Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Body, soul, and spirit?

Yeah, Redskins!!! Way to beat the Cowboys for the 5th time in 7 games!
Here are two recent questions from bloggers:

1)"When I hear a statement like, ‘his spirit will live among us,’ I ask myself the question- what is our spirit? I use to think the word was interchangeable with soul, but St. Paul clearly describes our being sanctified in our whole being as “body, soul and spirit.” So, what exactly is one’s spirit and how would it live among us? If a soul goes to Heaven, where does the spirit go?”

The comment from the New Jerusalem Bible says this about 1 Thess 5:23 where St. Paul refers to our “body, soul, and spirit”:

- “This is the only reference made by Paul to a tripartite division of body (see Rm 7:24), soul (see 1 Cor 15:44), and spirit (which can be taken in two ways: as the divine presence in a human being, giving new life in union with Christ, Rom 5:5, or more probably as the innermost depths of the human being, open and awake to the Spirit, see Rom 1:9). The accent is on the totality of the effects of the sanctifying action of God, 3:13; 4:3, the effect of his fidelity."

2) “About indulgences-- how does one find out how to do them? Is it like penance, which a priest gives after confession of sins? Do you go to a priest and ask him to assign them to you?”

The Church has provided a list of ways to gain plenary and partial indulgences. I have previously posted this list (see 4/1/08 post, “Understanding Indulgences”), but will do so again. Please click on the title of today’s post for the link will take you to a website that lists ways to gain plenary and partial indulgences. Many of the ways should be self-explanatory; others involve prayers that, if you’re not familiar with them, you can google to see how to pray them.

To clarify, the “penance” a priest gives to a penitent in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is similar, but not identical, to acts of penance to gain indulgences. Sacramental penance is mainly concerned with the forgiveness of our sins; penitential acts for indulgences are mainly concerned with making satisfaction for those sins.

Sacramental penance does involve satisfaction for our sins, but it merely represents the full satisfaction that we will need to make for our sins. Full satisfaction for sins usually takes place (martyrs would be the exception) in the temporal punishment of Purgatory.

We can begin the process now (i.e., “Purgatory on Earth”) through acts of penance to gain indulgences. Through these acts and by the Grace of God, we begin the process of making full satisfaction for our sins or the sins of others, thus removing temporal punishment for those sins.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

26th Sunday - homily

Today's Gospel story hits the nail on the head about our struggle to make commitments and keep them. We have a hard time saying yes and living it out. I would like to tell a "story" about someone who always said yes to God's Will and lived it out. You might have heard this one before. It's when Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders about the woman caught in adultery. He says (the famous line), "let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone". The leaders all drop their rocks and stones. Then, one stone is launched from the back of the group and lands nowhere near the woman, falling harmlessly to the ground. Jesus looks to see who threw it, shakes his head, sighs, and says, "Geez, Mom...! I'm trying to make a point here."

Mary always said yes to God's Will and lived it out. The rest of us are like the two sons from the Gospel, struggling with yes and no. I would like to focus on a moment - a big moment - when we say yes. It involves my favorite part of being a priests: Confession. In Confession, the person is saying yes to God - saying yes to His mercy, saying yes to going deeper in friendship with Him, saying yes to His love - while confessing all the times he or she had said no to Him.

It's a tremendous privilege for me to give God's yes to the person. First, it is in the form of advice or counsel, when I encourage and affirm the person and point out that their yes in coming to Confession trumps all their no's (all of their sins). And, that's the way that God sees it. Then, of course, is God's big yes - His forgiveness which comes in the form of the absolution.

God has always said yes to us. He said yes to us when He created us. He said yes to us when He saved us. He said yes to each one of us from the Cross. If we look at a crucifix, we see that Jesus' body is in the form of a 'Y' - He said yes to each one of us. He continues to say yes to us in Confession. He continues to say yes to us in the Eucharist; He continues to give us his life, His very Body and Blood.

May the grace of this Eucharist help us to say yes to Him. May we say yes to His Will and live it out. When we say yes to God, we say yes to His life, His mercy, His friendship, and His love.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Spare embryos: "I did not know that"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Anon wrote the following as a comment to my homily on the 23rd Sunday:
“Most people are quite clear on the Church's strong stance against preventing pregnancy via artificial means (the use of contraceptives v. natural family planning). The Church takes an equally strong stance against artificial means of CAUSING pregnancy, such as IVF or the use of donor sperm. This stance is consistent with the concept that a child is a gift, but it gets considerably less press. It's one thing to speak out in defense of life, but another to tell people that having a child isn't an entitlement.”

Years ago, I had a memorable discussion about in vitro fertilization (IVF) with some Catholic friends. One of my friends was questioning the relevance of the Church’s teaching against in vitro fertilization. I made the point that this type of fertilization goes against not only the procreative end of marriage (procreation is to be done naturally – as God intends -not artificially) but also the unitive end (union takes place outside of the man and woman, and in a laboratory).

My friend basically said, “so what? I’ve heard this before and it really doesn’t bother me. If people want to have a baby and science can help, who cares about the procreative and unitive ends? Is this the biggest reason why IVF is wrong?”

I responded by asking her if she was aware that normally it takes several embryos to be implanted in the woman’s uterus in order for one to be born (as explained below), and that the other embryos are often destroyed. This means that for every baby that is born through IVF, at least one – and often several – is discarded or destroyed. My friend said, "I did not know that". Almost immediately, she became vehemently opposed to IVF. Praise God!

We addressed this and other reproductive issues in the post from May 16, 2007, “Reproductive Technology”. Below is an excerpt from the article referenced in that post which specifically addresses and describes IVF.

IVF (In Vitro Fertilization):

Conception occurs outside the body--"in a glass."

Ordinarily, the woman is treated with hormones to stop her natural cycle and stimulated to ripen a number of ova. The ova are harvested from the follicle with a needle under ultrasonic guidance. The needle is inserted either through the vagina or abdomen. Ova are incubated in the laboratory with a carefully washed and adjusted specimen of semen to allow fertilization. Prior to implantation in the woman's uterus, embryos are examined in order to select the "best." Sometimes, one cell is removed for genetic testing. To date, visual inspection of the embryos has been totally unrelated to their subsequent course--health or otherwise. Usually at least two embryos are implanted; in some centers, as many as four are implanted with the hope of getting at least one live baby. At times, three or four embryos thrive. Some clinics then offer the mother "embryo reduction" (selective abortion) to allow only one or two fetuses to develop further.

Because the endometrium is considerably changed by the stimulation of ovaries to produce eggs, it is the practice in some centers to freeze the embryos and to implant them in a subsequent natural cycle. Overall success rates in terms of having a living child range from 16-20%. The disposition of frozen embryos varies with the wishes of the parents. "Spare embryos" may either be preserved, donated to other women or to researchers, or destroyed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

25th Sunday - Gospel commentary

I will be away this week on retreat.
Gospel Commentary for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, SEPT. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The parable about the workers sent out at different times to work in the vineyard has always caused big problems for readers of the Gospel. Is it right for the owner of the vineyard to pay the same wage to those who have worked for only an hour and those who have worked the whole day? Does this not violate the principle of just recompense? Today workers' unions would rise up together to denounce any owner of a company who did this.

The difficulty we are experiencing here stems from a certain equivocation. One thinks of the problem of recompense in the abstract and in general or in reference to eternal recompense in heaven. Seen in this way, it would effectively contradict the principle according to which God "will repay each one as his work deserves" (Romans 2:6). But Jesus is talking about a specific situation, a very precise case. The only wage that is given to everyone is the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus has brought to the earth; it is the possibility of entering into the messianic salvation to be a part of it. The parable begins by saying that "the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn ..."

The issue is, once again, the position of the Jews and the pagans, or the just and sinners, in relation to the salvation proclaimed by Jesus. Even if the pagans (or sinners, publicans, prostitutes, etc.) only decide for God on the basis of Jesus' preaching, although they were distant (like the people who had been standing around "idle" in the marketplace and came to the vineyard later in the day), they will not, for this reason, have a different or lesser place in the kingdom. They will be seated at the same table and will enjoy the fullness of the messianic goods. Indeed, since they show that they are more ready to accept the Gospel than the so-called just, we see the realization of what Jesus says at the end of the parable: "The last shall be first and the first shall be last."

Once the Kingdom is known, that is, once faith is embraced, then there is room for diversification. Those who serve God their whole life, bearing the most fruit with their talents, and those who give God only the leftovers of their life and make amends with a ramshackle confession at the end of their life, will not be treated the same.

The parable also contains a spiritual teaching of the greatest importance: God calls everyone and everyone at every hour of the day. Here we move from the recompense to the call itself. This is how John Paul II used the parable in his apostolic exhortation on the vocation and mission of lay people in the Church and in the world, "Christifideles Laici."

"The lay members of Christ's faithful people ... form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel ... ‘You go into the vineyard too' ... The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world" (nos. 1-2 passim).

I would like to draw your attention to an aspect that is perhaps marginal in the parable but that is strongly felt and vital in modern society: the problem of unemployment. The landowner asks: "Why have you stood around idle all day?" and the workers answer: "No one has hired us." This disconsolate reply could well be that of millions of unemployed people today. Jesus was not unaware of this problem. If he is able to describe the scene of the parable so well it is because he had many times looked with compassion upon those groups of people sitting on the ground or leaning against walls waiting to be hired.

The owner of the vineyard knows that the workers of the last hour have the same needs as the others who were hired at the beginning of the day; they too have children to feed. Giving everyone the same wage, the owner of the vineyard shows that not only is he taking account of the merit of the workers but their needs. Our capitalistic societies base recompense on merit (often more nominal than real) and on seniority in work, and not on the person's needs. When the young worker or professional has the most need for his family and for a house, his pay is the lowest, but when he is at the end of his career, when he has less need (especially in certain social categories) he has arrived at the stars. The parable of the workers in the vineyard invites us to find a more just balance between the two demands of merit and need.

Prayer and sacrifice

Another comment from the talks on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory:
“those in purgatory are those who died in the state of grace but who are not yet ‘cleansed’ enough for Heaven. When we are sorry and confess our sins, God forgives us, but the damage to our soul remains even after we are forgiven. But, penance is an act of atonement and a means by which to repair our soul. Prayer and sacrifice are also ways to right our wrongs, aren’t they? So, is it possible that some completely atone for their sins here on earth?”

As yesterday’s post indicated, we can repair sins in this life through acts of penance - prayers and sacrifices would be included in that. It is possible to atone for many sins on earth, but the only ones who “completely atone” for their sins on earth are martyrs. They are the only ones who go straight to Heaven because they are perfectly purified through their baptism by blood. All of this discussion about “acts of reparation” and repairing our sins is all under the heading of and because of the Grace of Christ, of course.

Here are my notes from the 1st talk on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory:


1. Does Heaven exist?

Gen 1:1 "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth" (Heaven is as real as earth)
Exodus 16: manna – "bread from heaven"
Mt 3: 16-17: – "And suddenly there was a voice from heaven…this is my beloved son"
Jn 1:33 – "I saw the spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him"

Jesus refers to Heaven about 170 times in the Gospels
(Heaven, Kingdom of Heaven, Kingdom of God, Life, and Eternal Life)
-"how blessed are the poor in spirit: the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs" (Mt 5:3)
-"there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance" (Lk 15:7)

Throughout the NT:
St. Paul: "God…gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6)
Acts: "This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven" (1:11)
Revelation: "Then, in my vision, I saw a door open in heaven" (4:1)" Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (21:1)

Early Church
St Cyprian (3rd cent.) "to delight in the joy of immortality in the kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends

Magisterium of the Church
Pope Benedict XII (1336): "According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints…have been, are, and will be in heaven, in the heavenly kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ" (Benedictus Deus)

2. What is Heaven like?

Jesus: kingdom of heaven is like:
- " a buried treasure"
- "a great pearl" (Mt 13:44-46)
- "a wedding feast" (Mt 22:1; Mt 25:1); "wedding feast of the Lamb" (Rev 19:7)
- "the upright will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father" (Mt 13:43)
- whatever we sacrifice for Christ in this life, we will receive " a hundred times as much…now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life" (Mk 10:30-31)

Paul : "what no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualize; all that God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9)

St. John: "see him as he really is" (1 Jn 3:2)
Revelation: 21: 1-4

Saints / doctors of the Church
St Catherine of Siena:"The indescribable sweetness of this perfect union cannot be told by tongue, which is but a finite thing"

Magisterium of the Church
- "Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness" (CCC, # 1024)

a. Does it exist?

- refers to Hell 28 times and eternal punishment about 90 times in the Gospels
- uses the terms Hades, Gehenna, Eternal Fire, Field of blood
- Mk 9:43-48, e.g.
- Mt 10:28-“fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell”
- Mt 25:46- those who don’t care for the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters “will go away to eternal punishment”

-“wailing and grinding of teeth”
- the good-for-nothing servant (Mt 25:30)
- children of the kingdom (of darkness) – Mt 8:12
- the man not dresses for the wedding feast – Mt 22:13

Paul-(2 Thess 1:9) for those who “refuse to accept the gospel of our Lord Jesus…their punishment is to be lost eternally, excluded from the presence of the Lord”

Church – early Church Fathers described Hell as “eternal punishment” ; affirmed by early Church councils and Pope Benedict XII (1336)

- Fatima* – vision of Hell by children: sea of fire; demons and souls with burning embers, black and transparent; terrifying looking animals; children cried out for all to hear

b. What is it like?
(we only know what’s been revealed to us)

Scripture (described above)

Church- “hell is a state to which the wicked are condemned and in which they are deprived of the sight of God and are in dreadful torments for all eternity” (Baltimore Catechism)

- pain of loss
- being separated by God, rejected by Christ (“I know you not”-Mt 25:12)
- shame, regret, despair

- pain of sense (torments)
-“fire” (of Gehenna)
– “the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out” (Mt 3:12)
- principal means of torments that will be different than earthly fire because it will affect both body and soul

- the pain of the sense will be as nothing compared to the pain of loss
- “We must not ask where hell is, but how we are to avoid it” (St. John Chrysostom)
- Hell is eternal separation from God (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
- “hell is not a punishment imposed by God…it is the natural consequence of an unrepentant sinner’s choice against God” (Pope John Paul II)
- basically, when the person dies, he sees the face of God and he realizes at that moment that he is not worthy to be with God for all eternity; he realizes that he chose hell during his life (GWS)

-the term is not used in Scripture; comes from the Latin word, “purgatorium” (place of purging fire or purification)

a. Does it exist?

– refers to situations where a punishment / purification must occur:
Lk 12:59 – being in prison“I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”
Jn 16:20 – “you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy”
- speaks about forgiveness of sins in next life
Mt 12:32 – “Let anyone speak against the Holy Spirit and he will not be forgiven either in this world or in the next”
- implication is made about forgiveness of sins in next life; really about satisfaction for sins (forgiveness before death – confession, e.g.; satisfaction after death – purg., e.g.)

2 Macc 12:46 - the valiant Judas “had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sins”
- shows that the Jewish custom was to pray for the dead; must be for souls in a state other than Heaven or Hell
- don't need to pray for the souls in Heaven, and it does no good to pray for the souls in Hell
- custom continues whenever someone prays for all the souls in Purgatory

1 Cor 3:15 (salvation through a purifying fire)being saved as “from a fire”
1 Peter 1:7 - “your faith, more valuable than gold and which is perishable even if it has been tested by fire, may be proved”

Magisterium: “a cleansing fire, a purifying fire” (pain suffered is comparable to the pain of fire on earth)

b. What is it like?

Scripture (see above)

St Augustine: “this fire of Purgatory will be more severe than any pain that can be felt, seen or conceived in this world”

St Francis de Sales: “The greater part of those who dread Purgatory so much think more of their own interests than of the interests of God’s glory; this proceeds from the fact that they think only of the sufferings without considering the peace and happiness which are enjoyed by the holy souls”

Rev. T.G. Morrow: “there will be tremendous suffering accompanied by a tremendous sense of peace and joy knowing that the soul will be united with God”

- after death, the soul sees that it is not yet spotless, and “would cast itself into a thousand hells rather than find itself in the presence of the Divine Majesty with that stain on it” (St Catherine of Genoa)

“she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, holy and faultless” (Eph 5:27)

Friday, September 19, 2008

For the sake of justice

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Come join us!!
The following is a comment from an anonymous blogger regarding the 2nd talk on Heaven, Hell & Purgatory during our summer Adoration series. I have included the notes from the second talk, and will post the notes from the 1st talk on H, H, & P tomorrow.

Anon: “This was the first time I’d ever heard of justice being of issue (with Purgatory). That was something to hear! I knew there was purgatory, but I didn’t quite understand that a system of justice applied. I thought purgatory was about what we didn’t confess, what we weren’t sorry for, all the times we didn’t do what we thought we should. Now- I get that it’s (also) about justice. That simple fact changes quite a bit.”

3. How long does Heaven last?

Jesus speaks of heaven many times as "everlasting life…eternal life…living forever"

Paul (1 Cor 9:25) + St Peter (1 Pet 5:4): "imperishable crown"

Church: "the enjoyment (of those in heaven) has continued and will continue without any interruption and without end until the last Judgement and from then on forever" (Pope Benedict XII, 1336)

4. Who goes to Heaven?
- Jn 3:16- "everyone who believes in (God’s only Son) may not perish but may have eternal life"

- Jn 6:54, 58 – "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…and will live forever"
- Mk 16:16- "whoever believes and is baptized will be saved"
- Mt 25: 35-36-whoever feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, etc.
- Lk 10: 25-28 (the lawyer) / Mt 19: 16-22 (the rich young man)- whoever keeps the Commandments

Paul- "it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God" (Eph 2:8)

St. James- "if good deeds do not go with (faith), (faith) is quite dead" (2:17)
John: "whoever does the will of God remains for ever" (Jn 2:17)
Revelation: "the people who have been through the great trial" (7:14)

Magisterium-"those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ" (CCC, #1023)
-baptized by water (#1228), by desire (#1260), or by blood (#1258)
-in union with the bride of Christ, the Church (Eph 5:25-27): Heaven is the wedding feast of Christ and his bride, the Church (Rev 19:7-8, 21:9-14, previewed in Isa 61:10-11)

c. How long does it last?
- “eternal fire, eternal punishment, eternal separation”
- Lk 16:19-31 The rich man and Lazarus- “a great gulf has been fixed, to prevent those who want to cross from our side to yours or from your side to ours”

d. Who goes there? (we know there are souls in Hell, but can’t know specifically whom)

- Jesus :
-“all evil doers” (Mt 13:41)
- “many take the road that leads to destruction” (Mt 7:13)
- “the elect are few” (Mt 22:14)
- “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 19:24)
- referring to someone whose god is money
- is Judas in Hell? can't say for sure, but Jesus says it is “better for that man (by whom the Son of Man is betrayed) if he had never been born!” (Mt 26:24)
-“anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch-and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and burnt” (Jn 15:6)

Paul: Gal 5: 18-21 (cf. 1 Cor 6:10)
-"those who behave in these ways (sexual vice, impurity and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery, antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and such things) will not inherit the kingdom of God"

John: “sin that leads to death” (1 Jn 5:16)
-i.e., mortal sin

- “those who die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love” (CCC, # 1033)

- mortal sin:
1. grave offense (it's wrong) -mainly, direct offenses against the Ten Commandments
2. full knowledge (I know it's wrong)
3. full consent (I freely choose to do it)

- CCC: #1861
- "mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace.
- "if it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.
- "However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God" (in other words, we can judge an action as a grave offense, but only God can judge what's in a person's heart; that's why we can never say that "so and so" is in Hell; also, we don't know if at the moment of death that he/she showed some sign of repentance-'Lord, have mercy' - that God would take into account in his infinite Mercy)

- 3 distinctions of Hell:
a) damned - eternal punishment
b) limbo (Abraham’s bosom) - holy souls (from OT) there until Christ freed them
c) purgatory - temporal punishment-“God predestines no one to go to Hell" (CCC, #1037)

- Hell is the result of free will, and ultimately, God's Love
- God loves us so much that He has given us free will in order that we will choose to be with Him in Heaven
- He respects our free will so much that He allows us to choose to reject Him; He helps us so much in our lives (with His grace) to choose Him, but won't ever force us to love Him
- our free will is REAL (the "power to make choices for ever, with no turning back")
- God wills each of us to choose Heaven, but allows us to choose Hell
*Fatima prayer: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy."

c. How long does it last?

see Mt 25:34-41 : general judgement will only have 2 states, Heaven and Hell, so Purgatory will not continue after the general judgement

Council of Trent (1551): Purgatory is a state of purification which frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin (Hell is eternal punishment)

- so, we understand Purgatory to be temporal, “in time”; while it may not be in 24-hour days as on Earth, we do associate a soul’s stay in Purgatory with a number of days
- the amount of “time” a soul stays in Purgatory is based on the amount of purification needed- we stay in Purgatory until we “love as God loves” (Msgr. Hill, SSM pastor)
- we can do works (of mercy, penance, prayer, almsgiving, gain indulgences, etc.) on Earth to remove days from our temporal punishment in Purgatory for ourselves or for others; but, once in Purgatory we can’t lessen our own punishment

d. Who goes there?
Scripture (see above)

Catechism (CCC) - “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified; (they) are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven” (# 1030).

Council of Florence (1439): “souls who die with true repentance and in God’s love before having rendered satisfaction for their sins of omission and commission by the worthy fruits of penance”

- what about the person who dies just after having gone to Confession and completed the penance? He / she would go to Purgatory to satisfy the temporal punishment due to his / her sins (kind of like a criminal who still has to serve his prison sentence, for the sake of justice, even if he is truly sorry for the crime he has committed)
- serious reparation is needed for serious sins, especially- can repair those sins in this life through a penitential life (like the saints), acts of faith, hope, and love, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, etc.

- Mt 19:21 – “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; then, come follow me”
- Mt 5:48 - “ Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Lord, I am not worthy"

“Often there are people who do not give much thought to religion or God until the going really gets tough, even desperate. Then they go crawling. I have turned to God for the first time in my life because of very difficult circumstances that sometimes feel unbearable. But I think I may be unworthy in God's eyes because prior to this I had no use for religion and even snubbed it when others expressed religious beliefs. Can this be overcome?”

To the anonymous blogger who posted these comments recently, I would say that, yes, your thoughts of unworthiness can be overcome. A good starting point might be to meditate on the story of the centurion (Lk 7) who, most likely, would fall into the category of those who “do not give much thought to religion or God until the going really gets tough, even desperate”. He is desperate to find someone who can save a servant of his who “was valuable to him” (v. 2) and was dying. As Jesus was approaching his house, the centurion sent his friends to tell him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof… say the word and let my servant be healed” (v. 6-7).

Jesus was “amazed” at his faith, and rewarded it by healing the servant. Our Lord did not focus on the fact that the centurion was a Gentile or dwell on how little thought he might have given to religion or God. He focused on the present moment, and that the centurion was showing great faith in Jesus and in his power to heal.

We say the words of the centurion before we receive the Eucharist each time: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”. None of us is worthy to have Jesus “enter under (our) roof”. We are aware of that but not overcome by that. If we find ourselves overcome with unworthiness, then we should simply remember the command of Jesus to receive the Eucharist: “take this, all of you, and eat it”.

It might help us all to think about the strongest human relationship in our own lives. Have we ever felt particularly unworthy of this relationship? Was it because of sins in prior relationships? Did these thoughts of unworthiness prevent us from going forward in the relationship? The answer to the last question is ‘no’ for a variety of reasons – one of the most important ones is confidence. The more time we spend with the person and are committed to the relationship, the more confident we are in the relationship.

The same is true with our relationship with Christ. The Church herself says that “it’s not about a religion; it’s about a person”. That person is Jesus Christ. It’s all about a relationship with Christ, especially in the Eucharist. We are not worthy to enter into relationship with Him, but the more time we spend with Him and the more we are faithful to Him, the more confident we are in the relationship.

Finally, Anon, you mention about those who “go crawling” to God. Here’s an inspiring story (posted by an anonymous blogger) about a woman who literally has crawled to the Eucharist:

Valencia, Aug 28, 2008 / 01:42 am (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly in Chissano (Mozambique) took into their home this week a 25 year-old African young girl named Olivia, who despite not being baptized at the time and not having any legs, crawled 2.5 miles every Sunday to attend Mass.

According to the AVAN news agency, the nuns said that one day, they saw “something moving on the ground far away,” and when they drew near they saw, “to our surprise, that it was a young woman.”

“We were able to talk to her through a lady who was walking by and who translated into Portuguese what she was saying to us” in her dialect, they said.

The sisters said that although “the sand from the road burned the palms of her hands during the hottest times of the year,” the young woman crawled to Mass, “giving witness of perseverance and heroic faith.”

The young woman received baptismal preparation from a catechist, who periodically visited her at home. After she was recently baptized, one of the benefactors of the sisters donated a wheel chair for Olivia.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Feast of the Triumph of the Cross - homily

“We will never forget”. We heard our national motto regarding 9/11 much last week as we commemorated the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks. We will never forget that it was one of the most evil events in the history of the world. We will never forget the tremendous good that came out of that evil. We will never forget the many acts of heroism by men and women in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania that day. We will never forget the unity, patriotism, and spirituality of those days. Most importantly, we will never forget those who lost their lives that day. We never forget so that their spirit will always live among us.

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. In today’s responsorial psalm, we heard, “do not forget the works of the Lord”. In a special way, we commemorate another evil event of immense proportions: the Crucifixion. We remember the works of the Lord, particularly the works of the Lord on the Cross. We celebrate this feast as a victory, for it is through the Cross of Christ that we have won victory over sin and death. It is through the Cross that we have the forgiveness of sins. It is through the Cross that we have been saved.

Today’s readings get right to the heart of what this feast is all about. In the second reading, St. Paul points out clearly and deeply what Christ did for us on the Cross in the beautiful canticle that is in his letter to the Phillipians. He says that Christ “emptied himself”, “humbled himself”, and became “obedient to the point of death” for us.

He emptied himself for us. Picture a glass of water being poured out; it is emptied completely with nothing left in it. Christ emptied himself completely for us. He poured himself out with nothing left. He gave every ounce of energy, every drop of blood for us.

He humbled himself for us, “taking the form of a slave”, a servant. The Cross is the greatest sign of humility the world has ever seen. Christ came down from his throne in Heaven to become one of us…to be humiliated for us. On the Cross, he was totally humiliated, naked, and vulnerable. Because of his humility, he has been exalted.

He became obedient to the point of death, “even death on a cross”. Christ always says yes to the Father. He always said yes to the Father’s Plan to save us. Today’s Gospel reveals the Father’s Plan: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”. Jesus continued to say yes to saving yes, being obedient even to the point of death on a Cross.

There really shouldn’t be a day that goes by when we don’t remember what Jesus has done for us - even a simple, “thank you, Jesus”. When we come to Mass, we remember what Jesus did for us on the Cross, and that he gave his life for us. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember the works of the Lord; we remember all the blessings He has given us. In a special way, we remember his sacrifice on the Cross. It is in this remembering that He is made present among us. He is made present not just in spirit, but in body, blood, soul, and divinity under the signs of bread and wine by the power of the Spirit.

Let us never forget the works of the Lord, particularly the work of our salvation on the Cross. Let us remember this day and every day this week what Christ has done for us – that he emptied himself, humbled himself, and was obedient to death for each and every one of us.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why a messianic secret?

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us in adoring our Lord!
Below is a question that was posted on the GW Q &A by “Mike”. I thought it would be relevant for all bloggers, especially because it is a question that has been asked in the past at the St A’s Bible Study. Mike also emailed me for an answer; my response and his final reply are also below.

“Hey Fr Greg-- One thing puzzles me at the end of this Gospel (21st Sunday; Mt 16:13-20): after Jesus tells the disciples they're on the money for knowing that He's the Son of God, He forbids them from telling anyone. Why?”

“Mike, great question! There are several instances in the Gospels where Jesus tells the disciples, demons, people he's cured, etc. to not tell others who He is. The reason for this is that people had an erroneous expectation of who the Messiah would be; mainly, they thought that the Messiah would restore military and political power to Israel. So, if word spread that Jesus was the Messiah, they would have misunderstood who he was and what his mission is all about. And, they would have been so devastated by seeing the Crucifixion that they might never have believed in the Resurrection.

It wasn't until after Jesus' death and resurrection that he is proclaimed as the Messiah. That way people would have had a better chance to see who he is really was: the Son of God. They would have had a better chance to see how the events of his life, death, and resurrection fulfilled what the prophets had foretold about the Messiah. And, because it happened in this way (that many of them didn't hear of any talk about Jesus as the Messiah until after his death and resurrection), many of them came to believe in Him.

To put this another way, Jesus knew that people would treat it in a human, natural way only while believing in who he really needs to be seen through a supernatural lens. That's why He says to Simon Peter when he professes Jesus as the Christ that "human beings have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father" (Mt 16:17). It would take supernatural knowledge and/or a supernatural event (the Resurrection) for people to really get who he is.”

“Thanks very much, Father Greg! I really appreciate your taking the time to answer my question, you've cleared up many hours of wondering for me. I just recently found your blog, but I've got it bookmarked now for future reference on Sunday gospels and other matters. Thanks again!”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Filling in for Anthony

Our summer seminarian, Anthony, made a post on Aug. 19, “If a priest is excommunicated”. Anthony is back home with his family in Texas until he heads back to seminary in Rome. I will fill in for our all-star sem and attempt to answer the following questions which anonymous bloggers have asked:

Anon 1: “I know that a priest has to have permission to celebrate confirmation because that is usually done by the Bishop. But why does a priest need permission to hear Confession? I know there are things only a Bishop can absolve or even only the Pope can absolve in special circumstances but regular confessions? I'm confused.”

First, a bishop is the ordinary celebrant of confirmation, but a priest can celebrate this sacrament in extraordinary circumstances (e.g., when it’s done along with Baptism for catechumens). We can understand “ordinary” circumstances to mean the Confirmation of baptized Catholics.

Second, canon law requires that “the valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution (#966). The faculty to absolve sins is ordinarily given to a priest immediately after his ordination, either verbally or in writing.
Anon 2: “I didn't think there were any longer things only a bishop could absolve. What would those things be?”

This was mentioned by the first Anon, and I think it’s something that we have addressed here before. There are no longer any sins of which I am aware that only the bishop can absolve.
Anon #3: “What is a ‘regular priest’? Is it unusual for a priest to NOT be granted the authority to celebrate reconciliation, confirmation and marriage? How does a priest become a Monsignor?”

Anthony wrote that “a regular priest, for example, needs a special faculty to absolve sins…” I think he was just trying to say an ordinary priest, or a priest in ordinary situations. It is unusual for a priest to not be granted the authority to celebrate the sacraments. This occurred with the Cure D’Ars, St. John Vianney (d. 1859). After he was ordained, he was not given the faculty to hear confessions. Fr. Vianney had struggled mightily with moral theology in the seminary and the bishop thought that he wasn’t ready to give counsel to people about their sins. He was finally given the faculty and became one of the greatest confessors of all time. Finally, a priest becomes a Monsignor when the Pope gives him that title which it to acknowledge years of extraordinary service to the Church.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

23rd Sunday - homily

“Go and tell”. This is the theme of today’s readings. Not “show-and-tell”, but go and tell! Go and tell others about our faith in Jesus; go and tell others the Truth. This seems to be one of the hardest things for us Catholics to do, especially when it involves sticky, controversial situations or issues. When I was a student at Maryland, I took a philosophy class which studied issues involving medical ethics. We went through a number of issues and discussed them. Often, these discussions turned into debates. When the issue of abortion was debated, there was only person who argued for life out of about thirty students. Take a wild guess at who the one person was! That was an interesting experience.

I took another class in the seminary which addressed moral issues and our role in speaking out on them. The professor who was one of the best teachers I have ever had was teaching about objective truth. She was making the point that some things are just objectively wrong and we have the obligation to speak out against them. She used a couple of examples to make her point and to point out how society says that we should “go and tell”, but only on certain issues and not others. She used the example of rape, and that everyone knows that rape is objectively wrong. Society rightly says that everyone – men and women – should speak out against it. But, when it comes to abortion, it’s different, society says. It acknowledges that abortion is wrong, but only women have the right to speak out against it. It was a powerful point to all of us about “go and tell” and how society approaches it differently.

I have talked with many Catholics over the years who have said, “I am personally opposed to abortion, but I would never tell anyone that they can’t choose to have one”. Today’s readings make it clear, as my seminary professor taught, that we have an obligation to go and tell, to speak the truth. The first reading says that we are to “warn the wicked”; we are to warn those who are doing a wicked act or thinking about doing a wicked act. If we don’t, then we become responsible for it. The moral term for this is “cooperation”; we cooperate in the wicked act.

Jesus says we are to go and tell a friend when they are sinning against us. This is a hard thing to do. How do we go and tell? First, we are to do it appropriately. This command does not mean that we go and tell with any sin that someone commits against us; it has to rise to the level. It has to a be a serious sin. Also, we have to discern that God is calling us to talk to them, that we are the best person to approach them about this. We are to do it privately and with respect. We don’t go looking for these situations, but when they present themselves to us, we are to respond with go and tell.

Second, we are to go and tell in love. If we do it in a way that is self-righteous or shows that we are on our “moral high horse”, then it defeats the purpose. Go and tell is a command of love. Jesus is love and he commands us to go and tell. When it is done in love, it is an act of love. It is to be done with compassion, understanding, and patience. We know that we have been approached by others about our own sin in the same way and have appreciated it; if we are truly humble people, we appreciate when others have told us in love about our sins. It is an act of love and mercy.

Finally, we are to go and tell with the help of love. We can’t do this on our own. We need the help of Christ. We come to the Eucharist every Sunday so that the grace and strength of this sacrament will help us to go and tell others this week. We are sent out from here to go and tell, and to do it appropriately, in love, and with the help of love. When it is done in this way, it is an act of love to go and tell.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Invite someone to RCIA

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!

Thinking about becoming Catholic? Do you know someone who is?
You are invited to join us for RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes / discussions every Wednesday in the rectory, starting September 10, 7 pm. “All adult Catholics should have to go through the RCIA program”, a convert to the Church once said. RCIA is a great opportunity to grow spiritually and personally closer to Christ and to His Body, the Church. If you or someone you know is interested, please email me (gshaffer@adwparish.org).

‘I don’t get anything out of the readings at Mass…I can’t relate to them’. Have you or someone you know experienced this? A Bible study can really help! The better we know Scripture, the better we know Christ. All are invited to get to know Him (and other parishioners) better by joining us on Mondays in the rectory, starting September 8, 7 pm, to discuss how the Sunday readings apply to our lives now. All are welcome! It is a good time!!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Election novena

The following is a news release from the Office of Media Relations of the USCCB which asks all Catholics to pray an election novena until Election Day (Nov. 4). Let us all join in praying this novena (nine-day prayer); the first day is below the news release. To view the whole novena, please click on today’s title.

Bishops Ask Catholics To Pray Election Novena

(Aug. 19) WASHINGTON—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invites U.S. Catholics to pray before the November election a novena for life, justice, and peace called Novena for Faithful Citizenship. It is a podcast and available for download.

Joan Rosenhauer, Associate Director for the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, said that the special novena is part of “the bishops’ campaign to help Catholics develop well-formed consciences for addressing political and social questions.” The bishops issued their statement on forming consciences for faithful citizenship in November 2007.

Helen Osman, USCCB Secretary of Communications, expressed hope that the novena could help “Catholics enter into prayerful reflection as they prepare to vote.” Seventy-one percent of all visitors to the USCCB’s web site download the free podcasts of the daily NAB readings. These same visitors are encouraged to use the novena podcast for prayer. Osman said that the USCCB wants to support Catholics as they weigh pre-election issues and that “providing a prayer resource on the Web can help us focus on our common values and identity as Catholics.” The novena emphasizes the dignity of life, justice, and peace.

The Novena for Faithful Citizenship runs for nine days and can be used consecutively, one day each week, for nine days prior to the election, or “in any way that works best for a community or individual,” said Rosenhauer.

The novena will be available for download until the election and it can be downloaded online at http://www.faithfulcitizenship.org/resources/podcasts.

For other Faithful Citizenship resources and materials visit www.faithfulcitizenship.org.

First Day

Opening Prayer
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in us the fire of your love.

Ps 8:2, 4-10
O LORD, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!
You have set your majesty above the heavens!
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars that you set in place—
What are humans that you are mindful of them,
mere mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them little less than a god,
crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them rule over the works of your hands,
put all things at their feet:
All sheep and oxen,
even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!

How will I praise God today? How will I show respect for others, especially my neighbor or those in my community who are not like me?

God of love,
may we grow in our love for you
by respecting the dignity of all people we encounter.

Novena Prayer
Immaculate Heart of Mary,
help us to conquer the menace of evil,
which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today,
and whose immeasurable effects
already weigh down upon our modern world
and seem to block the paths toward the future.
From famine and war, deliver us.
From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us.
From sins against human life from its very beginning, deliver us.
From hatred and from the demeaning of the dignity of the
children of God, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, both
national and international, deliver us.
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God,
deliver us.
From attempts to stifle in human hearts the very truth of
God, deliver us.
From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.
Accept, O Mother of Christ,
this cry laden with the sufferings of all individual
human beings,
laden with the sufferings of whole societies.
Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit conquer all sin:
individual sin and the “sin of the world,”
sin in all its manifestations.
Let there be revealed once more in the history of the world
the infinite saving power of the redemption:
the power of merciful love.
May it put a stop to evil.
May it transform consciences.
May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope.