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Thanksgiving, Catholic Edition

We are a week away from Thanksgiving, ladies and gentlemen! I, for one, am really looking forward to stuffing my face in the company of family. And watching football. And sleeping through Black Friday. What are you looking forward to?

Gratitude lists abound right now, and I’m about to add to the pile. That being said, my list is about the small things that I’m grateful for as a Catholic. Most of these things I never thought about before my conversion, mostly because I didn’t realize they existed. So, here we go!

1. Seeing my baby do the same wild happy dance for the Sign of the Cross that he does when Mickey Mouse Clubhouse comes on. And listening to our kids say their “Thank you, Jesus” each night. Equal parts heart-warming and hilarious.

2. The “Christmas” season that now extends from Advent to the Epiphany. That’s almost six extra weeks to celebrate! Bonus: my olive-wood Nativity set. I wish I could leave it up all year.

3. Gregorian Chant.

4. Have a problem? There’s a saint for that!

5. church architecture and stained glass. The parish I’m currently attending is a traditional structure, and I gawk like I’m at the Museum of Art every single time I walk though the door.

6. School uniforms. We have four children, one of whom is a girl. Uniforms won’t save me from the 15 year roll-out of puberty that I have coming, but it will definitely help.

7. Feast days. The Catholic calendar practically demands that you party for three-quarters of the year!

8. Reading material. I’m just now discovering C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, and there is enough material on Church history alone to keep me occupied until I die.

9. Latin Jokes.

10. No matter where I go in the world, I have a home.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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De mortuis nil nisi bonum

De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Why are we supposed to extend this courtesy? If the deceased was significantly more sinner than saint, why not be honest about it? Well, for one, it’s a form of injustice. The dead can’t defend themselves. Neither do they have the chance to explain themselves or make amends. Speaking ill becomes castigation for its own sake. This leads us right to another reason we de mortise nil nice bonum. Titus 3: 1-7, which is today’s first reading.

Titus is encouraged to remind his flock that they are to slander no one, to be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. We all were dead in sin at one point. Rather than castigate us, Christ gave us grace. Grace, so we could defend ourselves through the Cross. This is what we call mercy.

Mercy is our defense. As much mercy Christ showed us, we must show others the same. When we don’t, when we are not peaceable or gracious, we turn our back on the Cross, and our own gift of grace and mercy. Nine of the ten lepers healed by Jesus in today’s Gospel were not saved because they took Jesus’ mercy but walked away without looking back. The Cross is our salvation, but we risk death when we put it in our rearview. This is the message under the message Titus is encouraged to share.

Even though the dead have their just judgement already, it still matters that we de mortuis nil nice bonum. Mercy is not limited to the living, and the Church recognizes this by Her doctrine on purgatory and encouraging the faithful to pray for the dead. It’s not a coincidence that praying for the dead is called a spiritual work of mercy.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum is also relevant for the living. If we don’t believe that mercy extends to the dead, then it’s possible to limit mercy for the living. If you spend more than 30 seconds reading comments on anything put on the internet, you know that this possibility has moved far into ugly reality. The value of a person is predicated on their ideologies, and mercy is the reward for homogeny. ISIS takes this to the extreme, but it is just as present in politics and social issues (“Mommy Wars”, anyone?).

People can be awful. They have been, and will continue to be until the end of time. There are times when an honest account of our faults, and the faults of others, need to be made. But if all we have is this honest accounting, we are condemned to death. Our life is ransomed by the mercy of the Cross. When people are awful in our sight, remember the Cross, and be merciful.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

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The Veneration of Saints is About Humility, not Humiliation

Catholic stereotypes, at least the ones I’m familiar with, focus on the negative. Guilt. Sin. Damnation. Exclusion. Superiority. To my surprise, Catholic saints somehow became harbingers of these negative messages. At least, that’s how they are viewed by many more people that I expected. No, let me be clear. I never expected the saints to be viewed in such a manner. But they are, because of a misunderstanding of what it means to venerate these holy people.

I remember a phase one of my younger sisters went through many years ago. I don’t remember the trigger, but one day we come to hear that she was embracing a life of austerity in imitation of the saints. I believe there were particular saints she had in mind, but I don’t remember. She took to wearing a home-made habit, read the lives of the saints, and was ruthless in the rejection of all that she deemed un-saintly. Not only in herself, but in everyone around her. For the sake of a clear example, let’s say that the saint she focused on the most was St. Theresa the Little Flower. During this phase my sister tried desperately to become The Little Flower. She was rejecting who she was as a person and trying to turn into someone else.

For whatever reason, some Catholics and many non-Catholics have the idea that the saints are placed on a pedestal to mock our sinfulness, our weak nature, our mediocrity. They are the ones who got it right, and if we want to get it right we have to write our own Summa or embrace glorious martyrdom. Go big, or go to Hell. I have no idea where this came from, but this is the farthest thing from what the saints, and our practice of venerating them, is about.

Saints are saints for one reason. They embraced God’s will for their life. Simple as that. Some people are called by God to do big things, and God provides the tools for them to accomplish their earthly mission. Not everyone is called to do something splashy. One of my favorite saints is Adelaide of Burgundy. She is a saint because she was a faithful and loving wife and mother, and used her vast wealth to help the poor and build monasteries. That’s it. What she had, she used for God.

Sainthood is about humility. Saints humble themselves, acknowledging that who they are and what they have to offer rightly goes to God first. Saints serve God, not themselves. This is why we venerate them. They are faithful to God above themselves, and because of it produce beautiful fruit.

The saints are meant to inspire us to fulfill the potential God placed in us.  We are all given a mission, and our bodies and souls are equipped from the moment of conception to fulfill our unique mission in life. It’s not easy, but it wasn’t easy for the heavy-hitters either. Augustine struggled for decades. Aquinas was called an “ox” in his youth. Jerome was a curmudgeon. Theresa of Avila had “strong leadership qualities”. Many of the saints had debilitating illnesses. We look to these holy people to help us see how our strengths and our weaknesses can be used for God. And then we pray to these same people to support us from heaven. Pray to Jesus for us, St. Monica, that we may be patient with our children. Pray to Jesus for us, St. Francis deSales, that we may accept people where they are on life’s journey. With the saints, through veneration and prayer, we become humble. Through humility we can see God’s will, hear His voice, and become saints ourselves.