Saints as Intercessors


I’m a little late posting for All Saints’ Day, but there’s never a bad time to teach your kids about the saints, right? I wanted to share a very simple craft that I had the pleasure of testing out on a group of Kindergarteners last year. My daughters go to a Catholic school which has “Houses of Faith,” a Harry Potter-esque system where students are placed into one of four houses which not only compete against one another in things like field day and Box Tops for Education drives, but each house also gathers for special prayer and social events throughout the year. Practically, this serves as a way for older and younger grades to interact and for the 5th & 6th graders to really be involved as mentors for the younger kids. It’s ingenious and adorable!

The four Houses of Faith at our school are: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Scholastica, St. Anselm, and St. Catherine of Siena. So, when I volunteered to help with a craft for my daughter’s Kindergarten All Saints Day class party, I wanted to be sure to incorporate all four of these special saints. The lesson I wanted to teach was:

The saints are our friends in heaven who help carry our prayers to Jesus. 

The result was a coloring and pasting craft of each of the four Houses of Faith saints, holding a parchment that says, “MY PRAYER.” The kindergarteners were given their house patron and a brief intro which explained the idea of asking our special saints to pray for us from heaven, just like we might ask our parents or friends to pray for us here on earth. Here’s my little St. Scholastica, since she’s patroness of my daughters’ House.

All you need is:

  • scissors to cut out the saint (you can do this for your kiddo in advance if that’s easier!)
  • crayons/colored pencils
  • card stock, any color
  • glue stick
  • gold paper doily (I found mine at Michael’s in the scrapbook/paper section) (1).png

We took time to color our saints and fill out our prayer requests– the kids can either write them out or draw a picture. My favorite moment was when one little girl raised her hand and timidly called me over. I leaned in close so she could whisper her question:

“Umm, I didn’t know what to write for my prayer. So I put, God I love you. Is that an okay prayer?”

I stood, trying not to slip in the puddle of my heart as it melted all over the floor, and affirmed her prayer as being “very good. Perhaps the best!” She seemed pleased by that answer.

Next, we glued on the doily so our saints had nice, bright halos. Then, we glued our saints down– but only put glue on the midsection and leave the arms free. When you have pressed your saint down on the paper, fold the arms across so they hug the child’s petition. (2).png (3).png

Voila! The kids were encouraged to take this prayer home and ask their saint to pray for them. If my daughter was any indication, the follow-through on that last part was probably pretty lacking. But oh well!

I’m happy to share my saint drawings with you in case you’ve got a craft day on the horizon during this month of November. Be sure to print both front and back so your saint still has hands when you fold it over. Please feel free to share your results, as well as your favorite ideas for teaching our kids about the saints!

Download PDF which includes (in order):

  • St. Scholastica
  • St. Catherine of Siena
  • St. Anselm
  • St. Thomas Aquinas



St. Michael, the Archangel…a Boy’s Obsession


St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

I actually didn’t learn this prayer by heart until graduate school, when the chaplain at my husband’s school would recite the prayer as he processed out of the chapel after weekday Mass. There’s been a lot of talk recently among friends (and the Catholic blogosphere) about bringing back the St. Michael prayer as a regular devotion after Mass: something I was also completely unaware of before approximately eight years ago. The popular story goes that Pope Leo XIII was inspired by a terrible vision of demonic spirits to compose the St. Michael Prayer, which was added to the so-called “Leonine” prayers after Low Masses in about 1886. This practice was almost completely abandoned after the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council. Obviously some priests still clung to this devotion, but they are few and far between.

I give you this brief history because even though this prayer wasn’t a part of my regular repertoire growing up, it has become a frequent utterance because… I have a boy. And little boys love St. Michael, or so I’ve observed. There’s something about the triumphant angel-with-sword stomping on the head of a writhing devil that just gets my little 3-year-old’s heart beating with excitement. I remember the first time he was old enough to really look around a Catholic shop with me: he saw all the various St. Michael statues and just stood, completely transfixed. He didn’t want to leave. He still looks for them any time we go into the shop. Two of his most precious possessions are a St. Michael holy card and a statuette, and he loves to talk about that ugly devil getting beat with the sword. I’ve decided to just go with it.

But this morning, my little guy surprised me by demonstrating that he’s been doing some deep thinking on the topic of “St. Michael killing the devil.” On our ride back from dropping his sisters off at school, he came up with this gem out of the blue:

“Mommy? I have a question.”
“Sure, honey, what is it?”
“Is Lucifer a bad name?”
…”Umm, that’s a good question. We think of it as a bad name now because it’s what we say the devil’s name was. But it’s actually a very nice name. The word ‘Lucifer’ means bringer of light. But because we associate it with the devil, we don’t use it as a good name, no.”
“Hmm. Well then we should use Lucifer for Jesus instead.”
“Why is that?”
“Because He’s the Light of the World. It’s a better name for Him because He brings all the Good Light.”


“Yes, I like that thought, sweetheart. You can also think about what a nice name bringer of light would be for an angel, because remember that the devil was created as an angel, to love and serve God.”
“Yes, that’s a nice angel name, too. Speaking of angels, I have another question.”
“Why does St. Michael fight the devil?”
“I bet you can answer that. Who is St. Michael.”
“He’s God’s warrior angel.”
“Yep. So why would he want to fight the devil?”
“Because the devil was supposed to be a good angel, but now he’s the enemy of God. And St. Michael serves God and will fight His enemies.”

Growing up, I have to admit that in addition to my ignorance of the St. Michael prayer, I had the overwhelming impression that angels were kind of… impotent, cutesy kitsch created to make you feel warm and fuzzy. Guardian angels were sentimentalized nannies to help your parents get over their anxiety about letting you go places without them. At some point, I’m pretty sure I also believed that good people who died went to heaven and “became” angels by getting some wings and a halo. In short: my perception of angels was completely driven by modern popular sentiment and completely void of any substance provided from sacred scripture or tradition.

bokeh shot of white and gold ceramic angel
Photo by Pixabay on

Over the years, as I’ve read more scripture and delved into what the Church actually teaches about angels, I’ve realized that everything I thought I knew about angels as I was growing up was completely wrong. Instead of being cutesy, comforting things, angels can be downright terrifying. Daniel’s account is that upon seeing the angel, “No strength remained in me; I turned the color of death and was powerless. When I heard the sound of his voice, I fell face forward unconscious.” (Dn 10:8b-9, NABRE). Luke reports that the shepherds were “struck with great fear” at the appearance of the angel (Lk 2:9b, NABRE). In short: there’s a reason the first thing angels always say is “BE NOT AFRAID.” 

I appreciate now the power and the complete otherness of these spiritual beings whom God created as “personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.” (CCC, #330) I am so glad that I can truly learn to appreciate angels through the eyes of my son, because through conversations like the one that happened in the car this morning, I am slowly learning to open myself to the presence of these strange and mighty beings. If guardian angels serve to reduce parental anxiety, it is not because we succumb to some fanciful notion that a spiritual Mary Poppins watches over our little darlings: it is because we have confidence that we’re sending our kids to school with the spiritual equivalent of Bruce Lee at their side. If we sing with the angels at Mass, it’s not because they are the heavenly equivalent of the Vienna Boys Choir. It’s because their trumpet-blasting is the triumphant herald of God’s victory and we should sing with the exuberance of a stadium full of drunken college kids storming the field as they belt the Notre Dame Victory March.*

I will probably never get to the level of familiarity with angels as someone like Padre Pio, but I am glad that I am learning to take these creatures seriously, rather than thinking of them as God’s spiritual kittens. Perhaps learning to be child-like can mean that we spend more time thinking seriously about the devil and his combatants.  My son certainly does: enough to devote his spare time to thinking equally about Lucifer’s demise and the demise of the dinosaurs. Which, by the way, are also terrifying.

Therizinosaurus: aka Cretaceous Nope-Nope

*totally hypothetical, imaginary situation that I would have absolutely no first-hand knowledge of.

The Sins of Our Fathers


And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.    – 2 Cor 11:12-15

I did not live in Boston when the scandal broke in 2002. It was strange to feel the sting of humiliation and anger inflicted by people who, while physically distant, somehow managed to tarnish the entire Church– of which I, protected far away in the comfort of my midwestern dorm room, was a part. I didn’t know any of the people involved in the scandal, and yet I felt the sort of shame-by-association that one might feel upon discovering a deep, sordid family secret. Recently, Timothy Cardinal Dolan gave a keynote presentation at the Portsmouth Institute’s Summer Conference. He called for theologians to rediscover, in light of today’s challenges to family life, the meaning of Church as “family.” What does it mean that baptism actually transforms us into adopted sons and daughters of God?

Sadly, Cardinal Dolan, one of the things it means is that we’re stuck with one another, I guess.

The recent fallout of the McCarrick scandal, Cardinal Sean’s seminary inquiry, and numerous testimonials of seminarians and priests about misconduct among clerics just makes me want to crawl into bed, hide my face and cry. I can’t make sense of it and at the very root of everything, I feel betrayed. As a laywoman who has dedicated my professional life, ministry and my children to the care of the Catholic Church, I am disgusted and hurt. I now feel the burden of having to shelter my children not just from secular violations of the human person, but ecclesiastical ones as well. It’s a horrible cross to bear– and there’s really not much more to be said.

And yet, it seems as if there should be more. I’ve spent far too much time wrestling with the idea that God has entrusted the care of His flock and the transmission of the Sacraments into the hands of such broken people. Jacob’s angel seems a far less formidable foe. Part of the problem is that when I examine my feelings, I find that I don’t specifically blame one group of people for this. I don’t blame men. I don’t blame priests. I don’t blame unmarried priests. I don’t blame priests who experience same-sex attraction.  I just blame people.

I blame us for being so weak and so easily seduced into sin.
I blame us for covering up the misdeeds of others, out of self-preservation or fear or misguided concepts of mercy.
I blame us for not thinking about how our private actions affect others.
I blame us for turning our backs on God.
And, to be honest, I blame God for letting all this happen.

As soon as I admit that, I actually feel a little bit better– because even though these scandals feel like a new assault on the Church, they are just one manifestation of the same old problem we Monotheists will never be able to shake: if God is all-powerful and completely Good, why is there evil? We can do a quick feather-dusting of the problem by saying, “evil comes from the devil,” but that doesn’t really solve anything, does it? I didn’t ask whence comes evil. I asked why. 

The answer, which in the throes of suffering seldom feels satisfactory, is simply that God permits us to do evil things so that His goodness and glory may be made more manifest in some way. There’s this pesky thing called free will that God has given to us as a gift, meant to be used for love of God and love of neighbor, but far too often misused and abused to do evil. God chooses not to violate our free will, so instead He chooses to use our errors for good. To put it more colloquially, God writes straight with crooked lines– and this should lead us to appreciate His artistry even more. In the particular case of sins committed by priests, we can turn to the ancient Donatist debates and see how the scandals, and responses to scandals, led us to a more robust appreciation of how CHRIST works in the Sacraments, NOT the priest.  I am grateful to have this understanding at a theological, but also a practical level. Just as a priest must put aside what he knows about each of us from the confessional as we approach the Eucharist, we lay people must put aside our feelings about the human minister of Holy Communion. It is not easy, but sacramental theology dictates this of all of us. I know this. I will teach my children this.

But it doesn’t get rid of the feelings of betrayal, does it? The biggest problem with scandal is that it poisons the wellspring of faith. It sows doubt and suspicion– and in the face of such enemies we have to make the arduous choice to trust. We have to ask God to supply the grace we need to trust Him and to trust His Church. We need to choose to trust the Father, even when His children prove time and time again that we are disobedient. We need to choose to trust the office of the priesthood, even when our “fathers” fall incredibly short of the goodness and perfection of our heavenly Father.

One danger of calling our priests “fathers” is that we tend to hold them up on a pedestal as we do our own biological fathers. While it is not easy to see a brother or sister following a dark path, it is much harder to cope with the sins of our parents.  Whether we are children or adults, there is no way to soften the blow that comes from having our trust in a parent undermined. It challenges the very foundation of our perception of the world and our self. Perhaps in an age when the family, and specifically the office fatherhood, are under perilous attack, it should come as no surprise that our spiritual fathers would suffer the same fate.

Yet I do not think it is inappropriate to continue to think of and refer to our priests as “fathers,” for I do know many wonderful, holy, men who have given their lives to serve God’s family as spiritual fathers and leaders. Christ continues to call and to strengthen true shepherds who speak with the same voice as the Good Shepherd. I do not want their witness or their sacrifice to go unnoticed and unappreciated in the current haze. I promise that I will continue to be outraged at cover-ups and the systematic permission of sin which have occurred and might continue to occur within the Church. I will do all that I can to strive for holiness in my own life, to cultivate holiness in my family and relationships, and to speak out against offenses to God and His Church.

But I also promise to pray for our priests, for our seminarians, for all those young men who feel called to the priesthood— and I will encourage my son to respond generously to God’s call to fatherhood, whether spiritual or biological, when the time comes. That, at least, feels like something I can do at this moment– in addition to a little bit of crying into my pillow. If Jesus wept, so can I.


Not a Magic Bullet, but…


Not too long ago, I began training in Level I of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I’ve heard a lot about this model since my college days, but had little frame of reference since I’ve never seen it in a parish or school setting. I recently have been feeling called to focus more intentionally on catechetical models for younger children, so I finally took the plunge and attended a course. Prior to the training, I was a little worried that I’d become one of those “brain-washed” catechists who is convinced that CGS (and consequently everything Maria Montessori) is The Only Way To Do Things. I’ve heard stories and had some experiences of people who are so enchanted with this method that they can’t seem to visualize any other way to engage and teach your children– and sorry, folks, that just makes you annoying– so, one goal of mine was to try and keep a level-head during the experience. At the end of the week of training, here is the brief reflection I wrote:

CGS is not a magic bullet. It won’t solve the deep crisis of division and apathy in the Church today. It will not automatically get fallen-away families back in the pews. But CGS does seem to offer something that other models of catechesis does not: it regains the physicality, the essential embodiment of our faith. Our culture is so confused about the meaning of our bodies and of creation. We are no longer interested in liturgy because we no longer understand the language of embodied signs. Gestures, postures of prayers, and sacraments/sacramentals have lost their referents in a world that has forgotten about REDITUS. We have forgotten our origins and therefore our destination: our telos. When presented without drippy sentimentality (which is so obvious to even the smallest [children]), CGS brings children face to face with the wonder and joy of a creation which was made for them and which invites them personally to eternal, bodily Beatitude.

So, what do you think? Am I brainwashed yet?

Have you ever had experience (either as a catechist or recipient) of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? What did you love? What did you not love? I want to hear!

Lenten Humble Pie


When we settled in to our new parish in the ‘burbs a couple of years ago, the first task we set for ourselves was to get to know the pastor. Our second task was to get “involved,” which for us meant volunteering to teach Religious Ed, and scoping out the choir.

The problem with getting to know the pastor was that he didn’t seem to stick around long after Mass. He would shake a few hands and then quickly dart back to the sacristy long before the pews were empty, which is no easy feat when people are halfway out the door by the Sign of Peace. He wouldn’t even stick around after the weekday Masses, which were considerably smaller and populated by a very non-threatening set of parishioners. So one Sunday, when I saw a small opening to catch him before he left the church, I ran across a couple of aisles and I sort of… well, cornered him.

I introduced myself and pointed to my adorable family across the way. “We’re new,” I explained, and I puffed myself up with Midwestern Hospitality Pride as I said, “We’d love to invite you over for dinner some time. Would you like to visit our home?” The man immediately stiffened up, averted his glance a few times and said, “Well, it’s Lent. I’m busy.”

I was taken a little by surprise, but quickly followed up: “Oh, well, then maybe during Easter?”

“That’s very busy, too.”

My Pride Feathers were ruffled. “So you’re busy for all of Lent and all of Easter? All 90+ days?”


“The whole time?”

“Yes. I have to go now.” And he shuffled off.

I. was. miffed. I was full of outrage. How could he be so RUDE?! To not even consider our invitation? To just rush off like that with not even a ‘thank you’?

I took a job at another parish and that was that. I wrote him off. In my mind, he was simply a rude (or at least very tactless) priest that I didn’t have to worry about any more.

Until the other day when I was talking with my mom and she mentioned a pastor who had served at our parish in Indiana about ten years ago. “Did you know,” she asked me, “that he never had a cook because he didn’t eat? The ladies at the church said he would just have a small tin of anchovies every morning for breakfast and then he would fast for the whole rest of the day.”

I had never heard this before. “Every day, really?”

“Yes. Apparently he wouldn’t even accept invitations to go to parishioners’ houses or out to dinner because he was fasting. He never told anyone, but the old ladies who helped out with various things around the rectory said it was because he fasted all the time.”

Here was something I had never considered: that maybe a priest would decline a dinner invitation without giving a legitimate reason because he wanted to keep that reason private. Maybe that parish priest who shot me down was fasting, too. Maybe he has serious dietary restrictions or allergies and doesn’t want to explain or make requests. Maybe he has some form of social anxiety that I don’t need to know about. Or maybe he’s just rude.

But the point is: I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s rude or anxious or the holiest-fastingest-priest in the MetroWest. Whatever his reason for declining our invitation, it remains his reason and most likely had absolutely nothing to do with me. I know for a fact that people have thought I was a cold, rude person, but I willingly chose to let them think I was rude in that moment rather than opening myself up and being vulnerable. Perhaps that is not the best choice to make, but the takeaway is: sometimes my Midwestern Hospitality Pride needs to do a little self-check in the mirror.  I’m very grateful that during this Lent, when I myself have been very busy and could hardly accept a dinner invitation if it were offered, was reminded of this priest and given the chance to see how I failed to be charitable in my assertive attempt to be “hospitable.” 

Thanks, Lord, for that big slice of humble pie.

Speaking Engagements

You’ve found the online home of the “Summa Momma”: Catholic catechist, speaker and retreat leader!

Christina Valenzuela, OP (religious name: Mrs. Zelie Margaret) is a wife, mother and Lay Dominican with a passion and zeal for teaching adults and families about the Catholic faith. She has worked in college campus ministry, taught middle- and high-school confirmation classes, RCIA, led adult discussion groups and lectures and planned and directed numerous retreats.

Whether it’s a single lecture event, a series of talks or a retreat, the “Summa Momma” would love to assist your parish, school or group with your efforts for the New Evangelization!

Currently, Christina is only scheduling appearances within 90 mins. of Boston. If you are farther away and would still like to speak about the possibility of helping with your event, please don’t hesitate to be in touch!


NFP and Christian Accompaniment
Maronite Servants of Christ the Light: Dartmouth, MA, July 2018

Participant: Panel on “Catholic Parenting in a Post-Christian World”
Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture: Summer Conference, June 2018
Panel moderated by Brandon McGinley, Editor at EWTN Books

“The Anchor of Hope in the Barque of St. Peter”
Lay Dominican Regional Meeting, October 2017
How did St. Peter experience and communicate the theological virtue of HOPE in his life and ministry? How does Pope Francis’ recent catechesis on hope build on and add to the legacy of his predecessor? This talk blends Biblical exposition, prayer and theological reflection.

Theology of the Body and Genesis 2
Northeastern Catholic Women’s Group, February 2016

An exegetical look at how the ideas of “original solitude” and “original innocence” inform our lives and relationships today. What Truths about marriage and mankind are revealed through the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve?

“Salvific Beauty: God and Art”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Tech Catholic Community, Lent 2015

For adults: can be done as a three-part series or a single lecture. Here we explore the ways in which we encounter the Divine through art in all its forms. In particular, these presentations encourage adults to use art for prayer, meditation and “training” (or: askesis) in the Christian life.

Talks for Parish Groups:

“Say Not I Am Too Young”
A talk for confirmation candidates, encouraging them to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to serve the Church and the world. No one is too young to follow Christ!

Marriage and NFP
Great for marriage/Pre-Cana retreats, this talks explores what the Church teaches about the Sacrament of marriage and the meaning of sexual intimacy within marriage. Can also be modified for middle- and high-school students.

DCP Crest
“Every Dominican must be prepared to preach the Word of God”- Rule for the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic, paragraph 12

Jesus’ Prayers

A few weeks ago, my middle school class talked about Prayer. One of my goals as a Youth Minister is to try to engage parents more, so I’ve been sending out session recap emails in the hopes that the conversations we start in class can continue at home. I use question/comment slips from the end of class to not only glean some insight into how the kids are responding to the material, but also to let the parents know what questions their kids come up with. I try to choose a good question that is fairly representative of the class as a whole. Here is the Q&A portion of the email I sent out to parents after that session on Prayer:


One very astute middle-schooler asked this week: “I learned that some people have trouble with praying. I want to know if Jesus had trouble with praying.” 

We talked in class about Luke 11:1-13, where Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them to pray and He gives the example of the Our Father. Let’s take a look at some other Bible passages in the Gospel of Luke which talk about Jesus’ prayer life:

Luke 5:16– “[Jesus] would withdraw to deserted places and pray”
Luke 6:12– “[Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer with God.”
Luke 22:39– 46- “He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’”

From these passages we know that Jesus liked to pray. He was in the habit of going off to be by Himself in prayer, so the disciples were accustomed to having Jesus leave for a little while and then come back. Sometimes they were invited to go with Him, but this prayer on the Mount of Olives is really exceptional because it shows us how intense Jesus’ prayer life was: “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Have you ever had that happen? Have you ever been so wrapped up in prayer that you began to sweat blood? Not I. So it seems that Jesus didn’t have difficulty praying in the sense that we, who are less than perfect, do. Jesus had a strong connection with the Father (He is the Son, after all) that made prayer come naturally to Him and made Him aware of times when He needed to pray. He *wanted* to pray a lot! But that doesn’t mean that prayer was a happy-go-lucky romp through the meadow. This prayer at the Mount of Olives is not an easy one. Jesus is really struggling, because He knows what must be done. He knows what is going to happen with his betrayal and His arrest and being put to death. He even asks the Father to take this suffering (this “cup”) away if there could be any other way to accomplish the goal of Salvation. But Jesus, since He is perfect in all things, is our perfect model in prayer because even though He is frightened and REALLY struggling, He says, “Not my will, but yours be done.” 

Gethsemane_Carl_BlochJesus understood, and He teaches us to understand, that if we really truly believe that God is as good and great as we say He is, then doing His will is the best and greatest thing we can do. That doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t make it easy for us to come to God in prayer and wrestle with these things, but it’s what we should aspire to.

So to answer this question: Yes and no. The struggles of an imperfect pray-er (like ME!) are very different from the struggles of a perfect pray-er (Jesus!). My struggles are more like: “How can I make time to pray? Why do I get frustrated feeling like God isn’t listening? How can I make prayer a habit? How can I be less selfish in my prayers?” Jesus had that stuff figured out because as a sinless human being who also happened to be the Second Person of the Trinity (the Son), He was a lot more advanced in prayer than I, but that doesn’t mean that His prayers were always easy. God doesn’t always ask us to do what is easy– so if we open ourselves to doing God’s will, we have to be prepared for the possibility that it will be difficult. But we learn from Jesus’ example: even when what we do and receive in prayer is difficult, we should still say “Yes, Lord, Thy will be done.”

Good Spiritual Hygiene

Hi, everyone!

Since I started work as a Youth Minister this past summer, I’ve been completely swamped with varied and sundry tasks, so my blog has been pretty neglected. I realized recently that it’s not that I haven’t been doing any writing: I just haven’t been posting it!

So I’m going to try posting some of the Q&A articles I send out to parents of my high school Confirmation Candidates. After each formation session, I ask the students to submit comments and questions to me, from which I select one or two to answer in my weekly parent emails. Here are the questions from this week, after our session on “What is the Mass?” Enjoy!


This week, I got a couple of interesting and related questions about Mass, primarily about why we go. One person asked: Why can’t we just pray at home? and another asked: Why are we supposed to go to Mass? We aren’t hurting anyone if we don’t. 

Good questions, both of them. I’ll start with the second one first. Let’s think about it this way:

There are a lot of things we are supposed to do just because they are good for us, regardless of how they may or may not impact other people. If you go to the dentist, they will tell you that you “need” to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss regularly. They say that you “need” to do this not because it will hurt someone else if you don’t, but because it will harm YOU. Your health will be at risk. Maybe you’ll get gingivitis. Maybe your teeth will get cavities. Maybe they will rot and fall out. A good dentist will tell you that you “need” to do these things because he/she is concerned for YOU.


So, you should brush and floss because it’s good for you. But just because you aren’t actively hurting someone by neglecting your oral hygiene doesn’t mean that no one is affected by it, either. If you don’t brush and floss, you will have stanky breath. And I bet a lot of people would want to stop hanging out with you as much. It would be unpleasant for them, so they might choose to stay away from you. Maybe your best friends will be able to overcome their revulsion, but the choice you make to stop brushing your teeth will make it very difficult for them on a regular basis. It will strain your relationship.

I hope you get the analogy here. Attending Mass is something we need to do because it is “healthy” for our soul. Think of it as spiritual hygiene. No one will get hurt if we don’t go to Mass, but if we avoid taking care of our spiritual health, eventually we are going to spiritually stink. If we choose to not put God in a prominent place in our lives, if we choose to neglect the gift of the Eucharist (which helps cleanse us and protect us from the inclination to sin), then we will gradually build up some spiritual plaque. We’ll get some spiritual gingivitis, which might lead to some spiritual cavities and maybe some spiritual teeth will fall out. The temptation to sin is always there, but it’s really easy to overlook. It’s really easy to say, “I don’t feel like going to Mass this Sunday. I’ll do it next Sunday.” It’s really easy to say, “I don’t feel like flossing tonight. I’ll do it tomorrow.” But next day turns to next day turns to next day and all of a sudden, you realize you haven’t been taking care of those basic hygiene needs for quite a while now.

So, you are supposed to go to Mass because IT IS GOOD FOR YOU.

But you are also supposed to go to Mass because ALL OF US are contractually obligated to do so through our baptism. Nowhere and at no time will the Church ever say that non-baptized people need to go to Mass. It’s not an obligation for you if you’re not part of the Church. But if you are, going to Mass on Sunday is a Precept of the Church. Weekly Sunday Mass attendance is the absolute minimum we “need” in order to grow in faith, holiness and communion with one another as fellow Christians.

Which leads to the second question, “Why can’t we just pray at home?”

I hope the assumption here is that OF COURSE you can (and should!) pray at home, but that’s not enough. None of us are allowed to fall into the trap of thinking that we have a completely private relationship with God. Through your baptism, you become part of God’s FAMILY. God adopts you as a son or daughter through the Church, so that you are joined with LOTS of other people! Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

St. Paul talks in his letters about how we are all united in baptism into the “Body of Christ.” He says “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor 12:12-13a) When we come together at Mass to meet our own bare minimum of individual spiritual health, we come as a member of the Body of Christ—the Church. Some ancient Christian communities took this membership so seriously, that you had to get special permission from your pastor to be away from Mass on Sunday. If you were traveling, you needed to clear it with your congregation first, because it meant that when your community gathered on Sunday they would somehow be INCOMPLETE… because you weren’t there. ALL the members are needed in order for the community to worship God AS A COMMUNITY of faith—as a family.

God doesn’t want us to have an isolated relationship with Him. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, but that personal relationship is always mediated within and supported by the larger community of the Church. He calls us to come together to worship Him. Like any good Father, He wants to have a good relationship with all of His children, but He also wants his children to love one another and get along. He wants them to have a relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow in holiness.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, one person strengthens another.” We become better sons and daughters of God when we take the time to worship our Father together. When we receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, we are not only more closely united to God (which keeps us spiritually healthy!), but we also strengthen our bonds with one another—with the other members of the Body of Christ.