What are you giving up for Lent?

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s the question we are all asking each other right about now. And yes, giving up something we enjoy such as sweets, coffee, or our favorite TV show is a great start. These external penances are a necessary part of the season—and should be a part of our lives in some way throughout the year.

But what else can we do to actively cultivate virtue and really target our faults this Lent? How can we take our penances to the next level?

Here are 5 ideas that might prove a bit challenging—but try ‘em out and you’ll be enjoying some sweet spiritual fruit soon!

1. Mortify your will through the practice of obedience. Obedience takes different forms depending on our state in life. Those in religious life must obey their religious superiors, and children their parents. As lay adults, we can do it by cheerfully serving our spouse and children, fulfilling our assigned tasks at work, or simply allowing others to go first in the buffet line!

2. Attend especially to the tasks you don’t like doing. Padre Pio was once visited by the soul of a young friar who had worked in the sacristy. The soul revealed that he suffered in purgatory because he’d been careless and negligent with his work. Complete every task meticulously, no matter how small and insignificant.

3. Embrace annoyances. Annoyances abound in this life. Little flaws in other people especially provoke us to fixate on our aggravation. Very often the flaws are faults that we also are guilty of, but which we tolerate in ourselves. Over the next few weeks, when something in another person annoys you, examine yourself and discern how you, too, act or feel or think in that way.

4. Impose a strict watch on your tongue. Innumerable, mundane complaints escape our mouths daily, fostering ingratitude—so guard your tongue and inspect what you want to say before speaking.

5. Check impulsive actions. Be intentional in all that you do, asking yourself, “Do I really need to shoot off this text? Will this comment help anyone? Will I benefit from thoughtlessly popping snacks in my mouth?”

Lent is a long season and it’s easy to grow weary—why not go through it as a family and help each other along? Our 40 Days of Lent Family Card Pack provides the whole family with tools for a fruitful Lent. For adults—40 prayer cards, each featuring a powerful Lenten quote. For kids—40 project cards, each suggesting a sacrifice or activity befitting the season. Prepare your family for Lent today at The Catholic Company

//Get Fed & Catholic Company//

Do Catholics really pray “to” statues?

Do Catholics really pray “to” statues?

Many people outside the Church misunderstand the Catholic use of (and love for) statues.

No, Catholics don’t worship statues or pray to them.

That would be either idolatry at worst or, at best, just a silly thing to do.

Catholics use statues and images as visual reminders of the people they represent.

It’s similar to keeping a picture of our family in our wallet or on the wall. None of us actually treat the photo as being the actual people depicted: it’s simply valuable as a reminder of them. We may touch the image fondly, or even kiss it—but that touch or kiss is for the absent person, not the image itself.

We likewise use statues as reminders of God, Our Lady, and the saints when we pray. Since we are creatures of sense, physical representations help us to focus our thoughts and prayers on God or the person to whom we are praying.

Images also convey for us critical aspects of the Faith. For example, an image of Our Lady and her Child illustrates for us their closeness and love. Michelangelo’s magnificent Pietá pulls us into the sorrow of this Mother and the awful concept of the dead Son of God. Crucifixes help us to meditate in a profound way on Our Lord’s terrible sufferings.

Additionally, beautiful depictions of holy people and events are good for our imaginations which, in this age, are constantly besieged by ugly and sinful images. Sacred art fortifies our imaginations with holiness and beauty, providing a crucial antidote to the assaults of the world.

So how about a statue to assist you in prayer, remind you of a beloved saint, and inspire your imagination? The Catholic Company sells a wide selection of statues of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints, such as this beautiful Our Lady of Grace Statue! Participate in the timeless tradition of Catholic statues and bring yours home today from The Catholic Company!

What is an Advent Wreath?

While the exact origin of the Advent wreath is uncertain, one thing is undeniable: the use of this symbol is a longstanding tradition in our Catholic Faith, dating back to at least the 17th century.

As we progressively light the candles throughout the Advent season, we acknowledge God’s coming through reflection, prayer, and hope. We make our own private vigil while awaiting the Light of the World.

Not only do we recall His first coming, we also await His second coming, when He will judge the living and the dead.

Significance of the Advent Wreath’s Shape and Color

Since circles have no beginning and no end, the circular shape of the Advent wreath symbolizes eternal life in Christ. The wreath holds four candles, which are lit one-by-one over the four weeks of the Advent season. Generally, three are violet (purple) and one is rose-colored, each representing 1,000 years. Added together, the four candles symbolize the 4,000 years that humanity waited for the Savior.

Violet is a liturgical color symbolizing penance, sacrifice, and prayer. During the first, second, and fourth weeks of Advent, we light violet candles as a reminder of the preparation of heart and mind undertaken during this season, which was traditionally known as a “little Lent.”

The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. On this day, we celebrate that our wait is almost over. Since rose is the liturgical color used to signify joy, we light the rose candle on the Third Sunday of Advent as we rejoice in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.

Materials Used in the Advent Wreath

Advent wreaths were traditionally made of evergreen branches, which have long been a symbol of the constancy and faithfulness we aspire to as Christians. Evergreens flourish during every season, remaining unchanged through the harshness of winter. We are called to live our Faith this same way—with holy confidence and fortitude.

Holly, with its prickly leaves, represents the Crown of Thorns. Pinecones represent the Resurrection, because they contain the seeds of a new tree and therefore of new life.

If you don’t have an Advent wreath yet, you can order yours from The Catholic Company! One of our favorites is this beautiful (and affordable!) White Poinsettia Advent Wreath. While maintaining the traditional elements of the Advent wreath, this stunning piece has beautiful gold accents and incorporates white poinsettias, giving it a festive look. Order yours today from The Catholic Company and receive it in time for Advent!

What Did Joan of Arc Mean When She Said, “I Am Not Afraid…I Was Born to do This”?

Joan of Arc’s famous quote is cherished by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. While she did say something like this, it is important to understand the context of her original words in order to grasp the deep spiritual meaning behind them.

On impact, Joan’s quote makes her sound like a believer in self-aggrandizing personal empowerment.

But if we take a look at what she said and why she said it, a much different meaning emerges.

Joan was just about to start her mission of saving France from the English. With a tiny escort of three men, she prepared to ride from Vaucouleurs to Chinon where she would meet the Dauphin. Her perilous route lay through English-watched territory.

Before she set out, a woman approached her and cried, “How can you make such a journey when on all sides are soldiers?”

“I do not fear the soldiers, for my road is made open to me,” Joan instantly replied. “And if the soldiers come, I have God, my Lord, who will know how to clear the route that leads to my lord the Dauphin. It was for this that I was born!”

“I have God, my Lord.” Joan was not boasting about her own bravery or empowerment—quite the opposite! She was humbly expressing her total confidence in God.

She knew that she—an illiterate peasant girl—could not protect herself, let alone save her country. God watched over and guided her, and that is why she had nothing to fear. He had entrusted her with the mission of saving France, and He would enable her to carry it out.

This complete trust in God marked the whole of Joan’s life, military action, and infamous trials. And did you know that our beloved American author, Mark Twain, wrote about her? In fact, he considered his book, Joan of Arcto be his best book!Written with the engrossing flow of a novel and the factual accuracy of a legal document, Twain’s most surprising work brings to life the faith, courage, and humanity of this heroine of the Church.

Are Your Sundays Being Taken Over by the Rest of the Week?

How to keep Sundays holy—besides going to Mass!

The modern, technology-driven life is so busy. The week is barely long enough for all the mundane activities that must be done.Sometimes, the work week even encroaches upon Sunday’s rights: a morning slot is set aside for Mass while the rest of Sunday whirls past with the other days in the week.How can we stop the busyness and truly focus on Sunday—the Lord’s Day? How can we extend our God-oriented frame of mind beyond Sunday Mass? How can we “keep holy the Sabbath”?Well, there are many ways of observing the Lord’s Day in a fitting manner. We know what we shouldn’t do; let’s look at what we should.

The Catechism says:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2185

Now, this looks like a “don’t”—but look closer. You’ll see that this passage tells what we can (and ought to) do on Sundays: worship God, be joyful, perform works of mercy, and rest both mind and body.

The 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart

What are the 12 promises of the Sacred Heart?

Let’s remind ourselves of these beautiful graces!

You’ve probably read them before, but—on this joyful Solemnity of the Sacred Heart—let’s review the magnificent promises of Our Lord to those devoted to His Heart!

Revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century, these promises show us in no uncertain terms just how much Our Lord desires that we devote ourselves to His loving Heart.

For those who do, He promised:

I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.

I will establish peace in their homes.

I will comfort them in all their afflictions.

I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.

I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.

Sinners will find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.

Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.

Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.

I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.

I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.

Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart.

I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

The twelfth promise refers to the First Friday devotion—a very easy way to insert devotion to the Sacred Heart into our monthly routines. All we have to do is receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays (ensuring we go to Confession beforehand if we are not in a state of grace), offering these Communions in reparation for the sins committed against the Sacred Heart.

There are many other additional, daily ways to place ourselves in the Heart of Christ. A simple thought of love and affection means so much to Him. “Jesus, I trust in You!” or “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!” are other little prayers we can offer to more firmly bind ourselves to this Heart that loves us so much.

Get Fed – Bite Sized Faith: Why is Lent Forty Days Long?

Forty is a number with ancient biblical significance.

Lent is forty days long because Jesus fasted in the wilderness forty days and forty nights before embarking on His public ministry.

But Jesus did not select the length of His fast at random. Throughout the Old Testament, a stretch of forty days (or years) has always carried a deep meaning often related to punishment, penance, and/or preparation.

Here are a few examples:

During Noah’s time, God sent rain for forty days and forty nights to punish the earth with flood

In consequence of their lack of faith, the Israelites wandered in the desert forty years before reaching the Promised Land

The people of Nineveh fasted and repented to avert the wrath of God which the prophet Jonah predicted would come upon them in forty days

Both Moses and Elijah fasted forty days before or during important conversations with God

When the time came for Jesus to begin His public mission, He utilized this tradition. His mission was of an all-encompassing nature that taps into—and fulfills—all the biblical reasons for forty day events.

As the God-Man, He was embarking on His mission to be our Mediator—to converse with God on our behalf, as Moses and Elijah did in a prefigurative way.

As the one Man Who came to bear the punishment due to all men, He evokes the repentance of Nineveh that averted the punishment of God.

His time in the desert—reminiscent of the Israelites’ forty year sojourn—proffers the idea that He is deliberately taking on the punishment due to our faithlessness, which otherwise would keep us away from the Promised Land of Heaven.

The season of Lent is our great opportunity to enter into the desert with Christ. Do you have a plan for how to approach these days and gain the incredible graces they offer us?

//Catholic Company//

Why do Catholics Confess Their Sins to a Priest?

The first and best answer to this question is: because Jesus said so!

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus appeared to His Apostles after His Resurrection and said to them:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
—John 20:21-23

Christ clearly states in this passage that He wishes to act through the Apostles in order to forgive men their sins. Since the Church is founded on Peter and the Apostles, the powers given to them are communicated to their successors.

Why might Jesus have chosen to effect the forgiveness of sins in this way?

One reason is so we never have to worry about whether our sins are forgiven. God has given us a simple formula—Confession—for getting back into His graces when we have failed. It’s not based on subjective feeling, but a sacred rite. Within Confession, our contrition doesn’t even have to be perfect, although perfect contrition is the ideal. “Perfect contrition” is being sorry for a sin because it offended God. “Imperfect contrition” is sorrow for sin due to a natural fear of punishment.

Imperfect contrition is all that is necessary within the Sacrament of Confession. God does the rest.

Wow, what a gift. A way to confess and do penance without all the worry of “Have I done it right?”

Other reasons include the sacramental graces we receive in Confession and the advice of the priest, both of which assist us in avoiding sin and growing in virtue.

Jesus is Wisdom Itself. He is the Word of God. He never did anything that was unnecessary—sacramental confession included. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, and knows just what we need.

What Does the Sacred Heart Symbolize?

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus dates back to the time of the Apostles. This devotion honors Jesus’ burning love for each of us and also makes reparation for the rejection, persecution, and disdain His Sacred Heart receives from the world.

The Sacred Heart is frequently depicted in Catholic art. Some depictions present the Sacred Heart alone, while others show Jesus with His Sacred Heart radiant in His chest.

In this image, we can see various small emblems, each representing an aspect of Christ’s sacrificial love.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus’ heart is exposed, for He has poured Himself out for us and desires that we enter into His Most Loving Heart.

The crown surrounding the Sacred Heart recalls Jesus being crowned with thorns, and reminds us that He endured persecution and ridicule for us.

The fire represents the burning flame of divine love and the essence of divinity. (Remember Moses and His encounter with the bush that burned but was never consumed?). The Sacred Heart is on fire with love for mankind.

A crown rests on top of the Sacred Heart because the crown is a symbol of Jesus’ kingship. The lance-wound references John 19:33-37, when the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed from the wound, which, according to the Gospel of John, “took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of him shall be broken’” (John 19:36). This image of blood and water is highly symbolic. It represents the Passover Lamb sacrificed for our sins to save us from death and reminds us that Jesus shed every last drop of His blood for our sake.

Now, when you honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus today, you can meditate on its profound symbolism and on Christ’s burning love for you.

Has Mary Ever Appeared in the United States?

There was a Marian apparition…in Wisconsin? It’s true! Discover the story below.

Adele Brise

When young Belgian immigrant Adele Brise arrived in Wisconsin with her family, she may have expected adventure, but not to witness the first approved Marian apparition in the United States. 

In October 1859, while carrying grain to a mill, 28-year-old Adele experienced her first vision near the area now called New Franken. Adele saw a woman bathed in a bright light and dressed in white, a yellow sash, and a crown of stars. Unsure and frightened, Adele prayed until the vision disappeared.

Our Lady of Good Help, as described by Adele

The following Sunday, the lady appeared again on Adele’s way to Mass. Adele immediately consulted with her priest, who advised that she should ask the woman, “In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?”

Adele saw the apparition a third time on her way home from Mass the same day, and followed the priest’s instructions. Mary told her: “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” Our Lady then gave Adele the mission to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” 

From that time onward, Adele dedicated her life to catechetical mission work. She traveled a 50-mile radius on foot to serve local families and teach children about the Catholic faith. At the site of the Marian apparition, Adele’s father built a small twelve-foot chapel, where many pilgrims visited and prayed for Our Lady’s intercession.

Twelve years after Adele first encountered the Blessed Mother, a great drought beset the Midwest. This drought caused the Peshtigo Fire, the worst recorded fire in U.S. history. As the fire approached Robinsonville, local families that Adele had served came together at the chapel grounds with their children and livestock to pray the Rosary, beseeching Our Lady to ask Jesus to save them. They prayed through the night—and while the fire destroyed the surrounding land, the chapel area and all who had gathered there remained untouched. 

This became the first of many miraculous occurrences through Our Lady of Good Help’s intercession.

The National Shrine today

In 1942, a new church was constructed at the site. Devotion to Our Lady of Good Help flourished. In 2010, after much time and discernment by expert Mariologists, the Church formally pronounced Mary’s appearances to Adele as “worthy of belief.” The church constructed at the site was later designated as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, making it the first and only shrine with a Church-approved Marian apparition site in the USA.

//Catholic Company//