Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Notre Dame and Obama

“Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions”.

These words were written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement in June, 2004. They should be at the center of the debate over the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at this year’s graduation and receive an honorary law degree. These words are the result of other Catholic institutions giving such honors or platforms to those who have acted in defiance of our fundamental moral principles before 2004, so this isn’t the first time the Church has encountered this. This situation is heightened, of course, because it involves the current President of the United States who is also the most powerful advocate of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research in the world.

I have seen, heard, and read different reactions of people to this– Catholics, non-Catholics, etc.. A parishioner and Notre Dame alumnus already regrets the contribution he gave his alma mater earlier this year. A Catholic commentator on a news cable network used this situation to present his laundry list of criticisms against the Church which he said is on “life support”. A commentary in yesterday’s Post referred to those Catholics who are protesting Notre Dame’s invitation as “conservative”. The author did not make a big point of it, but this is exactly how many in the media work: they use a catch word or phrase that immediately paints a biased picture. And, the image that was created with one word: “those crazy conservative Catholics are at it again!”

I would offer a couple of words that are more accurate and less polarizing: faithful and principled. First, we who object to Notre Dame inviting President Obama to speak at graduation and giving him an honorary degree are faithful Catholics. Faithful, mainly, because the U.S. bishops have said that Notre Dame shouldn’t do this! But, and this goes to the core of being a Catholic, more than that, we are faithful to the culture of life. President Obama has distinguished himself as a big proponent of the culture of death as a state senator (e.g., voted against the Infants Born Alive Act), as a U.S. senator (e.g., had the highest pro-abortion rating of any senator), and now as the President of the U.S. (ordered taxpayers to fund abortions overseas and embryonic-destructive research). In short, the University of “Our Lady” has invited the leader of the culture of death in the free world to speak to their graduates and to honor him with a degree. Catholics who are faithful to the culture of life are outraged by this.

Dr. Janet Smith (former professor at Notre Dame) made a compelling comparison in her letter to Notre Dame’s president:

“If someone like George Wallace had been elected president of the United States–no matter how much good he had done–no matter how many causes “near to Notre Dame’s heart” he had elevated, Notre Dame would not have invited him to be the commencement speaker nor given him an honorary degree, for the world would not have believed that Notre Dame remained “firm and unwavering” in its opposition to racism and would not have thought that Notre Dame was hoping to spark a national dialogue on racism. It would have thought Notre Dame had lost its mind and faith.”

Second, we are principled Catholics. It’s the principle of the thing! The principle of this thing has been very clearly laid out by the U.S. bishops: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions”. The fundamental principle is that a Catholic institution should not give a platform to someone who advocates the culture of death. This is not just because they might promote an agenda that is opposed to the culture of life in their speech, but because it scandalously gives tacit approval of their actions.

Finally, some people have asked if there would be protest among Catholics if former President George W. Bush were speaking at Notre Dame, mainly because of his support of the war in Iraq which the Church has opposed. This recalls many of the debated issues in recent elections; we remember what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2003 (as Cardinal Ratzinger) - “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion”. While the Church opposes the war in Iraq, it does not condemn war as an inherent evil which it does with abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Catholics are not obligated by the Church to oppose war and capital punishment in every case as they are obligated to oppose abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, racism, etc. in every case. So, it would be logical to say that Catholics are not obligated to oppose someone like Bush (in favor of war and capital punishment) speaking at Notre Dame as they are obligated to oppose someone like Obama (in favor of abortion and embryonic research) speaking there.

Please click on today’s title to join in the opposition.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

5th Sunday of Lent - homily

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit”.

Let’s pretend I am holding a grain of wheat in my hand - a little, tiny seed of wheat. In his life, this little guy doesn’t do a whole lot for me or you. But, in its death, it gives us a lot! When this little seed of wheat is buried in the ground as if it were dead, then it gives us so much fruit – well, actually, things like bread, cookies, and, of course, my favorite cereal: Golden Grahams! Seriously, the first ingredient that is listed (on a box of Golden Grahams) is whole grain wheat. So much comes from this little seed – not from its life, but from its death.

Jesus often uses the analogy of a seed in the Gospels. He uses this analogy to refer to Himself – He is the seed. He is the grain of wheat which dies in order to produce much fruit. He is using this analogy today to talk about his upcoming death and to show its necessity. His death produces much fruit for us. The fruit of his death is our salvation. The fruit of his death is life for us…eternal life. In his death we have life.

How is each of us to be the grain of wheat? Is Jesus telling us that we need to fall to the ground and die as He did? Is he calling us to crucifixion? No. He is not calling us to a physical death, but to a personal death. He is calling us to die to self. He explains: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life”. The word “life” here means “self”. Whoever loves himself (or herself) loses himself…his soul…his life. Whoever loves himself less (“hate” here means “love less”) will save himself…his soul…his life. The person who does not die to self does not produce fruit and loses eternal life. The person who dies to self produces much fruit and gains eternal life.

Let’s look at some examples - first, marriage. In marriage, each spouse is called to die to self, first in their promises to one another and second in living out what they promise. They lay down their life for the other; their seed falls to the ground and dies. And, it produces much fruit – the fruit is on their love and in their children. Children are the first fruits of marriage. But, if one of them decides not make the promises in the first place or not to live out their promises – really because of love of self, then they remain a grain of wheat and produce little fruit.

Another example is Confirmation – we have young men and women here tonight who were made their confirmation retreat today. Confirmation gives us the help to live out this Gospel – to die to self. And, these young people have a great challenge ahead of them- they will be confronted by a culture that says, “live for yourself”. Each time they tell their friends that they are going to Mass or Youth Group, they will die a little death. Whenever they tell their friends that they are pro-life, they die a little death. In relationships, when they talk to the other about living chastity, they die a little death. The Holy Spirit will give them help at Confirmation to stand up for what’s right even if means that their image dies. He will give them wisdom and courage to live for Christ and for others. To all of our young people here tonight, I say that we support you, we love you, and we have great confidence in you!

Next, Confession. Confession plays a role – I think a big role – in this Gospel because it is where and how we die to self. Confession is where our sins go to die. It is where our pride, anger, laziness, whatever go to die. And so, those parts of ourselves die – the person coming out of confession is different than the one who went in. The proud, angry, lazy person has died; a new person lives and produces much fruit. Confession is necessary for us if we wish to fall to the ground and die, and to produce much fruit. A Catholic who never goes to confession is like a grain of wheat that remains just a grain of wheat: he or she doesn’t produce much fruit.

Finally, the analogy from this Gospel is also a reference to the Eucharist. Christ is the grain of wheat which falls to the ground and dies, producing the Bread of Life (the Eucharist). Holy Communion is the abundant harvest of the Lord in which we all share.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church

Stations of the Cross, tonight, 7 pm, SAA Church, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. All are invited!!
“Another question regarding the Creed- I’ve seen the Creed written with the words ‘Catholic’ and ‘catholic.’ Which is correct?”

At Mass, we profess the Nicene Creed (from the Council of Nicea, 325 A.D.) in which we say, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”. These are the four marks (attributes) of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. When used as a mark of the Church, “catholic” is correct. When used as a reference to the Catholic Church in general, “Catholic” is correct.

This can get confusing, but Vatican II has helped to clarify. In “Lumen Gentium”, it states that:

Hence the universal Church is seen to be “a people brought into unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. (#4)

The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church…(#8)

This is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic… (#8)

This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. (#8)

LG explains that the universal (catholic) Church is “a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit, and this race would be the new People of God” (#9). So, the “catholic Church” refers to the new People of God. “All men are called to belong to the new People of God” (#13). This is the Church that Christ established. It is the Church based in the new covenant. It is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

“This Church…subsists in the Catholic Church”.

The best way to put this is that the Church that Christ established subsists (exists) FULLY in the Catholic Church. LG does acknowledge that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines” (#8). Christ’s Spirit dwells in other Christian denominations, but the fullness of the Spirit – the fullness of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church – is found in the Catholic Church. LG is hopeful that these gifts of the Spirit will bring non-Catholic Christians into the fullness of Christ and His Church: “Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity” (#8).

The following are excerpts from an article from catholic.com which include descriptions of the four marks of the Church. Please click on today’s title for the full article.


If we wish to locate the Church founded by Jesus, we need to locate the one that has the four chief marks or qualities of his Church. The Church we seek must be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

The Church Is One (Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 10:17, 12:13, CCC 813–822)

Jesus established only one Church, not a collection of differing churches (Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, and so on). The Bible says the Church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23–32). Jesus can have but one spouse, and his spouse is the Catholic Church.

His Church also teaches just one set of doctrines, which must be the same as those taught by the apostles (Jude 3). This is the unity of belief to which Scripture calls us (Phil. 1:27, 2:2).

Although some Catholics dissent from officially-taught doctrines, the Church’s official teachers—the pope and the bishops united with him—have never changed any doctrine. Over the centuries, as doctrines are examined more fully, the Church comes to understand them more deeply (John 16:12–13), but it never understands them to mean the opposite of what they once meant.

The Church Is Holy (Eph. 5:25–27, Rev. 19:7–8, CCC 823–829)

By his grace Jesus makes the Church holy, just as he is holy. This doesn’t mean that each member is always holy. Jesus said there would be both good and bad members in the Church (John 6:70), and not all the members would go to heaven (Matt. 7:21–23).

But the Church itself is holy because it is the source of holiness and is the guardian of the special means of grace Jesus established, the sacraments (cf. Eph. 5:26).

The Church Is Catholic (Matt. 28:19–20, Rev. 5:9–10, CCC 830–856)

Jesus’ Church is called catholic ("universal" in Greek) because it is his gift to all people. He told his apostles to go throughout the world and make disciples of "all nations" (Matt. 28:19–20).

For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has carried out this mission, preaching the good news that Christ died for all men and that he wants all of us to be members of his universal family (Gal. 3:28).

Nowadays the Catholic Church is found in every country of the world and is still sending out missionaries to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19).

The Church Jesus established was known by its most common title, "the Catholic Church," at least as early as the year 107, when Ignatius of Antioch used that title to describe the one Church Jesus founded. The title apparently was old in Ignatius’s time, which means it probably went all the way back to the time of the apostles.

The Church Is Apostolic (Eph. 2:19–20, CCC 857–865)

The Church Jesus founded is apostolic because he appointed the apostles to be the first leaders of the Church, and their successors were to be its future leaders. The apostles were the first bishops, and, since the first century, there has been an unbroken line of Catholic bishops faithfully handing on what the apostles taught the first Christians in Scripture and oral Tradition (2 Tim. 2:2).

These beliefs include the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the forgiveness of sins through a priest, baptismal regeneration, the existence of purgatory, Mary’s special role, and much more —even the doctrine of apostolic succession itself.

Early Christian writings prove the first Christians were thoroughly Catholic in belief and practice and looked to the successors of the apostles as their leaders. What these first Christians believed is still believed by the Catholic Church. No other Church can make that claim.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

One of our teens has asked me to post the reflection I gave at Youth Group this past Sunday night during Adoration. “YG Junkie”, thanks for asking and glad that you liked it; here it is, more or less:

Before I begin the Scriptural meditation, I have to say that you all are…amazing. It is amazing that there are over 40 of you here for Adoration. Some of you only come out for Adoration! And, you bring your friends. This is not normal. Not every youth group does this. This is extraordinary! I’ve told you before that I’ve worked with teens for many years now, and I’ve never seen this. Not only do you come here in great numbers, but you come here in great respect and reverence. When you came in here, you did it in silence and with reverence. You all are great! You inspire us adults and you please Jesus so much when you come to Adoration. It is so awesome!

As we prepare for Christ’s passion in a few weeks, I thought it was fitting to focus on one of the words that Christ’s says from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is from Matthew's Gospel, chapter 27:

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.’ But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit” (vs. 45-50).

I‘ve been talking with one of the college students who stayed here during the March for Life in January. She has been struggling for a while with cutting herself and depression and thoughts of suicide. She is trying so hard to move away from all of it. She has said on more than one occasion, “God, where are you in all of this?” She has been asking for Him to help her move away from this dangerous habit. She has been saying what Jesus said from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It is a phrase that I hear not just from college or high school students, but also from adults.

Jesus wasn’t forsaken or abandoned by the Father. He is always in union with the Father. But, in his human nature, he experienced what many people feel: that God has abandoned them. God abandons no one, but many people feel that He has.

Many people have been abandoned by others. They have been rejected, isolated and feel lonely and depressed. Mother Teresa said that this is the greatest suffering there is. Jesus enters into this and unites himself with all of those who have been abandoned or rejected by others and feel lonely and depressed. He went to the depths of human suffering and felt every human pain there is. So, Christ is in union with those who feel this way; and, they are in union with Him.

There is a girl from my first youth group who I am still good friends with. She married her high school sweetheart at age 24. Three years into her marriage, she and her husband were driving down the road early one morning. The car went off the road out of control and hit a tree head-on at sixty miles an hour. He died instantly and she barely survived; the motor of the car came into the front seat and lacerated her ribs. She has made a miraculous recovery.

About a year after the tragic accident, she and I were talking about everything. She said it is so hard because she feels all alone. “There aren’t any 27 year old widows who I can talk to. There is no one who understands what I am going through”, she said. I said, “Shannon, Jesus knows what you are going through. He experienced every human pain there is on the Cross. He is the only one who knows what you’re going through; and, you know what He went through. You are right there with Him on the Cross”. She would say later that it was one of the two most powerful conversations she’s ever had.

When Shannon was in your position in high school, she hadn’t experienced any real kind of suffering and probably thought that a talk like this didn’t apply to her. In whatever way you all are suffering now or will suffer in the future, Christ has experienced it and is always with you. He knows what you are going through and you know what he went through. He mourns for you and for the sorrows in your life. He wants to share in your sorrows and in your joys.

He wants you to dump all of your crap on Him in Adoration – all of the tough stuff that is going on in your life. Just give it all to Him.

He says, “come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Come to me all you who labor and are lonely, depressed, isolated, rejected, stressed out, angry, and abandoned…and I will give you rest.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Mass: Heaven on Earth

“I'm trying to ‘come back’ to the Church at the urging of some dear friends, but it is so hard for me to go to Mass. All I hear about there is death, suffering, blood, hell, and more death. You don't go 2 minutes in Mass without hearing about something dark. I have enough depression in my life, and Mass is just more of it, at least for me.”

To this blogger, we say, welcome back! We are very glad that you have come back to the Church and come to this site. We are very sorry that it is so hard for you to come to Mass and that you “have enough depression” in your life. We ask that you peruse this site more thoroughly, if you haven’t already. There are many uplifting comments and insights that bloggers make here on a regular basis. It’s really quite amazing!

In no way am I trying to discount your experience at Mass. I have talked with people who have had similar experiences when they come to the Church, mainly because they bring such sadness with them when they arrive. And, if the Mass is not properly celebrated as the Church intends (e.g., a joyless celebrant; deviation from the rubrics), then I can understand even more of someone having a negative experience there.

But, can I ask you to try and hear objectively a few of the beautiful and uplifting words and phrases that are heard at every Mass?

The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”. These words are said right away at Mass, right after we make the sign of the Cross. Grace and peace are two words that we hear repeatedly throughout the Mass. It’s what we are all looking for!

May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life”. Again, these words are said by the priest at the beginning of Mass. Mercy and everlasting life are two more main themes of the Catholic Mass. Also, if we understand that sin (either our sin or the sin of others) is the leading cause of depression, then we understand that the forgiveness of our sins is the leading cure to depression. The theme of forgiveness is dominant in the readings that we hear at Mass and in Sacred Scripture in general.

Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you”. In my opinion, these are the most uplifting and powerful words that have ever been spoken on the face of the earth. Jesus gives us food to eat – always a positive thing! And, more significantly, this food is his body! God gives himself to us!! The Eucharist is not only a visible sign that God loves us and is with us, it is God’s love and mercy in the flesh. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive eternal life. Heaven on Earth!! This is the most positive and uplifting experience we can ever have in this world. It is union with God and all that He is – love, mercy, goodness, beauty, joy, peace, kindness, etc.

So, Anon, I would ask you to specifically focus on the Eucharist the next time you go to Mass. Maybe even hit a daily Mass during Lent. Also, it might be good to prepare for Mass by reading John 6 in which Jesus teaches about the Eucharist. He teaches there that “I am the bread of life” and “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Christ is the life of the world. Everything we are looking for is found in Christ. What we receive at Mass is what we are all looking for because what we receive at Mass is Christ, specifically in the Eucharist. We receive his grace and peace and are sent out from Mass to “go in the peace of Christ”.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

4th Sunday of Lent - homily

Recently, I got a call to anoint a parishioner. This sacrament is the Anointing of the Sick. It is no longer called “Last Rites” or “Extreme Unction”. And, it is not just for those who are dying; it is for those who are gravely ill or about to undergo an operation. So, I never know exactly what I will encounter when I go to anoint someone. I learned pretty quickly in this situation – in talking with the man and in being with his family – that he was, in fact, dying. So, I asked him, “are you afraid of dying?” Immediately and without any hesitation, he said, “no”. What a response of faith! This was one of the main points I made in the homily at his funeral – that he had such great faith and hope. His faith and hope was that what was on the other side was all good.

We hear about faith in Christ in the famous lines from John’s Gospel, chapter three. “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it. Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life” (v. 16-17). One of the aspects of faith in Christ is that it demands a response. Faith in Christ demands a response! Just like love demands a response. If we say that we love someone but never respond to them in any way, then we really don’t love them. It’s like what St. John writes in his first letter: “whoever says that he knows Christ but doesn’t keep the commandments (doesn’t respond to Him) is a liar and truth does not dwell in him” (2:4). If we say that we believe in Him, we need to respond to Him. God has responded to us throughout history – throughout Scripture and Tradition. His response of love and mercy is made in full when He sends His Son to us, that we might believe in Him and have eternal life.

So, we know that we need to respond to God. How do we do it? It’s really the same question that we already know the answer to: how do we respond to someone we love or are in love with? We know how to respond to them. We do something beautiful for them. We do something immediate, something grand, something creative, generous, kind, or thoughtful. We might do it for the sake of love or to win the love of the person. It might be different with God because we don’t need to win His love. We know that He loves us. So, we should do something for Him for the sake of love. He is Love! We should do something beautiful, something immediate, something creative, generous, kind, or thoughtful. As Mother Teresa would say, “do something beautiful for God”.

It really is the same thing as being in a relationship with someone else. We should do things for God as we would do for other people. He is a person and we are in relationship with Him. I will leave it up to all of us to figure out ways to respond to God because I think we all know how to respond to Him in our own ways.

Now, there might be some people who are afraid to respond to God because they haven’t responded to Him in a long time. We are reminded, though, in the second reading that “God is rich in mercy”. He is rich in mercy. He offers His mercy to us as soon as we make the initial response to Him. He is rich in mercy and offers us a bailout. We hear a lot about bailouts these days. Well, in his richness, God offers a bailout, especially to those of us who are spiritually bankrupt. We call this Confession. At St. Andrew’s, we offer many opportunities for “God’s bailout” in Confession. During Lent, we have extraordinary opportunities for it – there are confessions on Tuesdays at 8 pm in the Church, we will have a Penance Service on Monday, March 30 at 7:30 pm, and all of the ordinary times that we offer confessions. We offer it a lot here because God is rich in mercy, and we want to offer people here a chance to receive his rich mercy.

Finally, in a few minutes, we will live out these lines from John’s Gospel. God will send His Son to us in the Eucharist, not to condemn us but to save us. When we come to the Eucharist – the visible sign of God’s love and mercy - when we come to Holy Communion, we make a response in faith, and as Jesus teaches about the Eucharist, we have eternal life.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Ashes on their heads"

Tonight at St Andrew’s Church: Stations of the Cross, 7 pm, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. All are invited!!
Anon: “At Ash Wednesday Mass, when the Gospel talks about praying in secret, it seems at odds that we would do something as public as a display of ashes. We literally wear our faith on our foreheads… Ashes are meant to be an outward sign of our sin, but I wonder, when I see so many (people) I don’t see any other time of the year, if it isn’t also an act of pride. Question- are the leftover ashes buried?”

First, leftover ashes are stored year after year in the parish. If and when they are ever disposed, they are buried. Next, the question of why Ash Wednesday Masses are the most attended Masses of the liturgical year is one of the more intriguing questions in our Church. Part of it might be that we like to get “free stuff”! We like to get our ashes on Ash Wednesday, palms on Palm Sunday, indulgences on Divine Mercy Sunday (I heard confessions for 4 hours last year on DMS – people really wanted their indulgences!...even if most of them were for other people), gift cards at Youth Group, etc.

On a more serious point, the reason has to be tied in with the purpose of Lent because Catholics seem to really get into Lent. The practices of abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent and giving up one thing during Lent are probably as popular as receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. My guess as to why all of this is is that these practices, while pointing to heavenly realities, are earthly in nature. People seem to respond more to the earthly realities of our faith because they can relate to them.

For example, I recently gave a talk on suffering at another parish that was very well attended; if the topic was on the Trinity, there probably wouldn’t have been as many people, unfortunately. Also, I have found over the years in talking with people about praying the rosary that the sorrowful mysteries are the best ones for people to meditate on because they “can relate to them the best”.

Anon, you make interesting points about the nature and purpose of wearing our ashes. As excerpts from the following article from americancatholic.org present, wearing ashes as a sign of our repentance is steeped in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Jesus even upholds this practice in Mt 11:21 (and Lk 10:13). It is very similar to and even stems from the practice in the early Church of public penance (referred to below under “Order of Penitents”). I don’t think it is an act of pride for someone to publicly reveal that they have sinned and need to repent!

To view the following article in full, please click on today’s title:

Ashes in the Bible

…In the book of Judith, we find acts of repentance that specify that the ashes were put on people's heads: "And all the Israelite men, women and children who lived in Jerusalem prostrated themselves in front of the temple building, with ashes strewn on their heads, displaying their sackcloth covering before the Lord" (Jdt 4:11; see also 4:15 and 9:1).

Just prior to the New Testament period, the rebels fighting for Jewish independence, the Maccabees, prepared for battle using ashes: "That day they fasted and wore sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their clothes" (1 Mc 3:47; see also 4:39).

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the use of sackcloth and ashes as signs of repentance: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes" (Mt 11:21, Lk 10:13).

Ashes in the History of the Church

Despite all these references in Scripture, the use of ashes in the Church left only a few records in the first millennium of Church history. Thomas Talley, an expert on the history of the liturgical year, says that the first clearly datable liturgy for Ash Wednesday that provides for sprinkling ashes is in the Romano-Germanic pontifical of 960. Before that time, ashes had been used as a sign of admission to the Order of Penitents. As early as the sixth century, the Spanish Mozarabic rite calls for signing the forehead with ashes when admitting a gravely ill person to the Order of Penitents. At the beginning of the 11th century, Abbot Aelfric notes that it was customary for all the faithful to take part in a ceremony on the Wednesday before Lent that included the imposition of ashes. Near the end of that century, Pope Urban II called for the general use of ashes on that day. Only later did this day come to be called Ash Wednesday.

The Order of Penitents

It seems, then, that our use of ashes at the beginning of Lent is an extension of the use of ashes with those entering the Order of Penitents. This discipline was the way the Sacrament of Penance was celebrated through most of the first millennium of Church history. Those who had committed serious sins confessed their sins to the bishop or his representative and were assigned a penance that was to be carried out over a period of time. After completing their penance, they were reconciled by the bishop with a prayer of absolution offered in the midst of the community.

During the time they worked out their penances, the penitents often had special places in church and wore special garments to indicate their status…

…There is a certain irony that we use this Gospel (for Ash Wednesday), which tells us to wash our faces so that we do not appear to be doing penance on the day that we go around with "dirt" on our foreheads. This is just another way Jesus is telling us not to perform religious acts for public recognition. We don't wear the ashes to proclaim our holiness but to acknowledge that we are a community of sinners in need of repentance and renewal.

…When we receive ashes on our foreheads, we remember who we are. We remember that we are creatures of the earth ("Remember that you are dust"). We remember that we are mortal beings ("and to dust you will return"). We remember that we are baptized. We remember that we are people on a journey of conversion ("Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel"). We remember that we are members of the body of Christ (and that smudge on our foreheads will proclaim that identity to others, too).

…From the very beginning of Lent, God's word calls us to conversion. If we open our ears and hearts to that word, we will be like the Ninevites not only in their sinfulness but also in their conversion to the Lord. That, simply put, is the point of Ash Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"The Man Who Ordered Three Beers"

A parishioner sent us the following Irish joke yesterday, a fitting follow-up to the St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

An Irishman moves into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone.

An hour later, the man has finished the three beers and orders three more. This happens yet again. The next evening the man again orders and drinks three beers at a time, several times.
Soon the entire town is whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers.

Finally, a week later, the bartender broaches the subject on behalf of the town. "I don't mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?"

"Tis odd, isn't it?" the man replies. "You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America , and the other to Australia . We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank as a way of keeping up the family bond."

The bartender and the whole town were pleased with this answer, and soon the Man Who Orders Three Beers became a local celebrity and source of pride tothe hamlet, even to the extent that out-of-towners would come to watch him drink.

Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. The bartender pours them with a heavy heart. This continues for the rest of the evening. He orders only two beers. The word flies around town. Prayers are offered for the soul of one of the brothers.

The next day, the bartender says to the man, "Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for th e death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all...."

The man ponders this for a moment, then replies, "You'll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well. It's just that I, meself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Confession - "I believe; help my unbelief"

Happy St Patrick’s Day!! To read about the amazing life of St Patrick, please go to my post on 3/17/07 under the “archives” section of this site.
Anon: “I don’t understand something from today’s Gospel (Mk 9:14-29) . The father of the boy says, ‘I believe; help my unbelief.’ I thought there were two kinds of doubt- doubt with the desire to believe (but NOT belief) and then the refusal to believe. I thought the opposite of faith is doubt. So can one have faith and doubt at the same time? I think my challenges in faith come from a genuine lack of understanding rather than doubt, so I can say, ‘I believe; help me in my understanding of You.’ But I don’t see how I could say that I believe then ask for help for my not believing. I don’t understand.”

Anon, one can have (general) faith and (specific) doubt at the same time. I think we all do! With the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, no human being has perfect faith in Jesus Christ. I come across people on a regular basis who express belief in Christ, but not in the Eucharist…not in Confession…not in the Church. Or, we might have faith in all of these things but still doubt God’s power in specific situations. Lent is a season that helps to reveal those areas in our lives in which we still have doubt.

We should all say the words of the boy’s father to our Lord when we turn to Him in prayer – “I believe; help my unbelief”. In order to understand how he made this statement, it’s necessary to show what he said just prior to it. He approached our Lord with the request to heal his son. He said, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. Jesus immediately calls him out on his doubt: “If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith”. The man shows his (general) faith in Christ by coming to him, but reveals that he still has some (specific) doubt that Christ can heal his son. “If you can” reveals the doubt. This is similar to those who might pray, “God, if you are there” or “God, if you can hear me”. They make an act of faith by turning to God, but there is some doubt.

The father gets a second chance and takes full advantage: “I believe”. This is a strong statement of faith in Christ in front of a large crowd of people. He then makes a humble admission that he has doubted: “help my unbelief”. This is similar to those who go to Confession. They make an act of faith in Christ by going there, reveal all of the times they have failed to believe fully in Him (through sin), and ask the Lord to help them. Just as Jesus drives out the demon from the young boy because of the father’s faith, so does He drive out evil from the penitent because of his/her faith. In both instances, He rewards faith even though it’s imperfect faith. He gives His Grace to those who ask for it, especially those who humbly pray, “I believe; help my unbelief”.

The following are excerpts from a column (5/12/06) by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez about faith, specifically in regards to this Gospel passage. Please click on today’s title for the full column.

…Faith, for us Catholics, is a theological virtue, that is, a virtue that man cannot acquire by himself; rather, it is given by God. But human beings are free, and can either accept or reject faith, increase or lessen it.One of the most revealing passages of the Gospel that refers to this reality can be found in St. Mark, when a father brings a demon-possessed son to Jesus, because the apostles had not been able to heal him.

The father tells Jesus: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, but help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:22-24) The cry of the father reveals what all of Catholics should say: “I do believe, but help my unbelief.”

We certainly have faith, but must always enrich and strengthen it. The urgent need to strongly practice our faith daily, in moments of trial and need, demand from us an ongoing effort to be men and women of faith. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has just published in English and Spanish, begins with the words that contain the real beginning of our being Catholics: “I believe — we believe.”

“I believe” because our faith is a personal and free act. “We believe” because our faith is not individualistic, but a reality lived, nurtured and strengthened in community.

In fact, as The Compendium of the Catechism explains in its first paragraph: “God the Father sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind, fallen into sin, thus calling all into his church and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, making them adopted children and heirs of his eternal happiness.”

God has called each one of us to salvation by name. But in order to fulfill this design of salvation, he has called us to his church, that is, to the community of the faithful.

As the passage from St. Mark shows us, asking Jesus to “help my unbelief” has practical consequences: our faith has to be fed and nurtured through prayer and study.

As I said before, with the new Compendium of the Catechism, Catholics have a great tool to nurture and strengthen our faith. During these days of Easter, in which the faith of many is shaken or affected by new “codes” and “gospels” which distort the truth about Jesus Christ, let us ask our Mother Mary, the woman with an unbreakable faith, to help us overcome our lack of faith and become strong men and women of faith.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

3rd Sunday of Lent - reflection

The following reflection (3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B) from Zenit.org is by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica…a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

…One intriguing aspect of today's Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary.

Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God's image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus' disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure -- one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

Have we given in to these extremes in our own understanding of and relationship with Jesus?
Are we passionate about anything in our lives today? Are we filled with a deep and burning love for the things of God and for his Son, Jesus?

Message of the cross

In writing to the people of Corinth, Paul was addressing numerous disorders and scandals that were present. True communion and unity were threatened by groups and internal divisions that seriously compromised the unity of the Body of Christ. Rather than appealing to complex theological or philosophical words of wisdom to resolve the difficulties, Paul announces Christ to this community: Christ crucified. Paul's strength is not found in persuasive language, but rather, paradoxically, in the weakness of one who trusts only in the "power of God" (I Corinthians 2:1-4).

In St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about "the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God." For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature.

Paul's simple message of the cross is scandal and foolishness. He states this strongly with the words: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles."

The "scandal" and the "foolishness" of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: "He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness'" (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even "God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something" (1 Corinthians 1:28).

The Apostle to the Gentiles identifies himself to such a degree with Christ that he also, even in the midst of so many trials, lives in the faith of the Son of God who loved him and gave himself up for his sins and those of everyone (cf. Galatians 1:4; 2:20).

Today, as we contemplate Jesus' burning love for the things of his Father, and the saving mystery of his cross, let us pray these words:

O God, whose foolishness is wise and whose weakness is strong,by the working of your grace in the disciplines of Lentcleanse the temple of your Church and purify the sanctuary of our hearts.
May we be filled with a burning love for your house,and may obedience to your commandmentsabsorb and surround us along this Lenten journey.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, the man of the cross,your power and your wisdom,the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,God for ever and ever. Amen.

[The readings for this Sunday are Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 and John 2:13-25. For use with RCIA, Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 and John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42]

Friday, March 13, 2009

"One word...many facets"

1) Tonight, SAA Church: Stations of the Cross, 7 pm, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. All are invited!!
2) DC ‘Hood vs. Washington Pats @ Verizon Center, Sunday, 2 pm. Go ‘Hood!!
In my Valentine’s Day post, “Dedicated to Love”, I included some reflections from the Pope’s first encyclical, “God is love” which focused on the different types of love. One blogger asked for “a clear cut definition between eros love versus filial love”. The following is a good description, especially for parents, of the different types of love. It comes from the website of the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin: “The Parent’s Place”. I encourage all bloggers to check out this site by clicking on today’s post.

“In today’s culture there is great misunderstanding about the true meaning of love. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that we have only one word to describe something that has many facets. Consider that in ancient Greek times, there were four words to describe love and each word depicted one aspect of human love.

Four Levels of Love

The first and most base level of love was called ‘eros’ or erotic love. Eros is the love of attraction. It is the recognition of something good and the desire to possess it. Within human relationships this aspect of love often takes the form of sexual attraction. However, it may also include elements of friendship that we find enjoyable or beneficial. If we only love others on this level, we run the danger of using others as objects rather than loving them as persons. However, eros can be healthy and good when mixed with higher forms of love.

The second facet of love in ancient Greek times was called filial love. Filial love is also known as familial love. It is the love shared within a family - between parent and child and among siblings. It is portrayed as “the happiest of loves” because it signified a “oneness” between people. Filial love is present when there is a strong sense of unity between individuals. Within the family, filial love develops when another child is born. At that time, the older sibling is called to share all that he or she has. (Up to that point, all the love from the parents has been focused solely on him or her. This can be a real wake up call for the oldest!) Little by little, the oldest will come to know genuine bond of oneness with the new sibling. This is filial love.

The third level of love in ancient Greek times was known as philios, or brotherly love. Philios was considered by the Greeks to be the noblest form of love until Christ came to teach us the perfection of love. It was considered the noble bond of friendship. It can best be defined as ‘willing the good of the other.’ This form of love is selfless in the sense that your concern is for the beloved before it is for yourself. Such love can bring great balance to eros and can enliven filial love.

The highest form of love is ‘agape’ love. Agape is the complete gift of yourself for the sake of the other. Jesus revealed agape love to us when He died on the cross to save us from our sins. For Christians, the cross is the sign of perfect love. Jesus challenges us to love as He loved - to love perfectly by making ourselves a complete gift to others. Agape love makes erotic love a selfless appreciation of the good. It perfects filial love, especially between spouses. It ensures philial love. Agape goes beyond just choosing what is good for others to being willing to sacrifice everything to secure the good for them. Agape is the goal of the Christian life. If you want your children to find true happiness, teach them to love completely and selflessly by making themselves a gift to others.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Procreation, naturally

Anon asked the following question: “I’m not sure how to ask this w/o being too graphic, but I’ll try. Why does the church frown upon the withdrawal method of birth control?” This blogger went on to compare this method (called “coitus interruptus”) with another method called “IUI” because he/she heard that IUI was “alright as long as the sperm is collected through licit means”. IUI (intrauterine insemination) is a method in which “sperm are collected from a perforated condom after normal intercourse, washed, and then injected into the uterine cavity, bypassing the cervix to avoid ‘hostile’ mucus” (http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/treatment.htm).

First, the purpose of IUI is “to assist the sperm to achieve its natural goal of insemination” (“Ethics and Medics”, October 2007). I have researched this and found no definitive statement from the Magisterium about whether IUI is morally permissible or not. In the above referenced link to the USCCB, IUI is listed under “Reproductive Technologies under Discussion (neither ‘approved nor ‘disapproved’)”. My seminary professor of medical ethics (great class!) said that he is “hesitant to endorse IUI in general since it seems to be one of the procedures which can be a substitute for intercourse. In addition, is there a finis operantis problem? Does the couple intend to produce a child or consider themselves in possession of a right to a child? Is this a process which can be done by the husband and wife or does it require the intervention of a third party?”

So, there are many questions and factors to consider with these methods, especially IUI. The professor mentions a potential “finis operantis” problem – this refers to the ultimate intention of an act. His ensuing questions speak to the ultimate intention of a couple using IUI. Please remember that the morality of an act is judged by all three components of an act: 1) the act itself, 2) the circumstances of the act, and 3) the intention of the person committing the act. If any of the three components is not good, then the act is not good (i.e., immoral).

With this in mind, we turn back to Anon’s question about the withdrawal method. The intention of the couple who uses coitus interruptus is NOT to procreate even if “sperm could fertilize an egg with this method”. Their intention is not good – it goes against the natural purpose of sex (procreation) – so the act is not good. But, this is different from IUI because the intention of the couple there is to procreate! IUI may still be immoral for the potential reasons the professor suggests in his questions, but its intention is procreative while the intention of coitus interruptus is contraceptive.

NFP was mentioned in some of the comments in this thread. I would argue that the finis operantis of the couple using Natural Family Planning is to be open to God’s Will. If they discern in prayer and in conversation with each other that at that time He is calling them to procreate, then their intention during the fertile period is to conceive. If they discern that He is not calling them to procreate, then their intention during the fertile period is not to conceive. For those who would argue that the latter is contraceptive, please check out the following from www.catholic.com. It defines contraception (from Humanae Vitae) and gives clear teaching from Scripture about coitus interruptus. It also addresses a point by another Anon about how certain sexual acts (e.g. masturbation) are not mentioned in Scripture. To view the full text, please click on today’s post.

Contraception is "any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (Humanae Vitae 14). This includes sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus (withdrawal method), the Pill, and all other such methods.

The Historic Christian Teaching

Few realize that up until 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching condemning contraception as sinful. At its 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican church, swayed by growing social pressure, announced that contraception would be allowed in some circumstances. Soon the Anglican church completely caved in, allowing contraception across the board. Since then, all other Protestant denominations have followed suit. Today, the Catholic Church alone proclaims the historic Christian position on contraception. Evidence that contraception is in conflict with God’s laws comes from a variety of sources that will be examined in this tract.


Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as "natural law." The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children. But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.


Is contraception a modern invention? Hardly! Birth control has been around for millennia. Scrolls found in Egypt, dating to 1900 B.C., describe ancient methods of birth control that were later practiced in the Roman empire during the apostolic age. Wool that absorbed sperm, poisons that fumigated the uterus, potions, and other methods were used to prevent conception. In some centuries, even condoms were used (though made out of animal skin rather than latex).

The Bible mentions at least one form of contraception specifically and condemns it. Coitus interruptus, was used by Onan to avoid fulfilling his duty according to the ancient Jewish law of fathering children for one’s dead brother. "Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also" (Gen. 38:8–10). The biblical penalty for not giving your brother’s widow children was public humiliation, not death (Deut. 25:7–10).

But Onan received death as punishment for his crime. This means his crime was more than simply not fulfilling the duty of a brother-in-law. He lost his life because he violated natural law, as Jewish and Christian commentators have always understood. For this reason, certain forms of contraception have historically been known as "Onanism," after the man who practiced it, just as homosexuality has historically been known as "Sodomy," after the men of Sodom, who practiced that vice (cf. Gen. 19).

Contraception was so far outside the biblical mindset and so obviously wrong that it did not need the frequent condemnations other sins did. Scripture condemns the practice when it mentions it. Once a moral principle has been established in the Bible, every possible application of it need not be mentioned. For example, the general principle that theft is wrong was clearly established in Scripture; but there’s no need to provide an exhaustive list of every kind of theft. Similarly, since the principle that contraception is wrong has been established by being condemned when it’s mentioned in the Bible, every particular form of contraception does not need to be dealt with in Scripture in order for us to see that it is condemned.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

2nd Sunday of Lent - homily

As many of you know, I like to use props sometimes during my homily. When I gave a homily on this Gospel (the Transfiguration) here almost three years ago, I used three t-shirts as props. The first shirt was a clean, white t-shirt that represented Christ’s clothes that became “dazzling white” at the Transfiguration. This shirt is the soul after Baptism. It is totally clean and dazzling white. I used another white shirt that had a little dirt on it – this is the soul that has committed venial sin. The Eucharist and Confession can remove this dirt and the soul becomes dazzling white again. I used a third shirt that was completely covered with dirt and mud; it was gross. This is the soul in mortal sin. Confession is necessary for the soul at this point; it can remove all of that mud and dirt and the soul can become dazzling white again.

I put the shirts in a large bin in the sanctuary just before Mass began. I didn’t want to put it out too early because I thought that someone might remove it – I assumed that people here weren’t used to seeing props during Mass. So, I waited until the last possible minute to put the bin with the shirts in the sanctuary. I then went to the vestibule a minute or so before Mass began.

We processed in as Mass started and I came up to the sanctuary. The bin was gone! It was nowhere to be found. What happened was my Mom came to Mass! She arrived just before Mass started, sat in the front and noticed the bin. She thought, ‘that doesn’t belong here’, and moved the bin into the sacristy. I spent the first part of Mass looking for the bin and finally found it as the readings were being proclaimed. My Mom told me after Mass what happened – I was like, “what, were you cleaning my room?”

I would like to focus on another part of this magnificent event, the Transfiguration. Peter sees Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white as he is there with Moses and Elijah and says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here”. It is good that we are here. This is a line that we should all repeat from time to time. It is good that we are here with our family. It is good that we are here with our friends. It is good that we are here in the workplace. It is good that we are here with our parish family.

Years ago, I was part of a men’s prayer group in my home parish. This group of men would meet once a week to discuss the Sunday readings, faith, and life. When this Gospel came up, one of the men focused on this line from Peter. He was saying, “guys, it is good that we are here in this group”. It really struck him how good the group was and that he was blessed to be a part of it. The fact that he focused so powerfully on that line has always stayed with me and I try to repeat it whenever I am in a situation where it is good to be there.

Hopefully, we say this when we are with our family. It is good to be here. Family is everything! It is good to be with our family. It is not always easy and not always enjoyable to be with our family. But, it is good. We are all so blessed to have family.

We are all so blessed to have the friends we have. Many of us realize this in certain situations with our friends. We should say from time to time that it good to be here - with our friends.

Especially with the state of our economy as people are losing their jobs all over the place, we should say that it is good to be here – at work. Whether we say it to ourselves or to our co-workers, it is good to be here in the workplace.

I thank God every day that I am at St. Andrew’s. It is good to be here! We have a great parish. We are not perfect, but we are good. We are all so blessed to be in a parish community like this one. It is good to be here at St. Andrew’s.

The first part of Peter’s statement is key because he acknowledges that this event is from God. He says “Rabbi, it is good that we are here” Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the see the Transfiguration. He gave them that sight with him in dazzling white clothes. He has given us everything that is good– our family, our friends, our jobs, our parish family. We should appreciate all that we have as blessings from God. “Lord, it is good that we are here”.

Finally, it is good that we are here at Mass. It is not always easy and not always fun to be at Mass. But, it is good. It is the best thing that we will do all week! We come here as a family, hear the Word of God, and receive the Eucharist together. We come here to see a magnificent event like the Transfiguration. Through the eyes of faith, we see the bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. As we approach the Eucharist today and received Him into our souls and bodies, let us say the words of Peter, “Lord, it is good that we are here”.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"40 Ways to Get the Most out of Lent"

Tonight at SAA Church: Station of the Cross, 7 pm, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. Please join us!!
The following is a partial list of “40 Ways to Get the Most out of Lent” which is from “The Crossroads Initiative”. The first suggestion is probably the most important – pray about which of the activities is prudent and possible for you, depending on your situation in life. In other words, we don’t try to do them all, but we do try to do at least some of the activities. To view the full list, please click on today’s title.

1. Take (time) to pray, ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance, look over this activities list, and make a few practical Lenten resolutions. Be careful. If you try to do too much, you may not succeed in anything...

4. If you can’t do Mass daily, go to Mass on Fridays in addition to Sunday and thank Him for laying his life down for you. Maybe you can go another time or two as well.

5. Spend at least 30 minutes in Eucharistic adoration at least one time during the week.

7. Get to confession at least once during Lent after making a good examination of conscience…

9. Make a decision to read at least some Scripture every day…

10. Even if you can’t get to daily Mass, get a Daily Roman Missal or go visit the Crossroads Homepage for a link to the Daily Mass readings, and read these readings daily. During special seasons such as Lent, the Mass readings are thematically coordinated and make for a fantastic Bible study!

11. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. You can buy a one volume edition or a full four volume edition. Or you can get it day by day online for free at www.universalis.com. Or you can subscribe to a monthly publication called the Magnificat that provides a few things from the liturgy of the hours together with the Mass readings of the day. The Magnificat is a great way to start learning the Liturgy of the Hours.

12. Get to know the Fathers of the Church and read selections from them along with Scripture. Short selections from the Fathers writing on Lenten themes can be downloaded for free from the Lenten Library of our website at www.crossroadsintiative.com

13. Make the Stations of the Cross each Friday either with a group or by yourself. If you have kids, bring them.

15. Purchase the Scriptural Rosary, which supplies you with a scripture verse to recite between each Hail Mary. This makes it easier to meditate on the mysteries. Another resource to deepen your understanding of the Rosary is my CD set “How Mary and the Rosary can Change Your Life.”

16. If you’ve never done a family rosary, begin doing it. If starting with once a week, try Friday or Sunday. If it’s tough to start with a full five decades, try starting with one. Use the Scriptural Rosary and have a different person read each of the Scriptures between the Hail Marys. This gets everyone more involved.

17. Make it a habit to stop at least five times a day, raise your heart and mind to God, and say a short prayer such as “Jesus, I love you,” or “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or “Lord, I offer it up for you.”

28. Find a form of fasting that is appropriate for you, given your age, state of health, and state of life. Some fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays. Some fast from sweets or alcohol throughout Lent. Some fast on one or more days per week from breakfast all the way to dinner, spending lunch hour in prayer or at noon Mass. Some cut out all snacks between meals. The money saved from not buying various things should be given to an apostolate or ministry serving the physically or spiritually poor.

29. Prayer is like breathing – you have to do it continually. But sometimes you need to pause and take a very deep breath. That’s what a retreat is. Plan a retreat this Lent. It could be simply a half day, out in nature, or in a Church. Or it could be a full day. Or an overnight. You can certainly read lots of things during your retreat or listen to lots of talks. But try sticking to Scripture, the liturgy, and quiet as much as you can. During or at the end of the retreat, write down what the Holy Spirit seems to be saying.

30. Find a written biography of a Saint that particularly appeals to you, and read it during Lent.

31. Instead of secular videos for weekend entertainment, try some videos that will enrich your spiritual life. Suggestions: Jesus of Nazareth, by Franco Zeffirelli, The Scarlet and the Black, the Assisi Underground.

32. While driving, turn off the secular radio for awhile and use commute time to listen to some teaching on audiocassette or CD. Some great resources can be purchased through this site or from other Catholic apostolates and publishers that you can find on our links page.

33. Find a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or crisis pregnancy center, and volunteer some time there throughout Lent. Serve the people there with the understanding that in so doing, you are serving Jesus. Try to see Jesus in each person there.

34. Visit someone at a nursing home or in the hospital or sick at home. Again, love Jesus in and through the suffering person.

35. Is there a widow or divorced person living in your neighborhood? If so, invite that person to your home for dinner, coffee, etc.

37. Invite folks to view The Passion of the Christ with you, especially people whose faith is rather nominal, or who do not practice their faith, or who do not profess Christian faith at all. Give them a copy of The Guide to the Passion.

38. Spend some focused time with your spouse, strengthening your marriage. Start praying together, or make praying together a more frequent occurrence.

39. Spend some focused time together with each of your children. Listen. Pray. Maybe even have fun.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"Food as ministry"

The following is an article in today’s Metro section of the Washington Post. I’ve met this priest a few times – he’s very friendly and down to earth. I thought he was very gifted before reading this article! I first met him years ago when he was entertaining crowds at “Men in Black” games (similar to DC ‘Hood). Seeing the Post’s interest in talented priests, my hope is that the next article will be about the DC ‘Hood game at Verizon Center on March 15 (obvious follow-up to this!).

Mass had been over only a few minutes and the Rev. Leo Patalinghug had already traded his green and gold robe for an apron, his priest's collar poking out over the top. He was chopping onions with the speed and flair of a celebrity chef --which he is.

Sort of.

The unusual cooking demonstration occurred on a recent afternoon at a Catholic bookstore in downtown Washington. About two dozen people took their lunch hour to see the compact, smiley 39-year-old show how to make penne alla vodka, with dramatic flames of burning liquor and a dose of spiritual encouragement delivered in a snappy, chatty manner.

"This is my favorite sound!" Patalinghug proclaimed as he popped raw onions into a pan of hot oil. "That, or 'Go in peace and serve the Lord.'"

Corny, telegenic, not aggressively religious -- that's Patalinghug's style, more Emeril than Benedict. The Baltimore native has two self-published cookbooks and a Web site that has 10,000 visitors a month. He travels frequently to speak to crowds who want to see the priest who cooks, break dances and stick fights. (He has won a world championship in arnis, a martial art.)

PBS is hoping to put him on the air. The Food Network is taping a test show with him in June.
It has become commonplace for Protestant ministers -- evangelicals in particular -- to embrace pop culture and the mass media. And then there's the Orthodox rabbi with the TV show and the jet-setting Muslim preacher who has wowed crowds worldwide with his theology. But few Catholic priests are in the public eye in that way, and Patalinghug says it's time to try something new to engage people and their faith. It is part of a movement among traditional Catholics who are pushing what Pope John Paul II called "the new evangelization," an effort to use mass communication to draw people to the Church.

Patalinghug is using his role as a budding celebrity chef to preach the importance of the dinner table in family life. The family that cooks and eats together stays together, he says.

"Grace Before Meals" is the name of what Patalinghug calls his "movement." It's also the title of his first book (which has sold 6,000 copies), Web site, e-mail blasts and "webisodes" of him cooking. What he describes as his "calling" involves him in marketing meetings, fundraising and fretting that the camera is adding five pounds. But it's all a plunge into pop culture that he feels is necessary for Catholicism.

To Patalinghug, who grew up cooking in a Filipino household in Baltimore, food as ministry comes naturally. The references in the Bible are everywhere. Adam and Eve eating in the Garden of Eden. Jesus at the Last Supper. The Hebrew word "Bethlehem" means "house of bread."

"I didn't initially want to do this. I thought it was silly. But things that have happened because of this have been profound," he said in an interview. "I've received e-mails from people around the world saying I'm helping to save their families."

Joanne Alloway, 61, an Annapolis writer, said hearing Patalinghug speak prompted her to push for more family meals with her daughter and grandson. Seeing a man who is supposed to be a representative of God be "so real," she said, boosted her faith. "A lot of clergy act like they're almighty. He makes it clear we are all God's people, we all make mistakes and God takes us back."

Patalinghug studied performing arts in college and won break dancing contests in Baltimore in the 1980s. With his growing popularity as a cook, he has become a sought-after speaker on the Catholic young people's circuit. He talks about chastity among the unmarried, "fearless sex" (which to him means without contraception) among the married, and, especially, the sacred aspects of food.

His videos show him cooking, and aside from the collar, the location -- some are shot at his current assignment, Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. -- and his occasional religious references, they look much like other cooking shows. His cookbook, however, includes Scriptural passages and parenting advice. Each chapter includes advice for conversation-starters, such as: What events should we celebrate in our house over a meal that we don't already?

Patalinghug is aware of the danger of looking gimmicky -- or unpriestly -- and addresses the subject even unasked.

"It looks like such a shtick: a priest cooking show!" he said during Mass at the Catholic Information Center, the downtown bookstore-chapel where he did his recent penne alla vodka presentation. "But I know the only way I can reach your hearts and minds is through your stomach."

Many of those at the bookstore were conservative Catholics, regular Mass-goers who said they would like to see more priests like him.

"A lot of them are so --" Gilda Del Signore, a tour guide from Northwest Washington, made a sour face. "So many aren't very social."

Signore, like everyone else at the event, didn't seek out Patalinghug for spiritual information. She wanted to know which spices he was adding and why he didn't use Parmigiano-Reggiano as well as heavy cream.

"Sure, he wears a collar, but I think it's kind of cool, and to be honest, it's a different marketing experience," said Larry Rifkin, a programming executive with Connecticut Public Television, which hopes to produce a show with Patalinghug. "You're always looking at ways to have your series stand out."

Right now, Patalinghug said, people are buying into the "fast-food" mentality, not only in what they eat but in how much time they spend together.

"It's the mentality that says: I'm too busy for the people I love. I'm too busy to cook for you. I'm too busy to even care about what you might be eating."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

1st Sunday of Lent - homily

Recently, a father of eight children told a story involving one of his sons. It happened at the dinner one night when the boy was around 4 or 5. The son had only eaten a small portion of his dinner. There was a lot of food left on his plate, but he asked to have dessert! The father said no way. The son said he was done eating dinner; the father said that he needed to eat more of his dinner. They went back and forth for a while. There was some complaining and some crying (that was just the Dad).

Finally, the father said, “look, you can’t do anything else until you eat more of your dinner. I think you need to go to your room and think about this. When you’re ready to have more of it, your dinner will be here. We will take this into tomorrow if we have to”. The son went up to his room. The father could hear that his son was upset and crying. After some time, he heard the boy call out to him, “Daddy…”. “Yes”, the father said…“can we start over?”

We’ve probably all been a part of that experience either as a child or as a parent. We all definitely have that experience with Almighty God, our Daddy in Heaven. We know that we can always say, “Daddy, can we start over?”, and He will start over with us. No matter how much food we have on our plate, no matter how messy our plate has become, no matter if we’ve complained or argued with God, no matter how long it has been that we’ve been in relationship with God…we can always start over with Him.

We know this because we know through our faith who God is. When we come here each week, we hear from Scripture that God is merciful, compassionate, and caring toward us. We hear stories like the one from our first reading (Gn 9:8-15). In this story, God takes the initiative in starting over with us. He wipes the slate clean with all of his creatures after the Flood. And, He makes a covenant with Noah and all creatures on Earth. God has been in covenant – in deep relationship, like a marriage covenant – with us from the beginning. He began a covenant with us through Noah, continued it through Abraham and Moses, and fulfilled it with a new covenant in his Son, Jesus Christ.

We know that we can always start over with God. But, there are people who don’t come here anymore and who don’t believe that they can start over with God, for whatever reason. They might think that there is too much food on their plate, that they’ve made too much of a mess, that it’s been too long since they’ve been in friendship with God or the Church…that they can’t say, “Daddy, can we start over?”

We know people like this in our families, among our friends, and among our co-workers. We can help them to know that He will start over with them. We can invite them back to Him. We can invite them back to Church. We can give them an envelope that invites them back. We have these envelopes in the vestibule of Church that contain written invitations from the Archbishop. We can simply give these invitations to them (and then run away if we want, as the Archbishop has said!). If they ask us how to come back, then we can give specific suggestions: “come to Mass with me… come to Confession with me…come pray with me…give Fr. Mike a call…give Fr. Greg a call”.

We have probably thought for a long time that we should do this with these people. Well, as our Lord says in the Gospel, now is the time! Now is the time to invite them. This Lent is the time. And, what time does Jesus say it is? “Now is the time of fulfillment”. Jesus is our fulfillment. He is our satisfaction. We find our happiness and fulfillment in Christ, especially at Mass. We are fulfilled by the Eucharist - the Bread of Life satisfies us. We are fulfilled by the Word of God. We are fulfilled by prayer. We are fulfilled by going to Confession. We are fulfilled by coming here as a family in worship. And, we want those who have been away from us here to experience this. We want them to be fulfilled by Christ.

So, let us take courage, not be afraid, and invite them back to the Lord and back to the Church. Through our invitation and God’s Grace, may they say sometime soon, “Daddy (in Heaven), can we start over?”