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Learning to be Catholic

November 18, AD 2011 2 Comments

I think sometimes I take for granted all the tidbits of Catholicism that I know – and not just the facts, doctrines, and teachings but all the little nuances of how to live a Catholic life.  This was really made clear when I attended a RCIA class with a good friend who has asked me to be her confirmation sponsor.  The topic for the night was Advent and there was a presentation and handouts on how to keep this Catholic season.  Some of it seemed so obvious to me and I felt a little silly to realize that not everyone grows up making green playdo rings with purple and pink birthday candles.

The fact is, though, that there were a lot of things that I learned late in life.

For starters, did you know that when we genuflect we always go down on our right knee?  It’s true!  I was a college graduate when a priest pulled me aside and told me that I had been genuflecting incorrectly for my entire life.  Those weren’t his actual words and he did a perfect job of correcting me but I still felt like an idiot.  He told me several reasons why we go down on our right knee but I was so busy biting my quivering lip that the only thing I remember seven years later is something about the righteous right hand of God.  It’s the same reason we make the sign of the cross with our right hands, too.

Also, I was in college when I finally realized that the little white thing floating about in the chalice wasn’t someone’s backwash but a piece of the consecrated host.   Oops.

Another thing I learned in college:  we genuflect to Jesus Christ in the Tabernacle, we bow to the altar.  As my college chaplain put it, “We don’t worship furniture – and genuflecting is an act of worship – but we do bow to show our respect to the altar of the Lord.”  That was a big “ooooooooh” moment for me.

More recently I’ve learned that living the liturgical seasons in our home brings a lot of meaning and peace to our lives.  Take, for instance, the season of Advent that will soon be upon us and was discussed at the RCIA class.  Keeping Advent in our home means some decorations – evergreen boughs, empty nativity sets, an Advent wreath, a Jesse Tree, stockings waiting for St. Nicholas – but it also means that we keep Christmas at bay just a little bit longer.  Keeping Advent in our home means I don’t get too swept away with the consumerism of the holiday season because instead I’m focusing on the coming of Christ – building the anticipation and joy.

And while I was learning that lesson – of keeping Advent in our home – I was also learning that I don’t have to celebrate every feast day during December.  Baking bread for St. Lucy, making tilmas for St. Juan Diego, praying the Hail Mary in Spanish for Our Lady of Guadalupe, handing out golden chocolate coins for St. Nicholas, all of these things are wonderful ideas but I don’t have to do all of them – or any of them – to make Advent meaningful and fun for my kids.  In fact, I’m thinking that all a Catholic home may need to keep Advent is an Advent wreath.

I hope that through the years God will continue to use other people and my vocation to teach me what it means to live a rich, beautiful, fun Catholic life.  It is my prayer for you, too.

Filed in: Religion

About the Author:

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a cofounder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.
  • richard

    The living out the Catholic life is a day-to-day business.

  • Jackie

    “I was also learning that I don’t have to celebrate every feast day during December.” Great point! I feel like there is so much pressure to be the Catholic Martha Stewart during different holidays and feast days.