Books

Catholics, Take Note: “What You’re Doing is Holy and It Matters”

The Catholic Catalogue is a "field guide" to a lived-out faith

Mother-daughter duo Melissa Musick and Anna Keating recently published The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make up a Catholic Life (Image, $25), a book filled with practices and traditions from the Church. Keating spoke with Aleteia by phone about why she was inspired to work on the project, the richness of life in the Church and more.

What inspired you to work on this project?

You and I grew up in a difficult time to be a Catholic — maybe it’s always a difficult time to be Catholic, but we came of age during heartbreaking scandals. It was really painful to read the news and be an American Catholic. But I didn’t see the domestic church and the parish, … my experience as a Catholic, represented anywhere amid the scandals. I thought there is something good here, so maybe we need to open a window or a door into this life that we’ve lived.

With Pope Francis, a lot of people are taking a second look at the Church and at the Gospel.

Everyone is overwhelmed by constant distractions, which makes introspection and silence very hard to do. During Mass last week, I thought this might be the only time that I might be in one place without checking my phone or being pulled in multiple directions. I sat there and listened to the reading and let myself be fed.

Everyone benefits from making a little space in our lives for practices like that. It was not as radical in the past, but it is now. So much of the time I have the toddler, I have the baby, I’m chatting over e-mail, but I need that. I need to just sit and listen.

In the book, your mom points out that in popular culture, we have this need for confession, but confession is coupled with a justification for our actions. This is very different from a sacramental confession, where we don’t justify our actions, but we do receive love, forgiveness and acceptance.

Isn’t that any argument that you have ever had? “I’m sorry, but I was totally right,” and then it keeps going. It’s hard to just say, “I’m sorry,” but how radically freeing to admit when we are wrong? How much more peace we would have in our homes if we could just say, “I’m sorry; will you forgive me?” It takes a long time to learn how to trust that your genuine apology will be met with genuine mercy. It is life-changing for us and for our kids. The message from the church is impossibly strange. The Church says, “You can be forgiven, you can start again, and we won’t abandon you.” There is just unconditional love.

What is one thing you hope the readers of the book will take away?

One message is that what you’re doing is worth a lot. It is holy. It matters, even if it doesn’t seem like that. For example, when you are doing the sometimes thankless task of caretaking, you don’t get the gold star. Hearing from the Gospel and the Church that these things matter can be really life-giving and healing.

One joyful practice in Catholicism is the celebration of feast days. Do you have any favorites?

Corpus Christi, Pentecost and St. Joseph the Worker all stand out for me, because we have a wood shop and a strong tie to the Catholic Worker. … When I was at Notre Dame, I first saw a Eucharistic procession on campus. I’d never seen one on the street before. As an American we think faith should be private and interior, but we can also show how joyful and communal it is.

Like public processions, Lent is very provocative in our culture.

Yes, Lent and Advent are tough because they are about waiting, which is so antithetical to our culture. I have that impatience as an American: we know how the story ends, and we want to get to the punch line, but a lot of stuff happens in the silence, in the sacrifice, in the small way, in the waiting.

Did working on the book help you embrace these simple Lenten practices? Did you learn any new ones?

Yes, I learned a lot for myself and my kids. I really like the idea that we fast from our lunches to give food to the poor in the form of alms. I didn’t grow up understanding that connection, but the practice goes back to Judaism.

I also got a lot of ideas for ways to include my kids, who are still quite small. They are not really ready for somber practices like Stations, so how do they participate and live the season? One idea is to bring a branch of bush that will flower but is not flowering yet into your home, and by the time Easter comes, it will be blooming. Another one is letting them put the money in the alms box. They love to do that.

For Easter, I learned the origins of many of the traditions, like those of Easter eggs. It is a symbol of the resurrection. Early Christians were even buried with eggs, showing their faith in the promise of new life. Once I knew that, it seemed more meaningful instead of just one more thing I’m supposed to do. These practices also lead to kids asking questions, which lead to wonderful conversations.

 

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick writes from Oklahoma City.