My Faith/Teen Faith/Why Do Catholics Getting to the Root of Catholic “Stuff” by Juan Aznaran I’m a Catholic school kid from Peru. Maybe you can relate? I went to Mass every Friday morning with my classmates and served as an altar server (and kind of entertained my friends while doing it). My school had a beautiful chapel with huge stained glass windows, statues, and icons. Every classroom had a crucifix as well as images of Christ, Mary, and the saints, which fascinated me. In October everyone wore purple habits and celebrated El Señor de los Milagros. These things stood out to me then, but looking back I realize I didn’t really “get” any of them. What did they actually mean? Catholic “Fashion” I thought scapulars, habits, and rosaries were all part of the “Catholic fashion industry,” items to display or accessorize with. I mean, if you think about it, we look at so many depictions of Christ and the saints and you can probably find one that matches your color scheme on any given day — at least that’s what I thought was happening. One day, my school went on a field trip to the place where St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin of Porres lived. When I first saw the huge line outside the gift shop — a line that was longer than the line to go into the church — my first thought was, “Man! They must have cool stuff in there. Everyone is going to get some cool accessory and I can’t be the only one left out. I need to go see this.” (Full disclosure: I did!) When I recently went back as an adult, I saw that very same thing, but my thought process was very different this time around. After moving to the United States at the age of 12, I started meeting people that did not view these items as simply “fashion accessories.” Instead, they were representations of the very real devotions people had to saints. People truly believed in their intercession and were willing to share about their real life experiences. Some asked for the intercession of St. Martin for their pets and he came through like a champ. Others begged Our Lady of Guadalupe for help and their kid’s life was saved. Some mentioned how El Señor de los Milagros was behind a family member becoming cancer-free. These stories threw me off as I had only seen people wearing rosaries and medals, not praying with them. This made me think back to the field trip I took to the monastery as a kid. We like stuff! It was disheartening to see people focused more on the stuff in the gift shop than on the beauty of the life of a role model of faith in the Church. For the first time, I realized there was something that was off there. All the “consumerism” and “materialism” you hear about in our culture was right there in front of my eyes. Scapulars and rosaries and icons are certainly beautiful, but the fact that people were more worried about getting them as souvenirs than aids for prayer is problematic. Think about it: The Lord of the universe has blessed us with so many different means for devotion because He longs for us and yet, we reduce them to fashion statements. Are you kidding me? Even though we live in a world that defines us by what we own, what we wear, what we drive, what we eat, and so on, we have an opportunity to turn to something more inspiring and fulfilling. Heck! There was a saint’s room and convent right there! How could you pass on the opportunity to see and experience the life of a true role model of the Church, reducing it to a mere opportunity to buy an accessory? That moment reminded me that the more faith we put in “stuff,” the more disheartened we will be in the end. But why? If they look good, why can’t we just rock them? Getting to the Root of it All Don’t get me wrong — we are right to be excited about this Catholic “stuff” because they are blessings to us. As a Hispanic male, I have seen my fair share of them: El Señor de los Milagros, La Virgencita de Guadalupe, just to name a few. These celebrations are beautiful, so faith-filled, and truly inspiring. However, do we always remember what the true meaning is behind them? See, the beauty of a devotion is how it connects the faithful to Christ. We listen to the stories, hear of the miracles, learn about the life of the saint, and so on. Thus, we can see how the Lord acts through these saints, devotionals, and celebrations. That is the point of it all. Christ has shown Himself through amazing moments in the lives of amazing people because He is longing to have that same kind of amazing connection with us. He desires nothing more than for us to yearn for that same level of connection the saints and Mary had to Him. Step it Up, Live it Up If our Catholic faith is nothing more than a connection to a single devotion on one day or even one month of the year, then we have missed the whole point of what it truly means to be Catholic. Yes, our lives can be enriched by incredible examples of faith that we find in specific devotions. But we can’t get so caught up in the beauty of their lives that we forget they are only vessels of the source of that beauty: Christ. Regardless of how you grow in your faith, as long as Christ is at the center, we can and should be proud of our traditions and devotions. Whatever your culture, own it and live it up! If you are Peruvian, you better rock that purple in October! If you are Mexican, you better clear your calendar on December 12th! And above all, if you are Catholic, you better look at those images, statues, icons, rosaries, and celebrations and remember what they all mean. You are invited to be an integral piece in a community of faith that doesn’t just wear (and rock) Catholic fashion, but knows the root of it all — the man Himself, Jesus Christ.