Friday, February 29, 2008

"Party platform vs. Catholic faith"

1) Stations of the Cross, 7 pm, tonight; Eucharistic Adoration to follow. All are welcome!!

2) DC ‘Hood vs. Men in Black, 1:30 pm, Sunday (March 2) @ Verizon Center. Go ‘Hood!!
Here is an excerpt of the address Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo gave Nov. 15 to Loyola College in Baltimore titled "The Sanctity of Human Life from Conception to Natural Death." The presentation was part of the Loyola Alive Seamless Garment Series. It can be found in its entirety on

The understanding of conscience as the voice of God in the heart of each person is essential. The voice of God is rooted in the good and the true and in love as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. God is the one who establishes the good. Truth is objective and is most fully discovered in the person of Jesus Christ.

Once again the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the section on conscience will help you to form your consciences. If a conscience is not formed, it is easy for it to be erroneous in its judgment of good and evil. Tragically in reflecting on what decisions to make, a person may be listening to the father of lies rather than to God. Jesus reminds us that "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:9-12).

A Catholic with a properly formed conscience puts faith in Jesus Christ, lives the commandments, has knowledge of the teaching of the Church as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and desires to live a virtuous life through the total gift of self to God and by living his love in the world.The proper formation of your conscience in love and truth -- in Jesus, who is both love and truth -- is necessary if you are to experience joy. To build a culture of life Catholics must form their consciences and always choose life and the dignity of the human person from the moment of conception to natural death.

Finally, and most challenging, is the promotion of the culture of life in society. Catholics in the political arena today are too often more faithful to party platforms and partisanship than to their faith in Jesus Christ, his Church, and the promotion of a culture of life. There is a false separation between one's private life and faith and one's public life. Today some Catholic politicians who support abortion hide behind the lies of "pro-choice" or not wanting to "impose their morality" on others. Yet they strongly support other life issues by opposing capital punishment, seeking just treatment for immigrants, and correctly understanding that part of just governance is ensuring the dignity of human life. Quite rightly, they do not consider this to be "imposing morality" in these areas.

There may also be politicians who are pro-life with respect to abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research, yet who support capital punishment and policies that result in the oppression of immigrants. They seem to forget to opt for the dignity of the human person in these cases, and they choose to be more faithful to their party platform than to their Catholic faith. Catholics in the political arena must recognize that opposition to intrinsic evils, such as abortion, euthanasia, genocide, embryonic stem-cell research and same sex unions is always required by the faithful Catholic. Because these intrinsic evils are direct attacks on human life and marital dignity, they are nonnegotiable for every Catholic. Catholics must recognize, too, that in the other human life issues -- such as immigration, capital punishment, the economy, health-care and war -- the dignity of the human person must first and foremost be taken into consideration in seeking solutions to these questions.

As John Paul II reminded everyone involved in civil and legislative affairs, "A law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and as such, is not valid as a law" ("Evangelium Vitae," 90). "Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection" (ibid., No. 73). We are warned in Scripture and by John Paul II that "we must obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:29, "Evangelium Vitae," 73).

Every Catholic who supports intrinsic evils is reminded that they will one day stand before the judgment seat of God and give an account of themselves and how they lived the Gospel of Life.

At the same time, as pro-life Catholics, we must have concern for immigrants, the suffering, the sick and the poor. We must work for the avoidance of war, the elimination of the death penalty and an end to drug trafficking. If we are truly going to be pro-life and build a true culture of life, all of these are matters of concern.

While there can be different solutions for questions regarding some issues which are not intrinsic evils, the inherent dignity of the human person from the moment of conception to natural death must be the lens through which all decisions are made. We must constantly, at every level, promote the dignity of the human person and the truth that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God from the moment of his or her conception until natural death.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Every car should have a rosary"

Maryann posted the following comment about our good friend, Fr. Wells, and the book of his spiritual reflections that was assembled shortly after his tragic death in 2000. I have included an excerpt from the reflection that Maryann cites below her comment. Copies of his book are hard to obtain, so if anyone is interested in purchasing one, please email me.

“I was blessed to be married by Fr. Wells some 20+ years ago while he resided at St. Andrew’s. In the few short hours we interacted with him, (we flew in from Texas for a few days and then flew back), we had more than one good laugh. Some 20+ years later, I still remember the three points he emphasized as the two of us began our life together. I hang on to those concepts when the waters get rough. This alone should speak of his talent as a priest, not to mention his wonderful sense of humor.

I periodically read excerpts from his spiritual reflections in The Pastor’s Desk, and found thoughts from his Oct 11, 1998 entry on prayer curious. He mentions that every car should have a rosary in it. I took his advice, placed a rosary in each of the cars and it came in real handy.

I had to pick up two of my kids in Baltimore, one at the bus stop and one at the airport, both of which are only a few exits apart. As I left home, I was really upset about something and the tears were flowing,at a good clip I might add, not a good mind set to be driving in. So, I thought to myself, grab the rosary Father Wells said to tuck in your car and start praying. With time, the prayers worked. My anxiety, weakness and lack of faith decreased to a point that I drove right by my exit, by not just one, but several. Through prayer, I had better things on my mind. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and I’m pretty sure he had a good laugh as well. I had a wonderful ride home with my kids. My weakness/concern expressed through fear and tears, all generated from my lack of faith were settled. Thanks FW. Prayer works, sometimes in odd ways, but it works. Just make sure you pay attention to the exits if you’re praying while you’re driving!”

10/11/98 reflection
…“The rosary is such a gift for our day because, while we have the ability to read, and thus use Scripture or other spiritual aids in trying to pray, many feel they have not the time. The rosary solves the problem. I know people who pray the rosary on the subway, who say it while commuting, or while going through the torture of running for exercise. Probably they will never become mystics in their prayer, but at least they give time to the Lord each day and ask the prayers of His Mother on behalf of themselves and those they love.

Every car should have a rosary in it. There should never be a long ride in the car with the family without the family rosary being said. It should become habit that when there is a stretch of free time, at least some of that time should be given to God in this wonderful exercise of prayer. No matter when we say it, whether alone or with others, whether in the quiet of the evening or in the chaos of the Beltway, let us use this month of the Rosary to join countless millions who have gone before us in this prayer with our Lady to the glory of God.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

3rd Sunday of Lent - reflection

Based on today’s Gospel (Jn 4:7-42), the following reflection was written by St. Augustine in the early 5th century and is found in today’s Office of Readings:

A woman came. She is a symbol of the Church not yet made righteous. Righteousness follows from the conversation. She came in ignorance, she found Christ, and he enters into conversation with her. Let us see what it is about, let us see why a Samaritan woman came to draw water. The Samaritans did not form part of the Jewish people: they were foreigners. The fact that she came from a foreign people is part of the symbolic meaning, for she is a symbol of the Church. The Church was to come from the Gentiles, of a different race from the Jews.

We must then recognise ourselves in her words and in her person, and with her give our own thanks to God. She was a symbol, not the reality; she foreshadowed the reality, and the reality came to be. She found faith in Christ, who was using her as a symbol to teach us what was to come. She came then to draw water. She had simply come to draw water; in the normal way of man or woman.

Jesus says to her: Give me water to drink. For his disciples had gone to the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore says to him: How is it that you, though a Jew, ask me for water to drink, though I am a Samaritan woman? For Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.

The Samaritans were foreigners; Jews never used their utensils. The woman was carrying a pail for drawing water. She was astonished that a Jew should ask her for a drink of water, a thing that Jews would not do. But the one who was asking for a drink of water was thirsting for her faith.

Listen now and learn who it is that asks for a drink. Jesus answered her and said: If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, perhaps you might have asked him and he would have given you living water.

He asks for a drink, and he promises a drink. He is in need, as one hoping to receive, yet he is rich, as one about to satisfy the thirst of others. He says: If you knew the gift of God. The gift of God is the Holy Spirit. But he is still using veiled language as he speaks to the woman and gradually enters into her heart. Or is he already teaching her? What could be more gentle and kind than the encouragement he gives? If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, perhaps you might ask and he would give you living water.

What is this water that he will give if not the water spoken of in Scripture: With you is the fountain of life? How can those feel thirst who will drink deeply from the abundance in your house?

He was promising the Holy Spirit in satisfying abundance. She did not yet understand. In her failure to grasp his meaning, what was her reply? The woman says to him: Master, give me this drink, so that I may feel no thirst or come here to draw water. Her need forced her to this labor, her weakness shrank from it. If only she could hear those words: Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Jesus was saying this to her, so that her labors might be at an end; but she was not yet able to understand.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Still on for tonight: Stations of the Cross (7 pm) and Eucharistic Adoration (7:30 pm) in the Church. All are invited!!
A blogger recently posted the following comment which is fitting to address on today’s feast of the Chair of St. Peter: “One last note--the magisterium, to which some believe we ought to always humbly submit, long insisted that the sun revolved around us. I'm sure they are learned men, but men all the same, with traditions and personal rights and powers they need to protect, just like anyone else. Is anyone else excited at how much this debate is similar to the whole Copernicus one? History does always repeat itself and it's quite awesome to behold God's pattern in it all.”

Although the comment approaches blasphemy, I appreciate it because it allows us to understand the teaching authority of the Church, past and present. The difference between the Copernicus debate and the one on which the above comment is made is that the Copernicus debate did not involve faith and morals. When the Pope or bishops teach outside of faith and morals, then they are prone to error just like any of us. But, when the Magisterium of the Church teaches about faith and morals, it does so without error. This is the divine authority Jesus gives to St. Peter and what we celebrate on today’s feast: “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 Catechism instructs us about the power that Jesus gives to Peter:

The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17; cf.10:11). The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles (cf. Mt 18:18) and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (#553)

Christ gives St. Peter the power to bind and loose, and Peter’s binding and loosing on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven. In basic terms, Christ gives Peter the power to continue His teaching on earth. Peter and his successors teach with the authority of heaven; Peter was given the “keys of the kingdom” by Christ and he passed them on to his successor (which has been passed down to our current Pope, Benedict XVI).

A few years ago, a man asked me, “what exactly does binding and loosing mean?” Binding means to impose an obligation; loosing means lifting an obligation. These obligations are in relation to God’s law (faith and morals). Christ has full authority to impose and lift God’s law; He entrusts this authority on earth to the first Pope and his successors (and to the first bishops and their successors).

As Catholics, we are obligated to follow the Magisterium’s teachings on faith and morals because of the divine authority of their Office. When we celebrate the “Chair of St. Peter”, we celebrate his Office – the power and authority given to him by Christ – and the unity of the Church founded upon him. explains this feast further: “Like the committee chair, this chair refers to the occupant, not the furniture. Its first occupant stumbled a bit, denying Jesus three times and hesitating to welcome gentiles into the new Church. Some of its later occupants have also stumbled a bit, sometimes even failed scandalously. As individuals, we may sometimes think a particular pope has let us down. Still, the office endures as a sign of the long tradition we cherish and as a focus for the universal Church.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Confession: "what an extraordinary reward!"

One of my weekly highlights is Bible Study which meets every Monday in the rectory basement from 7-8 pm. It is a group of between 15-20 parishioners who bring great joy and insight to the discussion of the Sunday Mass readings. We carry on with stories and laughs for a fair amount of the hour, but mainly have intense conversation about what the readings mean and how they apply to our lives. The discussion is open to go in any direction, and it usually does!

Last night, I mentioned something that had brought me real joy this past weekend. At the beginning of my homily at the three Masses I celebrated, I invited people to pick a confession card that a) reminded them to confess and b) had an act of contrition on the back. Over 100 people picked up cards after the Masses! I relayed this to the group, and then we began to talk about the fears of going to confession. One person asked what was behind the fear of confessing to a priest; ultimately, we agreed that it was pride. Then, someone asked, “who really likes going to confession every month?” An “I do” immediately came from -take a wild guess!- yours truly. “Oh well, you. Of course you do. I mean, it’s you!” After we all laughed quite a bit at that comment, I explained why I like to go to confession.

The gift of absolution is one of the greatest gifts on Earth. Yes, it’s embarrassing and humiliating to tell my sins to a priest. But, really, so what? I have to endure a few minutes of embarrassment in order to receive something that will last forever – forgiveness. Receiving absolution of my sins is worth it. Those sins are gone forever! I walk in there with this huge weight on my shoulders, only have to humble myself for a few minutes and I walk out with the weight lifted. So many times, walking out of the confessional has been for me the experience of Heaven on Earth: having been weighed down by the bondage of sin, I’m free!

In his pastoral letter (1/1/08), “Reflections on God’s Mercy and Our Forgiveness”, Archbishop Wuerl writes about the powerful effect of the gift of absolution in the sacrament of confession. “Last year I pointed out that ‘there is a comforting simplicity to confession. With sincere contrition we need only open our hearts to the priest, recount our failings and ask for forgiveness. What follows is one of those moments in the life of the Church when the awesome power of Jesus Christ is most clearly and directly felt. In the name of the Church and Jesus Christ, the priest absolves the penitent from sin. At the heart of confession is the momentous action of absolution that only a priest can grant by invoking the authority of the Church and acting in the person of Jesus Christ’… Confession does take courage, but what an extraordinary reward!”

Amen, Your Excellency!! It only takes a few minutes of courage and humility for us to receive an extraordinary and eternal reward. It’s a great investment with short-term (freedom, peace, joy) and long-term (Heaven) gains. Also, we regularly endure some pain through exercise and dieting for our bodies, why can’t we do it for our souls, too? St. Paul amplifies this point: “Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable” (1 Cor 9:24-25). Finally, we might play with a cliché by saying that confession is like “a moment on the lips, an eternity off the hips”.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

2nd Sunday of Lent - homily

First, a reminder to all of you about “The Light is on for you”, an Archdiocesan-wide program which every parish in the Archdiocese offers confessions from 6:30-8 pm every Wednesday during Lent. We offer them here in the confessionals during that time. If you are not comfortable using the confessionals here in Church on Wednesdays or Saturdays or in general, please call me to make an appointment; I’m open for Confession 24/7. Also, if you’re like some people and you just forget to go to Confession, I have put some cards in the vestibule of Church which simply say, “Confess!” You can put them in your room or office, somewhere where you’ll see the card and remember to confess. There is an act of contrition on the back of the card which you can take with you when you go.

One of my favorite saints is St. Thomas More who was a loving husband and father and a well-respected lawyer in England in the 1500s. Any of you who has seen the movie, “A Man For All Seasons” knows his inspiring story. Thomas had a great sense of humor and strong faith and virtue. He was named Chancellor in England by King Henry VIII. Henry became involved in a situation where he wanted to divorce his wife and marry another woman. He received approval from everyone he knew except one person: Thomas More. Henry desperately wanted Thomas’ approval, but Thomas wouldn’t budge. He knew that this was against God’s law and Church law; it was adultery. King Henry had Thomas imprisoned; this greatly troubled Thomas because he missed his family. He wrote letters to them, telling them that it was hard for him but that he had to do it. Thomas never gave into the King’s divorce, and Henry had Thomas beheaded. We can be assured that Thomas received his eternal reward because he was canonized a saint by the Church in 1935.

St. Thomas More lived out the line from our second reading, St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, so well: “bear your share of hardship for the Gospel”. Thomas gave his whole life for the Gospel…for Truth…for what’s right…for love. We may not be called to this dramatic and extreme hardship, but we are called to little hardships every day which is a form of martyrdom. If we are not bearing our share of hardship for the Gospel, then we are not living the Gospel. Why? Because the Gospel calls us to die to self, to take up our cross, to repent and turn away from sin – to change our lives. This is hard.

It is hard to live the Gospel; it is hard to defend the Gospel – in the workplace, at home, at school, with family, with friends. It is much easier to stay in our comfort zones. It would have been much easier for Thomas to not say anything to the king and live a normal life. In the same respect, it would have been much easier for Jesus Christ to not speak the Truth, not be put on a Cross, and live a normal life. But Jesus Himself says that the very reason he came into the world was to speak the Truth…to speak the Gospel. He endured tremendous hardship for the Gospel; he laid down his life for it. We know that there is great value in sacrifice and that love involves sacrifice. This is love; this is the greatest love. This is holiness. Holiness is imitating Christ. Mother Teresa once said that the best way to imitate Christ is through suffering; those who are closest to Jesus on Earth are those who suffer the most.

But, this is a hard sell. It is a hard sell for us and for the people who lived 2000 years ago. It is hard to accept the Cross, suffering, and hardship. Jesus knew this; this is one of the reasons He told the Apostle not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration. He knew that if the Apostles told others about what they had seen and heard that people either wouldn’t believe them or that if they believed them would have had a hard time with this: the Cross. Imagine if the Apostles had told people that they had seen a glorious vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah and heard a glorious pronouncement from the Father, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him”.

Those who believed that Jesus is the Son of God would have been very troubled by what they saw on Good Friday. After hearing about such a glorious vision of Christ, they would have seen such a weak vision of Him. They might have left Jesus for good. That’s why Jesus said to the Apostles to wait until after the Resurrection to tell them about the Transfiguration. Wait until they had seen Him win victory over death. Wait until they had seen Him in his glory. Then, they can tell them about the Transfiguration.

We know the full story. And yet, we struggle to understand the Cross – in Jesus’ life and in our lives. We go through Lent taking up little crosses and bearing small hardships so that we will understand and imitate the hardships of Christ in a better way.

Finally, the last part of St. Paul’s line is the reason we’re here – “bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God”. He is talking about Grace. We need God’s strength to bear our hardships; we can’t do it on our own. We need God’s Grace, His strength, and His help in carrying our crosses, whatever they may be. We need to be fed and nourished by God with the bread from heaven.

St. Paul says that grace comes in the appearance of Jesus Christ. Christ will appear to us in a few minutes. It will be the same Christ who appeared in the Transfiguration who will appear on this altar. It will be the same Christ about whom the Father pronounced, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him”.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Cross: "the power of God"

Stations of the Cross, tonight, 7 p.m. with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. All are invited!!
Anon posed the following questions: “In Jesus' treatment of the apostles, didn't He hold back sometimes and only gradually show them who He was because only in that way could they accept it? Like He knew that in their humanity they would be limited in their ability to comprehend what they were coming to and so He had to pace them in a way. He knew that they would struggle with unbelief. If this is true (I'm no scripture scholar), does it have relevance for us thousands of years later? Is the waiting we endure maybe part of His plan for our own good? And isn't it different for different people?”

Yes, Anon, Jesus gradually revealed himself and the kingdom to the Apostles. The more common question, though, concerns the times when Jesus tells the Apostles not to reveal certain things to others. And, it involves the reason you have provided: “He knew that they would struggle with unbelief”. This Sunday’s Gospel presents such a situation. After the event of the Transfiguration in Matthew’s Gospel (17:1-9), “Jesus charged them, ‘Do not tell the vision to anyoneuntil the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’”

I was reading commentary from the Fathers of the Church about this passage which suggested that Jesus did this because He knew that 1) some people wouldn’t believe the story of the Transfiguration and 2) some people would have found the Cross a huge stumbling block after an event like the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is a revelation from the Father of who Jesus is which was glorious both in sight (“his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light”) and sound (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”). The Apostles had such a strong sense of the Sacred at that moment that they “fell prostrate and were very much afraid”.

Now, if they communicated well to others what they had seen and heard with the Transfiguration, there still would have been doubters. But, there also would have been people who believed it and had a real sense of the glorious nature of Jesus. What would have been the reaction of this latter group when they witnessed Christ’s Passion and Death? They would have been very troubled by seeing such a weak and earthly vision of Jesus after hearing about such a powerful and heavenly vision of Him. They might have walked away from Calvary with such despair that they might not have been open to believing in the Resurrection. (They might have thought along the lines of, “fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you”.) The Resurrection is necessary to understand the Cross. That is why Jesus tells the Apostles, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Cross can be a stumbling block even for us who know the full story. We know that Jesus conquered death through his Resurrection. We know that He won victory over sin by becoming sin on the Cross. We know that His sacrifice on the Cross was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. And yet, we can be like those for whom “the message of the Cross is foolishness”, as St Paul writes in 1 Cor 1:18. We do this whenever we seriously question why God allowed His own Son to suffer or why He allows any of us to suffer (most times when people ask me why did so-and-so have to suffer, I point to a crucifix, and ask why did He have to suffer). As we bear our “share of hardship for the gospel” (2 Tim 1:8) during Lent, we hope to grow in our understanding of and love for the Cross by seeing it as “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"What a sweet thing to say"

1) “The Light is on for you” - Confessions will be heard every Wednesday during Lent from 6:30-8 pm in the Church.
2) 6:30 am Mass on Mondays and Fridays during Lent (in addition to the 8:30 daily Mass).
“19 year old thoughts” recently posted the following insightful comment:

As a 19 year old college student, I periodically read this blog site. This is the first time I have responded to a post. After reading the debate on the approach to take when dealing with our teens and sex education, it occurred to me that parents have a really hard job. I have not been the easiest, most obedient teen in the world. Yet, I do not consider myself without morals or good judgment. And yes, I have heard that 19 year olds do not have enough worldly knowledge to make good decisions. And yes, I have made mistakes, but who hasn’t? I think our capacity to make good decisions, is often underestimated.

Where do parents draw the line on what to and what not to teach? Will the approach used for me work with my siblings? Is there really a right way to teach, to guarantee that I will think and act like you, the teacher, think I should?

I am grateful for several things:

My parents, despite their differences, are still married. I have witnessed the strength and faith this takes. The standing joke is that their marriage has been like 23 minutes……. (pause, thinking, what a sweet thing to say….) under water. Perhaps humor has helped in their journey together.

Their work ethic- taught through their actions and words.

The homemade dinners - together and at times chaotic, at our kitchen table, as often as everyone’s individual schedule allows.

Their love and support - when I make mistakes they are there for me, with guidance, not always gentle I might add, to help me as I admit and accept responsibility for my choices.

Their perspective on life – it is painted with color and it is a never ending journey. New shades and brush strokes are always available, if we look, if we hope, if we try.

Their advice - it is often better to listen than to speak. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and in many cases, there is no right or wrong answer, there are no guarantees in life. It is not our place to judge what others see and believe.

Their faith – in us and our decisions, and above all, God.

Thanks Mom and Dad for teaching and exposing me to the concept of subjectivity, for giving me the confidence to make decisions and for your understanding that I am doing the best I can. Thanks for the love, respect and guidance while I try and figure out where I belong in this world.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

1st Sunday of Lent - homily

“Get away Satan!” Jesus says these words in response to the Devil’s temptations and lies, and the Devil leaves him. I wish I had said these words during our last DC ‘Hood game! We were playing against a parish team that was very competitive and they had a couple of players who were trying to get me riled up. I gave into the temptation of pride and played a bit more competitively than I should.

DC ‘Hood is such a great thing, thanks be to God. It’s always a great night for families, especially kids. Our last game was a great night and the kids enjoyed it; we even showed a video on the priesthood that is very powerful. A priest on our team said after the game that the Devil is not happy with what we’re doing and that he is trying to break it up. He might be trying to tempt us with pride and too much competitiveness, and to take away from the good spirit of the games. I need to work on this and just be cool during the games.

Jesus says three words and the Devil leaves Him. That’s the power that He has; we don’t have power over Satan but Jesus does. It’s only when we call upon the name of Jesus and live in Him that we can resist the temptations of the Devil. Normally, the Devil acts invisibly in our world. He makes a rare outward appearance in today’s Gospel. There are many situations in our lives and in the world where the Devil is active but we may not notice him. Here are some situations where we can say what Jesus said, “Get away, Satan!”

Get away, Satan, from our courts. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade that unborn children are human beings, not persons. I remember studying their decision in college and being floored by it. They actually had several criteria which determine whether someone is a human being or a person. They ruled that unborn children are not persons and so they don’t have the rights of persons, specifically the right to life. They gave into temptation for whatever reason – historical or political motivations or whatever. The Catechism says that the fruit of temptation ultimately is death. Since 1973, 50 million babies have been aborted in the United States.

Get away, Satan, from our politicians, especially the ones who used to be pro-life and are now pro-choice. They have given into the temptation to abandon their principles in order to advance their political career; we would figuratively say that they have sold their souls to the Devil. Some of them are still very prominent in our country. Some of us will be tempted to vote for pro-choice candidates this year. Again, the fruit of temptation is death.

Get away, Satan, from our schools. In many of our schools, God has been kicked out, prayer and moral teaching are gone. What has come in is immoral teaching, especially in sex education. Many of our schools teach and promote contraception and immoral, illicit sexual behavior.

Get away, Satan, from our culture. The Church has aptly named it a “culture of death”. We see so many examples every day of how prominent drugs and violence are in our society. It’s a culture that says life is disposable at every stage, starting with conception.

Get away, Satan, from our families. The family is the most important unit in the world and it is under great attack. There is so much division in families for several reasons; divorce is at the top of the list. The best weapon against the attacks of the Devil is prayer; the family that prays together stays together.

Get away, Satan, from our faith. Many people have given into the temptation to believe that there is no God…there is no Truth…there is no sin. Many Catholics believe, for example, that skipping Mass on Sunday is not a sin, or that leaving early from Mass without a good reason is not a sin.

Finally, get away, Satan, from the Eucharist. The Devil knows the power of the Eucharist and he hates the Eucharist. We see how he has attacked the Church. For the first 1500 years of Christianity, there was one Church and all Christians believed that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, we have 30,000 Christian denominations and only two believe in and have the Eucharist: the Catholic and Orthodox churches. On top of that, we know of stories where demons have literally come into churches and desecrated the Eucharist.

I say all of this not to scare us or to paralyze us with fear. I say all of this to make us more aware of the presence of the Devil in our world and to have a holy fear of his power. As we unite with Jesus in the Eucharist today, let us ask Him to help us with the temptations in our lives. Let us say the words that He said for ourselves, our families, our country, and our world: Get away, Satan!

Friday, February 08, 2008

"Attacking our weakness"

Stations of the Cross tonight, 7 pm, followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. All are invited!!
The following is a spiritual reflection (2/15/98) by Msgr Wells as found in his book, “From the Pastor’s Desk”:

I know some people who look forward to the coming of Lent with a sense of anticipation – even of joy. They look forward to the Church’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to give them a spiritual shot in the arm. Not me! I see that Lent begins in ten days, on Ash Wednesday, and I groan within. Not for me the call to penance and self-denial. However, whether received with joy or dread, this great season of grace is upon us. In the days before Vatican II, there were three weeks of preparation for Lent, where Catholics were encouraged to decide how they were going to observe the season. The Church, wisely, wanted to encourage people to take advantage of these six weeks in the desert with the Lord.

Lent is of greatest value when it attacks our weakness. Hence, a few suggestions based on my limited observations of life in Bethesda. First of all, in what might seem to turn the call to fasting upside down, let our families resolve to eat together each day, with the television off! Few things more rip my heart out than asking our 2nd graders how they eat dinner and hear how many of them eat alone, in their rooms, in front of televisions. How are faith and family passed on; how do we combat the isolation of our society, if not at the dinner table? I surely am a great believer in fasting (much as I do not like it), but many, I believe, must fast from the TV dinners that, literally, live up to their names.

Following Jesus is hard! Picking up a cross and carrying it toward a share in crucifixion goes against the grain. Even the Lord Himself dropped his Cross three times. The crosses we choose for ourselves during Lent should remind us of how weak is our commitment; they should attempt to attack with some vigor areas of weakness in our lives. The person who sees a possible addiction to work that affects family relationships should attack that addiction; the person who is tight with money, using any excuse to avoid giving it away, should dramatically commit to fighting that self-sufficiency that we think money can guarantee. The person who has heard friends and family make the comment, “You’ve always got to be right,” should begin the painful process of examining pride and a competitive spirit and recognize that is tough to need God if I am always right.

Finally, we must resolve to take seriously the call to prayer. For many of us, the things of God are not first in our lives. I knew God was important to my parents because they taught me to pray and because they often talked about the things of God. If only an Our Father and a Hail Mary at the time of grace, we must begin to pray as families. Individually, many of us can participate in the only perfect prayer, daily Mass. We can take the first ten minutes of our daily commute to say the Rosary. We can open the Bible and meet Jesus in the Gospels. And, most especially, in this season of repentance, we must plan to take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and go to confession.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ash Wednesday Mass (with distribution of ashes) schedule: 8:30 am, 10 am (school Mass), 7:30 pm.

Catholic college guide + objective truth

1) Happy Birthday to our pastor, Fr. Mike!!

2) Someone sent me information about a college guide for Catholics. If you or someone you know could benefit from this help in choosing a Catholic college, please click on the title of this post.
Recently, there was a spirited discussion here in response to the Maryland bishops’ letter on marriage. Here are some of the comments made by “Anon”; I am assuming they are all from the same Anon:

“Why is the church so upset by what lawmakers might do to civil law? If Maryland starts to allow civil unions or even gay marriage (much less likely though) the law would not require the church to start marrying two men or two women. No law could ever be passed that would do that. And since the church doesn't recognize marriages not performed by the church itself, why is anyone worried about what an unrecognized Justice of the Peace does?”

“…the church doesn't recognize civil marriages either, yet it's actively campaigning against any sorts of change to them. The church doesn't recognize divorce, and stays silent on the matter. The overall decline of marriage in this country can be blamed on a few different things, but homosexuality isn't one of them. It just isn't. Speaking out about gay people entering into unions the church doesn't even recognize is a waste of time, since the church won't ever have to recognize them. In my opinion the opposition is also rooted in bigotry, unless you can come up with a different explanation which shows how the recognition of a civil practice can for the first time ever be mandated by law as a sacrament whether the church wants to recognize it or not?”

Anon, I appreciate your comments and your passion, but you are missing the general point of all of this. The general point you miss is that it’s a matter of principle with the Church. Even if the Church won’t be required to perform same-sex “marriages” or civil unions, she has an obligation to speak out against them as the moral authority on Earth. There are many issues which don’t directly involve the (governing, teaching, or sanctifying bodies of the) Church but she still speaks out vehemently against them - abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, contraception, euthanasia, etc.

One of the best teachers that I’ve ever had taught about this one day in a philosophy class. She was teaching about objective truth. She used the example of rape to make a powerful point. She said that all rational people agree that rape is objectively wrong. There is never a time or situation which would justify rape. She asked the class if men could speak out against rape even if they would most likely never be the victim of rape. Everyone agreed that men should speak out against rape, of course. She had made the point that we should speak out against things that are objectively wrong even if we won’t be subjectively affected by them. (By the way, she brilliantly concluded the point by saying that men should speak out against abortion even though they will never become pregnant).

Now, even if “the Church” won’t be directly involved with civil unions or any of these issues, her members will. We all make up the Church, which is the Body of Christ. When the Church teaches on different issues, it is for the good of all mankind. She is defending objective Truth and all that is good (from God) while fighting against errors and all the evils of the world (not from God). Same-sex “marriages”, abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc. are not from God, they are from man. The Church has a mandate from Christ to “teach all nations” (Mt 28:19); it is a mandate to teach the whole world what is objectively true and to oppose what is objectively in error.

Your comments about how the Church is “silent on the matter” of divorce are based in ignorance. The Magisterium of the Church has addressed divorce – e.g., the Catechism clearly condemns it, as Fran noted in her post. Priests like me are continually defending the permanent aspect of marriage with their parishioners who want to get out of troubled marriages; many times we are the only ones not telling them to get a divorce. Maybe the Church isn’t speaking out against divorce as much as you would like, but I hope you realize that she is continually defending marriage universally and locally.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

4th Sunday - homily

There is a woman whose family I’m friends with in Southern Maryland that I’ve been praying for for a few years now. Her name is Maria Stefko Turner. Maria became pregnant with her third child about four years ago. During her pregnancy, her doctors discovered a tumor in her body. They advised her to abort her baby in order to save her own life. Maria thought and prayed long and hard about it. She chose to continue with the pregnancy and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We’re going to hear a lot about “choice” this election year, specifically a “woman’s right to choose”. Maria made the right choice, a heroic choice for life. Last week, Maria lost her battle with the cancer, dying at a very young age.

I tell this story not to sadden us today; actually, I find it to be a very inspiring story about heroic and sacrificial love. I tell it because it directly relates to the Gospel we just heard, the beatitudes. There isn’t one particular beatitude that describes Maria; they all do. She gave up everything for her child. Pope Benedict XVI has written about the beatitudes in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth”. He writes that the beatitudes are a portrait of Jesus and a biography of his life. They are a biography of the life of Maria Turner and all of the saints who have ever lived. The beatitudes are a biography of every Christian who lives a Christ-like life.

The beatitudes are about who we are. They are what we are all about as Christians. They turn the values of the world upside down. The world would say, ‘why be merciful or meek or pure of heart’? The beatitudes are who we are, and we live them out through things like the Archbishop’s Appeal. There isn’t one specific beatitude that describes the Appeal; they all do. The appeal is all about giving to others who are in need. It is about being generous even if it hurts.

Maria Turner gave everything she had for her child; she gave her own life. Jesus Christ gave up everything for each one of us on the Cross; he continues to give us his life in the Eucharist. Our Lord gave when it hurt; Maria Turner gave when it hurt. There will be many people in our Archdiocese who will give to this Appeal when it hurts. They have mounting bills in all kinds of things, and yet they continue to give to those in need. The world would say, ‘why give? Keep it for yourself’.

We may not be called to give our very life for others like Christ or Maria Turner did. But, we are called to give to others even when it hurts. Anyone who does give generously to others in need when it hurts is making a heroic choice for life and for love.

Pope John Paul II once said to youth, “the world needs you because the world needs Christ, and you are Christ in the world.” The people in this Archdiocese who are in need – St. Paul calls them the ‘lowly and despised’ in the second reading – need us. The poor and lowly in the Archdiocese need us because they need Christ and we are Christ in this Archdiocese.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI is coming!

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Deacon Mike will lead tonight’s service. All are invited!!
As you probably are aware, Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Washington! Our Archdiocese is overjoyed that the Holy Father has chosen our city and New York as the two places he will visit from April 15-20. To view information about the Pope’s visit, please click on the title of this post.

Archbishop Wuerl is providing an abundance of excellent information about the papacy, specifically its theology. He has categorized this into three areas of catechesis – “The Ministry of the Pope”, “The Present Pontiff,” and “The Pope as Bishop.” The resources for this information rely upon Scripture, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, Canon Law and secondary sources.

I will be posting the catechesis periodically until the Holy Father’s visit. Here are some excerpts from “The Ministry of the Pope” (to view the full text, click on the title of this post, then “parish/school resources”, then "resources" and scroll down to "core theology on the papacy").

1. What are some of the scriptural references to St. Peter and his ministry?
Some of the scriptural references to St. Peter and his ministry include:

Matthew 16:16-19
Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."…

4. Why do we call the Pope the Vicar of Christ?
Jesus gave an office uniquely to St. Peter, the first of the Apostles, to be transmitted to the Successors of St. Peter. A vicar is someone who stands in the place of another. Peter was chosen by the Lord himself to be his vicar. He was not elected by the other Apostles to preside over the Church. Jesus Christ specifically prayed for Peter.

5. What do we mean by the term “the power of the keys”?
The Lord gave an office uniquely to St. Peter. The “power of the keys” entrusted to him represents this authority. By virtue of his office the Pope possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

6. Why do we call the Pope the Servant of the Servants of God?
The Pope is the head of the College of Bishops. He serves those who serve. When Christ bestowed special gifts on Peter, these were not to be considered or used as special privileges for his own benefit; rather, these special gifts were a means of serving others. The Pope’s life is spent in imitation of Jesus who came to serve and not to be served.

7. Why do we call the Pope the Holy Father?
Catholics (and even non-Catholics) refer to the Pope as “Holy Father” or “his Holiness” because these terms reminds us that the Pope is the universal pastor of the Church, into which Christ wants to gather all the children of God into one (cf. John 11:52). The Pope’s office has an objective sanctity about it, flowing from its divine institution.