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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Living by Church's calendar at home

Growing up in St. Louis, Susanna Spencer loved her family's Advent tradition of adorning a Jesse Tree with Old Testament symbols leading up to Christ's birth.
 
She continued the tradition while in college at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where she met her husband, Mark.
 
"After seeing (Advent traditions) in my childhood, I thought, I want to do this the whole year, not just for the short four weeks before Christmas," said Spencer, 31.
 
Even before they were married, Susanna and Mark both felt "drawn to liturgical life" and began incorporating more aspects of the Catholic Church's calendar into their daily lives, from praying the Liturgy of the Hours to observing saints' feast days.
 
Now parents of four, ages 2 to 8, and parishioners of St. Agnes in St. Paul, the Spencers are intentional about shaping their home with the rhythm of the Church seasons.
 
"A lot of the things that we've done are taking the Advent wreath idea and conforming it to the other liturgical seasons," Susanna said.
 
The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year, and for some Catholic families, the liturgical "New Year" is tied to special traditions at home. This year the first Sunday is Dec. 3.
 
While enhancing a family's "domestic church" through aspects of the liturgical calendar is nothing new, Catholics who are interested in liturgical home practices can find an increasing wealth of information online, where Catholics share ideas on blogs dedicated to the practice, such as Carrots for Michaelmas, carrotsformichaelmas.com, and Catholic All Year, catholicallyear.com.

Spencer noted that Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, used a set of 15 books dedicated to the annual cycle of feasts and fasts in their 19th-century French home; Spencer has an edition on a shelf in her own living room.
 
In the Spencer's West St. Paul home, the Church's season is regularly reflected in two spots: the dining room table centerpiece and the family's small prayer table. The latter contains candles and a few icons, statues and artworks of saints and devotions, some of which change to reflect certain feasts or seasons.

The family prays there together daily, often noting that day's saint or memorial. Sometimes, they mark a saint's feast by attending daily Mass, where the saint is commemorated in the liturgy.
 
The Spencers' centerpieces range from an Advent wreath, to a crown of thorns during Lent, to fresh flowers during ordinary time. Susanna anticipates feast days while meal planning, serving spaghetti on an Italian saint's memorial or a blueberry dessert on days honoring Mary, which the Church traditionally symbolizes with blue.
 
"One of the ways that you can learn about holiness is living with the saints," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "If we never think of them, we … can't benefit from their intercession."
 
She realizes that observing the Catholic Church's calendar can feel like another task on the to-do list, and therefore potentially overwhelming or discouraging. She encourages Catholics who want to try it to keep it simple.
 
In West St. Paul, Heidi Flanagan's family has developed an Advent tradition that has connected its members more intimately to the communion of saints.
 
On the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi; her husband, John; and their six children -- ages 2 to 12 -- select a slip of paper from a shoebox. On that paper is the name of a saint who becomes their patron for the liturgical year.
 
Heidi, 43, received the box -- and the idea -- about eight years ago from a friend who does something similar in her home. The Flanagans say a small litany of the saints daily, asking each member's patron saint for that year to pray for them. They also celebrate their feast days throughout the year.
 
"I feel like it's given them this buddy in heaven -- this sense of security -- that we're not alone, that they have these superheroes rooting for them and praying for them in heaven," Flanagan said of her children. "They develop friendships with these saints."
 
The tradition has provided an opportunity to learn more about the saints' lives, and the saints have helped all of the Flanagans grow in their spiritual lives. Before they select their saints, the Flanagans also pray that the saints selected would also "choose" them.
 
"It' s been so cool how often we look back at the year and say, 'Oh, I can totally see how this saint chose me,'" because different challenges or opportunities seemed suited to that saint's intercession.
 
  • Published in Nation

Royal engagement announcement brings attention to Catholic school

When the news broke Nov. 27 of Meghan Markle's engagement to Prince Harry, reporters descended upon the Los Angeles Catholic school Markle attended: Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School.
 
"They've been scaling the walls," Callie Webb, communication director for the school, said with slight exaggeration, but maybe not too much, of the reporters calling and visiting the 112-year-old school with mission-style terra cotta roofs just a few miles from the landmark Hollywood sign.
 
For two days, Webb's phone was ringing off the hook and her email mailbox was flooded with requests from local newspapers and TV stations as well as national media and British tabloids about the school's famous fiancee -- the 1999 graduate who is not Catholic but attended the school from seventh grade (before the sixth grade was added) until graduation.
 
ABC's "20/20" spent a day on the campus -- with six of their vans parked on the school's ball field -- for an episode airing Dec. 1.
 
The attention, and the news itself, has been exciting for the school's 674 students, Webb said, pointing out that some of them had never even heard of Markle and others knew every detail about her 15-month romance with Prince Harry, her engagement, her TV career, activism and now discontinued lifestyle blog, The Tig.
 
The school, founded by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1906, tried to put the engagement news in perspective, at least on social media. Its Nov. 27 tweet said: "Over 10,000 women of great heart and right conscience have graduated from Immaculate Heart, and we are proud to count actress and humanitarian @meghanmarkle among them. Today, we send her our very best wishes as she celebrates her engagement to His Royal Highness Prince Harry."
 
It posted a similar message that day on its Facebook account, but added that as a global ambassador for World Vision Canada, Markle campaigned for clean, safe drinking water. And as a UN Women's Advocate, she has spoken up for women's rights and gender equality.
 
"She's so inspirational to many of us, not just as an actress, but also as someone who is into philanthropy and altruism and giving back," the school's student body president Mia Speier told KABC, the Los Angeles ABC affiliate.
 
 
Webb said Speier's reaction, that she has now often repeated, about the school's connection to the royal engagement is: "She is a sister who walked our hallways and was already inspiring."
 
And that's pretty much how the school sees it.
 
"We've been proud of Meghan for a long time," said Webb of Markle's advocacy for gender equality and clean drinking water and her work with the United Nations as a women's advocate for political participation and leadership.
 
"That's very much in keeping with the goal of all our students," she told Catholic News Service Nov. 28, adding that it reflects the school's mission, which "encourages students to become women of great heart and right conscience through leadership, service and a lifelong commitment to Christian values."
 
Webb also noted that Markle, 36, was exposed at an early age to helping others, something that was reinforced at school with community service projects. "Her upbringing meshed with the school's mission and philosophy," as she put it.
Markle was chosen as a Kairos retreat leader during her senior year and she took part in the school's theater productions -- long before her role as Rachel Zane in the television drama "Suits."
 
"She's gone from one stage to a bigger stage," Webb added, noting that in "whatever small way" the school contributed to her current achievements, it is proud.
 
Immaculate Heart makes no mention of the royal engagement on its website. Instead, the school news is about sports wins, charity drives, upcoming events and a 2007 graduate who is featured in 2018 edition of Forbes "30 Under 30" -- the magazine's list of 600 visionaries in 20 different industries.
 
Webb pointed out the school has plenty on tap right now with its Dec. 2 open house and ongoing visits from perspective freshmen during the school's "shadow" days, where they shadow current students on a school day. She knows the media focus on the school is likely to wane, for now, although it's been great publicity.
 
She also continually hopes to reinforce the message that Immaculate Heart is thrilled for Markle but not just for the wedding at England's Windsor Castle when the former student, described as a "classy girl" in the school's yearbook, will take on the title Duchess of Sussex.
 
"We always tell our students to dream big," she said, "but not necessarily about marrying a prince!"
 
  • Published in World

Bishop Coyne: Strong net neutrality protections critical to faith community

The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Communications has urged the Trump administration to keep current net neutrality rules in place because an open internet, he said, is critical to the nation's faith communities and how they interact with their members.
 
"Without open internet principles which prohibit paid prioritization, we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet," said Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
"Nonprofit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay to compete with profitable commercialized content," he said in a Nov. 28 statement.
 
The concept of an open internet has long been called "net neutrality," in which internet service providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites. Neutrality means, for example, providers cannot prioritize one type of content over another, nor can they speed up, slow down or block users’ access to online content and services.
 
On Nov. 21, the current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced his proposal to roll back rules on neutrality put in place in 2015 by the Obama administration.
 
Bishop Coyne urged that the current rules remain in place. "Strong net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function and connect with our members," he said.
 
These protections are "essential to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology and necessary for any organization that seeks to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded and over-commercialized media environment," Bishop Coyne said.
 
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that under his plan, "the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices."
 
Bishop Coyne said: "Robust internet protections are vital to enable our archdioceses, dioceses and eparchies, our parishes, schools and other institutions to communicate with each other and our members, to share religious and spiritual teachings, to promote activities online, and to engage people -- particularly younger persons -- in our ministries."
 
The FCC is scheduled to vote on Pai's proposal at its monthly hearing Dec. 14. Observers predict the vote will fall along party lines. Chairman Pai is Republican as are Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O'Rielly. Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are Democrats.
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Prayers for peace in South Sudan, Congo

Although it was not possible to visit South Sudan as he had hoped, Pope Francis said that "prayer is more important, because it is more powerful. Prayer works by the power of God for whom nothing is impossible."
 
With hundreds of women and men from dozens of religious orders, with migrants from Africa and representatives from a number of Christian churches and a variety of religions, the pope presided thismonth over an evening prayer service for peace in South Sudan and Congo.
 
As the service began in St. Peter's Basilica, religious carried in procession large photographs of women and children from the two war-torn countries. The images were placed on easels at the foot of the sanctuary steps.
 
Flanking the photos were paintings of St. Josephine Bakhita from Sudan and Blessed Anuarite Nengapeta from Congo.
 
On the cross, Pope Francis said, Jesus "took upon himself all the evil of the world, including the sins that spawn and fuel wars: pride, greed, lust for power, lies."
 
The pope's brief reflection at the service ended with a series of prayers that began: "May the risen Lord break down the walls of hostility that today divide brothers and sisters, especially in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
 
Echoing the petitions read during the service, he prayed that God would "comfort those women who are the victims of violence in war zones and throughout the world."
 
"May he protect children who suffer from conflicts in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself," he prayed. Then he added, "How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children! Here war shows its most horrid face."
 
He also prayed that God would sustain those who work for peace and would "strengthen in government officials and all leaders a spirit which is noble, upright, steadfast and courageous in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation."
 
The morning after the prayer service, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced Pope Francis was sending financial aid to dioceses in Congo's Kasai region, which has been particularly embroiled in violence. The dicastery said an estimated 3,400 people have been killed there in recent months.
 
An early November note from Caritas Internationalis, the confederation of Catholic charities, said that in addition to those killed in the fighting, "hundreds have been mutilated and raped. Villages have been sacked and burned, and homes, churches, schools and health centers destroyed. By July 2017, the United Nations had already documented 80 mass graves."
 
"An estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced in the country," the report said. "The conflict has since degenerated into inter-ethnic fighting and the recruitment of children as soldiers by the militias is commonplace."
 
  • Published in World
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