Little Catholic Things


Some of the most special things Mom taught me were rooted in the Catholic faith.  Ordinary parts of a day were infused with a spiritual meaning.  No detail was neglected, all was for God.  Here are some of the devotions which stand out, looking back.

Father O’Connel baptising Ron’s wife, Suzanne. Dad and Mom were her Godparents. Mom had lupus here, but it is still a nice picture.

1. When you are driving past a church, say the sign of the cross.  In the ’70’s people bought all kinds of specialty car horns.  My brother had the “aww-oooga!” horn, my Dad used a hand-held Groucho Marx horn, and there were many others like the long patriotic sounding variety.  These horns were sounded when driving past friends houses, every time you passed the friend’s house.  The sentiment was of the howdy-doo variety.  Saying a sign of the Cross when passing the church is the same principle.  It’s a way of saying howdy-doo to God because church is God’s house.  Also, sometimes in Catholic churches there is a veneration of the Blessed Sacrament.  That means a Eucharistic wafer, which is Blessed and we believe has been transubstantiated into the Body of Christ, is present in the church.  Some churches permanently have the Blessed Eucharist placed in view, as opposed to behind the doors of the tabernacle (sort of Jesus’ bedroom).  If Jesus is in the tabernacle, there will be a candle lit.  In any case, saying the sign of the cross as you drive past says hello to God in God’s house, Jesus in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit who is everywhere.

2.  When passing in front of the tabernacle, no matter how far back you are in the main aisle of the church, you should genuflect/kneel.  This is acknowledging Jesus’ presence in the church in the form of the Holy Eucharist.

3. When an ambulance, paramedic, or other emergency vehicle passed or sounds its siren, say a small prayer.  If you’re driving, remember to not close your eyes.  A sign of the Cross is fine, but it’s also nice to throw in a small prayer of your chosing.  Mom told me to say a prayer from my heart, and consequently for my 46+ years my prayer has been, “Lord, please let them be okay.”  I figure “okay” is open-ended, and that God would like that.  Still, it’s a bequeathing of good vibes.

4. Pray before meals. We used to say the traditional Grace Before Meals which went like this:

“Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts, which are about the receive from Thy bounty through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.”

Sometimes Ron would lean right between Holy and Spirit and smack Dad on the shoulder.  And sometimes Ron would call “race grace” and say grace so fast it was done in under four seconds.  Still, since God is beyond space and time, I doubt He hardly noticed.  Mom was just glad we were praying instead of fighting.

5.   Here is one mostly from my Aunt Eleanor.  Put “JMJ” at the top of your schoolpapers.  This is something which was a tradition in the 1930’s and 1940’s here in America.  JMJ stands for the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  The nuns taught students this gesture in Catholic school, and those students passed it along.  I saw my cousin, Maryann, doing this: JMJ and a little cross underneath it, right at the very top center of her schoolpapers.  Maryann told me her Mom instructed her to do this and why.  I asked Mom, and Mom said yes, and that it was a good idea for me to do as well, if I wished.  Some devout Catholics used to place a JMJ atop every paper they intended to use, even scrap paper.  It is a simple reminder of God greatness, and a renewal of the days intention, which should be to please and honor God.

6.  Each morning, Mom instructed me, “Honey, even before you get out of bed, before you set your feet on the floor, dedicate your day to God.  If you don’t do it right away, you’ll forget.  As you open your eyes, thank God for another day.  Then dedicate everything you do in that day to Him.”  Mom was teaching me karma and bhakti yoga, Catholic style.

7.  Similarly, each evening, before I fell asleep, I should lie in bed and take time to think back upon my day.  “Just go through what you can remember about your day and ask yourself if you feel you handled things well.  Ask yourself if you responded to situations as you feel God would want you to.  Don’t feel bad or guilty.  If you see a little bump where you could have done something better, just make an intention to do better tomorrow.”

8.  Nighttime prayer.  The traditional prayer went like this:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I shall die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Mom said that she felt that prayer sounded scary for children.  So instead, Mom suggested I pray the prayer of the Guardian Angel.  We substituted the word “night” in place of “day.”

9. Wear a scapular.  Mom never let me go to sleep with any sort of necklace on.  She always said sleeping with a necklace meant it could get tangled up and choke you.  The exception was the scapular, because I was instructed to wear it at all times (I was allowed to remove it to take my bath!).    Wearing a scapular meant that if you died wearing it, you went straight to heaven.  Either that or at least you didn’t go to hell.  Mom was very conscientious about my wearing it.  She made certain I always had it on.   I still have a scapular Mom gave me.  I doubt it would be the original one, as I must have gone through some just via wear and tear.  And I’m not sure when I stopped wearing it, but maybe when Dad died.  I intend to begin wearing one again. 

10.  Capitalize names and references to God and His Divine Pronoun, in all forms.  Any appositive for the Lord is a-positively capitalized.  If you’re not sure whether something God-referring is to be capitalized, capitalize it just for good measure.  It can’t hurt because God (and God alone) trumps grammarians.

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