August 13, 2017

When Someone Falls From Grace, Help Them Up!

I once heard someone say, “When a person has fallen from grace, don’t kick him down.  Help him up!”

It sounds so obvious, but we really do need to be reminded.  We see it all around us.  “Did you hear what she did???”  Shock and outrage are often our response to accounts we see on the internet, hear on the news, discus with gossips.  It’s all gossip, really.  And how do we respond?  “I’m shocked!”  “How terrible!”  “He should be locked up!”

Even when it is someone in our own circles or family, we want to believe we would never do likewise.  We’re better than that!  And it’s easier to continue believing so when the gap between us and them remains large.  So, we kick them down.  “You see, he’ll never learn.”

Don’t we like to see prisoners treated harshly?  Don’t we root for the bully to get some of his own back?  Don’t we love it when the movie bad guy not only gets caught, but is annihilated by the hero?

What is the matter with us?!?

But I think most of us also love – and I mean really love - when the hero shows mercy beyond the desserts of the villain.  It makes the hero better.  Occasionally it even makes the villain better as well. Isn’t that part of what makes us love The Lord of the Rings, the recently released Wonder Woman film, dare I mention the Gospels??  Talk about stooping down to lift others up! And Our Lord uttered from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I cringe whenever I see the meme that says, “Everything happens for a reason . . . sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and make bad decisions.”  Okay, I cringe after I laugh, but I cringe.  It might be true, but it hardly gives us superiority!  If we’re smarter and able to make better decisions than another person, that actually puts us in a position to help them.  What does it say about a person who criticizes someone for not doing what they aren’t able to do?

I suggest we challenge ourselves to rise above the petty feeling of superiority we get standing atop a heap of failures, by reaching down to give them a hand up.  Are we afraid they will fail again?  They will – just like we do, too.  Seven times seventy!  Are we afraid they will succeed – and then we’ll look worse than we did in comparison to them?  Well, that’s just silly!  Would we think a teacher is smarter if all his students failed?  On the contrary.

Can you imagine a father bringing his four-year-old son out to play basketball and sneering at the little fellow because he couldn’t get the ball into the basket?  Most of us would not think him a very good father.  We wouldn’t make fun of the little fellow as a failure for being unable to reach the hoop as well as his tall father.  Rather, we would admire the sort of father who lifts his little boy up to the hoop so he can learn to play basketball and have fun with his daddy.

Isn’t it the same when we hear of a heroic person who lowers herself to help even strangers?  Mother Teresa (St. Teresa of Calcutta) is still one of the most universally recognized and admired figures for giving her whole life to just that work: serving the poorest of the poor.  And her religious order still attracts many young women to this life of dramatic mercy.

You may not be called to such a community, but there are many opportunities all around us to extend mercy to those who have fallen from grace.  Often, that means giving tangible help, a kind word, good advice.  Always it means praying for them.  But first, it means seeing who we are to them – and who we are to those who have shown us mercy.  Foremost among these is God, of course.  If we have received God’s mercy, it will be harder on us if we fail to extend mercy to our neighbor.  Remember the parable Jesus told about the servant whose debt was forgiven, who then had his own debtor thrown into prison until he paid the debt (I always wonder just how they’re supposed to do it from there anyway).  When the master learned of that servant’s harsh treatment of the other, he again held him accountable for the original debt, withdrawing his mercy.  We invite this response when we pray the Our Father: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In her short story “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” Willa Cather poignantly illustrates the life crushing pettiness of those who revel in the failure of others.  The nothing men of a nothing town gathered at a funeral to malign and criticize the every failure of the young man brought back in his coffin – as they did everyone who left the town to better himself.  The crushing speech bringing to light their snivelly evil was given by a man they had previously brought down to their level and was now a drunk, corrupt lawyer who did their dirty legal wangling.  He knew from experience and observation that it was they themselves who planted the seeds of failure in the young men they enjoyed criticizing when the failure bloomed.  The story leaves the reader with a creepy feeling of disgust toward those men who kicked down those who had not only fallen from grace, but their falls were the result of being tripped by those very men.

It is a good exercise to think a moment before uttering our shock, our distain, our judgement on those who are pathetic, who are sinful, who have fallen from grace.  Hold back our accusation, our ridicule, our kick.  Won’t it make us all not only feel better, but to be better to lift them up instead?  If we need inspiration to do so, we need only to look up and see the hand of divine grace reaching into the depths to raise us up again. 

August 7, 2017

Eight Ways to Be a Better Godparent

It is an honor to be asked to be a godparent.  But choosing a godparent is not merely a way to honor a friend or relative after the birth of a child; it is an invitation to take on a big responsibility in the child’s life.  No, you are not expected to raise the child in the event of the parents' early demise.  That is taken care of by their will.  The role of the godparents is more on the spiritual side.  As my nine-year-old daughter put it, "The parents help the whole child grow up and the godparents help the child's soul grow up."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.  But faith needs the community of believers.  It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe.” (CCC 1253)  The godmother and godfather will ideally be fixed points in the spiritual life of the child.  They are a small, chosen church community for that particular child, regardless of changes of parish and location.  They hold the great responsibility of assisting the parents to help the child to grow spiritually.

So, if you have been honored by an invitation to be a godparent, you’ll want to take your responsibility seriously and be faithful to the promises you made when that baby was baptized.  Here are a few practical ways you can ensure you assist in the spiritual growth of that child and represent the Church community to him or her, whether you live close by or not.

1.   Actually pray daily for your godchild

If you aren't already in the practice of daily prayer, this would be a good time to start!  A routine time will make it easier to remember and be consistent.  Perhaps first thing in the morning (by which I mean, after you've had your coffee!) or before dinner at the end of your grace before meals.  When you are at Mass, be sure to remember your godchild when you receive communion.

2.   Remember your godchild's baptismal day

This is a date you really ought to know.  Chances are, you were there and dressed up for it.  If you don't recall the date, ask the child's parents.  They may have to look it up or call the parish where the child was baptized, but this is a date you should celebrate with your godchild.  For the godparent, the anniversary of the child's baptism is an even more important date to commemorate than their birthday.  Celebrate both, by all means, but if you're going to forget one, let it be the birthday.

Some simple things you can do to observe the day would be to have a Mass said for the child's intentions and send a Mass card.  A nice letter reminding them of the momentous event that happened that day and encouraging them in living the Faith will go a long way toward building your relationship.  At the very least, a phone call can be made.  If the child is still too young to care about any of this, his parents will appreciate it.  If you're close enough to visit, you could have a little party.  Cake and even a gift related to the Faith are a wonderful way to celebrate.

If your godchild is no longer a baby, it’s not too late to begin a tradition of remembering them on this special day.  They might love to get to know you or it could be a way to help them back to living their baptismal promises if they have strayed.

3.   Teach them to renew their baptismal vows

Their baptismal anniversary would be a good time for you to teach your godchild to renew their baptismal vows.   Just as we do at Mass on Easter, everyone present renews their baptismal promises at the same time.  Here are the questions for you to print out.

V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do.
V. Do you 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?
R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
R. Amen.
(This is a family service that is directed by one of the parents. The family members renew their baptismal vows and sprinkle themselves with holy water,)

4.   Light their baptismal candle 

If it hasn't been long since the baptism, the parents may still know where the baptismal candle is.  Their baptismal birthday celebration is the time to bring out the candle and light it, ideally when the baptismal vows are being renewed.  If you no longer know where the candle is, just order a new one to use for their anniversary celebration.  Order one for yourself, while you're at it!

5.   Remember your godchild's Name Day

Get to know your child's patron saint and help celebrate their name day!  You can ask the parents if they were named for a particular saint.  A quick Google search will turn up that saint's feast day.  That is the “Name Day” of all those named for that saint.  It's possible that the parents their baby a traditional name, but didn't have a particular saint in mind.  Encourage them to choose one that they think will be a good example for their child.  If the name is one that is made up or doesn't have a saint associated with it at all, just choose a patron saint who seems appropriate for some reason.  Celebrate that saint’s feast as the child's Name Day.

Again, having a Mass said for the child is the greatest of gifts.  It may seem boring to a child now, but its value is immeasurable!  Go ahead and get them a treat or a gift!  Have a little celebration for their Name Day.  Catholics have so much to celebrate!

6.   Faith related gifts

Now that you know their patron saint, you may find books, statues or holy cards about that saint.  Why not surprise your godchild with them sometime?  It is another way to stay in touch and build a relationship with them, as well as bolster their faith.  If the child is small, here there are some really cute toys and books that will help instill a love for holy things.

7.   Refer to yourself as their Godparent

Be sure your godchild actually knows who you are as they grow up!    It is not unusual for parents to choose a godparent for their child who they are close with at one time in their life, but who then become separated by distance.  Do stay in touch as you can.  Try to cultivate a relationship with the child that outlives the one you have with their parents.  Point out the reason for your special relationship with them when you are together or through letters.  If you're a close relative, you may always be remembered as Aunt Carol and the godparent/godchild relationship may go by the wayside.  Be sure to set yourself apart as a sure companion along their spiritual journey.

8.   Attend their reception of first Sacraments

First reception of the Eucharist is a very special day for most Catholics.  Be sure to be there for your godchild to show that you are with them along this journey.  But also find out how you might help prepare them for important sacramental firsts.  Ask their parents when they will be preparing for their first confession (also an important event, but seldom celebrated with panache), first Holy Communion, and Confirmation and ask how you might aid them.

Pick the suggestions that will work for you and your impact as a godparent will be multiplied!  If you pick all of them, then your godchild may well become the envy of all his siblings.  But, more likely, his parents will adopt some of these beautiful practices into their family observance of their Faith.  And all will be richer for it.

[Disclaimer:  These are simply suggestions.  Even I don't do all these things and I only have one godchild!!  Please add them to your life as your personality and level of overwhelm allow.]

August 1, 2017

Beyond St. Francis: More Saints for Animal Lovers

Did someone accidentally eat your pet?  There's a saint for that!

When we think of a patron saint for animals and animal lovers, St. Francis usually comes immediately to mind.  He's probably pretty busy.  There are several other saints who will pop up when you do a search for patrons for animals and animal keepers, too.  I discovered that some of these have their patronage due to events in their lives that simply involved animals (like St. Anthony of Padua preaching to fish).

Even more remotely, a saint’s symbolism might include animals for other reasons and they then they became patron of that animal.  St. Ambrose of Milan, for instance, was known as “the honey tongued doctor” because of his eloquent preaching, which led to the beehive appearing in his iconography, which led to him being known as a patron of bees, beekeepers, and candle makers.  That seems like a stretch to me.

I have put together this list of saints who actually liked, loved and even kept animals as pets.  Some are even known for their kindness to wild animals.  Many have healed and even restored life to animals that had died!  When your pet needs healing or a behavior adjustment – or if you need help convincing someone to let you get a pet, these are saints who will understand when you ask their intercession.

st. Anthon Abbot

St. Anthony Abbot  
Pigs, Domesticated Animals
(4th century, Egypt, Feast day: January 17)

Officially a patron saint of domesticated animals, Saint Anthony is often depicted standing next to a pig.  The story goes that he cured a pig, which thereafter followed him everywhere.  His feast day is often celebrated with a festival and blessing of animals to ensure the good health and fertility of the animals.

St. Blaise

St. Blaise
Wild Animals
(Second century, Armenia, Feast day: February 3)

St. Blaise was known to have cured diseased wild animals that came to him of their own accord for healing, but never disturbed him in prayer.


St. Brigid
Cattle, Chickens, Boar, Fox, Cow All Animals
(Died 523, Ireland, Feast day: February 1)

Loved animals, gave sanctuary to a wild boar, turned a fox into a loving pet for the king, was kind to dogs, was followed by a cow.  Under her care, her master’s dairy prospered, even though she constantly gave away his produce.  She is a patron of cattle and poultry farmers.

St. Colette

St. Colette
All Animals, Lamb, Birds
(Died 1447, France, Feast day: February 7)

St. Colette loved and cared for all animals.  And they loved her, too.  She had a pet lamb that followed her everywhere, including to church.  Birds flew about her and she is said to have understood their communication.

St. Francis of Paola

St. Francis of Paola
Fish, Lamb, All Creatures
(Early 16th century, Calabria, Italy, Feast day: April 2)

Well, you’ve got to love St. Francis of Paola!  He so loved animals that he was known to resurrect at least three.  This story is amazing.  He had a pet trout, called Antonella, that swam in a pool.  It seems that a visiting priest, unaware that the fish was a pet, caught it and took it home to eat.  He had begun frying poor Antonella!  Fortunately, St. Francis noticed Antonella’s absence and sent a brother to get it back.  Alas, Antonella was about to be eaten and the unawares priest, annoyed that his lunch was being reclaimed, threw the cooked fish to the ground, whereupon it broke to pieces.  Upon receiving the cooked and broken pieces of his pet, St. Francis put them in the pool and prayed, “Antonella, in the Name of Charity, return to life!” – and it did!  The fish began to swim happily about again.  This miracle was witnessed by several people.

Oddly enough, this was not the only time an animal St. Francis Paola loved was rescued from mistaken diners.  He had a pet lamb, Matrinello, that was not only cooked, but consumed by nearby workmen.  Upon discovering the tragedy, St. Francis raised up his lamb from the bones and fleece, which had been flung into an oven.

So, if someone cooks your canary, St. Francis Paola is who you should call on!

St. Isidore the Farmer

St. Isidore the Farmer
Birds, Animals
(Died 1130, Spain, Feast day: May 15)

St. Isadore was often moved by pity for the suffering of others and his generosity rewarded with miraculous multiplications of food.  His care extended even to the birds of the air.  On a cold winter day, he came upon a flock of starving wood pigeons on his way to the mill with his master’s grain.  He emptied half the sack of grain for the birds, but when he arrived at the mill, the sack was again full and was ground into a double portion of flour.

St. John Mecias

St. John Macias  (Also spelled Masias)
All Animals
(Died 1645, Peru, Feast day: September 18)

It was reading Mary Fabyan Windeatt’s book about St. John Masias that I learned of his compassion and tenderness toward animals, including healing their injuries and disease.  Since then, he has become my go-to saint for intercession regarding animals.  Here is another story about his care for creatures.  While John was filling a trough with water he had drawn from a deep well, the sheep he was caring for fell into the well!  He could not reach the animal to help, so he prayed the Rosary that God might provide a miracle to save it.  The water began to rise until John could lift the sheep out and then again receded.  Again John knelt in a prayer of thanksgiving.

St. Kevin of Glendalough

St. Kevin of Glendalough 
(Died C. 618, Ireland, Feast day: June 3rd)

There is a story of a blackbird building a nest in St. Kevin’s hand.  The kind saint held his hand out until the eggs hatched and the fledglings left the nest.  As they say, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush!

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres 
All animals, Cats, Dogs, even Vermin
(Died: 1639, Peru, Feast day: November 3rd)

St. Martin’s compassion toward the poor extended to all animals.  He was known to find homes for stray animals, healed ill ones and even preferred to make a deal with the vermin that were gnawing the altar cloths.  He asked them to stay out of the sacristy and kitchen and live across the garden where he would feed them daily.  Both parties kept their end of the deal.

Bl. Mary Bartholomea de Bagnesi
Cats, Song birds
(Died 1577, Italy, Feast day: May 28)

Blessed Mary Bartholomea de Bagnesi could be called an early cat lady.  She loved cats and they loved her back.  In addition to the people who sought out the Dominican tertiary for her room, cats also visited this holy, bedridden woman.  They even guarded her pet songbirds and were known to bring her cheese when she was hungry!

St. Philip Neri

St. Philip Neri
(Died 1595, Italy, Feast day: May 26)

St. Philip is said to have had an affection for all creatures and kept a pet cat, Jeoffery, which he carried around Rome with him.  When he sent word from out of town, he would ask after his pet.

St. Roch

St. Roch (Also known as Rocca)
(Died 1327, France, August 16)

Again we see that the saints’ love for God is manifest in their compassion toward people, made in God’s image, as well as toward animals, God’s creations.  As a pilgrim, St. Roch came across and cared for victims of the plague.  He himself contracted the disease and took to a forest to die, but was cared for by a dog that brought him food.  He eventually recovered and is now the patron saint for dogs.

Pope St. Sylvester

Pope St. Sylvester 
Domestic Animals, Bulls
(Fourth century, Rome, Feast day: December 31)

As icons of this early pope show, he is known to have resurrected a bull and is a patron of domestic animals.

St. Veridiana

St. Veridiana
(Died 1242, Italy, Feast day: February 1)

St. Veridiana shared her hermitage cell with two snakes, which she fed from her own meager rations.  I'm sure this will endear her so someone!

St. Vitus

St. Vitus (Also known as St. Guy)
Horses, Horned animals, Dogs
(Died 1012, Belgium, Feast day: June 18)

Because the site of his forgotten grave was revealed by a horse, St. Vitus is invoked for protection of horses, stables, horned animals.  On his feast day, a festival and procession was held at which horses were blessed.  He also happens to be patron of oversleeping, so if you have an animal that gets up late, St. Vitus may be able to help!