We went home for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and during our stay I was telling my sister about Leo’s newfound fondness for making a joyful noise: “Father Louie came over to bless our home, and while we were eating dinner afterwards, Leo was cheerfully hollering at the top of his lungs! Jeremy and I both looked at each other, laughed, and said, ‘Hmm, I think taking him to Mass is going to get a lot more interesting in the coming months!'”
‘Bless our home.’ It’s still a little surprising when we bring up Catholic practices with our family, and my sister gently asked me later if it’s been strange to incorporate Catholic practices into our day-to-day life. And it has been, at times, because they’re acquired practices, rather than ones we’ve grown up with. I’ve been thinking a lot about those day-to-day ways in which our lives are different now that we’re Catholic, and thought I’d share a few of them here.
1. We take ALL our children to church with us.
Catholic Churches usually don’t have nurseries, so we take all our children to church with us. Leo is eight months old right now, and some Sundays he’ll nurse and fall asleep during the sermon (while I silently cheer, “YESSSSS!”), while other Sundays he’s more interested in babbling, squirming and blowing raspberries – loudly! He hasn’t tried out his joyful holler in church yet, but I’m sure that day’s coming soon!
It took a while for me to get used to taking our little ones to church. Alice was a year old when we first took her along with us, and she was used to her hour of play time in the CanRef nursery on Sunday mornings; being snuggled/locked up in my arms wasn’t exactly her cup of tea! But no matter how frazzled I felt after church, without fail someone would comment, “It is so nice to see your family here!” or “Your children are so well behaved!” (haha!) or “What a beautiful family you have.” That encouragement was so refreshing!
Over time I’ve grown to appreciate having all our children with us, because each one of them is able to spend time in the presence of Jesus – and what can be better for little souls than that?
2. We receive Christ in the Eucharist.
One of the books I read with James last year was a little treasure called The King of the Golden City by Mother Mary Loyola – it’s sort of a Catholic Pilgrim’s Progress. The king of the Golden City (Jesus) meets a little girl in the woods and after they get to know one another, he promises to pay her a visit in her home. Delecta, delighted that a king would visit her small abode, cleans her home and has lovely flowers waiting for him, and the pair have a delightful visit together.
This lovely little scene is a picture of Christ in the Eucharist:
– Delecta cleaning her home is her going to Confession and having her sins forgiven
– the lovely flowers are acts of love and service Delecta has performed
– the King visiting is Delecta receiving Holy Communion
– and the delightful visit is the time of prayer after Holy Communion
This picture has been such a helpful way for me to think of Holy Communion! Often when I receive Jesus in the Eucharist, I’ll think, “Is there something special to thank Jesus for today? Do I have a particular request of Him for the week ahead? Is there someone whose circumstances are weighing on my mind, whom I’d like to ask Him to take special care of?” Sometimes it’s just little prayers: “Jesus, I don’t know what to do – into Thy hands!” or “Lord, have mercy” or, frequently, “Thee I adore.”
Thee I adore. I do find the Eucharist to be a marvellous opportunity for contemplating the perfections of our Lord, particularly His humility. Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but willingly became man. And He willingly becomes bread for us, too, to feed our souls which hunger for His grace. Who ever heard of a King who loved His people so much that He would even become bread for them??
3. We don’t eat peppermints in church anymore.
As Catholics we believe the beautiful doctrine of transubstantiation; that the bread really, truly becomes Jesus Christ in the Mass. And because we believe that, we’re careful to show proper respect to our Saviour when we receive Him in the Eucharist. Two ways in which we do that as Catholics are to either bow or kneel before receiving the Eucharist, and to fast from food and drink (besides water) for an hour before receiving the Eucharist. That means no last-minute breakfast on the drive to church, and no peppermints during the sermon, either!
4. Our children will also receive communion.
Instead of waiting till they do public profession of faith at 18, the Catholic Church allows children to receive the Eucharist. Children who are 7 – 8 years old are at the age of reason and can understand the basic tenets of the faith, and are able to receive the sacrament with great respect. James will, the Lord willing, receive First Holy Communion at the end of this school year and he is thrilled!
5. We go to Adoration
We have an adoration chapel at our church – that is, a small chapel where the Blessed Sacrament (a communion wafer which has become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ) is exposed (on display) for adoration. Basically, it’s a quiet spot where you can spend time in the presence of Christ in prayer.
Ours is a perpetual adoration chapel, meaning it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The idea is that there is always a person there adoring Christ, and people sign up for one-hour time slots. So if you go to the adoration chapel at noon, or at dinner time, or even at 3am, you’ll find someone there. Jeremy and I each have signed up for one hour a week; he goes Thursday mornings at 6am, I go Friday evenings at 10pm. It’s not always convenient (lately Leo’s been waking up when I should be leaving), but it is always spiritually refreshing.
Woodcut of an Adoration chapel (from St. Leo the Great Catholic Church website).
6. We live in Kelowna.
Back in our Reformed days, our choices of where to live were limited by the small number of CanRef churches in Canada (there are about fifty, and none in Kelowna). But there are Catholic Churches all over the country, from westerly Vancouver Island to lovely Prince Edward Island and everywhere in between. In Kelowna alone there are seven Catholic churches! Options abound.
7. The joy of living liturgically.
Have you noticed that new ‘awareness’ days are cropping up all the time? “Today is Pink Shirt Day, and we’re going to learn about bullying in school, and tomorrow is Worker Safety Day. Hurrah!” It’s natural and good to celebrate, and to have special days of feasting and rejoicing, but in our day and age those ‘special’ days are often wimpy and disconnected from anything meaningful.
That’s why I love the liturgical year! No more Pink Shirt Days – let’s celebrate something robust and meaningful instead! As Catholics we have many, many feast days to celebrate throughout the year. We celebrate the mystery of Christ, His birth (Christmas), His resurrection (every Sunday), His Ascension, Pentecost and the founding of the Church, and His second coming (Christ the King Sunday, which is coming up soon!). We also honour Jesus’s mother on special days like the feast of the Assumption and the feast of the Immaculate Conception. And we remember the lives of the saints as well.
In our family, Leo’s the only one who was named after a saint. The rest of us chose a patron saint because we admire them, or share their interests, or because we share a name. We like to have ice cream for dessert on their feast days.
- Jeremy has yet to choose a patron saint
- My patron saint is St. Catherine of Siena (feast day April 30). St. Catherine tended the sick and dying, had mystical visions, and was intensely devoted to prayer and the Eucharist. She is the patron saint of nurses!
- James’s patron saint is St. George (feast day April 23), a Roman soldier who, according to legend, slew a dragon. He was known for his valour and selflessness, and was martyred by the emperor Diocletian for speaking out against pagan gods.
- June’s patron saint is St. Margaret of Scotland (feast day November 16). St. Margaret, an English princess, married the king of Scotland and offered hospitality to anyone who needed it, especially to the poor. We named June after June Carter Cash (Johnny Cash’s wife), who was known for her hospitality, so St. Margaret seemed like a fitting substitution!
- Alice’s patron saint is St. Genevieve (feast day December 3). St. Genevieve spent her life caring for others, convinced the king to release prisoners, worked miracles, and saved the city of Paris from the Huns by her prayers.
- Leo’s patron saint is Pope St. Leo the Great (feast day November 10), who defended the church against heresy.
All these special days fit into the bigger picture of the liturgical seasons of the year: Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. If you’ve ever wondered how those seasons fit together in the course of the year, here’s a little visual for you (from stmichaelchurch.org):
We are currently in the season of Ordinary Time, and Advent is just around the corner!
8. We contemplate the lives of the saints.
This was one part of Catholic life that just baffled me as a Protestant: Why do the Catholics care so much about saints??? They are forever talking about them! And it’s true, Catholics do dearly love their saints. And as to why, I think one of the many reasons is that the saints are such beautiful examples for us to follow; they show us how unique individuals in various times and places live out their lives for God.
James and I are currently reading about St. Catherine of Siena in a book called In God’s Garden by Amy Steedman. When St. Catherine was six years old she saw a vision in which the Christ Child, held in Mary’s arms, reached toward her. “As Catherine grew older she never forgot the vision she had seen, or how the hand of the Christ Child had been stretched out to bless her. And it made her think often of how she could best please Him, so that someday He might smile on her again.” Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Imagine having an entire gallery of beautiful pictures like that in your mind to draw on in times of trial; what a blessing!
A little side-note: As a Canadian Reformed woman, I didn’t lend much credence to modern-day manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Our church taught that many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit had stopped after the time of the early church. But reading about the lives of the saints tells a different story. St. Catherine had visions of Christ, healed men and women who had the plague, survived on hardly anything more than the Eucharist, could smell the stench of sin on people, multiplied bread and wine to feed the poor, and was often was in ecstasy after receiving communion. Quite an eye-opener!
9. We are blessed with specific spiritual direction, both in person and via books.
There is something about examining your conscience on a regular basis, and telling your priest all the sins you’ve committed in the last few weeks that makes you much more aware of your sins and weaknesses. And that’s a great thing! All the more reason to cling to the cross! (If you’re interested in seeing what specific questions a Catholic asks herself, check out this PDF.) Many priests will offer a few words of specific direction after confession, ways in which to fight against particular sins and cultivate virtue instead. What an encouragement!
I also find Catholic writing to be very insightful with regards to both spiritual growth and our moral condition. For example, I’m currently reading a book called The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lovasik. I began reading the book thinking, Hmm, how much can a person really say about kindness? Why is this book 250 pages long? But, oh my! It’s insightful – painfully so. Take this example:
“As a rule, selfishness is disguised so that your neighbour alone is able to recognize it. If you want to know whether you are selfish, ask the people around you. Only they can tell you whether you are inconsiderate, exacting, ambitious, or eager to have your own way. Only they can tell you whether selfishness makes you withdraw from people, whether you present a sour face to those around you, and whether you rarely utter a kind word to anyone.”
– The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence G. Lovasik
Gulp! So much food for thought there. But in addition to pointing out the particular problems we struggle with, Father Lovasik gives guidance on how to grow:
Sacrifice is difficult. But you will develop strength in sacrifice if you are fully resolved to refuse God nothing, if you cheerfully accept disappointments and crosses, if you mortify your passions, if you thank God for the crosses He sends you, and if you pray for a spirit of sacrifice.
– The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence G. Lovasik
10. We have icons, crucifixes, rosaries and holy water in our home.
We have a little oratory in our living room, that is, a little place of prayer. There are candles, as well as a crucifix, several icons, rosaries and a Bible, and some holy water. This little nook is available for prayer at any time. What we usually do as a family is kneel together on Saturday evenings and pray a decade of the rosary together.
Maybe you’ve seen scenes in movies with people praying while holding a string of beads. That string of beads is called a rosary, and it is made up of five sections with ten beads (called a decade) in each section. To ‘pray a decade of the rosary’ you pray ten Hail Mary’s. When I first encountered the rosary I found it a little strange to repeat prayers. I thought, Why pray ten prayers instead of just one? But the rosary is meant to be a contemplative prayer in which you meditate on the life of Christ while you pray. So, yes, you’re repeating your prayers, but that’s meant to help you contemplate more deeply the mysteries of Christ.
To be honest, I’m still getting used to the icons (I’m not really used to the style), but I love looking at the crucifix. I find it fascinating that while I’m learning the physical ways of showing devotion to God, they come very naturally to our children. James, June and Alice love to kneel for prayer, to see the candles on our little oratory lit, to hold their rosaries while we pray, and to kiss the feet of Jesus on the crucifix.
When Father Louie came to bless our home, he also blessed a large quantity of water for us. We use this when we bless our children before bed. We dip our finger in the holy water and use this to make a cross on our children’s foreheads.
11. Our children are growing up Catholic
Speaking of children, our kids are growing up Catholic, and there wonderful things about Catholicism that appeal to each of them. The other day Jeremy was explaining to James that Latin is the historical language of the Church, and that the devil therefore hates Latin. James, ever fond of war strategies against the evil one, was immediately interested, and insisted on praying his Hail Mary’s in Latin when we said the rosary together that evening!
June was Mary for Halloween; to be more specific, she was Our Lady, Mary, the Queen of Heaven. At the front of the church we attend is a large painting of Mary as she’s described in Revelation 12: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” June loves seeing Mary in all her queenly glory, and adores her varied splendid titles: Queen of Angels, House of Gold, Queen of all Saints, Queen of Peace. Wearing a fancy, sparkling dress and a crown upon her head was the fulfillment of all her Halloween dreams.
This Halloween we had Leo the Cat, Alice the Ladybug, James the Bull, and June, the Queen of Heaven!
12. We don’t use contraception
I’m the oldest of seven children, and can still recall being on holidays and having a stranger count all us children, and then turn to my parents and say, “You must be Catholic!” I didn’t understand the connection at the time: that Catholics often have large families because they don’t use contraception!
This counter-cultural teaching of the Church was one of the reasons I was first drawn to Catholicism. I read a surprising fact: “Throughout the history of Christianity the practice of contraception was uniformly condemned by every single denomination until the early 1920’s” and thought – Hmm, why am I okay with this? Isn’t it a peculiar thing that nearly every denomination has come to tolerate, or even embrace, contraception? Is there a chance that the Sexual Revolution has had a profound effect even on the way Christians think about marriage and children? For me, the belief that separating sex and children is disordered was one of the first things about Catholicism that made instinctual sense, so giving up contraception when we joined the Church was relatively painless.
13. I miss some things from my CanRef days.
This past summer I’ve been mourning the loss of a few things our former church was really good at. I miss going to church and recognizing nearly everyone, and noticing the handful of visitors. I miss visiting with other families over lunch on Sunday, and I miss the close friendships I had. I also miss the psalm singing. We sing a few stanzas of Psalm 25 before we have breakfast most mornings, and we memorize various psalms as poetry, too, but it still grieves me that our children will not have the blessing of singing the Genevan Psalms regularly at church. They are a rich and beautiful treasure!
Request: If anyone knows of a CD of someone singing the Genevan Psalms (preferably one person, rather than a whole congregation, so we can actually understand the words), please let me know about it by email, or in the comments below!
That being said, I am also delighted to be part of a Church whose musical roots are deep and beautiful. Gregorian chant has a gravity and reverence to it that makes it particularly suited to singing in church. This is also something we are working to include in our homeschool so we can learn a little bit at a time, as it’s all a bit overwhelming at first!
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I hope this gives you a little window into our day-to-day practices as Catholics. When I reflect on how my life has changed over the past year and half, the biggest change would be in prayer… a richer, fuller, more meaningful prayer life – that is, being drawn closer and closer to Jesus Christ. I hope that’s apparent in what I’ve written. Whether it is holy water (a reminder of our baptism, and the washing away of our sins), or the liturgical year (remembering the life, death and resurrection of our Lord), or Confession (coming to Jesus for healing from our sins), or no contraception (fully giving ourselves to our spouse, the way that God intended), or going to Adoration (spending time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer) – they all point to Him, our Lord and Saviour.