**Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by a senior here at Roncalli- Cullen Hilliker.
Let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Cullen Hilliker and I am a senior at Roncalli High School located in Manitowoc. I have been involved in a lot, but my faith is what has made me who I am today. My Catholic journey has taken me to places I never imagined possible, and brought me to people I never imagined existed. There are literally millions of reasons why being Catholic is amazing and why I love it so much, however, I have slimmed it down into a list of just five.
- Sacraments: Visible Signs to Help Me Learn Why I Need to Love My Neighbor
The seven sacraments are a fundamental part of the Catholic faith, and they are Christ’s very own gift that provide us with grace and charity. With that being said, they obviously have a significant purpose, being that they are chosen instruments of God’s power. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the exact definition of a sacrament is that it is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” This definition is so vague, yet precise at the same time. Vague in the sense that there is a limitless amount of grace to receive, but yet precise because Christ is the only one who can offer this to us.
Personally, I have now received four of these mysterious sacraments. However, I can allege that they are some of the most powerful and exclusive experiences in my life. Given the fact that I was months old when I was baptized, baptism was arguably my most important sacrament. This argument can be made solely on the fact that without it, I would not have been able to receive any other sacraments. Not only did it open the doors to my faith journey, but it allowed it to flourish. This led me into the two most commonly received sacraments, Eucharist and Reconciliation. The fact that we are able to literally receive Jesus in the Eucharist is nearly unfathomable. And even further that we can be saved from our struggles and sins is incredible. My confirmation was my most recent sacrament received, yet probably my most powerful. Being sealed in my Catholic faith by the Holy Spirit is just overwhelming. Now it is time to use that sacrament in my ongoing discernment of two others – Holy Orders or Matrimony.
2. Papacy & the Saints: Learning From Others’ Mistakes Makes Life a Little Easier
Having a leader or role model in anything is essential. For as long as I can remember, I have been told to pick somebody to look up to, and follow them. This is why being Catholic is perfect because there are so many opportunities for Catholics to relate to a role model. First of all, we have a Pope. With an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics living in the world, it would be nearly impossible to stay united as one without a leader. Whether it is overseeing bishops and cardinals, or making sure the Church stays faithful to the teaching of Christ, the Pope plays a crucial role in leading and maintaining Catholicism.
With thousands of saints to admire, it is almost impossible to not find at least one to form a relationship with. There is a patron saint of almost everything; one for beekeepers, one for translators, and everywhere imbetween. This makes it even easier to grow closer to God because we are able to relate to a saint. After we learn about saints, and how they lived their lives, we are able to mold and model our lives after theirs. Not only are they good role models, but they are there to help us. We have the power to pray for the intercession of saints, and they have the power to intercede on our behalf.
Personally, praying to saints has become a part of my daily life. In school, at least five times a day we ask the three patrons of our school to pray for us. When I lose something, I say a prayer to St. Anthony and every day before I run, I pray to St. Sebastian so I can perform to the best of my ability and avoid injury. Time and time again, Joseph has served as a moral example for me which is why I chose him as my Confirmation Saint. St. Francis has had a huge impact in my life just through his Franciscan order, which has provided for my education since I was three. St. John Paul II inspired me to go on a pilgrimage to Poland, changing my life forever.
3.Mary: I Get to Have Two Mothers, and One is the Queen of the Universe
Catholics do not worship Mary, we revere her. Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, the one who saved the world from sin. Biologically speaking, Jesus inherited characteristics from Mary via chromosomes in the blood. This means that Mary shares the same blood as Jesus Christ. This fact by itself is mind blowing. Being the mother of Jesus meant that she had a very specific mission- to bring us to her son. Like I stated before, Catholics do not worship Mary but we revere her, and Mary serves as a “bridge” from us, to Christ. This mission has been carried out countless times throughout her many apparitions around the world.
Mary carried this mission out once when she appeared in Guadalupe. Many people may have heard of, or seen a painting of the image but are not aware of all the miracles that come along with it. Upon appearing to Juan Diego in 1531, she instructed him to go to the Bishop and tell him to build a church where she appeared. To make sure the bishop believed him, Mary told Juan Diego to put roses in his tilma and then drop them in front of the Bishop, and when he did so, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the tilma. Atheistic scientists and painters traveled to investigate the image and could not explain the phenomena and as a result converted to Catholicism. To start, the image has maintained a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees, regardless of its surroundings. This temperature is the perfect temperature of a human body to maintain homeostasis. Well renowned painters are always able to examine a painting and note the areas of imperfection. For example, they are able to see where a stroke started and where it ended. However, not one painter has been able to identify a single mistake or even stroke. The image is perfect. After further examination, an image of Juan Diego’s expression upon his first sight of Mary is depicted in one eye, and in the other is the expressions of the bishops and priests. The stars on Mary’s clothes depict the perfect constellation in the sky of the night she appeared, which has been confirmed by numerous cosmologists.
Mary appeared in Rome in 352, where she appeared to a man in a dream and told him to build a church. She said the ground to build the church upon will be covered in snow, and on a hot summer day on August 5, it snowed on Esquiline Hill, establishing grounds for the new church.
In 1858 in the grotto of Massabielle, near Lourdes, France, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl. Four years later, the Church devoted a shrine to Mary where millions of pilgrims come to witness each year. Not one person has left Lourdes with a moral, spiritual, or even physical cure. A Medical Bureau was even established in 1882 to test the authenticity of the cures and they consistently tested positive with no explanation. About 500 doctors each year including unbelievers and believers take part in the examination of the alleged cures.
Mary appeared in the sky over the small town of Pontmain in northwestern France to a group of young children for about three hours in January 1871, as the Franco-Prussian war was threatening the area. Her message appeared on a banner under her feet, and encouraged prayer while emphasizing Jesus’ love and concern. The village was spared invasion.
Mary appeared thirty-three times to a group of children in the winter of 1932-33 at Beauraing in Belgium, in a convent garden near a hawthorn tree. She described herself as “the Immaculate Virgin” and “Mother of God, Queen of Heaven,” while calling for prayer for the conversion of sinners.
Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré, in the chapel of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, at Rue du Bac in Paris, three times in 1830. She showed her the design of the medal of the Immaculate Conception, the “Miraculous Medal.” This medal, when duplicated, helped to renew devotion to Our Lady, both in France and eventually around the world.
I could go on and on listing the endless Miracles and Apparitions of our Lady, but that is not the point. The point is simple, and it is that Mary has had such an impact on not only the Church and world, but on my life as well.
Our Lady of Czestochowa serves as a perfect example of this. Painted by St. Luke in the first century on a table-top built from the carpenter Jesus, saying this image has been tried and true would be an understatement. This image has survived through fire, looters, gunfire, and literally everything; with only a little scratch on the cheek to show it. One time, a thief struck the image twice with his sword, and before he could strike it again, he instantly fell dead on the ground. Another time, the entire country of Poland was taken over by Swedes except the monastery where this image was held. For 40 days the monks were able to hold off the Swedes, eventually driving them out of Poland. For me, Our Lady of Czestochowa has changed my life. I went on a pilgrimage to the shrine in Czestochowa, and was struck in awe. I asked Mary a favor, which she soon granted. This was important because it taught me that I can go to Mary and ask her anything, knowing she will always be there. Whether it be big or small, this is something I do almost every day of my life.
4.Community/Universal: This makes it a lot harder to skip Mass on Sunday
Catholic- adjective: 1. broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded; liberal 2.universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all. 3. pertaining to the whole Christian body or church.
Another amazing thing about being Catholic is that I can do it almost anywhere I want. For example, my home Parish is in Two Rivers, but if I were to go on vacation to Slovakia, I could attend a Mass there which would be identical to the one at home (given the obvious language difference). There is this sense of unity that all Catholics share, which is so unique to our faith. This uniqueness is rooted in the Papacy because it is the task of the Pope and Bishops, the head leaders of the Church, to keep the rest of us on the same page. History can attest to the fact that this sense of universality may not have always been a good thing, but without it, many things in today’s world would not be the same because of the impact our Church has had on the community.
Not only is the Church universal in the sense that the same Gospel readings are proclaimed everywhere, it is universal in making the community a better place for all. This is carried out through scientific inquiry, patronage of the arts, the establishment of thousands of mission hospitals, providing education, and even disaster relief. You name it, the Church in one way or another has been there. The Church has developed everyday tools like the Gregorian Calendar, and the ground I stand on and call home was even discovered by Catholic explorers.
5.Welcomeness, Forgiveness, & Grace: A Fresh Start is Needed Once and Awhile
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
An amazing aspect of the Catholic Church is the sense of welcomeness it offers, and the forgiveness it provides. Jesus’ life is a perfect example on how the Church can be welcoming. He urges people to come into his presence, “Come, follow me”; “Let the children come to me”. More aggressively, he even invites himself into the lives of others “Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today”. Jesus’ thoughts of welcoming is not a simple greeting, but a genuine, mutual exchange through which He starts a relationship eventually leading to a friendship.
The reason for the Church’s existence today is simply to be active in inviting people into a personal relationship with Christ. This relationship is not just limited to a spiritual one, but also to a sacramental relationship. The Church can directly relay God’s grace to us, so our relationship with Christ is allowed to be fruitful, real, and even physical; offered when we receive the Holy Eucharist. This shows that the Church can never be more gracious to its people than when it is giving them grace.
Now looking at God’s plan of salvation, it often times gets confusing as to why one must be forgiven though the presence of his chosen ones, or conduits of grace. It would be so much easier and convenient if we could just personally talk to God and acknowledge our sins. Personally, this is not the same. I have tried to talk to God about my sins before, but I am not granted the same sense of redemption as I receive after the absolution granted by a priest. Those who do not participate in this Sacrament do not see the grace that God is offering because they are pleasing themselves to settle for less gracious responses, granted by a fragile conduit; themselves.
This is an exclusive aspect of the Catholic Church because no other faith believes that the Lord can work through his chosen ones, and absolve us of our wrongdoings. Not only are these chosen conduits able to absolve us, but they can counsel us and help us to not sin again. Nobody is perfect, but with this unique opportunity at hand, it is a lot easier to grow closer to God.