Editor’s Note: During July and August, Rhode Island Catholic is sharing some of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s favorite Without a Doubt columns. The following column originally ran on October 5, 2017.
Brothers and sisters, we’re living in an age of lists. Just surf the internet and you’ll find a list about almost any conceivable topic — some serious, some silly, and some downright bizarre.
For example, in just a ten-minute search of a couple of websites, I found the following lists: 18 ways your phone has ruined your life; 17 memes for anyone who dislikes children; 13 bizarre things you can do with a can of Coke; 6 ways you’ve been grilling your chicken all wrong; and 5 reasons to stop drinking through a straw.
So, as my personal contribution to popular culture, here follows my list of “10 Really Cool Things About Being Catholic.”
Confession. One of the really cool things about being a Catholic is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, as it’s popularly known. Confession is a spiritual powerhouse. It provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge our faults and failures, hear the words of forgiveness, and then set out on a new beginning. Saying we’re sorry and starting over – it’s something we all need to do once-in-awhile.
The Rosary. Saint John Paul said that the Rosary “is a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness,” and indeed it has. A prayer unique to Catholics, the Rosary combines meditation on the lives of Jesus and Mary with the recitation of familiar prayers. Through the centuries the Rosary has strengthened Christians going into battle, brought families together, and comforted devout Catholics in times of crisis. The Rosary – so simple, so powerful, and so Catholic!
Popes. “Is the Pope Catholic?” Of course the Pope is Catholic, and the papacy is one of the most identifiable marks of the Catholic Church. When a new pope is being chosen, the whole world watches for the white smoke and awaits the announcement from the balcony. When the Pope travels massive crowds turn out to see him. And who isn’t familiar with the little popemobile winding its way through the frenzied crowd? While each pope has his own personality and priorities, Catholics love their “bishop in white.”
Saints. Catholics embrace their saints, as favorite, if sometimes eccentric, members of our spiritual family. We look to the saints for inspiration and we turn to them for assistance. Looking for a lost item? Call St. Anthony. Worried about your sick puppy? St. Francis is there to help. Trying to sell a house? Bury St. Joseph. (And then scarf down a zeppole for good measure.) Any Catholic worthy of the name has a favorite saint or two.
Relics. Closely related to our devotion to the saints is our fondness for relics. Relics comes in different degrees — a part of the saint’s body or an item the saint used, for example. But we Catholics use relics to bring the saints near to us, much like a treasured picture of a deceased or distant loved one. Relics can be abused, of course, and the Church’s track record hasn’t always been above reproach. A feather from the Angel Gabriel? Really? The Virgin Mary’s breast milk? Ridiculous. On the other hand, some cynics who ridicule Catholic relics will stand in line for hours to touch the Stanley Cup or stare at Saint Tom Brady’s sweaty jersey.
Processions. Catholics love a parade. Some processions are short — around the inside of a Church or around the block. Some last for hours as they wend their way through the streets of town. But each procession is a token of the journey that takes us to the holiest of destinations – heaven. Come across a group of people walking down the street, and chances are it’s a group of Catholics celebrating their faith. (Or, nowadays, an anti-Trump rally!)
Blessings. “The celebration of blessings holds a privileged place among all the sacramentals of the Church for the pastoral benefit of the people of God.” (The Book of Blessings) In other words, Catholics love their blessings. We bless people, pets, homes, cars, meals, religious items and just about anything else. A blessing doesn’t change the nature of the item. It simply indicates that it’s dedicated for a religious, or at least positive, purpose. It just makes us feel better.
Music. Catholics have a rich tradition of liturgical music. It starts with the heritage of Gregorian chant, a gift of the Church to the world, and moves on to beloved Catholic hymns that many of us grew up singing – the Salve Regina, “Holy God We Praise thy Name,” Tantum Ergo, “Jesus, My Lord, my God, my All.” Catholic congregations aren’t known to be great singers, but when we do, we have an extensive songbook to choose from.
Guilt. Pundits and comedians make fun of “Catholic guilt,” often described as an overactive conscience that makes us think everything is a sin. For example, when forgetting to floss, or not finishing all the food on your plate becomes confession material. But while people make fun of Catholics for their scrupulosity, in fact, having a little guilt is a healthy habit. It keeps us from getting into trouble and inspires us to do the right thing. Our world today would benefit from a little “Catholic guilt.”
A Sense of humor. Chesterton said that “angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.” I think the same can be said of Catholics. Without being disrespectful or sacrilegious, Catholics can tease about, joke about, or self-deprecate just about anything in our religion, including everything on this list. After all, it’s only Catholics who could turn a beautiful prayer to the Virgin, the Hail Mary, into an improbable touchdown pass!