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Where did Lent come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 02, February 2012 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs
Christian cross
The entire church year spins on the axis of Easter faith. (photo:

The celebration of Lent is a long-established tradition in the church—and I use the word celebration deliberately. The prayers of the liturgy refer to Lent as “this joyful season.” Though the character of the season is penitential, the intent of Lent is to prepare our dispositions for the greatest feast of the church year, the always-jubilant Easter. With all that to look forward to, Lent could hardly be a mournful time.

So where did Lent come from? Let’s start by saying that Christianity embraces one key belief: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This central article of faith shapes everything we do as Christians, how we live and die, and certainly how we express our faith in worship. Easter is therefore the primary day of rejoicing. Every Sunday is considered a “little Easter,” a commemoration of how Jesus triumphed over sin and death through the power of God for the sake of humanity’s emancipation from those ancient twin evils that bound it. The entire church year spins on the axis of Easter faith.

In the first three centuries of the church Christians prepared for this mother-of-all-feasts by fasting—between two days to a week depending on local custom. In Rome the “paschal fast” may have lasted as long as three weeks. This extended fast was linked to the preparation of new members for baptism at the Easter Vigil.

By the 4th century a full 40-day period of preparation was observed, imitating the 40-day fast of Jesus in the desert before undertaking his great mission. Fasting and prayer were natural components of the season because that’s how Jesus prepared himself. Almsgiving was added to the practices of Lent as it, too, was a traditional way of making sacrifice to God in the wake of sinfulness. Following a calendar of feasts and seasons dependent on one’s faith is an idea rooted in Judaism. The Law of Moses established fixed times annually to recall the saving actions of God, centered on the commemoration of Passover. A liturgical calendar allowed Israel to practice gratitude and thanks, repentance and conversion, each in accord with the natural seasons, rains, and harvests. A cycle of liturgy also provided a way to instruct new generations about the faith in ritual and storytelling.

Easter, the Christian Passover, was fixed by the Council of Nicaea in 325 to coincide with the first full moon after the vernal equinox. That makes Lent the annual “springtime” of faith, quite literally, as the word Lent means "spring."

Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-3; Leviticus 23

“Grave matters: Take away the Resurrection and the center of Christianity collapses,” article by N. T. Wright 
• For fun: Wiki article on computus,” the complicated story of calculating the date of Easter

Embracing the Sacred Seasons of Lent and Easter: Daily Reflections and Prayers by Janis Yaekel (Twenty-Third Publications, 2005)
Living Liturgy: Spirituality, Celebration, and Catechesis for Sundays and Solemnities (Liturgical Press)

What does it mean to repent?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 20, November 2023 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Sacraments,Scripture,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

(Photo: Pickpik)Love is willing to share the journey toward reunion and reconciliation. (Photo: Pickpik)

We’re not served well in our appreciation of the word repent by the many films featuring some be-frocked priest or Puritan shaking a cross in people’s faces and demanding, “Sinner, repent!” Repentance doesn’t necessarily require falling on our knees and beating our breasts, though sometimes that may be the appropriate response—as it was for skeptical Thomas, when the resurrected Lord whom he'd doubted stood before him. Basically, to repent means to change course. That can mean movement if we’ve been standing still, or stopping if we’ve been in frantic motion. It can mean changing our minds or our hearts, our direction or our behavior.

The word has several important root meanings. The earliest is the Hebrew word t’shuvah, meaning "return." It’s a crucial concept to prophets like Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah. Their fellow citizens have wandered far from God's ways, and it’s time for them to return home. The rabbis tell a story of a young man who falls in with a bad crowd and winds up far from home, destitute and ashamed. His father sends word for the son to return. “I cannot,” the young man replies, “It is too far.” Too far in distance, surely, but also in moral stature. His father responds: “Come as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way.”

This story reminds us how our failures put us at a distance from those whom we love, from the community of faith to which we belong. Yet love is willing to share the journey toward reunion and reconciliation. We return to God, and God returns to us.

If t’shuvah is the Old Testament word for repentance, metanoia is the New Testament Greek term that carries a similar meaning. John the Baptist first issues the call to change direction, signaled by baptism in the Jordan. Jesus uses this term when he invites his listeners to change their dispositions—to turn their hearts and lives around—in response to his teaching. Our word repentance carries the additional meaning of expressing regret for past actions and attitudes—along with the expectation that real change is forthcoming. In addition, the word conversion means turning around, implying a reorientation of intentions and actions. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we include the stipulation of “making reparation” for what we’ve done or failed to do that has caused harm.


Amos 4:6-11; Hosea 5:15—6:3; Jeremiah 3:12-22; Mark 1:4, 14-15; Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; Luke 3:3; 13:1-5; Acts 2:37-39; 3:19; 26:17-20; 2 Peter 3:9


The Forgiveness Book – Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau (Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications, 2008)

Radical Forgiveness – Antoinette Bosco (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009)

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Why sing at Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 14, September 2012 Categories: Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Church songbook
“Singing is for one who loves.”—Saint Augustine

My question is: Why don’t we sing more? The importance of singing in ritual is long-established. Can we have a ball game in this country without a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner? I’m amazed that the same people who belt out a song in the shower, croon along in the car, and know all the words and moves to Thriller don’t crack the songbook in the pews. Granted, not all church music suits your taste or mine. I’m not wild about the “Happy Birthday” song either. But when it’s time to sing it, the liturgy of the moment demands that I play my part.

Saint Augustine, who said many things well, insisted: “Singing is for one who loves.” That is the same Bishop Augustine who considered banning music from his church altogether. Augustine loved music so much he found it far too fetching and distracting to enjoy at liturgies. In the end he adhered to the older proverb: “Whoever sings well prays twice over.” So pass out the song sheets.

Saint Paul was an earlier proponent of church music, back when church was held in somebody’s house. He advocated that believers sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). While Augustine got it right that singing is for lovers, happy people in general whistle while they work, and grateful people feel as if they have something to sing about. That could explain a lot of things about why folks in church are reluctant to sing. Ever look around at all those glum faces? Without a significant increase in the spirit of joy and gratitude, don’t expect an increase in responsive singers.

In the Bible a lot of joy and gratitude gets expressed in random acts of music. “Sing to the Lord a new song!” the psalmists say—in the Bible’s own songbook, the Psalms. Many of the big players have a song to sing, especially the women: Miriam at the Red Sea rescue; Hannah at the birth of her child; Deborah after her battleground victory achieved with the help of another woman, Jael; Judith after defeating Holofernes; and Mary when she visits Elizabeth and shares her annunciation. King David himself wrote music, played, and danced—which annoyed his wife, who thought it made him seem frivolous in front of the nation. To those who love and feel joy and gratitude, a little frivolity in public is in order.

Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Judges 5; Judith 16:1-18; the Book of Psalms; Luke 1:46-55; Colossians 3:16

Psalms from the Soul by Rawn Harbor, ValLimar & Frank Jansen, and Val Parker (OCP)
Psalms for the Church Year by David Haas and Marty Haugen (GIA Publications)

The Liturgical Music Answer Book by Peggy Lovrien (Resource Publications, 1999)
Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (USCCB, 2008)

Image credit: 123RF Stock Photo

What do theologians do all day?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture,Prayer and Spirituality
Scripture and tradition are the central tools of the theologian's trade. Whatever they propose must be grounded in these primary foundations.

Good question! It doesn't seem one might make a living talking about God. Most theologians have a day job teaching at universities. Yet their vocation remains to pursue "the science of God." These studies aren't merely academic. Theologians invest in the work of understanding as believers themselves, and for the sake of believers everywhere.

Fourth-century Augustine urged seekers of truth to "believe that you may understand." Later Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury coined a phrase from this idea, "faith seeking understanding," to describe the task of theology. Needless to say, theologians don't make stuff up, spinning theories about divinity from their imaginations or faculties of reason. Scripture and tradition are the central tools of the theologian's trade. Whatever they propose must be grounded in these primary foundations. 

In addition, theologians may use methodologies from philosophy, history, and science to stretch toward new horizons of thought, to take in advancements in human learning.  Many theologians specialize in certain approaches or subjects. Systematic theology, for example, explores motifs of church dogma: Trinity, Creation, or Incarnation, say. Soteriology is concerned with the workings of grace and the meaning of salvation. Moral theology examines how to discern value choices. Christology meditates on the mystery of Jesus as both human and divine. Ecclesiology studies the church in its mission, governance, and future directions. Pastoral theology considers how preaching, teaching, and liturgy promote the gospel and connect with the lived situations of real people.

I like Jesuit J.J. Mueller's listing of four major influences shaping the path of contemporary theology. The first is the renewed appreciation for Scripture's privileged role in any conversation about God: not the Bible taken literally and fundamentalistically, yet still embraced foundationally. Secondly is historical consciousness: ways of viewing and valuing the past as central or irrelevant, ongoing or finished business. Next is the opening of new avenues of interpretation: feminist, black, LGBTQ+, and liberation readings, among many others. Finally, we have to be mindful of the quickening of global interconnectedness and the responsibility to make theology universally applicable and respectful.

I also love Mueller's acknowledgment that theology isn't the exclusive domain of theologians. We all participate in God Talk with family, friends, coworkers, and in the public sphere of politics and the marketplace. What we say to each other, to children, and to the wider world with our values and decisions is part of the greater work of seeking, understanding, and teaching what we believe.

Scripture: Psalm 119; Wisdom 1:1-7; John 1:1-18; Romans 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:7-11

Books: Theological Foundations: Concepts and Methods for Understanding Christian Faith, by J.J. Mueller, SJ. (St. Mary's Press, 2007)

World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons, by Jehu J. Hanciles (Orbis Books, 2021)

Where did the breviary come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Church History,Prayer and Spirituality
This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

The word breviary comes from the same Latin root as brief. It implies this book is a shorter version of something else: in this case, the Liturgy of the Hours. The complete Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer form that seeks to extend the praise of our Eucharistic celebration through the rest of the hours outside of Mass. This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

Sacred times and places are common in world religions. Dawn, noon, sunset, and night are regarded as particular markers when the texture of time is in transition. Think of how your activities shift at these markers: from sleep to wakefulness, work to home environment, productivity to relaxation, and finally from alertness back to sleep. At these junctures, it's good to consecrate ourselves and our window of time to divine safekeeping.

The original prayerbook in the Jewish tradition is the Psalter, or Book of Psalms. Early Christians took this traditional prayer with them into the practice of the church. They found natural correlations between hours of prayer and central gospel events, including resurrection (dawn), crucifixion (noon), and the Lord's supper (evening). Morning and evening prayers were routinely offered by lay members of the church.

During the rise of monasticism, other readings and prayers were added, making the Hours more formal and ritualized. By the medieval period, psalms and antiphons, lectionary readings and books of lessons, observance of the martyrology, plus hymnody, combined to require a library of volumes to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Needless to say, this made the Hours too ponderous and expensive for the laity to participate, and it became a prayer relegated to clergy and cloister.  

Then came the mendicants, those mobile religious orders like Franciscans and Dominicans. Their itinerant lifestyle necessitated a more portable book of prayer, and the breviary was born. This abbreviated version of the Hours wasn't really restored to the average person, however, until Vatican II called for a more accessible form of the breviary to be created. The single-volume book of Christian Prayer, or even simpler and slimmer Shorter Christian Prayer preserve the flavor of a liturgy adapted to hours, days, and weeks, with seasonal touches and a calendar of saint observances. For those still intimidated by leatherbound books, subscriptions to monthly services like Give Us This Day invite us into the spirit of sanctifying our time both morning and evening.

Scripture: Matt. 5:44; 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8; Acts 2:42; 3:1; 20:36; 21:5-6; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Eph. 6:18

Books: The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, by Daria Sockey (Franciscan Media, 2013)

Psalms and Other Songs from a Pierced Heart, by Patricia Stevenson (Liturgical Press, 2019)

A Book of Hours, by Thomas Merton, ed. by Kathleen Deignan (Ave Maria Press, 2007)

What's a tertiary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Consecrated Life,Vocation and Discernment,Prayer and Spirituality
Tertiaries get the nod of approval precisely because of their deep connection to long-established communities with full canonical oversight.

My older sister is a Third Order Carmelite. She's also married, a mother of four children, and a pharmacist. Obviously she's not a nun or religious sister, but if not, then what is she?

Many of us learn from friends that they've joined third orders or otherwise describe themselves as tertiaries. Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and other religious communities extend their identity to lay people in a "third way" that doesn't include clerical status nor communal living in a religious house. The tertiary designation is a secular association that even has official recognition in canon law: "Third Orders - Associations whose members lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection while living in the world and who share the spirit of some religious institute under the higher direction of that same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name." (CCC #303)

Third orders aren't the only kind of lay associations mentioned in church law. The earlier Code of Canon Law from 1917 recognized lay confraternities (like the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) and pious unions (think St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus) (see old CIC #700). The distinction between confraternities and pious unions isn't about purpose so much as ecclesial establishment and oversight. Current canon law only formally recognizes tertiary groups while noting the right of other private and public lay associations to form. Needless to say, not every group formed by a Catholic can utilize the name Catholic without competent ecclesial authority. (Heaven knows how the "brand" might be extended otherwise.)

Tertiaries get the nod of approval precisely because of their deep connection to long-established communities with full canonical oversight. The traditional "first orders" were male religious, not necessarily ordained. "Second orders" were composed of women religious. Any layperson who chose to share in the spirit of these communities without taking vows were called oblates by the Benedictines, and third orders by Francis of Assisi.

Today, tertiaries are divided into two categories: secular third orders and regular members. Seculars are like my sister, who lives a relatively normal life while participating in the prayer life and values of her chosen affiliation. She wears a scapular to remind her of her promises, and when she dies, she may choose to be buried in the habit worn by her group. Regular third order members take simple vows as well as following the rule of their community. If a religious community feels resonant for you, inquire about the possibility of associate status.

Books: The Tertiaries Companion - A Prayer Book For the Members of the Third Order Secular of St. Francis of Assisi, by Vincent Schrempp OFM (Franciscan Herald, 2022) 

Rule of the Third Order of the Servants of Mary, Servites Third Order (Ulan Press, 2012)

I'm not at peace. Is there a Catholic way to get there?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 02, July 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Prayer and Spirituality

Peace isn't a thing to "have" so much as a "way." To enjoy peace, we travel the road of peace: or "go in peace" as is proclaimed at the end of every Mass. The gospels tell us this Way has a name: Jesus.

There's certainly a Catholic way to understand peace. We normally think of peace as a condition of no conflict. Yet the biblical concept of peace, shalom, assures us it's a fullness rather than an absence of something. In fact, shalom could be described as wholeness altogether, including immersion in right relationships. To experience peace, we must get right with God, neighbor, and creation itself. 

That sounds big. It is. But it's also simple. Peace isn't a thing to "have" so much as a "way." To enjoy peace, we travel the road of peace: or "go in peace" as is proclaimed at the end of every Mass. The gospels tell us this Way has a name: Jesus. Isaiah announced him as the Prince of Peace. John the Baptist heralded one who would "guide our feet in the way of peace." Saint Paul tells us plainly that Jesus IS our peace. And Jesus himself offers his friends at the last supper a peace the world cannot give.

How does this work? Consider the gospel story of the woman healed of a hemorrhage. She believes the merest contact with Jesus will end her misery. Which it does. The moment Jesus acknowledges that she's been healed, he invites her to go in peace, to continue in the wholeness she's received. As healthcare specialist Sister Juliana Casey puts it: "Peace appears when God is near." A wonderful wholeness of being is our introduction to shalom. All that's left is to remain in this way, not to lose this precious wholeness.

Does holding onto peace come cheaply? Not to Thomas Aquinas, who insisted harmonious relationships require a soul governed by love. Pope Leo XIII defined peace as rooted in justice and guided by love. Pius XII chose as his motto Opus institiae pax: "Peace is the work of justice." John XXIII expanded this idea beyond the personal to the social order. Only when truth, justice, love, and freedom are universally accessible can there be peace. My favorite phrase arrived courtesy of Pope Paul VI, in noting the struggle of the world's poor: "Development is the new name for peace." Pope John Paul II reframed the quest for peace as "solidarity" with our neighbor, particularly the most marginalized. 

The angels at Bethlehem sang that peace comes "to people of good will." If our minds or hearts are troubled, it may be we're not harboring good will toward all—even if we just withhold our love from a single one.

Scriptures: Isaiah 9:5-6; 48:18; Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 5:9; Luke 1:76-79; 2:14; 8:43-48; John 14:27; 20:19-29; Ephesians 2:13-18

Book: The Gift of Peace: Personal Reflections, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (Loyola Press, 1997)

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, NCCB (United States Catholic Conference, 1983)

Please sort out these words for me: catechesis, catechetics, catechism, catechumen. What's the difference?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 02, February 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality

They all derive from the same Greek word, which means "to echo." But as you suspect, they don't all mean the same thing.

Catechesis is the process of awakening a person to faith. We typically think of catechesis as instruction: children's religion programs, or RCIA formation for adults preparing for baptism. While catechesis involves teaching, textbooks aren't central to the process. "The study of the sacred page" is the heart of the matter (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, nos. 21-26). Catechesis is a ministry of the word: not only reading Scripture but entering into dialogue with God's word so that it dwells in us. Our lives literally become an echo of what we hear.

Catechetics is the theory behind catechesis—something you may not consider unless you're a catechist (one who provides catechesis to others). But it's something to think about if you suspect your parish programs have an agenda more partisan than pastoral. Catechetics since Vatican II aims not merely to pass on "the deposit of faith"—those traditions and teachings governing church life. Catechetics recognizes the human element in the process of awakening faith. It's not about indoctrinating future disciples through the memorizing of immoveable truths. Catechetics seeks to use age-appropriate and culturally sensitive methods of instruction so that faith formation, and not indoctrination, is the result. Catechists must not only know church teaching, but also grasp the social and moral context of their times and how their communities might be called to respond to them. 

Catechism was once the fundamental way religious instruction was accomplished. A catechism is a manual of instruction involving a question-and-answer format. It typically follows the organization of the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the seven sacraments. The point of such instruction was literally to echo the catechism in memorizing the answers to each question and to reiterate them verbatim. The present Catechism of the Catholic Church, contrary to popular belief, wasn't intended to be a personal manual of instruction for the classroom. It's meant to guide bishops in the formation of diocesan programming.

Catechumen is the easiest to distinguish in this echo chamber of similar-sounding terms. It refers to an unbaptized person seeking to be joined to the church. Catechumen is often contrasted with candidate, the term for a baptized Christian who seeks to become Catholic.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalm 119; Matthew 5:1-7:29; 22:34-40; Acts 5:27-42; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Books: Catechesis in a Multi-Media World: Connecting to Today's Students, by Mary Byrne Hoffman (Paulist Press, 2012)

The Art of Catechesis: What You Need to Be, Know, and Do, by Maureen Gallagher (Paulist Press, 1998)

What are the different forms of prayer?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 01, April 2021 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
This is by no means a definitive list. Consider it a place to begin.

Prayer is a spiritual art, so recommended prayer forms vary according to the artist. In Richard McBrien’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism, three general categories are listed: vocal, mental, and passive. Vocal prayer is defined as anything that uses words—spoken, recited, or sung. It can utilize composed or spontaneous prayers. The psalms and the liturgy of the Mass are two examples of vocal prayer. Mental prayer, by contrast, is a silent reflection involving the imagination and will. Ignatian guided imagery and the use of Scripture in meditation (lectio divina) are samples of mental prayers. Passive prayer is also known as contemplation. You don’t control or generate it: you relinquish all. In return, the mystical encounter awaits as pure gift of God. Passive prayer can be ecstatic, as Teresa of Avila experienced it. It can also be a source of intense suffering, as with John of the Cross.

Another way to envision prayer forms are two categories suggested by Richard Rohr: mental prayer and body prayer. Here “mental” describes that which involves the rational being: both vocal and mental forms outlined above would fit into this idea of mental prayer. Body prayer, by contrast, means “to pray from the clay”—the vessel of the self formed from clay and divine Breath. This could include spiritual activities as diverse as walking the labyrinth or Stations of the Cross, pilgrimage, fingering rosary beads, tai chi, or yoga. Depending on your level of participation in passive prayer mentioned above, this could be a mental prayer or a full-body experience.

The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (ed. Glazier/Hellwig) gets more explicit, listing 16 prayer forms. The first bunch are communal: public (shared prayer), Eucharist (the source and summit of our faith), Scripture (where God speaks), and the Divine Office (psalm-led prayer on behalf of humankind). Tre Ore, the least familiar on this list, is a Trinity prayer in which one hour is given to silent adoration, one to writing and reflection, and a third to group sharing.

The MCE list includes the familiar: personal prayer, spiritual reading, silent listening, recitation (rosaries, litanies), mental prayer, contemplation, the examination of conscience. It also explores the idea of recollection (bringing God to mind throughout the day), meditation (guiding the intellect and reason), affective prayer (involving the emotions and affections), and journaling as an interactive mapping of the spiritual journey. This is by no means a definitive list. Consider it a place to begin.

Scripture: Num 6:24-26; Psalms; Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:29-32

• A downloadable “User’s guide on the ways to pray” by Linus Mundy
• Find Your Spirituality Type” quiz by Roger O'Brien
• What's the difference between saying ‘set’ prayers and prayers in my own words?” by Alice Camille
• How is the Mass ‘prayer’”? by Alice Camille

Books: Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types, by C. Michael, M. Norrisey (Open Door, 1985)

The Breath of the Soul, by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Pub, 2009)

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Do Catholics believe in faith healing?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 10, March 2021 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
The body isn’t the only place where sickness lodges and healing is needed; mind and spirit need restoration as well to achieve wholeness.

Most of us equate faith healing with a miraculous resolution of a medical condition that can’t be explained by other means. In charismatic instances of faith healing, a sick person receives the laying on of hands, is prayed over often in an unintelligible language of tongues, and may experience being “slain in the Spirit”—falling to the ground involuntarily. In the movies, this is the moment when the person gets up, throws away the crutches, and walks away restored.

But let’s not be dismissive about the gift of healing. In the gospels, healing is frequently achieved by a touch or word from Jesus. In the early church, James exhorts the community to lay hands on the sick and pray for them—presuming a curative effect. Our Sacrament of the Sick today is an anointing with oil that seeks to restore the sick person to wholeness in body, mind, and spirit.

But what exactly are we praying for when we pray for healing? Theologian John Craghan distinguishes between seeking God’s intervention, and trying to assert mental control over the illness. Movements like Christian Science attempt the latter, while Catholic tradition invokes divine help. Craghan outlines four elements particular to Catholic teaching on healing: All healing is a gift from God. Sickness is not merely a result of incorrect thinking but a real condition. Medical help available through science cooperates with the goal of healing and should not be rejected as contrary to faith. And finally, the body isn’t the only place where sickness lodges and healing is needed; mind and spirit need restoration as well to achieve wholeness.

This understanding suggests it’s not enough to insist, “If it’s God’s will, I’ll get better”—denying a doctor’s recommendations or prescriptions. Likewise, those suffering from depression shouldn’t imagine that if only their faith were stronger, their condition would evaporate overnight. The loss of physical or mental health is distressing enough without the addition of unwarranted blame or guilt. 

The church has always invested in healing by means of the sacraments, as well as in caring for the sick by the construction of hospitals worldwide. Modern health care too often depersonalizes and dehumanizes the sick person in clinical settings and procedures. The Sacrament of the Sick restores the sick to the community of faith, and reveals them as a sign of Christ’s enduring suffering and compassion.

Scripture: Exodus 15:26; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 38:1-15; Mark 1:21-34; Matthew 14:13-14; 25:31-46; Luke 7:21-23; John 9:1-5; James 5:13-16

Books: Healing Through the Sacraments, by Michael Marsch (Liturgical Press, 1989)

Healing the Future: Personal Recovery from Societal Wounding, by Dennis, Sheila, and Matthew Linn (Paulist Press: 2012)

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Will the church be different after a time of global crisis?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 13, May 2020 Categories: Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Post-crisis church
The church has been growing, evolving, responding to each generation it embraces.

It better be! The church is a living organism, the Body of Christ, composed of you and me and multitudes of others. Some have “gone before us, marked with the sign of faith,” and some have yet to be born. Collectively, the church is 2,000 years old and counting. In all that time, the church has been growing, evolving, responding to each generation it embraces. So in that sense, we’re not your grandmother’s church, nor simply the church of Aquinas or Augustine, Paul or Mary Magdalene. At the same time, we’re absolutely “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” with all of the above. So yes: when you get back inside your local parish for liturgy again, the church will have been affected by what we’ve cumulatively experienced and bring with us into that space once more.

Religious leaders are considering possible implications of the COVID-19 era and what it might mean for the church going forward. Here’s a short list of potential ways the church may evolve, suggested by a nationally known liturgist:

* The laity may rely less on Father to make church happen for the rest of us. Father doesn’t “do the holy stuff for us.” We all do it, together. When assembling is impossible, we’ve practiced being church in the physical absence of our pastors.

* Let’s embrace our baptismal priesthood. Sacramentally speaking, we the baptized die to ourselves, to live for Christ. This makes us Christ’s ambassadors wherever we are, just as the priest represents Christ in the assembly.

Worship is more than going to Mass. Believers worship in many settings and formats. Worship is about lifting ourselves, mind and heart and soul, to God. It involves prayer, word, and ritual. Anyone with a Bible, candle, rosary, and a need in their heart can worship. In an emergency, the needy heart is enough!

We don’t need drive-thru Communion and Confession. Such activities actually diminish the richness of the sacraments. When Eucharist isn’t available, share an agape (love) meal. No blessed water? Bless each other. No confession? Tell your failings to one you’ve wronged and ask forgiveness. 

A word to priests: feed your people. Your leadership equips the community to be the church, not simply to come to church. Pastoring isn’t about making parishioners dependent on you; it should liberate them for service. When you’re not physically able to lead the assembly, continue to do what you uniquely do by your call: sanctify the world by your prayers, and fulfill your mission to preach and teach by whatever means available. 

Scripture: Exodus 19:5-6; Mark 11:22-25; John 17:1-26; Romans 12:4-7; 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 10:11-18; James 5:13-18; 1 Peter 2:4-9; 5:1-6 

Books: A Prophetic, Public Church: Witness to Hope Amid the Global Crises of the Twenty-First Century, by Mary Doak (Liturgical Press, 2020); True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Consilium, by Massimo Faggioloi (Liturgical Press, 2012)

What should we do if we can't go to Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 21, March 2020 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Consider it an invitation to choose a devotion and Act of Spiritual Communion that enables you to stay connected  to the universal Body of Christ.

If Mass is suspended in your diocese due to COVID-19 or for other public safety concerns, there are other ways to observe the Fourth Commandment: Keep holy the Lord’s Day. Consider it an invitation to choose a devotion and Act of Spiritual Communion that enables you to stay connected to the universal Body of Christ. You might:

“Virtually” attend Sunday Mass on TV or online. Most dioceses have a Mass for shut-ins, a term that now applies to many of us under "stay at home” orders. The Paulist Fathers in Rome also have a user-friendly sing-along Mass in English uploaded weekly at YouTube. See for the current offerings on their home page.

Read and reflect on the Scriptures for Sunday available from the U.S. Bishops’ site:

Make use of the church’s traditional Liturgy of the Hours by downloading the popular breviary app at

During this season of Lent, meditate on the Stations of the Cross or other spiritual practices.

Or, pray five decades of the rosary, or make this the year you finally read your Bible—neither of which requires any technology.

Below are recommended prayers for an Act of Spiritual Communion when unable to participate in the Mass. Feel free to adapt them for personal or family needs!


My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you.
Never permit me to be separated from you.



Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, embolden me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within thy wounds hide me.
Never permit me to be parted from you.
From the evil Enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come to thee,
that with your saints I may praise thee
for age upon age.



O Mary, you always shine on our path as a sign of salvation and of hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.

You, Salvation of Your People, know what we need, and we are sure you will provide so that, as in Cana of Galilee, we may return to joy and to feasting after this time of trial.

Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform to the will of the Father and to do as we are told by Jesus, who has taken upon himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows to lead us, through the cross, to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.

Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

When we give a blessing, what do we actually do?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, January 2020 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
Jesus at the Emmaus supper
Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension.

Since blessings are delivered during solemn liturgies but also after the most mundane sneeze, one might wonder what a blessing involves. Biblically, a blessing communicates divine life to the recipient. Which implies that God alone can supply a blessing. God blesses us with strength, peace, success, children, and every good thing. When a representative of God performs the blessing act, it’s God’s blessing and not a personal bounty that s/he invokes.

Creatures are first blessed as they’re launched in Genesis. The seventh day, on which God rests, becomes a source of blessing itself. Patriarchs are each blessed and bestow blessings in turn. The tribe of Abraham becomes a fulcrum of blessing on earth, and Israel a vehicle of blessing for all the nations.

Blessings may literally flow from one person to another with the imposition of hands between fathers and sons. (There are no biblical stories of mothers blessing daughters, but I know plenty of women who do.) Once a blessing is spoken, it can’t be undone—which is what makes the story of Jacob cheating his brother Esau of his paternal blessing so tragic and impactful. These examples convey the seriousness of the blessing act: it’s not magic, but it is real and vital.

While it’s clear the power to bless originates with God, in the psalms we’re urged to “bless the Lord” frequently. In what capacity might we bless God? The intent is to offer thanks or to recognize God’s glory. In “blessing the Lord” we don’t add to God in the same way that God adds to our welfare in the act of blessing. 

Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension. Jesus also taught that we should answer each curse pronounced on us with a blessing: crossing the streams of bad intent with benevolence, we might say. Paul compares the church’s Eucharist with the blessing cup of Jewish rituals. Finally, it helps to remember that Mary of Nazareth was called “blessed among women” by Elizabeth, and claimed that blessing in her Magnificat.

All of which may give us pause the next time we casually “bless ourselves” with the Sign of the Cross. What aspect of divine blessing do we need, and what do we hope to receive?

Scripture: Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3; 12:2-3; 27:18-40; 32:27-29; 39:5; Numbers 6:22-27; chs. 22-23; Isaiah 19:24; Matthew 14:19; Mark 14:22; Luke 1:42, 48; 6:28; 24:30, 50-51; 1 Corinthians 10:16

Books: The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, by Stephen Rossetti (Ave Maria Press, 2018)

Blessed Beautiful, and Bodacious: The Gift of Catholic Womanhood, by Pat Gohn (Ave Maria Press, 2013)

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How can I find God in my life?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
Finding God
Finding God is like falling in love or starting a family: it won’t work unless you’re all in.

It’s one of the most profound questions a person can ask. A friend recently noted that the only time he hears the name of God invoked is when someone sneezes or runs a red light. To seek God less prosaically requires a personal investment. Finding God is like falling in love or starting a family: it won’t work unless you’re all in.

A lot of folks these days seek spirituality without an anchor in religion. They’d like to have the benefits of the God Quest—things like meaning, depth, values, direction, simplicity, security—without the inconvenient truths that go along with it. These include a dedication to justice and peace, moral responsibilities, and a fundamental humility about one’s role in the universe. The first step in the God Quest is to bow down, to incline our spirit in acknowledgment that there are things we don’t know, can’t see, can’t do from where we sit. Science rightfully explores what human beings can observe from our cheap seats in the universe—or multiverse. Religion is the sacred journey that explores what’s above, behind, around, and within that observable reality.

Bowing down, or cultivating the virtue of humility, is not merely the first task of the God Quest. Bernard of Clairvaux made it the all-permeating work when he taught his monks that there are four essential virtues: humility, humility, humility, and humility. The human ego is the source of all that ails our world, from greed, dominance, prejudice, and oppression to the everyday rotten fruit of envy, anger, gossip, and unforgiveness. If we practice removing ourselves from the center of existence and own that God alone belongs at the core of reality, we’ll be well on our way to lifelong spiritual growth.

The rest, we might say, is methodology. The Judeo-Christian tradition is a story of a people who took the God Quest and wrote down what they learned in cultivating that relationship in the Bible. Catholicism—the name meaning universal, comprehensive, or whole—is really a spiritual multiverse of ways to take the God Quest. Anchored in the Judeo-Christian story, it contains optional paths for seekers: solitary (hermits), communal (monastic and religious life), coupled (marriage and family life), as well as the priest or dedicated single person. All of these ways involve service to God and others in unique ways, as well as different forms of prayer, obligations, and commitments. Choose one, and begin.

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 3:1-6; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Job 38:1—42:6; Psalm 139; Isaiah 6:1-8; Tobit 5:4-22; Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 4:16-21

Books: Your One Wild and Precious Life: Thoughts on Vocation, by Mark-David Janus, C.S.P. (Paulist Press, 2018)

Visions and Vocations: The Catholic Women Speak Network (Paulist Press, 2018)

What is prayer?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
Prayer is a kind of creed in motion: we pray our faith.

I’ve always appreciated Edward Farrell’s observation that prayer is not a thing. It’s not a collection of words or a ritual activity. To begin by defining “what prayer is not” clears the air of our nonsense about prayer as a pious formula that needs to be gotten right. Prayer is a relationship that tells us, as all relationships inevitably do, who we are.

Think about the relationships in which you come to know yourself: as child or parent, sibling or friend, boss or servant, mentor or student. Who are we in relationship to God? Fragile, perhaps. Dependent, and certainly the weaker party. We are, after all, the ones repeatedly asking for stuff, whether it’s help for a sick family member, clarity for an exam, courage to apply for that new job, or peace on earth. We also try to remember to thank God for stuff, too. This is how we acknowledge that God is the source of every good, and our ultimate benefactor for the life we live.

In our relationship called prayer, we also praise God, which may be the most defining aspect of our exchange. Praise is a free celebration of the recipient’s greatness. God doesn’t need a reward or statuette from us acknowledging the exalted nature of divinity. Our praise is a way to “be still and know” which of us is Creator, and which creature.

Prayer is a kind of creed in motion: we pray our faith. The fact that we pray is a form of admitting that God exists—even if we don’t have all the details of that existence down pat. It also establishes that we trust in God. We’re not indifferent objects of divine invention but beloved and significant.

The deeper any relationship goes, the more we carry the other person around within us. We become what we love, in the way family members come to share traits and habits and character. As we deepen our relationship to God in prayer, we finally become what we believe. Receiving Eucharist—another form of prayer—is an incarnate way of expressing the same idea.

St. Jerome, a brilliant and rather cranky Scripture scholar of the 4th century, said prayer is a groan. Lamentation is another variety of prayer that is basically holy complaining. We complain by lifting up everything that’s wrong with the world, our society, and our lives. What makes lamentation a holy form of complaining is that we’re not just venting to a friend. We expect God to do something about this—and we believe that God can.

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-13; 7:7-11; John 15:7; 16:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:4-9; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 3:12-17; 4:2

Books: The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (Twenty-Third Publications, 2009)

Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales (Dover Publications, 2009)

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What is spirituality?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 31, January 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
Spirituality has to make a difference. Its purpose is to infuse meaning and direction into everything else.

My theology professor Francis Baur used to say: spirituality has something to do with the living of our lives; otherwise it’s not spirituality, just pious embroidery. The idea that spirituality is woven into our corporeality is key. It can’t be a vague cloak of values added on top of a lifestyle established and immutable. Spirituality has to make a difference. Its purpose is to infuse meaning and direction into everything else.

We’re tempted to think of it as some sort of technique we elect to practice: I do yoga, you do centering prayer, he does the rosary, and they join the Third Order Carmelites. Spirituality-as-technique deceives us into imagining it as a skill we can acquire with enough rehearsal, like making tolerably good birdcalls. It also lures us into magical thinking: if I tough out 30 days of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I will ascend to a higher moral plane.

Rather than a method of praying, spirituality informs our perception of reality, then moves us toward the values and behaviors that further such a vision. The end of spirituality is not “the mastery of practices but the quality of our very existence,” says Baur. Which means it’s not as esoteric as “spiritual” people sometimes make it sound. Spirituality isn’t for the elite but for all, since we all have an existence, and its quality is largely in our hands.

The pursuit of spirituality will take us through the thickets of theology: What do I believe about who God is and what God wants from me? What is life for? What is the church for? Who is Jesus to me, and how does that affect my decisions? If for example I believe God is love and God wants a relationship of love with me, then the path is plain: the ways of love must inform my spiritual quest. The church’s assembly, teachings, and worship must aid in my learning how to be a more loving person. Following Jesus means becoming a disciple in his school of love.

A piecemeal approach to spirituality will never lead to wholeness or viability. Focusing on procedures for contacting the Divinity makes religion too much like Star Trek’s quest for contacting new life forms—and spirituality truly isn’t rocket science. Faith, in the end, is about faithfulness; not what you believe, but what you do about it. What are you willing to settle for, with your one life? That’s a question worthy of spirituality.


Matthew 5:1—7:29; 10:37-39; Luke 5:33-39; 9:23-27; 11:1-13; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:16-26; Colossians 3:5-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 1:13-25


Life in Abundance: A Contemporary Spirituality, by Francis Baur, O.F.M. (Paulist Press, 1983)

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? byTimothy Radcliff, O.P. (Burns & Oates, 2005)

Why should I go to church?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Pope Francis sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us.

It’s interesting that Richard Gaillardetz asks the same question—and he’s a professional ecclesiologist, whose business it is to explain the church. Yet he admits convincing his own children of the necessity of going to church is another matter entirely. Why does church attendance need persuasion?

Gaillardetz identifies four troublesome modern obstacles. The first is widespread institutional distrust. We just haven’t seen all that many churches, banks, governments, or schools with a sterling track record lately. Add to that the more recent conflation of religion with partisan politics. Now, it seems, your church comes with obligatory party affiliation attached! That is understandably distasteful to many. A third problem with church affiliation is the social decline of absolutes. We once hung our hats on doctrine with confidence. But today a black-and-white approach to any issue seems simplistic, self-righteous, and begging to be debunked. Frankly, we don’t want some exterior machinery regulating what we’re allowed to believe about our reality. Finally, there’s the “fragilization” of religious identity. This lovely term expresses how religion, once the defining principle of a person’s life, has recently been downgraded to a lifestyle choice: a thing you have, rather than a thing you are. So, Catholic paraphernalia may be in your ethical toolkit. But you don’t see yourself as “a Catholic” anymore.

All of which explains why more people are skipping church. It doesn’t argue why they might not want to. Gaillardetz suggests that church might benefit from a reintroduction: not as mind-controlling Hall of Obedience, but a re-imagined School of Discipleship. Such a school exists to form us in the way of Jesus, not to keep us on the straight-and-narrow (much less save us from eternal fires). Old-school church asks different questions of us: “What do you think or believe about God, morality, your place in the scheme of things?” The School of Discipleship model asks, rather: “Whom do you love?”

This approach is in keeping with the teaching of Pope Francis, who sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us. It shouldn’t simply deliver to the adherent a longer set of reliable truths than the person down the street enjoys. In the School of Discipleship, we would decree or forbid less, and trust ourselves as “liturgical animals” more. Rituals work on us as we worship, teaching and shaping us as we say grace, give alms, fast, stand in praise, kneel in humility, or share a meal. This is what church does best.

Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; Isaiah 2:2-5; Joel 2:12-17; Matthew 18:20; John 17:20-26; Acts 2:1-4, 42-47

Books: A Church With Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium – Richard Gaillardetz (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 2015)

Go Into the Streets: the Welcoming Church of Pope Francis – Thomas Rausch and Richard Gaillardetz, eds. (Mahwah, MJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

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How did the veneration of relics get started?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 29, November 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Prayer and Spirituality
Mother Teresa relic
A relic of Saint Teresa of Calcuttaa drop of her bloodat St. Ita Catholic Church in Chicago.

A relic is an object kept in tribute to a holy person. Some relics are body parts such as bone chips or teeth. Others are items once belonging to the person, most often snips of clothing. Catholics aren’t alone in collecting relics. Other religions like Buddhism employ them. People of faith backgrounds that permit it keep cremains of loved ones in an urn on the mantle (See here for Vatican instruction on Catholic burial, cremation). I have a shirt that belonged to my dad, which I still wear. Relics are a traditional way of keeping in touch with someone special.

Catholic relics are as old as the church. Martyrdom was a frequent if not typical cause of Christian death. The faithful collected the martyrs’ remains, often in pieces, for secret burial in places like catacombs. When available, the instrument of death was spirited off as well. Think: relics from the True Cross. Christians gathered at martyrs’ tombs to celebrate Eucharist. When the persecutions finally ceased, churches were erected on the gravesites. Christians considered burial near a martyr a privilege. A tug-of-war over these bodies became typical; some were exhumed and re-interred on the properties of those who could afford it. In the Middle Ages, Crusaders pilfered lots of relics and carried them to Europe.

Relics were catechetically useful. They spurred interest in the saint whose virtues might be imitated. In 410, a council in Carthage ruled that saints’ shrines had to contain authentic relics or be destroyed. In 767, a Nicaean council determined that every altar must contain a relic or Mass could not be celebrated on it. This decree echoes the original practice of celebrating Mass on the graves of martyrs and is upheld in current canon law (no.1237). Exceptions are made today for portable altars such as those used in wartime.

Selling relics has always been forbidden. Church law says significant relics can’t even be moved around without express permission from the Vatican (no. 1190).

Attributing magical powers to such items is considered an abuse, but the tendency to be superstitious about holy objects is not unknown in the modern church. From the Holy Grail to the Shroud of Turin, the curious and the credulous will always find a less than edifying fascination with such objects. Church teaching draws a distinction between proper and improper veneration. Worship belongs to God alone. Even if a saint should appear suddenly in an apparition, human honor is the limit of our tribute.

Scripture: The Bible regards holiness as a divine attribute communicable to people, places, and things (e.g. Moses’ shining face, the Ark and its sacred utensils, the Temple’s Holy of Holies.) The topic of relics, specifically, is not treated. But see 2 Kings 13:20-21; Mark 5:25-34; Acts 5:12-15

Books: Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics – Thomas Craughwell (New York: Image Books, 2011)

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe – Charles Freeman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)

Can Catholics practice yoga?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs


Full disclosure: I’ve been taking yoga classes on and off (mostly off) for 30 years. Fuller disclosure: I’m lazy and this is the closest to exercise I’ve ever come. So I admit I’m stunned whenever the suitability of yoga for Christians comes up. My first yoga teacher from 30 years ago is today a well-respected Catholic priest. My current teacher is a devout Russian Orthodox woman whose 40-day fast during Lent put my wobbly lenten observance to shame.

Those who are suspicious of yoga quote the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s document: Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. This text considers New Age beliefs in a discerningly critical light, and I agree with its principles. As a catechist I don't espouse New Age religion, and as a former librarian I know quite a bit about how flakey and narcissistic New Age teachings can be. Religion loses something vital when reduced to a spiritual selfie. On the God quest, God necessarily displaces the ego as the center of meaning and authority.

The anxiety about yoga seems to reside in its origins in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist spiritual practice. Nobody seems anxious that the Olympic Games began as a religious festival honoring the Greek god Zeus. Catholics who borrow the Sedar celebration from Judaism during Lent don’t fret about whose faith it properly belongs to. Contemplation is a prayer form that Thomas Merton shared with Buddhists with no apparent harm done.

Is yoga a valid form of prayer for Christians? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (especially #2697-2719 on "The Life of Prayer") offers a good understanding of what Christian prayer is and is not. So, while many fishermen, mountain climbers, and camping enthusiasts tell me they find God in these activities, the Catechism makes it clear that the experience of physical fitness and enjoying nature, while good in themselves, are not the same thing as praying or worship. This means Sunday morning is for Mass; put on your running shoes later.

A distinction might be drawn between restless Catholics who go to ashrams to explore alternative spiritualities to their faith, and folks who do yoga or tai chi at the gym for the exercise. I go to church to express my Catholic Christian relationship with God. When I leave church, I seek to bring the encounter with God everywhere I go. To the laundromat, the grocery store, and yes, to the gym.

Scripture: 2 Samuel 6:14-15; John 8:31-32; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Books: Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice – Thomas Ryan, CSP (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001); Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith – Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2013)

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Do Catholics believe in psychology?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 13, April 2015 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs
In 1953, Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, imparting a cautious but discernible green light on the fields.
 Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth Congress on Psychotherapy

 The church's relationship with the mental health fields wasn't always cooperative. The clinical disciplines you mentioned arose with 18th-century European pioneers who sought to move beyond traditional institutional restraint to "moral" treatments. In this country, Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush and later Dorothea Dix pushed for gentle, private rehabilitative asylums at the turn of the century. But theirs was viewed as a Protestant effort in that decidedly anti-Catholic phase of American history.

In the century of immigration that followed (1820-1920) with its tremendous stressors on newcomers, the numbers of mentally ill patients overwhelmed U.S. asylum hospitals. The rehabilitation ideal quickly degenerated to basic custody of the ill. Meanwhile, the diagnosis and understanding of mental illness with its physical, conscious, and unconscious elements were advancing under the work of Germans like Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately, Freud's theories regarding the basis of sexual morality seemed threatening to Catholic teachings on sin and human responsibility. The church formally viewed the new disciplines as examples of a wayward modern world and did not lend support.

Father Edward Pace, a former student of Wundt, added a psychology department to Catholic University at its founding. Other prominent clergy criticized psychological disciplines as rife with "dogmatic error." In 1953, Monsignor Pericle Felici wrote that Catholics who entered into psychoanalysis were committing mortal sin. Felici was made a cardinal, and popular Catholic mistrust of psychiatry only grew. It should be mentioned that in the same year, 1953, Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, imparting a cautious but discernible green light on the fields.

Twentieth-century Catholic lay doctors advanced the cause of psychiatry, including Leo Bartemeier and Francis Braceland, both presidents of the American Psychiatric Association. Gradually the mental health disciplines became less critical of and more receptive to religion as a component of human life. The church's attitude toward these disciplines likewise softened. Today many Catholic clergy view counseling and psychiatric care as a valuable component of pastoral care, and a necessary partner in maintaining good spiritual health.

Scripture: mental illness in biblical times: 1 Samuel 16:14-23; Job 3:1-26; Pss. 13; 22:2-12; 31:10-19; 69; 70; 102; 130; 143; Daniel 4:1-34; Matthew 6:25-34; 8:28-34;  Mark 1:21-27; 9:14-29 

Called to Happiness: Where Faith and Psychology Meet - Sidney Callahan (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011)

Transforming Our Painful Emotions - James and Evelyn Whitehead (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010)

Why is there a church calendar?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 03, December 2013 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Catholic Church Year
Liturgical Calendar

Calendars are about time and the human need to harness it. Starting in the ancient world religions employed calendars, but you didn’t have to be a Mayan priest or a Stonehenge druid to care when the sun and moon were in this phase or that. You just needed to be a farmer—or to depend on one for your survival.

Ancient Israel’s calendar traced the turn of the seasons and celebrated their influence on the natural world. Sowing was an occasion for intercessory prayer and harvesting the time for praise and thanksgiving: “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy” (Psalm 126:5). The feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all originally harvest festivals.

Calendars, however, do more than note predictable, cyclical events. They also commemorate significant past events, such as battles won or important goals achieved. So Passover became the ultimate commemoration, remembering the signature victory over Pharaoh’s armies and captivity itself. Hanukkah, a more minor feast, reminisces about another victory regarding religious liberty. It should be noted that none of these events were considered secular occasions, because God was understood to be the source of all movements in the created order.

Christianity, with its roots in Jewish thought and practice, adopted its sense of the sacred character of time from Israelite history. Jesus grounded the meaning of the first Eucharistic ritual in the liberation event of Passover; as a result the celebration of Easter is configured each year with the Jewish Passover, and the entire liturgical year conforms backwards and forwards from that date. The need to embrace the sacred character of all of life’s seasons, both tearful and joyful, remains evident in the longing of Advent, the penitential nature of Lent, and the alleluias of Easter.

The church continues to acknowledge divine victories won over sin and death in both the Incarnation and the Paschal mysteries celebrated at Christmas and Easter. It honors the harvest of the church reaped at Pentecost and the long season dedicated to growth—both seen and unseen—in Ordinary Time.

Today’s religious calendar commemorates mystical events and spiritual victories rather than agrarian events and military battles, but it still assists in harnessing time and organizing it for optimal use. Liturgical cycles help us remember our story and the identity we bear as heirs to this history. It acknowledges the sacred character of time in witnessing to the goodness and faithfulness of God. Most of all it reminds us of the many reasons we have to give thanks.

Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17; Isaiah 9:2; Hosea 8:7; Matthew 13:37-43; John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 9:10-11; Revelation 14:15-20

• The Roman Catholic calendar for A.D. 2014

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (InterVarsity Press)

Is it OK for Christians to be rich?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 08, February 2014 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs
Stacks of Benjamins

Wealthy folks have told me they reject Christianity categorically because it's a religion for poor people. The gospel, however, is for "all the world," including every zip code. The task for rich Christians is to make sure that the distance between zip codes isn't so vast that the wealthy forget their commitments to the disadvantaged.

The suspicion that the well-to-do aren't welcome among the people of God doesn't come from the Old Testament. In biblical theology prosperity was a key way Israel's God was understood to demonstrate who the righteous were. Even within the ancient "prosperity gospel," however, was an admonition to care for the stranger, widow, and orphan—those most at risk in society. Practices like gleaning leftovers in the fields, community-wide festival days, and jubilee remittance of debts were ways Hebrew society provided for all its members and sought to restore the balance when the gap between haves and have-nots became too wide.

The writing prophets of the 9th through 5th centuries B.C. were very vocal about the plight of the poor and the responsibility of the rich precisely because this balance had not been maintained. The wider the chasm between a society's privileged and needy classes, the louder the prophetic call for justice became.

Jesus does come among us as a poor man without property or high station. Through him God chooses to identify with the vulnerable who also have no place to lay their heads at night. The Gospel of Luke is particularly strident in its reprimands to the wealthy class—an indication that "Theophilus," to whom this gospel is addressed, is a well-heeled Greek or representative of a community of Greeks for whom the urgent call to establish justice is especially appropriate. Stories like that of the rich man who came to Jesus and went away sad; of Zacchaeus who actively cheated his neighbors; or that of the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus to his peril, were alarms intended for Luke's target audience. None of these stories condemn the reality of wealth, but all compel the listener to make better choices.

It's the love of money, not proximity to it, that's defined as the root of all evil. In this sense the poor are just as likely to fall into the idolatry of money as the rich are. If "in God we trust" is really your motto, giving some coins away won't hurt.

Proverbs 29:7, 14; 30:7-9; Sirach 4:1-10; 13:23; 27:1-3; 34:21-22; Amos 6:1-11; Luke 21:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:18-29; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 2:1-13; 5:1-6

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

The Moral Measure of the Economy by Chuck Collins and Mary Wright (Orbis Books)
All They Want Is My Money? Tips for Stewardship
by Patricia Rice (Liguori Publications)

What is humility?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 16, May 2014 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Doctrines & Beliefs
HumilityHumility is just about the exact opposite of everything you see in the world nowadays! Our 21st-century moxie is entirely egocentric. As the T-shirt says, "It's all about me." So to discover the essentials of humility, you have to experiment with self-emptying and change the channel from us to the Ultimate Other.

Here's a channel-changer. In describing the virtue of humility, the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Saint Augustine's saying: "Man is a beggar before God." Pride leads you to exalt yourself, rely on your own resources, and claim your own achievements. By contrast humility recognizes that everything comes from God and belongs to God. Therefore to God alone go all praise, honor, and glory.

When you begin with God and not with yourself, your perspective on reality does a dramatic shift. God's will comes first. "Not my will, but yours be done," as Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. The radical humility of the Son of God is echoed in the submission of his mother to that same divine will in the story of the Annunciation: "Let it be done to me according to your word."

Love also begins from God and is not initiated from your personal well of goodness. "God is love," John's first letter declares. Therefore: "We love because God first loved us."

Life itself has its genesis in God—hence the name of the Bible's first book. When you choose the perspective of a humble heart, you become aware that your proper orientation as creatures should be one of obedience—that is, attentive listening—to God's call rather than egoistic self-determination. It's precisely the attitude of obedience that led to the salvation of the world, as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the community at Philippi: "[Jesus] humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." Paul explains that humility means putting other people ahead of yourself, thinking of their needs rather than monologuing about yours. That is so countercultural, jaws will drop whenever you attempt it.

Yet humility was the avenue of the saints that got them where they were going. Abbot Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was so convinced of its necessity that he urged his monks to adopt the four most important virtues: "Humility, humility, humility, and humility." Take it from Jesus, Mary, the the gospel evangelists, and the saints: If you're not coming from humility, you're not going anywhere in the spiritual life.

Mark 14:35-36; Luke 1:38; 18:9-14; Philippians 2:3-11.

The Way of Humility by André Louf, O.S.C.O. (Cistercian Publications)
The Way of Humility by Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio (Pope Francis) (Ignatius Press)
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What is the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 11, June 2014 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality

Sacred Heart2
The image of the open, accessible heart of Jesus on fire and often pierced by thorns is both ancient and modern. Since the Middle Ages mystics like Julian of Norwich, Frances of Rome, Bonaventure, Mechtild, and Gertrude had ecstatic experiences of the love of Jesus described as both fiery and wounded.

These aren't fanciful or subjective descriptions. In the gospels Jesus presents his heart as the focus of instruction for his disciples: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29). Jesus also tells them he's come to set the earth on fire: "And how I wish it were already blazing!" (Luke 12:49) Later in the Passion stories Mark and Matthew depict Jesus bruised by a crown plaited from thorns, and John's gospel reports the heart of Jesus being pierced with a lance to ensure he's dead before his body can be removed from the cross. The image of a fiery, wounded heart is a conflation of these details that have come to embody the love of God as incarnated by Jesus.

Scripture scholar Stephen Binz notes: "In the biblical writings, the heart is the center of the person, the core of one's inner life and personality. It is the source of one's deepest motivation, decisions, memories, and desires. For this reason, the heart is the place in which a person encounters God." By means of the image of the Sacred Heart, the encounter between the divine heart and ours is mutual.

Carthusian monks of the 16th century and missionary Jesuits promoted the image. Religious orders dedicated to the Sacred Heart sprang up everywhere on the mission trails. Seventeenth-century French missionary Saint John Eudes was the first to give a substantial theology to the devotion, and so the image as we know it today is often attributed to him. In the same century cloistered sister and mystic Margaret Mary Alacoque began having visions which included private revelations of a devotional regimen dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The reception of Holy Communion on the First Fridays of every month, a holy hour of Eucharistic adoration on Thursdays, and honoring the image of the Sacred Heart in every Catholic home grew from the popularity of her revelations.

The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was first officially celebrated in 1765. This solemnity is observed on the Friday after the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus in June. The entire month of June is also dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 11:29; 27:29; Mark 15:17; Luke 12:49; John 19:33-37; Revelation 1:7

"The Sacred Heart of Jesus" and "An Introduction to the Spirituality of the Heart" from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart
"History of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus"

The Sacred Heart of Jesus (Threshold Bible Study) by Stephen J. Binz (Twenty-Third Publications)
A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
by James Kubicki, S.J. (Ave Maria Press)

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What is contemplation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 19, January 2009 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality

I lived in a lay community many years ago in which we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours three times daily. We also spent a half hour each morning in communal contemplation. I have to admit, back then I didn't know what to do with that half hour. Sixty of us sat in silence together in the chapel and not a few of us fell asleep. In the first weeks of those long mornings, I wrote in my journal to pass the time. After almost a year of being enveloped in that silence, however, I finally let go and did "nothing." It was a powerful experience.

The formation director of our community, a Sacred Heart brother, called contemplation "wasting time with God." For those who are goal-oriented, spending 30 minutes not producing any tangible result can be maddening. At least with a rosary you get some mileage on those beads behind you! But contemplation is about turning the focus away from you and what you can do for God. It's more about what God can do for you, which requires nothing but your attention and your will.

In Richard McBrien's Encyclopedia of Catholicism, contemplation is defined as "prayer in which reasoning and structure give way to a focus on God's presence." It's generally contrasted with meditation, which actively engages the mind to dwell on a particular passage from scripture; an icon or image; or perhaps a virtue or attribute of God. Contemplation seeks to empty the self and self-consciousness in favor of God-consciousness. 

Writers on this subject caution us to remember that contemplation is not a prayer style; it is meant to be a lifestyle. It's a way of being, not only a way of praying. When we learn how to empty the self so that we can be in the presence of God and be filled with that presence, we aren't meant to dissolve that union and "go back to real life" afterwards. Contemplation is, in this sense, playing for keeps. Those who surrender to the contemplative life appreciate this best of all. 

Psalm 131; Job 28:20, 23-28; Sirach 1:1; Isaiah 30:15; Baruch 3:14-15; Hosea 6:6; John 6:44-45; James 1:5-8

Contemplative Outreach,

An Invitation to the Contemplative Life
by Thomas Merton (Word Among Us Press)
New Seeds of Contemplation
by Thomas Merton (New Directions)
The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation by Thomas Keating (Paulist Press)

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Will my faith make me happy?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 07, August 2008 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
cross balloons happiness
Will my faith make me happy?

Happiness is the stick by which we tend to measure the success of our lives, isn’t it? Even Saint Augustine admitted, “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition.” Yet many people seem to think that happiness is an accident of birth, or tied to particular circumstances or acquisitions, or even a goal to be pursued in itself. Scripture teaches that happiness is not a goal; it is a gift. God offers this gift through the works of creation, and we discover it ultimately in coming to know the Creator behind it all.

The biblical idea of happiness is linked to the word beatitude (Latin for “bliss”). We think first of the Beatitudes Jesus offers in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Often the primary word of each beatitude is translated as “blessed,” but a more literal rendering would be the cry, “Happy you!” The eight choices noted in Matthew’s list—including being just, pure of heart, merciful, a peacemaker—already find the chooser in a happy state. Because God is the source of human happiness, doing as God does automatically places us in the condition of bliss.

So the short answer to the question is: Happiness comes from living according to God’s will. Following God's will, in fact, is the only thing that does bring happiness; or as Saint Thomas Aquinas put it, “God alone satisfies.” It’s not for nothing that the word gospel literally means “good news.” Like any good news that comes to you, the gospel ought to make your day—or in this case, your lifespan and then some.

Saint Paul also lists joy as one of the nine fruits or by-products of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we carry the Spirit’s joy within us, and one way to tell is how joyfully we experience our lives. Saint Francis de Sales went so far as to warn against giving in to excessive sadness because it was counter to the life of faith.

That doesn’t mean that sadness is never appropriate; as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, there’s a time for everything under heaven. But clinging to moods does mean that we miss opportunities to demonstrate to others that the news of Christianity is, in fact, as good as advertised.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Matthew 5:3-11; Galatians 5:22-23

The Call to Christian Happiness, “talks on the shortest route to happiness,” by Sherry Weddell and Father Michael Sweeney, O.P., from the Catherine of Siena Institute, a nonprofit ministry of the Western Province of the Dominicans, 

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden (Loyola Press)
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace)

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How can I live a holy life?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 01, August 2008 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality

The pursuit of holiness isn’t an item guaranteed in the American Declaration of Independence. But it is a quest worthy of our lives. What is holiness? Nothing less than the essence of God. The prophet Isaiah is the first to encounter God as the “Holy One,” which enables him to recognize his own unworthiness in God’s presence. The call “to be holy, as God is holy” issued in the Book of Leviticus means drawing even closer than Isaiah did, to unite with God utterly—to be as God is.

Intimidated? I admit it’s a pretty challenging path. Yet it’s in keeping with everything else we seek as believers: wisdom, justice, peace, goodness, love. These are all aspects of God in which we are invited to take part. Why does God want us to share in the divine life? Because that’s who we really are and were created to be. Remember: We were first made in the image of God and later went astray; our quest for holiness is just a U-turn back to our original likeness.

So how do we get there from here? In the Old Testament, when called to be a holy nation, Israel is given the Law of Moses to assist in this new vocation. The law is understood not as simply a list of things to do or avoid doing but a lamp to illuminate God’s will. If our goal is to be like God, knowing God’s ways is essential.

Jesus provides his followers with a more compact instruction: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love will teach us everything we need to know about being like God, for as Saint John says, “God is love.” Saint Paul also gives us a helpful rearview mirror in which to check our attempts at loving by telling us what love looks like in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind.”

Many of us don’t see ourselves donning a halo anytime soon. Even the canonized saints (“saint” comes from sanctus, Latin for “sacred” or “holy”) didn’t start out holy-card ready. But we don’t have to worry about that. The way to holiness is the work of love.

Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-7; Luke 10:27; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13;1 John 4:16

For more on saints:;;


Holiness by William J. O’Malley, Maryknoll (Orbis Books)
Life and Holiness
by Thomas Merton (Doubleday)

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