Thanksgiving, Martyrs and Intentional Celebrations

Today is Thanksgiving, and I’ve spent the week reading stacks of seasonally-themed picture books with my kids: books about Thanksgiving meal gathering traditions, funny books about turkeys, the history of the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims, and the story of Sarah Hale — who we have to thank (no pun intended) for our national day of celebration.

But today, for us Catholics, it is also another important feasting day; it is the memorial of St. Cecilia, a martyr of the third-century Church.

If you don’t know her story, she was sentenced to death by suffocation in the scalding hot steam of the baths, but she was unharmed after being locked up in them overnight. The second attempt to execute her was decapitation; but the executioner could not cut off her head, despite three hacks at her neck, and she was left bleeding to die. She lived for three days more. Her body was exhumed in 1599 and found to be incorrupt. Read her whole story; it is powerful…..but…not really the kind of “happy” tale that would typically come up today around your dinner tables.

But maybe it shouldn’t be weird if it did.

Perhaps our holiday celebrations have become commercialized and stylized to the point that we are totally disconnected from the weight of their origin. It might be a trite reflection to simplistically connect the these two feast days by emphasizing that we get to live in a country where we aren’t martyred for our faith, a country that brought the Pilgrims here in the first place to have a chance to worship and practice their faith freely. While that is true, I think that such a statement by itself still removes us a bit from the reality that we are memorializing.

These holidays and holy days — be they national or religious — exist because of real people and for profound reasons, of which we should not lose sight amidst all of our traditions. Our intentional celebrations are important. We shouldn’t forget or avoid remembering the harsh challenges that people faced, because it is the surmounting of those circumstances that brought about the events we celebrate — whether it be a people group that avoided starvation and settled a colony in the New World or a saint that exhibited impenetrable faith and won her heavenly reward.

Material icons often overtake the holidays’ greater significance: turkey plates for Thanksgiving, blow-up Santas for Christmas, Peeps in baskets for Easter. You know what I mean. I’m all about decorations, but decorations are not all these days are about.

As I sit with my kids and a stack of books, I’m not saying don’t read the silly one about the turkey; I’m saying read the hard one too. Tell the difficult story. These were real people, and their stories and circumstances deserve an empathetic response. These holidays and celebrations require us to enter into the stories of real people in history and see them as part of our own.

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

St. Maria Goretti: Virtue in Children

Today in the liturgical year we celebrate the life of a young saint who lived in Italy during the turn of the 20th century. This was a hard-working little girl from a poor farming family, whose father died when she was nine, requiring her family to move in with another family. When she was 11, one of the sons of the family they lived with, Alessandro, made sexual advances toward her. When she refused him, he stabbed her 14 times. As she was dying in the hospital she forgave him. He was imprisoned for 27 years, during which time he had a conversion of heart. When he was released, he begged Maria’s mother’s forgiveness — which she granted — and he became a lay brother in a monastery later in life.

Yes, it’s a pretty heavy story, to say the least. But it’s a story with so much grace and inspiration. Every year when her memorial comes around, I cannot help but consider the virtue that had been built up in this little girl over her childhood. Like so many saint stories, we see that there is no such thing as virtue that suddenly appears in a given moment. Grace does for sure! But the virtue in the moment is the result of a life of virtuous habits and living faith. The moment tests that virtue, tests that faith, and we see the real character of the person emerge. Clearly this was a girl who was living her life on earth with her heavenly home in mind every day.

We can read stories like this about child saints who lived 100 years ago during a time and place where everyone took for granted the truth of the Church and faith in God, and we can easily think: Such virtue is not possible for my children today. As I think about young Maria, I can’t help but consider my children’s yelling and hitting each other yesterday over rather minor offenses. I think about their disobedience or talking back to me, and sometimes as parents we can get discouraged. Will they ever rise above these reactions and bad behaviors? Continue reading “St. Maria Goretti: Virtue in Children”

“Pray For Us!” Printables

Over the course of last year I posted “Pray For Us!” pictures on Instagram throughout the year on various saints’ feast or memorial days. They invoke the saint’s intercession and have an inspiring quote (usually by that saint) on them. Here are a couple of samples:

 

I have collected about a dozen or so of these in a PDF, and I am sharing it with you! Just subscribe to the form below to access the PDF. You may want to share the pictures on social media or print these for use in your domestic church. Hopefully you can use these throughout the year to help celebrate the liturgical year!

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey