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Don’t let Christmas take you by surprise: lessons for Advent from the Church

null / Lisa Missenda / Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Nov 28, 2022 / 06:36 am (CNA).

The First Sunday of Advent 2022 is Nov. 27, exactly four weeks before the Sunday of Christmas this year, and while the Church provides this time to allow you to be caught by the joy of the Incarnation, you can be easily caught by surprise that it is Christmas. To help remedy this surprise, the Church provides songs, signs, and symbols to enter into the season of Advent more fruitfully.

Here are three ways the Church teaches us about the meaning of the season:

Advent hymns

Many of the customary hymns for Advent highlight the movement of the soul toward what Pope Francis termed in a 2014 homily on Advent as a “horizon of hope.” No hymn epitomizes this better than “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its overtones of expectation and its mournful remorse over the state of man, captive to sin. The cultivation of hope and expectation is also seen in Advent hymns such as “O Come Divine Messiah” and “People Look East.” 

The commingled darkness and hope that God will fulfill his promises, a theme characteristic of Advent, deepens with songs like the Spanish carol “Alepun.” The lyrics of “Alepun” move the faithful into an experience of waiting with a pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary while the rhythm and percussion evoke donkey hooves clattering across the plains of Israel to Bethlehem.

Church decor

Advent is a season of penance marked by joy and, in many ways, a little Lent. This is why the colors of purple and pink — with their ties to penance and the Lord’s Passion, and the joy of Laetare Sunday when Lent is almost over — are the colors of Advent. But did you know that the deep purple of Advent has a blue hue to it to teach the faithful in symbol about the Marian heart of the season?

The lack of church decor also teaches about the penitential nature of the season. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the lack of flowers on the altar, the restrained use of instruments, and the absence of the resounding and angelic Gloria all lead to a deliberate emptiness.

The emptiness will first be filled on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and, later, flowers will be allowed on Gaudete Sunday as the first expression of the festivity of the coming Christmas.

Saints and solemnities 

Following the solemnity of Christ the King, Advent begins with echoes of the power of Christ coming in glory before it stretches forward to the humble beginnings of the mystery of the Incarnation.

This means there is a certain focus the Church helps people enter into even in the way the liturgical calendar is marked by very few memorials of saints: just five in the course of the four weeks, most of whom are deeply embedded in the celebration of and preparation for Christmas in various countries.

St. Nicholas is the best known of the five: the generous bishop whose gifts inspired generations of lore and giving. St. Lucy, whose desire to give charity to prisoners in the catacombs meant she wore candles in her hair to free her hands, is another well-known saint with connections to Christmas whom we celebrate in Advent.

The Church also shows forth the importance of Mary during this season, which places her Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, a solemnity and holy day of obligation, at the very beginning of the liturgical year. Combined with the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the Church shows forth what God has wrought in a soul full of grace — a foreshadowing of the entire mystery of salvation in one soul.

Though there are many more signs and symbols that communicate the meaning of Advent, these can assist you as you enter the season of expectation, building anticipation for the celebration of Christmas so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.

Carlo Acutis comic book: Meet the teenager who loved the Eucharist

A scene from “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist” written by Philip Kosloski, the founder of Voyage Comics & Publishing. / Courtesy of Voyage Comics & Publishing

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 27, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Carlo Acutis slid his books into his backpack when he heard the parish priest knocking at the door. The hoodie-clad teenager had just finished teaching his first catechism class by himself.

“Father Antonio, I ... I don’t know what to do!” Carlo asked for advice. “These kids don’t love the Mass like I do! How do I help them understand the beauty of the Mass?”

Placing his hand on Carlo’s shoulder, the priest pointed him to a picture of a church hanging on the wall. It was San Francesco in Lanciano, Italy.

“Inside it is a Eucharistic miracle that reminds me why every Mass is a miracle, even when it may seem boring,” the priest explained, referring to a miracle where the Eucharistic host visibly transformed into flesh and blood at Mass.

So begins “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist” — a new comic book that tells the story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, a young millennial who used his knowledge of computers and technology to document the world’s Eucharistic miracles online and draw people closer to God.

“Meet Carlo, an Italian fifteen-year-old computer geek who loved superheroes and video games, but most of all, the Holy Eucharist,” the book’s description reads.

Inspired by that love, Carlo completed a Eucharistic miracle display and website before he died in 2006 from leukemia. He was 15.

The comic book rewinds time to tell the story of a seemingly ordinary teenager with an extraordinary devotion to God. Published by Voyage Comics and the Augustine Institute, the book’s pages burst with color and movement, inviting readers to walk with Carlo. You can purchase the book here for $6.99.

“[I] simply put myself into Carlo's shoes and wrote the comic book through his eyes,” Philip Kosloski, the writer of the new book, told CNA.

The 36-year-old, who currently lives in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, revealed his inspiration for the project.

“When I first heard of him a few years ago, I was fascinated by him and his life,” Kosloski said of Carlo. “He had a deep devotion to the Eucharist as a teenager and was blown away by Eucharistic miracles.”

Carlo had also impacted his life on a more personal level.

“I had a similar experience as a teenager when I learned about Eucharistic miracles and I saw the panels he created that were touring the United States several years ago, though at the time I didn't know they were by him,” he said.

In 2018, Kosloski founded Voyage Comics & Publishing with the mission to create exceptional entertainment, informed by Catholic values, that inspires people to live a heroic life. To prepare for his latest project, Kosloski said that he read every book he could find — and even contacted the Acutis' secretary in Italy. 

“The family had a chance to look over the script and they gave the ‘green light,’” he said.

The comic book depicts Carlo as a relatable teenager: a video game enthusiast, a caretaker of animals and the environment, a soccer player, and an admirer of superheroes. But he also stands out as someone who defends classmates with disabilities against bullies, helps the homeless and the poor, attends daily Mass, and lives by the motto “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven.”

In other words, a superhero worthy of a comic book.

A scene from “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist” written by Philip Kosloski, the  founder of Voyage Comics & Publishing. Courtesy of Voyage Comics & Publishing
A scene from “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist” written by Philip Kosloski, the founder of Voyage Comics & Publishing. Courtesy of Voyage Comics & Publishing

Available for shipping in November, the book took roughly four to five months to produce. Kosloski said he had the help of experienced artists, such as Jay David Ramos. 

He called Ramos, the book’s colorist, “a rising star at Marvel Comics.” 

“He is a devout Catholic, originally from the Philippines, who is living in California and is a full-time comic book artist,” Kosloski said. “He has been part of the Voyage Comics team for the past few years and is always eager to color the lives of ‘superhero’ saints, taking a break from his normal work.”

Kosloski’s favorite scene in the book, he said, is a section that focuses on Acutis’ experience playing video games. 

“It is based off a real event in his life where he saw his friends get overly frustrated with video games,” he said. “He learned that video games need to be moderated and [that] was part of the reason why he limited himself to one hour of video games a week.”

A scene from “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist” written by Philip Kosloski, the  founder of Voyage Comics & Publishing. Courtesy Voyage Comics & Publishing
A scene from “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist” written by Philip Kosloski, the founder of Voyage Comics & Publishing. Courtesy Voyage Comics & Publishing

For his part, Kosloski hoped that the book would speak to both Catholic and non-Catholic readers.

“I hope Catholics will see an enthusiastic teenager in the pursuit of the truth,” he said. “He found the truth behind the Eucharist and couldn’t contain his excitement at what he found. He had to spread his love, hoping the entire world would come to see the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.”

“For non-Catholics, I hope they see a teenager on fire with Christ's love,” he added. “He not only shared his love of the Eucharist but also served the poor and cared for what Pope Francis would call our, ‘common home.’”

He concluded: “His life shows that God can work through anyone, no matter their age.”

Meet the Catholic bishop who began a pro-life ministry for pregnant women in need

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 21, 2022. / Screenshot from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 26, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

When the U.S. Catholic bishops first launched a nationwide initiative to help pregnant women in need, the chair of their pro-life committee envisioned every parish becoming a pro-life hub.

“Our hope was … that every parish ought to be a place where any woman can come,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City told CNA. “And the parish would be really prepared to connect them with the best resources in the area — and hopefully, we have somebody that would walk with them through that process.”

Today, the bishops’ pro-life parish-based ministry, Walking with Moms in Need, promises to do just that — by encouraging Catholics to support and “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women facing difficult situations. 

Naumann oversaw its launch in 2020 when he served as chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Now, two years later, the 73-year-old archbishop sees the ministry only gaining momentum after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a ruling that frees states to decide abortion policy. 

The pro-life issue is a personal one for Naumann. His father was tragically murdered, he disclosed, when he was still in his mother’s womb. She had a difficult pregnancy with him, as she did with his older brother. Growing up, he watched as his mother, who never remarried, worked as a Catholic school teacher and, then, a principal. 

“I could see the struggle that a single mother goes through,” he remembered. 

At the same time, he said, those circumstances “oddly, probably contributed to me becoming a priest.” He pointed to his parish priest, who took an interest in him and his brother because they grew up without a father. 

Naumann was ordained a priest in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. He first took an active role in Catholic pro-life leadership when, in 1984, the archbishop in St. Louis invited him to lead the pro-life apostolate in that archdiocese. 

But, he urged, “It was an issue I always felt strongly about.”

A call to action

Speaking with CNA at the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, Naumann recognized the overturning of Roe as a “significant” decision — and a call to action.

“Those states where they do have protective laws for women and children, that means they need to even have more support for moms and for their children,” he said of states that have restricted abortion. “I think Walking with Moms is very important in those states.”

Naumann also expressed concern about states that remain largely unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision, including his state of Kansas, where a pro-life amendment on the ballot recently failed. He also worried about states enacting laws “maybe even more horrendous” than Roe v. Wade.

“In those states, it becomes very important too, because the children we can't protect with the law, we can [protect] with love and [by] surrounding the mother and the child with the support system,” he said.

Walking with Moms in Need, in part, began in anticipation of Roe’s reversal, Naumann revealed.

“We saw that that was a possibility,” he said, before adding, “But you know, frankly, I didn't think I would see it in my lifetime.”

“There was in my mind, why, if that happened, are we really prepared to support women — even more women and children,” he said. “And so I'm really glad we took that initiative and the Holy Spirit kind of guided us.”

He described how his own diocese is participating in Walking with Moms in Need: by making parishes aware of the resources available in addition to identifying the gaps where help is needed. 

“I've told our pastors, there's no excuse for any of our parishes not being able to connect women with the help they need and to be prepared to accompany them,” Naumann stressed.

He called the bishops’ pro-life pastoral plan “multifaceted,” with a focus on four areas: prayer; education within and outside the church; pastoral care, and advocacy. While much of the focus on abortion has been on the courts and legislation, Naumann emphasized the importance of building a pro-life culture.

“In the long run, we have to build a consensus within the culture that killing our own children is not the way we want to address difficult pregnancies,” he said.

Detroit bishop calls for penitential Advent after passage of abortion initiative

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit. CNA file photo. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 26, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Detroit is calling on Michigan Catholics to spend the first two weeks of Advent doing penance following the passage of a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to allow abortion on demand.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron addressed a letter to all parishioners the day after Proposition 3 passed with 56.7% of the vote. 

“Abortion is now legal in Michigan at an unprecedented level, and millions of lives are at stake. We must pray and ask God for his mercy upon us for allowing this evil to happen in our state,” Vigneron wrote.

“For this reason, I want to invite all the faithful to join me in the first two weeks of Advent, from November 27 to December 9, in doing penance, giving alms, praying, and fasting. We must use these spiritual practices to make reparations for the great sin of abortion in our midst,” he said. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Jesus called on his followers to strive for “interior penance,” defined as a “radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed” (No. 1431). Through almsgiving, prayer and fasting, Christians can “express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (No. 1434).

This year, as part of the Detroit Archdiocese’s “I AM HERE” campaign, special eucharistic Holy Hours will be offered at 7 p.m. every day of Advent. The campaign was started in June in conjunction with the beginning of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Eucharistic Revival initiative.

The first Holy Hour will take place at 7 p.m. on Nov. 27 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

In his letter, Vigneron also underlined the importance of offering pregnant women in need help during time of crisis.

“We also renew our commitment to accompanying women and families in need, with greater resolve than ever. This work is more critical now, as the unborn have been stripped of their basic right to life and their mothers face the harmful lie that the death of their children is a solution to their struggles. 

“In response to the passing of Proposal 3, we must step forward with no judgment, open arms, and effective resources to help women reject the ‘solution’ of death and empower them to choose life for their children,” Vigneron wrote.

He singled out the Walking with Moms in Need initiative and the Project Rachel as two important ministries that help pregnant women, mothers, and children, and those who have been harmed by abortion.

Christmas 2022: Small Catholic businesses offer meaningful gifts for all

Ideal for babies, toddlers, and young children, Little Saints Stories tell the story of a saint through simple writings and illustrations. / Francesca Pollio Fenton / CNA

Denver, Colo., Nov 26, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

As we approach Christmas, it’s time to pull out the list of all those for whom you need to buy gifts. To help you check off your list, we’ve put together a list of Catholic businesses that offer meaningful gifts for your loved ones.

Litany NYC

Started by two friends with a passion for fashion, Litany strives to design their clothing as a way to draw one’s soul to God. This women’s clothing line caters to the “intentional and unique state of each woman as she blossoms into who she was created to be.” Each item is hand-sewn by a small team in New York, is made-to-measure, and is entirely supplied within the United States. You can find beautiful scarfs, blouses, dresses, purses, and more. One of their newer pieces is the Cana scarf, which was inspired by the Wedding Feast at Cana. The design aims to restore the significance of the vocation of marriage and remind women about the beauty of her vocation in any stage of life.

Telos Art Shop

From clothing to jewelry, Telos Art is a family-owned Catholic company that sells necklaces, rings, and earrings with the intention of pointing the wearer toward a “higher end.” This shop offers the perfect gifts for ladies who love to display their faith through jewelry. Items that can be purchased include stunning crucifix necklaces, Marian medals, saint medals, and more. They also have men’s jewelry!

Little Saint Stories

If you have littles ones on your list, then a book from Little Saint Stories would be the perfect gift. Ideal for babies, toddlers, and young children, these books tell the story of a saint through simple writings and illustrations. They serve as a great way to teach children about the inspiring lives and virtues of the saints from a young age. There are books on St. John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis of Assisi, and more. In addition to the book, you can also get the accompanying prayer pal. These prayer pals are plush toys of the same saint your book is written about!

Abundantly Yours

With a mission to equip women to “grow deeper with Christ,” Abundantly Yours has the perfect gifts for that young woman in your life who loves her faith. The Remain in Me Journal, inspired by John 15:4, is a great option for anyone who enjoys prayer journaling or writing notes during the homily at Mass. The shop also sells handmade rosaries, plus stickers and magnets with inspiring messages that could serve as stocking stuffers!

The Catholic Woodworker

And for that special man on your list, The Catholic Woodworker is your place to go. This business strives to inspire men to live out their vocations as husbands and fathers through the rosary. You can find wooden rosaries and other devotional items such as crucifixes, home altars, and prayer cards. These handcrafted and masculine pieces are sure to inspire any man to grow in his faith.

Christmas is the perfect time to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas through the gifts we give. By gifting faith-based items to our loved ones, we can remind others that Jesus is the reason for the season.

‘Everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation’: Bishops respond to priests’ fear of false abuse claims

Left to right: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Worth-South Bend, Indiana, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston. / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

A recent survey of priests found growing distrust of bishops and major fears that they would not get their support if faced with false abuse accusations.

Eighty-two percent of priests responding to a survey conducted by The Catholic Project, a research group at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said they live in constant fear of being falsely accused of sexual abuse.

And only 51% of diocesan priests believe their bishop would support them during an abuse investigation, according to the survey, which was released in October. Meanwhile, only 36% are confident their diocese would provide the resources necessary to defend themselves during a legal investigation.

CNA discussed those survey results with bishops attending the fall general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore earlier this month. During the annual gathering, the U.S. bishops marked the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Charter protocols the conference adopted in 2002 for responding to abuse allegations against clergy.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco called the survey’s findings “very troubling,” adding that bishops must “support the priests that are having difficulties and troubles” and “be compassionate and patient with them.”

Cordileone said the possibility of career-ending accusations is even greater in some parts of the country than in others.

“Priests are under a lot of pressure, and we need to appreciate that, especially in the climate in some states, like our own (California), that once again has lifted the statute of limitations. Now everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation,” Cordileone said.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston voiced his sympathy with priests’ concerns, saying that priests live with the knowledge that they are “just one accusation away from retirement” and that in many cases, “if you are accused of something, that’s pretty much the end.”

Priests’ lack of trust in their bishop contributes directly to burnout. Young priests seem particularly vulnerable, with 60% of diocesan priests under the age of 45 voicing at least some level of burnout, according to the Catholic Project survey.

Connecting with and helping individual priests feel supported is a “challenge for bishops,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, told CNA.

“I think it is important,” Rhoades said, adding that he’s had to ask his staff for additional support “so that I can have time with the priests.”

Yet, when it comes to sexual abuse investigations, those challenges are further magnified. “You’re trying to be sensitive to the victim, alleged victim, and be there for them. Then there’s the priest,” Rhoades stated. “So it’s a really, really difficult thing to deal with, but we have to.” 

To Reed, the solution to priests’ distrust of bishops is “less administration, more personal contact.” In Reed’s opinion, there “has to be a missionary aspect” of a bishop’s work. “A cup of coffee, you know, with a priest, celebrate the morning Mass, go out to dinner, maybe stay over the rectory, that kind of thing.”

Though a bishop can work hard to improve the trust with his priests, there is “nothing you really can do” about the one-and-done nature of abuse accusations, Reed conceded.

For Cordileone, it depends on the priest in question and his track record. Cordileone said that if “it’s clear that he’s innocent, and he’s been a respected pastor his whole life … (the priest’s bishop) has to protect his reputation … even despite the vitriol he’s going to receive. I think that that’s one thing that can help to rebuild trust with the priests.”

Shannon Mullen and Zelda Caldwell contributed to this story.

Not just for students: Here’s what adults can expect at SEEK23 in St. Louis

Ryan and Sara Huelsing, parishoners at St. Joseph parish in Cottleville, Missouri, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Ryan leads a men's group at his parish and both hope to get involved with FOCUS' Making Missionary Disciples track. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 25, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The upcoming Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference is expected to draw 20,000 people to St. Louis for talks, workshops, entertainment, prayer, and worship, with the goal of encouraging and equipping Catholics to live and share their faith. The Jan. 2–6, 2023, gathering, SEEK23, will be the first in-person national conference for FOCUS since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eileen Piper, FOCUS’ vice president of lifelong mission, told CNA recently that a new conference track called Making Missionary Disciples aims to help adult attendees become equipped to better share their faith.

While most of FOCUS’ programming is geared toward students, the Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for priests, bishops, diocesan and parish staff, FOCUS alumni, parishioners, and benefactors who “long to see their parish, diocese, family, or community experience deep transformation in Jesus Christ and who desire to be a part of the solution,” the organization says.

“This really is a unique opportunity, and you’re going to get hands-on experience,” Piper told CNA.

“This is practical training. It’s made for you to take into your state of life — so if you are a leader in a parish, you are going to be equipped to be able to step into your work in the parish in a brand-new way.”

Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS
Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS

Piper said she, like many Catholics, has friends and family members in her life who are no longer practicing their faith. The Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for those who want to do a better job of sharing their faith, she said, not on “street corners” but primarily with people they already know and love.

“It starts to practically equip you so that you’re feeling more confident and more comfortable entering into faith conversations with those that you are already in relationship with,” she explained.

The track will feature speeches and workshops put on by nationally recognized Catholic speakers such as Father Josh Johnson, Sister Bethany Madonna, and sEdward Sri. Conference attendees will also be given time for prayer and fellowship, daily Mass, and networking opportunities, FOCUS says.

Through the workshops, “you’ll be working on your personal testimony, so you can just in a very comfortable way share your own story of how you like what Jesus means to you, and why it matters.”

Piper said as part of the conference they also hope to create opportunities for parish priests to connect “brother to brother” and discuss with one another what is working well in their parishes. She also said FOCUS will be offering a Lenten Bible study in 2023 for anyone who wants to participate, and they will be especially suggesting that SEEK23 attendees join in on it and invite others to join as well.

Since its founding in the 1990s, FOCUS has sent missionaries to college campuses across the United States and abroad to share the Catholic faith primarily through Bible studies and small groups, practicing what it calls “The Little Way of Evangelization” — winning small numbers of people to the Catholic faith at a time through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same.

FOCUS has since 2015 been in the process of expanding beyond college campuses by creating a track designed to bring their relationship-based evangelization model to parishes. Almost two dozen parishes across the country, including one in the St. Louis Archdiocese, have FOCUS missionaries living and working there.

SEEK23 will be FOCUS’ first in-person conference since Indianapolis in 2019 and a smaller student leadership summit in Phoenix in the earliest days of 2020. Conferences for 2021 and 2022 were held online due to the pandemic.

Brian Miller, director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that St. Louis was chosen for SEEK in part because it is centrally located and convention-friendly, but also because the city is ripe for the kind of renewal that FOCUS aims to provide.

Beyond the young people and students who will attend SEEK, Miller said they hope to use FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a launch pad for getting more mature Catholics excited about sharing their faith as well. He also said his office plans to host follow-up events for St. Louis Catholics to build upon what people will learn at SEEK about evangelization as well as provide them with resources to help them start Bible studies and small discipleship groups.

He said he hopes that as parishes in St. Louis “come together in their new parish realities” after an ongoing major merging and closing process, that “they have some common footing, some common training, and they have a common mission.”

SEEK23 registration is now open and costs $399 total for the full five days, regardless of whether you are a college or high school student or an adult. General passes for St. Louis residents cost $350. All registration options can be found here.

Christmas shopping? Check out these gifts handmade by monks and nuns

Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, make soap and candles which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. / Jeffrey Bruno

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

If you’re looking for unique handmade gifts for those on your list this Christmas, you’re going to love these delicious treats and original crafts created by Catholic monks and nuns. There’s something for everyone, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you helped support these religious brothers and sisters in their lives of faith and service.

Fruitcake

You know the old joke about how there’s only been one fruitcake ever made — it’s just been passed around and around and never eaten? Well, the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, don’t make that kind of fruitcake. Soaked in brandy and aged for three months, this cake “has converted many a fruitcake ‘atheist,’” according to its creators. Order a one-pound fruitcake for $24.95.

Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.
Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.

Fudge

The monks of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, make their famous fudge with premium chocolate and real butter. Try a 12-ounce gift box for $12.95.

Or try some fudge made with Kentucky bourbon from the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani. A 12-ounce box sells for $16.45.

Chocolates by Monastery Candy.
Chocolates by Monastery Candy.

Cookies

The Capuchin Poor Clare nuns make their famous butter cookies from their monastery in Denver. The “Clarisas” come in a beautiful gift box featuring an image of St. Clare and sell for $24 for a 1.5-pound box.

Clarisas' Cookies.
Clarisas' Cookies.

Caramels

The contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, are known for their delicious caramels, which they make by hand in order to support their way of life. A 9-ounce box sells for $13.75.

Coffee

The Wyoming Carmelites of Mystic Monk Coffee hand-roast their beans in small batches to support their community. The website CoffeeReview.com ranks their coffee among the highest of the coffees they review. A 12-ounce bag of their most popular flavor, Jingle Bell Java, sells for $13.95.

Hot sauce

The monks at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas make a tangy hot sauce from the habanero peppers grown in the monastery’s gardens. Benedictine Father Richard Walz began making his “Monk Sauce” while he was stationed in Belize, Central America. In 2003, he brought back some seeds from the peppers he grew there and created a tangy sauce made from the chilies along with onions, garlic, carrots, vinegar, salt, and “a few prayers thrown in for good measure.” How spicy is it? According to the abbey’s website, their Monk Sauce has a 250,000 Scoville Unit rating, while Tabasco’s habanero sauce earned a mere 7,000 Scoville Unit rating. Available in green, red, and smoked, the 5-ounce bottles sell for $11 each.

Soap

The nuns from the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, live a life of prayer through eucharistic adoration and dedication to the rosary. To support this way of life they create handmade candles and skin-care products, which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Create your own Christmas gift bag of two bars of soap, a hand cream, a jar candle, a face moisturizer, and a handmade rosary made from olive wood beads from the Holy Land for $50. The sisters also make hand-poured beeswax taper candles in small batches at the monastery, which they sell for $10 a pair.

Hand-painted china

The contemplative Sisters of the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York, support themselves by hand-painting chinaware. The exquisite, intricately-designed pieces make lovely Christmas gifts, and the china is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. Check out these gorgeous designs: a hand-painted serving bowl for $119 or this cookie jar for $89.  “All chinaware is done in solitude and in prayer, anonymously, and with love,” reads the sisters’ website.

Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.
Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.

What can the Maronite rite offer the Eucharistic Revival? Here’s what two Maronite bishops say

Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist. / Thoom/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 24, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

What can the Maronite Catholic Church offer to aid the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Revival that is currently underway in the United States?

The two Maronite bishops in the United States say the answer is the Maronite liturgy, with its deep reverence and focus on Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist.

The U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative by the U.S. bishops to inspire Eucharist belief, follows a 2019 Pew Research study that suggested that only about one-third of U.S. Catholics believe the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ. 

"I think what we have to offer, of course, is the liturgy, which is the focus of our eucharistic reverence and amazement,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn told CNA at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore Nov. 16.

Mansour said that his parishes offer eucharistic adoration and added that when on retreats the priests will adore the Blessed Sacrament for one hour each night. 

He added that he thinks the Maronite way of receiving Communion by intinction — when the priest dips the Lord's body into his precious blood and places it on the communicant’s tongue — is a “very healthy way” to receive.

“It's almost a way of receiving Communion that you have the best of all the worlds. You have it receiving on the tongue; you have it receiving the body and blood; and you have it where you have a moment just to receive Our Lord and reflect on him,” he said. 

“So I like that practice, and I notice some in the Latin Church have copied it, although I don’t think it’s the norm,” he said.

Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles said that “the Eucharist must constitute our identity,” noting that “all of us are members of that body of Christ.”

Zaidan, who was also at the bishops’ conference, said that the suffering, the needy, the brilliant, and the intelligent are all part of the body of Christ and “we have to share and put everything in common to help others.”

“From that point,” he said, “in our Maronite liturgy, we have that beautiful reverence to the Eucharist. In everything we do, we go back to the source and summit of our faith as well. Christ’s presence, forever present.”Mansour said that to aid Catholics in their faith in the Real Presence, “I feel strongly it’s good for us to see what we can do to bring people back to church.”

“So we have to have beautiful liturgy, good choir, good preaching, welcoming, youth programs, young adult programs, organization, and we can’t just assume that because the church doors are open, people are going to want to come,” he said.

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras

Mansour said that he thinks the Maronite Church had success during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions because his parish doors were left open while abiding by state and local ordinances.

“And I think because we did that, people came from outside and even our own people as well as non-Maronites came in and found a wonderful treasure. The Maronite Church is a treasure and they made their home there,” he said. 

“So I think the Maronite Church has to just keep doing what she’s always done over the ages. That is just to be a church, be an aesthetical, monastic, prayerful, strong witness to Christ, to the world,” he said.

Mansour said that the laity can inspire faith in others by having a devotion to Jesus, “especially in the presence of the tabernacle.”

“You can come early to Mass and stay a few minutes after to give thanks. You can participate in the liturgy. When the parish does have eucharistic adoration, you could be one of the first to be there and to really believe it. I think your witness is such that you could inspire a few people just by being a faithful man or woman,” he said of the laity.

As far as his role as a bishop, Mansour said that he can inspire eucharistic devotion by being devoted to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. 

“I've learned a few things over the years from others. One of them is an older bishop that I could see every time he’d celebrate the liturgy. He’d go kneel after liturgy, in front of the tabernacle, just to give thanks,” he said.

He added that he didn’t cultivate a strong devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament when in seminary, but he eventually did, and said that “it became such a powerful force in my life.”

“I want to be close to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist everywhere I go. So that’s why I’ve asked all of our priests to put the tabernacle back in the center of the churches. A very clear sign of Christ’s presence,” he said.

Mansour said that one of his predecessors, Archbishop Francis Mansour Zayek, “used to say the life of the priest is like a vigil candle in front of the sacrament. His life is consumed in drawing attention to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s the role of a priest.”

Mansour said that the Blessed Virgin Mary can be an inspiration for all to be “a tabernacle for God’s presence” just as she was when Jesus was in her womb. He said he encourages praying the rosary as well.

Zaidan holds the same sentiments about the Mother of God, noting that “there is always a special mention of her in our prayers” in the Maronite Church.

He said that Marian devotions such as the rosary and the Miraculous Medal can aid eucharistic devotion as well. Zaidan said that all of the Maronite patriarchal sees are always placed under the patronage of the Blessed Mother.

“And if you go to every hometown in Lebanon, if the Blessed Mother is not the patroness of that town, you’d see special shine [to her] or something,” he said.

“She senses our needs in so many ways and she knows in her heart to intercede on our behalf as well,” Zaidan said.

Remembering the hundreds of thousands of Christians martyred in Vietnam 

This work of art was displayed at St. Peter's on the occasion of the Vatican's celebration of the canonization of 117 Vietnamese martyrs on July 19, 1988. / Fair use.

Denver, Colo., Nov 24, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Christianity arrived in Vietnam in 1533, and many Vietnamese Christians became saints and martyrs in different waves of persecution. The known and unknown who died for Jesus Christ are honored Nov. 24, the feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

From 1630 to 1886, somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Christians faced martyrdom in the country, often after being held captive and brutally tortured. Others were forced to flee to the mountains and the forests or be exiled to other countries.

The persecutions often came amid political changes and social tensions, especially under emperors who would adopt anti-Christian policies out of fear of foreign influence.

The feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs honors these many unnamed martyrs, represented by 117 known martyrs who died for the Catholic faith in Vietnam during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their number includes 96 Vietnamese,11 Spaniards, and 10 French. Eight of the group were bishops, 50 were priests, and 59 were lay Catholics. The lay Catholic saints include a 9-year-old child and Agnese Le Thi Thành, a mother of six.

Some of the priests were Dominicans, others were diocesan priests who belonged to the Paris Mission Society.

The martyrs are also grouped as “St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions.” St. Andrew Dung-Lac was born to poor non-Christian parents who entrusted him to a guardian who was a Catholic catechist. He was baptized and later ordained a priest in 1823. He served as a parish priest and missionary across Vietnam. He was imprisoned more than once and ransomed by the Catholic faithful.

He was martyred by beheading in Hanoi on Dec. 21, 1839.

Groups of Vietnamese martyrs were beatified by various popes. Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 martyrs together on June 19, 1988, praising their witness.

“How to remember them all? Even if we limited ourselves to those canonized today, we could not dwell on each of them,” the pope reflected in his homily for the canonization Mass. He compared the persecutions in Vietnam to that faced by the apostles and early Christians.

“Once again we can say that the blood of the martyrs is for you, Christians of Vietnam, a source of grace to progress in the faith,” he continued. “In you the faith of our fathers continues to be transmitted to the new generations. This faith remains the foundation of the perseverance of all those who, feeling authentically Vietnamese, faithful to their land, at the same time want to continue to be true disciples of Christ.” 

He added: “From the long line of martyrs, their sufferings, their tears comes the ‘harvest of the Lord.’ It is they, our teachers, who give me the great opportunity to present to the whole Church the vitality and greatness of the Vietnamese Church, its vigor, its patience, its ability to face difficulties of all kinds and to proclaim Christ. We give thanks to the Lord for what the Spirit generates abundantly among us!”

“All Christians know that the Gospel asks us to be submissive to men’s institutions out of love for the Lord, to do good, to behave like free men, to respect everyone, to love our brothers, to fear God, to honor the authorities and public institutions,” the pope said.

John Paul II said the Vietnamese martyrs began “a profound and liberating dialogue” with the Vietnamese people and culture. They proclaimed “the truth and universality of faith in God” and proposed “a hierarchy of values and of duties particularly suited to the religious culture of the whole oriental world.”

“Under the guidance of the first Vietnamese catechism, they bore witness to the fact that it is necessary to adore only one God, as the one God who created heaven and earth,” Pope John Paul II continued. “Faced with the coercive dispositions of the authorities regarding the practice of the faith, they affirmed their freedom of belief, arguing with humble courage that the Christian religion was the only thing they could not abandon, since they could not disobey the supreme sovereign: the Lord.” 

“Furthermore, they forcefully proclaimed their will to be loyal to the authorities of the country, without contravening all that was just and honest; they taught to respect and venerate their ancestors, according to the customs of their land, in the light of the mystery of the resurrection,” the pope said. 

“The Vietnamese Church, with her martyrs and through her own testimony, was able to proclaim her commitment and she will not to reject the country’s cultural tradition and legal institutions; on the contrary, she has declared and demonstrated that she wants to be incarnated in this country, faithfully contributing to the true growth of the homeland,” Pope John Paul II said.

The pontiff invoked the old Christian saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He also noted those who face persecution in the present day. 

“In addition to the thousands of faithful who, in past centuries, walked in Christ’s footsteps, there are still today those who work, sometimes in anguish and self-denial, with the sole ambition of being able to persevere in the Lord’s vineyard as faithful who understand the goods of the kingdom of God.”

The duty to work and pray for the coming of the kingdom of God, the pope said, is a “constant and rigorous interior activity” that “requires the patience and trusting expectation of those who know that God’s providence is working with them to make their efforts and also their suffering effective.”