“The Feasts”: When Catholics Do What We Do

Thanks to everyone who read my review of “The Feasts” by Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina, as part of the blog tour celebrating the launch of their new book. And thanks as well to the dozens who entered for a chance to win a free copy, courtesy of Image Books.  I’m pleased to announce that the winner is Jeff Quinton of Maryland! If you missed out this time around, check back in the coming weeks as I’ll have more books to review and give away.

Last evening I was able to drop by the Catholic Information Center here in DC and hear Cardinal Wuerl both present an overview of the reasoning behind the book, as well as answer questions from the audience.  He noted that the book was part of a trilogy, along with two other books co-written with Mike Aquilina – also published by Image – in response to the realization that they had to re-state things which many Catholics had taken for granted about knowledge of the Faith.  Thus, as his Eminence put it, the Mass is what we do, the church is where we do it, and the feasts are when we do it.

Cardinal Wuerl recognized that in earlier times, when people simply learnt about Christianity through a sort of osmosis in this country, the parish church and school were the center of community life.  In that atmosphere, Catholics more easily grasped the importance of the Mass, the church building and its contents, and the celebration of the feasts on the liturgical calendar as part and parcel of being Catholic.  Even today, the cycle of the Church year is of immense importance in calling Catholics to lives of constant prayer in all that we do, and also reflecting on our relationship with God through the recalling and celebrating of salvation history.

Today, because the culture is not going to reinforce this knowledge, these books are an attempt to pick up an important pedagogical tool and use it.  They serve as a way of reaching generations which did not have the benefit of the experience that older Catholics did, of growing up in such an environment.  He noted that the feasts allow us, every year, to continually re-experience the journey of faith, which is important for us as incarnate beings.  We thereby come to understand what we believe not just cognitively, but experientially.

I was also struck by something the Cardinal mentioned in the Q&A, when answering a question about his favorite saints.  He said that the first thing he sees when waking up in the morning, hanging on the wall, are a crucifix and an icon/relic of St. Thomas Becket, who of course was murdered on the implicit orders of King Henry II in 1170.  I have a similar experience, in that the first thing I see on the wall opposite when I wake up in the morning are a crucifix and a framed reproduction of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”.  Of course for a bishop, the daily visual reminder of the example of Becket, particularly in the present culture, is one that has a particularly deep and personal meaning in his vocation as a shepherd of the people of God.  As Cardinal Wuerl noted, in the midst of everything going on, when we’re caught up in the things of this world, Becket’s example is that the Church as the Body of Christ matters, first and foremost, above all else.

Thank you again, readers, for your patronage of this site, and thanks to Image Books as well for the opportunity to share this excellent book with you.

Detail of "The Feast Day of Saint Roch" by Canaletto (c. 1735) National Gallery, London

Detail of “The Feast Day of Saint Roch” by Canaletto (c. 1735)
National Gallery, London

“God’s Bucket List” and Teresa Tomeo at the CIC

Last evening despite the sub-zero windchill I went to the Catholic Information Center here in Washington to hear author and broadcaster Teresa Tomeo discuss her new book, “God’s Bucket List”.  We were a small bunch, I suspect limited by a combination of the polar weather and those too worn out from the preceding day’s March for Life to want to head out once more into the cold.  Yet for those who managed to spend time listening to Ms. Tomeo, and pick up her book to continue considering some of the points she raised, the evening was very worthwhile – both from the perspective of getting background on the book itself, as well as hearing some of her observations on the state of the media in this country at present.

“God’s Bucket List” is not a book about a celestial “To Do” list.  It is not about writing down the spiritual equivalent of things like “Climb Kilimanjaro” or “Eat Snails in Paris”; God is not asking you – necessarily – to put down spiritual things on a list like “Make the Camino to Santiago” or “Have a Silent Retreat”.  Instead, what the author argues is that the closer we can bring ourselves to God, the more we will find that He has a host of wonderful things He wants to give us – experiences, challenges, etc. – that can draw us even closer to Him.

Giving a summary of some of the key chapters of her book, Ms. Tomeo began by pointing out that stillness is one of the most important aspects of trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us.  This is something very difficult to do in contemporary society, where we cannot seem to drag ourselves away from glowing, noisy screens.  Settling ourselves, and letting Him say what He is going to say, is only going to be possible if we turn off the television and the mobile, step away from the computer, and be quiet for a while.

The author shared her own experience of preparing dinner one night, when she had arrived home early and was feeling frustrated by her work situation.  All was quiet in the house, but at one point as she was chopping cucumbers for a salad, she “heard” an indication that God did not want her to keep doing what she was doing; He wanted her to try something else.  She was so surprised she looked around to make sure she was not hallucinating.  That was the beginning of a path which lead to her current career in Catholic media, as well as to greater personal and familial fulfillment.

The “how” of making that change is, of course, even more difficult, as Ms. Tomeo acknowledged.  It requires letting go of what we know, and indeed many of us prefer the devil we know, as much as we may hate it, to venturing out into the unknown.  Most of us are not going to get a full set of instructions on how to proceed, no matter how quiet we make ourselves, or how open we are to hearing what is on God’s list for us.

The evening continued with some key ideas and stories in a similar vein, but also with the keen observation of someone who has worked in media for decades about how media has changed.  One important point Ms. Tomeo raised was that of outreach to the secular media, something which is not always easy.  Ms. Tomeo pointed out that we need to be both consistent and persistent, in reaching out to the secular media to bring across our Catholic views: criticizing when it is warranted, yes, but also taking the time to be nice, and to compliment when that is warranted.

During the Q&A session, I asked Ms. Tomeo how would one distinguish between discerning a call to make a change in one’s life, and simply engaging in escapism.  To this she replied that the steps have to be taken one by one, and that through prayer, self-examination, spiritual direction, and affirmation, we will know if we are heading the right way.  By affirmation in particular, she noted how things can start happening, such as people coming up to you with positive comments, or opportunities starting to present themselves, that in the aggregate seem to be indicating you are along the path to where you ought to be.  Though in her own case, it took her a couple of years to finally figure out that she was exactly where she was supposed to be.

As of this post I am already halfway through Ms. Tomeo’s book, and am enjoying the read.  Many of the points she made last evening are expanded upon in the text, and the author provides some very useful citations from Scripture of the concepts she discusses in the book.  That combination of Scripture, personal experience, and common sense make this guidebook to discovering God’s Will for you – His”Bucket List” for your life – highly engaging for both Catholics and Non-Catholics alike.  And as Ms. Tomeo mentioned she had never visited the CIC before last evening, hopefully the powers that be will invite her back again when the weather is more friendly, to talk more about her experiences as a journalist and a Catholic who is learning as she goes.