Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We have a new bishop!

Yesterday, the Archdiocese celebrated a beautiful occasion: the ordination of a new auxiliary bishop. Bishop Barry Knestout’s ordination was especially meaningful to our local Church because he is a native priest and son of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Wuerl was the main celebrant. There were several Cardinals, many bishops, over 100 priests, and many of Bishop Knestout’s family, friends, and former parishioners present. We wish our new bishop the best!

The program for the Mass explained many aspects of the liturgy. The description of Eucharistic Prayer I was especially pertinent because we hear it much during the Christmas octave (eight days of Christmas). Many of you hear me use this EP on solemnities during the year. I use it on each solemn feast not only because I find it to be the most solemn of the EP’s, but also because there are inserts in the prayer specific to the feast. I use it at many weddings, too, because there is an insert pertaining to the couple.

Here is the explanation from yesterday’s program:

“The text of Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman canon), based on even earlier Greek models, had assumed its present form by the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), though various popes through Blessed Pope John XXIII changed or added parts. It is essentially a series of short prayers, each of which once concluded with Amen, leading to the Great Amen that we sing to conclude the whole Prayer…

Speaking in the name of all of us (“We come to you, Father”), (the celebrant) prays that the gift we offer in sacrifice will be found acceptable because it comes ‘through Jesus Christ’. He then explains that we offer this sacrificial gift for the whole Church and for those particular people we wish to remember at (this) Mass. We offer them in union with Mary, the apostles, and all the saints…

Invoking the Holy Spirit…(the celebrant) asks God to let the bread and wine ‘become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord’. Then, using the words that Jesus used at the Last Supper, he consecrates the elements…

We then remember Jesus’ great act of sacrifice in his passion and the affirmation of his gift in the resurrection and ascension. Because we are united to that mystery in the Eucharist, we offer ‘this holy and perfect sacrifice; the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.’ We ask God to accept our offering as he accepted the pure offerings of Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech. We ask that our offering may be taken to heaven, so that we may be united with Christ, the perfect offering, the Lamb ‘standing as if slain’ before the throne of God, to whom all creation sings (Revelation 5:6-14)…

Also, the program gave an excellent synopsis of the Communion Rite:

“The Communion Rite contains five key elements. The Lord’s Prayer unites us in the prayer that Jesus taught us. The rite of peace unites us as brothers and sisters in the Lord in response to the Lord’s command: ‘If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother (or sister) has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother (or sister), and then come and offer your gift’ (Matthew 5:23). The fraction rite prepares the consecrated elements for distribution to the faithful; symbolically, it is a reminder both of Christ’s Body broken on the cross and his Blood poured out for us. The procession to share in sacramental Communion is the heart of this rite. In coming to Communion, the faithful receive Christ and offer themselves to Christ. After a period of silence, the rite concludes with a brief ‘collect’ prayer that sums up our hope for full communion with God in Christ now and for all eternity.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feast of the Holy Family - homily

Today’s second reading is not only beautiful and powerful, it’s also pertinent to families. I highly recommend each family at St Andrew’s to make a copy of this reading – Colossians 3, 12-17 – and post it in your home somewhere…frame it or put it on the refrigerator. It’s not only the guide for how each Christian family is to live, it also offers solutions to problems that arise within each family. I will go through a few of the lines from this passage and offer some practical application for them.

“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph didn’t post this passage in their home. It hadn’t been written yet! They lived it. They lived compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. They are the example for Christian families.

“bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” I have been working with a family that has been in a serious crisis. There has been major tension between the father and the oldest son. This goes back years. There has been much anger and many hurts. Each of these realizes now that they need to reconcile with the other. They realized that they should have reconciled long ago. They need to reconcile for each other, but also for the mother and the other kids. They don’t need to be best friends, but they need to make peace. They need peace to dwell in their home – the peace of Christ.

“And over all these put on love”. It’s interesting that when I asked both of these guys if they loved the other and if the other loved them, they immediately said yes. There is love there, but so much stubbornness…so much pride.

“And be thankful”. Every so often I have to remind parents not to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to their kids. Yes, your kids get into trouble sometimes, yes they don’t listen to you or aren’t motivated as you would like – and I’m not excusing them in specific ways – but, parents, your kids are good kids! Kids, you also shouldn’t miss sight of the big picture: without your parents, you wouldn’t have anything. They have given you life, they have given you everything. Everything you have in your home, in your room and in your person – all of your personal gifts – is from your parents. You should give thanks for your parents every day. Parents, you should give thanks for your kids every day, and that God has entrusted their beautiful lives to your care.

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. We come to the Eucharist primarily to give thanks to God the Father through Christ. But, we also come here each week that we may do everything during the week in the name of the Lord Jesus. We come here for the grace to live out the second reading in the home! It is hard to live, especially when conflicts arise in families. But, it is possible with the grace of Christ, especially the grace of the Eucharist and Confession. Reconciliation is possible. Compassion, humility, patience, and love are possible on a regular basis.

May we all be open to the grace of the Eucharist so that we might put on compassion, humility, patience, and forgiveness in our homes. And, above all, may we put on love.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas homily

On behalf of Fr. Mike, our deacons, and our entire staff at St. Andrew’s, I wish all of you a merry Christmas! It’s always great to celebrate Mass, but it’s especially great to celebrate Christmas masses with large crowds. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was like this every Sunday? Hey, the Redskins have a full house every week, why can’t we? And, we don’t even charge $40 for parking!

I understand why the Church is full today. I understand that it is a big event to celebrate: God coming into the world. People waited thousands of years to see God, and He comes into the world as a little baby. The Creator of the world as a little baby! Christmas celebrates that event where God is in the flesh, He is Emmanuel - God is with us.

We hear it said often, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if Christmas were every day’. Well, at the heart of this feast – that God is with us - there are reasons to believe that this happens year-round. There are many reasons to believe that God is with us, especially here at St. Andrew’s. God is with us and it is profound.

One parishioner, like so many of us, struggles with controlling her anger and temper. She had just resigned herself to that fact that she would always just say things in anger when someone annoyed her or losing her temper. She has been going to Confession much more in the past year, and she is starting to see changes! She has been buttoning her lip when she gets annoyed at others, and has been much more patient. She is the first one to say that this has been God. God is with us and it is profound.

When the Pope came in April, the Archdiocese had a food drive with a certain amount that each parish was to give. We blew that amount out of the water! Any of you who saw the huge amount of food in the Gathering Space those few weekends knows how large a quantity that was. I estimated that it was about a TON of food – literally, 2000 pounds. God is with us and it is profound.

A month ago at our high school Youth Group, the teens were in charge of organizing and boxing all of the food items that the parish donated for the Thanksgiving Food Drive. Again, another huge amount of food. We looked at the amount and thought that it would take all night to box and put the food into the cars to go to the shelter. And, normally, you have to ask teens several times to help. It took the thirty teens 15 minutes! We asked them once to help, and they jumped right in and had all of the food in the cars in no time. Then, they came into the Church for Adoration which we do once a month – Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There they were with their friends: 30 teens in virtual silence for 20-30 minutes, kneeling and praying to their God. Amazing! God is with us and it is profound.

This may not be the most important reason, but it is significant. If you have been following the weekly offertory amounts, you’ve seen the dramatic increase in the collection. In the past year, our collection has increased almost 30%! That is not just generosity, that is also faith. You could say that we spend our money on things that we believe in; this is a sign of faith in God and in the Church. God is with us and it is profound.

The final reason – there are many more but this is the last one I’ll mention – might be my favorite. We have seven young men who are seriously thinking about the priesthood. Seven high school and college guys who in the past year have gone to dinners and talked to priests about becoming priests. Amazing! The Archdiocese is starting to take notice of St Andrew’s with regard to vocations. I think in general the Archdiocese is taking notice that God is with us at St Andrew’s and it is profound.

Now, you hear all of this stuff, and think, ‘where is this coming from’? The Eucharist. Jesus promised this would happen. He said, ‘whoever remains in me and I in Him will bear much fruit’. The reasons I have just listed is not what we are doing for God, but what God is doing for us. It is the fruit of remaining close to Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is changing lives, bringing about tremendous generosity and service, even to the point of laying down one’s life. I’ve been in a lot of parishes; this parish is among the most devout and respectful of the Eucharist, and we are seeing the fruit.

Also, when it comes to the Eucharist, we see the Christmas event happen at every Mass. It’s like Christ is born at every Mass. Ok, so it’s an altar and not a manger. Instead of looking like a baby, he looks like bread and wine. But, it is the same Christ. It is God in the flesh who we can see and adore. The Eucharist is the most profound reason to believe that God is with us. And, not only for us to see and adore, but to receive. God is not only with us in the Eucharist, but He is within us.

So, if you want to be a regular part of all of this great stuff, and not just twice a year, you’re wondering, ‘what do I do?’ When people ask me that, I say that, specifically, stay close to the Eucharist and Confession. In general, stay open to God. We know in the story of Christ’s birth, the innkeeper said that he had no room…no room for Jesus. God wants us to be open…to make room for Him in our lives. When we are open, He comes pouring in and revealing His presence and power. And, it is profound. When we experience that God is with us, we experience happiness, joy, and peace.

May each of us be open to God and experience true joy and peace. May we experience this joy and peace this day and throughout the Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What would you say in a Christmas homily?

I have been praying about my Christmas homilies for a little while now, and feel confident with what the Spirit has been preparing me to say. But, I thought it would be good to ask the group at Bible Study last night to give me some more ideas for the homilies. I asked, ‘what would you say to those who come to Church only a couple of times a year?’ It was a fruitful exercise with some insightful answers. A main point of the group was to stress what God does for us, namely Christ’s birth. Christmas is an event that celebrates a gift from God, but we should regularly celebrate the blessings that God gives us throughout the year.

I had been already thinking this, mainly with the idea that people want to be inspired. The best way to “win over” any of the “Christmas-Easter” Catholics might be through inspiration. Certainly, an inspired (i.e., from the Spirit) idea or thought that will stick with them might help to convert their hearts or minds. But, I find it is inspiring stories which give people images of living the faith that bear the most fruit. It’s pretty much like St. Jerome said about the saints: “the saints are to the Gospel what sung music is to written music”. In other words, the lives of the saints sing the Gospel, and the Gospel comes to life so much more through living examples.

So, my hope is to present some stories from (the saints at) St Andrew’s in the past year, and how God has been with us and giving to us. Some cool things have been happening! The hope is that people will be inspired to be a regular part of the scene here, a community that is experiencing the presence and generosity of God on a regular basis.

How about you bloggers: what would you say in a Christmas homily? Would you start off with a joke or cute story (like # 1 below)? Would you tell an inspiring story or stories (like #2 and #3 below)? What would be your main point about Christmas / Christ’s birth (like #4 below)?

1) My daughter asked me where she came from. We sat down and I gave her an age appropriate response that included marriage, an expression of love, and a baby growing in a mother’s womb, etc. When I asked if she had any questions, and she said, “Kind of- I need to know where I came from.” She showed me a school paper that outlined a new assignment- a cultural family history. “Where she came from” was supposed to be Italy, Ireland or Poland.

2) There was an athlete who had cancer and had one leg amputated when he was 1-1/2 yrs old. Of course, his parents were distraught, but only one day after his surgery, the mother awoke in his hospital room to see him grinning at her from his crib as he was standing on his one leg. Several years later, his friends began playing soccer, and he too wanted to play soccer. Everyone was nervous as they watched this young kid play while wearing modified crutches. He became the leading scorer on his soccer team (and the footage of him playing was amazing). The next year, his friends began baseball. He played catcher and learned to crouch on one leg. Then too, he became the leading scorer (and I held my breath at the footage of him sliding into home plate). The next year- flag football. Can you guess? He became the quarterback. When he was asked about how he knew he could do all of these things, he responded, “I trust that the good Lord will give me the strength to use my abilities instead of worrying about my disabilities.” His faith was about knowing that God would give him all that he needed. This athlete was 8 yrs old.

3) A few days ago, I met a 5-year old little boy at my place of work and spent a short period of time with him. This child had apparent hand, leg and feet malformations. Each of his hands had only four fingers and each hand curved somewhat inward. He also walked with an unusual gait and was considerably smaller in size for his age. In the course of our time together I had to take him through a building and down 2 sizable sets of stairs. On our way down, I noticed that he used his hands as hooks almost, wrapping them around the banister and lowering himself from one step to the next. Before going back up, he and a classmate began running towards the steps, became entangled in one another and fell to the ground. Still on the ground, he turned to his friend and asked if he was okay…As he went up the first set of steps he started off rather fast, and then began to slow down considerably. By the second set, it looked as though he was struggling and might fall backwards. I asked if he needed my help. His answer? "No. I am climbing a mountain."

4) My daughter asked me why we get presents at Christmas. She likes the “loot” but asked a valid question. She said that everyone always says Christmas is about giving not getting- so why all the presents? I should preface, “giving” in my home means doing for others. My husband and I do buy presents for special occasions, but the kids do something for one another at those times. My daughter may do my son’s chores for his birthday week, or my son will read to his younger sister at night, etc. Christmas is the only time of year when I take each of them to actually buy something for each other, and my daughter asked the question when it was her “turn” to go shopping. Here’s my rationale- that first Christmas we were given an actual gift. The way we live each day (our giving) should be an expression of our gratitude for it. When my children shop for one another they set aside the time to stop and think about what is special for someone they love and want to give to. I think it is an appropriate expression of what Christmas is about- being given a great and special gift simply because we are loved. So, while giving is how we show that we live Christ, receiving is an important point at Christmas too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

4th Sunday of Advent - homily excerpt

The following is an excerpt from a homily on today’s Gospel by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa:

The example of the Mother of God suggests to bring this new drive to our spiritual life, to truly conceive and give birth to Jesus in us this Christmas. Mary says a decisive and total Yes to God. Great stress is put on Mary's "fiat," on Mary as "the Virgin of the 'fiat'." But Mary did not speak Latin and so did not say "fiat"; nor did she speak Greek and so did not say "genoito," which is the word we find at that point in Luke's Greek text.

If it is legitimate to go back, with a pious reflection, to the "ipsissima vox," to the exact word that came from Mary's mouth -- or at least to the word that would be found at this point in the Judaic source that Luke used -- this must have been the word "amen." Amen, a Hebrew word whose root means solidity, certainty -- was used in the liturgy as a response of faith to God's word. Every time that, at the end of certain Psalms in the Vulgate we once read "fiat, fiat," now in the new version, translated from the original text, we read: "Amen, amen." This is also the case for the Greek word: in the Septuagint, at the end of the same Psalms, where we read "genoito, genoito," the original Hebrew has "Amen, amen!"

The "amen" recognizes that the word that has been spoken is firm, stable, valid and binding. Its exact translation, when it is a response to the word of God, is: "This is how it is and this is how it shall be." It indicates both faith and obedience; it recognizes that what God says is true and submits to it. It is saying "yes" to God. This is the meaning it has when it is spoken by Jesus: "Yes, amen, Father, because this was your good pleasure" (cf. Matthew 11:26). Jesus is, indeed, Amen personified: "Thus, he is the Amen" (Revelation 3:14), and it is through him, St. Paul adds, that every "amen" pronounced on earth ascends to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20).

In almost all human languages the word that express consent is a monosyllable -- sì, ja, yes, oui, da -- one of the shortest words in the language but that with which both bride and groom and consecrated persons decide their lives forever. In the rite for religious profession and priestly ordination there is also a moment in which yes is said.

There is a nuance in Mary's Amen that is important to note. In modern languages we use verbs in the indicative mood to refer to something that has happened or will happen, and in the conditional mood to refer to something that could happen under certain conditions, etc. Greek has a particular mood called the optative mood. It is a mood that is used to express a certain desire or impatience for a particular thing to happen. The word used by Luke, "genoito," is in this mood!

St. Paul says that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7) and Mary says her "yes" to God with joy. Let us ask her to obtain for us the grace to say a joyous and renewed Yes to God and so conceive and give birth to his Son Jesus Christ this Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Our spiritual GPS"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
A family member sent me the following homily given by a priest in Massachusetts on the Third Sunday of Advent which is timely, practical, and insightful:

I'm usually pretty good about not opening Christmas presents until Christmas day -- no matter early I receive them. But I was recently presented with a gift from a group of folks who insisted I open it right then and there, - and rather than disappoint them - I gave in. And the gift was a TomTom: a remarkable global positioning device for my car -- and a most amazing piece of technology with a screen for visual mapping and a speaker for voice prompts along the way.

The TomTom is amazing! It immediately knows exactly where you are -- even if you don't know where you are! You tell it where you want to go - and it charts your trip for you. It knows every highway and street you might take and provides you with the most direct route so that you can get there with the least amount of difficulty. It constantly records the speed at which you're traveling, telling you if you're going too fast or too slow.

The visual neither speeds ahead of you nor lags behind, it always knows just where you are and stays with you. It indicates the location of gas stations and other services to provide fuel and assistance for you on your trip. Although it shows you every side street along the way a big bold arrow always points you in the right direction. The visual map gives advance notice of when and where and how soon you'll need to make a turn, and the voice gives you audible cues to keep you on the correct path: "400 yards ahead, turn right, then bear left, then stay left..."

And then, in case you weren't listening or paying attention, the voice repeats the cue to remind you. If you make a wrong turn it immediately revises your directions to get you going the right way. And it doesn't scold you when you make a wrong turn; its only interest is to get you back on track, to get you to your destination -- the place you want to end up. And no matter how far off you might wander, no matter how much you ignore the directions, it always knows how to get you back just where you need to be, right where you belong....

Wouldn't it be great to have something like that for our LIFE's journey? A full set of directions for every leg of our journey, mapped out by:

someone who always knows exactly where I am -- even if I don't know where I am myself. someone who knows all the streets and turns -- and never gets lost;
someone who wants me to reach my final destination safely;
someone who is by my side all the time, riding right next to me;
someone who can tell me when I need to slow down and when I need to get moving;
someone who knows the best route for me to take avoiding the shortcuts that might get me lost; someone who always knows if it's a left or a right I should take;
someone who, when I insist on making a wrong turn, knows just how to get me going in the right direction -- and who doesn't say, "I TOLD you not to go that way!
someone who will follow me through miles and years of wrong turns and is always there to gladly steer me back to the right path?

But we have all that -- don't we? We do have "someone" just like that. (And just like my TomTom, you knew where I was heading in this homily!)

John the Baptist echoes Isaiah today when he says, "Make a straight highway for the Lord." Clear the roadway! Follow the directions! Life is too great a journey to undertake if you don't know where you're going - or how to get there. Our problem is often that we're foolish enough to think that we know the way, the road, better than God does.

But the Lord knows the way perfectly and wants to guide us: wants to help us avoid short-cuts that get us lost; wants to help us make the right decision at every fork in the road; wants to tell us to slow down when we're moving too fast and to give it some gas when we're holding up traffic; and wants to redirect us every time we get lost on the highway that leads to him, his truth and his love.

Our GPS device as Christians isn't a techno-toy: it's the Scriptures that show us the way; it's the Church constantly reminding us of our destination; it's the guidance of prayer that keeps us turning back to God; and it's the company of others who, by many varied routes, are all heading to the same destination.

This is what Advent and Christmas are all about: making sure we're on the right highway, that we're making the correct turns, that we're following the map the Lord has made for us, that we're heading in the right direction. Once a week, our spiritual GPS leads us down Main Street to this church and to this table, to the Eucharist, where the One who maps all our paths pulls us over to the side of the road here to reorient us and to feed us for the journey. Let us rejoice that Christ himself makes that journey with each of us and will always guide us safely on the path that leads us home.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Penance Service tonight

Parish Penance Service - tonight, 7:30 pm, SAA Church. The service will include readings, a homily, and a public examination of conscience. Then, there will be several priests here to hear individual confessions. Please encourage others to take advantage of this opportunity to receive God's Mercy, and pray for a good turnout of St A's parishioners!
The following are my notes for our discussions in RCIA about Confession. The comments or questions in italics are some of the most common among Catholics and non-Catholics about Confession. To view an examination of conscience, please go to the post, “Examination of Conscience”, from 8/24/06 under Archives.

I’m afraid to go to Confession
- been many years
- forgot how
- priest will judge me
- priest will tell others my sins
- I will forget some sins
- I wouldn’t know where to start with my sins

Keep in mind:
- it is Christ in the Confessional; in persona Christi
- “whoever hears you, hears me” (Lk10:16)

- we hear and know we are forgiven
-“I absolve you in the name of the F, S, and the HS”

- Christ’s grace in Confession heals us and gives us the strength to overcome future sins (MT, JP II)
- the priest can give us advice on how to avoid the sins in the future

- confessing on the lips = shows true contrition
- as when I sin against a friend; need to go face to face

How do I make a good Confession?
- examination of conscience
- contrition
- confession
- do your penance

How often should I go?
- at least once a year (req.)
- whenever in mortal sin or think you may be (before Comm.)
- once a month (MT, JP II)
- grow in grace and holiness; frequent Confession helps us to
‘ forgive those who trespass against us’ so that we will be
- see our sins as they are (gossip, e.g.) and see ourselves as we are: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”

I thought only God forgives sins. How can the priest forgive sins?

Jesus gives his power of forgiving sins to the Apostles (the first priests):

“’As the Father sent me, so I am sending you’. After saying this, he
breathed on them and said: ‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive
anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are
retained’”. – Jn 20:21-23

“ God reconciled us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (1 Cor 5: 18)

Why do I need to confess my sins to a priest? Why can’t I just confess to God privately?

- we can be forgiven of venial sins outside of Confession
- the Penitential Rite at Mass, Eucharist, sincere Act of Contrition, e.g.

- but, forgiveness of mortal sins is reserved for Confession

Sunday, December 14, 2008

3rd Sunday of Advent - homily

A Penance Service Announcement – you’ve heard of a Public Service Announcement – this is a penance service announcement. We will have a Penance Service this Tuesday, December 16, at 7:30 pm. We will have several priests here to offer confessions. I hope that all of you can take advantage of this great opportunity. The second reading suggests that we should be fully ready for the coming of Christ – spirit, soul, and body. Confession is the best way to be fully prepared for Christ’s coming.

I wish I could tell you of all the good things that have happened in Confession the past 2 ½ years. What I can tell you in general terms is that many, many people have seen a change in their lives by making a regular confession. They have seen the effects of Grace and it has been powerful. They are moving away from those things that they really don’t want to do – anger, impatience, pride, lust, envy, and the like. None of us really wants to sin; this is something that even our kids see…that sin is like, yuk! The Grace of confession helps us to move away from sin and to do what we really want to do.

If we take a step back from all of the stuff leading up to the 25th – all of the busyness, all of the preparation – we can ask, why Christmas? Why was Jesus born? Why did He become one of us? Theologians debate the exact, main reason. But, one of the biggest reasons is to save us from sin. The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of all of this.

Sin entered the world thousands of years before Christ with Adam and Eve in the garden. They offended God in a serious way, they knew it was seriously wrong, and they freely chose to do it. That was the first mortal sin; it broke their relationship with God and closed the gates of Heaven. For thousands of years, mankind tried to offer sacrifices and all kinds of stuff to God to have his sins forgiven. None of them worked; man cannot bring about the forgiveness of sins on his own.

Not even John the Baptist had the power to forgive sins. He hints at this in today’s Gospel when he says that he baptizes with water only. His baptism is symbolic only; it is for external cleansing. But, one is coming after him who baptized with the Holy Spirit. His baptism will wash away sins; it will be an internal cleansing. So, not even John the Baptist who Jesus said was the greatest person born of woman had the power to forgive sins.

What had to happen was that God had to become one of us and sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of sins. The event of our salvation, then, is Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. His death and resurrection is our salvation; it opened the gates of Heaven for us. We will hear this in a few minutes in the Eucharist: “this is my body…this is my blood…shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven”. When we come to Mass, we not only witness Christ’s sacrifice to the Father – the only acceptable sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins- we participate salvation in salvation.

What if we lose salvation due to sin? Christ has given us another sacrament after Baptism that wipes away our sins: Confession. Again, it’s participating in salvation – we nail our sins to the Cross and the blood of the Cross wipes away our sins. So, we see many attractive reasons for going to Confession; on a big level, we honor Christ’s sacrifice and fulfill his mission.

Let me offer one more reason for going to Confession regularly. It has to do with freedom. The people I described earlier have experienced freedom through the Grace of Confession. I really believe that the first reading is referring to Confession: “liberty to captives, release to prisoners”. Scripture says that we are “slaves to sin”; we are in bondage. Confession helps to break free the chains of sin! We become the people we really want to be. We become free to choose what we want to choose. We experience true freedom which is the ability to choose the good.

May we rejoice in our God! May we rejoice in the freedom of the Cross of Christ! May we rejoice in the freedom that God offers each and every one of us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"On Certain Bioethical Questions"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Adoration is a great way to prepare for Christmas!!
Today, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith today issued a document, Dignitas Personae, which applies Church teaching on the dignity of human life to new biotechnologies. The Archdiocese of Washington has provided the following set of questions and answers for the document (they must have known it was coming!). Please click on today’s title to view the document.

1. What kind of document is this?

It is an “instruction” from the Catholic Church’s highest doctrinal agency, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), applying timeless moral principles to some new issues and situations arising from biotechnology. It does not declare a new infallibly defined dogma, but is approved by Pope Benedict XVI and has his authority. Like most Church teachings, its moral judgments are part of the “universal ordinary magisterium.” Catholics are called to inform their consciences with such teaching, adhering to it with “religious assent” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 892).

2. What does its title mean?

The Latin title Dignitas Personae means “the dignity of a person.” All the conclusions of the document are based on the inherent dignity of each and every human person, from conception to natural death, and the need for all technology and other human activity to respect that dignity. While the Church must make a negative judgment about some misuses of technology, the Instruction explains: “Behind every ‘no’ in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great ‘yes’ to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.”

3. Does it have precedent in other Church documents?

Yes. Chiefly it is a sequel to “Donum Vitae: Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,” issued by the Congregation in 1987 to address human “in vitro” fertilization (IVF) and the abuse and manipulation of human life in its earliest stages that this technology made possible. Other judgments in the document – on human cloning, embryonic and adult stem cell research, genetic engineering, drugs and devices for preventing implantation, etc. – confirm and elaborate statements made in past speeches or other documents from Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI, or in the Holy See’s interventions at international forums such as the United Nations. In recent years these topics have also been the subject of symposia and/or documents from the advisory body, the Pontifical Academy for Life.

4. Why is the Catholic Church opposed to reproductive technologies such as “in vitro” fertilization?

The child conceived in human procreation is a human person, equal in dignity with the parents. Therefore he or she deserves to be brought into being through an act of total and committed marital love between husband and wife. Technologies that assist the couple’s marital union in giving rise to a child respect this special dignity of the human person; technologies that replace it with a procedure by a technician in a laboratory do not. The moral problem is aggravated by efforts to introduce gametes (sperm or egg) from people outside the marriage, to make use of another woman’s womb to gestate the child, or to exercise “quality control” over the child as though he or she were a product. IVF as practiced today also involves a very high death rate for the embryos involved, and opens the door to further abuses such as embryo cryopreservation (freezing) and destructive experimentation.

5. What topics in this document have not been specifically addressed in past teaching documents?

Some very new issues are discussed here for the first time. Some proposed methods for altering the technique for human cloning so it will produce embryonic stem cells but not an embryo (e.g., “altered nuclear transfer”) are judged to require more study and clarification before they could ethically be applied to humans, as one would have to be certain that a new human being is never created and then destroyed by the procedure. (These cautions do not apply to an even newer technique, using genetic or chemical factors to reprogram ordinary adult cells directly into “induced pluripotent stem cells” with the versatility of embryonic stem cells. This clearly does not use an egg or create an embryo, and has not raised objections from Catholic theologians.)

Proposals for “adoption” of abandoned or unwanted frozen embryos are also found to pose problems, because the Church opposes use of the gametes or bodies of others who are outside the marital covenant for reproduction. The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them. The document also goes into far more detail than past documents in raising moral concerns about use of “germ-line” genetic engineering in human beings, for treatments and especially for supposed “enhancement” or tailoring of human characteristics.

6. Do the cautions or negative judgments on such developments indicate a suspicious attitude toward modern biotechnology in general?

On the contrary, the document says that in making use of these new technological powers the human being “participates in the creative power of God” and acts as “the steward of the value and intrinsic beauty of creation.” It is because this power carries with it great responsibility that we must never misuse technology to demean human dignity, but always to serve the value and dignity of every person without exception. Misuse of genetic technology may make possible new forms of discrimination and oppression of the weak by the strong, in which some human beings exert ultimate control over others – creating and destroying them for supposed benefit to others, manipulating them to make the “better” human being, or denying them their most fundamental rights because they do not measure up to someone’s standard for human perfection. Because science and technology have a great potential for doing both good and evil, they must be guided by an ethic grounded in human dignity.

December 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

DC Bus ads: our Opponent strikes again

You have probably heard about or seen the ads on buses in D.C. which read, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake”. The ads were paid for and run by the American Humanist Association (AHA). The ads are obviously offensive, but also illogical - if God doesn’t exist, then goodness doesn’t exist. The following article from catholicnewsagency.com reveals that there is a counter ad! This is the way it’s been for 2000 years now: our Opponent attacks Christ, and the Church defends (apologizes for) Him. Thanks to the Center for Family Development! Let us all be bold apologists for Christ!!

Washington DC, Dec 3, 2008 / 04:48 am (CNA).- Following a secular humanist ad campaign in Washington D.C. which questioned religious belief, an initiative called “I Believe Too” has been launched to “counteract” the secular campaign with “a positive, upbeat ad that identifies God as mankind’s “true and loving creator.”

In November the American Humanist Association (AHA) bought advertisements on Washington D.C. buses reading “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake.” The campaign aspired to bring together the non-religious during the holiday season.

The “I Believe Too” campaign, sponsored by the Center for Family Development, called the AHA effort a “campaign against God.” Aiming to “fight back with the same campaign they are running,” the I Believe Too ads are planned for 10 buses with side posters, 10 buses with tail posters, 200 interior bus posters.

Costs of the full campaign are estimated to be $14,000. As of Tuesday morning, 64 donors had supplied the campaign with $3,400.

The ad itself uses an image from Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” focusing upon the outstretched hands and fingers of God and Adam.

“Why Believe? Because I created you and I love you, for goodness' sake,” the ad reads, attributing its words to God.

JoEllen Murphy, the initiative’s leader, explained her motivations on the I Believe Too web site.
“After a friend forwarded me an article about the AHA ad campaign, I thought, ‘Enough!’ I am so tired of God and religion being attacked that I decided to start a counter ad campaign,” she said.
The I Believe Too web site is located at http://www.ibelievetoo.org

Sunday, December 07, 2008

2nd Sunday of Advent - homily

Some of you may remember Fr. Tom Wells who was here at St Andrew’s for a couple of years in the 80s. He was transferred from here to my home parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda. One of the priests he lived with was then-Father Gonzalez, now Bishop Gonzalez of Washington. The two of them got along so well – both fun guys! They had fun with each other and enjoyed each other’s company.

One time, they were at a parish party talking with a parishioner. The parishioner said to Fr Wells, “Father Wells, you preach like John the Baptist!” Fr. Wells turned to Fr Gonzalez and said with a smile, “hmmmm…John the Baptist!” He began to show some signs of boasting and gloating. Fr Gonzalez then asked the parishioner, “what about me?”, as Fr Wells laughed. The woman said, “oh, Fr Gonzalez, you preach like Jesus!” (Fr Wells went silent).

We hear about John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. We get an image that is hard for me to figure out. We hear about a man who dressed differently (he wore clothing with camel’s hair), had a different kind of diet (wild honey and grasshoppers), and spoke differently (“prepare the way of the Lord…make straight his paths). He pretty much got right in people’s faces and told them to change their lives. So, here is a different kind of guy. And yet, huge crowds from Judea and Jerusalem came to hear him. What is the attraction to John the Baptist?

People were attracted to John the Baptist for a number of reasons; I’d like to offer a few. First, he spoke the truth. We all want to hear and know the truth – in specific situations and in general. The truth is very attractive to us. Also, he challenged people. Challenging someone is a sign of love and respect. People like to be challenged; we see this especially with our youth. People knew that John the Baptist loved and respected them when they heard his challenges to change their lives. Now, on a practical level, he gave them something – baptism. We Catholics are like this too – we like to get stuff. John gave them something – the cleansing waters of baptism.

The biggest reason why John the Baptist was attractive to people is because of hope. He was a source of hope for them. Pope Benedict XVI has said that Advent is a season of hope. Hope points to something else, something greater than itself. John the Baptist pointed to something else – someone else – his whole life. He pointed to Christ. “Someone is coming after me who is greater than me”. He pointed to something else in a positive way; that was very attractive to people. I think this is the reason we listen to any prophet – they point us to something else. And that something is Christ.

When we come to the person of Christ, we come to hope itself. He is hope’s end; and yet, he points to something else. In other words, he is the kingdom of God on Earth and points to the Kingdom of God in Heaven.

We see this with the Eucharist. It is the Kingdom of God on Earth and points to the Kingdom of God in Heaven. This is true with all of the sacraments – they contain Grace and signify the Grace they contain. They give us hope and point to that hope which is Christ.

May this Eucharist fill us with hope. May it help us to be like John the Baptist and all of the prophets: sources of hope. May our lives point to something else – Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 05, 2008

"Holiness does not go out of fashion"

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

2) Holy Day of Obligation: Monday, Dec 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and an HDO. Masses at St Andrew’s are 8:30 am, 10 am, and 7:30 pm
The following is (via Zenit.org) Pope Benedict XVI’s homily Sunday at the Roman Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, at the closing liturgy of the jubilee year commemorating the 1750th anniversary of the Spanish deacon and martyr.

"In this beginning of Advent, what better message to receive from St. Lawrence than that of holiness?" asked the Holy Father. The spiritual message of Advent, he said, "points us already to the Lord's glorious coming at the end of history."

"Celebrating the Eucharist," continued the Pontiff, "we proclaim in fact that he has not withdrawn from the world and has not left us alone and, though we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with material and sensible realities, he is with all of us and among us; what is more, he is in us, because in this way he can attract to himself and communicate his life to every believer who opens his heart to him."

Thus, Advent recalls the Lord's first coming, his final return, and his presence among us now in the life of the Church, he said. "This awareness, dear brothers and sisters, nourished by listening to the Word of God, should help us to see the world with different eyes, to interpret the different events of life and history as words that God addresses to us, as signs of his love that assure us of his closeness in every situation." He added that as a preparation for the Lord's final coming in glory, Advent becomes a "time of waiting and hope, a privileged time of listening and reflection, allowing ourselves to be guided by the liturgy."

Come, Lord
Remembering the invocation of the early Christian community, "Come Lord Jesus," Benedict XVI exhorted his audience to make it "also our constant aspiration, the aspiration of the Church of every age, which longs and prepares for the encounter with its Lord." The Holy Father recalled the first reading from Isaiah, with the image of "a tender and merciful Father, who takes care of us in every circumstance because we are the work of his hands." This Father took the initiative to send his son to redeem us, added the Pontiff.

"Before so great a mystery of love, may our gratitude rise spontaneously and our invocation be more confident."

Turning his focus to St. Lawrence, the Pope commented: "His solicitude for the poor, his generous service to the Church in the area of social welfare and charity, his fidelity to the pope, which led him to want to follow him to the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic testimony of his blood, spilt a few days later."

"He repeats to us that holiness," affirmed Benedict XVI, "namely, going out to meet Christ who comes continually to visit us, does not go out of fashion, on the contrary, with the passing of time it shines in a luminous way and manifests man's constant tension toward God."

The Holy Father encouraged his listeners to make "a constant commitment to evangelization through charity. May Lawrence, heroic witness of Christ crucified and risen, be for each one an example of docile adherence to the divine will so that, as we have heard the Apostle Paul remind the Corinthians, we also live in such a way as to be found 'irreproachable' in the day of the Lord."

Concluding with a reflection on Sunday's Gospel, he focused on Christ's command to "watch." "To watch," explained the Pontiff, "means to follow the Lord, to choose what he has chosen, to love what he has loved, to conform one's own life to his; to watch means to spend every moment of our time on the horizon of his love without letting ourselves be overcome by the inevitable daily difficulties and problems. So did St. Lawrence, so must we; and we ask the Lord to give us his grace so that Advent will stimulate all of us to walk in that direction.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The story of salvation

Anon wrote the following:

“For an infant to be baptized in the Catholic Church, do the parents have to be in a state of Grace? I can't recall this being part of the requirement for my children's baptism, but it has been a long time since my youngest was baptized and, I didn't feel like taking the time researching my question on the internet.”

I’ve never heard that parents have to be in a state of Grace for their baby to be baptized Catholic. Also, I found no such requirement in Canon Law. Canon # 868 says that for a licit (legal) infant baptism, “the parents…must consent (to the baptism)” and that “there must be founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion”. Another Church law that addresses the requirement of parents for infant baptism is Canon # 851 which stipulates that “the parents of an infant to be baptized…are to be instructed properly”. I find that it is this stipulation that leads parents to see the need for them to be in a state of Grace.

I personally instruct parents who want to have their (first) baby baptized Catholic. We sit down for two meetings: the first is to discuss the importance of Baptism in general terms, and the second is to discuss the Rite of Baptism itself and the symbols that are used. In the first discussion, I ask the couple why they are having their child baptized. Most commonly, they say it is because they were baptized as babies, and they want to do the same for their baby. They indicate that that’s just what you do as Catholic parents. In other words, it is more for cultural reasons than anything else. Some have given more faith-filled answers: e.g., to give their child the gift of faith, because they want their child to get to Heaven, to make their child a member of the Church, the Body of Christ.

I then ask them where they first heard about Baptism and the need for it. Most will say from their parents. I’ll ask where did their parents or any Christians first hear about Baptism. Some have said John the Baptist while most just give a blank look. I give all of them a hint: when in doubt, say, “Jesus”. They say, Jesus! Yes, Jesus! Jesus teaches us that we need to be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5). While it is true the John the Baptist baptized before Jesus did, even he acknowledged that he baptized with water (symbolic only) but Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit (see Mk 1:8).

Once we have discussed the need for Baptism in Christ, I ask them why the need for Jesus to come down from Heaven in the first place. Many get this one correct: to save us. Yes! But, save us from what? Sin. Yes, sin. Then, we discuss when sin first entered the world – Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden. We talk about how the choice they made was a serious offense to God, they knew it was and they freely chose to do it. Because of this, the gates of Heaven closed and their relationship with God was broken.

This remained the situation for thousands of years, with the Jews trying to have their sins forgiven and for the gates of Heaven to open by offering sacrifices in atonement. I ask them, then, how many people from Adam and Eve to Jesus Christ went to Heaven? Zero. No sacrifice was acceptable to the Father for the forgiveness of sins. In the other words, man can’t bring about forgiveness of sins (esp. serious sins) on his own. God had to become one of us and sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of sins. This became the only acceptable sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.

So, Christ came to save us from our sin. I ask them what event in the life of Christ is our salvation. What event saved us from our sin? The death and resurrection of Christ (it is understood as one event). This is the act of salvation. This is what saves us from our sins. This is what opened the gates of Heaven for us. We need to participate in the death and resurrection (the Paschal Mystery) of Christ in order to be saved and to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

I then explain that Christ gives us seven main ways for us to participate in the Paschal Mystery: the sacraments. It begins with Baptism in which we die (to Original Sin) and rise with Christ. The faith and eternal life we receive in Baptism are nourished by the Eucharist. These are the two sacraments that Jesus says we definitely need to receive eternal life. I then explain how the other sacraments help to build up Grace in our lives and lead us to live and witness to Heaven in this life.

At the end of the discussion, the majority of the parents have expressed that they did now know this “story of salvation” in the way I laid it out for them. They seem to have a new appreciation for Grace and the role it plays in our lives. One mother came to me weeks after her baby’s Baptism to say that our discussion really woke her up in her Catholic faith. This is the Church’s hope: rather than forcing parents to be in a state of Grace, She presents the beauty and richness of God’s Grace as it relates to Baptism and the other sacraments and invites them to fully share in it.

Through the process of baptismal instruction, then, parents should gain a clear understanding of what it means to raise their baby in the Catholic faith, and that it primarily begins with the example they live. I think this happens mainly for them to be men and women of the Eucharist which I challenge them to be during the Rite of Baptism itself. If the child sees that his/her parents and godparents believe in the Real Presence and live a Eucharistic life, then it’s almost certain that he/she will similarly live a life of Grace.