ICS Video Game: Mario Bros, Vati-Run Edition, v. 1.1

In my Introduction to Computer Science Course (ICS) at Chaminade College School, as part of the Independent Study Unit, students were required to create a video game on Scratch, which is a “free programming language […] where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations.” 

The Planning Stage – As part of my brand The Catholic Man, I want to create a game that has a Catholic aspect. I was thinking for sometime and suddenly, the image of St. Peter’s Basilica popped up in my mind. “A perfect game setting”, I thought. I also wanted to put include an aspect of Christianity today, the many persecutions that occur. Interestingly, I happened to bump upon an article recalling how a seminarian saved the Eucharist from ISIS and later on returns to the area as a priest. Therefore, the goal of the game is to collect all the Chalices but at the same time dodge the rocks. The rocks are a symbol of persecution. St. Stephen was the first martyr and he was stoned to death (cf. Acts 7:54-60). Today, there are many more gruesome forms of persecution of Christians. Mario also collects the flames, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of persecution, Jesus reminds us, “…for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:20). In the end, after completing all three levels, each one progressing in difficulty, Mario sees Jesus whom He calls Mario, “good and faithful servant” as mentioned in the parable of the tenants Matthew 25:23.

Preliminary Sketches

 

Level1

Level 1 – Originally, I planned to use a various number of Sacred Objects that Mario should catch. However, I figured that collecting one specific vessel would be more meaningful. In my plans, I intended to have the devil popping up at random moments. After some time thinking about it, that feature was scrapped from my plans.

level2

Level 2 – In level 2, I planned to have Mario catching stars, a Marian symbol. However, it would not seem reasonable to have stars falling from the sky. Level 2 was going to take place in the Crypt Chapel where the tombs of most Popes are located in St Peter’s Basilica. It was impossible to find a panoramic background of the Crypt Chapel and therefore, I had to change the setting for Level 2.  I also intended for my game to only have two levels. The two levels seemed too easy. Therefore, a third level was added which was a little bit more difficult.

Sprites

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Mario – He is the main character of the game. His mission is the save the Church from persecutors and from destruction.

 

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Rocks – Mario must avoid these rocks. Rocks in the context of this game is a symbol of persecution.

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Fire – Mario can collect these to boost up his scores if he is hit by the rocks. They are a symbol of the Holy Spirit which gives the Christian People strength to withstand persecutions.

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Chalice – Mario must collect all the chalices in each level. They are a symbol of salvation, “The Cup of Salvation” (Psalm 116).

Jesus Risen

Jesus – After achieving the goal, after dodging much persecution, Maria sees Jesus, the “pot of gold”, Salvation. God is our goal in the after life after overcoming the many challenges of life… to meet God face to face in Heaven one day.

Screenshots

 

 

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Box Art

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled at EB-Games as this might appear on the shelves one day!

Mario Vati-Runs box art

 

Download

Well, the game might not be at EB-Games right now, but you can download it free-of-charge in the link below!

  • Version 1.1  << CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD >>
    • First edition of Mario Bros. Vati-Run Edition
    • First time Mario completes a mission through one of the holiest sites in the world!
    • Download the Scratch file and open it in Scratch
    • ***Minor glitches and notes*** (Please read before playing) 
      • The game may be run very slow. Please use a fast computer.
      • If “green flag” is pressed the first-time and things seem to be a little bit messed up, press the “green flag” again and everything should function correctly. It has been an error I have been unable to diagnose.

Credits

A special thanks to the following individuals who helped me throughout the process to make this edition of the game possible:

  • Mr. Mason (ICS Teacher)
  • Tyler Nguyen
  • Joseph Tran

 

Closing Remarks

Any recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!

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A Catholic’s Call To Serve

Service

As my grade 10 year at Chaminade College School came to a close, I once again ran

Vote for Vincent Pham

My campaign poster

for Student Council hoping to continue with a third year on the Council for the 2017-2018 school year. I have been involved in Student Councils ever since Elementary School. From the moment I walked through the doors of Chaminade College School in September 2015, I knew I wanted to participate in Student Council and other religious activities. I was elected by my peers to be one of the two gr. 9 representative. In May 2016, I was re-elected by the student body to be part the Student Council for the current school year, 2016-2017. This past Wednesday May 24, 2017 was the elections for the Student Council for the 2017-2018 school year. The results were announced yesterday morning on the announcements yesterday Thursday May 25. I was surprised and humbled at my election to vice-presidency (vice-chair) of the Student Council, something I would have never expected since I stepped foot into Chaminade College School almost two years ago.

Going through the halls with others recognizing who this, “Vincent Pham” guy was, I was humbled. I have informed my friends that I am still the same old Vincent Pham, vice-president or not. I never expect to get high positions or even to get many votes. I entrust everything into the hands of God and go with His will. Now that I look ahead into the future with responsibilities in my hands, I have reminded myself of that call to serve others in faith, hope and charity. It has come to my attention that the higher your position is anywhere in life, the more you must serve others, not the other way around.

“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mt 20:28) I believe this will  be my motto for the remaining of my time on Student Council. Many people often want to seek high positions, or what many call “rankings” in a hierarchy. The key that many want is power because with power, one can control other people with it so other may go with their wants, their taste. Yet, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28) Jesus, most supreme in power because He is true God, did not come so that others may be His servants. Rather, Christ humbly came to earth without majesty, “taking the form a slave” (Phil 2:7). This was evident through Jesus’ act of washing the feet of His disciples before the Last Supper (cf. Jn 13:1-17). 

All of this brings me back to an event I took part in last year. The one-day program hosted by TCDSB called, A Catholic Call TServe (ACCTS) was not only a day of prayer, Mass and discussions. However,it was a day I really learned the true meaning of Catholic service. Students were assigned to volunteer at different charities and shelter in Toronto. I was blessed to volunteer at Mary’s House in Downtown along with some other of my brothers and Chaminade College School. I do have to comment that the work was not as easy as I thought. We were to clean the baseboards of three floors. Each student wore gloves and used sponges to scrub those baseboards. Afterwards, I commented jokingly to one of my friends, “Today was one of those days when you really don’t want to be a Catholic (LOL)!” I went home that day reflecting on what I have done that day and realized that Jesus did similar acts too.

The higher the position one is in, the more service they must do. Those ordained to Holy Orders are called to serve. Priests, though they are called “Father”, wears beautiful vestments for Mass and using such fancy chalices, all of that would mean nothing without service. Same with Bishops and above. They are called by the people as “Your Excellency”, wear such beautiful mitres, hold elaborate croziers and wear elegant pectoral crosses, these insignia would mean nothing without service. We can see in the Popes after the Second-Vatican Council, especially in Pope Francis. Those days of the gestora and the Papal Tiara are now gone. The vestments worn by the Pontiff are much simpler. Yet, their acts of service are great and becoming more visible to the Christian people to show that even those of high authority are called to serve the people, not to be served. This should be the case not only with the Supreme Pontiff but with ALL World Leaders and those with authority. Prime Ministers or presidents and their companions should be the ones serving the people of the country, not to be served by the people of the country. Sadly, this is the case in many countries where citizens are forced to work for the glory of the government.

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Cardinal Blase Cupich serving food (@CardinalBCupich Facebook) 

Since my time on the Student Council, I have looked up to Cardinal Blase Cupich, now Archbishop of Chicago. He was student council president in his senior year of high school in 1967. Now he is now Archbishop and was elevated to the College of Cardinal in November 2016.  According to Fr. James Martin S.J., he is one of the most influential men in the U.S. church. With all the titles, Cardinal Cupich has never failed to stop serving. To me, he is, like Pope Francis a model of humble service.

I believe that service should be placed at the centre at a leader’s life. One should use their high position in an organization to do what is best for the community, not self centred. Christ could had come to make all of us serve Him because He is the King. Yet, Jesus did not do that. He said, “I do not call you servants any longer[…]but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15).  Those days of servant and king were gone. We must be people of service because, “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

 

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The Long Mass: The Easter Vigil

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Note: I started writing this post on Good Friday of last year and since then, I have not completed it. I finally sat down and completed this post, on my second year as the Master of Ceremonies for the Paschal Triduum Liturgies. 

Tonight, Catholics will start the Easter Season with a celebration with a humble name: The Easter Vigil. This celebration can be said as the peak of the Liturgical Year as it is the celebration of Jesus’ rising from the dead. The Roman Missal states that this “is the greatest and most noble of all solemnities” (EV 2Image result for lucernarium). The celebration of the Easter Vigil is the most solemn of Liturgies of the Liturgical year and concludes the “series” of the Paschal Triduum rituals.  Have you noticed that after the reposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday night, there was no final blessing? Tonight, at the end of the Easter Vigil, there will the final blessing with the two Alleluias.

The celebration of the Easter Vigil begins in a dark church. All the lights are turned off. The only source of light is the fire. This part is known as the Lucernarium. The priest will begin as usual with the Sign of the Cross. He will greet the people in words stated in the Roman Missal, emphasizing the our listening to the word of God and the celebration the Paschal mysteries that night as we await for Christ’s Resurrection. The priest will then bless the fire. The fire is a symbol of Christ Himself as He has said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) It may also be considered as the symbol of God guiding us just as He has done so with the Israelites during their escape from Egypt (cf. Ex 13:21). After, the fire that was just blessed is used to light the Paschal Candle. Once the Paschal Candle has been lit, the priest may trace the cross, the sign of our salvation, the Alpha and Omega and the four numerals of the year. When the priest traces the symbols he will say, “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen.” (EV 11) The priest will also insert five grains of incense into five points of the cross saying, “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen”. (EV 12) As the prayer suggests, the five grains of incense represents the five wounds of Christ. Often, these grains are five pins of wax with incense embedded into them.

The next part of the Lucernarium is the procession, similar to that of the Veneration of the Cross in yesterday’s Liturgy. This procession focuses on the Light of Christ. A priest or deacon holds the newly lit Paschal Candle and pauses three times through the nave of the Church, singing, “The Light of Christ”, and the people respond, “Thanks be to God”. By the third “The Light of Christ”, everyone has on their candle, the flame of the Light of Christ.

The celebrant then reverences the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet and in a special way, the Paschal Candle with burning incense as he does during the Gospel. A priest, deacon or minister proclaims the Exsultet. The Exsultet, an ancient Easter Proclamation is sung with solemnity beside the Paschal Candle. It explains the history of salvation and at the same time explains the significance of the Light of Christ, “the pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin”.  It praises the Light of Christ, comparing it as the “Morning Star who never sets”.

The Exsultet concludes the Lucernarium and the second part of the Liturgy begins, the Liturgy of the Word begins. There seven Old Testament readings, one Epistle and one Gospel at this Liturgy. However, many communities, including that at the Vatican only proclaims three readings. However, the Roman Missal states that, “Never, moreover should the reading of chapter 14 of Exodus with its canticle be omitted.” Exodus 14 records the events of Passover, the Crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14:15-15:1) and its events foreshadow the salvation of God’s people from the hands of sin. After each reading is its Psalm/Canticle. In this Liturgy, after the Psalm/Canticle is a prayer said by the celebrant summarizing the meaning of the reading and asking for the necessary graces (especially for the Catechumens). After the last Old Testament reading, its Psalm/Canticle and prayer, the celebrant/cantor intones the Gloria, a prayer the has been silent throughout most of the Lenten Season and sung last on Holy Thursday with solemnity. In today’s Liturgy, the Gloria is sung in great solemnity in the same manner as Holy Thursday with bells. All the candles in the Church are lit at this point and flowers and other decorations may be put into the church at this time.

The Mass formally begins with the Collect. The Roman Missal clarifies that it is said, “in the usual way”. Everyone responds “Amen” and is seated to listen to the Epistle.

After the Epistle is the intoning of the “Alleluia” which is followed by Psalm 118(117),Image result for Alleluia the Confitemini Domino. This may be done by a priest, deacon or lay minister. The “Alleluia” is done in a call and response form. The cantor intones it and the congregation responds, each time, a step higher in tone.

The Gospel is then followed (the solemn Alleluia takes place of the Gospel Acclamation). Candles are not carried with the Gospel because the Light of Christ from the Paschal Candle takes the focal point of the whole Liturgy. The Book of the Gospels may be reverenced with incensed as usual.

Image result for rcia clipartThe homily follows. Once the homily has concluded, the third part of the Liturgy begins which is the Baptismal Liturgy (the Rites of Initiation for the Catechumens). The celebrant calls everyone to pray for the Catechumens who are to be baptized. The Litany of Saints begins the Rites of Initation. Everyone stands during the Litany instead of kneeling as kneeling is an action of penitence. Easter is a season of joy, of being redeemed and therefore the congregation stands. The Blessing of the Baptismal then follows. This beautiful prayer mentions the significance of water throughout the bible: The Spirit “in the first moments of the world’s creation hovered over the waters”; the water of the flood “foreshadowed regeneration”; the crossing of the Red Sea “prefigured the people of the baptized”; Jesus was baptized in the waters of Jordan, blood and water flowed from His side. The main message, the waters of baptism brings life. The Paschal candle is immersed into the blessed water as the people acclaim, “Springs of water, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all for ever.” 

The actual rite of Baptism takes place after Blessing of the Water. It begins with the Renewal of Baptismal Promises for the Catechumens (if they are to be baptized). The Catechumens are then baptized one by one with the same formula in every baptism, “N…, I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The newly baptized are then vested with the white baptismal garment and then given the Light of Christ. The Rite of Confirmation follows as the priest anoints each Catechumen with the Sacred Chrism saying, “N…, be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit… Peace be with you…

Once the Rites of Initiation has been completed, the congregation are invited to stand Image result for Sprinkling riteto renew their Baptismal Promises. To conclude the third part of the Liturgy, “Vidi Aquam (I saw Water)” is sung as the priest(s)/deacon(s) sprinkle Holy Water on the congregation.

The Prayer of the faithful is then offered.

The final part of the Liturgy then takes place which is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Mass continues as usual at this point with the Offertory, Prayer over the Offerings, the Preface and the Eucharistic Prayer (often Eucharistic Prayer I, though this is not mandatory).

The blessing is finally given to the faithful after all the Paschal Triduum rituals. This solemn blessing concludes with the two “Alleluia”s at the end.

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Looking at the Good Friday Liturgy

Good Friday

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Pope Francis prostrates at the start of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion at St. Peter’s Basilica

The Good Friday Liturgy, known in the Roman Missal as the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion is not a Mass as some people may call it. The bread and wine is not consecrated at this celebration. Before the reform of the Liturgy, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion was known as the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified”, as the faithful who attended received communion consecrated the previous day, as we still do in today’s Good Friday Liturgy.

It is the most somber and silent of all Liturgies of the year. The Liturgy of Good Friday is consisted of three parts. The first is the Liturgy of the Word, then followed by the Veneration of the Cross and finally, the Communion Rite.

The celebrant (and concelebrants and deacons) proceed out to the Sanctuary with red vestments. The red vestments symbolize the blood poured out in Christ’s Passion. This was not the case before the Second Vatican Council. The vestments were to be black, a colour which had died down in the New Liturgy. The first part of the Liturgy is not a procession. It is a simply the act of the ministers moving to the Sanctuary in silence. The celebrant prostrates as the other ministers and the congregation kneels in silence. The gesture reminds me of John 10:11, when Jesus says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Literally, the priest through this gesture says this. However, prostration is also an action of full surrender to God and an act of penitence. There is a silent moment of prayer by the congregation. As the priest rises, the congregation stand. All this is done is silence, without an opening hymn or bells.

The opening prayer is said without “Let us pray” at the start as the congregation have already prayed through the moment of silence prayer.

The reading from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 records the prophecy of Christ’s passion, describing the fourth canticle of the servant of God. It is a very emotional reading, recognizing the innocence and pain the Man had to go through.

The response of the Psalm (Psalm 31) is, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” and is one of the seven last words of Jesus on the Cross. Luke 23:46 records these words. When hearing these words, I have the image that Jesus was totally obedient to the Father’s will and did so in excruciating pain on the cross until His last breath.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews chapters 4:14-16; 5:8-9.  It talks about Christ the High Priest who died for our sins and understands our weaknesses as human beings.

The Passion is read in the same form as Palm Sunday. This Passion however, is from

Image result for Reading of the passion good friday vatican

The reading of the Passion

the Gospel of St. John and is read every Good Friday.

The priest or deacon may give a brief homily as usual. However, after the Homily is the Solemn Intercessions. Unlike the usual Prayers of the Faithful, the Solemn Intercessions includes fixed prayers from the Roman Missal. The priest reads the prayer, not a layperson as seen as usual Mass. A lay minister says an invitation to help the people recollect themselves so to pray for that specific intention. Today, the Solemn Intercessions include ten prayers, (1) For the Church, (2) For the Pope, (3) For all orders and degrees of the faithful, (4) For the Catechumens, (5) For Christian Unity, (6) For the Jewish people, (7) For those who do not believe in Christ, (8) For those who do not believe in God, (9) For those in public office, and (10) For those in tribulation. These prayers were composed to pray for the WHOLE world, not specific for any parish or community. The faithful, with the priest raise their prayers to Christ, the one slain on the cross but have redeemed the world from the power of sin.

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Pope Francis holds the cross up high as the faithful silently venerates it

The second part is known as the Adoration of the Cross. In the ancient days of the Church, the faithful literally venerated the wood of the true cross. Due to the widespread of Christians in the world, it was not possible for every community to have a sliver of the wood of the true cross. Therefore, a dignified crucifix is used, large enough for the faithful to see and venerate. The minister (priest/deacon) sings three times, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.” The faithful respond, “Come, let us adore”. After each responsorial, a moment of brief silencer takes place as everyone adores the Cross. After the third responsorial, the celebrant kisses the cross first, then the ministers and finally the lay faithful. In services where there are many people attending such as that of St. Peter’s Basilica, the ordained ministers and representatives of the faithful kiss the Cross and then the Holy Father raises the Cross up for a period so that everyone can venerate.

The third part is the Communion Rite. In silence, a minister goes to the Altar of Repose to bring back to the Altar the Eucharist consecrated the Mass of the night before (Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper). This is all done in silence, without solemnity as the focus of the service is on the Cross of Our Lord, therefore keeping the somber mood of the service. The celebrant begins the Our Father as usual. Once the faithful respond, “For the kingdom, the power and glory are yours, now and forever”, the prayer for peace is omitted and everyone kneels for the Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God…) prayer in preparation for Holy Communion. Communion is distributed to the faithful as usual. Everyone goes up to receive Christ, truly present as the Sacrifice Victim on the Cross. Everyone goes back to their pew in silence, reflecting on the Mystery of the Cross and of the Eucharist.

A Prayer After Communion is said by the celebrant as usual with a short Prayer over the People. There is no blessing. Everyone leaves in silence. As we depart that Good Friday Service, keep our hearts the thought of Jesus loving us until the end, becoming the Passover Lamb so that we may be saved.

 

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What’s with the veiled statues? Explanation to the Veiling of Statues

Veiled Statues

Some Catholics may ask, “What happened to90ff8ba0d20ff9c9d9a3edf63e09a675 all the statues? Why are they veiled?”. It is customary for many churches to veil statues and sacred images starting the Vespers of the Fifth Sunday of Lent (also known as the First Passion Sunday which starts a time period called Passiontide). But why this practice some may ask?

The Roman Missal states in the rubric of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, “The practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from this Sunday may be observed. Crosses remain covered until the end of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, but images remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.” This rubric however may vary from region to region. The episcopal conference may or have decided on the observance of this practice. Therefore, this practice is not mandatory. However, the Roman Missal rubric for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) states that after the Reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, ” At an appropriate time, the altar is stripped and, if possible, the crosses are removed from the church. It is expedient that any crosses which remain in the church be veiled.” (EM, 40) Based on that rubric of Holy Thursday, it is high encouraged that the crosses be veiled in preparation of the Good Friday Liturgy’s where the cross(es) are uncovered during the Veneration of the Cross.

In about the 9th century, a large cloth covered the sanctuary called the hungertuch (hunger cloth) which was left hung from the start of Lent till the the reading of the Passion on Holy Wednesday at the moment, “while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two,” (Lk 24:45) was read. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Passion was read all throughout Holy Week (except for Holy Monday and Holy Thursday), unlike today where the Passion is read only on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The tradition of veiling statues may have originated from there. However, the statues are only veiled during Passiontide and not to be done from the start of Lent (see Jimmy Akin’s 6 Liturgical No-No’s During Lent)

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Hungertuch (Wikimedia commons)

The statues are usually covered in a purple cloth. Purple is the colour used throughout the penitential season of Lent. It is a reminder of penance and sacrifice during the season of Lent. The veiling of statues help the congregation focus more on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus while reflecting on doing acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Statues other than the crucifix are not unveiled until the Easter Vigil. Some churches choose to unveil it before the Easter Vigil. Some unveil them at the Gloria of Easter Vigil.

The act of veiling statues is more flexible today than it was before the Second Vatican Council. As mentioned above, the episcopal conference may decide otherwise. The goal however is to have the faithful actively take part in the celebrations of the death and resurrection  of Jesus. The veiling of statues would bear no meaning if the faithful do not walk with Jesus through His death and resurrection. It is an outward sign, an outward reminder of the Penitential Season, a reminder to live like Jesus and carry our cross.

During this Passiontide, let us try our best to walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary so to share the glory of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

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Catholic or Christian? What’s the difference?

Catholic or Christian

One of the questions I am asked the most is, “What is the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?”.

Many think that Catholic and Christian are two different groups. However,oneholycathapost1 that is not true. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Christian as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ”. There are many groups within the group classified as Christians (Christian denominations), that make up the different branches of Christianity such as the Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants.

However, there is only one true Church. The Baltimore Catechism teaches that, “The one true Church established by Christ is the Catholic Church. (a) Many churches which claim to be Christian have broken away from the one true Church established by Jesus Christ. These churches were founded by men who had no authority from God to found a church. (b) Christ intended that there should be only one true Christian Church, for He always spoke of His Church as one.” (BC 152).

branchesofchristianityThere have been many splits within Christianity mainly due to the disagreements between certain doctrines and theological teachings. One of the most notable splits was The Great Schism which split the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches into two. Another well known split was The Reformation in 1517 when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses and split from the Catholic Church to form a branch called Lutherans or Protestants. There have been other splits too such as that of a branch called the Old Catholic church who disagreed with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility in 1870. There has been many smaller splits that have formed smaller groups of Christians that have lead to us having thousands of Christian denominations.

Though split, the different Christian denominations still believe in the One Lord, Jesus
Christ. Also, through the Sacrament of Baptism, Christians are baptized “in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Through that, we all share is Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet and king.

Let us pray that the Christian church may one day be unified into one, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15:6).

*** Want to learn more on Christian Unity? Read my article, Christians: Called to Share in Christ’s Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly Mission. ***

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Why does Lent start on a Wednesday?

lentrEvery Liturgical Year, the Church starts the 40 day Lenten journey with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday.

However, a question some Catholics may ask is, “Why does the Church start Lent on a Wednesday? Why not on a Sunday?

Every Sunday is an Easter Sunday (we celebrate the resurrection of Christ). Therefore we do not start Lent on Sunday. One fact that some Catholics may not know: Lent lasts 40 days EXCLUDING Sundays. Why? Because on Sundays, Catholics celebrate the resurrection. Every Sunday is technically Easter Sunday.

Lent is a 40 day period for us to prepare our souls for Christ’s resurrection. In the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the Priest distributes ashes as a reminder that: “We are dust and dust we shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and that we have to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (Mk 1:15).

Why do we use ashes? The people of the Old Testament put ashes on them and wore clothing of sackcloth as a sign of repentance. We are now in the 21st century but we still continue to use ashes as a sign of penance in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Also, in the day’s Liturgical Readings, we are reminded of the three things we have to do during Lent: Pray, fast and do almsgiving (cf Mt 6:1-6, 16-18). Jesus tries to tell us that when doing these three works, we are to leave those works to only the person and God to know. We should be doing these works to get to the reward in heaven not the rewards on earth. 

When we receive the ashes, remember that we are small but not forgotten by God. We receive ashes as a sign of humility, recognizing in front of our brothers and sisters that we are sinners.

During this Lenten season, we should pray that we may become more humble. We also pray that we may become people of charity and people justice. We pray for peace for we know that there continues to be wars around the world and persecution of Christians.

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Hospitality: Reflection on Donald Trump Actions

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My Facebook News feed has been flooded with news about Donald Trump’s plans. Many of the posts had to do with the proposed Mexico Wall and the hot issues on immigration to the USA and travel ban for Muslims. These three topics have something in common. They all deal with the virtue of hospitality.

Donald Trump talked about the Mexico Wall and immigration during his presidential campaign. At first, I thought that all of what he was saying was just to get votes, nothing real. However, it seems like all of what he said is coming true in front of the world’s eyes.

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40) Jesus said that when he was talking about the judgement of the nations. He points out that the beggar, the stranger, the prisoner or the naked man we meet is indeed Christ Himself. To refuse acceptance of the immigrant, even if they are Muslim, is to refuse Christ Himself. People should not be refused acceptance into a country because of their gender, their skin colour, their race or their religion. Everyone should be treated equally. If Jesus were to knock on your door, would you welcome Him? I believe majority of us will if we knew that that Man knocking on our front door was Jesus. The beggar,the stranger, the prisoner, the naked man or the immigrant is no different. To welcome anyone is to welcome Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.” (2241) The United States is indeed a prosperous nation compared to many countries and they certainly have the ability to welcome immigrants. Based on the above passage in the Catechism, countries that a prosperous are obliged, (not should or may) to welcome immigrants. In a time of violence in the Middle East, countries should not be turning their backs towards the issue. That will only make matters worse. Rather, we should all put our hands together to help bring peace of mind to those affected by violence.

Donald Trump, upon my research is a Presbyterian Christian and though may not be an active member, he is still a Christian. Here, I do not want to say that Trump is a bad Christian. We all have decided wrongly on certain issues in our lives. However, we can say that one’s decision is wrong for this and that reason. We should only condemn the action, not the person as a whole. Trump’s decision is of course, wrong according to the Catholic Teachings and is not morally correct. His thoughts about Muslims as terrorist are wrong too as there are many friendly and kind Muslims, like Edna Hadan. Trump’s behaviour towards immigrants is negative. I believe the reason for this is fear, an aftermath effect of the terrorist attacks that had happened in the recent years such as the one at Paris and Brussels. I understand that. However, we must understand that in any group, a gender group, a cultural group or religious group, there are “bad apples” and the Catholic Church too, is no exception, even among the Catholic Clergy. We must learn to express hospitality to our brothers and sisters and that means accepting the risks that come with it. Rejection of our brothers and sisters only makes matters worse and causes more separation and pain in the community.

My father was one of the thousands of Vietnamese Boat People who fleed Vietnam in the 1980s. He was sponsored to come to Canada. I am certain that in the beginning, there were those stereotypes that Vietnamese people were some sort of terrorist. However, that certainly never happened (some exceptions as mentioned above). The Muslim, Syrians and other immigrants from the Middle East are no different. They should be accepted into the United States just as thousands of Vietnamese people were accepted into the United States in the 1980s. Many of them reside in California and Vietnamese Communities are now scattered everywhere throughout the world.

“What can we do?” you may ask. In a democratic country, one may voice out their opinions. Of course, there is the option of writing a letter. In conjunction, let us all turn to God in prayer. We pray for President Donald Trump that he and the government body may make choices that reflect the common good of all citizens in this world, not just those residing in the United States. We also pray for the victims affected by the ban.

We should not say, “Oh, Trump is a bad man, bad president.” We are all human and there are occasions when we take the wrong path and the wrong path may cause pain in others. However, we should look at ourselves too. We should ask, “What am I doing to help the situation?”. We may continue to sit and complain about the issue. However, if we just do that, nothing will be changed.

Remember, that all of this is the earthly life and we should not be too worried about what is happening right now. We should examine ourselves to see if we are prepared to judge others. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees who were prepared to stone a woman who committed adultery, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Jn 8:7). On the last day, when we are judged, we will be asked, “How did you treat the stranger? The beggar? The thirsty? The prisoner? The immigrant?” and most ultimately, God may ask, “How did you treat my Son?”.

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Vincent’s Top 5 Moments of 2016

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2016 is coming to a close and 2017 is opening its door very soon. In the last moments of the year, the Church sings the Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, O God) to express the Church’s thanksgiving to God for all the blessings received during the past year. Despite some of the terrible events during this past year, there comes some fruits out of it. We may not see the fruits immediately, but over time, the fruit will bloom. An example would be the fact that 90,000 Christians were killed this year. This seems terrible for Christians, and indeed it is, looking towards the future, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith,” said Church Father Tertullian.

Today, during the last hours of the year, I reflect on my top 5 moments of 2016.

  1. Starting THIS blog – I have written short reflections on different aspects of Catholicism since I started using Facebook in 2014. These were just short reflections (and many have grammatical errors :)). However, I did so as a form of evangelization. I was part of the Business and Technology 102 course at Chaminade College School during the 2015-2016 school year and had the chance of building my online profile. As part of the course led by Mr. Anthony Perrotta, students in the BTT 102 course were encouraged to create a personal website (blog) and a professional Twitter. I was very happy about this and here it is… the site you are on right now was created in January 2016.  Though I don’t have the time to type my reflections and post them on here or on Facebook as before, I try my best to so at least once a month. I do posts with the hope that it will reach people who are Catholic and invite them into deeper reflection with me. However, it is also a form of evangelization too. While posting, I hope that non-Catholics may look into the Catholic faith through my work. Recently, I purchased a copy of The Church and New Media and blogging has been brought up quite frequently and I do not regret creating this website!

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    Sample Facebook Reflection from my profile

  2. Steubenville Toronto (July 22-24)- Looking back at my faith journey this past year, this must have been one of the most impacting events I took part in thanks to the youth and young adults ministry YaYA Toronto at my parish, and the generosity of the parishioners of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. “The Church is not the Church if it is stuck in the church,” is something have said quite often this past year. My thought is that if Catholics are always inside the Church and we do not go out and approach other Catholic and non-Catholics, then why do we call ourselves the Catholic Church? Catholic means “universal” and therefore, I find it is important for Catholics, especially the youth to go out to conferences like Steubenville to get to pray, sing and adore Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with other fellow Catholic youth.
  3. Jubilee of Mercy events (Dec. 08, 2015 – Nov. 20, 2016) – The Jubilee of Mercy covered most of 2016 and recently concluded on November 20. I have been blessed to passed through the Holy Doors in the Archdiocese of Toronto several times during this past Holy Year. It was the first Holy Year in my life and it was great to have Holy Years brighten up to mood in churches. It was a year where all Churches around the world celebrated mercy and united to live a merciful life. The logo and motto of the Jubilee of Mercy, “Merciful Like the Father” appeared in almost all the churches I have stepped foot in this past year. I have collected several items from this Jubilee Year such as prayer books, pamphlets and even the two giant banners with the Jubilee logo hung at St. Cecilia’s Church throughout the duration of the Jubilee. However, my most prized article would be the wax Agnus Dei disk I have acquired from the Jubilee of Mercy office in Rome. These Agnus Dei disks are probably based off of the Agnus Dei sacramental that were distributed to the faithful during a Pope’s 1st pontificate year and the 7th year thereafter during the Easter Season. I was very happy when two of these wax disks came in through the post. I gave one of the two disks to my parish priest, Fr. Joseph Tập Trần.

    Agnus Dei wax disk from the Jubilee of Mercy, Vigil to Dry the Tears (credit: Riccardo Rossi, http://www.im.va)

    Mother Teresa’s canonization was a notable moment during the Jubilee of Mercy. I woke up early (about 4 am) to watch the Canonization Mass. It was moving to see a great model of mercy, model of charity being formally recognized as a saint. Another notable moment was Pope Francis’ closing of the Holy Door on November 20, 2016 at St. Peter’s Basilica. I again woke up early to watch that historical moment as those bronze doors will not be opened again until the next Holy Year, the Ordinary Jubilee of 2025. The official hymn of the Jubilee, “Misericordes Sicut Pater” was sung for the last time and Pope Francis silently closed the Holy Doors. In his homily, Pope Francis said a quote that I still remember, “Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us”. The closing of the Jubilee was just the start of Catholics’ mission to be missionaries of God’s mercy.

  4.  Meeting Cardinal Collins several times and letter from the Office of the Secretariat of State on behalf of Pope Francis – I had the honour of meeting Cardinal Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto on three separate occasions. The first time was at the end of February for the annual St. Patrick’s Mass at St. Cecilia’s Church. I was honoured to serve as the “Chaplain to His Eminence”. Sounds like a big job right? Not really… the title sounds fancy but my job was to simply hold his mitre and crozier as directed by the Master of Ceremonies, Fr. Edward Curtis. However, having the chance to talk to the Cardinal before Mass and after was great. I gave him my business card (not really a business card since I have no business, but perhaps a contact card would be a better term) and asked him to ask my replica of Pope Francis’ pectoral cross.  Before leaving, I said “see you March 1st” as we talked about the Ordinandi Luncheon earlier. I had the pleasure of attending the Ordinandi luncheon on March 1st. The seminarians’ stories were very inspirational. As expected, Cardinal Collins came, a little later than expected. He remembered me when I went to see him at the front door of the hall. My school group, Chaminade, got the chance to take a picture with him, an image that the boys will cherish forever. I also had the chance to meet with Cardinal Collins at the annual Vietnamese Martyrs’ Shrine. That time I took a personal picture with him not just anywhere in the shrine. Rather, we took the picture in front of the shrine’s Holy Door. It is one of my most treasured pictures of this year. I keep a copy of the photo on my desk.
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    Cardinal Collins and I in front of the Holy Door at Martyrs Shrine (June 11th 2016)

    This is probably one of the secrets I have kept the longest and had to wait for the perfect time to reveal it. Late May 2016, I wrote a letter and faxed it to Pope Francis via the Holy See Press’ fax number. I never used fax to send anything to anybody before but I did so with hopes it would reach someone in the Vatican. In the letter, I addressed some issues and greetings to the Holy Father from Toronto. I never expected any response when I faxed the letter. However, the Monday before Steubenville Toronto, I received a plain white envelope addressed to me without any sender’s address. I had some fear about its contents. I searched up the postal code on the postal sticker (in pink) and found out it was from the Apostolic Nunciature in Ottawa, ON (the Apostolic Nunciature is the Vatican embassy in Canada). I wondered why the Apostolic Nuncio contacted me. I opened the package contents. I unfolded the letter and surprised to find the Papal Keys symbol of the Vatican. A great feeling of joy went through me when I read the letter. The letter was sent on behalf of Pope Francis by Papal Assessor, Msgr. Paolo Borgia. Enclosed was a copy of the official Vatican portrait of Pope Francis and interestingly, a rosary blessed by Pope Francis. The rosary is one of the ones that Pope Francis gives to people whom he meets, especially during Papal travels. I am grateful to the Holy Father for the rosary and I have used it on several occasions. I’ve been thinking that unless Pope Francis makes an Apostolic Journey to Canada in 2018 or 2019, that is the closest I can get to him!

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    The letter from Msgr. Paolo Borgia and the rosary from the Holy Father, Pope Francis (my postal address and issues addressed in the letter have been intentionally blurred)

  5. Volunteer opportunities outside school and parish – I have been blessed to have volunteered outside of my school and parish on two occasions this past year. I took part in a one-day program hosted by TCDSB called, A Catholic Call TServe (ACCTS). Besides time of prayer, Mass and discussions, students were assigned to volunteer at different charities and shelter in Toronto. I was blessed to volunteer at Mary’s House in Downtown along with some other of my brothers and Chaminade College School. I recalled my experience in much detail in my post, Holy Door Closes: A Call to be Missionaries of Mercy. However, just a few hours ago, I was blessed to volunteer at Good Shepherd Ministries, again in Downtown Toronto with my brothers and sisters in YaYA Toronto from Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. I had the chance to volunteer at Good Shepherd once back in 2015 as part of my preparation for Confirmation. I enjoy volunteering at Good Shepherd because the jobs there are endless! You are always on your feet. However, Fr. Ed, the chaplain of Good Shepherd Ministries always has that smile on his face that brightens up everyone’s mood. Through my volunteer work today, I witnessed him being a real shepherd. He put in all the bed sheets out of the laundry machine and put them in the dryer. Later, he took the hot sheets out of the dryer himself. Despite the very hot laundry, he cracked a few jokes. During lunch, the volunteers were invited to have lunch in the dining room with its clients. Fr. Ed was there serving the food. I was glad to see the image of real service. Fr. Ed is a tireless man of service, very similar to that of Cardinal Blase Cupich, Pope Francis and many other clergy members.

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    This picture of Cardinal Blase Cupich (then Bishop) reminded me of Fr. Ed at Good Shepherd Ministries, a man of tireless service (Credit: @CardinalBCucpich Facebook page)

I had so many memorable events this past 2016 year but the post would be too long if I wrote out everything.

We should ask ourselves the following questions as the New Year 2017 approaches:

-Did I fulfill my responsibilities this year?
-Did I spend enough time in prayer?
-Did I spend too much time on social media and forgot about God?
-Did I spend time with family?
-Did I try my best to help those around me?
-Did I try my best to live the Gospel this year?
-Did I try to practice any virtues this year?
-What qualities in my spiritual life do I need to improve this coming year?
-What should I ask God to help me with this year?

By asking yourself these questions, you can determine your New Year’s resolution. It is important to set an outline of your year so to improve yourself, strengthening yourself physically and spiritually.

As this year comes to a close, we should leave our old self back and wake up as a new person so that we will be prepared to welcome a new “Year of Our Lord” (Anno Domini).

Wishing all of you a new year full of “good fruits”. May all of us be strong in faith, filled with hope and a heart of charity this new year 2017.

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Vincent Pham’s 10 Ways to Celebrate an Authentic Catholic Christmas

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Christmas is one of the most busiest times in the Catholic Church. However, because of all the fuss over this specific season in parishes, I seem to have better love for the seasons of Lent and Easter Season than Advent and Christmas. That is just my own perspective. People are surprised when I tell them I like Easter over Christmas. But that is not the point… all Liturgical Seasons have a special aspect to it. Today, I want to specifically look at Catholic Christmas.

This year, I share with you 10 ways to celebrate an authentic Catholic Christmas (notice emphasis in Catholic). I am sad that over the past years, when I go to Walmart or Hallmark to find a box of Christmas Cards, there are have been less and less of the Nativity themed cards than the Santa Claus cards. It seems to me that the true meaning of Christmas has been forgotten. Also, the business world has made it seem that Christmas is only December 25th. However, Christmas is a Season in the Liturgical Year. Therefore, I find much importance in celebrating Christmas in an authentic Catholic way. Here we go…

  1. Join your parish in the celebration of Mass – This is rarely the number one item on Catholics’ Christmas to-do list as I see it. Many go to Church because it is a “Holy Day of Obligation” (at least in Canada). In a recent articleThe Catholic Register reveals that Mass attendance doubles on Christmas Day. Going to Mass is the best gift one can give Baby Jesus on Christmas Day. I am sure that if your friend invites you to their birthday party, you would try your best to attend. Here, Jesus invites you to His “birthday party”. Why do some Catholics hesitate to come to Jesus’ birthday party? I am sure one can make many excuses of family parties, or preparations for this and that… However, as a Catholic, one should place the Sacrifice of the Mass, Our Lord’s birthday party as the central part of Christmas. It is where we can encounter Baby Jesus, the Saviour of the World. Maybe consider reading the Prayers to be used during the Mass and the Lectionary Readings. This will help you be more attentive to Mass and have better understanding of what the priest is saying.
  2. Spending time with family – Family gatherings are very important to me, probably due to the fact that I do not have many family members in Toronto. Christmas should be a time to gather with family to celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Why not do a Skype call? Or even a simple phone call saying, “Merry Christmas!”? Family are people very close to you. There is no gathering as fitting or oneself than in the family. Family here, however may not only refer to aunts, uncles or cousins. It may also include very close friends too. They too are considered family to many people.
  3. Spending time in prayer – I often pray the Liturgy of the Hours’ Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer or on many occasions, both. The prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours and of the Mass is the same all over the world, no matter what language it is recited in. However, no one expects one to recite any complicated prayer. During the Christmas season, take time to pray in thanksgiving to God (not just asking…). Include in your Christmas prayers, the intentions of the Holy Father and the Holy Father himself too. At the same time, remember your family members, friends but most importantly for the conversion of sinners.
  4. Visit a Catholic bookstore – I love going to the Liturgical Centre, Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master during the Christmas Season. I love looking at the Nativity Scenes that the Sisters put out for sale. Each Nativity is unique and comes from different areas of the world. It is interesting how each culture depicts the Baby Jesus, Joseph and the Virgin Mary. I really love the authentic Catholic festive atmosphere inside the store and the great hospitality offered by the Sisters. Also, the Pauline Books and Media store is a great place too (mainly books though). Yet, in the midst of the busy shopping at malls such as Eaton Centre and Yorkdale, people have forgotten about the “true meaning”. Consider going to a Catholic store after doing your shopping at the mall? Pauline Books and Media is very close to Yorkdale (Lawrence and Dufferin). Catholic shopping would be a great addition to one’s Christmas!
  5. Purchase or make Catholic Christmas Cards – I find it very difficult now to find Christmas cards at shopping centres such as Walmart depicted Baby Jesus, the Holy Family or a scene of the Nativity. The cards depicting Santa Claus, Christmas trees or a green wreath with holly are the common designs now. Of course, Catholic stores do sell these but they are a little pricey. Therefore, over the past four years, I have printed my own Christmas cards. The past two years I designed ones depicting a woodcut of the Holy Family. This year, I used a woodcut of the Holy Family with the young St. John the Baptist too. I want to spread the message that, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” through my Christmas gifts and cards. 
  6. Give the gift of love – Charity is a virtue that every Catholic should live, everyday but perhaps more during the Christmas Season. Consider making a small donation to a charity (that is trustworthy). Also, show love to others through your everyday actions. Try to eliminate selfishness as much as possible during this Christmas Season and even after Christmas. Love is the best gift you can give to someone this Christmas Season. Just a smile towards a sad person on Christmas Day can mean a lot.
  7. Visit the Parish Priest – Christmas is one of two busy occasions of the Liturgical Year and priests are constantly on their feet during these seasons. Consider taking time to talk to him after Mass instead of rushing home. Show your appreciation to him and remember him in your prayers. A priest’s life has its ups and downs, it has pleasures and difficulties too. Priests really need our prayers and our encouragment mean something to them.
  8. Preparing New Year’s Resolution – Christmas is not just a day (December 25) but lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (about the second week of January). Therefore, take sometime during the Christmas Season  to come up with a New Year’s Resolution. This may seem like an old practice… but I think it is a good practice to observe. If everyone took time to look at their errors during the past year and attempted to fix them the upcoming year, we would live in a much better world. Come up with a resolution before Christmas. Write that resolution on a sheet of paper. No one needs to read it. Make the resolution a plan between you and God. Once done, neatly fold it and after Christmas Mass, approach your Parish’s Nativity Scene and place in by Christ’s manger. That would be a great gift for Jesus.
  9. Christmas Caroling – I want to stress the importance of Christmas Hymns, Christmas Carols (not songs). “He who sings prays twice,” said St. Augustine. I was glad to walk into Yorkdale Mall today hearing some Christmas Carols. Christmas Carols express the true meaning of Christmas while Christmas songs (like Rudolph, Red Nosed Reindeer) do not. I am not trying to say that Christmas songs should not be sung. They are of course, fun to sing! But there should be a balance. Christmas Carols help direct our hearts and mind more to the reason for the season – Jesus.
  10. Expressing Gratitude and Forgiveness – Christmas is a time to express gratitude to those who help us in our daily lives. Take time to thank your parents, friends, colleagues, teachers, and our parish priest(s) too. A simple “thank you” and acknowledgement of what they do would be something great to do this Christmas Season. Also, if you have committed an error that have hurt someone, ask for forgiveness this Christmas from that person and from God during this time. There will be much joy this Christmas if both people can create peace.
  11. BONUS! Set up a Nativity Scene – Many homes maintain the tradition of setting up a Nativity Scene (sometimes called a Crèche) at home. While Nativity Scenes may be expensive, consider buying just a set containing Baby Jesus, Mother Mary and Joseph. There is no need to purchase those large Nativity Scenes. The most important character is Jesus. Nativity Scenes serve as a reminder that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”. Though images of Santa Claus and the elves may adorn the windows and rooms of many, the main focus should be Baby Jesus.

These are just some Catholic ways to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord. Please do not hesitate to share with me some of your family’s Christmas traditions! Each culture has a unique way of celebrating this festive season in the Liturgical Calendar.

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