Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Light is ON for You"

Tonight begins a new Archdiocesan initiative, “The Light is ON for You”. At St. Andrew’s and at every parish around the Archdiocese, the Sacrament of Penance will be offered in the Church from 7-8:30 pm. This will continue each Wednesday night during Lent. I invite each of you to take part in the awesome gift of reconciliation with God and the Church through this powerful and healing sacrament. Also, I strongly encourage you to spread the word; please invite at least one person to come to Confession on Wednesday nights (and/or any other time) during Lent.

The following are excerpts from a pastoral letter by Archbishop Wuerl, “God’s Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance”. To view the full text, please click on the title of this post.

“The Church believes in the forgiveness of sins. Not only did Jesus die to wash away all sin and not only in his public life did he forgive sin, but after his resurrection Jesus also extended to his Church the power to apply the redemption won on the cross and the authority to forgive sin.

The Catechism points out that our faith in the forgiveness of sins is tied in with faith in the Holy Spirit, the Church and the communion of saints. ‘It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”’ (976)…

After baptism, where do we find such forgiveness? Who can remove sin and wipe away our failures? In the sacrament of Penance we meet Christ in his Church ready and eager to absolve and restore us to new life. The graces of Christ are conferred in the sacraments by means of visible signs – signs which are acts of worship, symbols of the grace conferred and the recognizable gestures through which the Lord confers his gifts. Forgiveness of sins and the restoration of baptismal graces are also attached to an outward sign.

What leads a person to the sacrament of Penance is a sense of sorrow for what one has done. The motivation may be out of love for God or even fear of the consequences of having offended God. Whatever the motive, contrition is the beginning of forgiveness of sin. The sinner must come to God by way of repentance…

In the sacrament of Penance the sinner comes before Christ in his Church in the person of the priest who hears the sins, imposes a penance and absolves the sinner in the name and power of Christ…

Fully conscious that only God forgives sins, we bring our failings to the Church because Jesus imparted to his apostles his own power to forgive sins. In doing this Jesus gave to his Church the authority to restore and reconcile the sinner with God and also the ecclesial community, the Church. This ecclesial dimension is expressed most forcefully in Christ’s words to Simon Peter: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:19)…

The sacrament of Reconciliation is the story of God’s love that never turns away from us. It endures even our short-sightedness and selfishness. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God waits, watches, and hopes for our return every time we walk away. Like the son in the parable, all we need do to return to our Father is to recognize our wrong and seek God’s love. Jesus continues to speak to us of our noble calling to holiness and of his loving forgiveness. He offers us reconciliation if we ask for it”.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Waiting for Jesus

Here are two questions from bloggers:

1) “On another note I was wondering about what the church says about Horror Films? I know some Christian denominations ban them.”

I haven’t come across a general statement about movies from the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church. The Church does evaluate specific movies. For example, the USCCB has critiqued the horror film, “The Abandoned”; you can read it in full by clicking on the title of this post. Part of the USCCB review says that “the film contains violent and gory images, profanity, nudity, and one brief sequence in which a sex act is heard off-camera in a porn film.”

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting has certain classifications for movies. It is as follows: A-I -- general patronage; A-II -- adults and adolescents; A-III -- adults; L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. O -- morally offensive. The classification of “The Abandoned” is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling…horror films in general probably get the same classification of “morally offensive”.

2) “How do you explain to a three 1/2 year old that he can not have the Eucharist? This was not a problem until his brother had his first communion last year.”

One way might be to tell him that Jesus wants him to wait. You can tell him that Jesus has told us that we can’t receive Him until we’re seven years old (the Church has told us this, and the Church speaks for Christ). Jesus wants us all to wait, so we have all waited. He needs to be a big boy and wait.

I’m sure you’ve had to tell him that he's not ready for some other really special things he’s wanted: drinking soda, eating some kind of meat like steak, riding a bike, etc. You might try to remember how you approached that situation. You could bring some of these things up, and remind him that he’s been really good about waiting for them. And, how much more special Jesus is than those things!

If none of this works, you can always try another approach: tell him that you want to throw a really great party for him after he makes his first Holy Communion, and you need lots of time to plan it…like 3 years!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sex education: a "basic right and duty of parents"

The question of sex education was raised by a few anonymous bloggers. Below are:
1) the thoughts of Pope John Paul II (excerpts from his Apostolic Exhortation, “Familiaris Consortio”, 1981, #37)
2) questions from the Anons
3) a response emailed to me by a woman who taught CHS (Catechesis on Human Sexuality) for three years at her parish school.

1) “Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them… In this context education for chastity is absolutely essential, for it is a virtue that develops a person's authentic maturity and makes him or her capable of respecting and fostering the ‘nuptial meaning’ of the body.

Indeed Christian parents, discerning the signs of God's call, will devote special attention and care to education in virginity or celibacy as the supreme form of that self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality.

In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the children to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality.

For this reason the Church is firmly opposed to an often widespread form of imparting sex information dissociated from moral principles. That would merely be an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity-while still in the years of innocence-by opening the way to vice.”

2) Anon: “We have to be realistic and that is teenagers and kids even younger are having sex so what is wrong with having sex education in the schools? It is not encouraging kids to have sex its just that the schools realize kids are doing it so why not educate them?”

Anon: "Does the archdiocese have a syllabus or some guide by which sex ed is taught to our Catholic youth? It seems, at least at St. Andrew's in past years that the class taught in 7th grade is a bit unstructured. I've heard the Q&A portion of the class has become a "can we shock the teacher" free for all. It would seem that a serious subject would deserve serious consideration. In addition, shouldn't sex ed begin when most children are entering into puberty? For many girls at least, it begins one to two years before 7th grade."

3) “…As you may or may not know, the ADW has ‘guidelines’ for the information that must be covered in CHS at each grade level, in the mixed, and the single sex setting. It also has additional material that is optional to cover. However, that is as far as they go. (A pastor of the Archdiocese) once told me that several years ago they were trying to get a unified program to be taught at all the schools, but as I said, it was such an emotionally loaded topic that they punted and left it up to each parish to come up with a program. So, the quality of your program will depend on the quality of the instructors, and the lesson that they prepare…

I have a lot of other thoughts as well, based on my experience, that touch upon other aspects of her question: use of question cards; starting in 7th grade is way too late; public school students receiving sex ed and AIDS education in 5th grade vs. parochial school students who have not been previously taught; parents as the primary educators of the children; and the whole overarching idea that the instruction in the parish should be much more than just “sex ed”. The Theology of the Body as taught by Pope JPII gives evidence that human sexuality is much richer and deeper than what is taught as sex ed.

Of course the instructors must be faithful to ALL of what the church teaches regarding sexuality (i.e., contraception, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation) because this is where the “shock and awe” questions will come up. Another wrinkle that I hadn’t considered prior to actually getting up in front of the girls and their mothers, is the hostility of some of the mothers, probably because speaking the truth regarding all these issues will touch personal hot-button issues of their own. How many of them are using contraception (we won’t ask for a show of hands . . .)? How many have family members with SSA issues?…”

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lent, 1st Sunday - Homily

About two hundred years ago in France lived a very holy priest, Fr. John Vianney. Fr. Vianney loved his people, and prayed for them constantly. He was extremely devoted to hearing their confessions, spending between 12 and 18 hours a day in the Confessional! Eventually, people came from all over France to go to him for Reconciliation because of his extraordinary natural and supernatural gifts. He is now the only parish priest who has been canonized a saint.

In a rare outward appearance, the Devil tried to disrupt St. John Vianney’s ministry of healing. Many nights, he would attack Fr. Vianney; people heard loud and strange noises coming from the rectory. One night, they saw fire coming from Fr. Vianney’s bedroom: the Devil had lit Father’s bed on fire! At first, Fr. Vianney was afraid, but then he got used to the attacks. He finally figured out the timing of it all: every night the Devil came to attack him, a big sinner would come to Confession the next day – someone who hadn’t been to Confession in 20 or 30 or more years. With the help of Christ, St. John Vianney withstood the attacks of Satan, and won victory over him.

The Devil makes another rare appearance in today’s Gospel: he tempts Jesus in the desert three times. Usually, Satan works in invisible and very subtle ways. His main objective is to take people away from God without them even knowing of his presence. The Devil is not an evil God; he is not on the same level as God. He is an angel, a fallen angel. He used to be known as Lucifer which means “light-bearer”. He was the top and brightest angel. Like all angels, he was given a free choice to either serve God forever or reject Him forever. He and about 1/3 of the angels in Heaven chose to reject God because they were filled with pride.

The Book of Revelation, chapter 12, verse 7, says that a battle ensued between St. Michael and the good angels and Satan and the fallen angels. The good guys won! They crushed the demons, and cast them down to earth. Satan and his legion of demons now wage spiritual warfare on earth. He has made his presence known a few times – the Garden of Eden, to Christ in the desert, and to a few people like St. John Vianney. It’s very important for us to know that the Devil can never force us to do anything against our will. He tempts us in brilliant ways; he is much smarter than any of us. On our own, we can’t defeat him; but, with the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy.

Christ wins victory over the Devil in the desert and in his Death and Resurrection. In the desert, he is tempted in his human nature. He wins victory for two main reasons, I believe: 1) he is fasting, and 2) he is “filled with the Spirit”. Fasting brings spiritual strength. When we deny our bodies in some way, we build up inner or spiritual strength. During Lent, we imitate Jesus’ fast of 40 days in order to build up our souls, and to resist the temptations of the Devil. Also, we go to the Sacraments in order to be “filled with the Spirit”. The Church strongly encourages us to come to the Eucharist- going to daily Mass during Lent – and going to Confession. The sacraments are the primary ways for us to be “filled with the Spirit”; remember, the Spirit had just come upon Jesus in Baptism before he was into the desert.

Finally, the Devil continues to attack our Lord, primarily in the Eucharist. He knows that it really is the sacred body and blood of Christ, and he knows of its tremendous power. I have heard of many stories where he and his army of demons have desecrated the Eucharist in different ways. A few weeks ago, our youth group went to Mount 2007, where the Eucharist was the center of the very powerful retreat for 1500 teens. The day before the retreat began, thieves broke into the Church next to where the retreat was being held. They went straight for the tabernacle, busted it open, and desecrated the Eucharist. The Devil knows the power of the Eucharist.

Normally, he is much more subtle in his attacks on the Eucharist. He puts certain thoughts in our heads: ‘it is just a symbol’…’I can worship God on my own; I don’t need the Eucharist’…or ’I don’t need to come to Mass every week’. But, Jesus tells us the truth: ‘this is my body’…and that the way we worship on the Sabbath, every Sabbath, is to gather around a table as a family, and eat his flesh and drink his blood. When we do, we are filled with the Spirit, and are ready to defeat the Devil and his temptations. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with God’s life and God’s love. As you enter more fully into his life during this holy season, may you know his love. May you know his love this day, and this holy season.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fasting during Lent

Below is an online article ( about fasting during Lent. The last paragraph may surprise you as it does most Catholics. To learn more about specific penitential practices recommended by the Church, please click on the title of this post.

"As Christians, in everything we do, we should have as our model Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us that 'Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and he fasted forty days and forty nights' (Matthew 4:1-2). The season of Lent is a commemoration of Our Lord’s fast, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. It was a time of preparation for the tremendous mission that lay before Him. To do this, He denied Himself food and water during those forty days and nights, relying instead only on God (with whom He was One) to sustain Him.

In the history of the Church, Lent has undergone much development and change, both in duration and in practice. In other words, it was not always forty days in length and the fast was not always observed the same way. For example, during the late second century, the season of penance before Easter was much shorter and some people fasted for one day, others for two days, and others for a greater number of days. The first clear mention and observance of the forty days does not come to us until the fourth century in the decrees of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

What we see from some of the earliest references is that originally the season of Lent was meant as a preparation for baptism or as a time in which people sought absolution from God for their sins. Even though fasting and abstinence were part of the practice, there was no uniform manner in which this was done. That came later. It was observed differently in various countries, and in Rome (where it had been customarily three weeks), it was eventually extended to six weeks, but always leaving out the Sundays. Because this made the Lenten season only thirty-six days in duration, with time it was lengthened by adding four more days, making it forty, in remembrance of Jesus’ fast in the desert.

…although Catholics are left to decide for themselves, the Church strongly recommends that we fast all forty days. On November 18, 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul VI's constitution Pænitemini, published some norms on penitential observance. In one part of the document, they specifically wrote about what is expected and recommended for all Catholics during the entire season of Lent. They stated: 'We ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten season a period of special penitential observance.'

In addition to making it clear that we are bound by obligation to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and to abstain from meat on every Friday of Lent, they also added the following: 'For all other weekdays of Lent, we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting.' Remembering that fasting is a form of penance and self-denial, we must keep in mind that we are urged to do this during the entire season of Lent, but it does not have to be a fast from food on all those forty days.

For example, those Catholics whose health would be compromised, such as the sick, are not bound to observe the Church's laws of fast and abstinence. But there are many other ways in which we can show God how sorry we are for our sins. Among them are the following: being generous with others, visiting the sick and lonely, feeding the poor, studying Scripture, making the Stations of the Cross, praying the rosary, practicing self-control, and many others.

Even when the US Bishops made it no longer required to abstain from meat on all the other Fridays of the year, they never intended that the Catholic faithful should discontinue this practice. What they hoped was that people would continue to do it out of their love for God and not because they had to, and also to give us an opportunity to deny ourselves in other ways.

Friday has never ceased to be a day of penance and self-denial, and abstaining from meat on that day is given first place, because it was on a Friday that our Lord died for our sins. Every Friday is a day to prepare for Sunday – the day that, for us who believe, is Easter every week of the year. And Sunday is never a day of fasting (not even during Lent). It is the glorious Day of the Lord!"

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Led by the Spirit"

Tonight, SAA Church, all are invited for the following:

1) Stations of the Cross – 7:00
2) Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – 7:30-8:30
The following are recent questions from anonymous bloggers. They are related to prior posts but also to this Sunday’s Gospel in which Jesus is tempted in the desert by the devil.

“How does one obtain grace?”

“This question relates to a prior discussion about the work of the devil in our lives. I know that overcoming the devil's power for humans can be a huge, lifelong challenge. But surely God has the power to beat him. There are people who are kept down by the kinds of things you have referred to before -- alcoholism and other addictions, mental illness, horrible outlooks -- things that keep them away from God and that they just can't rise above on their own. If it's the work of the devil, isn't God's help needed to win?”

There are many ways in which one obtains grace as there are many types of grace (sanctifying, natural, actual, etc.). Maybe I can give a fuller treatment of grace in the future on this site, but for now, let’s focus on the grace that leads to eternal life: Sanctifying Grace. The primary way to receive Sanctifying Grace is through the sacraments as we’ve said here many times before. We first receive this type of grace at Baptism; we receive the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit within us. The grace of Baptism leads one to receive the grace of the Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, etc. In other words, it leads one to the fullness of God’s Grace (divine life within us).

A life of grace is a life led by the Spirit. Jesus, a divine person with two natures (human and divine), lived a life led by the Spirit. We will hear in this Sunday’s Gospel that the Spirit led him into the desert. It was here that Jesus, in his human nature, was tempted by the devil three times. Because he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1) which had just descended upon him at his baptism, Jesus was equipped to resist the temptations of the devil. If we live a life of grace, we will have the power to resist the devil, turn away from sin, and turn to God who is the source of happiness.

God’s help is most definitely needed to win in the battle against the devil and temptation. We are no match for the devil; we can’t beat him and his legion of demons on our own. Anyone who has ever tried to resist his temptations on their own knows that. We need to call on God – “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – and implore his help. He has many tools and weapons for us to wage the battle; his greatest ones are the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Penance.

To every blogger: I would strongly recommend to avail yourself to God’s Grace this Lent. As I said, there are many ways to obtain different graces (through penances, e.g.), but I am referring to the sacraments – most signicantly, the Eucharist and Confession. Especially if we find ourselves in the midst of temptation, grace is the answer. The grace of these two sacraments is so powerful – and the devil knows this, that’s why he works so hard to keep people away from them – that the devil, ultimately, is no match for them.

Even if we aren’t in the midst of such a struggle, we should enter more deeply in a life of grace. When we do that, we go more deeply into a life of happiness, joy, peace, and mercy. When one obtains grace, he/she obtains eternal life.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of St. Peter which honors the authority that Christ gave to Peter, the first Pope, and his successors. It focuses on the office of the Holy Father which is to continue to teach as Christ himself taught, especially with regards to faith and morals. The following is an article from Catholic News Services:

"Pope asks for prayers for his ministry on feast of Chair of St. Peter"

"With hundreds of candles lighting a sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter behind him, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Catholics to grow in their faith and asked for prayers for his ministry as the successor of St. Peter. Celebrating the Feb. 22 feast of the Chair of Peter, Apostle, Pope Benedict held part of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Basilica, where Gian Lorenzo Bernini's statue is located, and part in the Vatican audience hall, where he announced he would create 15 new cardinals.

In greeting Italian students in the basilica and in his talks in 10 languages in the audience hall, the pope offered a reflection on the ministry of St. Peter as Jesus' choice as leader of the Apostles. He encouraged the estimated 8,000 people in the audience hall to spend some time in St. Peter's Basilica, looking at the Bernini statue specially lighted for the feast day 'and to pray in a particular way for the ministry which God has entrusted to me.'

'Raising your gaze to the alabaster window just above the chair, invoke the Holy Spirit so that with his light and his strength he would always sustain my daily service to the entire church,' the pope said. Pope Benedict explained that the feast day celebrates the ministry of St. Peter as bishop of Rome, a ministry symbolized by his chair, the symbol of his responsibility for teaching the faith and of his authority.

'Providence led Peter to Rome, where he ended his service to the Gospel with martyrdom,' the pope said. 'For this reason, the see of Rome, which received great honor, also received the responsibility Christ entrusted to Peter to serve all of the particular churches for the edification and unity of the entire people of God,' he said.

As successor of St. Peter, he said, the pope is called not only to serve the church in Rome, but to guide the universal church. 'Celebrating the chair of Peter means, then, attributing to it a strong spiritual significance and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal pastor, who wants to gather the entire church and guide it on the path of salvation,' the pope said."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday - Homily

Years ago, when I was working and dating, I began to go out with a very spiritual Catholic woman with whom I had been friends for a while. It was around Christmas time that we started talking more, and pursuing a potential relationship. From Christmas to Lent, it was really cool but still casual. But, then, on Ash Wednesday, I received a “Dear John” letter from her. As I read it, it started to dawn on me what had happened. . I thought to myself as I read the letter, “she’s probably been debating with herself what to give up for Lent… ‘let’s see: either chocolate or going out with Greg. Well, I really gotta have my Hershey’s kisses, so, bye Greg’. She gave me up for Lent!”

Today we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. It’s great to see so many people here this morning at Mass. I welcome all newcomers here, especially those who are here for the first time. Just so you know, we have Mass here every morning at 8:30 throughout the year.

We might ask, ‘what is the point of all this’? What is the point of receiving ashes? Why do we change to the color purple after using green? What is the point of giving up one thing? What is the point of fasting during these forty days? We might look at the Cross and ask, what is the point of that?

The specific answer is that we imitate Jesus’s fast of forty days in the desert, as he prepared for his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. And yes, the ashes and purple remind us it’s about penance, and moving away from sin and toward God. But, the general answer is that it’s all about love. We make small and big sacrifices during this holy season to imitate the love of Jesus. He is the example of love because he sacrificed his whole life for us. He showed us the greatest example of sacrifice the world has ever seen. Love is sacrifice.

There are many people here today who know what real love is. They have been living sacrificial love for many years as parents and grandparents. They know that love requires a giving of self to the other. They know that it means to make small and large sacrifices for their children. Sometimes it means waking up in the middle of the night to change a diaper when you’d rather sleep. It means denying yourself. Love is sacrifice.

Christ gives us the ultimate example by giving all of himself to us on the Cross. When we celebrate come to Mass, we remember his sacrifice. We all come here this morning to receive ashes. We gotta have our ashes! But, Jesus doesn’t say that whoever receives the ashes will live forever. He says whoever receives the bread of life will live forever. The Eucharist is the bread of life. When we eat his flesh and drink his blood, Christ remains in us and us in him. He continues to give his body and blood for us. He continues to give us his love.

As we receive this Eucharist this morning, let us be open to the grace of this sacrament so that we might imitate his love. May we approach this holy season of Lent with an openness to growing in sacrificial love. Let us imitate Christ who gave himself for us by giving ourselves to him and to others. Let us give our lives to Him as he gave his life for us. Let us say to him as he says to us, “this is my body…given up for you”.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Eucharist: C.O.O.L.

Anon wrote the following: "Jesus commands all of us to 'take this, all of you, and eat this is memory of me'. Maybe Jesus meant only the apostles should have been the ones to recieve the Eucharist. He could have told everyone on the sermon on the mount but He waited until the Passover to tell His disciples."

The following are excerpts from a pamphlet I've written, "The Eucharist: C.O.O.L." (center of our lives). Please notice, Anon, that Jesus first teaches about the Eucharist to a large crowd (Bread of Life discourse, John 6). Then, at the Last Supper, he instructs the Apostles (the first priests) to celebrate the Eucharist "in memory of me".

"You’ve seen the crowds grow larger by the day, following one man. You’ve seen him heal the blind, the deaf, and the mute. You’ve seen him cure the sick. You’ve heard his great teachings. You’ve seen him walk on water. All of the signs are there: Jesus of Nazareth is the one to follow. You’ve been sure for weeks now. Your heart is pumping. You’re talking about him with everyone. You have been reading the Scriptures more frequently, reviewing what Isaiah and the other prophets wrote about the Messiah.

You haven’t talked with Jesus yet, but you feel a connection there. The words he uses, the way he speaks, the manner in which he conducts himself… he has such a powerful way about him. But, you haven’t been able to put your finger on it just yet. You just know you want to be near him, and learn from him. He is different, a man set apart from the rest. This man has stirred your heart and mind like no other person has ever done.

And, now, he is introducing a brand new teaching. 'The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world' (John 6:51). He is telling everyone that the bread to which he is referring is his flesh. While you begin to process this, those around you quarrel. People are outraged, but are mainly confused. So, Jesus gets more specific and emphatic. 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink' (53, 55). Whoa! Jesus of Nazareth wants to give his flesh and blood as food and drink.

This realization spreads through the crowd. It is such a large gathering, and it takes a while for everyone to hear what’s been said. Slowly, people start to leave. 'This is a hard teaching…who can accept it?' (60) is what you hear some of them say as they turn away from Jesus. And, you agree, this is a hard teaching. But, you haven’t moved, and aren’t planning on leaving just yet.

You look over at Jesus’ closest disciples. You notice a very perplexed Peter. Jesus asks them if they are leaving, too. Peter says, with probably a very dazed and confused look, 'Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life' (68). When you hear these words come from Peter’s lips, your heart skips a beat. You are thinking, ‘Has Jesus just been speaking the words of eternal life? Is this, in fact, a message from heaven? Could this be true? Is he really going to give us his flesh to eat? And, will it get us to heaven? Is this the newest, most radical teaching from God? Do I believe what I am hearing?’ ...

The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Through the eyes of faith, we see Jesus under the signs of bread and wine. It might look like bread and taste like bread, but it isn’t bread. Jesus says at the Last Supper, 'this is my body' (Mt 26:26). He commands the apostles to 'take this, all of you, and eat it' (Mt 26:26). He not only gives his body and blood to his first priests for them to eat and drink, he commands them to 'do this in memory of me' (Mt 26:26). Today, Catholic priests continue to live out this command every time they celebrate the Eucharist (Mass).

The Jews were right about two things with regards to the Eucharist (Bread of life discourse, John 6). They were right to take Jesus literally and that this is a hard teaching.
It takes faith to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist even though it seems like foolishness. For those who believe, it is like finding a great treasure (see Mt 13:44). The sweet taste of this treasure is the taste of heaven on earth: 'whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life' (Jn 6:54)."

Monday, February 19, 2007


Last month, Anon asked: “What do you feel about reincarnation?” Shortly thereafter, another Anon wrote, “What do you feel about reincarnation? I think the whole idea is kind of cool coming back again and again according to what you did in your lives times.” While I appreciate the question and comment, please keep in mind that reincarnation is not a Christian doctrine. Christ uses another word in talking about what happens to us after we die; it, too, starts with “re” an ends with “tion” – RESURRECTION.

My thoughts on reincarnation are the same as the Church’s thoughts: “There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death” (CCC, # 1013). If we have lived in Christ, there is resurrection after death. We don’t keep coming back to this life in different forms or as different people.

Reincarnation is not based in Scripture or Tradition. In fact, we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “It is appointed for men to die once" (9:27). The Catechism explains further, “Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When ‘the single course of our earthly life’ (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium #48) is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives” (# 1013).

There have been statements made by different groups or individuals, especially those in the New Age movement like Shirley MacLaine, that the Bible as well as early Christians taught the doctrine of reincarnation. An online article that is pretty good debunks this; to view it, please click on the title of this post. It also includes teachings from some of the more prominent early Christians. I have included a few of my favorites below which show how nonsensical the doctrine of reincarnation is.

Gregory of Nyssa

"[I]f one should search carefully, he will find that their doctrine is of necessity brought down to this. They tell us that one of their sages said that he, being one and the same person, was born a man, and afterward assumed the form of a woman, and flew about with the birds, and grew as a bush, and obtained the life of an aquatic creature—and he who said these things of himself did not, so far as I can judge, go far from the truth, for such doctrines as this—of saying that one should pass through many changes—are really fitting for the chatter of frogs or jackdaws or the stupidity of fishes or the insensibility of trees" (The Making of Man 28:3 [A.D. 379]).

Ambrose of Milan

"It is a cause for wonder that though they [the heathen] . . . say that souls pass and migrate into other bodies. . . . But let those who have not been taught doubt [the resurrection]. For us who have read the law, the prophets, the apostles, and the gospel, it is not lawful to doubt" (Belief in the Resurrection 65–66 [A.D. 380]).

Basil the Great

"[A]void the nonsense of those arrogant philosophers who do not blush to liken their soul to that of a dog, who say that they have themselves formerly been women, shrubs, or fish. Have they ever been fish? I do not know, but I do not fear to affirm that in their writings they show less sense than fish" (The Six Days’ Work 8:2 [A.D. 393]).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

7th Sunday - Homily

Years ago, I decided to give up watching television for Lent. Yeah, that was a tough Lent! It was back when I was working in sales. I was doing pretty well with it until the NCAA basketball tournament started. I remember one particular day in the office when Maryland was playing that night. I really wanted to watch that game! So, I debated with myself and my co-workers about what to do. Finally, I came up with a trade-off: I would give up sodas that day. I wouldn’t have Cokes the rest of the day, and then I could watch the game.

One of my co-workers who was also a friend was watching all of this transpire. He wasn’t a Catholic; actually, he didn’t belong to any religion. He said to me, “wow, you Catholics sure take this Lent thing seriously”. I responded with, “it’s not a religion for wimps!”

Lent begins this Wednesday. We will all spend the next couple of days trying to figure out what one thing we will give up for Lent. Also, we need to come up with one thing to do for Lent. I have a suggestion for the one thing to do: forgive.

We hear all over the place in today’s Gospel to forgive in radical ways. Jesus says to love, bless, and pray for those who have hurt us. We might think this Gospel is either way up in the clouds or doesn’t apply to us. We might be saying, ‘I don’t have any enemies…no one has persecuted me…no one hates me’. But, I would imagine that each of us has to look no farther than our own families to see someone who we are at odds with or don’t get along with.

Or maybe this is true with someone in our parish family or our school family. One thing I have heard from many of you since I arrived last June is that we have a big problem at St. Andrew’s of factions, or groups, or cliques. Do we only love those who love us? Christ calls us to love everyone; St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that we are to “have the same attitude toward all”.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that before we approach the altar, we should reconcile with our brother (or sister) if we have had a problem with him (or her). So, we think of someone who we need to forgive. Maybe it’s a spouse…or a child…or a parent…or a priest…or a nun…or a sibling…or a friend…or a teacher…or a student…or a co-worker…or a fellow parishioner. Whoever it might be, we need to forgive them from our hearts before receiving the Eucharist today.

Then, the grace of this sacrament will help us to reconcile with them face-to-face during the season of Lent, if possible. Also, we should reconcile with God by going to Confession during Lent.

Christ reminds us that we will be forgiven if we have forgiven others. To forgive is to be Christian; to be Christian is to forgive.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Is the embryo a person?"

I’m reading an interesting book, “The Life and Thought of St. Edith Stein”. It is written by a St. Andrew parishioner, Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D.! Living in the early twentieth century, St. Edith Stein was a convert to Christianity from Judaism who was a contemplative nun and innovative Catholic thinker. The following are excerpts from a powerful section in the book that reveal her thoughts about motherhood and the baby in the womb:

“Is the Embryo a person?” (pp. 98-101)

“…Edith likens the mother’s free acceptance of her pregnancy to Mary’s ‘yes’ to the Incarnation. Just as Mary was the gateway to the Redeemer, so each woman who welcomes motherhood performs an act of grace. Like Mary, a woman is to ‘devote the entire kingdom of her soul to the soul of her child’ (EES, 473).

In pregnancy, a woman’s entire being is united and given over, physically and spiritually, to the formation of a new person within. In doing so, her own personhood is enhanced. We have seen that a woman’s mission is to defend and nourish life. Her soul is meant to shelter within itself the unfolding soul of another person. How true this must be for the new soul enclosed within her own bodily shelter. And so close is this union of mother and child that to harm the embryo is to harm herself.

Because of its psychic receptivity, the embryo receives spiritual as well as physical nourishment and formation from the mother. Edith voices a conviction upheld by modern medicine: ‘The child’s soul receives impressions from what he sees, hears, and touches; indeed, even experiences before birth can leave impressions upon the soul, and these impressions can have unpredictable consequences in later life’ (Essays, 242).

She offers an example of the inner life and receptivity for impressions present in the embryo: John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth when she meets Mary. What an amazingly beautiful argument this is for the presence of a person in the embryo and the sacredness of life from its very beginning!

And then, the “motherliness,” the “spiritual maternity,” which Edith Stein views as the essence of woman, totally belies the validity of abortion. She has said that woman’s ministering love is an attribute of God’s Spirit poured out over His creation, that her most specific and exalted vocation as a woman is to vicariously help others to their perfection. In this love, we can see the selfless flow of the Holy Spirit moving to renew the face of the earth…

Thus the image of God in the person begins in the embryo. And the unique nature of personhood present there is needed in God’s plan for us. All creation is needed in this plan concerning the Mystical Body of Christ. Each unique personhood is a part of the wholeness of humanity, which, Edith writes, is the Mystical Body of Christ (EES, 478-82). We may ask, will the abortionist have to answer to God for interfering in His Divine Economy?”

Friday, February 16, 2007

Adoration tonight!!

Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
Here are some recent questions from bloggers:

Anon: “Was Jesus an Essene and if so did His life differ than from most of the people in His day? My understanding is that the Essenes really didn't interact with the rest of society.”

First of all, information about the Essenes is ambiguous and not completely reliable. From what we’ve been told, they were secretive in many ways, particularly with regards to their spirituality and devotions. They did interact with society, showing great care for the sick and welcoming strangers. They stressed asceticism and poverty which Jesus lived, so it has been assumed that Jesus was an Essene. But, that is only an assumption, and mere speculation.

HSPrincess: “God told us to go out a multiply (Genesis 9:7, i think), so why is chastity considered holy? Wouldn't God want us to procreate?”

First, let’s get our terms straight. Chastity is sexual purity, to which all persons (married, religious, single) are called. It means living sexuality in the way(s) that God intends. Living chastity means living holiness in the area of sexuality.

If you are referring to celibacy which is freely renouncing marriage, it has been deemed holy by Christ himself. Check out Mt 19:12. Jesus says that some are incapable of marriage because they have renounced it “for the sake of the kingdom”. In other words, God calls some people to sacrifice marriage for Him and His Church.

Most are called to live out what God says in Genesis, and unite as husband and wife and open to procreate. But, some are called to serve them. Celibacy frees those people (religious and single) to serve the rest (married, children, etc.)

Anon: “What is faith?”

From the Catechism (glossary): Faith
“Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed. It is the revelation of God which the Church proposes for our belief, and which we profess in the Creed, celebrate in the sacraments, live by right conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity (as specified in the ten commandments), and respond to in our prayer of faith. Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the first commandment of God (#s 26, 142, 150, 1814, 2087).”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

St. Claude de la Columbiere

Kat posted the following this morning about a great saint, St. Claude de la Columbiere(1641-1682). He was one of John Paul II's favorite saints. I highly recommend his book, "The Spiritual Direction of St. Claude de la Columbiere". Thanks, Kat!

"This is a special day for the Jesuits, who claim today's saint as one of their own. It's also a special day for people who have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus - a devotion Claude la Columbiere promoted, along with his friend and spiritual companion, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The emphasis on God's love for all was an antidote to the rigorous moralism of the Jansenists, who were popular at the time.

Claude showed remarkable preaching skills long before his ordination in 1675. Two months later he was made superior of a small Jesuit residence in Burgundy. It was there he first encountered Margaret Mary Alacoque. For many years after he served as her confessor.

He was next sent to England to serve as confessor to the Duchess of York. He preached by both words and by the example of his holy life, converting a number of Protestants. Tensions arose against Catholics and Claude, rumored to be part of a plot against the king, was imprisoned. He was ultimately banished, but by then his health had been ruined.

He died in 1682. Pope John Paul the Second canonized Claude de la Columbiare in 1992."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A day of expressing love

Thanks to "Reese" who alerted us to the Catholic Blog Awards, and that this site has been nominated for a couple of awards. I had no idea! Many thanks to whomever submitted nominations. It's a tremendous honor. God is so good!

The voting is this week; all are invited to vote. Please click on the title of this post to go to the site where you can cast your vote(s).
Today, the Church celebrates the memorial of Sts. Cyril and Methodius liturgically. But, we commonly associate Feb. 14 with St. Valentine. The following is a brief history of St. Valentine’s Day as written on As you will read, there is confusion as to exactly whom St. Valentine was.

As Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us, there are many types of love; romantic love is just one. Please tell or show someone you love them today!

“A quick quiz: St. Valentine was:
a) a priest in the Roman Empire who helped persecuted Christians during the reign of Claudius II, was thrown in jail and later beheaded on Feb. 14.
b) a Catholic bishop of Terni who was beheaded, also during the reign of Claudius II.
c) someone who secretly married couples when marriage was forbidden, or suffered in Africa, or wrote letters to his jailer's daughter, and was probably beheaded.
d) all, some, or possibly none of the above.

If you guessed d), give yourself a box of chocolates. Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine's Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. (Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate.) Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.

The roots of St. Valentine's Day lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on Feb. 15. For 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus. On Lupercalia, a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year.

Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (a change that no doubt disappointed a few young men). Instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine. For Roman men, the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine's name.

There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved. Legend has it that Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. (He, however, was not beheaded, and died a half-century later of old age.)"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Truth vs. feelings

An Anon wrote, “This is going to sound stupid but I'm going to ask because I'm an anon. I take the sacraments and it does not make me feel closer to God or make Jesus real to me. It does not make me feel like I received grace. I have no sense whatsoever that God cares one way or the other whether I show up at Mass. Do I misunderstand what the grace of the sacraments means?” Thanks, Anon, for asking this, and I’m sorry that you feel that way. Two things come to mind with regards to what you wrote, and one may be the cause of the other.

The first thought is what my good friend, Fr. Wells, would say so often: “it’s not about feelings”. He argued well and often that there is a battle in our culture between truth and feelings. Our Lord emphasizes Truth – the truth about Himself, life, and ourselves. He reveals Truth to us, and we are obligated to be obedient to what He reveals in Scripture and Tradition. For example, He reveals the truth about what is morally right and wrong in the Commandments; to live the Truth is to be obedient to the Commandments. Doing what we’re supposed to do, day in and day out, is living the Gospel of Truth.

On the other hand, our culture emphasizes feelings. Its “gospel” is centered on the mantra, “do whatever feels good”. Many people live according to their feelings, and judge their experiences based on feelings alone. An example that is similar to your situation, Anon, is one that I’ve heard many, many times: people don’t “feel anything” when they go to Mass, or they “don’t get anything out of it”. And so, they conclude that there is little or no value in Mass because their feelings tell them that there isn’t.

The danger is that our feelings may be wrong. You write that the Grace of the sacraments doesn’t make you “feel closer to God or make Jesus real to me. It does not make me feel like I received grace”. Just because our feelings are telling us these things doesn’t mean that they are true. The truth is that God’s Grace, especially in the Eucharist, makes us one with Him; we share in his life. The definition of Grace is “a share in divine life”. The whole reason why Jesus came to Earth 2000 years ago was so that we would share in the life of God, in this life and for all eternity.

The truth is that Jesus invites (actually, he commands) you to receive the Eucharist. He says, “Take this, all of you, and eat it… Do this in memory of me”. So, of course, He cares very much whether you show up at Mass. He has an intense desire to be one with you, to have Communion with you. He wants you to experience his life, his love, and his peace. While currently it may not feel like you are receiving his life and love, you are. I ask you to be patient and faithful to Him; He will reveal His loving presence to you, in time.

The second thought is that we can’t forget about or underestimate the role of our Enemy in all of this. I personally believe it is Satan who is putting the thoughts (like the ones you mentioned in your post) into people’s minds very strongly. He wants us to feel these things – that the sacraments have little or no value, Jesus isn’t real, God doesn’t care about me, etc. It’s obvious to me that they are from him who is the “Father of lies”.

How do we blast through these lies, especially if they are frequently intruding on our minds? We continue to be faithful to Christ. It is easier said than done, but it is what we need to do.

You ask about missing the point of the grace of the sacraments. One of the main points to consider is that we need God’s Grace regularly to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12) against Satan and temptation. We can’t do this on our own. Another main point is that we have to be open to Grace. I encourage you and any others who are struggling with growing in Grace to ask God to open your heart and mind to His Grace. Say a daily prayer like, “Lord, open me to your Grace”. I promise you that, ultimately, He will reveal Himself to you, and you will experience his love, peace, and joy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A new "star blogger"?

This past weekend, a very interesting exchange took place on our site between an anonymous blogger and "Jessica" who appears to be our newest star blogger. Thank you, Jessica, and welcome to our site! The following is their exchange:

Anon asked: "Within a marriage a couple must be open to life when consumating an intimate act. I understand that. However, in order for that to happen only the husband needs to have any kind of 'response'. For many women to have that same 'response' what you have described as sinful contact must occur. It seems a little one sided here! Does the church just not like women?"

Jessica answered: "Prior to his becoming pope, JPII wrote the book Love and Responsibility. In this book, he wrote of just the situation commented on by the above person on p.270-8, particularly p.272. Here's a (really) quick summary of what it says: In the marital act--for it to be a true expression of love, as God created it to be: 'it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, ie. the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved.' (yes, that's the pope writing:)

He goes on to say that the reality that it takes longer for a woman to become aroused means that a man should deny himself immediate sexual gratification and work to see that he and his wife reach climax 'as far as possible...simultaneously.' The man's desire should stem not from a hedonistic desire, but out of a desire to love and serve his wife in the marital bed. By acting in such a way, a man grows in the virtue of loving his wife like Christ loves the Church (see Ephesians 5).

I encourage this person to read Love & Responsibility and if this is daunting get books by Christopher West who helps explain the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality. I assure you it is a beautiful teaching which fully appreciates women for who they were created to be; That is--we were created to be loved as persons and not used as objects for male gratification. Happy Reading--may it bring you closer to our Lord and his Church."

Anon responded: "You are really wonderful to respond with this- I will read. I hoped there would be some teaching about this somewhere- just didn't know where."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

6th Sunday

Again from Zenit, the following is a reflection from the Pontifical Household preacher (he gives homilies to the Pope), Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday's liturgy:

Blessed are you who are poor! Woe to you who are rich!
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20; Luke 6:17,20-26

The passage of the Gospel for this Sunday, which is on the beatitudes, provides us with an occasion to verify some things that we said two Sundays ago about the historical nature of the Gospels. We said then that in referring to Jesus' words, each of the four Evangelists, without betraying the fundamental meaning, developed one aspect or another of what Jesus said, adapting it to the needs of the community for whom they wrote.

While Matthew reports Eight Beatitudes pronounced by Jesus, Luke reports only four. In compensation, however, Luke reinforces the Four Beatitudes, opposing a corresponding malediction to each, introduced by a "woe."

Also, while Matthew's discourse is indirect: "Blessed are the poor"; Luke's is indirect: "Blessed are you who are poor!" Matthew puts the accent on spiritual poverty -- "the poor in spirit" -- and Luke puts it on material poverty.

But, as is plain, these are details that do not change in the least the substance of things. Both of the two Evangelists, with his particular way of reporting Jesus' teaching, sheds light on a new dimension which would have otherwise remained in shadow. Luke's list of the beatitudes is not as complete, but he perfectly grasps the basic meaning.

When we speak of the beatitudes, our thoughts go immediately to the first one: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours." But in reality, the horizon is much larger.Here Jesus is outlining two ways to understand life: either "for the kingdom of God" or "for one's own consolation." That is, life is either exclusively in function of this earthly life, or also in function of eternal life.

This is what Luke's account draws attention to: "Blessed are you -- Woe to you": "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.... Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."

Two categories, two worlds. The poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are persecuted and banished because of the Gospel, belong to the category of the blessed. The rich, the satiated, those who laugh now and those who are praised by all, belong to the category of the unfortunate.

Jesus does not simply canonize all the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the persecuted, just as he does not simply demonize all the rich, the satiated, those who laugh and are praised. The distinction is deeper; it has to do with knowing what we put our trust in, on what sort of foundation we are building the house of our life, whether it is on that which will pass away, or on that which will not pass away.

The passage from today's Gospel is truly a double-edged sword: It separates, traces, two diametrically opposed destinies. It is like the prime meridian which divides east and west.

But, fortunately, there is an essential difference. The prime meridian is fixed: The lands that are in the east cannot past to the west, just as the equator which divides the poverty of the global south from the rich, opulent north is fixed.

The line that divides the blessed and the unfortunate in our Gospel is not like this; it is a mobile barrier. Not only can one pass from one side to the other, but this whole passage of the Gospel was intended by Jesus as an invitation to pass from one sphere to the other.

He invites us not to become poor, but to become rich! "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours!" The poor possess a kingdom and they have it right now! Those who decide to enter this kingdom are from now on sons of God, free, brothers, full of hope and immortality. Who would not want to be poor in this way?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Death penalty: an "affront to dignity"

Thanks to all who came out to root on "DC 'Hood" last night at St. John the Baptist. It was another great night! While the score of the game wasn't what we were hoping for, the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, especially St. Andrew's parishioners, were extraordinary!
Here is a recent article from

Holy See: Death Penalty an Affront to Dignity Lends Support to Recent Congress Held in Paris

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2007 ( The Holy See in a statement labeled the practice of capital punishment "an affront to human dignity."The statement was issued on the occasion of the world congress on the death penalty held in Paris last Thursday through Saturday, and attended by several Catholic institutions committed to the defense of human life.The Vatican Information Service reported the statement today.

The Holy See's declaration, originally in French, states: "The Paris congress is being celebrated at a time in which, because of recent executions, the campaign against the death penalty is facing new and disquieting challenges."Public opinion has become sensitized and has expressed its concern for a more effective recognition of the inalienable dignity of human beings, and of the universality and integrity of human rights, beginning with the right to life."

The Holy See takes this opportunity to welcome and affirm once more its support for all initiatives that aim to defend the inherent value and inviolability of all human life, from conception to natural end."

The statement continued: "In this perspective, it is worth noting that the use of the death penalty is not just a negation of the right to life, but also an affront to human dignity."Difficult to justify Though the Church "continues to maintain that the legitimate authorities of state have the duty to protect society from aggressors," the declaration explained that in the modern world, the death penalty is difficult to justify.

States now have new ways "of preserving public order and people's safety," which include "offering the accused stimuli and encouragement" to mend their ways, the Holy See continued.

It added that non-lethal means of prevention and punishment "correspond better to ... the common good and conform more to the dignity of the human person.""Any decision to use the death penalty involves many dangers," such as "that of punishing the innocent, and the temptation to foment violent forms of revenge rather than true social justice," the declaration said.

It is also, the Holy See continued, "a clear offense against the inviolability of human life ... and, for Christians, an affront to the evangelical teaching of forgiveness."The Holy See reiterated its appreciation to the organizers of the congress, to governments, and to everyone who works "to abolish the death penalty or to impose a universal moratorium on its use." ZE07020707

Friday, February 09, 2007

An offense against chastity

1) Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!
2) DC Hood vs. St John the Baptist, 7 pm, SJB gym. Go ‘Hood!
An anonymous blogger asked, “Why is mastrabation a sin?” Another anon answered, “Masturbation is a sin because it is a sexual act meant only to satisfy one's self. Sexual intimacy, as designed by God, is meant only for a husband and wife who are open to life. It is an act meant for giving of one self to the other spouse. This sounds totally radical compared to the secular messages about sex! This would definately be a good question for Father Greg or for adult classes.”

Thanks, Anons, especially the one who answered this. I should sign you up to answer more of these questions! Let’s start with what Jesus says about this. We read in Mk 7:21-23 that “unchastity” is among a list of “evils” that “come from within and they defile”. Jesus includes unchastity in the same sentence as murder, adultery, and theft! Next, St. Paul writes in Galatians 6:19-20 that impurity is among the “works of the flesh” (along with idolatry, hatreds, drinking bouts, etc.). He says that “those who do such things will not enter the kingdom of God” (v. 21).

The Catechism teaches that masturbation is a grave sin against chastity and purity. It defines it as “the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure” and characterizes it as “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (#2352). It explains further:
‘The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.’ For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of ‘the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.’

The main reason why masturbation is a sin is because it misuses the gift of sex that God has given us. It is a selfish act only. As the second Anon pointed out, it does not involve a) the union between husband and wife, and b) procreation; these are the two reasons that God has given us the precious gift of sex. Any sexual act that occurs outside of union and procreation is gravely wrong because God does not intend it.

The act of masturbation has become for many, many people an habitual act. Society tells us, and even teaches to our kids, that there is nothing wrong with it, and it is natural. Our Lord has taught differently! Now, having said that, there might be psychological or personal factors that play a role in the act of masturbation. Catholic psychologists have taught us that loneliness, anxiety, and boredom are three of the main causes that lead a person to masturbate. As the Catechism indicates, these and other factors are to be considered when judging the moral culpability of the person with regards to masturbation:

“To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability” (# 2352).

There is much more to say about this, other offenses against chastity, and chastity in general. I will keep it in mind about offering a talk on chastity in the future. Thanks!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thursday's Mass readings

Reading 1 - Gn 2:18-25

The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone.I will make a suitable partner for him.”So the LORD God formed out of the groundvarious wild animals and various birds of the air,and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;whatever the man called each of them would be its name.The man gave names to all the cattle,all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals;but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribsand closed up its place with flesh.The LORD God then built up into a womanthe rib that he had taken from the man.When he brought her to the man, the man said:“This one, at last, is bone of my bonesand flesh of my flesh;this one shall be called ‘woman,’for out of “her man’ this one has been taken.”That is why a man leaves his father and motherand clings to his wife,and the two of them become one flesh.The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5) - Blessed are those who fear the Lord.

Gospel - Mk 7:24-30

Jesus went to the district of Tyre.He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,but he could not escape notice.Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.She came and fell at his feet.The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.For it is not right to take the food of the childrenand throw it to the dogs.”She replied and said to him,“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.The demon has gone out of your daughter.”When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bedand the demon gone.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Distributing the Eucharist to Protestants?

In response to my post about who may receive the Eucharist, Anon asks, “What about our fellow Christians in Protestant faiths? What if they are baptized but no one has explained the meaning of the Eucharist to them? I was told (by a priest) that a baptized Christian may receive Eucharist if they are informed, fully believe it is the body and blood of Christ, and they are not in a state of mortal sin. Yet another priest indicated that the above is inadequate and that person should not receive. Is there a rule that you have to go through the RCIA program and formally become a Catholic before receiving the Eucharist? I am confused. I think a lot of people are confused about this one.”

Thanks for the questions, Anon. We can turn to Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, who was asked the same question online. Portions of his answer follow (to view the full text, click on the title of this post):

"John Paul II has spoken on the relationship between the Eucharist and ecumenism in his encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’:

'The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply rooted in humanity as a result of sin, are countered by the unifying power of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community’ (No. 24).

Later, in No. 46 of the encyclical, the Pope reminds us of those rare cases, and under what conditions, non-Catholic Christians may be admitted to the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing of the sick. This administration is limited to ‘Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in specific cases and in particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these same sacraments from ministers of Churches in which these sacraments are valid.’

It adds: ‘These conditions, from which no dispensation can be given, must be carefully respected, even though they deal with specific individual cases. That is because the denial of one or more truths of the faith regarding these sacraments and, among these, the truth regarding the need of the ministerial priesthood for their validity, renders the person asking improperly disposed to legitimately receiving them. And the opposite is also true: Catholics may not receive 'communion' in those communities which lack a valid sacrament of orders.’

The Holy Father refers to several numbers of the Ecumenical Directory which specify these conditions in more detail, in its chapter on ‘Sharing Spiritual Activities and Resources.’ The general principles involved in this sharing must reflect this double fact:

'1) The real communion in the life of the Spirit which already exists among Christians and is expressed in their prayer and liturgical worship;

2) The incomplete character of this communion because of differences of faith and understanding which are incompatible with an unrestricted mutual sharing of spiritual endowments.’

For these reasons the Church recognizes that ‘in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities’ (No. 130).

Apart from the case of danger of death, the episcopal conference and the local bishop may specify other grave circumstances in which a Protestant may receive these sacraments although always respecting the conditions outlined above in the Holy Father's encyclical: ‘that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, [and] manifest Catholic faith in this sacrament and be properly disposed’ (No. 131).

Therefore in general it is not possible for you to give Communion to Protestants. But if you find one who fulfills the above conditions, you should advise the local pastor so that the person may receive reconciliation and anointing of the sick.”

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Column for the bulletin

Fr. Mike is away on retreat this week, so I have been asked to write the bulletin column. How exciting (well, for me, at least)! It gives me the chance to write about some recent, uplifting events concerning our youth. First of all, Sunday night youth group has been incredibly fruitful this year, thanks be to God. We have a solid and committed team of teens and adult core group members who have worked very hard to plan and lead our weekly meetings. And, the response of our great high school teens has been staggering: quality (they really are good kids) and quantity (about 40 teens a week)!! God is very good.

A few weeks ago, many of our youth braved the cold and wet conditions on January 22 to participate in the March for Life. Some of us went downtown together from St. Andrew’s; the majority went with their high schools. It was a long afternoon in frigid weather. And yet, our teens marched from the Mall to the Supreme Court, and prayed a rosary for life on the bus ride home. Inspiring!

Last weekend, 15 (12 teens, 3 adults) of us participated in the Mount 2007 retreat. Over 1,500 other teens came to this Eucharistic festival in Emmitsburg from all over the country. It is an enjoyable weekend, but rather tough on the teens. They sit through many long but illuminating talks on a hard floor, and sleep on the floor at night. As we drove into the retreat, I told them they would be uncomfortable at times, and asked them for their patience. As we drove home, I let them know how proud and impressed I was with their patience and openness to the retreat. They didn’t complain once (that I heard), and had a great weekend!

At the closing Mass of the retreat, a priest from the Mount asked all of those young men and women who are at least considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life to stand. This is commonly known as a “vocations call”. Many, many kids stood, including two boys from St. Andrew’s! It takes a lot of courage for any teen to stand up in front of his/her peers and acknowledge an openness to a religious vocation. Awesome job, guys!

Please pray every day that young men and women from our parish will hear God’s Call – and He is calling some of them - to priesthood and religious life. And, once they hear the Call, I have great confidence that our extraordinary teens will respond generously. As you can tell, they have done it so much already.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Anonymous (what a shock!) questions

Thank you all for your prayers for our youth. We had a great weekend retreat at Mount 2007, thanks be to God!
Three anonymous bloggers have asked the following questions:

1) “In Mark 1:1-11 what was John the Baptist attitude about the ministry of Jesus when Jesus requested to be baptized?”

I think that John’s remarks in verses 7-8 sum up his attitude of Jesus and his ministry: “ One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. Or maybe even more simply, what he says in John’s Gospel sums it all up (for John’s attitude and for ours): “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30)

It is interesting that you picked Mark’s version of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John because Mark has no dialogue between Jesus and John. The emphasis is on a) the vision Jesus has of “the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him”, and b) the voice that “came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.

2) “Should you receive the Eucharist if you are in a state of unbelief -- that is, unbelief in the real presence?”

Yes. The only state in which a baptized Catholic shouldn’t receive Holy Communion is mortal sin. Otherwise, we should receive the Eucharist as often as possible: “the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily” (CCC, #1389).

I would recommend that you ask the Lord to help you in your unbelief as you receive Holy Communion. I’ve told the story before of the priest who had asked the Lord to help him in his unbelief. One day at Mass, as the priest elevated the Host during Consecration, the Lord worked a miracle: drops of blood began to fall from the Host. Jesus wants to help us in our faith, especially in the Eucharist. If we approach him with openness, he will nourish our faith with the Bread of Life.

3) An anonymous blogger referred to a line from my homily from the 2nd Sunday, ’Jesus is always speaking to us. The question is, are we listening?’, and has asked, “How do we know when Jesus is speaking to us?”

In my homily, I suggest that we know when Jesus is speaking to us when we hear the words of Sacred Scripture, specifically the Gospel. Christ is the Word of God, the Divine Revelation to the World. So, when we hear him say, “Give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty…”, etc., we know that he is telling US to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, etc. Also, we all hear him speaking to us through the Church: “Whoever hears you (the Apostles and their successors), hears me”. These are all general and objective ways that God speaks to all of us.

If your question is related to a more private revelation of Jesus, then the answer would be to meet with a priest or religious. He or she can help you to know how Jesus is speaking to you. Typically called a spiritual director, this priest (or nun) can help you to see and read the signs that God is showing you in your life.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mount 2000

Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Deacon Kevin will be the celebrant. All are invited!!
This weekend, twelve of our teens and three of us adults will go to a youth retreat, Mount 2007, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It is a Eucharistic festival with music, talks, Mass, confessions, and prayer. There will be over 1,500 teens there from different parts of the country. This retreat was started by seminarians at the Mount in the mid 1990s as "Youth 2000" which generated from the World Youth Days under Pope John Paul II. It then was renamed "Mount 2000", and now Mount 2007.

I helped out with this retreat five of my six years in the seminary. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Mount seminarians coordinate the weekend, bringing in popular priests, nuns, speakers, and musicians to lead the youth throughout the weekend. Almost all of the activities take place in the arena at the Mount which is used as a large chapel. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed just about all weekend in the center of the arena, and is the center of the retreat.

The climax of the weekend occurs on Saturday night with a Eucharistic procession. Seminarians, including a deacon, go to the middle of the arena where the Eucharist is. The deacon reads a passage from Luke's Gospel, chapter 8, verses 40-56. Included in this passage is the encounter that the woman who has suffered from hemorrhaging for twelve years has with Jesus. As our Lord passed through the large crowd, she merely touched his garment, and "immediately her bleeding stopped" (v. 44).

The deacon then explains that the youth will have the same opportunity as the woman with the hemorrhage. He tells them that the Eucharist that is in the monstrance is the Body of Christ. It is Jesus in the flesh! It is the risen body of Him who walked through the crowd and healed this woman. So, it will be Jesus who will walk through the crowd of youth in the arena.

The deacon then puts on a special garment called a humeral veil. He places the veil over his hands and then, with the help of the seminarian servers, he takes hold of the monstrance. At this point, the deacon is taken out of the equation, and it is Christ who is in procession. The servers go ahead of our Lord in procession throughout the arena. Seeing this unfold is very powerful!

The youth understand the amazing opportunity of having Jesus walk among them. As the Eucharist processes by their section, many reach out to grab hold of his garment for healing. Many of them cry, many of them smile, many of them sing God's praises. One year, there was a young girl who shrieked loudly as the Eucharist processed in front of her; it sounded demonic (moments later, she was physically faint, but recovered).

Just like the woman with the hemorrhage, these teens are suffering from all kinds of wounds. They might be dealing with the wounds of their parents' divorce, a death of a loved one, rejection by friends or peers, loneliness, alcohol or drug abuse, physical or mental disorders, anger, jealousy, hatred, grudges, unforgiveness, etc. And, just like the woman, they might go to all kinds of doctors for help and treatment. They might go to counselors or therapists to deal with their problems. Or, they might not have anyone to talk to or consult with the anxieties of daily life. It's only until they (or anyone) go to Christ that they can experience true healing.

For many of them, then, the procession - and really the whole weekend - is the first step in the healing process. They reach out to Christ with an open heart, mind, and hand, and he touches them with his Grace. In that arena, the Grace of Christ is completely palpable! The Spirit who is guiding it all definitely makes his presence known! By the end of the weekend, the youth, adult chaperones, seminarians, and religious and lay leaders are all drained. Just like Christ felt the power go out of him in healing the woman with the hemorrhage, so all who are open to the Spirit in Mount 2000 experience the Grace of Christ come into them.

Please pray that our youth will be open to the Spirit this weekend at Mount 2007.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hebrews 12

This is the first reading from yesterday's Mass readings. When I read it, I thought of you. In particular, all of the questions and comments you've posted about suffering seemed to resurface. So many of us might question why following Christ and living the Gospel entail hardship and suffering. Why does God's love involve the Cross? How can trials be seen as God's love for me? Verses 4-7 of this passage do not answer all of these questions. But, they can bring great peace and consolation because they reveal the truth that God is a loving father who knows what is best for us even if it's not always what is easiest for us.

Heb 12:4-7, 11-15:

Brothers and sisters:
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as his sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?

At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.
Strive for peace with everyone,
and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God,
that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble,
through which many may become defiled.