Tag Archives: catechesis

Praying with the Creed

I often find myself these days praying the Apostles’ Creed and dwelling especially on that first statement: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” I need to strengthen my belief  that God created our world, sustains it in being and guides it to glory.

Two different versions of the creed have come down through the centuries. The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest, still in use today. It’s a summary of faith given to men and women who were being baptized in the early church to help them remember Christian belief. It summarized a faith taught by the apostles.

I like that creed because it’s so simple. In the Catholic church it can be used in the liturgy during Lent and at other times in place of the Nicene Creed. It’s traditionally said at the beginning of the rosary. Prayer books recommend we say it at the beginning of prayer. Good idea.

In a sermon preached in 4th century to prepare people for baptism, St. Cyril of Jerusalem said the creed is related to the scriptures and the rest of the things in church.

“Although not everyone is able to read the Scriptures, some because they have never learned to read, others because their daily activities keep them from such study, still so that their souls will not be lost through ignorance, we have gathered together the whole of the faith in a few concise articles…

“So for the present be content to listen to the simple words of the creed and to memorize them; at some suitable time you can find the proof of each article in the Scriptures. This summary of the faith was not composed at man’s whim, the most important sections were chosen from the whole Scripture to constitute and complete a comprehensive statement of the faith.

“Just as the mustard seed contains in a small grain many branches, so this brief statement of the faith keeps in its heart, as it were, all the religious truth to be found in Old and New Testament alike. That is why, my sisters and brothers, you must consider and preserve the traditions you are now receiving. Inscribe them in your heart.”

The creed sums up all our belief; like a searchlight it gives power to see so much more, it leads us into the most profound  mysteries, and at the same time in its simplicity it helps us find our way through an often bewildering world. The creed is something we can fall back on to go forward.

Here’s  the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
who was conceived by
the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again
from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and is seat at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge
the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy, catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting. Amen


Browsing Through A Library

From time to time I like browsing through the large collection of books we have downstairs. Libraries, bookstores, now the internet, are treasuries and junkyards all at once. You never know when you’re going to stumble upon something that sparks questions or open your mind. 

Awhile ago, I stumbled on a book called Pride of Place: The Role of Bishops in the Development of Catechesis in the United States, by Sr. Mary Charles Bryce. It’s  a study of catechisms and catechesis in our country from the time of Bishop John Carroll, way back in the 18th century, to the 1980’s. How are we going to teach and form our people in faith? That’s the question they were asking then. It’s a question we face now.

Catechesis is on my mind lately. We’ve had a big development in theology and scripture and liturgy since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, but has that reached the ordinary people of the church, young or old? I think we need a better way to make the riches of our faith available to them. Catechesis is one of our prime needs as Catholic schools decline and dioceses, parishes, religious orders and their resources diminish.

“Pride of Place” Sister Bryce called her book, a title from an old pastoral letter of the American bishops on catechesis. Not a bad priority for the church today. How are we going to pass on the faith we have received in our time. What are the words and ways we’re going to use? Pope Francis in his recent letter Desiderio Desideravi calls us to see the liturgy as a catechetical school.

The Eternal Word needs to become incarnate from age to age:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”  (T.S. Eliot)

We need to renew our liturgical life. We need  good catechetical sites online and there’s still something to be said for the books in our library downstairs. They were gathered by people before me, who were wondering about things as I am now.  Someone recognized  Sister Bryce’s book was a good book to hold on to.


Is This All There Is?


In his sermons on the sacraments, which he preached to some newly baptized,  St. Ambrose in the 4th century shows a keen appreciation of the power and weakness of signs. They signify so much, but we find them hard to accept. “Is this it?” he hears them say as they approach the waters of baptism.

We’re reminded that encountering God through sacraments, which Pope Francis describes in his letter Desiderio Desideravi as weakened today by our lack of a symbolic sense, has always been difficult for human beings who, like Thomas, want to see.

Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites were saved as they flee from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the cloud that guides them on their way–foreshadowing the Holy Spirit, the wood that makes the bitter waters of Marah sweet–the mystery of the Cross.

“You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (On the mysteries)

Remember Namaan’s doubt as the Assyrian general stood before the healing waters of the Jordan, Ambrose reminds his hearers. There’s more here than you see or think.

So we’re invited into an unseen world. Still, aren’t we also like those whom the saint addressed? Is this it? Maybe more so, for schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact, we look for proof from what our eyes see. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.

And now it’s a world made more untrustworthy by the Covid19 pandemic. Are sacramental signs, taken from creation, now less trustworthy?

Faith is a search for what we don’t see. God desires to approach us through signs. Will he not help us approach him that way? Believe, God says.

How Do We Learn and Pray Now?

Education is up in the air these days. Our schools are struggling. How will kids be educated?

Our faith formation programs are struggling too. The Mass and sacraments–ordinary ways we pray–are drastically curtailed. What do we do?

Could our homes and families become our churches? Can we find teachers and  temporary sacraments there?

A friend of mine was in prison for awhile and ended up once in solitary confinement after a fight he had with another inmate. He told me he remembered in the dark what a nun had told him about the rosary. Ten Hail Mary’s and an Our Father. He started counting the prayers on his fingers and, after awhile, he found a great peace came over him, so much so that after getting out of confinement he asked the chaplain for a rosary. It led to a profound conversion. He was changed by the experience there in the dark.

We’re living in the dark these days, but do these days have to diminish us? Maybe we can learn to pray more simply these days. Simple prayers we may have abandoned, maybe there’s a bible or a prayerbook lying forgotten in a drawer. Simple prayers are always the best,  because God takes simple form to come to us. Jesus came “in the form of a slave,” remember, he used simple things like bread and wine to bring us his greatest gift. 

This could be a time to pray simple prayers and to teach them to our kids. You never know when they’ll bring them peace.

Friday Thoughts: Young Mother Sewing

Mary Cassatt Young Mother Sewing 1900 Met

Mary Cassatt, “Young Mother Sewing”, 1900 (The Met)


A living faith works. It is always active, especially when we are docile to the Spirit.

When we walk by faith we see, we hear, we speak what God intends, especially when we are blind to the cares and anxieties of the world.

Small children are wonderfully active, superbly passive, and at times they seem completely blind, fantastically blind. They are alive. They see. They hear. They speak. They watch. They feel.

Mother Church calls all of us home, even when she is silent. She is always at work. She watches us even when her eyes are busy with the business of the day.

She sews. We just need to obey. To trust. To allow ourselves the freedom to lay across her lap.

In the short description upon the little museum card hanging beneath the painting shown above, God has planted great instruction. The work is by American impressionist Mary Cassatt.

According to the card, about the year 1890 “Cassatt redirected her art toward women caring for children and children alone—themes that reflected her affection for her nieces and nephews and the prevailing cultural interest in child rearing.” And then, after informing us that for this particular painting Cassatt “enlisted two unrelated models to enact the roles of mother and child”, the card completes its little catechesis by blessing us with a precious little anecdote and quote:

Louisine Havemeyer, who purchased it in 1901, remarked on its truthfulness: “Look at that little child that has just thrown herself against her mother’s knee, regardless of the result and oblivious to the fact that she could disturb ‘her mamma.’ And she is quite right, she does not disturb her mother. Mamma simply draws back a bit and continues to sew.”

God are we blessed. So blessed to have such a mother. All of us. Maybe give her a call today. Better yet, perhaps even stop by. She’d love that. She’d love to see your face. You’re always on her mind and in her heart. She lives in the closest church you can find, any building that truly houses her Son.

If she seems a little occupied with the “cooking and cleaning”, with all “the business of life”, don’t let that stop you or cut your visit short. No, throw yourself against your “mother’s knee regardless of the result and oblivious to the fact” that you could disturb your “mamma.”

 It most certainly does not.

“Mamma simply draws back a bit and continues to sew.”



—Howard Hain




Learning from the Bible

In my last blog I mentioned an article about Catholics reading the bible. They don’t read it much, in fact, and those who do may read it as biblical fundamentalists do. The author quoted from a 1998 report from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the pope’s advisors in biblical  matters, which said that “Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.”

It can also lead to political damage as well according to an article in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times today “Why the AntiChrist Matters in Politics” by Matthew Avery Sutton.

Especially in troubled times, some may see political consequences in the bible and its prophecies that really aren’t there.

“Biblical criticism, the return of Jews to the Holy Land, evolutionary science and World War I convinced them that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Basing their predictions on biblical prophecy, they identified signs, drawn especially from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, that would foreshadow the arrival of the last days: the growth of strong central governments and the consolidation of independent nations into one superstate led by a seemingly benevolent leader promising world peace.

This leader would ultimately prove to be the Antichrist, who, after the so-called rapture of true saints to heaven, would lead humanity through a great tribulation culminating in the second coming and Armageddon. Conservative preachers, evangelists and media personalities of the 20th century, like Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, shared these beliefs.”

Last week was catechetical Sunday, marking the beginning of our religious education program at St.Mary’s. We blessed our catechists who are going to be involved in the religious education of our young people.

But religious education involves more than young people. All of us are called to grow in our faith and live what we believe. Unfortunately, as adults we may see faith as something you learn as a child in school or in a religious education program and you never have to learn about it again.

The Catholic writer Frank Sheed said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience.

As children, with a religious education, we may  see the world with two eyes; but as adults losing our engagement with faith we gradually come to see the world only with the eye of experience. We lose the focus that faith gives, another dimension. We won’t see right. Faith is what  helps us to see.

“You are all learners,” Jesus said to his disciples in the gospel. It’s not just children who learn, all of us learn. We are lifelong learners. Lifelong believers, engaged believers, struggling believers, even till the end.

One of the areas we have to learn about today in the Catholic Church is the Bible. It’s there every Sunday and every day of the week. It’s our new catechism and prayerbook, one of the gifts our church gives us.  We need to learn about it and pray from it as much as we can.

Changes in the Liturgy

The American Catholic Church is gearing up for changes in the liturgy. There’s a site on the bishops’ web pages outlining the changes. The opening page captures some of my questions about the new changes, to be voted on by the bishops this November, submitted to Rome afterwards, and likely introduced in Advent of 2011.

“New Words: A Deeper Meaning but the Same Mass,” reads the heading announcing the changes: “Prayers for the observances of recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayers, additional Votive Masses and Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Intentions and some updated and revised rubrics (instructions) for the celebration of the Mass.”

“The English translation of the Roman Missal will also include updated translations of existing prayers, including some of the well–known responses and acclamations of the people.”

The last sentence announces the changes that will impact ordinary church-going Catholics most of all. I was thinking of recent complaints against drug companies for introducing new medicines and applications without proving they are better and more cost effective than previous ones. Will the new words lead us to a deeper meaning of the Mass? I’m not sure.

A picture on the site’s opening page shows the back rows of a congregation at church at Mass. From where the picture’s taken those back row Catholics can hardly see the altar in the distance. Is that going to be the experience of most ordinary people when the new words are introduced?

Looks like some dark clouds ahead.

Let’s Go To Mass

I have been working on some simple explanations of the Mass in video form and here’s the latest. You can get it on Vimeo; it’s based on the miracle of the loaves and the fish.

The first video in the series you can also find on Vimeo, same place.  I reworked it lately. That’s what you have to do: work and rework.

In the future I hope to do instructions on how you pray at Mass, where do the scriptural readings come from, the Mass and the Cross of Jesus, its history, and so on.

Who knows, maybe they will get done.

From Feast to Feast

IMG_0389St. Athanasius (+373), the great Christian bishop of Alexandria, once said “As Christians, we live from feast to feast.”

I’m sure he wasn’t just referring to good food on the table or a day-off from work. Feasts feed our souls and our minds, besides the body.  They stir our thinking,  unleash creative energies and keep our spirits alive.

I was thinking of this after celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi a few weeks ago. Fewer people in church it seems. What’s going on? Are we losing our appreciation of the Mass?

Is it due to the retreat we are making from “a higher world,” as Charles Taylor says in “A Secular World?” Are we losing a sign of faith that has traditionally been our guide?

Whatever the reasons, we all need a deeper faith in the Eucharist, and this means a deeper appreciation of the Mass. What can we do? We’re reading from St. Cyprian’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer this week. He simply takes the words of the prayer and reflects on them, verse by verse. That would be a good start–reflecting on the words of the Eucharistic prayers, which lead us into this mystery.

Then, there are the simple gestures and rites of the Mass. Romano Guardini, one of the leaders in the liturgical movement in our times, wrote a little book called “Sacred Signs” which offers reflections on actions like the Sign of the Cross, kneeling, sitting, listening, seeing, walking to Communion. We need to teach our bodies to pray, as well as our minds.

We need to see more deeply into the “mystery of this bread and wine,”  signs of creation brought to the table to be part of the mystery of Christ. The early commentaries on the Eucharist are so aware that bread and wine represent the entire creation. They bring us back to its beginnings and see its unfolding story. Jesus took bread and wine and blessed them; his mission was to our universe, of which we humans are a part. Bread and wine, creation itself, have a vital part in this mystery.

Communion. We call it a Holy Communion, because we receive Jesus Christ, but we receive also a whole world with him. “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.” (2nd Eucharistic Prayer) Through his Spirit, Jesus draws us into unity with the whole human family and the creation that came from him.

Vision. We need to see beyond today. The Eucharist let’s us see today, yesterday and tomorrow. It gives us a vision of hope of a loving God who creates and forgives. It offers us in sign the promise of life.

I looked at my Latin dictionary today for the meaning of the word “disciple.” It means “pupil,” “apprentice.”  We can’t stop learning, that’s what we are meant to do. Yes, we need better preaching and celebration at the Eucharist. That would help, but it often has to be left to someone else. Let’s look at what we can do.

Thy Will Be Done

We forget how rich in wisdom are the words of our prayers. Unfortunately, they become words we say unthinkingly. Listen to the commentary of St. Cyprian on one phrase of  The Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.

“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. This is not that God should do what he wills, but so that we may be able to do what God wills. For who could resist God in such a way as to prevent him doing what he wills? But since the devil hinders us from obeying, by thought and by deed, God’s will in all things, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us.

For this to happen, we need God’s good will – that is, his help and protection, since no-one is strong in and of himself but is kept safe by the grace and mercy of God.

Moreover, the Lord, showing the weakness of the humanity which he bore, said Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, and showing his disciples an example, that they should do not their own will but God’s, he went on to say nevertheless, let it not be my will, but yours.”