5 Sacramentals to Preserve Your Faith Outside the Home

Last week, we looked at how to sanctity the “domestic church,” the home. This week we are going to examine what sacramentals can help us when we step out our front door. As lay Christians, we are not meant to stay secluded and have no contact with the outside world. We are all lay “missionaries,” bringing the message of the Gospel to those we meet.

This is a hard task, one that is typically met with numerous obstacles. Not only does the world try to seduce us or prevent us from living out a Christian life, Satan himself is most active outside of our comfortable home and will do whatever he can to stop us. 

Medals and Scapulars

First of all, one tool that the Church has given us to help remain steadfast in the faith is the blessed medal. These medals are circular in shape and have the imprint of Jesus or a particular saint on them and are blessed by a priest. They are worn around the neck and are meant to serve as reminders of God’s presence and the intercession of that particular saint. 

In general, medals have a long history in the Church, having been found in the Roman catacombs. The custom of wearing medals was something familiar to the pagans, as they often wore “amulets” around their necks for divine protection and “good luck.” The primary difference is that the Catholic belief behind wearing medals is not for “good luck” or “divine favor,” but that of a constant reminder of God’s presence. The blessed medal itself has no power. It does not grant extraordinary power to the wearer. However, it does act as a powerful conduit of God’s grace that is dependent on the faith of the wearer. 

It is easy to wear these medals as if they were an “amulet” and to be superstitious about wearing them. This would be condemned by the Church and no extraordinary grace would be granted to the person. It is only when the person wearing the medal makes an act of faith that God can act in a special way. In a certain sense, medals are like doors of grace. We can receive God’s grace only if we use the medal in faith and open the door of our heart. The medal reminds us of what we must do and helps dispose our heart to the grace that God wants to give to us.

For our purposes I will highlight three medals: the St. Christopher Medal, the St. Benedict Medal, and the Miraculous Medal.

The St. Christopher Medal is one that has an image of St. Christopher on it, carrying the Christ child. He is said to have had carried a child over a treacherous river and then discovered that it was the Christ child (who promptly disappeared after being revealed). As a result of that story, he is the patron saint of travelers and is often invoked for protection when traveling. It is very common to see St. Christopher Medals hanging in a car as a reminder to ask for  St. Christopher’s intercession for a safe journey.

The St. Benedict Medal is one that has been used for centuries and is associated with numerous miracles. In particular, it is popularly known as the “devil-chasing medal.” St. Benedict himself led an austere life and founded a monastery and rule that continues to inspire others today. His example has inspired may over the centuries since his death and so a medal was struck with his image on it as a reminder of his holiness and dedication to God. 

On the front of the medal is Saint Benedict holding a cross in his right hand, the object of his devotion, and in the left his rule for monasteries. On the back is a poisoned cup, in reference to the legend of St. Benedict, which explains how hostile monks attempted to poison him: the cup containing poisoned wine shattered when the saint made the sign of the cross over it (and a raven carried away a poisoned loaf of bread). Above the cup are the words Crux sancti patris Benedicti ("The Cross of [our] Holy Father Benedict"). Surrounding the image of Saint Benedict are the words Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! ("May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death"), since he was always regarded as the patron of a happy death.

On the back is a cross, containing the letters C S S M L - N D S M D, initials of the words Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Non draco sit mihi dux! ("May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my overlord!”). The large C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti ("The Cross of [our] Holy Father Benedict"). Surrounding the back of the medal are the letters V R S N S M V - S M Q L I V B, in reference to Vade retro satana: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! ("Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!") and finally, located at the top is the word PAX which means “peace".

Again, the medal itself does not hold any power, but is a constant reminder to the wearer to not give-in to the wiles of the devil. The words on the medal are very powerful and can be used in a period of temptation or trial. These words have proven to be effective, which is why it is called the “devil-chasing medal.”

The design for the Miraculous Medal was given to Saint Catherine Labore in 1830 in a set of three visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here is a short narration of the history of this medal:

"Sister Catherine records that the Blessed Virgin appeared as if standing on a globe, and bearing a globe in her hands. As if from rings set with precious stones dazzling rays of light were emitted from her fingers. These, she said, were symbols of the graces which would be bestowed on all who asked for them. Sister Catherine adds that around the figure appeared an oval frame bearing in golden letters the words "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee"; on the back appeared the letter M, surmounted by a cross, with a crossbar beneath it, and under all the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the former surrounded by a crown of thorns, and the latter pierced by a sword." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Just like any sacramental it must be worn with devotion and piety, yet if a door is open, our Blessed Mother will use it. An example of this is the famous conversion of a Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne. Here is a description of what happened:

[Ratisbonne] had resisted the appeals of a friend to enter the Church. [He] consented, somewhat reluctantly, to wear the medal, and being in Rome, he entered, by chance, the church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte and beheld in a vision the Blessed Virgin exactly as she is represented on the medal; his conversion speedily followed. This fact has received ecclesiastical sanction, and is recorded in the office of the feast of the Miraculous Medal. (Ibid)’

This particular story inspired Saint Maximilian Kolbe to adopt the Miraculous Medal for a new congregation he founded that was devoted to the Blessed Mother. After hearing the story, he prayed and meditated on the Miraculous Medal for nine months before deciding to make it the emblem of his new Militia Immaculatae (Knights of the Immaculate).

For the rest of his life he would carry a pocketful of these medals, which he would call “bullets.” After meeting someone and exhorting them to live as a faithful Christian, he would hand them a Miraculous Medal and let the Blessed Mother take care of the rest. Throughout his life many souls were brought back to Christ through the handing out of these “bullets.”

One could say that Saint Maximilian prepared the soul by opening a window through his exhortation and then the Blessed Mother would find her way through that window into the person’s heart.

These three medals are beneficial to have while going out into the world and are constant reminders of God’s presence.

In addition to these medals, one of the most important sacramentals to have is the Brown Scapular

First of all, here is a quick history of the Brown Scapular:

[K]nown as the Brown Scapular, this is the best known, most celebrated, and most widespread of the small scapulars. It is spoken of as “the Scapular”, and the “feast of the Scapular” is that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16 July. It is probably the oldest scapular and served as the prototype of the others. According to a pious tradition the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, 16 July, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said: “Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant“….And, even though there is here no direct reference to the members of the scapular confraternity, indirectly the promise is extended to all who from devotion to the Mother of God should wear her habit or badge, like true Christians, until death, and be thus as it were affiliated to the Carmelite Order. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Our Lady grants to the devout and pious wearers of this scapular particular “privileges:”

"For this privilege declares nothing else than that all those who out of true veneration and love for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of fidelity and confiding faith, after they have been placed by the Church itself with this habit or badge under the special protection of the Mother of God, shall enjoy this special protection in the matter and crisis which most concerns them for time and eternity. Whoever, therefore, even though he be now a sinner, wears the badge of the Mother of God throughout life as her faithful servant, not presumptuously relying on the scapular as on a miraculous amulet, but trustfully confiding in the power and goodness of Mary, may securely hope that Mary will through her powerful and motherly intercession procure for him all the necessary graces for true conversion and for perseverance in good. Such is the meaning and importance of the first privilege of the Carmelite Scapular, which is wont to be expressed in the words: “whoever wears the scapular until death, will be preserved from hell”. (Catholic Encyclopedia, emphasis added)

The Brown Scapular is a powerful aid to those who devoutly wear it and call upon Our Lady’s help in time of need. There are numerous stories that attest to the miraculous nature of the Brown Scapular. In particular, there is one story that show how much Satan hates the Brown Scapular:

You will understand why the devil works against those who promote the Scapular when you hear the story of Venerable Francis Ypes. One day his Scapular fell off. As he replaced it, the devil howled, “Take off the habit which snatches so many souls from us!” Then and there Francis made the devil admit that there are three things which the demons are most afraid of: the Holy Name of Jesus, the Holy Name of Mary, and the Holy Scapular of Carmel. To that list we could add: the Holy Rosary. 
The great St. Peter Claver was another of God‟s heroes who used the Scapular to good advantage. Every month a shipment of 1000 slaves would arrive at Cartegena, Colombia, South America. St. Peter used to insure the salvation of his converts. First, he organized catechists to give them instructions. Then, he saw to it that they were baptized and clothed with the Scapular. Some ecclesiastics accused the Saint of indiscreet zeal, but St. Peter was confident that Mary would watch over each of his more than 300,000 converts! (Garment of Grace)

So if we want to bring Christ into the world, wearing the Brown Scapular devoutly is of utmost importance!

Rosary

The power of the rosary is very widely known and so I will not dwell on it at great length. Essentially the rosary is a Scriptural prayer, based on the greeting of the archangel Gabriel to Mary (Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee) and the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, where she in turns greets Mary with the words “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Catechism explains how the rosary came about:

“2678 Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours.”

It became a way that lay people could “pray without ceasing” while in the midst of the world. St. Padre Pio, an Italian saint during the last century, called the rosary his “weapon” and used it often to pray for others and to pray for perseverance during trial. It is a great tool to be used out in the world to sanctify everyday life.

These five sacramentals are great tools and if used properly can help us preserve our faith while we encounter the world.


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