A little while ago, I was talking with someone about how the Church cares for the poor, works for justice in our world, and does all that we can to promote peace. I said that we do these things not because we’re “do gooders” or hippies, but because it is our responsibility as Christians.

I forget the context of the conversation, but it was a pretty standard response to whatever was asked, straight from Catholic Social Teaching 101. I will never forget the response:

But why should we care about this world? If we believe in heaven, who cares if people are poor or die? Shouldn’t our only focus be on getting souls into heaven?

Rarely am I caught off guard by a question, but this one certainly got me. I could see what the person was getting at, I could see why they would ask this, but there were just so many problems with that way of thinking that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily I have a good internal filter and regrouped, because my first thought was, “So, are you suggesting that we just mercy kill everyone who has a tough life so that we can ‘send them to heaven?'” That would not have been a pastorally appropriate response.

I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but it got me thinking, theologically, how to best answer this question. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer three reasons why we care about protecting life, and really, the entire physical world:

1. Creation was created by God, it is good in itself, and is a vessel for experiencing God.

2. The human person is more than just a “soul” or spiritual body, but is fundamentally a physical being.

3. Salvation is not simply an other-worldly experience, one completely removed from our reality.

Is this a complete list? By no means. But I think it offers a foundation for a Catholic view of the world that must be behind everything we do. Unless we accept these three points as a basis for our faith, we might struggle to understand much of what we do and why we do it, leading us to ask tragic questions like, “Why should we care about life at all?”

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Everyone knows St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua. They’re arguably the most famous saints in the history of the Church. Most people know of St. Clare, if for nothing else, that she was associated with St. Francis. And all throughout the world, the name Padre Pio has become more and more popular after being canonized a little over a decade ago. When most people think of the Franciscans, these names come to mind.

But… we’re an 800 year old movement. We are by far the largest religious family that has ever existed in the Church, and we’ve had some holy people along the way. Surely we have more than four saints, right?

Coming up with the exact number was hard to find (typical Franciscans, right?). If you include all of the saints who were professed as Secular Franciscans before becoming associated with another Order, the number is around 177, but even conservatively estimated, we’re well into the 100s.

That’s a lot of holy men and women. And I think we should remember them. In this week’s video, I’ve selected seven Franciscan saints that I think everyone should know, and offered my take on the holiness of our charism. If you stick around to the end, you might even get a quick joke at the expense of the Dominicans (no offense Dominicans!)

Among the many ridiculous things that critics of the Catholic Church say about us, none is more bizarre than the attack that we are “cannibals.” Taking our doctrine of the real presence a bit too literally (and forgetting that they, mostly fundamentalist Christians, also have communion services in which they read Jesus’ words “this is my body”) they talk about us as if we were offering a live human sacrifice on the altar and sharing it among the congregation.

But unlike some of the other doctrines for which we are criticized in a ridiculous way (venerating Mary, baptizing babies, having a pope, etc.) I have the sense that most Catholics don’t know how to defend themselves on this issues. In fact, I suspect that many Catholics actually make the situation worse, misunderstanding our doctrine and perpetuating misunderstandings in their attackers.

We believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist… but we do not believe that it is actual flesh and blood. In this case, “real” takes on a very different significance than we are used to.

That’s the topic of these week’s Catholicism in Focus, the first of the season. Theologically, what are we actually saying when we say that Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Now, as a caveat not in the video (a reason why you should read the blog as well and not just watch the video!) there have been what are called “Eucharistic miracles” on various occasions in which the host has appeared to bleed. I have intentionally left these instances out of the video, not because I do not believe in them or because they challenge the point I’m saying, but simply because they are the exception. Regardless of whether or not you believe in such miracles, they are miracles precisely because they act against the normal way of things—the normal Eucharist that we celebrate does not bleed real blood because that is not what we believe is happening. If God so chooses to make it bleed so that some may have faith, as it appears may have happened a handful of times in history, then God is capable of such miracles, but they serve as the exception to the rule, not the norm.

Anyway, that might make more sense after watching the video, so you should do that first. Also, you should come back every Monday this semester for new episodes!

On Monday, one of our brothers introduced prayer by saying, “Since it is now December 17, we will begin morning prayer with O Come O Come Emmanuel,” to which another brother said, “Which is the ONLY time that this song should be sung. None of this ‘first week of Advent’ stuff.” At least two people rolled their eyes and said, “yes, we know how you feel.”

We have interesting communal prayers in our house…

Who knew that even the classic Advent hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” could be controversial? For some, it is a very serious issue, one with strict rules and strong opinions. For others, it’s just a great Advent hymn that should be sung in the same way that people vote in Chicago: early and often.

So what’s the big deal? Why do some think that the song is meant for only one week of the year and others think it can be sung all throughout Advent? Well, it has everything to do with the origins of its source material, the O Antiphons. This week on Catholicism In Focus, I explain what they are and how they relate to the beloved hymn.

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Unfortunately, this episode will be the final one of the year! I’m on vacation with my family for the next few weeks, but will be back in January with more episodes. Have a Merry Christmas!

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.