We’re chatting on the phone when my baby begins to cry. “I’m sorry,” I say, “but I have to take care of my baby.”
When I return to the conversation, I apologize again. “Please,” my interviewee says. “You’re a mom. You’ve got to make your baby a priority. This is an example of taking our faith from the theoretical to the practical.”
These words of wisdom belong to Scott Hahn, Ph.D., and it seems fitting that he should speak them during an interview about his most recent book, "Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots."
Dr. Hahn is a renowned apologist of the Catholic faith. A Catholic convert, he’s penned dozens of books, some recounting his journey to the Church, others defending Catholic teachings. But his newest book isn’t about chronicling his conversion or defending Catholicism. It’s more than a theoretical treatise for the faith. At its heart, Signs of Life is about enriching the lives of the faithful.
“The book is designed to help ordinary Catholics - whether cradle Catholics or converts - to discover the inexhaustible riches of what it means to live life as a Catholic,” Dr. Hahn says. “The Catholic faith is certainly meant to be studied and understood but even more, it is meant to be lived and enjoyed.”
The genesis for the book began some 20 years ago when Dr. Hahn realized that while his roots in Catholicism were planted in Biblical and theoretical ground, he needed something more in order for his faith to blossom to its fullest.
“All of our beliefs can be grounded in Scripture, but it’s another thing to discover that our faith offers a culture with customs and all sorts of traditions that once seemed alien to me,” he explains. “You can’t become an American by reading and studying the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address. It’s a life lived by people, and it has been for so long that you really have got to step into the middle of it. The same is true with our faith. I became motivated to really become a Catholic - not just in my head but in my heart, not just in my soul but in my body. Not just in my career but in my marriage and family.”
To this end, "Signs of Life" illuminates myriad rites, customs, and traditional prayers - from the Rosary to praying with icons - inexorably tied to the Catholic faith. Each chapter covers a single topic and reveals the Biblical and historical foundation of the custom, as well as answers to some of the common objections and misconceptions about the practice.
But, as Dr. Hahn reminded me during our phone conversation, the theoretical has to become practical. So the book also offers ideas for applying these Catholic customs to everyday life.
After all, our faith is not just a set of rules; it’s a way of life and a path to joy and peace. “Being a Catholic is not just about believing certain things to be true. It’s about celebrating,” says Dr. Hahn. “In a family, you don’t just gather together at one address because you have the same last name. It’s about birthdays and anniversaries and vacations and all those things that really create the memories that make you a family. The same is true with holy water, making the Sign of the Cross, the rosary, Advent, Christmas, and Easter, discovering the saints, all these so-called popular devotions - none of these are mandatory, but Catholics are discovering there’s something about the timelessness and the eternal that these traditions and customs embody that bring stability, joy, peace, and consistency.”
When writing and researching the book, Dr. Hahn found one of the most interesting “signs of life” to be relics.
“Every Catholic parish in the world has a relic in the altar where the Mass is celebrated. Why do we put bones of dead saints in altars? How do you explain that? Relics are one of those things that non-Catholics might just screw up their faces and roll their eyes and say, ‘Ewwww,’” says Dr. Hahn. “But in the Book of Revelation, John describes how he sees the souls of the martyrs - those who have been beheaded - under the heavenly altar where they’re crying out to God in prayer. It occurred to me that the martyrs who have died for the faith are not really dead. They’re more alive than we are. They are awake and alive in the presence of God 24/7 where they’re constantly praying for us."
"There aren’t two churches - one in heaven and one on earth. There aren’t two liturgies - one for the angels and the martyrs and one for us. The altar is the intersection of heaven and earth," Dr. Hahn explained. "The Mass is something that is being done on earth as it is heaven. We’re surrounded at every Mass by angels and saints and martyrs.
"So why not have a visible reminder of this invisible reality embedded in every altar where every Mass will be celebrated?”
Relics are just one of the many customs Dr. Hahn illuminates in his book, offering a window into the mystery of what it means to be a Catholic.
Luckily for me, we not only talked about Dr. Hahn’s book, but my baby’s meltdown proved to be a perfect segue to an uplifting conversation about living the faith as a wife and mother. As a mom of three little ones, my own “signs of life” are nursing babies, defiant toddlers, and curious 5-year-olds. And Dr. Hahn assured me that’s perfectly okay. God meets us where we’re at, and teetering baby steps toward Him are steps in the right direction.
“How can wives and mothers better build their domestic church? How can we marble in some of these beautiful customs into our homes?” I asked Dr. Hahn.
“From my own experience as a husband and a father, every single morning before noon, you’re already beyond Plan A. You’re on plan F. You’ve had to adjust your schedule so many times. One of the things Kimberly [his wife, who is also a successful author] has helped me see is that we need prayer markers in our day,” he says. “At noon, we try to do the Angelus. This marks the midpoint of the day with prayer. We also try to make it a point to a pray the Rosary. When the kids were young, we started with an after-dinner decade. Later we went ahead and took a step out in faith and began to pray a Rosary. We started to experience such a shared sense of peace and calm.”
Even if you don’t make it through a full Rosary, he says, don’t give up. God hears all prayers - even the toddler-interrupted ones.
I shared with Dr. Hahn that I’ve stopped trying to follow a strict prayer schedule, but instead have tried to embrace a rhythm of prayer to our day. He agreed that this is a good approach for busy moms. “Start with a morning offering, have a prayer around noon, and pray grace before meals. Just try to find a way to have a day where you regularly meet the Lord.”
But even when we stumble, even when our lives and pure exhaustion muffle our prayers and good intentions, God is there. He is the ultimate source of life and strength.
“God’s strength is made perfect by our weakness. Life is just punctuated by all these periods of dryness and of weakness. We start feeling those are the lonely deserts, but we know from those footprints in the sand that God is doing so much more with our less,” Dr. Hahn says. “Our problem is almost always that we fall back upon our own natural resources rather than trusting God’s supernatural resources. He’s always going to call us to something more than we want and take away what we think we want to show us what we need.”
And I thought I was just going to get a good interview about a book. Instead, I received spiritual direction - a real life example of God giving me what I needed more than what I thought I wanted.
To learn more about Dr. Hahn and his works, please visit http://www.scotthahn.com.