Friday, February 27, 2009

Mother's way of honoring the dead

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

Anon wrote the following: “I have a question- why do people visit the gravesites of loved ones? My grandmother’s birthday was the other day and my mom reminded me that I should visit her grave. My immediate thought was, ‘Why- she’s not there anymore?’ I didn’t want to be disrespectful of my mother’s way of honoring her mother’s memory, but I never really understood that tradition. I visit my grandmother in memory. I don’t understand visiting her bones. I didn’t go to the cemetery but instead went to her parish and lit a candle- that seemed more appropriate”.

Anon, your mother’s way of honoring her mother’s memory has been the Church’s way of honoring the dead since the very beginning. In fact, it started with Mary Magdelene visiting the tomb of Christ. The different Gospel accounts reveal specifically why Mary went to visit the gravesite of Christ. She went to “see the tomb” (Mt 28), to “go and anoint him” (Mk 16) with the “spices and perfumed oils…they had prepared” (Lk 23-24), and “stayed outside the tomb weeping” (Jn 20). In general, they reveal Mary’s “sensitivity and affection” (Navarre Bible) for the burial place and dead body of her Lord.

Jesus’ tomb was a sacred place for Mary Magdelene and for the others who visited it. Now, we probably easily understand why the gravesite of our Lord was sacred. It contained the deceased body that had been sacrificed for the salvation of the world. Also, it was the resting place of a Sacred Person! These two truths are unique to Christ. But, Christian gravesites are sacred places as well mainly because they contain the remains of those who shared in Christ’s death and resurrection. As is stated below, “there is a direct relationship between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the death and resurrection of the Christian”.

Also, please keep in mind the following: “the bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism, #2300). I would suggest that visiting a gravesite is, by extension, a corporal work of mercy because it is an extension of burying the dead. It definitely is an opportunity to gain an indulgence for the deceased person. The list of indulgences that I’ve linked here before includes a plenary indulgence for “a Visit to a Cemetery. Only applicable to the souls in Purgatory when one devoutly visits and prays for the departed. A PLENARY INDULGENCE is bestowed for this work each day between November 1 and November 8”. It would be a partial indulgence for other days.

Finally, the following are two sites from different dioceses that include information and insights that might also be helpful in understanding why we visit gravesites:

“As people of faith, our burial places share an important meaning for us, since they are sacred places. Each visit to the cemetery is a reminder to us of the love, fellowship and faith that we shared with our deceased family members and friends. It is also a reminder to us of our own mortality and belief in the Resurrection.

Just as we are brought to a sacred place, the Catholic Church, at the time of our birth to be baptized and enter into the life of Christ, so too are we brought to another sacred place, a Catholic cemetery, at the time of our death to await the resurrection of the dead and the promise of eternal life that comes to us through life in Christ”

“Catholic Cemeteries are an extension of the parish where those who have worshipped and prayed together in life now await the resurrection of the body in death.

Catholic Cemeteries are rooted in ancient religious traditions that display a respect for the deceased and a reverence for their physical remains.

A core belief which dates back to the birth of Christianity is that there is a direct relationship between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the death and resurrection of the Christian. Catholics believe in life eternal. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die.” (Jn.11:25-26). Just as Christ rose from the dead, He will raise our mortal remains to be like His in glory.

Catholic cemeteries are a constant reminder that death is just a part of the journey that leads to new life.

Catholic cemeteries are sacred places that strive to create a religious environment conducive of prayer, reflection and remembrance. Our cemeteries encourage prayerful visitation through the use of statuary, landscaping, architecture and Christian symbolism throughout buildings and by memorialization.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Mass schedule today at St Andrew's: 6:30, 8:30, 10, 7:30 pm

"Return to me with your whole heart" (Joel 2:12).

This is from today's first reading. It is our mantra as we begin the season of Lent. Hopefully, we have given our hearts to Christ in general. But, let us do it in specific ways. There is at least one specific thing in which each of us needs to give our hearts to Christ (e.g., patience, chastity). Whatever fasting or works of penance we do is mainly to help us give our hearts to Christ in the specific thing. If we fast from chocolate, for example, but don't give our heart to Christ with our one thing this Lent, then the fast was pointless.

As Jesus indicates in today's Gospel, our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is between us and God. This Lent, it's between you and God. Give Him your whole heart!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Happy the man who finds wisdom"

Please sign up for The Great Adventure!! If you or someone you know is interested in TGA Bible Study, please sign up today. You can register up until March 2, but we will be placing the order for the materials tomorrow and it would help us to have all the registrations in. So far, over 30 people have registered. You can register by sending me an email ( saying that you are interested in the Bible study.
In my homily at Mass this morning, I made the point that the more I read Sacred Scripture, the more I find the answers to people’s questions. Well, maybe the passages from Scripture don’t fully answer people’s questions, but they certainly provide more understanding and authority than anything I say! I was especially thinking of questions on this site from bloggers as I’ve been reading through the Book of Proverbs recently. One passage (Prov 3: 11-12) in particular addressed questions about suffering:

“The discipline of the Lord, my son, disdain not;
spurn not his reproof;
For whom the Lord loves he reproves,
and he chastises the son he favors”.

This is identical to a passage from the Book of Judith (8:27) that I’m almost certain I’ve posted here before: “It is by way of admonition that (the Lord) chastises those who are close to him”. And, the passage from Proverbs is recalled exactly in Hebrews 12: 5-6. God reveals throughout Sacred Scripture that He disciplines those He loves. We shouldn’t hate the suffering or chastisement or reproof that comes from God because they are all signs that He loves us!

Now, I understand that this is a hard concept to grasp, indeed. But, please keep in mind that it is under the heading of Wisdom. God reveals true Wisdom to us in Sacred Scripture! In fact, here are the lines that follow the above passage in Proverbs:

“Happy the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding!
For her profit is better than profit in silver,
and better than gold is her revenue;
she is more precious than corals,
and none of your choice possessions can compare with her
” (13-15).

In different places in the Gospel – such as today’s Gospel (Mk 9:30-37) - Jesus holds up children as the model for us to follow when it comes to faith. One of the best things about children is that they trust what their parents tell them. They trust that their parents are telling them the truth and they follow it. I can already hear the comments from some bloggers: “Father, you’re obviously not talking about my kids!”. This doesn’t apply to all kids all of the time, but by and large, what our Lord says about children is true: parents instill wisdom in their children and children accept it.

We are to be the same with the wisdom God has instilled in us through Sacred Scripture (and Sacred Tradition). The above passages, then, are Wisdom speaking to us about suffering. When we enter into relationship with God, we can expect some level of discipline via suffering. When we can recognize this discipline, we then use Wisdom to know that it is a sign of God’s love for us! For those who don’t accept the lesson of Wisdom from Proverbs and Judith, God has given an even greater lesson: His Son’s Passion and Death. He allows him to suffer tremendously, and yet has infinite love for His Son. Suffering, then, is a sign of God’s love for His Son and anyone who imitates the Son in taking up their cross. The Cross is a gift!

If we, as children of God, can simply accept what our Father reveals to us in Sacred Scripture, then we can begin to grow in wisdom and understanding.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

7th Sunday - homily

A few items of business today. The first has to do with the signs you see around the Church about the Great Adventure Bible Study. This is a great opportunity for all of us to understand the Bible better which is something that we all desire. It is a series of DVDs with Jeff Cavins who is a great teacher of the Bible. In the first DVD, Cavins reminds us of the quote from St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. I am the first to admit that I need to know the Bible better, so I will be participating in the series along with everyone else. If you haven’t already signed up, I encourage you to do so. The series will begin on March 2, the first Monday of Lent.

The second item is one that you might have read about in the Catholic Standard. It is the new campaign of the Archdiocese for Lent, “Belonging to God’s Family”. The last few years it has been, “The Light Is On For You”. That will continue – I think we will be offering confessions every Tuesday night from 7-8:30 here. But, the new campaign will be an invitation for Catholics who have strayed from or left the Church to return. Archbishop Wuerl has written invitations and placed them in envelopes; we will have the invitations here next Sunday. He are asked to give them to Catholics we know and invite them to return to the Church, especially to the Eucharist.

It will be an opportunity to be like the friends of the paralytic from today’s Gospel who went to great lengths to bring their friend to Jesus. What has always struck me is the urgency of these men. They bring the man to the house where Jesus is. There is a huge crowd there. But, they are not deterred. They lower the man on a mat through the roof of the house. What might be even more startling is Jesus’ reaction. He sees the faith of these men and the first thing he does is forgive the man’s sins. This is significant because it shows us that the most important healing to God is spiritual, personal healing. It is only after this healing that Jesus heals the man physically; and that is to give a sign to the scribes.

Now, I don’t know if this is what the friends intended when they brought their friend to Christ. But, it really is like they are bringing him to Confession! It would be like bringing someone to Confession and there is a long line at the Church; they would take him to the front of the line. The Church sees this story as analogous to the Sacrament of Confession because Confession bring great healing. Again, the most important healing to God is spiritual, personal healing.

If we look at the two campaigns that Archbishop Wuerl has initiated here, we see that his vision is for healing. He sees the great healing power of Christ in the Eucharist and in Confession. He knows that we need it for ourselves and for others. The hope is that we will all experience healing through the sacrament of Confession this Lent…that we will all go to Confession during Lent.

Finally, this weekend is the follow-up to last weekend’s commitment to the Archbishop’s Appeal. For those who were unable to be here last weekend for whatever reason, we will have the in-pew commitment to the Appeal again. The Appeal gives us the opportunity to bring healing to those around the Archdiocese who are in need. It gives us the chance to be like the friends of the paralytic and bring people to Jesus. Through the Appeal, we support the charities of the Archdiocese that help those who are in need of healing.

For those who weren’t here last weekend, I’m sure you’ve been wondering all week if we’re going the in-pew campaign again this weekend. You’ve been calling the rectory and asking, “are you going to do it again?” (!) Yes, we’ve got you covered. I’ll go through the steps now. For those who gave last weekend, I ask for your patience. On behalf of Fr. Mike, I thank you for your generosity and commitment…

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Amazing grace-filled landing"?

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
We should all be familiar now with the incredible story of the airplane that landed safely on the Hudson River in New York last month. Below are excerpts of a first-person account which a friend emailed me. It’s being called “Miracle on the Hudson”. I am hoping that our bloggers are astute enough to know that while the thought is correct (that something supernatural was at work in the landing of the plane), the theological language is not (I am such a stickler!). Technically speaking, miracles are changes in nature that can be picked up by the senses (e.g., water turning into wine, a blind person gaining sight).

Now, I am not smart enough to come up with the most appropriate title of this story (my leading choices would probably be: “Grace on the Hudson”, “Grace on board”, “Amazing grace-filled landing”, “Angels on the wings”). So, I leave it to our bloggers, the real theological experts of this site: what would be your title for this story?

This is from a Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive recruitingfirm, who was on Flight 1549. Gerry McNamara (New York/Charlotte) was onUS Airways Flight 1549 last week. Here is his account of the event:

…I remember walking on the plane and seeing a fellow with grey hair in the cockpit and thinking "that's a good thing... I like to see grey hair in the cockpit!"

...I had started to point out items of interest to the gentleman next to me when we heard a terrible crash - a sound no one ever wants to hear whileflying - and then the engines wound down to a screeching halt. 10 seconds later, there was a strong smell of jet fuel. I knew we would be landing and thought the pilot would take us down no doubt to Newark Airport . As we began to turn south I noticed the pilot lining up on the river still -I thought - en route for Newark .

Next thing we heard was "Brace for impact!" - a phrase I had heard many years before as an active duty Marine Officer but never before on a commercial air flight. Everyone looked at each other in shock. It all happened so fast we were astonished!

We began to descend rapidly and it started to sink in. This is the last flight. I'm going to die today. This is it. I recited my favorite bible verse, the Lord's Prayer, and asked God to take care of my wife, children, family and friends.

When I raised my head I noticed people texting their friends and family....getting off a last message. My blackberry was turned off and in my trouser time to get at it. Our descent continued and I prayed for courage to control my fear and help if able.

I quickly realized that one of two things was going to happen, neither of them good. We could hit by the nose, flip and break up, leaving few if any survivors, bodies, cold water, fuel. Or we could hit one of the wings and roll and flip with the same result. I tightened my seat belt as tight as I could possibly get it so I would remain intact.

As we came in for the landing, I looked out the windows and remember seeing the buildings in New Jersey , the cliffs in Weehawken , and then the piers. The water was dark green and sure to be freezing cold. The stewardesses were yelling in unison "Brace! Brace! Brace!"

It was a violent hit - the water flew up over my window - but we bobbed up and were all amazed that we remained intact. There was some panic - people jumping over seats and running towards the doors, but we soon got everyone straightened out and calmed down. There were a lot of people that took leadership roles in little ways. Those sitting at the doors over the wing did a fantastic job...they were opened in a New York second! Everyone worked together - teamed up and in groups to figure out how to help eachother.

…We were standing in 6-8 inches of water and it was freezing. There were two women on the wing, one of whom slipped off into the water. Another passenger and I pulled her back on and had her kneel down to keep from falling off again. By that point we were totally soaked and absolutely frozen from the icy wind.…

The ferries were the first to arrive, and although they're not made for rescue, they did an incredible job…We could not stop shaking. Uncontrollable shaking…

I am struck by what was truly a miracle. Had this happened a few hours later, it would have been pitch dark and much harder to land.. Ferries would no longer have been running after rush hour and it would not have been the same uplifting story. Surely there would have been fatalities,hypothermia, an absolute disaster! I witnessed the best of humanity that day. I and everyone on that plane survived and have been given a second chance. It struck me that in our work we continuously seek excellence to solve our client's leadership problems. We talk to clients all the time about the importance of experience and the ability to execute. Experience showed up big time on Flight 1549 as our pilot was a dedicated, trained,experienced professional who executed flawlessly when he had to.…

There is a great deal to be learned including: Why has this happened to me? Why have I survived and what am I supposed to do with this gift? For me, the answers to these questions and more will come over time, but already I find myself being more patient and forgiving, less critical and judgmental.

For now I have 4 lessons I would like to share:
1. Cherish your families as never before and go to great lengths to keep your promises.
2. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have and don't worry about the things you don't have.
3. Keep in shape. You never know when you'll be called upon to save your own life, or help someone else save theirs.
4. When you fly, wear practical clothing. You never know when you'll end up in an emergency or on an icy wing in flip flops and pajamas and of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else.

And I'd like to add: Fly with grey haired Captains.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Actual flesh and blood!"

Have you always wanted to know the “big picture” of the Bible? Discover it this Lent! St. Andrew’s is offering The Great Adventure Video Bible Study on Monday nights from 7-9 pm in the rectory basement. The 24-week series will begin on Monday, March 2, 2009; the cost is $40 per person (including materials). To register or for more information, please call Fr. Greg at 301.649.3700 ext. 314 or email him at

In answer to a blogger’s question, this is the same Bible Study that has been shown on EWTN. Almost 20 people have already registered!
Here are some recent comments from bloggers:

1) “Yesterday, when I was driving there was a car in front of me covered with bumper stickers. There were stickers about peace, war, love, Obama and choice. But the one that caught my eye was a large plain sticker that simply said, ‘Love your Mother.’ I was thinking, ‘Yeah, love your mother- because YOU ARE. If she made a different ‘choice’ you would never know ‘peace’ or ‘love’ or feel the need to go to ‘war’ on any issue.’”

Cool thoughts, Anon, but the sticker is talking about “Mother Earth”. The next time you see one, look for the picture of the Earth next to the word Mother.

2) “This suffering refers to the reproach that Christ's followers must suffer because of their identification with Him. (All those who live godly in Christ will face persecution - 2 Tim 3:12) This has nothing to do with salvation or Christ's work on the cross.”

“James” left this comment in response to my post on Oct. 14, 2008, “What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ”. Assuming that James is referring to the main reference of the post (Col 1:24), I will go with the interpretation of the Church – specifically Pope John Paul II and St. Augustine as mentioned in my post – over his interpretation any day. ALL human suffering has to do with salvation and Christ’s work on the Cross! “In the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering” (JP II). It’s up to each person to unite his/her suffering with Christ’s.

3) “I don't think that Thomas' seeing Jesus' wounds is comparable to our seeing Jesus in the Eucharist. The wounds shown to Thomas were exactly that -- physical wounds. But the host does not look like a person. So it truly takes faith to believe in the Real Presence. Thomas, on the other hand, had an easier task. During Communion at Mass, I feel like a mere onlooker because it brings no special experience to me whatsoever. I really do it because not doing it would send a message to my kids that I do not believe, which could dampen their belief.”

This Anon is responding to what I wrote in my post on 1.27.09, “Stay close to the Eucharist”: “Seeing Christ in the Eucharist (through the eyes of faith) is for many people what it was for Thomas seeing his wounds – he believed because he had seen (in fact, we whisper at the consecration at Mass what he said at that moment, “my Lord and my God”).

I appreciate your comments, Anon, and am sorry that you feel like a mere onlooker at Mass. I agree that Thomas’ seeing is not totally comparable to us seeing the Eucharist, but the common denominator in each situation is that something is visible. Thomas saw wound marks on the risen body of Jesus; we see a host and a cup filled with wine. And our reaction to what’s visible in front of us should be the same as Thomas’ reaction to what was visible in front of him: “my Lord and my God”. Faith underlies both reactions.

For those who are struggling to believe in the Real Presence, I recommend a 29 min. video, “This my Body, This is my Blood, Miracles of the Eucharist”, by Bob and Penny Lord. It is available through Journeys of Faith (1.800.633.2484). It presents four documented miracles that Jesus has worked through the Eucharist in the past 1300 years. In one of the miracles, the Host turned into flesh and the Wine turned into Blood. Like, physical flesh and blood that looks like actual flesh and blood! Through these miracles, Christ helps us to believe in His eucharistic Body as He helped Thomas to believe in his risen Body.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Dedicated to love"

1) Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
2) Please pray for our Youth Group that we will have a fruitful weekend at the Mount 2009 retreat in Emmitsburg.
Here is a brief summary of the origin of Valentine’s Day provided by

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

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

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

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

As tomorrow is a day “dedicated to love”, it is fitting to include some reflections on love from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is love”):

“3. That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks. Let us note straight away that the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use it at all: of the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, New Testament writers prefer the last, which occurs rather infrequently in Greek usage. As for the term philia, the love of friendship, it is used with added depth of meaning in Saint John's Gospel in order to express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. The tendency to avoid the word eros, together with the new vision of love expressed through the word agape, clearly point to something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love…

5… the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity…True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

6. Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise? Here we can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book well known to the mystics. According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate ‘love’. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, ‘searching’ love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice…”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"You knew full well..."

Have you always wanted to know the “big picture” of the Bible? Discover it this Lent! St. Andrew’s is offering The Great Adventure Video Bible Study on Monday nights from 7-9 pm in the rectory basement. The 24-week series will begin on Monday, March 2, 2009; the cost is $40 per person (including materials). To register or for more information, please call Fr. Greg at 301.649.3700 ext. 314 or email him at

“For those who know the Church’s teachings on a particular act but believe the teaching is incorrect, do they have ‘full knowledge’ that the act is wrong? …what constitutes ‘full knowledge’ of sin and culpability?”

An excellent question from a blogger. This is one answer I have yet to find exactly. On the one hand, full knowledge could imply a complete awareness of all of the aspects of a particular act. That would be a lot! On the other hand, it could mean that one simply knows fully well that a particular act is wrong. For example, a parent might scold a child for doing something they knew was wrong by saying, “you knew full well that …” The Church’s brief definition of full knowledge is probably closer to the latter viewpoint: “knowledge of the sinful act, of its opposition to God’s law” (CCC, 1859).

The best and simplest answer might be that full knowledge means that you know an act is wrong and that you are committing the act. For example, a married couple learns from the Church (through a homily, article, discussion group, blog site, etc.) that artificial contraception is morally wrong and opposed to God’s law. At that point, they know that is wrong. Assuming that that they know what artificial contraception is and that one spouse isn’t secretly using contraception, they would both know if and when they are doing it. So, they would both have full knowledge.

Now, let’s say that one or both of the spouses says that they don’t believe the act is wrong. They have heard what the Church teaches and said that the Church is wrong. Dangerous ground: they know better than the Church! A good question might be, “do you also disagree with the Church when it says that murder or adultery or stealing is wrong”? They would most likely say no. So, how do they know which teachings of the Church are correct and which ones are incorrect? And, on what authority do they base their position? Their weak and shallow position has no real authority because the Church is the moral authority on Earth, as given by Christ. It’s such dangerous ground to disagree with the Church on matters of faith and morals because it’s the same as disagreeing with Christ.

“My daughter asked me a question that I’m not sure I answered correctly. She learned about the parts of the Mass in school and asked why we need to go to Confession if we have the penitential rite at the beginning of the Mass. In thinking about it, the penitential rite does sound like Confession (minus absolution). We are told to call to mind our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. I told her that absolution must be granted to be fully reconciled with God, and that’s why we go to Confession- to be reconciled. But I can see how some might think they don’t need confession if they reflect on their sin and ask for forgiveness each Mass. She went on to ask, if people are recalling their sins but not going to Confession, shouldn’t most people there NOT be receiving the Eucharist. I told her to ask her teacher about that one.Adding to my daughter's question, if I remember correctly, in other churches absolution IS granted with the penitential rite, and the church does not say those people will not go to Heaven. If God is going to welcome other non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians into Heaven, and they don’t go to confession, why do I need to?”

Your daughter asks a great question! You did a good job in answering most of it. I would have added something about the value of receiving the counsel of the priest which we don’t get in the Penitential Rite at Mass. That personal advice has helped so many people! Your daughter also gives a tremendous insight which also hints at a big part of the answer to her question. The forgiveness of mortal sins is reserved for the sacrament of Reconciliation, not the Penitential Rite. So, when she suggests that most people should not be receiving Communion without going to Confession first, she hits at a big problem: many Catholics receiving the Eucharist in mortal sin.

Finally, the “absolution” given by the priest to conclude the Penitential Rite at Mass “lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance” (USCCB).

Sunday, February 08, 2009

5th Sunday - reflection

Healing the Fevers of Life

Biblical Reflection for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, FEB. 4, 2009 ( The centerpiece of the stone ruins of the village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee's northwest shore is the black octagonal Church of the Panis Vitae (Bread of Life), built directly above what is believed to be Simon Peter's house, the setting for today's Gospel story [Mark 1:29-39]. One of my mentors and teachers, the late Passionist Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, once told me that the real centerpiece of Capernaum should be a huge memorial statue dedicated to the mothers-in-law of the world!

Try for a moment just to imagine the setting of this day in the life of Jesus. The newly constituted group of disciples who had left their nets, boats, hired servants, and even their father, to follow the Lord [1:16-20] are delighted in his presence. Jesus' words and actions completely overpower evil. His personality is so compelling and attractive. Leaving the synagogue where an evil spirit has been overcome, Jesus and his disciples walk only a few feet before encountering further evils of human sickness, prejudice and taboo. We read: "The whole city gathered together about the door" [1:33-34]. What a commotion!

In Mark's Gospel, the very first healing by Jesus involves a woman. He approaches Simon's mother-in-law as she lay in bed with fever. He takes her by the hand and raises her to health [1:31]. Such actions were unacceptable for any man -- let alone someone who claimed to be a religious figure or leader. Not only does he touch the sick woman, but also he then allows her to serve him and his disciples. Because of the strict laws of ritual purity at that time, Jesus broke this taboo by taking her by the hand, raising her to health, and allowing her to serve him at table.

Peter's mother-in-law's response to the healing of Jesus is the discipleship of lowly service, a model to which Jesus will repeatedly invite his followers to embrace throughout the Gospel and which he models through his own life. Some will say that the purpose of today's Gospel story is to remind us that this woman's place is in the home. That is not the purpose of the story. The mother-in-law's action is in sharp contrast to that of her son-in-law, Simon, who calls to Jesus' attention the crowd that is clamoring for more healings [1:37] but does nothing, himself, about them.

In Mark's Gospel stories of the poor widow [12:41-44], the woman with the ointment [14:3-9], the women at the cross [15:40-41], and the women at the tomb [16:1], women represent the correct response to Jesus' invitation to discipleship. They stand in sharp contrast to the great insensitivity and misunderstanding of the male disciples. The presence of Jesus brings wholeness, holiness and dignity to women. How often do our hurtful, human customs prevent people from truly experiencing wholeness, holiness and dignity?

Job's test

In the Old Testament reading from Job [7:1-7], Job doesn’t know it yet, but he is part of a “test” designed between Satan and God. Prior to today’s verses, Job has endured immense suffering and loss. He knows that the shallow theological explanations of his friends are not God’s ways; but still, he is at a loss to understand his own suffering. Job complains of hard labor, sleepless nights, a dreadful disease and the brevity of his hopeless life. For Job, all of life is a terrible fever! How often do we experience “Job” moments in our own life as our fevers burn away?

The healing of Simon's mother-in-law proclaims Jesus' power to heal all sorts of fevers. Around the year 400 A.D., St. Jerome preached on today's Gospel text in Bethlehem: "O that he would come to our house and enter and heal the fever of our sins by his command. For each and every one of us suffers from fever. When I grow angry, I am feverish. So many vices, so many fevers. But let us ask the apostles to call upon Jesus to come to us and touch our hand, for if he touches our hand, at once the fever flees" ["Corpus Christianorum," LXXVIII 468].

With Jesus, healing of mind and body becomes a clear sign that the Kingdom of God is already present. Jesus' healing Word of power reaches the whole person: it heals the body and even more important, it restores those who suffer to a healthy relationship with God and with the community.

May we pray with confidence the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Sermon on Wisdom and Innocence: "May he support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last."

Finally, it is important to recognize what Jesus did after he healed the woman in today’s story. He took time away to strengthen himself through prayer. Do we do the same in the midst of our busy worlds in which we live, in the midst of the burning fevers of life and the burdens of our daily work?

May these first moments of Jesus' ministry in Mark’s Gospel teach us to recognize the goodness which God brings into our lives, but also that this goodness is not ours to horde for ourselves. The healing power of Jesus is still effective today -- reaching out to us to heal us and restore us to life.

[The readings for this Sunday are Job 7:1-4, 6-7; I Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; and Mark 1:29-39]

* * *Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is the chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada. He can be reached at:

Friday, February 06, 2009

"Side by side"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Someone from our Bible Study group gave me the following. It's a clever little poem that speaks of a big problem.

Side by Side

They lie on the table side by side
The Holy Bible and the TV Guide
One is well worn and cherished with pride.
Not the Bible, but the TV Guide.

One is used daily to helps folks decide.
No, not the Bible, but the TV Guide.
As the pages are turned, what shall they see.
Oh, what does it matter, turn on the TV.

So they open the book in which they confide.
No, not the Bible, but the TV Guide.

The Word of God is seldom read
Maybe a verse before they fall into bed.
Exhausted and sleepy and tired can they be.
Not from reading the Bible, from watching TV.

So then back to the table side by side
Lie the Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
No time for prayer, not time for the Word,
The plan of salvation is seldom heard.

But forgiveness of sin, so full and free
Is found in the Bible, not on TV.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"He will give you the strength"

“A popular Catholic statement is often about ‘carrying one’s cross.’ We also say things like, ‘God never gives us more than we can bear.’ How do we reconcile these statements with the fact that Simon carried Jesus’ cross when he could not? I’m overwhelmed and can’t ‘carry’ one more thing…right now I’m feeling like my cross is more than I can bear.”

“I also cannot believe that God does not give us more than we can bear. People commit suicide. They lose their lives to addiction. There are so many broken people in the world who are beyond help. I have such people in my family. Maybe some return to the land of the living by the grace of God, but most do not. Sometimes religious beliefs sound like fairy tales to me.”

“When I hear homilists talk about God not giving us more than we can bear, it doesn’t make sense- if we believe that God doesn’t CAUSE our problems.”

These are recent comments made by some bloggers. I can see how the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear” can cause confusion. I know that some saints (Mother Teresa, e.g.) and theologians have used this phrase, while others don’t agree with the premise. It’s more of a cliché than a doctrine. Most people like hearing it; some don’t. A better phrase which we should all agree on might be, “God will give us abundant strength to bear our sufferings if we only ask Him.”

The fundamental point here is that God will give us the strength to bear suffering in this life. No matter who it is or what the situation, “God will give us abundant strength to bear our sufferings if we only ask Him.” I doubt that anyone here questions that part of the statement. If He didn’t give us abundant strength, then He wouldn’t be God. So, it’s the latter part that is the key: “if we only ask Him”. To the bloggers and for all of those to whom they are referring, I promise you that He will give you the strength you need to bear your sufferings….if only you ask Him.

God’s strength comes in abundance and in abundant ways. It often comes through other people – as it did for Jesus through Simon. I just experienced God’s strength through other people with my recent stomach virus. Fr. Mike and Marie in our office were huge helps for me, especially at moments where I was out of strength (some of it was brutal). Thanks be to God, I live and work in a home where faith and love is abundant. So, God’s strength is much more abundant through those who live and work here.

If faith and love are abundant in our lives and we are surrounded by people who have abundant faith and love, then we will experience God’s strength more abundantly in the midst of suffering. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there”. God is with those who have invited Him in. The more that He is invited in, the more He dwells there. This means that His grace begins to branch out and grow in their lives; this is what the mustard seed parable speaks to. His grace comes in abundance and in different ways. It can certainly come in the form of strength amid suffering. For those who ask Him – either explicitly or implicitly – God does provide abundant strength to bear their sufferings.

The negative position (i.e., the opposite of what I write!) is often presented by bloggers on this site. The negative experience of the scenario I just presented would be that faith and love are absent in people’s lives and in those around them. This is what most often leads people to not have the strength to endure suffering, in my opinion. Apart from God, we don’t have the strength or endurance to handle suffering. On our own, we can’t do it. We weren’t made that way. We can’t carry our own cross (i.e., bear suffering on our own) for very long; even Jesus needed help. But, we need to ask Him for help. The only people are who beyond help are those who don’t ask for it. The quote below about suffering comes from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and speaks to this point – we need to ask God to help us. And, He will. I promise.

Finally, it seems ironic that the phrase “fairy tales” was used in a comment on suffering. Is there anything more real than suffering? Than the Cross? I understand the point, though, and offer my own: sometimes God’s love sounds like a fairy tale to me.

"Suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down—he wants to kiss you—and he has both hands open wide—he wants to embrace you. He has his heart opened wide to receive you. Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be? Suffering, pain, humiliation—this is the kiss of Jesus. At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you. I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much. She answered, "Tell Jesus not to kiss me—to stop kissing me." That suffering has to come that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus—it has to come in our life also. Only never put on a long face. Suffering is gift from God. It is between you and Jesus alone inside…. Our total surrender will come today by surrendering even our sins so that we will be poor. "Unless you become a child you cannot come to me." You are too big, too heavy; you cannot be lifted up. We need humility to acknowledge our sin. The knowledge of our sin helps us to rise. "I will get up and go to my Father."
-Mother Theresa

"The cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering”
- Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday, February 01, 2009

4th Sunday - homily

So, we have the Super Bowl tonight – should be a good match-up. It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers who have won five Super Bowls against the Arizona Cardinals who are making their first Super Bowl appearance. I’m rooting for the Cardinals for the obvious reason: the Redskins beat the Cardinals this season, so we can say that we beat the Super Bowl champs! It has been really neat to read the comments by the players and coaches on both teams about their faith in Christ. So many have been unabashedly proclaiming their strong Christian faith and on such a big stage. It’ll be cool for whoever wins the game.

I would like to use the analogy of a football team to describe God and the Church, using some parts of today’s Gospel and the Creed that we profess, tweaking some of the wording to fit the analogy. God is the “upper management” of the team. God the Father is the owner and maker of the team. God the Son is the general manager and God the Spirit is the coach. We, the Church, are the players. But, the Son also became a player. By the power of the coach, he came down from the owner’s box and became a player (let’s say a quarterback).

He had great power and authority over his opponents, as we hear in today’s Gospel. His power was so great on and off the field (in deed and in word) that he “amazed” and “astonished” the crowds, and “his fame spread everywhere”. His biggest opponent was sin. He won victory over this archenemy of his on the Cross. It was the greatest victory of all-time in the game of life, in fulfillment of the playbook. As players on his team, we all share in his victory. He retired from the game, and ascended into the owner’s box where he sits at the right hand of the owner.

Now, the Spirit has been the coach from the beginning and he has spoken through the players from of old. But, when the Son ascended, he gave full leadership of the team to the coach. The Spirit leads the Church. He teaches us how to play to the best of our abilities. He teaches us how to play as Jesus played – with love. If we play as Jesus played…if we play the game of life with love, we share in his victory. It is the greatest victory of all-time in the game of life.

Finally, the Son has one more role. He is the nourishment of the team through his Body and Blood. The Eucharist is our Gatorade! It nourishes us, refreshes us, and strengthens us as players so that we will play as Jesus played. We might look at Jesus in the tabernacle and think that his work is done…that he is resting after his victory on the field. He retired but his work is not done. He continues to work – feeding us and giving us strength in the Eucharist. If we play as Jesus played – if we live love – then we will share in his victory which is the greatest victory of all-time in the game of life.