Archive for Know Your Catholic Faith

Divine Mercy

On April 30, 2000, the Canonization of Faustina Kowalska took place and the second Sunday of Easter was officially designated as the Sunday of the Divine Mercy in the Church Calendar.

Among Catholic devotions, the Divine Mercy message is well-known, along with, the iconic image of Christ, with rays of red and white pouring from his heart.

St. Faustina Kowalska was a young Polish nun, and over the course of several years had visions of Jesus, whereby she was directed to create an image and to share with the world revelations of Jesus’ love and mercy.  St. Faustina received her first revelation in February 1931.

In 1933, after she made her perpetual vows for the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, her superior directed her to move to the convent house in Vilnius.  She stayed there for three years and this is where she received many more visions of Jesus.

Vilnius is also where she found a priest to be her spiritual director, the now–Blessed Michael Sopocko.  With the help of Fr. Sopocko, St. Faustina found a painter to fulfill the request Jesus had made to her in one of the visions—to “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You”—and in 1934, the painter Eugene Kazimierowski created the original Divine Mercy painting under St. Faustina’s direction.

The image shows Christ with his right hand raised as if giving a blessing, and the left touching his chest.  Two rays, one pale, one red—which Jesus said are to signify water and blood—are descending from his heart.

St. Faustina recorded all of her visions and conversations with Jesus in her diary, called Divine Mercy in My Soul.  Here she wrote the words of Jesus about the graces that would pour out on anyone who prayed before the image: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish.  I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death.  I Myself will defend [that soul] as My own glory.”

When the image was completed, it was first kept in the corridor of the convent of the Bernardine Sisters, which was beside the Church of St. Michael where Fr. Sopocko was rector.

In March 1936, St. Faustina became sick, with what is believed to have been tuberculosis, and was transferred back to Poland by her superiors.  She died near Krakow in October 1938, at the age of 33.

Even though St. Faustina, because of her illness, was brought back to Krakow, she left the painting in Vilnius because it was the property of her spiritual director, who had paid for the painting.

Jesus, in one of St. Faustina’s visions, had expressed his wish that the image be put in a place of honor, so on the first Sunday after Easter in 1937, they hung the image of Merciful Jesus next to the main altar in the Church of St. Michael.

In 1948, the communist government closed the Church of St. Michael and abolished the convent.  Many of the sacred objects and artworks were moved to other churches to be saved from Soviet hands.  Eventually it was brought back to Lithuania in secret and given to the Church of the Holy Spirit.

In the early 2000s its significance was rediscovered and after a professional restoration it was rehung in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity in 2005, which is now the Shrine of Divine Mercy.

God teaches us about his mercy through a holy woman who died at the age of 33, who had lived a very devout life, and endured great sufferings for the sake of Christ.  We are taught, through individuals like St. Faustina, how to actually receive God’s mercy and to be merciful to others. (10:20)

Resurrection

Is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ an historical event that really happened, or is it only a myth, as many atheists claim?  While no one witnessed the actual resurrection, many people swore they saw the risen Christ after his death, and their lives were never the same.

Archaeological discoveries continue to support the Bible’s historical accuracy.  We tend to forget that the Gospels and Book of Acts are eyewitness accounts of the life and death of Jesus.

Further non-biblical evidence for Jesus’ existence comes from the writings of historians and other sources from that time period, such as Flavius Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata and the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The following seven proofs of the resurrection show that Christ did, indeed, rise from the dead.  They are: The empty tomb of Jesus; the Holy Women eyewitnesses; Jesus’ Apostles’ new-found courage; changed lives of James and others; large crowd of eyewitnesses; conversion of Paul; and the many that have died for Jesus.

Christ’s Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable; who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered; who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony; and whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message.

Again the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by the eloquent silence of the Synagogue which had done everything to prevent deception; which could have easily discovered deception, if there had been any; which did not punish the alleged carelessness of the official guard; and which could not answer the testimony of the Apostles except by threatening them “that they speak no more in this name to any.”

Finally millions, both Jews and Gentiles, who believed the testimony of the Apostles in spite of all the disadvantages following from such a belief, in short the origin of the Church, requires for its explanation the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, for the rise of the Church without the Resurrection would have been a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself.

Besides being the fundamental tenet for our Christian belief, the Resurrection is important for the following reasons: It shows the justice of God who exalted Christ to glory as Christ had humbled Himself unto death; the Resurrection completed the mystery of our salvation and redemption; and by His Resurrection we acknowledge Christ as the immortal God.  (10:19)

Redemptive Suffering

From paper cuts and mosquito bites to the ravages of cancer and the death of a loved one, suffering is a fact of life that all religions try to make sense of.

Different religions approach suffering in their own ways.  So, how do Catholics “offer up” their sufferings and sacrifices?

Formally, many Catholics make the Morning Offering to give to Our Lord that day’s efforts, works, joys, sufferings, intentions, etc. (the form will vary).

At the Mass, we exercise our lay priesthood by consciously, silently, privately offering ourselves up, along with the Son, to the Father during the Offertory.

Informally, we can “offer it up” by simply asking God in our own words to use a suffering as it occurs; we could do this for specific intentions (for example, by praying, “Use this pain, Lord, for the salvation of my brother . . .”).

While it might be tempting to tell someone to “offer it up,” it is also important to remember to comfort those who are suffering, to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty.

Telling someone to offer it up without also helping to deal with the temporal and emotional effects of whatever they are going through is not the fully Christian thing to do.

But for ourselves, offering our sufferings as a way to be united in Christ’s suffering is unique to Christianity . . . and to Catholicism.  (10:18)

Almsgiving

Of the three marks of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — almsgiving is surely the most neglected.

And yet, in the only place where the Bible brings all three together, the inspired author puts the emphasis firmly on the last: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness.  It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin.  Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life” (Tob 12:8-9).

Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting?  Because giving alms is prayer, and it involves fasting.

Almsgiving is a form of prayer because it is “giving to God” — and not mere philanthropy.  It is a form of fasting because it demands sacrificial giving — not just the giving of something, but the giving up of something.

According to the USCCB, the foundational call of Christians to charity is a frequent theme of the Gospels.  During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on “almsgiving,” which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.  As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2462).

There are several special opportunities for almsgiving through donations to Church ministries for which collections are conducted during the Lenten season including:  Collections for Catholic Relief Services; The Holy Land; Mission Collections; CRS Rice Bowl; and others.

Indeed, there are countless other ways to offer your time, talent and treasure to needy individuals and organizations during Lent and throughout the year.  (10:17)

Prayer

Reminding ourselves on the basics of prayer may be helpful.

We know prayer can be verbal or nonverbal: that is, we can pray out loud or pray silently within our innermost thoughts.

We pray in public, as we do at Mass, and we pray in private.

We pray giving praise, or we pray in thanksgiving, or in petition or in repentance.

We might be driven to prayer when we are sad or happy, when we are in trouble or afraid, or when we give praise and worship to the one who created us.  The list could go on.

Of course, we should make prayer a daily habit, engaging in chat with God throughout the day.  The Church looks at all prayer as being fundamental to our faith, but especially in the morning and evening as they act as hinges to the day.

Our morning prayer opens up our day—offering our labor and life to God, while our prayer before bed closes out our activities recalling the good we have done and asking for help to correct our failings in future days.

Although we are to let God know what is on our hearts and minds, we need not always try to control the conversation with God, but rather let Him speak to us by spending time just listening to Him.

Personal prayer anytime is a good thing.  Yet private prayer does not take the place of attending Mass.  Private prayer is personal and one-dimensional.  When we are at Mass, we pray in union with other believers as part of a community.

The Mass gives us the opportunity to seek forgiveness for our sins, be inspired by the readings and the homily, offer ourselves to the Lord, reach out to others with the peace of Christ, forgive others during the Lord’s Prayer, receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and become empowered to carry the presence of Christ into the world.

In the words of St. Paul, “Pray without ceasing.”  (10:16)

Fast and Abstinence

It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality to embrace repentance and a turning away from sin and back to God.  The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man.

The Church for her part has specified certain forms of penance, both to ensure that the Catholic will do something, as required by divine law, while making it easy for Catholics to fulfill the obligation.

Thus, all Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

The abstinence from eating meat or another food is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; and all adults from the 18th birthday are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year.

Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.

Besides those outside the age limits, others excused from fast and abstinence are those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Aside from these minimum penitential requirements Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times.

A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they abstain.  Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives).  Similarly, one could multiply the number of days that one fasted.  (10:15)

Sundays of Lent

Sundays are not counted in the days of Lent; otherwise, there would be 46 days of Lent between the first day of Lent and Easter Sunday.  But why are not the Sundays included?  The answer goes back to the earliest days of the Church.

Christ’s original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.

Christ rose from the dead, however, on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians, starting with the apostles (those original disciples), saw Christ’s Resurrection as a new creation, and so they transferred the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday.

Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days.

Therefore, the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter do not include Sundays in the count. (10:14)

Forty Days of Lent

There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Easter Sunday.  But the days of Lent do not include any of the six Sundays; therefore, there are only 40 days of fasting.

So why is Lent forty days?  Well, think about some of the Old Testament stories.  Noah and family were in the Ark for 40 days.  Moses and the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years.  Also consider that it takes forty weeks for a developing baby in the womb before a new birth can take place.

All these “forties” (and there are other examples): what does it mean?  For the new born, of course, it is a new life.  In Noah’s case, it’s the rebirth of a sinful world that had been cleansed by raging flood waters.  For the nomadic Israelites, it was the start of a new, settled existence in the Promised Land.

And for Jesus’ forty days it meant the birth of a new Israel liberated from sin, reconciled to God, and governed by the law of the Spirit rather than one etched in stone.

Our diligent prayer, fasting, and charitable service nourished by the Eucharist and Scripture can ease our darkness toward light for something new and wonderful to be reborn in us. (10:13)

Ash Wednesday

In the present Church calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of the observance of the forty days of Lent.  It takes its name from the solemn ceremony of the liturgy of the day ashes are blessed and marked on the foreheads of the faithful in the form of a cross with the accompanying words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

The Holy See has released updated norms for the distribution of ashes during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Instead of a mark on the forehead, ashes will be sprinkled on the head of each without saying anything.

Regardless of the form, it is thus a solemn call to penance so that one may enjoy eternal life.

Ash Wednesday was established as the first day of Lent by St. Gregory the Great (590 to 604).  Pope Paul VI declared this movable observance to be a day of universal fasting and abstinence.

The Alleluia is not sung or said from the beginning of Lent until the Easter Vigil.  During Lent the altar should not be decorated with flowers and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to the singing.

Lent continues until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. (10:12)

Tithe

Although the Church teaches that offering some form of material support to the Church is obligatory for all Catholic adults who are able to do so, it doesn’t specify what percent of one’s income should be given.  Remember, tithing (referring to 10%) was an Old Testament obligation that was incumbent on the Jews under the Law of Moses.

Christians are dispensed from the obligation of tithing ten percent of their incomes, but not from the obligation to help the Church.

In speaking about tithing and what we should give to the Church, we often forget that everything we have already belongs to God.  Our money and possessions are not ours but His.  All that we have is ours only because He allows us to have it.

If we in the world today were to place God first in our lives, there would be no question or problem about tithes because our hearts would be filled with charity and we would give to and support the Church in the best way that we were able to.

To paraphrase: God doesn’t demand a fixed amount of money from us; he wants us to give from the heart.

If people are forced by their church to give a certain percent of their income, that’s extortion.  If they give freely and cheerfully the amount they are able, that’s a gift. (10:11)