Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ask Ellen…And The Winner Is….

Thursdays are Ask Ellen days on AGOG.  I want to thank all of you who have submitted your questions to me.  I also want to encourage you to keep sending them.  If you have submitted questions, you know how easy it is.  If you haven’t, allow me to explain the process to you.  Click on the Ask Ellen tab on the left side of the home page.  That will take you to the most recent question.  On the top of the page, written in blue, is the Submit A Question tab.  Click on it and simply fill out the form.  The question will come directly to me and I will do my best to answer it.  I have a few that I received in the last few months.  But I will need many more in order to explain the things you want to understand.  It is my favorite feature of the site because it allows me to know what you want to know.  So please keep them coming.

But this month on AGOG is about you, our loyal readers.  I cannot thank you enough for your encouragement and support.  But I can offer a token of my appreciation to one lucky reader.  Anyone who submitted an Ask Ellen question this year was entered into a raffle to win AGOG merchandise.  Today, I am so pleased to announce the winner….

Kim Fetter in Pennsylvania has won a super sassy A Gift Of Grace Coffee Mug.  Kim, please send me your address and your mug should be under your tree by Christmas. 

For a chance to win our next Ask Ellen contest, submit your question today.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ask Ellen: I Need Your Help!

Time for more questions!  I need a new stockpile for 2012.  What have you always wanted to know about Christianity?  Or Catholicism?  Or Gracieland?  Or AGOG?

No question is too silly.  Remember when I answered who I liked better: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or John, Paul , George or Ringo?  Just send them in.  You may see your answered in 2012 on Ask Ellen.

You can submit a question through the AGOG site.  Simply click on the Ask Ellen tab.  At the top of that page, click the “Submit Your Question” tab.  It is that easy.

I will be drawing a winner from all the questions submitted and answered in 2011 in December.  One lucky person will win some lovely AGOG merchandise.

Submit yours today.  You know you want to know….

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Do priests actually plan those inane homilies, or do they just ramble on aimlessly until their throats hurt? Dan, NJ

Ouch!  Dan, I understand your frustration about the message sometimes.  I cannot speak for all priests but the ones I respect often try to make the message relevant.  One of the things that is unique about being Catholic is that the Scriptures are set.  We all follow the same pattern.  Unlike Protestant ministers, our priests can’t choose what passage they would like to preach on any given Sunday.  They get what they get.

This provides them with the challenge of preaching on a wide variety of subjects, not just what they want to focus on.  I think sometimes we hit on an area they are comfortable with and sometimes we don’t.  I wouldn’t want to be asked to speak on a topic I wasn’t very familiar with.  Would you?

I think we should cut the priests a break.  They have a lot on their plates.  And everybody has a bad day now and then.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can you provide a 'top ten' list of things parents can do with children to bring their faith into their homes on a daily basis? Joanie, ME

This is a great question, Joanie.  But the only way I can answer it authentically is to tell you the things I do with my own kids.  I admit I only came up with five.  But here is a list of what I do with my own children.

1- bless your kids
2- pray with them
3- read Scripture to them
4- pray for them…and let them see
5- make faith relevant

I make the Sign of the Cross on my kids’ foreheads before they leave my presence as often as I remember.  In fact, before leaving for school, they line up to be blessed.  I do this to remind them that God is with them when I am not and to ask God to protect them in my absence.

In our house, we mix formal and informal prayer.  My kids know that we pray before we eat.  They take turn saying the prayer they both learned in preschool, “Thank you God for family, friends and food.”  Simple but sweet.  I also encourage them to actually talk to God before going to bed.  This is less formal and more conversational.  This works well if they are anxious about something.

I try to tell them the story of Scripture.  This only works if you know it yourself.  Learn it so you can teach your kids.  Then talk about the story.  This is natural for kids and they love a good story.  We are part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.  Include them in it.

The best thing you can do for your kids is to let them see you pray.  Kids know when you aren’t being authentic.  They will see through you if it is a show.  It has got to matter to you if it is going to matter to them.

Making faith relevant is difficult.  Many kids feel that faith is what you do on Sunday or when you actually go to Church.  They aren’t interested in that.  It has to be a natural part of your conversations.  This can be done while you watch the news.  I have had conversations with my kids about what they have seen others doing.  I try to explain that we do things differently in our house because we have faith.  I would love to see more resources for parents on making faith relevant.  In fact, I’ve made it my life’s work.  Stayed tuned for Gracieland.  My prayer is that it helps in this area.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ask Ellen: What’s the deal with relics? Is there any Biblical basis to it? Pat, MD

I saved this question for this week as we celebrated All Saints Day .  Thanks for asking, Pat.  Relics are items that are associated with a person declared a saint by the Church.  There are different classes of relics depending on how close the object came to the person.  For instance, you may have something that touched the body of a saint or you might have a piece of cloth actually worn by the person.

I’d like to focus on the Biblical basis for the practice because I think many people will be shocked to know that it is in fact in the Bible.  Catholics get a bad rap for saints in general and this relic stuff specifically.  You can imagine my joy when I discovered the practice of keeping relics within the very pages of Scripture.  I know I am outing myself as a true geek right now.  But I really was legitimately excited when I found it.

I’ve kept you waiting long enough.  The practice is described in Acts 19:11-12.  Allow me to quote it to you:  “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and evil spirits came out of them.”

Bingo!  There it is.  Right in the Bible that some claim to follow literally.  Please promise me something, faithful Ask Ellen reader. Don’t automatically assume that everything Catholics do is extra-Biblical.  In fact, if reading Ask Ellen has done nothing else for you, I hope it causes you to pause and question.  Dig deeper to find out why we do things as Catholics.  I think you will be surprised is most cases that the answers are both logical and Biblical.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ask Ellen- What is the apocrypha? -Cindy, NC

Great question, Cindy.  Thanks.  The Apocrypha is a name given by some to the seven books that have been removed from Protestant Bibles.  Catholics do not call these books the Apocrypha because they are part of our Bible.  The books are: Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, as well as longer versions of Daniel and Esther

To put it in the simplest terms I can, Luther and many after him rejected these books based on the fact that they were not part of the Hebrew Canon at the time of the Reformation.  Most Protestant Bibles do not contain these seven books or have them in section in the back known to them as The Apocrypha.

The Catholic Bible accepts the books for two reasons.  Firstly, the Jewish Canon was not fixed in Jesus’ time.  Therefore, we cannot be completely sure which books were included.  But more importantly, the first Christians, including Paul, used the Septuagint to preach to the Greek-speaking world.  This contained these seven books.  Jesus Himself actually quoted Scripture from the Septuagint.  When the Catholic Church developed its canon it used the Greek translation of the Septuagint that the Apostles and early Church Fathers used which included these books.

If you’d like to learn more about this, I recommend the following article:

Oh and one more thing that bugs Ask Ellen….If you throw out Maccabees, how do you explain Hanukkah?  It seriously perplexes me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask Ellen: What is your favorite Christian song currently? Hope, ME

This is very difficult for me to answer.  I love music and try to surround myself with it.  I go through phases where I listen to one song over and over and then other times when I don’t listen to the song for months.

At this moment, I would say my favorite is “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris.

Cut and paste this link to hear the song:

The song came to my attention last year at a presentation at my daughter’s school.  A family friend who is a Sister Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came to school to do a presentation on vocations and in particular her order.  She shared a video with this song in the background.  The video was of Sisters taking care of fellow nuns who were old and infirm.  The song showed how beautiful this was.  They were taking care of their own.  What made it more powerful for me is that these were the Sisters who educated me.  I couldn’t help but think that some of those nuns that required care were Sisters who taught me.  It comforted me to know that they were being cared for with such love and compassion.

That is what we are called to as the Body of Christ.  We must be willing to pay the price.  We need to have humble hearts that give.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ask Ellen: If the Sabbath is Saturday, why do we go to church on Sunday? -Tom, PA

Thanks for your question, Tom.  In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is on Saturday.  We know Jesus was a devout Jew so He would have observed the Sabbath on Saturday.  The Christians began to observe the Sabbath on Sundays after Jesus’ Resurrection.  The Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the dead on the “first day of the week” (Luke 24:1).  This was Sunday.

The Christian tradition has kept to observing the Sabbath on Sunday since its earliest time.  Catholics can choose to keep the vigil (Saturday evening) in observance of the Sabbath on Sunday and that is why we go on Saturday.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ask Ellen: Can you explain Papal infallibility? As a non Catholic, I never understood this concept. -Ed, PA

Great question, Ed.  This is one of the most misunderstood things of the Catholic faith. (and one we often get a bad rap for).  Catholics believe that Jesus made Peter the head of the Church. (Think you are the rock and on this rock I will build my Church).  The Bible supports this.  If you read Acts of the Apostles carefully, you will see that the other apostles often deferred to Peter in decision making. (see the first Council in Jerusalem).

One of the marks of the Catholic Church is that it is apostolic.  This means that there has been an unbroken chain of command from Peter to Benedict XVI.  The office of the Papacy is unique in this respect.

This unbroken line of succession depends on the power of the Holy Spirit for guidance and that is where papal infallibility comes in.  Catholics believe that in matters concerning doctrine, the Pope doesn’t make mistakes.  This does not mean that Pope Benedict never wears mismatched socks or never misconjugates a verb in the 42000 languages he speaks in.  It means that when a Pope is going to make a huge decision concerning the Church as a whole, the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow him to screw it up. (it is called ex cathedra, meaning from the chair).  In this respect ONLY is the Pope infallible.

Catholics do not believe that the pope is perfect.  In fact, I am sure he struggles with the same things you and I do.  I bet some of those uptight Cardinals drive him crazy at times.  He does not stop being human when the white smoke rises.  We just believe that since Peter the Holy Spirit has been guiding the decisions regarding His Church.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

If John wrote Revelation, and Paul wrote most of the Epistles, who wrote the Book of Love? Pat, ND

What a great question! Pat, your Biblical knowledge is acute. John is believed to be the author of the Book of Revelation. As you might recall, I am finishing up a class on Johannine Literature, which studied his Gospel and Revelation in depth. It was excellent! Sorry for the advertisement!

Paul is the author of most of the epistles. Coincidentally my next class is Pauline Literature. What are the chances! (Pretty great considering I choose when to answer your questions.)

The Book of Love? Well by that I assume you mean the Bible. I mean it is a love story from start to finish. God’s love is evident from “In the beginning” to “It is finished.” If you want to read a great love story that stands the test of time, this is it. If you want to read about a man who loves his Bride enough to die for her, this is it. If you want to read about the ultimate “happily ever after”, this is it.

So I think you are asking me, “Who wrote the Bible?” The answer is….God. God inspired human authors to record His message. The authors were able to use their own skills and talents, but the message belongs to God.

The Monotones had it right:

It was someone from above who wrote it. And it goes a little something like this:

In the beginning God tells us He loves us

He invites us to live in paradise where we will never be apart from Him

He shows us the meaning of romance by offering us everything we truly need

We break up with Him…through sin.

But He always gives us just one more chance.

That is who wrote THE book of love.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask Ellen: I'll go with the silly...What's the deal with the incense? Is it only for "special occasions"? Steph, PA

Thanks for the question, Steph.  When you grow up in the Catholic Church, as we did, it is hard not to run into incense at some point.  It is interesting how the minute I smell it, it reminds me of Church.  Of course it also reminds me of college.  People used incense to cover the smell of pot.  But that’s another story.

Incense was an important part of Jewish liturgy.  The altar of incense was before the Ark of the Covenant.  Therefore, incense is associated with God’s Presence as God’s Presence was thought to be contained within the Ark.  The smoke that arises as incense is burned is said to be our prayers ascending to heaven.

That is a beautiful picture.  As we pray our thoughts and intentions are lifted up to heaven.  The liturgy is meant to engage all of our senses.  We see the candles, vestments, stained glass etc.  We hear the Word of God and prayer.  We touch each other through the sign of peace.  We touch Jesus as we receive Him in the Eucharist.  We taste heaven as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  Our sense of smell is engaged with incense.  The liturgy should be a feast for the senses.

Nowadays it is used for special occasions such as “High Mass” and funerals.  I hope next time you smell incense it is in Church and not to mask the smell of illegal substances!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why is Mass so boring? Bob, TX

Ouch!!!  That one hurts but may be deserved in some respects.  In general, people find Mass boring because they have no clue what is going on.  We go to Church….stand, sit and kneel and respond with stuff we memorized but were never told why.  We know something significant is going on but we have no idea how to plug ourselves in!

First, let me say that I am sorry that it was never explained to you.  Let me also add that I wish we were given more opportunities to understand the Mass piece by piece.  This is exactly why I advocate Bible study for Catholics!  Everything about the Mass is Biblical!!!!  Every response and gesture..everything.

Let me pause for this commercial break…and tell you to get “A Biblical Walk Through The Mass” (Ascension Press) by Dr. Sri.  As an aside, he happens to be teaching me the Gospel of John in the Augustine Institute DE program and it is nothing short of fabulous.  And no..that is not brown on my nose.

If you read a book like his or maybe “The Lamb’s Supper” by Scott Hahn you will begin to see the depth and significance of the Mass.  You will understand what liturgy is and how much we owe to the Jewish faith for its tradition and beauty.

If you study the Mass, you will have many “aha moments”  You will even understand vestments and incense. Mass will become like a Bible treasure hunt..sorry, I get carried away.  I can guarantee that Mass won’t be boring…but I cannot guarantee that your priest won’t give a boring homily from time to time.  But cut the guy some slack.  It is hard to share the stage with something as awesome as Mass.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ask Ellen: I'm interested in being a saint, what's the application process? Paul, DE

Congratulations on setting the bar high for yourself.  I commend your aspiration.  Let’s see…the application process is quite lengthy, your whole life in fact.  Your resume would need to include faith and good deeds. Your educational experience should probably include studying the Bible as well as many other good reads like the lives of the saints and such.

Your application will come under review shortly after your expiration.  You will probably have to sit in the waiting room until Saint Peter calls you for your interview.  An important thing to remember is there won’t be any call backs or second interviews here.  Peter will review your resume and decide if you are in, if you have to sweat it out for a while until you make the cut (kinda like the minor leagues) or if you’re fired..literally.  If you find yourself in the waiting room, know that generations of Catholics have been praying for your release.  If you’re fired then I guess you should have changed the font on your resume or had better references.  If you’re in, then congratulations you’ve achieved your goal of sainthood. Please pay it forward by putting in a good word for the rest of us.

As for me, I really hope St. Peter is in a good mood and doesn’t check all my references. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ask Ellen: Why do Catholics pray to saints? Katie, ME

This is a confusing and frustrating question for many.  Thanks for asking.  I need to say right off the top….Catholics don’t pray TO anyone but God.  And yes, that includes Mary!  Let’s take God out of the equation…..I can’t believe I just said that!...and focus on the others hanging out in heaven.

An important and heady Catholic concept comes into play here…the Communion of Saints.  Let me try to break it down.  The Church is composed of three groups of people: those in heaven, those waiting to be called up (in Purgatory), and those of us down here still fighting the good fight.  The Church teaches that we are all very connected and that this connection doesn’t end in death.  That is what anyone who has lost a love one wants to believe so it would be hard to argue, right?

It is because of this connection that those of us still slugging through life look to those who did it right for help.  And that is all we are asking them to do.  They made it, they are before the Throne and just might hang out with Jesus from time to time.  We, as Catholics, ask them to put in a good word for us.

Think of it this way…you know someone who is a great teacher in great school.  You want to teach there too.  You have a friend who works there and has earned the respect of the principal.  Wouldn’t you ask him/her to put in a good word for you?

The great news is, we Catholics, have a saint for any situation you find yourself in.  I doesn’t hurt to go ahead!  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ask Ellen: I would like to see an explanation on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I get it and make sure my students do, but I think it is one of the most misunderstood feasts on the calendar. Kim, PA

You are right, Kim. This is one of the most misunderstood Catholic feasts.  In order to understand it, one must have a firm grasp on the Old Testament.  You might be thinking, I don’t know much about the Bible but I am fairly sure that Mary appears in the New Testament.  True.  But much like everything concerning Mary, we have to understand her Son to understand her.

Think back to the Ark of the Covenant.  Yes, it even OK if all you know about it is from watching, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  In the Old Testament, The Ark was believed to contain the Presence of God.  It contained three things symbolizing the early Israelites' faith:  The Ten Commandments (representing the Law), Manna (the bread from heaven that God provided) and Aaron’s budding rod (representing priestly authority).  The Ark was carried on poles and no one was to touch it.  If you don’t believe me look at what happened to Uzziah!  There were many rules about who could approach the Ark and the way they were to be purified before they did.

Ok, Ellen, so what does this have to do with Mary?  Catholics believe that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.  Please remember that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the things that were alluded to in the Old Testament.  Think about it…He is the New Law (think about the Beatitudes and His “All You Need Is Love” …sorry had to get the Beatles in…messages), He is Bread from heaven (think Eucharist) and He is the High Priest (think of the Church He established).  With all of that in mind, we see Mary as the New Ark.  Her womb contained the very Presence of God.

That is why the Church teaches that she was born without sin.  She had to be pure to contain the fullness of God and the fullness of Man.  It makes sense in light of the purity rules of the Old Testament.  As Catholics, we read Scripture with the whole Bible in mind.  When you do this, you see Mary as the New Ark.

Catholics celebrate the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception on December 8.  We celebrate that Mary was conceived and remained sinless in expectation of the baby she was to carry.  It has nothing to do with Jesus’ virgin birth.  It has everything to do with Mary.  So, do not go chasing after …..rainbows, oops sorry…the lost Ark of the Old Testament when you have the fullness of the New Ark advocating for you in heaven.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ask Ellen: I'm interested in being a saint, what's the application process? Paul, DE

Congratulations on setting the bar high for yourself.  I commend your aspiration.  Let’s see…the application process is quite lengthy, your whole life in fact.  Your resume would need to include faith and good deeds.  Your educational experience should probably include studying the Bible as well as many other good reads like the lives of the saints and such.

Your application will come under review shortly after your expiration.  You will probably have to sit in the waiting room until Saint Peter calls you for your interview.  An important thing to remember is there won’t be any call backs or second interviews here.  Peter will review your resume and decide if you are in, if you have to sweat it out for a while until you make the cut (kinda like the minor leagues) or if you’re fired..literally.  If you find yourself in the waiting room, know that generations of Catholics have been praying for your release.  If you’re fired then I guess you should have changed the font on your resume or had better references.  If you’re in, then congratulations you’ve achieved your goal of sainthood.  Please pay it forward by putting in a good word for the rest of us.

As for me, I really hope St. Peter is in a good mood and doesn’t check all my references. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ask Ellen: Who do you like better Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or John, Paul George and Ringo? JG, PA

What a fun question for me!  This obviously comes from someone who knows me very well.  I am a huge Beatles fan and a Bible nerd so this is tough.  Let me see…

Both groups of men have written things that have touched my heart.  Both have some profound things to say. 

Luke is my favorite Gospel.  Although that may change in a few weeks when I start my next class on John.  Who am I kidding?  John will be my favorite then because I always like whatever I’m studying.  I bet John was the cute Gospel writer too.

Now my favorite Beatle hands down is Paul.  In fact, I have had a huge crush on him for decades.  After all, he is the cute Beatle.  I have to say that I have a new appreciation for John these days too.  He had a way of bringing out the best in my man, Paul.

I can’t choose…so let’s just…Let it Be!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ask Ellen: Since I have been baptized in another church, why can't I partake in communion at the Catholic Church? Cheryl, ME

Thank you for your question, Cheryl.  It is the source of confusion for many so I am very glad that you asked.  Please know that the Catholic Church does recognize your Baptism into the Christian faith.

The “why can’t I receive Communion part” is the tricky piece.  Let me begin by explaining that Catholics believe in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist, meaning that we believe that the bread and wine are changed into the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  We even have a fancy name for it, Transubstantiation.  This is very different from communion in Protestant churches, as they believe it is symbolic. 

Another unique aspect of being Catholic is that when we receive the Eucharist, we are stating with our minds and bodies that we are in full communion with the teachings of the Catholic Church.  This means that we are trying to live lives faithful to all the teachings of the Magisterium, another fancy word for the teaching office of the Catholic Church.

As we approach to receive the Eucharist, we enter into a covenant with God each time.  By responding, “Amen” to the priest, we are saying that we believe that we are receiving Jesus’ actual Body and that we are in communion with His Church.  If a Protestant receives the Eucharist it would be, in essence, forcing that person to swear a false oath.  The Church takes covenants very seriously (look at marriage) and would rather have you not receive than force you to say something that you don’t believe. 

I respect you for asking the question, Cheryl.  I know that it is a source of hurt and confusion for many.  I encourage all of my non-Catholic readers to ask questions.  It pains me to know that many misunderstandings have led to such division among the Body of Christ.  Although I make no apologies for my Catholic faith, I would love to be able to reach out to the many denominations in truth and love..and maybe start to answer some of the questions about Catholicism that you’ve always had.  Keep those questions coming!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ask Ellen...About Bible Study

 Why is it that I was never offered the opportunity within the Catholic Church to participate in a Bible Study Program until I was 51 years old?  Joanie, ME

Thanks for the question, Joanie. It is one that peaks my interest.  First let me begin by defending the Church (on some level).  The Catholic Church was in existence before the Bible, meaning long before there was the written Word.  The value of the Church in and of itself cannot be underestimated.  That being said, there came a point in Church history, when the printing press came on the scene and Bibles became accessible to a wider audience.  At that point many people were not educated.  They looked to the Church for explanations of Scripture.  These factors are very important to where we find ourselves today.  Times have changed.  People are educated and but still are looking to the Church for answers.

Since I started out praising the Church, let me focus on what I see as the downside.  Many parishes are failing to meet the needs of their people.  Our Protestant brothers and sisters know their Bibles.  In general Catholics do not.  This is why many people leave the Catholic Church falsely believing that it is not biblically based.  It also explains why many Catholics stammer through answers when Protestants question them about their faith.  I think we really do want to know.

So what does the average Catholic do about this?  We learn to study our Bibles.  Ideally this is done in your parish among a community of learners.  I implore you to only look at programs approved by the Church.  Why?  Because much like our ancestors mentioned above, we need the guidance of the Church when interpreting Scripture.  It is such a blessing for us to have this as it assures that we won’t get off track and into our own agenda.

I encourage all of you reading this to approach your priest and tell him that you want and need Scripture study in your parish.  If he refuses, pray for him and get the study for yourself…maybe even invite a group of friends.  A Gift of Grace started just that way.  Before I had the pastor’s approval to lead Bible study parish wide, I led them in my home with my bffs and a quality Catholic program.

Someone just told me that their priest said the last thing we need is another packaged study.  I say that is exactly what we need.  Now, let’s make it happen!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ask Ellen: Who do you like better Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or John, Paul George and Ringo? JG, PA

What a fun question for me!  This obviously comes from someone who knows me very well.  I am a huge Beatles fan and a Bible nerd so this is tough.  Let me see…

Both groups of men have written things that have touched my heart.  Both have some profound things to say.

Luke is my favorite Gospel.  Although that may change in a few weeks when I start my next class on John.  Who am I kidding?  John will be my favorite then because I always like whatever I’m studying.  I bet John was the cute Gospel writer too.

Now my favorite Beatle hands down is Paul.  In fact, I have had a huge crush on him for decades.  After all, he is the cute Beatle.  I have to say that I have a new appreciation for John these days too.  He had a way of bringing out the best in my man, Paul.

I can’t choose…so let’s just…Let it Be!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ask Ellen: What Are The Sacraments? How Many Are There? Fifth Grade Student, PA

The sacraments in their most basic sense are meetings or encounters with Christ.  We cannot encounter Christ and remain unchanged.  The sacraments give us grace, a “share in Jesus’ everliving and lifegiving” (CCC 1116) nature.

Jesus instituted the sacraments and entrusted them to the Church.  They show us who Christ is and allow us to share in communicating Him to the world.

The sacraments help us to live godly lives by infusing us with grace each time we receive them.  Some are received only once, others can be received daily.

There are seven sacraments.  Baptism and Confirmation are sacraments of faith that we receive once.  Baptism initiates you into the Church.  Confirmation makes you a full-fledged member.

There are two more that are only received once as well:  Holy Orders and Matrimony.  These are sacraments of vocation.  Holy Orders transforms a man into a priest.  Matrimony unites a couple as one.

There are three sacraments that can be received more than once.  Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing that is celebrated in times of illness.  Reconciliation can be celebrated anytime we are in need of God’s forgiveness, which for me could be on a daily basis.

The summit of all that we are and do as Catholics is the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  This is where we encounter Jesus in His bodily form.  We receive His actual Body and Blood.

The sacraments are beautiful gifts that Jesus gave to His Church.  We understand that Jesus is present in them and beckoning us to come.  How can we not?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ask Ellen: Why do Catholics take a new name at Confirmation? Anne, PA

This is a great question and one that deserves an answer because it is a really cool thing.  Throughout the Bible God changed people’s names;  Abram to  Abraham. Sarai to Sarah, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul.

The question we need to ask ourselves is why did God do this.  God changed people’s names when they were called to a change in vocation.  People received new names at the same time as they received new missions, when they were called to something greater.

In Confirmation we are called to something greater.  We are made full members of the Catholic Church and are sent to witness Christ to the world.  Talk about a vocation change!

We select a new name at this time to commemorate the occasion.  Often times we select a saint’s name.  The saints are great examples of people who took this change in vocation seriously.

I encourage you to find out more about the saint you chose for your Confirmation name.  If you didn’t understand the significance of this before do so now.  Take your vocation to witness Christ to the world seriously and enjoy your new identity in Christ.  Allow the change of name to change your life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Do I HAVE to?

Ask Ellen If the Bible doesn't say we have to go to church(if I remember right) or it is a sin, why does the Catholic Church trump it by saying it is a sin if we don't? Lisa, ME

Thanks for your interesting question, Lisa. I think I need to answer it on two levels. The first is to address what it means to be Catholic. As Catholics, we believe in the authority of Scripture and Tradition. This is different from most Protestant denominations who believe in the authority of Scripture alone. Since we recognize the authority of Tradition, we believe that the Church has the ability (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to make the rules. One of these rules is that all Catholics attend Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday. The Church has this rule for our own good. Many have said, “I don’t need to go to Church on Sunday. I keep the Sabbath my own way.” But you don’t. You miss the opportunity to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and you miss the opportunity to worship among family, your Catholic brother and sisters.

When we search Scripture for verses we like, to back up our own position, we run the risk of missing the whole story. The Old Testament may not clearly state that we must go to Church on Sunday. But it sure was implied. No devout Jew would need that to be written. They kept Sabbath and they kept it well. We read of it in Numbers. When they physically had a Temple, they were there on the Sabbath. We need to dig deeper to realize that was simply their way of life.

The New Testament contains many references to Christians observing the Sabbath together in the Eucharist. Paul urges us not to “forsake the assembly.” He means, “Get your butt to Mass.”

This is why Tradition is a beautiful and essential aspect of our faith. Our Church Fathers studied this. They knew that this was just plain obvious to the original readers. In their wisdom, the Fathers knew that it wouldn’t be to us. So they defined it for us. The third Commandment is “Keep holy the Sabbath.” A Jew intuitively knew what that meant. Thanks to the Catholic Church so do we!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ask Ellen: Extreme Catholics: Lenten Edition

Ask Ellen: Why do Catholics take Lent to the extreme and make it so depressing? Jason, CA

Thank you for your interest in the Church’s liturgical calendar. I’m sorry that you feel that it goes to extremes with Lent and makes it feel depressing. This is often the case because Lent is misunderstood.

The Church sets apart this time each year to allow people to enter more deeply into their faith and share in the events of Salvation History. We are called to unite ourselves with Jesus in the wilderness. We are asked to purge ourselves of things that our hindering us and take on charitable acts that help others. We are asked to recognize our own sinfulness and inadequacies in order to rely more fully on God. On the surface this may sound depressing.

But let’s look deeper. How would your life be better if you were more united with Christ and understood more fully His experience in the desert? How would your life be better if you were able to part with bad habits that have become gods in your life? How would your life change if you did things each day to help others? How would your life be better if you admitted your own sinfulness and were totally forgiven for your sins?

I’d say that life would be much better. You would experience true freedom, unbound by sin. The Church offers you this experience through Lent. Let’s embrace it fully!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ask Ellen

Fridays are Ask Ellen days.  Click the Ask Ellen link on the right side of the page to see today's question.  Please feel free to submit your questions as well.  Each week I will choose a reader's question to answer.  Each month a winner will be drawn from those submitting questions.  You might be the lucky person who wins!

What is your favorite Scripture verse and why? Jim, PA

Thank you for asking.  I spend so much time studying and teaching Scripture that I often forget to allow it to minister to me.

My favorite passage is John 4:1-27.  I love the way Jesus interacts with women.  He gets us!  He understood this woman’s truth more than she did.  I dare say he does the same for us.  He lovingly calls her on the carpet for her behavior.  I like to think that He lovingly does the same for me.

But the reason I love this passage so much is hidden within the story.  The words jump off the page and into my soul each time that I read it.

“Jesus answered her. ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’” (verse 10)

Oh I don’t ever want Jesus to say these words to me!  It actually grieves my soul to think He could.  I don’t want to miss the gifts of God.  I don’t want to miss Christ standing right in front of me.  I don’t want to ask Him for too little when He offers so much!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What is the significance of the numbers seven and forty in the Bible? Anthony, Grade 5

I want to say nice job in picking up that numbers are important in the Bible.  That’s not so different from today.  Ask anyone if the numbers they see when they step on the scale matter or what their best friend’s cell phone number is and they will agree.  Numbers matter.

Numbers were especially important to that ancient Hebrew people.  When they wrote with numbers a message was conveyed.  The message is hidden to modern readers but it was obvious to the Hebrews of Biblical times.

So to answer your question the number 7 is the number of covenant.  It signified an end or completion.  It means perfection.  It is why God rested on the 7th day.  His work was completed and it was perfect.

The number forty symbolizes testing.  Examples of this are the forty years the Hebrew people spent in the wilderness and the 40 days that Jesus was tested in the desert.  These were times of intense, personal trial.  It is also the reason that Catholics observe forty days of Lent, a time of trial and fasting in preparation for the Holy Triduum.

Next time someone asks, what’s your number, think about it.