Halloween and the Communion of Saints?

Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith series

Written by:

Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph


Halloween is one night of the year when adults and children alike seem to be full of imagination for the realm of the dead.  Maybe it is a fascination with ghosts and goblins, or maybe it is more sinister than that, but there is a profoundly Christian explanation for Halloween, and it has to do with today’s “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” question, and the Communion of Saints.

There is no coincidence that the world is fascinated with the realm of the dead on the evening of October 31st, which is the night before All Saints Day – that day when the Church celebrates the lives of those whom we know have made it to heaven.

The first thing the doctrine of the Communion of Saints should teach us – whether we’ve graduated from the fifth grade yet or not – is that there is a bridge between this life and the next – between the land of the living and the land of the dead.  Jesus Christ is that bridge, and He makes heaven possible.

Every human person will continue to exist after death, as every one of us is created by God with an immortal soul.  This is not to say that all of us will go straight to heaven when we die.  The ghoulish character of Halloween should remind us that not all of us are saints.  Someone recently reminded me that you have to be made perfect to go to heaven.  For all of us who are yet far from perfect, this gives us pause to reflect and to pray about what we merit in this life – and to consider what happens after death.

But, the Communion of Saints is not just about the souls in heaven; neither does this phrase simply refer to the canonized saints.  In fact, the Communion of Saints refers to (D) all the faithful living and dead. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, there is a universal call to holiness.  That is, we are all, in fact, called to become saints by God’s grace.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the context, “After confessing ‘the holy catholic Church,’ the Apostles’ Creed adds ‘the communion of saints.’ In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: ‘What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?’ The communion of saints is the Church.” (CCC 946)

All of the faithful – both living and dead – make up the Communion of Saints, and this Communion makes up the Church.  This is the way that we are joined together as believers. The love that unites us in Jesus Christ unites us even beyond the grave.  As The Catechism says, it is a “communion in holy things (sancta)’ and ‘among holy persons (sancti).” (CCC 948)

The goal is heaven, as my grandmother liked to say.  However, few of us have an imagination for heaven these days, it seems to me.  While some may argue for Halloween’s merits, it seems it would benefit all of us to know of this night’s real meaning of the great splendor of the Communion of Saints, who are present to us from beyond the grave.

In this Year of Faith, it is well to remember that faith joins us in a real way with all the faithful souls living and dead.  Faith makes this possible by joining us to God Himself.

Join us on November 8th for our next “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” post.

Please don’t forget to follow our questions on the Archdiocese of Washington Facebook page.

The immeasurable riches of His grace

Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith series

Written by:Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph

As frustrating and humiliating as our own bad decisions in life can be, watching a loved one make a drastic mistake is often much worse. How are we supposed to help someone to see how wrong the choice he is making is when he utterly refuses to listen to us and see the error of his ways?  This problem is the one St. Monica faced with her son, Augustine.  Though she tried to instill the Christian faith in her son, it did not take root. She fell back to the only resource she had left: fervent prayer.

For his part, Augustine felt he had given Christianity a fair shake but found it lacking.  He was very intellectual, and so he sought the truth in many philosophies and religions, but none of them satisfied him.  His restless heart eventually led him back to the Catholic Church.  Augustine became one of the foremost defenders and preachers of the Catholic faith.  How did Augustine become a staunch Catholic after being a critical despiser of the faith?

The virtue of faith, that confidence to trust in God and cleave to the truths he has revealed (cf. CCC 154), is a gift.  It’s not irrational to trust and believe in God, but we cannot simply convince ourselves to do so without His grace.  We see this quite clearly in Augustine’s conversion.  Initially, he found Christianity’s arguments unconvincing, and he felt the Bible was simplistic and unsophisticated. It took a good preacher – St. Ambrose – to open Augustine’s mind to understand the spirit and meaning of the Scriptures.  Augustine began to love the Scriptures, not in spite of, but because of the lowliness and humility of the truths they presented.  After years of thoughtful searching he overcame his critical objections to the Christian faith, but he still could not truly believe it.  Our merely human efforts are not enough to bring about true faith.  We can only do so if our will is “moved by God through grace.” (CCC 155).  Augustine’s conversion shows the power of God’s action in a truly remarkable way.

Some friends brought Augustine the story of the first monks of Egypt who left everything to follow Jesus Christ.  He considered his own weakness and was distraught.  Why did he keep delaying?  Why not commit now? As he became more upset and more distraught, he withdrew into the garden.  Then he heard a child’s voice call out “take up and read.”   Taking it to be a command from God, he picked up a nearby book of the letters of Paul.  One verse pierced through his heart.  In that moment of profound grace He says, “[a]ll the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”

St. Augustine’s is a profound case that sheds light on the truth that faith is a gift.  Who does Augustine have to thanks for his faith?  There is himself, in part, for his honest searching, St. Ambrose, for his preaching and teaching, and his mother for her consistent prayer, to name only a few.  Of course, first and foremost, he has God to thank, as is made clear in his final conversion, for the grace necessary to assent freely to the truth, as well as for the countless graces offered in preparing him to accept that gift.  When considering friends or family that seem far from God, we should not despair of our efforts to lead them to Jesus Christ, most especially through our prayers, for it is only His grace that will lead them to believe.

“I know Him in whom I have believed.”

Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith seriesWritten by:

Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph

You see the computer screen flicker and a blue screen pop up.  You read there has been a fatal error.  Not knowing what to do, you take out your cell phone and call your brother-in-law.

I think we’ve all had this experience before.  In the world today, no one can be an expert in everything.  Whether it’s a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic—or your brother-in-law the computer guru—we need to trust experts in different fields.  Having faith in matters of human expertise is so normal we hardly think about it.  We couldn’t live in society, or pass a single day if we didn’t.

Why does faith make sense?  The answer is fairly simple.  We look for people who are certified, who have experience, and who know how things work.   Since they have “vision” or direct knowledge about their skill or field of expertise, it makes sense to enter into a relationship of trust with them and rely on them.

This is why the Catholic faith also makes sense.  The substance of the Catholic faith is above earthly experience.  We won’t literally “see” the truths of the faith until we are with God in heaven.  But God knows these truths.  God “sees” them.  And in heaven, we will see them finally.  Since we cannot see them now, we have to rely on God’s authority to receive them.  This is what St. Thomas Aquinas is getting at in his famous hymn about the Eucharist where he says, “what God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;/ Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.”

This shows us the connection between our personal relationship with God and believing all of God’s truth.  This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that faith is first of all “a personal adherence of man to God,” and “at the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (CCC 150).  Believing in God, we also believe everything He tells us.  So the Catechism says that believing means first believing the Person and then believing the truth, “by trust in the person who bears witness to it” (CCC 177).

Jesus Christ Himself—both God and man— revealed the fullness of the truth of God.  The apostles handed on the truth of Jesus Christ in its fullness, and entrusted to the bishops of the Church in communion with the Pope the authority to teach in their name.  So when we receive the faith of the Church we receive it, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).  For this reason, our personal faith must always completely acknowledge the Church’s faith to be authentic.  Perhaps this is why St. Cyprian says, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (CCC 181).


As we gaze upon God in faith, let us exclaim that intensely personal and creedal confession of the Apostle Thomas:  “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).

The Name Above Every Name

Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith series

Written by:

Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph


Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest Catholic Church in the world, and it is one of the most beautiful. For centuries, Christian faithful have traveled to Saint Peter’s on pilgrimage. The original Basilica was built in the fourth century on the exact spot where the Apostle Peter – the first Pope – was martyred and buried in Rome. It is no coincidence that the place where Saint Peter was crucified upside down is the site of the largest Catholic Church in the world. It is a testament to faith in the saving power of Christ – that from death comes new life in Christ with the promise of the resurrection.

It never ceases to amaze me that visitors of all faiths – and those with no faith at all – walk into Saint Peter’s Basilica, and it takes their breath away. Saint Peter’s is beautiful, and one feels the awe and wonder of God when entering the church.

A majestic church like St. Peter’s Basilica is huge, shocking and unavoidable. When we encounter it, it overwhelms us with how there and real it is. At the basis of faith is a similar encounter with the immensity and reality of God. Someone said to me once, “I’m trying to discern whether I believe in God.” Isn’t this backwards? Too often we begin thinking of faith as something I do. But faith begins with God. Faith is about a response to what God has done for us.

St. John teaches us that it is not that we first loved God — but that God first loved us and gave His life for us. When this Love pursues and encounters us we are humbled, and overwhelmed. And so St. Paul says that, “it is not that I have already taken hold of it… but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ” (Philippians 3:12).

Since faith is a response to God, the question our hearts ask is, “Who is God?” God told Moses His own name: Yahweh. It means literally, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:13-14). The Israelites held it in such awe that they didn’t speak or even write it. What does it tell us about God?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is – infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the ‘hidden God’, his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.” (CCC 206)

Finding ourselves in “the fascinating and mysterious presence” of God, we realize how small and “insignificant” we are—and how great He is (CCC 208). This shouldn’t make us fear Him.  Rather, it should increase our desire to know His mysterious being. It should inflame our hearts to know Him better.  In the heart of every Christian is the desire to “seek His face.”

Today is the first day of the “Year of Faith,” called for by Pope Benedict XVI. Please follow our weekly series — “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader” — as we delve deeper into the truths of the faith, so we can come to a deeper relationship with the One True God.

Be sure to follow the Are You Smarter series on the Archdiocese of Washington Facebook page.

Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith series

Written by:

Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph

Children love to ask questions.  “Are angels real?”  “Who was Jesus’ daddy?”  “Did Jesus have a doggie?”

I once heard a mother ask her daughter, “Where does God live?”  The little girl immediately reached up with her left arm like she was trying to grab her favorite toy from the top of the refrigerator and pointed straight up to the sky.

Children have great faith.  They are curious about the world, and when you tell them a little bit, they want to know more.

Children also have a great sense of wonder.

I remember the day a fifth grader ran up to me at school, pulled me aside, and wanted to ask me about angels, with a glow in his eye.  We talked for five minutes, but I was on my way that same day to visit an eighth grade classroom.

The response from the eighth graders was very different.  Let’s just say a bit of that childlike wonder had dimmed.  Those eighth graders had already learned how to be tough, and they were surely skeptical.  When I asked how many of them believed in angels, one girl – only one – raised her hand.

Children grow up quickly these days.  Our faith sometimes grows tired and weak as we get older.

We don’t remain children forever.  But, what happens to our faith?  Are we stuck thinking that faith is just a childhood memory?

Have you ever wanted – once again – that same glow you see on a child’s face?

Try this: ask those same questions children ask.

For one year, beginning next week, we’ll help you ask a weekly question.  The questions will be the exact same questions grade-school students are asked in Catechism class.  We’ve taken them directly from the yearly assessments given to second through eighth graders in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

We are calling the series, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?”  Let’s see if you can pass the test!

That’s not all.  After you have had a chance to think about the question, we will follow-up with a short, relevant, and hopefully insightful reflection to go along with the answer.

Whether you know it or not, next week begins the Year of Faith, called for by Pope Benedict XVI.  To help celebrate the Year of Faith, the Archdiocese of Washington has asked three young Dominicans – members of the Order of Preachers – to give a weekly series that reflects on the wonderful truth of our faith.

The Order of Preachers was founded 800 years ago by Saint Dominic to help others come to understand the truth of our Catholic Faith and to pass that understanding on to the people of God, so that we all might grow in love for the source of that truth.  While there may not be a written portion on the entrance exam for heaven, a greater knowledge of the faith can only draw us closer to Jesus Christ, who is both the source and the goal of our happiness.