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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and the Diference They Make
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Mike Aquilina
Carl A. Anderson:
Welcome to our book club discussion this evening, where we discuss Scott Hahn's book Signs of Life.

Michael D Gregory
Bessemer Alabama USA
Like many Knights I am very busy. One item that works very well for me is to download a book from the library transfer to my mp-3 and listen while working mundane projects. I run through 8-10 books a month doing this. Any possibilities for a similar program?
Carl A. Anderson:
Thank you for your suggestion on this.

Bruce Goeser
Miami, Florida, USA
Thank you for having this excellent book as the selection this month. I have read several of Dr. Hahn's books and I become very motivated about my faith by the excitement he exhibits in being a Catholic. My question concerns the "Catholic Customs" that are practiced by those of other faiths. In one of Dr. Hahn's early books he tells of when he was a Presbyterian minister, and his flock requested that he lead a communion service periodically. I have also read of Lutherans and Methodists who pray the Rosary. Have you observed those of other faiths taking part in any "Catholic Customs"? If so, how widespread do you think this is becoming? Your comments are appreciated.
Mike Aquilina:
I think you're on to something. I can only go on anecdotal information and my own casual observation, but these confirm what you describe. Richard Foster's bestselling books made the idea of "disciplines" of prayer acceptable for many non-Catholics, and I think that opened up the floodgates. If you look at the websites and catalogs of a number of established Protestant publishing houses, you'll notice an increase in Catholic-sounding titles. A few other random observations: Scott Hahn's alma mater, Gordon Conwell, a prominent seminary in the Reformed tradition, inaugurated a subscribe-by-email Advent devotional this year, complete with catechesis on Advent at the beginning ... My dear mother-in-law, a Lutheran, attended a retreat where the attendees were taught how to make prayer beads (rosaries) ... Evangelical theologian, author and blogger Scot McKnight has also been talking up some traditions, like making the Sign of the Cross ... And then there's the whole "emergent church" movement, which is discovering the tradition quite gradually, one bell and smell at a time. Again, I haven't studied this in any kind of focused way, but I think you're right, Bruce.

Maria M
Scott Hahn is the best. Do you think his books have the chance of changing the culture?
Carl A. Anderson:
I think that good Catholic books, like Scott Hahn's, are very important for helping Catholics to better understand their faith. We are called to build a culture and civilization based on love - of God and neighbor - and reading books that help us to grow in faith is key to allowing us to do that effectively. That is the importance of Scott Hahn's books, and the reason for our selection of the books like his that we choose for the book club.

Mike Aquilina:
Certainly, because they motivate people like you to pray more, study more, and do more. That changes the quality of life for the people around you, and that is the most effective way to begin to change the culture. If Scott's sales are any indicator, there are many more people like you. That's changing life for all the people touched by their lives.

John P
How can we stop the cafeteria Catholicism so rampant today? What can we as Knights do in our councils to support the faith?
Carl A. Anderson:
In order to explain the faith, we need to understand it, and to live it. As Pope Benedict has pointed out time and again, we cannot bring Christ to others, if we don't know him ourselves. So our prayer life and spiritual reading are very important. So too is our example. We must live Christian lives that make clear to others how much we love God,and how wonderful it is to say "yes" to Jesus Christ. Think of the first principle of the Knights of Columbus - charity. It is key to showing people what we believe, and what that belief motivates us to do.

Mike Aquilina:
Pray. Sacrifice. Study. Support one another. Make many, many friends -- and cultivate deep friendships. We need to correct Catholics who are going wrong, but we can't do that very effectively from a distance. Deep friendship is the best context for bringing people along in the faith.

Former State Warden Robert B. Camilleri
Honolulu, Hawaii
I very much enjoyed "Signs of Life" by Dr. Scott Hahn. Could you please comment on the two chapters in his book where he discusses the wearing of the scapular and the use of incense. In regards to use of incense, has the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI signaled an increase in the use of incense during liturigal celebrations? Could you please comment on the usefulness of wearing the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel and the fact that the late Pope John Paul II wore his scapular from the time he was a young child until the day he passed away.
Mike Aquilina:
Yes, I think incense is on the rise (so to speak) -- though I have no access to the sales figures for patchouli over the last two decades. I'm certainly sniffing it more than I did as a teen or young adult. Maybe the trend will reverse, though: I did read about New Jersey parishioners who were suing their pastor for exposing them to secondary smoke! I'm not making that up. As for the Brown Scapular: you really can't go wrong with a pedigree like that. Goodness -- Scott shows us its roots in the Old Testament and the New Testament, further hints and shadows in the time of the Fathers, and then quotes the likes of St. Therese of Lisieux and Pope John Paul II. You really couldn't ask for more of a recommendation than that. I never leave home without mine!

Berlin, CT
In his Chapter on Baptism, Dr. Hahn discusses how baptism marks our entry into full membership in the Church and into a covenant with God. He then offers a quote by Romano Guardini, who states that "We are Christians because of the covenant," but "it is strange how completely the idea of the covenant has vanished from the Christian consciousness...We do mention it, but it seems to have lost meaning for us."
Do you agree that the idea of a covenant with God has lost meaning for Catholics? What does this mean for our faith, and how can it be addressed?
Mike Aquilina:
The terms used in divine revelation aren't random or accidental. If the divine and human authors consistently chose the word covenant (b'rith in Hebrew and diatheke in Greek), they were trying to convey something that apparently could not be communicated by other words. It's in our best interest to learn what the ancients meant by covenant, and what the reality should mean for us today. I think Scott Hahn is doing valuable work in teaching us what covenant means. In doing so, he's building on foundations built in recent times by Guardini, Danielou, Ratzinger and others. The best introduction he's done is his book Swear to God (Doubleday). After that, I'd read Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy (Doubleday). And, if you feel up to a more academic study, proceed to Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict.

Boston, MA
Dr. Hahn devotes a chapter to Guardian Angels, in which he recommends both a Children's rhyme to angels and the "St. Michael Prayer." Do you think they are an element of the faith that lacks serious belief among the faithful? Should the Church should make a deliberate effort to resuscitate belief in Guardian Angels, beyond existing as a consolation to young children?
Carl A. Anderson:
I agree with Prof. Aquilina. The Church has always fostered a devotion to the angels - and still does so. To avoid the pitfall of understanding angels "as a consolation for young children," or to avoid misunderstanding any element of the faith, it is up to us to make sure that we understand educate ourselves and understand what the Church teaches and why. This book is one such way that Catholic can continue that learning process.

Mike Aquilina:
Resuscitate? Devotion to angels is hardly dead! In the Mass, we acknowledge them many times. Think of the Confiteor -- where we confess our sins in the presence of "all the angels and saints." Think of the Gloria, which is a prayer we learned from angels. Think of the "Holy, Holy, Holy," another prayer we learned from angels. The priest addresses the angels in the preface and in the First Eucharistic Prayer. When we pray the Hail Mary, we're echoing angels. Ditto the Angelus. As I say in my own book ANGELS OF GOD (Servant Books), angels are everywhere in all things Catholic: Scripture, tradition, liturgy and devotion. If we read the Bible and don't come away with an intense awareness of the angels' influence in our lives, we're not reading very closely. So yes, I think we should promote devotion to the angels and teach people the right doctrine about the angels.

James O'Rourke
Scranton, PA
I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Hahn's book. My question is, in his chapter on the priesthood, Dr. Hahn discusses how before his conversion to Catholicism, he was not only not Catholic but anti-Catholic, something rooted not primarily in a misunderstanding of Catholicism but a misunderstanding of the Bible.
Do you feel this Biblical misunderstanding of Catholicism continues to be a rift between Catholicism and other denominations today?
Carl A. Anderson:
Misunderstanding of Catholicism is just one reason that our witness as Catholics is so important. When Catholics take the lead in charitable work, in kindness, in helping their neighbor, that is something transcendent. The history of the Knights of Columbus is filled with examples of charity changing hearts. For instance, our Army Hut program in World War I, operated under the slogan: "Everybody welcome, Everything free." For some non-Catholics, it was their first experience with Catholicism, and it was a good one. That sort of thing changes hearts - because it's next to impossible to argue with good deeds.

Mike Aquilina:
Yes, Fulton Sheen often said that very few people hate the Catholic faith, though many hate what they think is the Catholic faith. I do think that believers are drawing together in great understanding as we're pushed together by forces such as secularism, hedonism, and rising Islam.

Julio Tevez
El Paso, Texas
I have a question regarding the "Reverence for the Tabernacle." Dr. Hahn states that the Church intends the tabernacle to be a place of divine worship. In my church, the tabernacle has been placed in a little alcove to the side of the altar, no longer in a central point of focus. Is this a lack of reverence?
Mike Aquilina:
I'm sure it wasn't intended that way. Churches tended to move the tabernacles when the priests turned around to face the people. The priests felt awkward "turning their back" on our Lord. I think the last forty years have caused a great re-examination of the body-language of prayer. I don't think the dust has settled yet on the question of placement of the tabernacle -- or, for that matter, on the question of which way the priest should be facing. But we should be patient. And always assume that others acted with the best motivations. We would want them to do the same for us.

Would you recommend this book to a Protestant trying to understand the faith, or would one of Scott Hahn's other books be a better introduction?
Mike Aquilina:
I'd say it depends on the person, their interests, their level of education. The best one Scott's done as a general intro in a way that's appealing to Protestants is (in my opinion) his textbook Understanding the Scriptures (Midwest Theological Forum).

Claire L.
Grand Rapids
Now that we're in advent season, we hear a lot of carols and advent songs like "o come emmanuel"; are there old testament roots to singing in anticipation of the messiah?
Mike Aquilina:
Yes! That very hymn is a rendering of the traditional "O Antiphons" of Advent, which are based on Old Testament texts. As I recall, there's actually a pretty good Wikipedia article on the subject. So many of the prayers of the Old Testament are prayers of longing and anticipation: "How long, O Lord?" We feel the force of that history especially strongly in this holy season.

John Wright
Killington, VT
In the books discussion of indulgences, it describes them as "the full enjoyment of the benefits of the family of God." How would such an indulgence differ from simply a prayer for intercession to a saint or to the Holy Family? And in what sense do such indulgences manifest themselves in the practice and experience of the modern Church?
Mike Aquilina:
The actions you describe are indulgenced acts. For the turn of the millennium, the Vatican published a new enchiridion on indulgences. People can read that profitably (as well as Pope Paul VI's document on the subject), and incorporate these actions into their spiritual life, for their own good and the good of their loved ones. Sometimes all we can do is pray; but prayer is usually the most effective thing to do anyway! Our helplessness drives us back into the arms of our indulgent Father.

Santa Fe, NM
What is your favorite "outward sign" of life? Why do you think it is so important that our religion has "outward signs?"
Carl A. Anderson:
Certainly, as Prof. Aquilina indicates, the Eucharist is fundamental to our faith. And as each of us lives our lives, Mass attendance and reception of the Eucharist should motivate us to make our own lives a sign of life, to evangelize and bring Christ to all we encounter by the way we live, by our example.

Mike Aquilina:
Without hesitation and without a doubt, it's the Holy Eucharist. It's the greatest of all the Signs, because it signifies Jesus Christ -- and it is what it signifies. Our religion has outward signs because God wants it that way. He made us as we are -- with bodies, with five senses -- and he made us to learn everything we know through our use of those senses. So he draws near to us in these sensible ways. That's how much he loves us. That's how much he's willing to accommodate our weakness. Amazing!

Walt Jones
Glen Carbon, IL
I just bought my first book (Hail, Holy Queen) by Scott Hahn, though I have listened to him often on Catholic Radio. The book is excellent. Dr. Hahn does an outstanding job of explaining Mary's relationship to Jesus and why it is many Catholics seek her intercession. Perhaps the best explanation so far was the comparison of Mary and Jesus to Salomon and Bathsheba. What do you think we as Catholics can do to educate our own as well as other Christians about Mary?
Mike Aquilina:
The last chapter of that book (the "Concluding, Unapologetic Postscript") proposes a good plan: prayer and friendship. We should make friends, pray for our friends, and witness to our faith in a natural way. In the context of deep friendship, our witness is much more compelling. We should strive, too, to be joyful. Nothing makes the faith so attractive as happy Christians who live in happy homes. When people see happiness, they want what we have. If we stay close to Our Lady, she'll help us accomplish all those things. Prayer comes first, though.

burbank, ca
Relics seem to have made quite a comeback in the Church in the past 10 years - though as Dr. Hahn mentions they are sometimes misunderstood. For instance, in the past 10 years, we have seen relics of St. Therese, the tilma of St. Juan Diego, and the Passion of Christ draw hundreds of thousands of people. What does their new found popularity tell you about today's Church?
Carl A. Anderson:
People want a sense of connection to the past. This is the reason we have family heirlooms, pictures of loved ones both living and deceased, etc. You mentioned - for instance - the tilma relic, which we had at our Guadalupe Festival in Phoenix this year. Our Lady of Guadalupe left us something physical with her image on Juan Diego's tilma, precisely because having this enduring codex of her love had importance - then, and continues to have importance now. In viewing the relic of the tilma, or the tilma itself, for instance, we find a special connection both to Our Lady herself, but also, in the sense of the communion of saints, we are connected to the millions of our brothers and sisters in faith, who viewed the image and learned from it over the centuries.

Mike Aquilina:
They appeal to something fundamentally human: the desire to hold on to mementos of our loved ones. They also speak to something profoundly Christian: the dignity of the body, the divinization of the flesh in baptism. When you take away devotion to relics, you find that a lot of other things fall off with it: the idea of cemeteries as holy ground, for example.

Springfield, MA
I was intrigued by the chapter on relics. Often, relics seem to be an archaic practice, something that more "morbid" than spiritually worthwhile. What part, if any, do relics play in a "culture of life" today?
Mike Aquilina:
The saints are not dead. They're more alive than we are! By venerating their relics, we acknowledge the power of baptism. Through that sacrament we receive the grace of divinization. Jesus became what we are -- flesh -- so that we might become what he is. Through baptism we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). When we venerate relics, we honor the saints for their faithfulness to that baptismal grace. We acknowledge that we have received the same life, the same grace, the same share of the divine nature. We pray that we, too, will live up to the gift we've received. That's the only life that can truly and lastingly vivify the culture.

Carl A. Anderson:
I'd like to thank you and Mike Aquilina for an enjoyable discussion on Scott Hahn's newest book. Please join us next month for our second review of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love.

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