Restoring "The Little Things" of Catholic Culture
|If we want to
live in a Catholic culture, big things need to be done. Some laws need
to change. Schools and universities need to be reclaimed or re-created.
New media need to be started up. Our economy needs to be protected from
unfair competition with countries that have slave labor. We've a lot of
work ahead of us.
Of course, too, there's the "big thing" of attaining eternal life -- of
living Catholic lives centered on Christ. Obeying the six precepts of the Church, becoming virtuous, and making life a prayer while doing all we
can to ensure the Good of the souls of the people we love -- these all
go without saying.
But in addition to those big things, are "the little things" every
Roman Catholic should be doing. On the page about Posture and Gesture, I write (links added),
In a speech
Delivered at the Twelfth Convention of the Fellowship of Catholic
Scholars in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, John M. Haas spoke of how
certain Catholic practices made such an impression on him when he was
still a Protestant. He wrote of how the "adverting to Our Lord"
manifest in the Catholic custom of bowing the head in honor of the Real
Presence when passing a Catholic church affected him:
Catholics could surely add innumerable other [Catholic practices]: some
silly, some profound, some a source of comfort, others the source of
light-hearted humor. Catholic practices make up the daily life of a
Catholic individual and a Catholic society. The morning offering, the invocation of
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the sprinkling of holy water on children at
bedtime, the incantation to Saint Anthony ("Tony,
Tony, come around; something's lost and can't be found"), the pleas
to Saint Jude to prevent a bankruptcy, the novenas
for a sick spouse. All of these many practices fill the lives of the
faithful, enrich, comfort and orient them. Often it is difficult to
trace their origin. Often the ones which seem most intimate and natural
to a people were never even introduced by ecclesiastical authority.
They emerged as natural, faith-filled expressions of love or joy or
thanksgiving or grief or desperation.
The one characteristic these Catholic practices all seem to
share is their ability to turn people away from the mundane, the
worldly, the everyday, and direct them toward the sacred, the
transcendent, the eternal. One could be travelling on the streetcar in
Pittsburgh thinking about how to make new sales contacts or how to
position oneself to meet the new girl in the office when suddenly, on
the part of a half-dozen people, there was an adverting to another
reality, another dimension, not separate from this realm, but
permeating it, leavening it, making sense of it. Perhaps the adverting to Our Lord in the Blessed
Sacrament by those on the street car was only fleeting, with
virtually no break in the train of thought regarding increasing sales
or meeting the new girl. But the adverting took place; Our Lord was
acknowledged; and implicitly at least, the statement was made that
increased sales was no end in itself and any future wife would, one
would hope, be married in the Lord.
These little habits not only glorify God, they're subjectively good in
that we stop what we're doing, if only for a moment -- like a
five-second vacation -- to focus on what truly matters.
But they're important, too, in another way: they're a sign to others
around us. For non-Catholics, they're an invitation, a small way of spreading of the Gospel. Or maybe
sometimes they're just a piquing of curiosity that will precede further
investigation. I can imagine a little non-Catholic child sitting in a
restaurant, seeing a Catholic cross himself before tucking in. "Mommy,
what's that man doing with his hand?" If Mom answers his question
properly, the child will then come to at least have heard of Jesus, and
will know that some people take the time to honor and thank Him before
they eat. For other Catholics, these practices are a sign that "one of
us" is present and, so, the other Catholic isn't alone.
Scattered throughout this website are various traditions that Catholics
practice -- from creative uses of water and fire to seasonal
customs that make the liturgical year come alive. We've got roadside shrines and Mary Gardens, and we make "domestic churches" of our homes. Yes,
there are myriad things that Catholics do differently from others, like
waiting until Advent's over to turn Christmas tree lights to
Christmas doesn't end on December 25. But here, I want to focus on the
top ten "little
things" that involve not aspects of Catholic material culture or
specific seasonal customs, but habits that Catholic should practice
daily, as the proper contexts arise. These ten things are:
1. When saying
or hearing the Name of Jesus, bow your head, no matter where you are or
whom you're with.
2. When hearing the Name of Jesus being taken in vain, make
reparation by praying "Sit Nomen Domini benedictum" ("Blessed be the
Name of the Lord").
3. When passing by a Catholic church, cross
yourself in honor
of Jesus in the tabernacle and pray "Gloria Tibi, Domine" ("Glory be to
Thee, Lord"). Men, remove your hats.
4. Pray before meals, even in
restaurants, crossing yourself
Catholic-style, no matter who's watching or whom you're with.
5. When hearing an ambulance, fire truck, or police car go
by, pray an Ave (a Hail Mary) for anyone
6. When passing a cemetery, say an Ave (a Hail Mary) for the
7. Honor Jesus, Mary, and Joseph by writing "J.M.J." on top
of correspondence and homework.
8. Don't eat meat on Fridays, even if your Bishop doesn't
explicitly mandate it.
9. Bless your children in the Name of the Father, Son, and
10. Pray to your Guardian
Angel and patron Saint.
Don't be shy
about these practices! They are for God and for the purpose of making
the world a more Catholic place! The changes we want to see start with
you. Let's do all we can to make a world in which, when a
street car passes a Catholic church, all heads bow!
I've made a meme-sized graphic which I encourage you to download and
spread all over social media. Right-click and choose "Save image as" to
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