Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Feast Day of St. Jude

St. Jude, known as Thaddaeus, was a brother of St. James the Less, and a relative of Our Saviour. St. Jude was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus.

Ancient writers tell us that he preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lybia. According to Eusebius, he returned to Jerusalem in the year 62, and assisted at the election of his brother, St. Simeon, as Bishop of Jerusalem.

He is an author of an epistle (letter) to the Churches of the East, particularly the Jewish converts, directed against the heresies of the Simonians, Nicolaites, and Gnostics. This Apostle is said to have suffered martyrdom in Armenia, which was then subject to Persia. The final conversion of the Armenian nation to Christianity did not take place until the third century of our era.

Jude was the one who asked Jesus at the Last Supper why He would not manifest Himself to the whole world after His resurrection. Little else is known of his life. Legend claims that he visited Beirut and Edessa; possibly martyred with St. Simon in Persia.

Jude is invoked in desperate situations because his New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances, just as their forefathers had done before them. Therefore, he is the patron saint of desperate cases and his feast day is October 28. Saint Jude is not the same person as Judas Iscariot who betrayed Our Lord and despaired because of his great sin and lack of trust in God's mercy.

St. Jude's prayers have helped my family and I through a very desperate situation. (Details here) On his feastday I remember him with great gratitude.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hallowtide Celebration Links

Here are some great websites that offer history and traditions to add to your All Hallows' Eve celebrations.

History of "Hallowtide" or the "Days of the Dead". Includes the story of Jack o' the Lantern and links to classic literature for spooky stories to scare ... I mean share with your family.

Halloween history including why witches "fly" on brooms

Information on All Saints' Day

Customs for All Souls Day

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Halloween Redemption

In my search to bring a religious tone to the secularization of All Hallows Eve, I found this wonderful article by Page McKean Zyromski. I just had to share it with others. If anything it will add to your fountain of useless knowledge for those random trivia questions. Read on.....


How Halloween Can Be Redeemed
by Page McKean Zyromski

Halloween has grown into a major secular holiday in American culture. But for those who don’t value devotion to the saints, the Eve has become "hollow" instead of "hallow." The purpose behind it has been lost—like celebrating New Year’s Eve without a New Year’s Day. Take away the saints and our beliefs about the dignity and destiny of human beings, and the only thing left is pre-Christian superstition regarding the dead.

Among many Christians, there has been concern that things have gotten out of hand. After all, doesn’t Halloween glorify evil? Is it right to send our children out as devils and vampires, or is it better to emphasize the saints, whose nearly forgotten feast day is the reason for Halloween? Hallow is the same word for "holy" that we find in the Lord’s Prayer, and e’en is a contraction of "evening." The word Halloween itself is a shortened form of "All Hallows Eve," the day before All Saints Day. In this Update we’ll consider how Catholics can "redeem" Halloween. This holiday, properly understood and celebrated with all of its fun trappings, can be a way for us to deepen our understanding of our faith. The key to this understanding is close at hand for Catholics in our love of the communion of saints.

Martyr means ‘witness’

Until the ninth century the Church celebrated the popular feast of All Saints on May 13th, during the season of joy after the Resurrection. This is the light in which we see all the faithful who have died, especially those whose witness to Christ is an inspiration. In 835 the date was deliberately changed to November 1 to Christianize the existing pagan time for remembering the dead—to bring light to the darkness, and hope to the most basic of human fears.

Before canonization was ever thought of, before the New Testament books even took shape, the human desire to remember deceased loved ones surfaced. And these were no ordinary loved ones, these were brothers and sisters who had died in Christ, as witnesses to Christ. (The Greek word martyr simply means "witness.") Their death was victory, not defeat; celebration, not mourning.

The same way people gather today at the site of a tragedy on its anniversary to talk to each other and to reporters, the first Christians gathered on the anniversary of a martyr’s death to remember it the way they knew best: with the "breaking of the bread." They retold the stories to inspire each other at a time when faith meant persecution and more martyrdom. Not even death could break the unity in Jesus which Paul had named "the Body of Christ."

Anniversaries of local and well-known martyrs peppered the calendar. Then a pragmatic question arose: What honor should be given to martyrs whose names were unknown? Many Christians were thrown to the lions for witnessing to their faith, not all of them known to the community. By the mid-fourth century a feast of "All Martyrs" appeared on local calendars. As persecutions grew less frequent, the feast was extended to include non-martyr "witnesses," Christians whose lives were "the gospel in action," as St. Francis de Sales would later call the saints.

One vigil, two feasts

Meanwhile those who were not so saintly were also being remembered after death. The first Christians were heirs to the Jewish custom of praying for the dead and offering sacrifice for them as part of emerging Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Today’s Christians sometimes forget that by the time of Christ many Jews, especially the Pharisees, had a well-developed belief in the resurrection of the dead, which included trust that the prayer of the living could benefit the dead. It was with this understanding that, 160 years before Jesus was born, Judah the Maccabee prayed and offered sacrifice for dead comrades who had sinned: "For if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death" (2 Maccabees 12:44).

For the first 1,000 years of Christianity there was no collective memorial for All Souls. Relatives and loved ones were remembered at Mass on the anniversary of their death, or until they passed out of living memory. But by the seventh century monasteries were celebrating an annual Mass for all the deceased of their order, an idea which spread to the laity. About 1048, an influential abbot chose November 2 to commemorate All Souls because it was an obvious companion date and extension of the Feast of All Saints. Both days are reminders that all of us, living and dead, are united in a living communion with Christ and one another.

In effect, Halloween became one vigil for two feasts celebrated by the whole Church. In the 16th century at the time of the Reformation, most Protestants discarded both the doctrine of the communion of saints and the practice of praying for the dead. All Hallows Eve became "hollow" for them, the vigil of an empty feast day.

Redeeming Halloween

How can we keep the religious connection and curb pre-Christian trappings? Many parishes invite the kids to dress up for an All Saints procession at the vigil Mass. A boy wearing a crown and a velour bathrobe is St. Louis, the King of France. A girl with an armful of silk roses is the Little Flower. These cute processions are certainly a wonderful way for young Catholics to learn about the communion of saints.

But many kids are more likely to excitedly put on ghoulish makeup to get ready for parties or trick or treat. Their instincts are right: Skeletons and jack-o’-lanterns and shocking costumes are very much a part of All Hallows Eve. It’s the adults who shy away from eyeballing their own mortality.

The kids are right. Death is not cute. Halloween began with martyrs, after all, so strange makeup and skull masks are not out of line. Picture, if you will, an All Saints procession led by St. Thomas More with his head tucked under his arm. Next comes St. Lawrence, still attached to the skewer that couldn’t keep him from joking at the very moment he was being roasted alive. Kateri Tekakwitha is there, her face scarred by smallpox, the white man’s disease which decimated native American tribes.

Our tradition teems with stories of people who endured terrible things— but never let it interfere with an underlying joy and trust in God. (Of course, even the saints who weren’t martyred deserve our recognition and imitation!)

Lessons and limits

At Halloween we need to use discernment to separate the symbols, to protect our children from very real dangers, to cut through the customs that contradict our relationship with God, including occult practices (see box below).

At this time of year violent movies with Halloween settings flood television and video stores; warped personalities copy malicious acts "for fun"; young people experiment with the occult because of publicity given to witches and warlocks.

It’s precisely because Catholics do believe in the reality of evil that we promise to turn away from "Satan and all his works" in the baptismal rite. Here’s a chance for parents (and godparents) to make good on that promise: Be vigilant about television and video games, don’t give warped personalities the publicity they crave, choose carefully if and where your child will trick or treat.

Most of all, be free from fear. We who are in Christ have nothing to fear, and we should be ready with an answer to those who act as if the devil were the equal and opposite of God. There is no "equal and opposite" of God. Catholic tradition tells us that Satan is a created being, a fallen angel; if he had any "equal and opposite" it would be Michael the Archangel. Still, there would be no "equality" between Satan and any angel. Christ has conquered sin and Satan once and for all. All of us, saints and angels, people of faith living and dead, share in that victory. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church #391, 395.)

Separating the symbols

So how do we separate the symbols of Halloween? Do we stop serving cider and doughnuts because apples were sacred to the Roman goddess Pomona, and doughnuts were once set out as "food" for the souls of the dead (their circular shape indicating eternity)? Of course not. Our gratitude for God’s bounty eclipses all that.

What about trick or treat? In the Middle Ages there was a superstition that those who had died the previous year without being reconciled to you might rise to haunt you, appearing as will-o’-the-wisps or ghosts. The apparition jarred you so you would release them by prayer and forgiveness. You might also appease them with "soul cakes"—cookies, fried cakes, "treats"—so they wouldn’t do you any mischief with their "tricks." Soon those who were living began to use the occasion for reconciliation. To wipe the slate clean for the coming year, they came, masked and unrecognizable, and boldly bargained for treats.

The connection between trick or treat and forgiveness deserves to be reclaimed, don’t you think? While we wait for an imaginative catechist to draw up a format, we can allow our kids to enjoy the costumes, the goodies, the excitement of traipsing around after dark if we exercise prudence. Most communities now impose a curfew for trick or treat, and most parents select the houses of friends they know. Sometimes the PTA will sponsor a party. Avoiding costumes and decorations that glorify witches and devils goes without saying, but there’s no reason to fear skeletons, skulls or Thomas More with his head tucked under his arm. After all, can’t skulls and skeletons be healthy reminders of human mortality? Can’t witches and devils symbolize the evil Christ has overcome?

Pumpkins as well as halos

Jack-o’-lanterns have a special place for Catholics on Halloween when we’re able to tell the story. The saints in their costumes remind us of the great heights we can reach. Skeletons, skulls and trick or treaters remind us of our own mortality and the need to pray for the dead. Jack stands in between as a one-man morality play.

The folktale of "Jack o’ the Lantern" arrived with early Irish Catholic colonists in Maryland. It quickly grew in popularity because of the independent spirit admired in this country. Jack has the cleverness to outwit the devil himself, but it isn’t enough to get him into heaven (see box below). He must roam forever between heaven and earth, holding his pumpkin lantern high. (Originally the lantern was cut from a turnip; after the story crossed the ocean, colonists changed it to the colorful vegetable they found here, the pumpkin.)

As you carve your pumpkin (or roast the oiled seeds at 325 degrees for 25 minutes), tell others the tale behind jack-o’-lanterns. Talk about what it means to be a saint and why Jack didn’t make the grade. Don’t be afraid to point out the "moral of the story" (which is why it was told in the first place). Jack was so self-centered he never helped another human being. He was given a good set of brains, but he used this gift only for himself. He knew about faith and the power of the cross, but he used it like a piece of magic instead of as the way of Jesus (see Luke 9:23). The cross is indeed strong enough to vanquish the devil. But embracing the cross is what brings eternal life.

Halloween’s positive messages

Halloween and its back-to-back feast days mean more than talking about our favorite saints who lived in another time, another place. It’s also an opportunity to talk about what’s needed for holiness now (perhaps even martyrdom now, sad to say).

In addition we have a chance to face up to differences that still divide Catholics and Protestants, maybe even a chance to evangelize. "I believe...in the communion of saints," we say every Sunday in the Creed. How many of us know what this doctrine really means?

Do we "worship" or "adore" our beloved saints, as some non-Catholics think? Not at all. We honor them and learn from their example; adoration belongs to God alone. We ask the saints to pray for us the same way we might ask a good friend to pray. A favorite quotation about prayer begins, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name" (Matthew 18:20). The "two or three" aren’t necessarily limited to the living. It’s comforting to have friends always available to pray with you, a whole "cloud of witnesses," in fact! (see Hebrews 12:1).

Halloween also invites us to talk openly about death in a culture that labors mightily to deny it. Seventy-five percent of Americans do not have a valid will, much less a Living Will or an organ donor card. "If I die..." people say, instead of, "when I die." Do we think death is optional? Death is a fact of life. When St. Francis of Assisi lay dying he said, "Welcome, Sister Death," recognizing that death was just another creaturely thing in a world that would one day pass away.

Occasionally we must push the "pause" button in our busy lives to consider our own mortality with all its spiritual and practical consequences. The Church gives us two feasts and the whole month of November to do this.

Halloween is like our Mardi Gras before a very serious Lent. We should be able to laugh at the dark side and dress up in costumes and have parties. Let’s reclaim our heritage with all the story power, creativity and joyous good fun that we can. Let’s use it to help us become the saints we are each called to be.

Halloween is a victory celebration, after all!

Page McKean Zyromski is a free-lance writer and contributing editor of Catechist magazine who lives in Painesville, Ohio. Her forthcoming book on biblical prayer will be published by St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tomorrow, October 2, is the memorial day for Guardian Angels on the Catholic liturgical calendar. I had never really thought about my guardian angel other than acknowledging that I have one. As a convert, I have had to study up on (which I think everyone should reflect and remind themselves of the tradition and dogma of their religion often) traditions and such within the Catholic church. So today in hopes of finding a way to celebrate this day with my children I came across the following article which I will post at the end.

I had never contemplated exactly what entailed a guardian angel and pinpointed their roles in our lives. But after reading this I had to stop and mull it over. As I read, I felt a ...well not quite a hand on my shoulder, but a reassurance of sorts.

Our Guardian Angels
Fr. Joseph Ventura, C.P.

One of the most consoling doctrines of Scripture is that of the guardianship of angels; the doctrine which teaches that man in this world is guided and protected by invisible beings called angels.

1. Scripture openly teaches that among the angels there are those deputed by God to keep watch over men.

Thus (1) in the Psalms it is said: "He hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways."[1] These words, according to the common interpretation of the Fathers, refer to all just souls trusting in God. St. Bernard says: " Wonderful condescension! and truly great love! He has given His angels a charge over thee, to guard thee in all thy ways. What is man, O God, that Thou shouldst thus be mindful of him! What reverence, devotion, and confidence, should this word inspire in us!"

(2) Again, Christ Himself in the gospel charges us not to scandalize little ones, because "Their angels (that is, those who keep watch over them) always see the face of the Father."[2] St. Jerome commenting on these words says: "Great is the dignity of the human soul, since each one of them has from the very outset of his life an Angel deputed to safeguard him."

(3) Finally, the apostle openly declares that the angels are ministering spirits sent by God, to keep watch over men who are destined for heaven: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?"[3] These words are commonly understood not only of the elect, but of all who are destined for salvation.

II. This doctrine, so clearly taught in Scripture, is also supported by solid reasons. These reasons flow from our relationship to God, for we are His children, members of Jesus Christ, and temples of the Holy Ghost. " Because we are His children," says Father Oliver, "He appoints to us as tutors the princes of His realm, who hold it an honor to have us in their charge. Because we are His members. He wills that those very spirits that minister unto Him be also at our side to render us their services. Because we are His temples in which He Himself dwells. He wills that Angels hover about us as they do about our churches, so that bowed down in worship before Him they may offer a perpetual homage to His glory, supplying for our neglect and making reparation for our irreverence."

Father Olier goes on to say that God wishes to unite intimately through the agency of His Angels the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant: "He sends this mysterious host of Angels in order that they may by uniting themselves to us and binding us to themselves form one body of the Church of heaven and the Church of earth."

III. Finally, this doctrine is the traditional and unanimous teaching of the Fathers. Among them there is no suggestion of doubt upon the subject. Thus Origen sets it down among the doctrines as to which there is no controversy in the Church, that some of the good Angels are God's ministers in promoting the salvation of men. St. Hilary calls it absolutely certain. St. Augustine uses the truth of this guardianship to prove that the duty of mutual love extends to all the intellectual creatures of God.

This doctrine has also been confirmed by the Church in the institution of a feast in honor of the Guardian Angels. In the prayer of this feast we say: " God, who in Thine unspeakable providence hast been pleased to give Thine holy angels charge over us, to keep us."

This feast, however, granted by Paul V (1608), had already been preceded by the Solemnity of St. Michael and of all the Angels instituted in the sixth century. It is celebrated in memory of an apparition of the Archangel Michael. More ancient however was the feast of St. Michael ascribed for 29 September.

In these festivities the angels were not only honored, but also invoked as our guardians and helpers. Thus in the prayer of the feast of St. Michael we say: "O God . . . mercifully grant that as Thy holy angels always do Thee service in heaven, so by Thy appointment, they may succor and defend us on earth." In the Church there has always been the persuasion that we are guarded and defended by the Holy Angels.

Thus that holy angels are deputed to keep watch over men in this world is not only certain, but also, according to many, of faith, on account of the institution of the feast of the Angel Guardians and the universal consent of the Church.

Thus far I have been considering the general doctrine that God deputes His angels to keep watch over men. Let us now go a step further, and consider the doctrine that there is an angel for each individual soul. Although not of faith, because it has not as yet been defined by the Church as an article of faith, nevertheless this doctrine is so universally received and with such solid foundation in Holy Scripture, as interpreted by the Fathers, that it cannot without great rashness be called in question. In fact to deny it might almost be termed erroneous.

(a) It is certain that each one of the faithful has his own angel guardian. This is intimated in the texts of Scripture above cited in the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and the common persuasion of the faithful. Let us hear St. Basil alone: "That there is an angel for each one of the faithful no one will contradict."
(b) The same is commonly asserted for sinners and for those not of the faith; for Christ died for all, even for those not of the faith, and merited for all the means of salvation; and one of these means, in the present dispensation, is the guardianship of angels: hence not only the faithful who are Just, but also sinners and those not of the faith, have each an angel guardian.

The Fathers are clear on this point. Thus Theodoret commenting on the words "Their angels always see the face of the Father,"[4] says: " Christ the Lord said that each man is under the care of an angel." And St. Chrysostom uses almost the same words: " This is a truth, that each man has an angel." And St. Augustine: " I esteem it, O my God, an inestimable benefit, that Thou hast granted me an angel to guide me from the moment of my birth to my death." Finally St. Jerome without any restriction declares: "Great is the dignity of the human soul, since each one of them has from the very outset of his life an Angel deputed to safeguard him."

In confirmation of this doctrine, the Fathers also give the words of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter stood at the gate and knocked, after his miraculous escape from prison, the disciples within could not credit the message of the portress that it was Peter himself, and they said: "IT IS HIS ANGEL" (12:15).

We have also in Christian hagiology many examples which confirm and illustrate this teaching. Thus we read of St. Paul of the Cross that he was often observed, on joining the company of his religious at recreation, to make a profound bow toward them with a joyous countenance that inspired devotion: the saint seeing that the religious were surprised, told them frankly that he did it chiefly out of respect for their angel guardians, who were with them. Of the Blessed Gemma of Luca we read that she saw her angel with her eyes, touched him with her hand as if he were a being of this world, remained talking with him as one friend would with another.

According to St. Thomas and most theologians, the angel assumes the office of guarding his client at the moment of birth: before this period, the infant is protected by the angel of the mother.[5] Again this guardianship continues through the entire life, at least in the sense that the angel guardian never entirely deserts his client, although he can be less devoted to him for a time, for his punishment. Properly speaking, it ceases in death, since at that instant ceases the time of probation.

And not individual men alone, but communities also are under the guardianship of angels.
1. The Doctors hold most probably that there is a special angel guardian for the Church, namely St. Michael.
(a) Indeed, from Scripture St. Michael appears to have been formerly in charge of the Synagogue, because he is called the prince of the Jewish people, and is said to have had special care of it; and as the Church has succeeded the Synagogue, St. Michael, most probably, has special care of the Church.
(b) The words which are used by the Church in the office of St. Michael at least insinuate that that Archangel is the special protector of the Church.

II. It is taught also with sufficient probability that there are special angel guardians over each kingdom and nation, nay over each community of moment, for example, particular churches, religious orders, dioceses. The reason is because those societies are as it were moral bodies which need special assistance. Hence God gave the people of Israel on their journey through the desert an angel as protector: " Behold I will send my angel, who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared."[6]

That other nations also have angel guardians is gathered from these and similar places: " But the prince of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me one and twenty days: and behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I remained there by the king of the Persians."[7]

Theodoret thus explains these words: "To the Archangels is given this office, that they be in charge of the nations, as B. Moses taught,[8] with whom B. Daniel also agrees, when he himself says the prince of the kingdom of the Persians and again a little later the prince of the Greeks; he calls Michael also the prince of Israel." The angel guardian performs many services for us.

With regard to the body (a) the angel guardian averts from us exterior evils, or if we have already fallen into them, he delivers us from them: "The angel that delivereth me from all evils ". . . " He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee ". . .[9] (b) Sometimes also he helps us in secular business, especially when this conduces to salvation, as appears from the example of Tobias (12:3 etc.).

With regard to the soul, (a) the angel guardians hold the demons in check, lest they do us harm, or at least lest they tempt us too severely.[10]
(b) They suggest good thoughts, exciting us to good,[11] averting us also from evil, through their counsels and corrections.
(c) They offer to God our prayers or our good works, not indeed that God may know them, for of Himself He knows all things, but that they may add their prayers to ours, and so give greater efficacy to them. Thus the angel Raphael assured the elder Tobias that, while he prayed, he himself was offering those prayers to the Lord: "I offered thy prayers to the Lord" (12:12).
(d) Sometimes they inflict medicinal punishments; for this is a work of mercy, and conduces to salvation.[12] Vindictive punishments however are generally inflicted through the bad angels.
(e) Finally at the moment of death especially they help us against the last temptations, and the last attacks of the devil, and conduct our soul to heaven or to purgatory.

God deputes His holy angels to keep watch over us. This prompted the words of St. Bernard: "What respect, what thankfulness, what trust, ought this word work in thee! "We owe then to our guardian angels:
(a) Respect for their presence: indeed the angel guardian is always with us, and because he is a spirit pure and holy, we ought to avoid whatever could grieve him.
(b) Thankfulness and love for his kindness: for the angel guardian is for us as it were a benefactor, friend, and brother, and will be one day a partaker of the same inheritance in heaven; hence we ought to love him, think of him, and obey his inspirations.
(c) Trust in his safe-keeping: for our angel is powerful to succor us and at the same time most devoted to us; hence we ought to invoke him and fly to him in our doubts and difficulties, according to the same St. Bernard: "As often as the gloom of temptation threateneth thee, or the sharpness of tribulation hangeth over thee, call upon Him that keepeth thee, thy Shepherd, thy Refuge in times of trouble, call upon Him, and say: 'Lord, save us, we perish'."[13]

1 Psalm 90:11-12.
2 Matt. 18:20.
3 Heb. 1:14.
4 Matt. 18:10.
5 Cf. St. Thom., I, q. 113, a. 5.
6 Ex. 23:20.
7 Dan. 10:13.
8 Deut. 32:8. Cf. Zach. 1:12; Act. 16:9.
9 Gen. 48:16; Ps. 90: 11-12; cf. Tob. 6:8 etc.
10 Tob. 8:3.
11 Tob. 6:16.
12 II Kings 24:16.
13 Matt. 8:25.
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