Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Featured Post: How to Defend the Catholic Faith

The prospect of defending the Catholic faith is daunting for most people. It's scary to put yourself out there, and if someone asks you a difficult question ... what are you going to say?

But, it's really not as hard as you might think. With the right approach, a few key resources, and a healthy dose of practice and prayer, you can become an effective Catholic apologist. Here's what you need to get started, and if you've already started, this will take you well on your way to confidently engaging in Catholic apologetics.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Simple Way to Pray Always


St. Paul tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians to “pray constantly” (1 Thes 5:17). At first, this command seems right up there with “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48) in the category of impossible Christian tasks. After all, if I pray constantly, how will I have time for anything else? I’m not a monk!

St. Francis de Sales gives us a simple solution. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he says that the key is to foster a conscientious awareness of the presence of God and to make regular aspirations or ejaculatory prayers to God throughout the day. Aspirations are short prayers, sometimes as quick as a thought, that fly up to God like an arrow. In fact, Protestants call them "arrow prayers" for this very reason.

What's nice about aspirations is that they are unobtrusive. You don't have to designate a time to pray and a place to pray. You don't have to stop what you're doing so that you can go and do this. This is the type of prayer you can pray while you're going about your day. While you're working, while you're studying, while you're playing a sport, even while your talking with someone, you can pray in this way. This means you could pray all day if you wanted. Or, as St. Paul says, "pray constantly."

One thing I love about the Bible is that it never proscribes an action without also showing us how to do it. This kind of  praying is not unique to St. Francis. It's in Scripture too, and the biblical characters who pray in this way can be very instructive for us.

The Cup-Bearer before the King

Nehemiah, cup-bearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia, gives us a classic example of effusive prayer:
The king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing else but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “For what do you make request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may rebuild it.” (Neh 2:2-5)

Nehemiah was “very much afraid.” The plight of his people rested on his answer to the king’s question. Get it wrong, and the king could very well say no. So, what did Nehemiah do? In the short time between the king’s question and Nehemiah’s response, he sent a quick prayer up to God.

We can imagine what it might have been: “Lord, give me the words to say.” “Lord, make the king receptive to my request.” “Lord, give me courage!” In the midst of his anxious conversation with the king, he prayed. The king probably didn’t even notice, but in that short moment, Nehemiah was able to ask for and receive the strength he needed to intercede for his people.

Peter in Peril

The apostle Peter gives us another example of effusive prayer, during Jesus’ miraculous calming of the storm and walking on water:
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:28-31)

Of course, none of us will be walking on water any time soon, but don’t we often feel like we’re sinking? When we’re overwhelmed, afraid, unsteady, insecure – Peter shows us that it’s precisely in those moments that aspirations to God are the most helpful and the most needed. Peter shows us that a handful of heart-felt words or phrases can make all the difference.

Jesus, Our Model of Prayer

When we look at the prayer life of Jesus, we see that He prayed in many different ways. He was particularly fond of praying in a secluded place (Mt 14:23; Lk 5:16; 9:18, 28-29) and praying out loud for the instruction of others (Mt 6:9-13; 11:25-26; Lk 23:34; Jn 11:41-42; 12:27-28; 17:1-26). But, Jesus also prayed quick prayers to the Father in the course of His ministry and preaching.

For example, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, while He was being baptized:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased” (Lk 3:21-22).

Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this event tell us that the Spirit descended just as Jesus was coming out of the water. This means that as Jesus was coming out of the water, He was also praying.

We see another example of Jesus “praying while doing” in the Gospel of Mark:
And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Eph′phatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. (Mk 7:33-35)

In the course of the healing, Jesus only had time to vocalize a sigh, but that was all He needed in order to pray for the man’s healing. Even sighing to God can be a prayer!

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says a prayer that consists of only four words:
“Father, glorify your name.” (Jn 12:28)

If Jesus has taught us anything, it’s that it really doesn’t take much to pray to the Father.

The final examples of Jesus praying aspirations come on the Cross. Many of His very last words before He died were quick prayers to the Father in the midst of His suffering:
And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Lk 23:33-34)

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Lk 23:44-46)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)

Let’s put these words of Jesus on our own lips. When we hear God’s name taken in vain: “Father, glorify your name.” When someone hurts our feelings: “Father, forgive them.” When we are being tempted, or sense an evil presence, or are even near death: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” When we feel like God is far away: “Why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus shows us that these aspirations can be a powerful way to pray throughout the big and small moments of the day. Aspirations acknowledge His presence. They emphasize our dependence on Him. They are perhaps the best and easiest way to pray always.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Seizing the Moment of Temptation


It's the middle of January. That means we're all well into pursuing our New Year's resolutions. How's it going so far? Don't worry, I get it. It's tough to quit a bad habit and start a good one.

What’s helpful for me is to be more aware of the steps from temptation to giving in. If we know what these steps are, then we can seize any one of them and pursue the good, before it’s too late. After all, we don’t want to just seize the moment to share our faith or to proclaim the gospel. We also want to seize the moment to be holy, to be, as Matthew Kelly says, the best-version-of-ourselves.

I’ll be speaking specifically about the steps from temptation to sin, but this exercise is useful for avoiding any bad habit we want to overcome. Also, I’ll be referring to the devil because he’s a ready foil in the back and forth dialogue between ourselves and what tempts us. But, temptation doesn’t just come from the devil. It also comes from “the flesh” – our own bodily passions and desires – and the world, which is always competing for our time and attention.

Step 1: Recognizing

First, we become aware of a temptation. A voice pipes up: “You could steal that, ya know?” We are tempted to commit certain sins because they speak to a desire we have. But, the fact that we have particular desires or are tempted to heed them in unjust ways does not mean that we have sinned. We sin only when we act on the temptation.

The key is to banish the temptation as soon as we recognize it, to turn around and run in the other direction. If we debate with the devil, then he will almost always win. The best thing to do is to not let him have his say.

Step 2: Approaching

But, let’s say we don’t flee. Instead we say, “Really? Tell me more?” Then we are approaching. In this case, we don’t remove ourselves from the near occasion of sin. Instead, we draw nearer to it. We meet the devil in his chambers. We invite him to make his case. If the bad habit is over-eating, this would be opening the cupboard where the cookies are. If the addiction is alcoholism, this would be stepping into the bar.

Step 3: Listening

Listening means nourishing an interest in that which is sinful. In this step, not only have we invited the devil to make his case, but we are now listening intently and receptively. We may even be delighting in what he has to say.

Of course, once the cupboard is open, then come all the reasons for eating: “No one will know.” “Just this once.” “I deserve this.” “This is the only way I’ll feel better.” “I can’t help it.” “I can just go to Confession later.”

Step 4: Yielding

And with that, we yield. We give in. The reasons are too many and too convincing, even though they are contrary to reason. We accept the lies as the truth and we do what we were tempted to do.

But, just because we’ve yielded, that doesn’t mean the devil is through with us. Once the pleasure fades and we begin to feel disheartened, the tempter likes to fill us with self-loathing and despair so that we’ll abandon ever trying to resist him. “You’re such a wreck.” “You fall every time.” “Why do you even bother?”

Not So Fast

This is why the moment of yielding must also be the moment in which we pick ourselves up and try again. With a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of grace, this step does not have to be the end. Instead, we can seize even this moment of failure, and we can rededicate ourselves to making the next moment a truer and better one.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, November 30, 2018

St. Joseph and Docility of the Spirit


In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes that genuine, living devotion exists when a person not only does good, but does it carefully, frequently, and promptly. This kind of instinctive, loving action is also called "docility of the spirit." As Scripture reveals, an excellent role model of this docility is St. Joseph.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was in peril from the start. That the inn was full was only one of their many troubles. But, despite the obstacles that the Holy Family had to overcome, they prevailed. This is due in large part to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Any time there was confusion or danger that threatened the Holy Family, God needed only to speak to Joseph in a dream and Joseph would immediately do whatever was necessary to care for and protect his family.

The Birth of Jesus

The Holy Family threatened to unravel before it was even fully created! Mary was found to be pregnant while she and Joseph were betrothed, but before Joseph brought her into his home to consummate the marriage. Mary’s pregnancy could have caused tremendous scandal in the community and the shaming of Mary, but “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt 1:19) – a noble gesture, and from Joseph’s point-of-view, the only thing he could have done. But, God had something else in mind:
“As [Joseph] considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which his conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Mt 1:20-21)

What did Joseph do? Did he question the dream? Did he wonder if it was really a message from God? Did he put off making a decision, or choose contrary to what he heard in the dream? No. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24).

The Escape to Egypt

The wise men who followed the star to the Holy Family’s house were supposed to return to Herod and report to him where they had found the child. But they didn’t! They too had great docility of spirit and, heeding the warning they received in a dream, decided to depart to their own country by another way (Mt 2:12).
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, was in furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to that time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men.” (Mt 2:16)

But, God again intervened, and Joseph responded:
“[B]ehold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mt 2:13-15).

Joseph didn’t wait to make preparations and plans. He didn’t even ask where in Egypt he was to go or how he was going to get there. He rose that very night, gathered up his precious family, and left. It’s alarming to the modern mind to see how singularly focused he was on being obedient to the promptings of God. Nothing else mattered in comparison to that.

The Return from Egypt

After the death of Herod, we see that God told Joseph in a dream that it was safe to return to Israel, and then, on the way there, God told him in another dream exactly where he should settle.
“[W]hen Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archela′us reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Mt 2:19-23)

It’s interesting that, for this particular mission, God appeared to Joseph twice. Perhaps God did this because Joseph had proven himself keen to respond carefully, frequently, and promptly to the Lord.

Joseph’s life is an example to us that if we readily respond to the guidance and promptings of God’s grace, then we will receive more guidance and more promptings from Him. In other words, in order to know the Will of God, we have to follow the Will of God! That is the message of the life of St. Joseph. That’s what docility of the spirit is, and that’s what true devotion is.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to Discern the Will of God

How to discern the Will of God

As Catholics we know that anything that aligns with Scripture, Tradition, or the teaching of the Church is the Will of God, since these are sources of truth for us. But, often times, we have to discern the Will of God on matters that don’t pertain to morality or doctrine. There is no Church teaching on whether I should move to another city, buy a particular house, marry a certain person, or become a priest or a nun.

What do we do then?

Discerning the Will of God is all about asking the right questions, living differently, and following your heart (hear me out on that last one!).

Ask the Right Questions

Saints and sages from every age have been pondering this question: “What do you want me to do, Lord?” They have found that the answer to this ultimate question comes by answering a series of smaller questions. These questions can help us discern God’s Will, whether we are concerned with our vocation or state in life, or we’re pondering any type of big, life-changing decision.

Try praying with the following questions:
  • Will this bring me closer to heaven? Does it give God glory?
  • What is the path of greatest love? Am I willing my own good or the good of the other?
  • Will this option help me fulfill the duties of my state in life? What does my current state in life allow?
  • Does it make sense based on my skills and talents?
  • What are the pros and cons of each option?
  • What does my conscience tell me about the morality of each option?

These questions will help filter out the noise of life and dig down to the heart of what God wants for us.

Begin Living Differently

After a couple has been married several years, they don’t have to ask each other what they desire in a given situation. They just know. They’ve shared enough of their lives together to intuit the will of the other.

We can have that same relationship with God, if we are willing to live a little differently. Just by focusing more on our prayer life, receiving the sacraments regularly, and keeping an eye out for the fruits of the Spirit, we can foster the kind of relationship with God that makes it easier to discern His Will.

  • A few minutes a day. Prayer is key. It’s how we enter into dialogue with the Lord. It’s how we listen to Him. It’s how we get to know Him and grow to love Him better. The more we know and love God, the better we are able to discern His Will. Even a few minutes a day can make all the difference (see Dynamic Catholic's "Prayer Process" for a simple method of prayer that anyone can use)

  • Grace for the keeping. Sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will – the two things God gave us to discern His Will and walk in it. The antidote is the divine life of God, and we receive that new life through the Mass and the Sacraments.

    Receiving the sacraments more frequently can feel like a burden at first, especially when there are so many other responsibilities demanding our time and attention. But, going to Confession at least once a month is doable, as long as we schedule it. And maybe there’s a parish nearby that offers a quick Mass during the usual lunch break.

  • Flesh and fruit. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lists the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit:
    “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God …”

    “… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:19-23)
    If we make decisions out of the works of the flesh or when enslaved by them, we will almost always choose wrongly. If we make decisions out of the fruits of the Spirit, or if we see the Spirit bear these fruits in our lives after we make a decision, then we can be sure we have chosen rightly.

Follow Your Heart

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is follow the heart. Of course, our hearts are not infallible. As Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). While it’s not the only guide we use when discerning God’s Will, it can be one of them. After all, God created our “hearts”, our inner-life where our soul, will, and desire are located. He has planted desires within us as a way to draw us to Him. So, it’s worth hearing what the heart has to say.

And at any rate, if we love God and are filled with His love, then our hearts will be worth following. As Augustine said, “Love God, and then do what you will.”

For more on how to discern the Will of God from a Catholic perspective, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Church Documents on Catholic Education

The documents listed below are in chronological order. Note that I am making a distinction between "education" and "catechesis" or "evangelization." Although they are all related terms, I am only interested in Catholic education here. Please leave a comment and let me know if there is a document I forgot to add to the list.


Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, October 15, 2018

Catholic Resources on Halloween and All Saints/Souls Day


There is much confusion about the origins of Halloween, and about what the Church celebrates on and around this day. Sometimes it can be a little difficult to make sense of it all. As a result, I offer the following links to articles and other resources that will help you to learn more about these holidays, and to defend them against the oh-so-typical charge that Catholics are pagans. I say Protestants just don't know how to throw a party like we do! (evidence here)

I repost this every year around this time with additional links, so if you are a regular here see the bottom of the list for some material that you might not have read yet.

Have fun everyone! Be holy!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pope Francis, Capital Punishment, and the Death Penalty

Thanks to Pope Francis, our Catechism reads a little differently now. On August 1st, paragraph 2267 on capital punishment was revised to read as follows:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (Francis, Address, Oct. 11, 2017), and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

When I first read this, I was shocked. Inadmissible? How is this not a complete change to what the Church had previously taught?

Let’s take a closer look at this. I think it’s important for us to understand what the pope has done here because the Church’s stance on capital punishment affects our witness to the world. It’s our answer to the question, “How dedicated are you really to the dignity of the human person?”

The original wording of paragraph 2267 frequently left people of good will debating when capital punishment could be used. It acknowledged that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty,” and it observed that the cases in which it is absolutely necessary to execute the offender “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Some proponents of capital punishment would read this and say, “See? It’s not always wrong, just sometimes.” The Church had given them an inch, and it was tempting to take a mile.

The original wording also included an important statement that was often lost in the debate on capital punishment. It read: “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means.” An important question remained: At what point do we finally say that our non-lethal means are sufficient?

In the new wording, Pope Francis declares that capital punishment is inadmissible only after surveying the state of our understanding of human dignity and our current systems of detention. He has determined that non-lethal means are now sufficient to defend and protect. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to such means and consider the death penalty inadmissible.

Note that the new wording does not say that capital punishment is intrinsically evil (as in, evil always and everywhere, like abortion or euthanasia). In this sense, the teaching of the Church has not changed. Instead, it simply says that, in light of current circumstances, it is no longer necessary. Basically, he has shifted the conversation from, “When can we kill someone?” to “What can we do to defend and protect society without resorting to this?”

Back in 1968, Pope Paul VI challenged the world in a similar way. His advisors were telling him to make contraception permissible, at least in certain situations. Instead, he wrote Humanae Vitae, which courageously taught that contraception was contrary to human dignity, and he challenged the Church to come up with creative solutions to the problem of spacing births while maintaining unity and fruitfulness. As a result, Natural Family Planning was born.

What will be the creative solution to the problem of capital punishment? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, let’s seize upon this exciting time to be Catholic, and let’s radically commit ourselves to the dignity of every human person.

For more on Pope Francis' contribution to the development of the Church's teaching on capital punishment and the death penalty, see the following resources:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Being Catholic in the Face of Scandal

In the last few months, national news stories have outlined new allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct involving bishops, priests, and even seminarians from various dioceses. It’s hard to read about. Very hard. It can test the faith of even the strongest of Catholics.

Yet, I'm still Catholic.

Why?

Nowadays, it’s not an easy question to answer. And as much as I want to seize the catechetical moment (and help you to seize it, too), I’d rather have some other reason to “account for the hope that is in me” (1 Pet 3:15) then these latest revelations. Yet here we are. Our friends, family, and the secular world all want to know why we don’t just jump ship already. We certainly can’t pretend this isn’t happening. We have to have an answer, not only for them but also for ourselves.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In order to stay and continue to give, pray, worship, and work with this Church of sinners, each of us will have to discover our own reason for being Catholic and remaining Catholic.

I recently came across a poignant quotation from F. J. Sheed, one of the greatest Catholic catechists and apologists of the 20th century. In his work Christ in Eclipse (1978), he offers a penetrating analysis of the scandals in his own day. The following words in particular were a moment of clarity for me:
“We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. [. . .] Christ is the point. [. . .] even if I sometimes find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a Pope [or bishop, or priest] could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, although I might well wish that they would leave.” (pg. 6)

Isn’t that the truth! The hierarchy is such a visible symbol of the Church that when it goes wrong and we discover serious sinfulness within it, we are tempted to think that the Church is rotten to the core. And, if the hierarchy was all there is to the Church, then we’d be right.

But, that’s not all there is. The hierarchy is not the core, Jesus is. Granted, the hierarchy is vitally important. I don’t deny that for a moment. In fact, their importance is what makes their sins so tragic. Plus, a genuine, spiritual father in our midst is a tremendous blessing. But, there’s so much more to being Catholic than belonging to a Church with a hierarchy in it.

And that’s why I stay. I’m here for the good bishops, priests, and deacons, but I’m also here for the “so much more”: the Mass, the sacraments, the Eucharist, the undivided truth of what we believe, and the fullness of grace I so desperately need. I’m here for the angels and saints, for the prayers and the liturgy, for the best way to heaven. I’m here for our Blessed Mother, and Joseph, her most chaste spouse. I'm here for Jesus.

I can’t live without these things, and a million scandals could never tear them away from me. I refuse to give them that much power over me. And at any rate, where would I go? To some other church? There’s sinners there, too, even very wretched ones.

So, I’m choosing to stay. I’m choosing to fight for justice and truth where I am, to unceasingly strive for holiness, and to trust that the goodness of God will always prevail.

And I’m trying to never forget: Christ is the point.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How to Explain the Mass to Children

Marissa Rick, "Jesus Meets the Women
from Jerusalem," The Compass 
“Daddy, why is the priest dressed like Jesus?” This is one of those seize-the-moment questions that children often ask their parents. If you have an answer, right there on the spot, then you can really teach them something.

Do you know the answer? I have my own thoughts, and I will share them, but first let's challenge ourselves and ask an even deeper question: “What is really going on at Mass?” That's what is at the heart of all this. There is something going on, some reason for doing worship this way, that causes the priest to dress how he does.

The “adult” answer is this: At Mass, Jesus re-presents His one, eternal sacrifice on the Cross to the Father, and we receive the grace that flows from this gift. That is all very well and good. In fact, it’s about as well and good as it gets! But, how do we explain the Mass to children?

Back in 2007, a homeschool mom, Christine, solved this problem for me. I think her answer is brilliant, and I've been using it ever since.

Here's how it goes: First, we have to explain how God is outside of time. After all, the Crucifixion was a long time ago. How can it still be present today? Imagine that time is like a movie reel rolled out on a table. The characters in each frame of the reel can only see what’s in that frame. But, we can see all the frames of the movie at once. That’s sort of like how time appears to God. All of time is eternally present to Him. He sees all the frames at once.

Next, we have to explain how Jesus can offer the same sacrifice every day. Imagine a drawing that a boy has created for his father. Better yet, if you have a son, think of a piece of artwork that he has created for you! It’s an example of his love for you. Prominently displayed on your refrigerator, it reminds you of his love for you every time you see it. And you are, in turn, compelled to love him and everyone else in your life. After all, love always begets love.

That’s how this “re-presentation of the one, eternal sacrifice” works. It’s as if Jesus is in heaven, pointing to His sacrifice on the Cross and saying, “Look Daddy, look at how much I love you!”

Note also that Jesus isn’t being sacrificed again and again, every day. The son isn’t drawing a new picture for his father every day. Instead, the son has created one drawing, and this is displayed every day. And the grace that we receive is the Father’s response of love, as His heart is filled to overflowing at the sight of what His Son has done for Him.

A movie reel. A child’s loving piece of art for his father. These are two images from everyday life that we can use to seize the moment and give the children in our lives a sense of what the Mass is like.

Oh, and why is the priest dressed like Jesus? Because he represents Jesus! The priest is doing what Jesus does. As Jesus presents His gift of love to the Father in heaven, the priest is presenting that same gift of love to us on earth. Thanks be to God!

To learn more about the Sacrifice of the Mass, see the following blog posts:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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