends with a short prayer and a list of questions to elicit further thought about how to apply the virtue to our own lives.

The language is plain and frank, and the ideas are much more challenging than you normally see in a religion book for kids. The saints included are:

Pope Saint John Paul II (prudence)
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati (justice)
Saints Peter Yu Tae-chol and Agatha Yi (fortitude)
Ven. Matt Talbot (fortitude)

The Children of Fatima (faith)
St. Josephine Bakhita (hope)
B. Chiara Badano (love)

St. Joan of Arc (humility)
Bl. Dina Belanger (obedience)
St. Monica (patience)
St. Charbel Makhlouf (gentleness)

Nice list, right? And not the most obvious match-ups, either (maybe you’d expect to see St. Joan with fortitude, for instance.)

I think the book could have done just as well without the premise that virtues are superpowers that we must master to become heroes, or saints; and the drawn illustrations are lackluster. It does include plenty of black-and-white photographs of the saints, though, and overall, the presentation is brisk and accessible. Here, you can leaf through the book page by page and get an idea of how the content is presented.

We’re taking a break from The How-To Book of the Mass, which we’ve been working our way through verrrrry slowly, and reading a section of How To Be a Hero in the evening now. (I firmly believe it’s better to do even five minutes of reading very often, than to work harder and burn out faster.) I’m dragging in all the kids, including the five teenagers, because the subject matter is presented simply, but it’s not childish.

Very pleased with this book so far. It would make a good Easter gift.

 

St. Bernard, pray for . . . wha?

bee-649952_1280

 

 

Speaking of distraction from prayer, that narthex is where parents of small children often find themselves when they’re fulfilling their Sunday obligation in the most basic way: by being bodily inside the walls, even if we can’t catch more than a second or two of actual prayer time. Our parish is pretty kid-friendly, but it’s only courteous to take a truly bonkers kid out of earshot until he calms down, so the narthex is the place to be; and that is where St. Bernard stands, too.

One mother I know keeps her kid happy by carrying him up to the feet of the statue, finding the bee, making contact, and going, “BZZT!” Kid laughs, forgets to wreak havoc, everyone’s happy. Honey sweet, indeed.

We can draw a few things from this…

Read the rest at the Register. 

Maria Goretti didn’t die for her virginity

Maria_Goretti

Or she wasn’t canonized just because she managed to remain a virgin, anyway.

Let’s back up. When you think about holiness, do you fall into bathwater thinking?

Bathwater thinking is when you forget the baby — the living, breathing, vulnerable persons in front of you — and instead, you wallow around in that warm, familiar bathwater of your indisputably worthy cause.

Think about St. Gianna Molla.  A good many people believe that this woman’s greatness came in her eager, joyful acceptance of death in order to save her baby.  Not so.  It is true that she was willing to accept the risk of death when she refused the therapeutic hysterectomy that would have killed her unborn child.  And she did end up giving her life so that her baby could live.  But the whole time, she prayed and hoped and longed to live. She wasn’t devoted to being pro-life: she was devoted to her baby.  And she wanted to live, so that she could be with her baby and her husband and the rest of her beloved children.  She was pro-life:  she hoped for life in abundance, including her own.

The same is true, in a somewhat different way, for St. Maria Goretti, whose feast is today.  Over and over, I’ve heard this saint praised as a holy girl who prized her viginity so highly that she was willing to die to defend it.  And she did die as a result of defending her viginity.  But when her would-be rapist attacked her, she pleaded with him to stop because he would be committing a mortal sin, and he would go to hell.  She didn’t say, “Please, please, spare my virginity!” She begged him to spare himself.  

This is what it looks like when someone is close to God:  because they love God, they want to spare the person in front of them.  They are in love with living human beings, not in love with virtue in the abstract.  They are focused not on the idea of morality, but on the person whose life and safety (whether physical or spiritual) are at stake.

In Maria Goretti’s case, she was focused on her rapist — and it was her love for him, and not her blindingly pure devotion to virginity, that converted him and brought him to repentance before he died.  That is how conversions happen.  That is how people are saved:  when other people show love for them.  It’s about other people.  It’s always about our love for God expressed as love for other people.  That’s why, before someone is declared a saint, they have to perform two miracles for people still on earth.  Even after death, it’s not about the cause or the system or the virtue in the abstract.  It’s always about our love for other people.

Ideas like holiness, chastity, humility, charity, diligence, or any other virtue that springs to mind when you think of a saint?  These are bathwater.  These are the things that surround and support the “baby” of love in action.  A bath without bathwater is no good; but a bath without someone to be bathed is even more pointless. God doesn’t want bathwater saints, ardently devoted to a cause or a principle or a movement or a virtue.  God wants us to love and care for each other.  Love for each other is how we order our lives.  Love for each other is how we serve God.

Love for each other is how we imitate Jesus. He didn’t die for the cause of salvation; He died for us, as billions of individual beloved children.

It’s not an either/or: we don’t have to choose between pursuing virtue and showing love. But virtue doesn’t exist in a vaccuum, and the pursuit of holiness doesn’t mean anything unless it’s manifest in love for each other. It’s always about our love for other people. Otherwise, what’s the point?

***

Image via Wikimedia Commons: By Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini[1]  (Original source of this reproduction is unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published in a different form in February of 2014.

Gee, your corpse smells terrific!

Bernadette

Not only does the Catholic Church “do science,” but she allows us a heck of a lot of latitude in our personal devotions. Myself, I have steered clear of incorruptibles as any proof of anything besides the fact that the world is weird, history is messy, and lots of people are different from me.

Read the rest at the Register. 

So Benedict was the pinko who green lighted Oscar Romero cause

oscar-romero

According to the AP (bold type is my addition):

The monsignor who spearheaded the saint-making process for El Salvador’s slain Archbishop Oscar Romero said Wednesday it was Pope Benedict XVI— and not Pope Francis — who removed the final hurdle in the tortured, 35-year process.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told reporters Benedict “gave the green light.” Speaking a day after Francis declared that Romero died as a martyr for the faith, Paglia said Romero’s beatification would likely be within a few months in San Salvador.

Paglia says Benedict told him on Dec. 20, 2012, the case had passed from the Vatican’s doctrine office, where it had been held up for years over concerns about Romero’s orthodoxy, to the saint-making office. From there it proceeded quickly, taking a mere two years for theologians, and then a committee of cardinals and bishops, to agree unanimously that Romero died as a martyr out of hatred for the faith.

I don’t know about you, but the narrative I always heard and accepted was that Oscar Romero did good work, but was a little hinky in his leanings, and so the more conservative element in the Church didn’t want to touch his cause for beatification; but Francis is enough of a free-wheeler to cut through that red tape and get this thing moving. I’m not saying that’s what you thought; I’m saying that’s what I thought, without thinking about it much.

Instead, it looks like this is installment #3,908,555 in the story titled “The Vatican works very, very slowly, and most of us know almost nothing about what goes on there” (and installment #598,773 in the story titled, “So, you thought you knew Benedict?”). I’m really looking forward to learning more about Abp. Romero, who was assassinated while saying Mass, apparently for appealing directly to soldiers to stop murdering the citizens of El Salvador.

 

Whew, 2015 is off to quite a start!

For all the saints (including all the jerks)

A few years ago, Max Lindenman asked “What saints can’t you stand?” The responses are pretty interesting: There are some saints that no one likes, because they were unpleasant weirdos. Then there are some that inspire and enchant some people, while repelling and disgusting others. For me, St. John Vianney is one of these repellant types. Every time I hear a saint quote that makes me go, “WHAT?!?!” it turns out to be St. John Vianney. Oh, well—there are plenty of other saints.

When John Paul II was canonized, all of my favorite people were overjoyed that this holy man was being honored, but some Catholics were dubious, even snotty. Some simply don’t like him (how??), while others had serious doubts about his worthiness. It occurs to me that, when people react differently to the saints, there are three lessons to be drawn.

First is that even saints are a product of their times. Sincere spirituality takes different forms according to fads and culture—that’s just the human condition. And so when Padre Pio threw the lady out of his confessional and refused to speak to her until she stopped selling pants to women—well, he was a man of his times. At the time, selling women’s pants truly was a deliberate assault against gender distinction as it existed in that time. The woman in question probably was doing something wrong, just as a woman from the Middle Ages would have been doing something wrong by showing her bare knees: It’s not because knees or pants are intrinsically evil, but because it’s all about context and intention.

Now, it’s very possible that a Padre Pio alive in 2014 would be just as furious at a female pants-seller of 2014. And there’s our second lesson, which is: Saints can be jerks, too. Saints are not infallible; saint are not flawless. Saints sin. They may say or do t hings which are false, silly or harmful. If a priest today threw a woman out of confession for selling pants, he’d be sinning. He might still be a saint: He’d just have to go to confession for that particular sin.

And the third lesson we can learn is that this variety in saintliness is a feature, not a bug. When I adore Saint Fonofrius, but you think he’s a drippy bore, that’s part of God’s plan. It’s one of those “Catholic with a small c” ideas: The Church is here for everybody. While there are certain things that every single living soul is called to, there is always a matter of proportion. For some saints, generosity is their talent. For others, it’s great physical courage. For some saints, their entire lives tell a story of incredible singlemindedness and purity of intention; for others, God used them as the finest living example of someone who kept screwing up, repenting and trying again.

God is the light, and the saints are various types of lamps: Some produce a lovely glow; some produce a brilliant beam. Some make more heat; others are better for atmosphere. Some are for ballrooms, some are for bedsides, some are for keeping traffic orderly. The light inside is the same, but different styles show that light in different ways. A surgeon wouldn’t use a Tiffany lamp in the operating room—but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the Tiffany lamp. It’s just not the right one for that particular job.

So, the grumblers against John Paul II wish he had been a better administrator? Me too. But it wasn’t his particular talent. They wish John Paul II had been more canny, more suspicious of Maciel? Me too, and can you even imagine how much he must have wished it himself. But that wasn’t his particular talent.

When he trusted Maciel, it was a mistake committed because he was a product of his times (nearly everyone trusted Maciel; the Legionaries were apparently bearing wonderful fruit; and false accusations of pedophilia were a common tactic in his home country). It’s also possible that he committed this mistake because of personal flaw: He was Pope, and should have been more careful. (That is absolutely not for me to say—but this is a man who went to confession daily, so he clearly thought he was a sinner.)

But let’s not forget the third lesson: A saint is someone who does the most he can with his particular gifts from God. John Paul’s particular talents were an incredible strength and courage, a contagious joy, a spectacularly original mind, and an unprecedented ability to reach out and draw people to Christ. All of his works were works of love. And that’s why he was declared a saint: He used what God gave him to reflect his share of the light of Christ.

*****
[This post originally ran in a slightly different form in 2011.]