Demonstrating how the seven sacraments are both powerful encounters with the Living Christ and a marvelous blueprint for rich and joyous livingfrom birth through confirmation, marriage, and the end of lifethis guidebook provides Catholic parents fun and dynamic ways in which to learn and experience each core value. By providing instructive ways for strengthening the family unit through Christ, Elizabeth Ficocelli shares a refreshing look into the power and purpose of each sacrament. Flavored throughout with touching, and at times humorous, personal accounts of her experience with the sacraments, Ficocelli accomplishes a difficult taskproviding a book that is not only enjoyable to read, but also deepens the Catholic experience and the strength of faith in every devout family.
|Publisher:||Crossroad Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Elizabeth Ficocelli is a popular speaker and the author of Shower of Heavenly Roses. She lives in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
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Seven from Heaven
How Your Family can Find Healing, Strength, and Protection in the Sacraments
By Elizabeth Ficocelli
The Crossroad Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2011 Elizabeth Ficocelli
All rights reserved.
IMMERSED IN GRACE
The Sacrament of Baptism
Like many of us, I have no memory of my own baptism. A few photos and a small certificate produced by the Lutheran church of my childhood are the only proof that I received the sacrament. At the time I had no say whatsoever in the matter; I was baptized solely on my parents' faith and commitment. Yet this simple ritual involving water and prayer would change my life forever. As if to emphasize its significance, the Catholic Church recognized my infant baptism as valid when I sought full communion with the Church as a young adult. Therefore, there was no need to repeat the sacrament.
What Catholic Baptism Means
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door that gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church, and made sharers in her mission." (1213)
Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Baptism when he commissioned his twelve apostles to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He told us it is necessary for our salvation when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God."(John 3:5, RSV) In gratitude for this priceless gift of salvation, the Church baptizes infants as young as a few days or weeks old (or, if there is some medical danger, even as soon as they are born.) The word baptism comes from the Greek and means to "plunge" or "immerse." We are "plunged" into the water three times, symbolizing the death of ourselves (and our sins) being united with the death and burial of Christ, and our resurrection with him as a new creation. The washing with water is therefore a sign of purification and renewal. We believe as Catholics that all of our sins are forgiven in baptism — both original sin and those that we have voluntarily committed. Through God's grace, the punishment from these sins is also pardoned. (This doesn't mean that people are preserved from committing sins and risking their salvation in the future. That's why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the subject of the next chapter.) Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul of the baptized, which is why valid baptisms are never repeated.
Baptism is not a "cute" ritual or something we do out of a desire to please an elderly relative who has old-fashioned beliefs. It is a serious and grace-filled sacrament that is empowering and life-changing, and one we want to seek with heartfelt desire. Parents who undertake the responsibility of baptizing their child in the Catholic church need to fully understand the commitment they are making — that is, to raise the child in the Catholic faith. For this reason, before approaching the baptismal font with their children, it is customary for parents to receive proper sacramental preparation.
Most parishes today offer a baptism class for parents preparing to have a child baptized. This is an excellent opportunity to connect with other young families and meet some of the spiritual leaders of the parish. An effective baptism class is warm and welcoming to its families. It conveys the message that these families are important to the community and that their presence at Mass is greatly desired. Hopefully, the baptism class experience will mark the beginning of a long, active, and happy life in the parish.
The baptism class is a perfect opportunity for new parents to think about their own relationship with God and the Church. Sometimes one of the parents who are baptizing a child may not be Catholic and may feel uncomfortable about the process. Others who are Catholic may have misunderstandings and misperceptions about their faith. The baptism class provides a safe and supportive environment to bring up questions and concerns in order to receive clear explanations of what the Church teaches. Just as importantly, the baptism class teaches families about the serious nature of the commitment parents are about to make in baptizing their child in the Catholic Church and raising that child in the faith. This commitment includes bringing that child to Mass on Sunday and preparing him or her to receive the sacraments.
A common misunderstanding about baptism is that it is a private family affair. In the Catholic Church, nothing could be further from the truth. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, a bond of unity is formed with one another, because we are incorporated into Christ and his Church. Therefore, every time an individual enters the Church through baptism, the parish community is directly affected. That's why baptisms usually take place during (or immediately following) the Mass. It's a community celebration!
Baptism Preparation Activities
A number of activities can help in the preparation process for the Sacrament of Baptism. Here are several to consider.
Pray with Your Spouse
The most important advice I can offer new parents or parents-to-be is to start praying together as a couple. Prayer is a powerful tool that is mentioned frequently in this book because it works, and there is nothing more powerful than family prayer. Many older Catholics were raised in families that prayed rosaries or other prayers together. While unfortunately this tradition seems to have fallen to the wayside, I'm pleased to see it gradually making a comeback.
The start of a new family is a wonderful time for couples to begin praying together, but no matter what stage a family is in, it is never too late to incorporate a regimen of prayer. For many husbands and wives, praying together will seem awkward at first — it can actually be more of an intimate and vulnerable experience than making love. With practice and patience, however, praying together as a couple will become more natural, and couples will be surprised at how it strengthens their union. Couples can pray for themselves as parents or prospective parents, and they can also pray for their child — even (and especially) before he or she is born. Starting family prayer when children are young can be tremendously bonding and will become second nature for the parents as their children grow older and need the parents' prayers all the more. Prayer works wonders — never underestimate this powerful gift!
Write a Letter to Your Baby
Another activity I suggest for parents is to write a letter to their baby, sharing their hopes and dreams for that child as he or she grows to follow God. This exercise gives parents an opportunity to sort out these thoughts in their own heads and share some of those ideas with their spouse. Crafting such a letter can help unify the couple and also serve as a commitment in writing for the couple to encourage them to make it a priority to raise their little one as a child of God.
Choose the Right Baptismal Name
The discernment of a baptismal name is one that can yield surprising fruits. Even though it's popular today for people to name their children after states or movie stars or words that sound pleasing to the ear, we as Catholics have a wonderful tradition of naming our children after great saints who have gone before us. We'll discuss saints in Chapter 4on Confirmation, but for now I will say that the saints are one of our Church's great treasures that can truly help us grow in holiness. Saints are men, women, and sometimes children whom the Church has raised up for our example because all of us are called to be saints. My husband and I wanted all the help we could get in raising our children, so when it came to naming them, we figured we would cover the bases: we named them after an archangel, a bishop, a prophet, and an Apostle. I've found it interesting that as our boys grow, their personalities seem to match the holy ones for whom they were named. Michael Thomas, for example, is a warrior for the faith. He defends Catholicism among his peers, and he's a great leader and protector of his younger brothers. At the same time, he's quite the thinker and questions everything. Nicholas Joseph tends to be kind and gentle and generous. Our younger ones are still growing into their personalities, but already I have seen Daniel Vincent demonstrate tenacity and bravery. He also has a soft spot for the less fortunate. Matthew David was named because he was a "gift from God" as his first name implies, and not our own idea. Like David, he is also the youngest of his brothers with a natural ability to lead. (He prefers Nerf® guns to slingshots, however!)
Choose Appropriate Godparents
Another decision we must discern in preparation for baptism is the choice of godparents. In the Catholic Church, godparents are not figureheads but vital links between the family and the Church — a tangible example of that connection to community we talked about earlier. It is the responsibility of the godparents to see that godchildren are raised in the faith and remain in the faith. Therefore, godparents should be practicing Catholics with a good knowledge of the tenets of our faith and an earnest desire to play a vital role in the child's sacramental journey. If a godparent lives far away, there are still plenty of communication technologies available today to stay connected. (Just ask the godchild!) The bond between godparent and godchild is meant to last a lifetime, just like the Sacrament of Baptism.
Attend Easter Vigil
A terrific way to foster a deeper appreciation of baptism is to attend the Easter Vigil, the Church's formal celebration of this sacrament. If you've never experienced it, the Easter Vigil is one of the most beautiful celebrations of the liturgical year. It begins with the lighting and blessing of a small fire outside of the parish building, symbolizing the light that Christ brings to a world darkened with sin. The Easter candle is lit from this fire and brought into the darkened sanctuary. Candles held by parishioners are lit from this one light, and the room begins to illuminate as the light of Christ is spread from person to person. Biblical accounts of salvation history are sung or read, as the lights of the church are gradually turned up. Other rituals include the blessing of the baptismal water and the Easter candle. But the climax of the Easter Vigil is the formal acceptance into the Church of those adults and young people who have been preparing for this night for nine months. It truly brings alive the meaning of baptism and makes a person proud to be a part of this glorious faith.
Educational Opportunities for Baptism
In order for the graces of this sacrament to unfold, the baptized child or adult will need his or her faith nurtured through the help of parents, godparents, and others. A child's first impressions and experiences of faith and God come primarily through us as parents, which is both a privilege and an awesome responsibility. As children get older, there are opportunities to help them understand what the Sacrament of Baptism means in their lives.
Teach Them Why
For starters, children have a right to know why they were baptized — and why they were baptized Catholic. Although it is in vogue today in our culture to be tolerant of everyone, no matter what their beliefs, we as Catholics do not have to lose sight of the fact that we have something unique and special. It's okay to be comfortable in the knowledge that we have the fullness of the truth. This is not to negate the existence of other religions. It is simply to acknowledge that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. We have preserved his teaching through Holy Scripture and Tradition and through an unbroken line of apostolic succession all the way back to Peter, whom Jesus appointed as the first head of the Church. These solid reasons are why we have chosen the Catholic faith for our child, and why we are enthusiastic about sharing what we have with others.
One of our jobs as parents is to raise our children with the understanding that they are loved and special in our eyes and in the eyes of God. Our children need this sense of belonging and protection more than ever, due to the times we live it. Let them know that through baptism, they have become a child of God forever. No one and no circumstance — even death — can take that away from them.
Read Bible Stories about Baptism
An effective way to teach children about baptism is to share stories with them from the Bible that prefigure this sacrament. For example, read together the story of creation from Genesis and how the Spirit of God breathed its holiness on the waters. They'll probably already be familiar with the story of Noah and the ark, but you can draw out its relevance to the Sacrament of Baptism by emphasizing how the waters of the great flood were like the waters of baptism in that they saved Noah and his family, giving them new life. At the same time, the waters brought about death, which alludes to the death of our sins and the death Christ endured on the cross for our salvation.
Another famous "water" story from Holy Scripture is the crossing of the Red Sea. To free Moses and his fellow Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, God parted the waters so that the Israelites could cross safely without drowning (which was the unfortunate fate for Pharaoh's soldiers). This liberation from slavery prefigures the liberation from sin and death that happens through the Sacrament of Baptism. A second miracle involving water occurs in the crossing of the Jordan River. This time we find the Israelites in the midst of wandering around the desert for forty years. They arrive at the Jordan River, but its depth prevents them from crossing over to the Promised Land. God instructs Joshua to have the Ark of the Covenant carried down to the water's edge, and once again, the waters part to permit safe crossing. The Promised Land in this story can be likened to the promise of eternal life we receive as adopted children of God through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Certainly, Jesus' own baptism by John in the same Jordan River is an important teaching tool for our children. Jesus willingly subjected himself to a baptism meant for sinners, though he himself was sinless. In emptying himself in this manner, he was filled with the Holy Spirit who hovered above the waters at that sacred moment in the form of a dove. The Father identifies Jesus as his "beloved Son" (Matt 3:16–17), and the Savior's mission begins. This mission will culminate in Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross. It is on that cross that we have the greatest prefiguring of baptism. After the Roman soldier pierced Jesus' heart to ensure that he was dead, blood and water flowed out. The blood represents the Eucharist and the water represents baptism — the sacraments of new life. Jesus' death on the cross makes it possible for us to be born of water and the Spirit so that we can enter the Kingdom of God.
Observe Baptisms in Other Families
In addition to teaching children about baptism through the use of Bible stories, you can explain the sacrament more fully when you see a family carrying an infant dressed in white into Mass. Begin by explaining the purpose of the holy water font at the entrance to the church, which we use to bless ourselves as a reminder of our baptism and a gesture to purify ourselves before the presence of God. Point out quietly to your children what is happening during the baptism as Father anoints the baby's crown with chrism oil, declaring that the child shares in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Make note of the garment of white, symbolizing purity and how we are to "put on Christ" as St. Paul tells us (Galatians 3:27). And explain how we are enlightened through our baptism, which is why the priest presents the parents with a lighted candle. Encourage your children to renew their baptismal vows with the congregation through an emphatic, "We do!" If possible, sit near the baptismal font so your children have a good view of all the action.
Excerpted from Seven from Heaven by Elizabeth Ficocelli. Copyright © 2011 Elizabeth Ficocelli. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preface: An Undiscovered Treasure 1
Introduction: The Seven Sacraments. God's Special Protection from Birth until Death 5
The Answers to Life's Difficulties
The Power of Love
The Power of Community
Our Role in the Sacraments
1 Immersed in Grace: The Sacrament of Baptism 15
What Catholic Baptism Means
Baptism Preparation Activities
Educational Opportunities for Baptism
Family Traditions for Baptism
Baptism and Beyond
The Family Mass Survival Guide
2 Font of Forgiveness: The Sacrament of Reconciliation 35
Miracle of Mercy
Negative Perceptions about Confession
Confusion Over Sin
Other Hurdles to Overcome
Building a Positive Perception
Grace and Forgiveness: The Two-Part Gift of Reconciliation
Forgiveness Starts at Home
Preparing for a Visitor
Confession for the Past, Encouragement for the Future
3 Sacrament of Sacraments: Holy Communion 57
The Real Deal
Preparing for and Responding to the Eucharist
Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament
The Miracle of the Mass
4 Sealed with the Spirit: The Sacrament of Confirmation 77
The Origin of the Sacrament
Protestant versus Catholic Confirmation
A Serious Commitment
The Gifts of the Spirit
A Call to Witness and Evangelize
A Beginning, Not an Ending
Choosing a Confirmation Name
Choosing a "Saint for a Year"
Life After Confirmation
The Importance of Youth Ministry
Getting Young People Involved in Parish Ministry
5 Reflection of God's Love: The Sacrament of Matrimony 101
More Than a Piece of Paper
My Own Marriage as Sacrament
God's Strengthening Presence
Desperate Need for Sacramental Marriage
Modeling a Good Marriage for Our Children
Offering a Message for Children and Young People
Preparing Grown Children for the Sacrament of Marriage
Nurturing Existing Marriages
A Path to Holiness
6 Called to Serve: The Sacrament of Holy Orders 121
I Want to be a Nun
Exposing Young Children to the Religious Life
Serving on the Altar
Spiritually Adopting a Seminarian
Behind the Walls
7 Strength for the Suffering: The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick 137
A Sacrament for the Sick and Suffering
What Children Can Learn about the Anointing of the Sick
Life Lessons Affiliated with This Sacrament
Putting the Works of Mercy to Work
Talking about Eternity in the Here and Now
Fostering a Regard for Life
Walking the Final Journey
Conclusion: Taking the First Step 155
The Domestic Church
A Final Reflection
End Notes 161
About the Author 168