Our Catholic Heritage: Web Extras

Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.

Mark 16:15

Today, so many Catholics are seeing the internet as a way to fulfill Jesus’ commission to go into the whole world and, in response, are producing great evangelistic materials.  So many of them fit into this month’s Home Lesson on Our Catholic Heritage!  It just seemed fitting that a lesson with beauty as a major subject should feature some inspiring images, and once we started down that road there were lots of other things that also seemed to work well in this format – it was hard to narrow it down!

First, the disclaimer:  Whenever we recommend something on the ‘net, we want to make sure you understand a couple things:

  1. While we recommend the Vatican, USCCB, and our diocesan site without reservation, we would like to be clear that when we direct you to another site via one of our links we are not necessarily endorsing the whole site, but are just referring you to an individual post.
  2. And, as always, Family Formation does not ever recommend children be allowed on the internet without adult supervision.

Having said that, the pictures and links below go with the various corresponding sections of this month’s Home Lesson on Our Catholic Heritage.  We hope this way-too-brief presentation jump starts your curiosity to learn more!

God is Absolute Truth

Learning the truths about God’s creation, whether through math, science, invention, or any other subject, leads us to understand a little more about God, who “invented” all those truths at the beginning of creation!

Dr. Rene Laennec’s Invention of the Stethoscope:

Watch here for a 5 minute YouTube video on how a stethoscope works, including a bit on Dr. Laennec’s contribution.

Katharine Drexel’s Dedication to Educational Opportunities for Everyone:

Katharine Drexel, age 7.  (Image Credit: Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament)

Katharine Drexel was one of three daughters born to a very wealthy family in Pennsylvania about 150 years ago.  Her family had a great love for Jesus and spent time each week personally caring for the poor who came to their family home.  When she was a little older, they took a trip to the western part of the United States where the family saw the great need of impoverished American Indians, and started missions to help them.  In 1887, Katharine met the Pope and asked him to send missionaries to help with this work.  Instead of agreeing, he said something that really surprised her.  Pope Leo XIII suggested that she become a missionary herself!  Before long, she saw that God truly was calling her to become a nun and dedicate her life to Him.

Katharine could have lived a life of ease, but instead spent millions of dollars and her entire life to serve God by starting schools for American Indians and African-Americans, people who, at that time, would never have been able to go to school otherwise.  Saint Katharine Drexel knew that sharing the gift of education with people was a way of sharing the truths given to us by God.  She glorified Him by giving everything she had to share this gift with others.

Visit the Vatican’s website to learn more about the life of Saint Katharine Drexel.

How Monasteries Saved Western Civilization:

One of the most dramatic contributions of the Church to our lives today came about through the work of Saint Benedict.  A monastery is a place where a religious community lives and works, and Benedict is known for starting dozens of them.  Monks valued learning very highly and sought to pass on the truths learned by others by copying and studying their books.  We usually take books for granted today, but at that time many people might never see even one book in their whole life, and very few could read anyway.  The printing press was not yet invented and all books were copied by hand.  A monk might spend his entire life making one copy of a Bible!  That may sound terrible to you, but the monks saw this work as a great privilege; not only did they get the amazing privilege of reading God’s Word for themselves, but they got to pass on the truths contained in Scripture to others.  Each page was written in his best handwriting and was beautifully decorated with illustrations.

An illuminated page from a history of Hungary copied about 1360.  (Image Credit: Web Gallery of Art)

Not only did monks copy Holy Scripture, but they also copied and studied many of the great works of ancient literature.  During this same general time, Europe was invaded by warring armies who destroyed everything in their path.  Most people were so busy just trying to stay alive that it was impossible for them to learn to read, or create art, or make a scientific discovery.  If all of this ancient learning had not been preserved in monasteries, it may have been lost to us forever.  It has been said that Catholic monasteries saved Western civilization!

TRY IT FOR YOURSELF!   Parents, show some examples of illuminated manuscripts (a handwritten manuscript that is decorated with elaborate designs and pictures) to your kids.  Decorate a bit of this Hail Mary as if it were an illuminated manuscript and place it on your prayer table.  (Our Catholic Heritage – Illuminated Manuscript Activity)

The Vatican Observatory:


The Catholic Church has a long history of supporting scientific research in other ways.  Just one example of this is the Vatican Observatory.  An observatory is a place used to study the events in space, such as the movement of the moon, stars, and planets.  Because the date of Easter is calculated from the position of the earth and moon in the spring, the Church has always had an interest in making sure the date we celebrate is as accurate as possible.

The first official Vatican Observatory was founded by the Church almost 250 years ago and today has some of the best scientific equipment in the world.  When a new telescope was dedicated in 1993, a plaque was created to remind everyone of its purpose:

May whoever searches here night and day the far reaches of space use it joyfully with the help of God.

This video from the Vatican Observatory Foundation explains their mission.

God is Unending Goodness

When Jesus first said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He was teaching Christians to care for others in a way that turned the world upside down!  How can we share God’s goodness and love with others?

Catherine Doherty and Madonna House:

Catherine Doherty was born to a wealthy and important Russian family in 1896.  During World War I, she served as a Red Cross nurse and saw all the terrible suffering caused by war.  After the war, Catherine was forced out of her home and moved to Canada where she felt God calling her to a different kind of life, a life of poverty and service to the poor.  She said “yes” to this call in many ways, including opening places to feed and care for needy people, writing many books and articles and giving speeches, and eventually founding Madonna House, an apostolate made up of lay people and priests dedicated to serving the physically and spiritually poor.  Today Madonna House operates missionary “field houses” throughout the world and while each is a little different to meet the needs of the area, all of them are a reflection of God’s goodness as they love the poor with the heart of Christ.

CATHERINE’S CLEAR ANSWER – When Catherine was beginning to hear God’s call to serve the poor He had a unique way of getting her attention.  During this time, every time she opened a Bible (hers or anyone else’s—she even tried it on Bibles at the public library), they would always fall open to Jesus’ words to “sell all you have and distribute it to the poor.”  How’s that for a clear answer to prayer!


One of the major messages in Catherine Doherty’s teaching is that of the duty of the moment:

“The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you.  You may not have Christ in a homeless person at your door, but you may have a little child.  If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper.  So you do it.  But you don’t just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and that child.  There are all kinds of good Catholic things you can do, but whatever they are, you have to realize that there is always the duty of the moment to be done.  And it must be done, because the duty of the moment is the duty of God.”

TRY IT FOR YOURSELF!   What is God calling you to do right now, in the ordinary circumstances of your life?  Wherever you are – in school, with your team, with your friends, or in your family –  God is setting little opportunities in front of you each moment.  When you do them with love and your best efforts, you are glorifying God by sharing His goodness with everyone you meet!

God is Perfect Beauty

In Genesis 1:27 we read that God created us in His image.  There are two main things that you can learn from this short passage.  First of all, God created.  In the verses just before this, you can read about how first there was nothing and then God made everything!  Sunsets and flowers and horses and bird songs and strawberries, and seashells and literally every wonderful thing you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell and all the wonderful beings, like angels, that you can’t see were all created by God.

The second lesson from this passage is that God made each of us in His image and because of that, we are all made to be creative as well!  Of course, you cannot make a sunset or a singing bird, but you may create a painting of a sunset or sing a pleasing song, and when you do things like that you are bringing a reflection of God’s creative beauty into the world.

Our Lady of  Częstochowa:

Creating beautiful art has been a Catholic tradition since nearly the beginning of the Church.  Legend has it that the icon of Our Lady of  Częstochowa was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist on the wood from a cedar table taken from the home of the Holy Family.  For this reason, Saint Luke is known as a patron saint of artists.


Of course, we have no photos of Jesus, Mary, or most of the saints, but paintings can help us connect with them in ways that we cannot if we just read about them.

Pieta by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.  There are many paintings and sculptures entitled Pieta and all depict the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her Son, Jesus.  In this version, she is looking right back at the viewer, drawing us into the scene.  Everyone is very sad and Mary’s look seems to say “it was for your sin that my Son gave up His life.”
Fra Angelico’s Annunciation.  Notice how his use of color brings out the details of the story: Adam and Eve in darkness and sin being banished from the Garden of Eden (upper left), Mary in her traditional blue, and the Angel Gabriel accented in heavenly gold.  (Image credit: Web Gallery of Art)

Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin:

See pictures of  beautiful sacred art and architecture at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin here.


A Few Bonus Stories


If you did any math today you used numbers that looked like these: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.  If it were not for the work of Catholic mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, we might still be using Roman Numerals I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X.  While he did not invent this system, young Leonardo learned about Arabic numerals and the use of place value when traveling with his father and he recognized how good this system was.   Eventually, he wrote a book about it, and using Arabic numerals became recognized all over as an efficient system.  To give a quick view of the differences, the year 2022 would be written in MMXXII in Roman numerals.

Reading and Writing:

Do you know how to read?  It’s easier to learn thanks to an outstanding Catholic scholar named Alcuin who lived over 1,200 years ago.  Before then, letters were not a standard shape and texts did not include spaces, punctuation, or lower case letters.  Try this simple test below to see which system you like better:


Which one of these is easier to read?

Alcuin’s love of the Church and his curiosity drove him to always be learning new things.  He was an excellent teacher of both royalty and humble monks and he dedicated his life to educating others, including the invention of this new way of writing.


Do you know what today’s date is?  If you do, you are using a calendar developed by Pope Gregory XIII.  Actually, the calendar itself was set up by Julius Caesar, but his system wasn’t quite accurate (each of his years was 11 minutes and 14 seconds too slow), and by Pope Gregory’s time the Julian calendar was off by 10 full days!  In 1582 the Holy Father declared an official catch up time, and much of Europe skipped ahead that year from October 4 to October 15.  It was confusing for a little while and took longer for every country to get on board with the idea, but the Gregorian Calendar is so accurate that it is still the world standard, even today.


Do you ever listen to the radio?  Baptized Catholic, Gugliemo Marconi experimented with transmitting sounds via radio waves and is today considered the inventor of the radio.  On February 12, 1931, the radio became a means for evangelization as Marconi introduced Pius XI, the first Pope ever to speak on the radio, with these words:

“With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man’s disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father.”

The Holy Father, Pope Pius XI saw this new technology as an excellent way to reach people all over the world with the message of Christ, even places where missionaries were not free to travel.

Marconi’s work built upon that of another Catholic, Father Jozef Murgas, who built the first radio station in Pennsylvania and made the first wireless voice transmission.

“The electric radio waves will carry your word of peace and your blessing through space to the whole world,” Marconi told the Pope before the inaugural broadcast.

TRY IT FOR YOURSELF:  Vatican Radio is still broadcast today over the airwaves, streaming online, and over YouTube (among other places).

“Vatican Radio is the radio station of the Holy See and produces programs in many different languages.  It provides up-to-date information on the activities of the Pope and the life of the Church in the world, and on general current affairs.”

With an adult’s help, go to Vatican News to hear Catholic news going around the world.