Why do we do that?  Catholic Traditions Explained.


Question: Can you explain what we mean by a vocation or calling? I have heard this term used in many different contexts and am not sure what it means. Does it apply to religious life?

Answer: A vocation or calling refers to a spiritual experience whereby a person senses within oneself the closeness of God and what he is asking in one's life. It is a realization of what one's part in God's plan could be. Vocation comes in all kinds of ways. Some are as dramatic as St. Paul's, being knocked off his horse, blinded, and hearing God's voice. Others are less dramatic, often occurring over time through little events and personal interests. Others happen in a hurry, accompanied by great spiritual insight or conversion. We often think that this applies to religious vocation, but in fact, every Christian
has a vocation, a calling to serve others in and through the Church. Whether married or single, religious or lay, we are all called to live out our baptismal commitment to preach and teach the Gospel message. Each of us has our role to play in God's plan, and we become coworkers with God in the work of redemption. With a little confidence, a willing spirit, and God's grace, we can and will respond to his unique call.


Question: Who invented the Stations of the Cross?

Answer: The first Stations of the Cross were walked by Jesus himself on the way to Calvary. Known as the "Via Dolorosa" ("The Way of Suffering") or the "Via Crucis" ("The Way of the Cross"), it was marked out from the earliest times and was a traditional walk for pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. The early Christians in Jerusalem would walk the same pathway that Jesus walked, pausing for reflection and prayer. Later, when Christians could not travel to the Holy Land, artistic depictions of "The Way of the Cross" were set up in churches, or outside and
Christians would walk from station to station, reading the Gospel account of the Passion, or simply praying and reflect-ing on each event. While the content or place of each
station had changed, the intention was to make a
mini-pilgrimage and follow--literally--in the footsteps of Jesus. This devotion became better known in the Middle Ages, and the Franciscans are credited with its spread. Lent is a time when many people make the Stations and some churches present Passion plays or Living Stations. But anyone can pray the Stations at any time. It is a simple and personal reflection on the passion of Jesus and what it means to us.

 Question: Can you recommend some good books for Lenten spiritual reading?

Answer: On more than one occasion, a coach being interviewed about his team--successful or not--will be asked about the next step. The inevitable response includes something about getting back to basics. Reviewing the fundamentals of the sport strengthens performance and builds confidence. The best Lenten reading takes us back to the fundamentals. If Lent is the time for the Church to be on retreat, then we should focus on the texts that help us deepen our understanding of our faith. Spend time reading one of the Gospels, and use a Scripture commentary to learn all you can about the passion of Jesus. Read about the lives of the saints, especially your patron saint and that of your parish. Perhaps there is some local candidate for sainthood, like Father Walter Ciszek, SJ, who wrote several faith-inspiring books. Finally, you can use the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn more about the church's teachings and beliefs. The sections on prayer and the Mass are really great reflections. Focusing on the basics really helps us take another step forward in our faith. We have not only a better understanding of what we believe and practice, but also why we believe. With that belief comes the confidence we need to be better, more faithful witnesses to Christ.

Carnivale and Mardi Gras celebrations are linked to Ash Wednesday, Lent, fast and abstinence. Can you tell us more about the connections between these events?

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the forty days known as Lent. Every year, Christians highlight this penitential season as a time of self-examination, reformation of one's life, and continued development of a deeper spiritual life. The recommended practices of prayer, fasting, and alms giving become the focus of Lenten activity and ritual. Each of these spiritual practices is aimed at personal discipline as well as continued concern for the other, especially the poor or alienated.

Forty days is a symbolic biblical period of time, during which personal transformation occurs and out of which people surface as more spiritual, ready to carry out God's mission. Relying on God's providence and care, no matter how difficult life becomes, is crucial to Lenten spirituality. Fasting was initially stricter, permitting only one simple meal a day without meat, fish, or other delicacies. Such things were not even allowed in the house.

In order to prepare for this in an age of no refrigeration, people gathered to consume whatever was not allowed during Lent. This led to parties or celebrations originally referred to as Carnivale, literally meaning "goodbye to meat," or Mardi Gras, literally meaning "Fat Tuesday." The eating and celebrating ended on the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday. Today we focus more on moderation in all things, as well as a strong concern the poor. What are you doing for the poor this Lent?


What is holy water and how do I explain the reason that it is placed at the entrances of churches to my non-Catholic friends?

Holy water is a sacramental; a reminder of the life of the Church expressed and celebrated through the sacraments. By blessing ourselves with holy water as we enter the church, we are reminded of our own baptism and our call to conversion. Remember, the Church is sacramental. God's grace is mediated through word and gesture (the outward signs). This comes to us through Jesus (instituted by Christ) as he entrusts to the Church his saving mission (to give grace). In turn, the Church shares that grace and mission with us. We especially use holy water during Easter when the priest sprinkles the people. It serves to remind us that we are indeed on a journey of faith that makes us one with Christ. Blessing ourselves not only reminds us that we are baptized into a community of faith, but also helps us renew our own baptismal promises to reject sin and to believe in God. It is the heart of Christian belief to turn from sin and toward God. Holy water and baptism make it a visible sign for all of us to follow.

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