Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy Sunday - homily

I have a great deal for you! It has to do with today’s feast. The Church has been celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday since 2000. It is also the eighth day of the Easter octave, so it’s the ‘grand finale’ of our eight day Easter celebration. In general, Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates God’s infinite and tender mercy which we experience most fully through the death and resurrection of Christ. But, the specific opportunity we have today is incredible! It is a sweet deal!

Today, any Catholic can receive a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence removes all punishment due to sin. To understand this, let’s use an example of someone committing the sin of gluttony (overeating or overdrinking). The person who commits this sin needs to do two things to be right with God again: they need to be forgiven (go to Confession) and they need to make satisfaction for their sin. To make satisfaction is commonly understood as serving some type of punishment and this is usually done by time in Purgatory.

Each sin carries some type of temporal punishment. Let’s say for the sin of gluttony, the punishment is 10 days in Purgatory. Now, “days” in Purgatory may not be 24 hours, but they are some increment of time. And, let’s say that the person commits the sin of gluttony 50 times in his or her lifetime. That would be 500 days in Purgatory for that sin alone. Some of us can expect a long stay in Purgatory (which would be fine because it means we’re going to Heaven)!

A plenary indulgence removes all that punishment, all that time in Purgatory. We can apply the indulgence to ourselves or to someone who has died. If we apply it to ourselves, then all punishment is removed for sins we have committed to this point. If we apply it to someone who is in Purgatory, then it sends them straight to Heaven! In order for a Catholic to gain a plenary indulgence on a feast like today, he or she has to do three things within eight days: 1) go to Confession, 2) receive Holy Communion, and 3) say prayers for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI – commonly this is an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. In order to give you a better chance to receive the plenary indulgence, I will be hearing confessions after Mass and from 12:30 – 2:30 today. May you take advantage of this great deal!

Much of what we celebrate on Divine Mercy Sunday coincides with what Our Lord revealed to St. Faustina in the 1930s. He told her to remind people of his great mercy in specific and extraordinary ways. Of course, we already know of his incredible mercy from Scripture and Tradition. We know that his whole life is a mission of mercy. Was this mercy only offered to the people of his time, the people who lived 2000 years ago? No. We know that his mercy is offered to all people, including us.

As we just heard in the Gospel, he hands on his mission of mercy to the first priests, the Apostles, for them to continue. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. He gives them his power to forgive sins: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained”. Was the opportunity for people to go to priests for Confession only for the people who lived 2000 years ago? No. We know that the power to forgive sins has been passed down from the first priests all the way to current priests.

As a reminder for us that it’s really Jesus in the confessional and it’s really his power of forgiveness that is given through the priest, our Lord said to St. Faustina, “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I myself am waiting there for you”.

Finally, we hear in the first reading about the life of the first Christian community who experience God’s great mercy. It was a community filled with joy, happiness, and unity. If you picked up on it (it was said twice in the reading), they were centered on the breaking of bread - the Eucharist. I see similarities between their community and our parish community. May we continue to grow as a community centered on the Eucharist. May we continue to grow in unity open to the Mercy of God as we continue to attain the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Prayers for Aunt Ellen

I ask for your special prayers for my Aunt Ellen who is battling cancer. In a particular way, please pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy every day for her and ask other "prayer warriors" to do the same. The Chaplet takes about five minutes to pray and is done on the beads of the rosary.

Please click on the title of this post to see how to pray it. Thank you very much, and may God bless you for your generosity.

An incredible opportunity

Eucharistic Adoration, 7 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore the risen Lord Jesus are invited!!
The Church has been celebrating this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, as the “Feast of Divine Mercy” since 2000. It is an extraordinary feast day in general and specific terms. In general, it calls to mind the infinite and tender Mercy of our Heavenly Father which we experience most fully through the Resurrection of His Son.

Specifically, it gives us the incredible opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence which removes punishment for ALL of our sins to this point! Any Catholic who satisfies the usual conditions of an indulgence (Confession, reception of Holy Communion, and prayers for the Holy Father) within eight days of this Feast can receive a plenary indulgence for themselves or for a deceased person. If it is applied to someone who is in Purgatory, the plenary indulgence will send them straight to Heaven!

Excerpts from the following online article explain the Feast further (to read the article in full and to learn more about Divine Mercy Sunday, please click on the title of this post):

Despite evil’s attempts at discrediting Catholic Priests, many fallen-away Catholics will soon be returning to the practice of their faith. The reason: the Church’s new feast on the Sunday after Easter. What new feast you might say? It is the “Feast of Divine Mercy”. The Catholic Church has been celebrating this feast ever since the Vatican had made it official on April 30th in the Jubilee year 2000. Why would every Catholic want to come back, you might ask? It is the promise that Jesus Himself made for a complete forgiveness of sins and punishment on that day, even to the most terrible sinner imaginable. God in His great mercy is giving mankind a last chance for salvation.

When did Jesus make this promise and how does one get it? Jesus left all the details in a diary that He commanded Saint Faustina to write in the 1930’s. It was her job to record everything that He wanted mankind to know about His mercy before He returns to judge the world. To get this great promise one has to go to Confession and then receive Holy Communion on that Feast of Divine Mercy, which has now been called Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the whole Church. Jesus said, “Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” (Diary, 300) To receive Communion worthily one should be in the state of grace and without serious sin…

In Saint Faustina’s diary, she recorded that Jesus also indicated that He Himself is there in the confessional. He told her, “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity." (1602)

Jesus knew that people would need to hear these words today, so He went on to say “Come with faith to the feet of My representative...and make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is, for Me, only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest that I am making use of; open your soul in confession as you would to Me, and I will fill it with My light." (1725) "Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.” (1602)

Many feel that their sins are unforgivable but, Jesus said, “Were a soul like a decaying corpse, so that from a human standpoint, there would be no hope of restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. In the Tribunal of Mercy (the sacrament of Confession) ...the greatest miracles take place and are incessantly repeated." (1448) "Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.” (1602) Every sin imaginable could be forgiven by Him!

So many people are weighed down by sin and their prideful nature keeps them away from the confession of their sins. They are living in misery. Jesus said, “Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late." (1448) "Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace." (1074) "There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy.” (1273) Jesus came to restore sinners and one would be foolish to turn away.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter Week!

I am away this week. To view this week's Mass readings, please click on the title of this post. Christ is risen!!

Easter Sunday - homily

Let’s see if anyone knows this from last year…Christ is risen! (A few people) “He is risen indeed!” Ok, a few of you know it. Last year, we said that in early times, Christians would greet one another on Easter Sunday with ‘Christ is risen!’; ‘He is risen indeed!’ Let’s try it again this year. Christ is risen! (whole congregation) “He is risen indeed!” Feel free to use that all day as you greet people!

Do you believe in the Resurrection? I recently began a homily at a local high school to students and parents with that question and asked it in the same, rhetorical way. Some people answered the question – “yes…amen…I believe”. I paused for a moment, and said, ‘ok, my work is done’, and went to take my seat! So, you all missed your chance! This is the most fundamental question for any Christian. Did the Resurrection really happen? Did Christ rise from the dead? St. Paul says that if there’s no resurrection, then our faith is pointless; we should go home now. C.S. Lewis and others have said that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then he is a liar and blasphemer. He said he would rise, and if he didn’t, he is a liar. If he didn’t rise from the dead, then he is just a man and not God’s Son; he called God, ‘Father’, and so he would be a blasphemer. But, he did rise from the dead and everything he said was true; he is the Son of God. His resurrection is the event that changes the world and gives us hope for eternal life.

If we ask ourselves, ‘how did I come to believe in the Resurrection?’, we see that it comes from the faith of others, most likely our parents. And, their faith came from their parents, and so forth. The amazing thing is that the faith in the resurrection of all Christians comes from one person, as we just heard in the Gospel: Mary Magdelene. It is because of her testimony that Christ is risen that the Apostles come to believe, then the disciples, and all the way down to us. It’s an amazing thing when the faith of many people comes about because of the faith of one person or a group of people. Let me give an example.

The same high school to which I referred in the beginning called me in the Fall to celebrate Mass. They told me that they were in need of priests this year because their priests were not available, by and large. It was actually one senior in the school who told the school to call me for help with Mass and confessions; I’ve been friends with her for many years from another parish. Well, this year has been amazing at this school – many students (and teachers) have been coming back to the faith. Many have returned to the Eucharist and Confession after many years of being away; they have found much healing this school year. I recently told my friend that this has all come about through her; it was through her faith and testimony that many of her peers and teachers now believe, just like Mary Magdelene.

There are many of us (or our family members and friends) who are struggling to believe, not just in the risen Christ, but in God. Many people are asking, ‘Does God exist? Did He create me? Is He with me? Does He hear me?’ When people come to me with these tough questions, I direct them to the Eucharist. For Catholics, this is the question – is it really Him in the Eucharist? Is it really His risen body and blood? Is he truly present on Earth? It’s similar to the questions about the resurrection – if it’s not really Him, then it’s a lie and a blasphemy, and we should go home now. But, it really is Him, and it’s the most amazing event in the world (the one we’re about to witness).

I have seen many people’s faith in the Eucharist grow here because of the faith of one or a few persons. In the youth group, for example, we have had some of our leaders and other teens who believe in the Eucharist bring their friends to Eucharistic Adoration. Their friends now believe. It’s been amazing to see the faith of our teens grow. It’s happened in our school as well, where students and teachers have helped kids as early as the third grade believe in the Eucharist through Mass and Adoration. I have seen it with volunteers, with families, with married couples, and with friends here. It’s an awesome thing when God stirs the faith of many through the faith of one or a few persons.

If you are struggling with your faith, I direct you to two places: the Eucharist and other believers. It’s very helpful to associate with those who believe in the risen Christ – to pick their brains about stuff. But, it’s mainly to see their example: to see their joy, their hope, kindness, generosity, etc.

As we receive our risen Lord today in the Eucharist, may God help us to grow in faith. May He help us to grow in hope. May He help us to grow in love. That, through us, others may come to believe in Him – that it is really Him risen from the tomb, and it is really Him present in the Eucharist.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday - homily

“This is my body…given up for you. This is my blood…shed for you”.

It was all for you. In the garden, I even sweated blood for you.

The next day, in the courtyard, all of the scourging, all the lashings and whippings that literally tore off my flesh and made me a bloody mess front and back …it was all for you.

Then, the mockery, the laughing, the spitting from the soldiers. The crown they gave me made of thorns tore into my skull and caused blood to come into my eyes.

Then, the big, heavy Cross that I carried for you – I fell three times carrying it, one time falling face-first into the stone pavement which broke my nose.

The soldiers then drove ‘nine inch nails’ into my hands and feet and raised me up on the Cross where I hung there for at least three hours, barely able to breathe. I finally ran out of breath while asking the Father to forgive them and you.

This is my body… given up for you. This is my blood…shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"The soothing joy of God's forgiveness"

The following are excerpts from a recent address which Pope Benedict XVI gave on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Just as the Papal preacher’s Palm Sunday homily affirmed the past comments of one anonymous blogger about faith, so the words of the Holy Father stress some of my points about Confession, albeit much more profoundly!

…It is necessary today to assist those who confess to experience that divine tenderness to repentant sinners which many Gospel episodes portray with tones of deep feeling.

Let us take, for example, the passage in Luke's Gospel that presents the woman who was a sinner and was forgiven (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Simon, a Pharisee and a rich dignitary of the town, was holding a banquet at his home in honour of Jesus. In accordance with a custom of that time, the meal was eaten with the doors left open, for in this way the fame and prestige of the homeowner was increased. All at once, an uninvited and unexpected guest entered from the back of the room: a well-known prostitute.

One can understand the embarrassment of those present, which did not seem, however, to bother the woman. She came forward and somewhat furtively stopped at Jesus' feet. She had heard his words of pardon and hope for all, even prostitutes; she was moved and stayed where she was in silence. She bathed Jesus' feet with tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with fragrant ointment.

By so doing, the sinner woman wanted to express her love for and gratitude to the Lord with gestures that were familiar to her, although they were censured by society.

Amid the general embarrassment, it was Jesus himself who saved the situation: "Simon, I have something to say to you". "What is it, Teacher?", the master of the house asked him. We all know Jesus' answer with a parable which we can sum up in the following words which the Lord addressed basically to Simon: "You see? This woman knows she is a sinner; yet prompted by love, she is asking for understanding and forgiveness. You, on the other hand, presume yourself to be righteous and are perhaps convinced that you have nothing serious for which to be forgiven".

The message that shines out from this Gospel passage is eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin.

Those, on the other hand, who recognize that they are weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from him grace and forgiveness.

It is precisely this message that must be transmitted: what counts most is to make people understand that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the soothing joy of God's forgiveness.

…If this constant desire is absent, the celebration of the Sacrament unfortunately risks becoming something formal that has no effect on the fabric of daily life.

If, moreover, even when one is motivated by the desire to follow Jesus one does not go regularly to confession, one risks gradually slowing his or her spiritual pace to the point of increasingly weakening and ultimately perhaps even exhausting it…

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"In Agony Until the End of the World"

In Agony Until the End of the World

Gospel Commentary for Palm Sunday
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, MARCH 14, 2008 ( In the course of the entire liturgical year, Palm Sunday is the only occasion, besides Good Friday, in which the Gospel of Christ's Passion is read. Not being able to comment on the whole long narrative, we will consider two episodes: Gethsemane and Calvary.

It is written of Jesus on the Mount of Olives that he began "to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.'" This is an unrecognizable Jesus! He who commanded the winds and the seas and they obeyed him, who told everyone not to fear, is now prey to sadness and anxiety. What is the reason? It is all contained in one word, the chalice: "My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me!"

The chalice indicates the whole mass of suffering that is about to come crashing down upon him. But not only this. It indicates above all the measure of divine justice that corresponds to men's sins and transgressions. It is "the sin of the world" that he has taken upon himself and that weighs on his heart like a boulder.

The philosopher Pascal said that "Christ is in agony on the Mount of Olives until the end of the world. He should not be abandoned during this whole time."

He is in agony wherever there is a human being that struggles with sadness, fear, anxiety, in a situation where there is no way out, as he was that day. We can do nothing for the Jesus who was suffering then but we can do something for the Jesus who is in agony today. Every day we hear of tragedies that occur, sometimes in our own building, in the apartment across the hall, without anyone being aware of it.

How many Mount of Olives, how many Gethsemanes in the heart of our cities! Let us not abandon those who are there within.

Let us now take ourselves to Calvary. "Jesus cried out in a loud voice: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' And Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit."

I am now about to pronounce a blasphemy, but then I will explain. Jesus on the cross has become an atheist, one without God. There are two forms of atheism: the active or voluntary atheism of those who reject God, and the passive or suffered atheism of those who are rejected (or feel rejected) by God. In both forms there are those who are "without God." The former is an atheism of fault, and the latter is an atheism of suffering and expiation. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, about whom there was much discussion when her personal writings were published, belongs to this latter category.

On the cross Jesus expiated in anticipation all the atheism that exists in the world, not only that of declared atheists, but also that of practical atheists, the atheism of those who live "as if God did not exist," relegating him to the last place in their life. It is "our" atheism, because, in this sense, we are all atheists -- some more, some less -- those who do not care about God. God too is one of the "marginalized" today; he has been pushed to the margins of the lives of the majority of men.

Here too it is necessary to say: "Jesus is on the cross until the end of the world." He is in all the innocent who suffer. He is nailed to the cross of the gravely ill. The nails that hold him fast on the cross are the injustices that are committed against the poor. In a Nazi concentration camp a man was hung. Someone, pointing at the victim, angrily asked a believer who was standing next to him: "Where is your God now?" "Do you not see him?" he answered. "He is there hanging from the gallows."

In all of the depictions of the "deposition from the cross," the figure of Joseph of Arimathea always stands out. He represents all of those who, even today, challenge the regime or public opinion, to draw near to the condemned, the excluded, those sick with AIDS, and who are occupied with helping some of them to descend from the cross. For some those who are "crucified" today, the designated and awaited "Joseph of Arimathea" could very well be I or you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

No new deadly sins

1) Stations of the Cross tonight, 7 pm, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow.
2) Holy Week Confessions:
- Wed, 6:30 – 8 pm
- Good Friday, 1:30-3 pm
- Holy Saturday, 2-4 pm
You might have seen news reports earlier in the week about the Vatican publishing a list of “the new seven deadly sins”. Well, it turns out these reports were not true, as the following article from (“The World Seen from Rome”) explains:

(Bishops) Say Vatican Didn't Publish List of 7 Modern Misdeeds

LONDON, MARCH 11, 2008 ( Reports that the Vatican has published a new list of the seven deadly sins of modern times that includes littering and economic inequality is simply not true, affirmed the episcopal conference of England and Wales.

The conference released a statement today clarifying that an interview published Sunday by L'Osservatore Romano with Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, was misinterpreted in the media as an official Vatican update to the seven deadly sins, laid out by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century.

"The Vatican has not published a new list of seven deadly sins; this is not a new Vatican edict," said the conference. "The story originated from an interview that Bishop Gianfranco Girotti gave to the L'Osservatore Romano in which he was questioned about new forms of social sins in this age of globalization."

The Vatican newspaper interviewed the bishop at the conclusion of a course that took place last week on the "internal forum" -- questions of conscience -- organized by the tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary to strengthen the training of priests in administering the sacrament of confession.

In the interview titled "Le Nuove Forme del Peccato Sociale" (The New Forms of Social Sin), journalist Nicola Gori asked the prelate what he thought are the new sins of the modern era.

Bishop Girotti responded: "There are various areas in which today we can see sinful attitudes in relation to individual and social rights."Above all in the area of bioethics, in which we cannot fail to denounce certain violations of the fundamental rights of human nature, by way of experiments, genetic manipulation, the effects of which are difficult to prevent and control."

"Another area, a social issue, is the issue of drug use, which debilitates the psyche and darkens the intelligence, leaving many youth outside the ecclesial circuit."

The bishop also mentioned social inequality, "by which the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, feeding an unsustainable social injustice," and the "area of ecology."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"The Present Pontiff"

Following are excerpts from the second catechesis (the first was posted on Feb. 1) about the Papacy in anticipation of the Pope's visit to Washington next month. Please click on the title of this post for the full text.

The Present Pontiff
1. When and where was Pope Benedict XVI born?
2. What was the Pope’s name when he was born?
Joseph Alois Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI, was born on April 16, 1927 (Holy Saturday in 1927) in the town of Marktl am Inn, a small town and market center in southern Germany, in the province of Bavaria, the most Catholic area in Germany...

3. What are some of the important events in Pope Benedict’s early life that prepared him to exercise his ministry as Pope?
Pope Benedict XVI’s relatives agree that Joseph Ratzinger expressed his desire to be a priest when he was a very young boy. They relate a story about the future Pope which took place when he was only five years old. He was with a group of children who welcomed the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich with flowers. Struck by the Cardinal’s brilliant red robes, he announced that very same day that he wanted to be a cardinal.

Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict grew up at a time when the Nazi Regime had overtaken not only Germany, but many surrounding countries of Europe as well. In 1941, just after his 14th birthday, he was forced to enroll in the Hitler Youth Corps, but he was an unenthusiastic member and never attended any of the meetings, reflecting his father’s disdain for the Nazis. In that same year, one of Ratzinger’s cousins of his own age, suffering from Down Syndrome, was murdered by the Nazis in the program to do away with those who were physically or mentally imperfect. He also witnessed the Nazis beating his parish priest before the priest celebrated Mass.

In 1943, while still in the minor seminary at age 16, Joseph was drafted into the German army as an anti-aircraft gunner. He then trained in the infantry. Due to illness, he did not have to undergo the usual rigors of military duty. In 1945, when the Allied front drew closer to his post, he escaped from the army and found his way back home to Traunstein. He was put into a POW camp, but was released a few months after the war in the summer of 1945. He reentered the seminary in Traunstein with his brother Georg in November of that year. The brothers were ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising on June 29, 1951, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul...

10. What are some of the Pope’s hobbies?
Pope Benedict enjoys writing in what little spare time he has. He has written over 35 books, numerous articles and two encyclical letters. During his later years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he unsuccessfully tried to retire so as to devote more time to writing. The Pope is also an accomplished pianist. He tries to practice every day, and his favorite composers are Bach and Mozart.

11. Why is the Pope coming to Washington and New York? When will he arrive? How can we best prepare ourselves to welcome him?
Pope Benedict XVI will make a pastoral visit to the United States, visiting Washington and New York beginning on April 15 through April 20, 2008. This will be the first papal visit to the United States since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1999. During his stay in Washington, he will visit President Bush at the White House and then celebrate the Eucharist at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. On April 16, 2008, Pope Benedict will celebrate his 81st birthday while in Washington. He will then go to New York City, where he will address the United Nations, visit “Ground Zero,” the site of the former World Trade Center and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium.

The visit of the Holy Father will be a unique opportunity for us to renew our unity as a local Church and our unity with the Church throughout the world through the visible sign of that worldwide unity, the Pope himself. He wants to meet us, as well as give us the opportunity to meet him. He will undoubtedly speak to us about some of his major concerns as outlined above, and give us his vision of the Church, a vision of hope, a hope that we desperately need to renew at these crucial times for our country and our culture.

There are several ways in which we can prepare ourselves for this momentous visit. When an important guest is coming to visit, we make sure that our house is in order. So that our hearts and minds are open and ready to receive his message, we should make use of the sacrament of Reconciliation prior to his coming. Since the unity of the Church is experienced primarily in the sacrament of the Eucharist, we should participate in the Mass and in Eucharistic adoration as often as possible, even on a daily basis. Of course, we must pray for him, for a safe journey and stay in our country, and pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire him to speak in the name of Jesus as Christ’s Vicar on earth. When someone important is coming to visit us, we should get to know something about that person prior to his or her arrival. Therefore, we should participate in all the catechetical opportunities andresources available to us to get to know our Holy Father so as to greet him in the proper way and renew our fidelity to him and thus to the whole Church.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

5th Sunday of Lent - homily

Which sacrament is the only sacrament where the priest (or bishop or deacon) is NOT the celebrant? Marriage. The spouses are the celebrant of the sacrament of marriage when they exchanged vows (give consent); the priest is only a witness for the Church. But, many people, by the way they live, would answer the question by saying Confession; they feel that they do not need a priest to celebrate that sacrament. They think they can go to God directly for the forgiveness of their sins, including mortal sins. Many of these same people, though, will come to the priest to baptize their baby or call the priest to anoint a sick relative in the hospital. They recognize that they don’t have the power to celebrate the other sacraments, but think that they have the power to bring about the absolution of their sins.

I have heard many reasons why people don’t go to Confession; I call them “excuses”. These excuses are many: I can go to God directly with my sins; I am worried about what the priest will think of me (I have more respect for people who show humility and courage going to Confession than people who never go); I don’t have any sins to confess (how about pride!). An old proverb says, “if you really don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as the next”. I think that the underlying reason for the excuses is embarrassment. We are embarrassed to go to a priest and confess our sins. It is embarrassing and humiliating. But, two words about this embarrassment: SO WHAT! So what if it’s embarrassing. It’s only a few minutes of embarrassment and it’s worth it: we receive an eternal reward, God’s forgiveness. It’s too bad that some people will live their entire adult lives missing out on one of the greatest gifts on Earth.

In general, it’s too bad that some people miss out on the life in the Spirit about which St. Paul writes in the second reading and of which Confession is a big part. Life in the Spirit – as opposed to life in the flesh – is radical and awesome! We’ve been hearing about the fruits of this life in the Spirit in the Gospels the past few weeks. Today’s Gospel we hear about a dead man being brought back to life. Last week, we heard about a blind man seeing.

Even more impressive than the miracles is when the Spirit of Christ changes hearts. It’s more impressive when we hear about someone who has been away from the Church for over thirty years, goes to Confession, and they are back in the faith. It’s more impressive when we hear about someone who has struggled with a serious sin for many, many years, goes to Confession, the priest offers some advice, and the sin is gone – out of their lives. It’s more impressive when we hear about someone who went to Confession and tells the priest they can’t think of anything to confess, the priest helps them to examine their conscience, and they remember a serious sin from their past that they had buried and forgotten about; the Spirit brings it to the surface and treats it for healing. Confession is an experience of life in the Spirit; Confession is an experience of the Resurrection.

Lazarus is symbolic of people who go to Confession with mortal sin on their souls. They go into the confessional dead because of their sin; they come out with new life, having been raised by the Spirit. By the way, I don’t think that Lazarus had an initial feeling or thought of embarrassment! We all will die some day; it’s not something about which to be embarrassed. Also, his focus is on the new life he has. The same is true for Confession. We all commit sin and we are all sinners. The focus, though, is on the new life that we have through Confession.

The bottom line is that if we believe in the Resurrection and want to live this life in the Spirit, we go to Confession. It’s the same with the Eucharist: we are here at Mass because we believe in the Resurrection. If we believe in the Resurrection, we go to the Eucharist. We come here to not only see but also receive the Risen Body of Christ. As we receive our Lord in a few minutes, let us say in our hearts what Martha said out loud: ‘Jesus, we believe in you…we believe that you are there in the confessional in the person of the priest…we believe that it is truly you in the Eucharist - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity…we believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God”.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Parish Penance Service, Mon. night, 7:30

Stations of the Cross, tonight, 7 pm, followed by Eucharistic Adoration. All who wish to remember Christ’s passion and then to adore Him in the Eucharist are invited!
This Monday night, (3/10), we will have our Parish Penance Service, Monday (3/10), 7:30 pm, SAA Church. We’ll have several priests here to offer confessions. I recently made a post about Confession, saying that it was a tremendous experience of freedom, joy, peace, etc. One anonymous blogger remarked that, “A common theme on this blog is that the sacraments are not about feelings”. Amen, Anon, and thank you! The “short-term gains” about which I wrote go deeper than mere emotions.

Nevertheless, I didn’t mean to imply that having those experiences are the primary reasons for going to Confession. They aren’t. The primary reason is for the Grace. The secondary reason is for the forgiveness of our sins. If we experience on some level how awesome the “eternal reward” (Arch. Wuerl) received in Confession is, great! If not, we still go for the Grace and forgiveness of sins. Those are the focal points. That is what will get us to Heaven. But, I truly believe that Heaven starts on Earth, and that every regular penitent will have some kind of experience of Heaven (freedom, peace, joy, etc.) through Confession before they die.

Here are some other views from the recent post about Confession:

Mindy: Furthermore, confession isn't about how we feel (okay- maybe the peace/joy are momentary bonuses) but the reward you get from confession is eternal, and that's much cooler.

Anon: Confession has no emotional or psychological effect on me either. Wait -- before you jump, let me say that I know that that is not what Confession is about. A common theme on this blog is that the sacraments are not about feelings. So I cringe when I hear people say that going to Confession leaves them "feeling" free, happy, like a weight was lifted off their shoulders. Father Greg talks of "short term gains" such as freedom, peace, and joy. It may do that for some people, but for many and I think most, receiving the sacraments brings no emotional, psychological, or even spiritual benefit. They receive them out of belief that it is required by the Church and somehow brings God's grace even though it is imperceptible to them. If it brought short-term freedom, peace, and joy to everyone, there would always be a line…

Daisy: I love going to confession, too.

Anon: I’m taking this Lenten mini-course (for those who think they can’t commit to how ever many months Bible Study is offered here, or at any parish, they are really great short term study classes during Advent & Lent). After the first discussion, The Light is On for You was brought up, and one brave soul said what so many have thought, including myself in other times, ‘I can confess directly to God; He knows my sins already. Confession was invented by men.’

There was a time when it seemed to me that confession to be a bit voyeuristic, and I didn’t go except during Advent and Lent (and usually on the very last day possible). When this man said this, I was thinking- if he doesn’t think he needs confession, does he think he doesn’t need the other sacraments either? I mean, if you go that route, why be baptized? You can proclaim Christ as your savior at any time? Why even go to church? You can worship God at home. It’s a slippery slope when we claim not to need/want this or that from God. Of course, I kept my mouth shut- I’m new to the group and didn’t want to say anything. But someone else offered their own insight about the sacrament being designed by Jesus himself- not by mere men. Someone else read from the Gospel of John relating the importance of the forgiveness of sins. Whenever confession is brought up- people definitely tend to perk up!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"6-Year-Old On Way to Sainthood"

The following is an excerpt (from about an amazing story:

A 6-year-old Italian girl who cheerfully endured the amputation of her leg and offered it in union with the sacrifices of Christ might someday become the youngest canonized non-martyr saint.

Benedict XVI approved Monday the decree recognizing the heroic virtue of Antonietta Meo, who died of bone cancer. Along with the recognition of Meo's virtue, the Pope approved six decrees recognizing miracles, and seven other decrees affirming lives of heroic virtue.

Born in 1930, Antonietta was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 5 after a fall caused by a knee injury would not heal.

The girl formed the habit of leaving a letter at the foot of a crucifix every night. At first, she dictated these notes to her mother; later she wrote them herself. The more than 100 letters and her diary reveal an intense mysticism and a surprising level of theological reflection, albeit hidden in simple phrases.

"Dear Jesus," one of the letters says, "I love you very much. I want to abandon myself in your hands [...] I want to abandon myself in your arms. Do with me what you want. [...] Help me with your grace. You help me, since without your grace, I can do nothing."

Her letters were written to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. In a letter to Mary from Sept. 18, 1936, she said, "Dear little Virgin, you who are very good, take my heart and bring it to Jesus."

Antonietta died July 3, 1937, five months before her 7th birthday.

In 1981, the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes removed the norm restricting "heroic virtue" only to those who had lived a "period of maturity."

The change in the norm permitted the visionaries of Fatima, Jacinta and Francisco, to be beatified in 2000.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"A higher calling in holy game"

The following is an article from yesterday’s Washington Times, Metro section. Thanks to the Times for covering our game, especially to Sterling Meyers (reporter) and Michael Connor (photographer). Praise God for the ‘Hood coverage!

The inaugural basketball game yesterday at the Verizon Center between D.C. and Baltimore priests and seminarians was not exactly a nail-biter. The DC 'Hood team cruised to an easy 44-21 victory over Baltimore's Men in Black, but more was at stake than victory or bragging rights.

Organizers hoped the event would help them close a nationwide priest shortage by showing priests and seminarians as average guys who like to play sports and are passionate about more than religion.

"These are normal guys who like to play basketball and do other things, but also feel called by God to live this special life," said Monsignor Robert Panke, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington.

The number of U.S. priests decreased from about 59,000 in 1965 to about 41,000 last year, according to several reports, including one from the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America in the District.

Despite the national trend, the number of priests and seminarians entering the Washington Archdiocese has increased from 28 to 73 over the past nine years, spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said.

But in past years, the church has "just stopped asking young people to join," she said.

The archdiocese has roughly 580,000 parishioners in 140 parishes that cover Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's counties.

For its victory yesterday, the D.C. team did not even have to go to the bench for its secret weapon: 6-foot-5-inch Bishop Martin D. Holley.

The 53-year-old bishop was the captain of his high school basketball team, then played at Alabama State University.

Yesterday, he shot a basket with the hometown team before the game, then, dressed in his clerical collar, he sat on the bench with a big smile and cheered for his team.

He said the game was a good way for the seminarians and priests to exercise, have fun and promote the priesthood.

About 550 people filled two sections of the 22,000-seat downtown arena, where the Wizards later played. Tickets for the game were also good for the NBA game. Some of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Office of the Youth Ministry and Catholic Youth Organization.

Mary Pat MacMillan, 16, and her sister, Elizabeth, 20, came to cheer for Father Gregory S. Coan of St. Peter's Parish in Olney.

The sisters blew kazoos and joined in the "D.C. 'Hood" chant that Mr. Coan started when a loose ball bounced near the group of his parishioners.

The 6-foot-4-inch Father Charles Sikorksy had a fan club that included almost 10 family members and a co-worker. His family cheered for his team, though they hail from Baltimore.

Father Sam Young, of the Baltimore team, has played basketball with other priests and seminarians for the past 10 years. Mr. Young pastors St. Joan of Arc Church in Aberdeen, Md., and said people need to see more to the priesthood than Mass.

Ray McKenna, founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ, helped promote the game and hopes to help other areas of the country start similar programs.

Father Greg Schaeffer compiled the D.C. team in 2004 and before the pre-game shoot-around yesterday said it was the players' first practice together in more than four years.

"The event is great for families and it builds a lot of community," he said. He also said the D.C. team has a busy spring schedule with four games in April and May.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

4th Sunday of Lent - homily

There was a man who lived in Ireland many years ago by the name of Matt Talbot. Matt went to school as a young boy and then began to work as a teenager for a liquor merchant. It was in this job that he was introduced to alcohol, and he liked it…a lot! He would spend the next several years of his life drinking excessively – about fifteen years as an active alcoholic.

Finally, Matt said to himself, ‘this is crazy. I need to change my life’. He made a pledge to quit drinking for three months, went to Confession to make a general confession, and started to go to daily Mass. He continued with sobriety; the first seven years of sobriety were very difficult for him. It was difficult not going to the places where he hung out with his drinking buddies so much. It was hard settling up with people from whom he had borrowed or even stolen money from in order to drink. He prayed as intensely as he used to drink.

I remember reading the story about when Matt went to Church one day, but the Church was locked. So, he knelt on the sidewalk and prayed. Very cool! Every day, he went to Mass, prayed the rosary, and read Scripture. He worked as a laborer for many years, but eventually his health failed him. He died on his way to Church at the age of 69. Pope Paul VI gave him the title of “venerable” in the early 70s.

I don’t know if Matt Talbot ever asked the questions of ‘why?’ ‘Why am I an alcoholic? Why do I have a drinking problem?’ This is the question the disciples ask Jesus – why is the man blind? Is it because of him or his parents? Jesus says it’s neither; “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him”. We can see that, with Matt Talbot, it is the works of God made visible through him. We know how potent a force alcohol is in the world. We know many people who are addicted to alcohol; we also know people who, with God’s help, have overcome their addiction to it. We know that it’s not them; it’s the work of God! With whatever addiction people overcome, it is an amazing witness to the works of God.

Each one of us has blindness, weakness, an Achilles heal, sin. We are tempted to ask why. ‘Why is this sin in my life? Why can’t I get over this?’ One wise priest once told us in the seminary that the question is not why, but ‘what can I do about it?’ One thing we can do is take our blindness to God so that his works might be visible through us. This is our mission. Matt Talbot embraced the mission of making the works of God visible through his sobriety. The blind man embraced the mission of making the works of God visible through his sight. For each one of us, our mission is to make the works of God visible through our sin.

One thing we can do is come to the Eucharist. We can come to the One who has power to make the blind see. In a few minutes, Jesus will come to us in Holy Communion the same way he went to the blind man. We bring our blindness, our weakness, our sin to Him today so that His works of God will be visible in our lives.