To the outside observer, there is something mysterious about the Catholic mass. What with the funny costumes, various gestures, silent prayer, and even the Latin language, it would be easy to misconstrue what is going on with some magical incantation.

For just this, reason people have associated the origin of the phrase “Hocus Pocus” with the Catholic mass for centuries. While the actual origins of the phrase are unknown, all the way back in 1694 an Anglican priest suggested that it derived itself from the Latin phrase Hoc est enim corpus meum (this is my body) said during the Mass in Latin, a way for Protestants to make fun of Catholics. More recent speculators have even connected the “hokey pokey” dance to the same origin. And even though scholars have mostly debunked the former and completely debunked the latter, the fact that such ideas prevailed for centuries shows that there is at least an intuitive connection between the two. You can definitely see it being true, even if it isn’t.

Which presents an obvious question for us as Catholics: if what we are doing is not magic—and it most certainly is NOT—what is the difference between the sacraments and magic? An investigation of the two reveals differences in overall worldview, role of the minister, purpose of the ritual, and overall effect.

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“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.”

This is a quote from the Bible. The letter to the Ephesians to be exact. It is a part of what we called the “Word of God,” the codified and canonized list of individual writings meant to guide Christians in life. And it is completely antithetical to progress and 21st century morality.

As faithful Christians, texts like these appear to pose a difficulty for us, forcing us to choose between the Bible and our consciences. Or worse, they don’t challenge us at all but serve to reaffirm already distorted views of gender. What are we to do when we come across texts like these?

This week, Catholicism in Focus goes back to the beginning… the very beginning… to investigate this claim that women are inferior to men and are thus to remain subordinate. What do we make of this? How might we approach these texts in the future?

Are you excited? Have you been counting down the days with anticipation, filled with joy? Can you barely control yourself? Today’s the day!

The day for what, you ask? Advent beginning, of course!

If you’re not overwhelmed with excitement for the season, not filled with anticipation like a child, I can understand. Advent and Christmas can be extremely busy and even difficult times for many adults. The simplicity of the season as a child—making gingerbread houses, writing letters to Santa, and getting a pile of presents—has long since faded, and it has left many adults wondering, “what is there to get all that excited about? What are we even waiting for?”

This Advent, join me each week as I offer a reflection on the Sunday readings and the season, journeying together towards our great feast. This week, I look at the sense of excitement that we used to have as kids and suggest that there might be a pretty big reason to wait with anticipation as adults.

 

People, this is not a drill. There are only 25 shopping days left until Christmas. Also, maybe a little more importantly, there are only 25 days of preparation left until the most important Christian holiday of the year! (Many will argue Easter is more important, but as a Franciscan I have to go with Christmas. Topic for another time.)

At the time of writing this post and observing the vigil, the start of advent is a mere 54 hours away! That’s like… two days from now! And with Christmas being on a Tuesday this year, our fourth week of Advent is really only two days long, meaning that our time to prepare is drastically cut short.

And so I ask a very important question: are you ready?

If not, you’re going to be like me each and every year, loving the season but falling behind, surprised that Christmas is already here. Forget about Christmas shopping, what about spiritual nourishment? What a shame it is to run into the holiday without being ready.

This year, I hope that we can all make this season meaningful, that we can all put the effort in that we need. If you have any special forms of preparation, I would love to hear them! Leave a comment on the YouTube video or over on Facebook!

In the 19th century, of the (many) reasons that Catholics faced discrimination from their Protestant counterparts was over the issue of sex. While many Protestants had been swept up in the Victorian-era repression of sex, believing that sex was merely a means to an end and should be avoided except for the procreation of children, that all sexual desire should be suppressed, Catholics took a slightly different approach. Not only did we emphasize the importance of pleasure in sex, we freely talked about it, with Church leaders routinely commenting on sex in homilies or letters to the faithful. For those who thought that what happened in the bedroom was private and was no one’s business in the Church (even God’s?), the Catholic Church was a strange and promiscuous institution that one should be wary of.

Funny how the more things change the more things stay the same. Today, we’re still looked upon as strange by the outside world, but instead of being promiscuous and free we’re now seen as repressed and stuck up. And while our teachings have stayed the same all of these years, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that few people actually understand what’s at the root of these teachings. Why do we say what we do? What is at stake in terms of our definition of the human person? How does sexual activity require responsibility, morality, and (dare I say) even some virtue? Even for married couples, even for those in the privacy of their own bedrooms, the Church stands firm in believing that everything we do should reflect our faith. Marriage does not give someone the free pass to do anything they want just as a driver’s license doesn’t give someone free rein of the highway.

Obviously, there are many ways to exercise this and some may faithfully approach sex without coming to the same conclusions that we do. In fact, even within the Catholic Church, among the faithful and clergy alike, there is great debate surrounding our sexual teaching. To say that simply because someone disagrees with the official magisterium of the Church means that they are not taking this sacred act seriously would be a serious overgeneralization. There are many faithful ways to view the same issue.

What I present to you this week, then, is not meant to be dogmatic teaching inherent to the very nature of being a Christian. What I present is an attempt to understand the logic behind the Church’s teaching. Not everyone will accept this, I accept, but that is not my hope in taking on this topic. In a world so divided on such a controversial issue, my only hope is that people may come to a greater knowledge of why our teachings are the way they are so to engage them more critically in prayer and conversation. We’ve gotten a bad rap on this issue for centuries, and while some of it is certainly deserved, I think the vast majority of it springs from misunderstanding.