Sunday, July 15, 2007


This is a quite Catholic post. Though I've been standing out in a pasture now for months, I'm still a Catholic cow, and when I eventually wander indoors again it will likely be because of the Eucharist.

I found something in our fridge that got me on a train of thought...

We are partly physical beings, and so God speaks to us with physical things. He also stirs us to remember and to pray by using certain physical things. Certain kinds of physical reminders the Catholic church calls sacramentals. The list of these is long - kneeling at prayer, the sign of the cross, bells, church buildings, incense, stained glass windows, icons, statues, candles, ritual foot washing.

Rosary beads are another reminder, and a tool to help us meditate on the miracles of the New Testament. Protestant friends have a hard time understanding the Rosary, but it's really just an old, tried and true, method for concentration on the life, death, resurrection, and next coming of Jesus, and for asking a fellow Christian (Mary, the Mother of God) to pray for us. The hands are busy with the beads, the mouth (and left brain) is busy with the Biblical words of the angel and the prophet (Elizabeth), and the rest of you is free to get closer to Jesus. Years ago I made my own large beads, with special symbolism (it's all about reminders), and had them blessed by a priest after daily Mass, which I used to attend regularly for a while when work was near a Catholic church. I have used the prayers to weather difficult times, and to celebrate good times.

So things like these can help us focus our wandering minds and hearts. That's what sacramentals are for. Nearly every faith on earth has their version of this - objects, gestures, rituals, words, which help us focus the "monkey mind," as Buddhists call it. I daresay we surround ourselves with these reminders. We grow up with certain things, and those can often reach the deepest within us.

Back in the first few years of our marriage (about 25 years ago now) I made dear wife a label for a jar of bath salts. She used them over the next few winters, and cleaned and saved the jar.

Years later, after we became Roman Catholics, a good friend went to Lourdes and brought back healing water from the grotto for friends. I recall sprinkling it about the house and praying God would bless our family's space, and then we put the rest in this jar and put it in the fridge. It has been there for years, reminding us by its presence, that God is nearer than we remember, and that He acts through all sorts of people and events. Through Mary, for instance, and through the faith of thousands who have made pilgrimages to a grotto in France.

And it is a reminder that we do not pray alone - we pray with the vast communion of the saints, all those with us now, and all those who have gone before us. And as we ask friends and loved ones to pray for us here, we also may ask those who have gone before.

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.


DebD said...

I did not mean to continue looking through your blog - but I couldn't help myself ;) This is a beautiful entry. I have been told that when we stand to pray (I am Orthodox) Mary and all the saints come and stand behind us. It has given me great comfort - especially in those days when I want to hurry through and get it over with.

Steve Emery said...

debd, Thanks for this comment, and for the words from the East. I love the prayerful heart of the Orthodox church. I'll be looking at your blog regularly.

Actually the photo on the top of your blog began a train of research this afternoon, as I tried to figure out where it was taken. I believe it's from the Azores. I spent hours agog at the beauty of those islands. Why aren't they better known?