Friday, January 30, 2009

A "bad catch"?

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
Here are some questions from bloggers:

1) “I've been curious about the meaning of a ‘good confession’ for some time. There are articles on the internet that refer to; ‘How to Make a Good Confession’. I'm sure there are little handouts that describe the steps to making a good confession. I understand that there is a protocol or format to confession. I also understand that all sins are not equal - some are mortal, some are venial. On the other hand, all sin is equal in that it is wrong. If a person has basically followed the format; i.e., examined their conscience, been honest with self and confessor, has true sorrow for their sin(s), desires not commit sin(s) again, verbalizes some form of the Act of Contrition, receives absolution and completes their assigned penance, wouldn't that make for a good confession? If one can make a good confession, can one make a bad confession as well?”

Imagine if during this weekend’s Super Bowl one of the announcers says that a wide receiver makes a “bad catch”. Can a receiver make a bad catch? No. He may not make the most graceful catch, but if he catches it, it is a catch. Some catches are better than others, but every pass caught is a good catch. It’s the same with making a confession. Everyone who follows the “format” as you have laid it out (and you nailed it!) makes a good confession. Some confessions are better than others, but everyone who does their best in following the format makes a good confession.

2) “I’m sporadic with Bible Study in general, but I missed this past Advent’s series, so PLEASE answer me- in response to today’s homily (12/31/08), where in the Bible does it speak about Mary’s prayer life?”

There are many examples in the Gospels that refer to Mary’s prayer life, and several are posted in the comments under my post of 12/30/08, “We have a new bishop!” The Gospels do not give a general description of Mary’s prayer life, but they do provide many instances of Mary at prayer. I used one of these instances (“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” - Lk 2:19) as a basis to present Mary’s prayer life in general in my homily for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

3) “I have a question about Baptism by Desire- Say someone had heard of Jesus, was not a Christian but still answered a call to do a life of good work. Perhaps they were well-educated but were raised in a place where Christianity was not prominent and the lived values espoused by another faith, and their life was committed to love, peace and equality. Would that person be considered saved- if they knew of Jesus but did not claim him as their savior?”

I cannot say whether or not a person like that would be saved because it depends on what they know and how they’ve come to know it. We’ve discussed full knowledge on this site before – how much do they really know about Jesus Christ? What have they been exposed to? Also, how have they been taught about Him?

Someone came up to me after a Mass in which I preached on the different types of Baptism. They asked if someone who had been well-educated about Christ (or the Church) but in the wrong way could be saved. An example of this would be that the person was taught about the Resurrection, but that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead: his disciples stole the body from the tomb. (Some people today still teach this!) This can also include being taught about the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 but that Jesus was only speaking symbolically. God understands that if people are given the wrong knowledge about His Son (from parents, teachers, priests, rabbis, etc.) their whole lives even though they believe it’s the truth, then they are not accountable for the errors of others.

With salvation, it’s all about people doing the best with what they’ve been given. If someone has been given less than full knowledge or been given the wrong knowledge but has truly desired to do God’s Will in his/her life, then they can be saved (baptism by desire). That desire basically means that their heart claimed Christ as their Savior because to live God’s Will is to live Christ. To live Christ is to live God’s Will.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Stay close to the Eucharist"

Anon asked the following questions:

“Fr. Greg- You’ve talked countless times about “staying close to the Eucharist.” I’ve never really asked you about that statement. The Eucharist is Christ, so why not say, “Stay close to Christ?” I’m unclear what you mean- are you saying to go to Mass and Adoration? Maybe I’m being obtuse, but some clarity on what exactly it means to “stay close to the Eucharist” would be helpful.”

Thanks for the question, Anon. The main reason that I say “stay close to the Eucharist” is that it’s much more specific and concrete than “stay close to Christ”. You’ve probably noticed that I like to focus on specific, concrete aspects of our faith in my homilies. These aspects have always engaged me much more than general, abstract ones (although I do love my philosophy!). Especially in a world that has become highly visual-oriented, I find it necessary to speak in terms that give people concrete images as often as possible.

“Staying close to Jesus” is a beautiful concept. It is our way of living as Christians that takes on so many forms and meanings. When it comes to their prayer lives, I have heard many people - young and old - express this exact desire so many times. “I just need to stay close to Jesus” they will say when admitting that their prayer lives have been lacking. Catholics do have a general desire to stay close to our Lord. Unfortunately, it stays more in their desires than in their wills. Put another way, it remains an abstract thought and not a concrete reality.

One of my main jobs as a priest is to inform people of specifically how to stay close to Jesus. In homilies, I have made mention of many ways to do this in prayer and service. In private conversations with people (who have expressed their desire to stay close to Jesus), I give them concrete ideas for good habits they can develop (praying to Jesus from their hearts throughout the day, meditating on Scripture daily, praying the rosary, reading the lives of the saints, etc.).

Now, I dwell on the Eucharist so much because it is Christ in the flesh. God on Earth! Yes, Jesus is spiritually present everywhere but sin. We can talk to him in our rooms, in the kitchen, on the subway, etc., and those can be powerful moments of grace. But, in the Eucharist, He is REALLY present – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. To pray in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is to be in the presence of the Master. Praying in the presence of the Eucharist is much more efficacious and fruitful because a) we make more of an effort to be with Him, and b) there is more actual grace available. Also, while he is invisibly present in the world, he is visibly present in 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”).

Finally (although there is much more I could say), I say “stay close to the Eucharist” in the same way I would say “stay close to your parents” or “stay close to your friends”. People know what it means to be close to others – as in, “I am close to my mother”. They know that it means to be in regular contact with others – spending time with them, getting to know them more and more, doing things for them, etc. We often measure our closeness to others by these concrete acts. So, when I say “stay close to the Eucharist”, I mean do these concrete acts – spend time with Him (Adoration), get to know him more and more (meditation and contemplation), do things for Him (going out of your way to visit Him)…go to be with Him regularly. Be in relation-ship with Him! Jesus himself speaks of the fecundity of staying close to Him in the Eucharist: “whoever remains in me and I in Him will be much fruit”.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

3rd Sunday - homily

For many years, the Archdiocese has had vocations retreats for boys and girls in high school. As a seminarian, I helped out with a few of the boys’ retreats which were 2-3 days in the summer. Some of the boys called it, “Priests Camp”. They would have fun and play games but there would also be the stuff of priesthood: Mass, confessions, prayer, and talks on the priesthood. The retreat was officially called, “Come and See”, which is based on the call that Jesus gives to the first Apostles: Come and see what life with me is like…come and see what I am calling you to.

The Archdiocese actually asked me to give talks to the boys about my vocation story. I told them about how I entered seminary (after the craziness of college and high school)…how I left seminary…then re-entered seminary…then left again…then re-entered again! When I discussed leaving the seminary the first time, I said that I felt like the rich young man in Matthew’s Gospel who Jesus calls to sell everything he has, give it to the poor, and come follow Him. The man couldn’t do it, and so he walked away from the call, ”sad”. That’s the way I felt. I had heard God calling me to the priesthood but I didn’t want to do it. So, I walked away from the call, sad.

We see and hear different responses to God’s Call throughout Scripture and Tradition. We see the response of the rich young man which is to walk away from God’s Call. We also see the response of someone like Jonah who answered God’s Call to be a prophet but his heart wasn’t in it. We hear in today’s first reading that Jonah prophesied to the town of Nineveh and helped convert that town. What we don’t hear is that Jonah had resisted God’s Call initially. He tried to run from God, but realized he couldn’t. So, he’s only serving as a prophet because he realizes that there’s no way out. We might say that he’s simply going through the motions.

Then, we hear the response of our patron saint, Andrew, in today’s Gospel. Andrew is called by Christ to “come after me”. Andrew and his brother Simon “abandoned their nets” and followed Jesus. He responded immediately to God’s Call and his heart was in it. It really is an incredible response that we shouldn’t overlook. He gave up everything on the spot to follow Jesus! He gave up his job. He gave up his livelihood. He left his family. He abandoned his own plans. He abandoned his own hopes and dreams.

Andrew didn’t know what he was getting into. He didn’t know what being a fisher of men meant exactly. He just knew that it would be good because it was what Jesus was calling him to do. As we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, he believed that Jesus was the Messiah. So, whatever the Messiah wanted him to do, he would do. Andrew showed great faith and trust in God. He showed great love and generosity in answering God’s Call. He is a great example for us to follow.

We see the different, general responses to God’s Call when it comes to the Eucharist. We know people who have had the different responses. Some have heard God’s Call to receive the Eucharist and have left. They have left the Church…they have left the Eucharist. Some come here on Sundays and receive the Eucharist, but their hearts aren’t in it. They are doing God’s Will in being here, but we might say they are going through the motions. Some have responded to the Eucharist as Andrew responded to Christ’s Call: immediately and generously. They come here on Sundays and even weekdays with hearts that are open.

The key in responding to God’s Call is our hearts. Are our hearts open to Christ? Are we open to what He is calling us to do? Have we put ourselves in a position to encounter Him? I really believe that Andrew responded the way he did because he had had an encounter with Christ. Just like the woman at the well in John 4, Andrew had encountered the living God in a deep way and his heart had been moved. This is what changes lives. This is what changes hearts. This is what leads people to leave everything to follow Him. May we be open to encountering our God today in the Eucharist so that we will do His Will today and throughout our lives.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Catholics Abandon the Unborn"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Here is an article from the “On Faith” section of Wednesday’s Washington Post. It serves not as a downer after yesterday’s uplifting March for Life, but as a reality check on where the pro-life movement (led by the Church) is in the United States.

Catholics Abandon the Unborn in the 44th Presidency

“A simple web search for the order of presidential succession in the newly-minted Obama administration makes clear what a profound debacle the '08 election was for the pro-life movement in the United States. The country's top leadership now looks like a Who's Who of the National Abortion Rights Action League's "100% pro-choice" club. Largely ignored in the last election, abortion remains a massively important political issue. Catholics who did so should be ashamed of themselves for voting with disregard for a ticket and party that is inimical to a central moral tenet of their Church's teaching. Abortion kills.

This nation daily tolerates the willfully procured death of over 3,200 innocent and defenseless human beings, and that slaughter is an abomination far beyond other considerations that entered into electoral decisions last year. To maintain any sort of credible witness to the value of human life, Catholic leaders and faithful must choose to directly and publicly reengage the pro-life movement and to put John Paul II's Gospel of Life at the very top of their social and political agendas in the battles that lie ahead.

The new Cabinet, White House staff and top Congressional leadership, several so-called "pro-choice Catholics" among them, look to be clearly unfriendly to the protection of embryonic life. From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, voting records indicate a steeply pro-choice political trajectory for the coming years. (Vice President Biden actually received only a "mixed" pro-choice rating, based in part on his support of the partial birth abortion ban.) Worse than having these elected and appointed officials around for the coming term, can it be imagined that President Obama will not nominate as lifelong Supreme Court members jurists as radical on life issues as his cabinet and staff? The new administration is headed by a man who said that one of his first actions as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, as extreme a piece of pro-choice legislation as can be imagined. A clear and chilling harbinger of things to come, his first executive orders are likely to be targeted at overturning Bush era restrictions on using federal funds for abortions overseas and for research that destroys embryos.

The Respect Life community failed to make abortion a meaningful issue in the past election and the current situation is the sour fruit of that negligence. Catholics especially abandoned the unborn at the polls. At least 54% of those identifying themselves as Catholic supported President Obama, while "Church-going Catholics" voted 50% for McCain to Obama's 49%. Either number demonstrates an inability in the ecclesial hierarchy and the lay leadership in the Catholic Pro-life movement to make a convincing argument about the nature of the abortion act and the issue's relative importance versus other weighty but lesser political questions such as the election of African-American leaders, the economy, or the war on terror.

Abortion kills and its deadly impact is orders of magnitude beyond the violence of the Iraq war or any indignities visited upon detainees held at Guantanamo. However many millions of visitors may have journeyed to the Capital for this week's inaugural, it is certain that several million Americans never had the slightest chance of making it to the festivities. At least 45 million to be more accurate: all those aborted since the handing down of Roe v Wade. While the election of President Obama means good things for progress in racial integration in this nation, it cannot be ignored that abortion continues to heavily disproportionately target African-Americans, 13 million since 1973.

While claims that embryos and fetuses are members of the human family are often dismissed as based on faith alone or merely a matter of personal opinion, from a scientific standpoint this is entirely untrue. At the moment of conception, when egg meets sperm, either in the petri dish or the fallopian tube, the complete genetic blueprint of a new unique human individual comes together. This is scientific fact. It was at the moment of conception that each and every reader of this article began to journey through the developmental stages of life. Those destroyed in an abortion are genetically human except under the most bizarre circumstances. They are also certainly alive, consuming nutrients, excreting waste products of metabolism, growing, possessing the potential to reproduce, and responding to external stimuli such as local pH, availability of oxygen, and the presence of hormones in the fetal and maternal circulation. Abortion kills a human being in the earliest days, weeks or months of its development, period.

Today, as the bunting comes down and crews disassemble the reviewing stands on Pennsylvania Avenue, the annual March for Life will stream quietly by the Capitol dome and Congress will prepare to debate the Freedom of Choice Act as a first order of business. This government is poised to push the pro-life movement in America into oblivion. Whether they decide to do so in the pulpit, the media, or in their extensive school networks, bishops, clergy and lay leaders in the Catholic Church will have to motivate their flocks to action if they want to see any movement out of the moral quagmire this country finds itself in on abortion.”

Dr. William Blazek, a Jesuit scholastic and physician, is a board certified specialist in Internal Medicine and a Research Scholar in the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He teaches ethics and clinical skills as an Adjunct Assistant Professor while preparing for ordination to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pray for President Obama

Today our nation celebrates the inauguration of a new president which is always a historic occasion. It is an especially extraordinary day in the history of our country because Barack Obama becomes the first black president of the United States. We wish President Obama well. Each of us should pray for him every day. We should pray for his health and safety, that he will open to the grace, wisdom and knowledge of God, that he will be a man of virtue in his actions, that he will be led by the Spirit of Truth and not the spirit of the world, and that his heart and mind will be changed on the issues of life. We pray that he will be a leader for the culture of life and not the culture of death.

Please check out a timely and powerful commercial about life by clicking on today’s title.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2nd Sunday - homily

When I say the word “holiness”, what do you think of? Many people when they hear the word “holiness” think of someone praying in Church, that it’s just spiritual stuff or things of the soul. But, holiness is much more than that; it involves body and soul. Holiness involves the physical, the concrete, where the rubber meets the road, the Word becomes flesh kind of stuff. God calls us to live great holiness through our bodies.

God himself shows us the way. He took on a human body and walked the earth for 33 years. People could see his body, could hear him, and touch him. He interacted with people and entered into friendship with so many people through his body, as we hear in today’s Gospel. He experienced great holiness through his body. Then, he offered his body on the Cross as a sacrifice to the Father for the salvation of the world. Salvation through a body. He experienced glory through his risen body in the Resurrection. Of course, Jesus continues to give us his body (blood, soul, and divinity) in the Eucharist.

God calls us to live holiness through our bodies. St. Paul reminds us of that in today’s second reading (1 Cor 6: 13-15, 17-20): “the body…is for the Lord…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…and not your own”. He reminds us to “avoid immorality” which is mainly referring to sexual immorality. Some people think that it’s not possible to live this kind of holiness, so they don’t even try. They don’t think it’s possible to avoid immorality – to avoid fornication, pornography, masturbation, and the like.

But, my brothers and sisters, it is possible. It is possible to live holiness through our bodies. We look at the saints – St Augustine is the classic example. He lived immorality for a while before he lived holiness through his body. The saints used techniques and disciplines that we can employ. Let’s look at a few of them. One, custody of the eyes. Now, Augustine didn’t have all of the images that we have every day thrown at us from the internet, media, advertisements, etc. We are bombarded every day! We need to be able to control what we look at because once certain images are in our minds and bodies, they are hard to get out. Custody of the eyes doesn’t mean that we keep our heads down every day with blinders on…it means to control what we look at.

Also, we can use our reason (our mind) to control our desires. This is possible. When we are tempted to pursue certain thoughts in fantasy, our minds can tell our desires, “get real. This is not going to help. It will bring more pain than pleasure. Get real!” If we call evil for what it is, then we won’t go after it. But, so often, evil looks attractive, it looks good. Our minds can call immorality for what it is and our bodies will follow.

Obviously, the grace of Christ is the foundation for living holiness through the body. The grace of the Eucharist and Confession are particularly helpful in this area. I know many people who have gone to these two sacraments so much more regularly and have experienced great freedom in living holiness through their bodies. It is a freeing thing to let go of certain thoughts or habits! God intends all of us to be free in this area.

Prayer is essential to living this kind of holiness. We need to pray constantly for strength and courage to live it out. Finally, reading the lives of the saints is very helpful so that can see examples of people who, sometimes, went from living immorality to living for immorTality, with the help of the cross and grace of Christ.

Unfortunately, there are many in our society who say that we have it all wrong. They say, “it’s my body and I can do whatever I want to it”. Some abortion rights groups say, “keep your laws off my body”. Next Thursday, we will have the March for Life where we witness and peacefully protest against this philosophy, this approach. We will basically be saying, ‘no, your bodies are not your own. They are temples of the Holy Spirit.’ Especially a woman who is bearing a child – she is a temple of life. She has another life within her… another person…with dignity and rights, the right to life. Our hope is that she chooses life…that she lives holiness through her body…that she glorifies God through her body. The hope is that we all do that.

As the Eucharist comes to us today – as the Body of Christ comes into our bodies – may it help us to glorify God through our bodies.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ignorance is (not) bliss

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
An anonymous blogger asked the following questions:

“If I am unsure whether or not something is a mortal or venial sin but I chose to do it anyway, wouldn’t I then be guilty of a mortal sin? In the same way, if I am aware that I don’t know the church’s teaching on something (and knew I was unclear of that teaching) and I continue to act anyway, wouldn’t I also be guilty of a mortal sin- because I’d surely be acting with the knowledge that I might be committing a sin, which seems equally wrong. If someone deliberately remains in the dark on an issue, can they really stand behind the thought that they’re without sin because sin requires full knowledge that something is wrong?”

OK, this might get into some pretty heady stuff, but let’s tackle a few terms from moral theology here: invincible ignorance and vincible ignorance. Basically, invincible ignorance means that a person is ignorant of moral law through no fault of their own. He/she is not responsible for his/her error in moral judgment (i.e., sin). However, a person who is vincibly ignorance is responsible for his sin. This is true because he “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin” (Gaudium et Spes 16, Vatican II).

Let’s take the example (that this Anon used in his/her post) of missing Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation (HDO) in trying to answer the Anon’s questions. A Catholic who knows it is a sin to miss Mass on a HDO but is unsure of whether it is a mortal or venial sin is much closer to having vincible ignorance, especially if he does little to find out the gravity of the matter. He has some kind of knowledge, so he is culpable for missing Mass on a HDO. But, he still has to know that it is a mortal sin for it to be a mortal sin (grave matter, full knowledge, full consent).

The large majority of Catholics know about HDOs. A smaller number might know when the HDOs are, especially because HDOs have changed so much over the years (and continue to change annually, it seems). But, Church calendars clearly show when HDOs occur. Every Catholic should have a Church calendar handy in his/her home or office. At St. Andrew’s, Church calendars were available for pick-up by parishioners at the start of the New (calendar) Year. The calendars are good not just because they have beautiful works of art or pictures; they show all of the different feast days and HDOs throughout the Church year. There are many different sources of information available to Catholics about HDOs – Internet, prayer books / devotionals, priests, catechists, etc. So, even if someone misses the announcement at Mass about an upcoming HDO, they can’t claim invincible ignorance because of all the resources available to them to know about HDOs.

In general terms, Catholics who are aware of their ignorance (about Church teaching, moral laws, etc.) are culpable for their actions. There is some knowledge there - they know that they don’t know – so they can’t claim invincible ignorance. They know that they should “find out what is true and good” and to not remain in the dark. If they freely choose to remain in the dark regarding serious sin, then their sin would be mortal, in my opinion. “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1859).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

DC 'Hood @ Verizon Center!!

I was reading recently that people actually contribute more to their churches and charities in tough economic times – my guess is that they do it with the faith that says, “God will provide”. While we are in a financial crisis, my hope is that we can once again count on the generosity of God’s people for the 3rd Annual DC ‘Hood game at Verizon Center .

This year DC ‘Hood is playing the “Washington Pats”, a team of principals and teachers from the Archdiocese of Washington, on Sunday, March 15 @ 2:00 p.m. Those who attend our game have to purchase a ticket to the Wizards game (6:00 p.m.), but don’t need to stay around for the Wizards game (for information about activities between games and dining facilities nearby Verizon Center , please email At halftime of our game, we will show a powerful and inspiring video on the priesthood, “Fishers of Men”.

This event is intended to promote vocations and to raise funds. This year’s funds will go to the Vocations Office. Last year, many people very generously contributed to our effort which resulted in over 500 sold tickets; we are hoping to sell even more tickets this year. DC ‘Hood continues to have the largest group sales for Wizards games.

Tickets are $25 (Upper Level) and $60 (Lower Level). Buying two $25 tickets, for example, would help greatly!! Even if you’re not able or interested in going, can you make a donation to our cause? The more tickets we sell; the more we promote the priesthood and raise funds for vocations.

You can order tickets online at, or for donations only, mail a check (made out to “Fr Greg Shaffer”) to me at St. Andrew Apostle parish, 11600 Kemp Mill Rd., Silver Spring , MD 20902 . (I will give your tickets to kids in the school or parish.)

If you are able to send a donation, please include your prayer intentions so that I can take them to our Lord when I offer Mass or make a Holy Hour in His Presence. Thank you very much and may God continue to bless you abundantly.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"It's complicated"

Here are some questions from anonymous bloggers:

1) “Recently, someone told me they stopped going to Mass b/c they voted for a pro-abortion candidate. They said that someone told them their actions had excommunicated themselves from the church and, until someone (from the church) told them otherwise, they weren't going back. I didn't quite know what to say to that but thought I'd pass it along.”

First, it depends on why they voted for a pro-abortion candidate and what they knew. If they did so because of the candidate’s pro-abortion views and with the knowledge that these views were in opposition to Church teaching, then they are correct that they excommunicated themselves from the Church. In other words, they committed a mortal sin. But, if they voted for such a candidate for reasons other than their pro-abortion views or didn’t have sufficient knowledge that the candidate’s pro-abortion views were opposed to the Church’s views on life, then they didn’t commit a mortal sin.

Second, please tell your friend that they simply need to go to Confession to clear this up. If there’s any question in their mind about whether they committed a mortal sin by voting for a pro-abortion candidate, then they should confess it. It sounds to me like their conscience has kicked in and is telling them that there is a problem. Whenever that happens, the person should resolve the problem in the sacrament of Reconciliation. But it’s an especially helpful solution in this situation because of any confusion with all of the different statements from priests or bishops that have been in the media since the election. Whenever someone commits a mortal sin, they excommunicate themselves; Confession forgives mortal sin and brings the person back into the Church.

2) “Science seems to be moving ahead faster than most can catch up. So, it’s good to be reminded of, and for some introduced to, the church’s positions. However, there are still dilemmas for which the church doesn’t offer guidance. I still am unclear- once (the) embryos are created via scientific means, does Rome have a definitive position on what should be done with them, or is the issue left up to the individual conferences of bishops to react to issues as legislation is introduced in their regions?”

My post on 11/14/08, “Frozen Embryos: Children on Hold”, addresses this. The write-up by Archbishop O’Malley presents a good understanding on why the Magisterium hasn’t given a definitive statement on what to do with the embryos. As the cliché goes, ‘it’s complicated’.

3) “Does the following comment give us something to contemplate? ‘I hope that when the Bishops do decide to discuss the stem cell issue that they will inform themselves more of the observations of scientists and embryologists than to simply rely on what they believe are truisms’”.

Answer by another Anon: “I don’t understand the point the author is making. The Bishops aren’t wrong about embryonic stem cell research. The embryos aren’t left untouched and they aren’t given the opportunity to develop to their full potential- no scientist or embryologist will dispute that. Since the church teaches that life begins at conception, and Catholics accept this teaching as truth, what other position could the church possible have other than to say that embryonic stem cell research is wrong? There is no misunderstood science here.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baptism of the Lord - homily

Officially, the Christmas season ends today. So, if you have been debating with your co-workers or family members about what is the proper day to take down Christmas decorations, today is the day (I’m sure you’ve been debating!). Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of Jesus’ “early life” and the beginning of his public life. Jesus wasn’t baptized to be saved; he is the Savior. He was baptized to be an example for us to follow. In his baptism, as the Pope has reminded us, we see similarities with our baptism.

Baptism comes in three forms: by water (which is most common), by blood (martyrs), and by desire. The last one would be for people who have never heard of Jesus Christ or the call to be baptized by water. In their hearts, they desire to do good and to do God’s Will. There still are people in our world who have never heard of Jesus Christ. The foundation for the understanding of the three forms of baptism comes from our second reading (1 Jn 5:1-9): by water, blood, and Spirit. Jesus says in Mark 16:16 that “those who are baptized are saved”. One needs to be baptized in one of the three forms in order to be saved. Baptism washes away Original Sin and brings Sanctifying Grace which we need to have eternal life, to get to Heaven.

Baptism also gives the gift of faith. Each of us received the gift of faith at our own baptism. At one of my first baptisms as a deacon, the father of the child came up to me afterwards and said, “this is the best gift I could ever give my kid”. It was such a profound and true statement! He wasn’t talking about toys or athletic ability or intelligence or even education (which are all good gifts). He was saying that faith is the best gift he could give his kid. I repeat that story at every baptism I celebrate.

So, faith is a gift that we receive at baptism. It’s like any of the gifts we received at Christmas: we can either use it or just put it in a closet and never use it and let it go to waste. It’s always a scary thing to clean out our closets after some time. We come across gifts from Christmases or birthdays from years before, and think, “oh, man, I forget about this one…oops…oh my gosh, I never used that!”.

Well, some people have that experience with regards to faith. It might be later in life that they realize that they hadn’t used the gift of faith for years and years. Heaven forbid, it might be after they have died that God shows them that they didn’t use the gift of faith they had been given. I have come across some who have realized it in this life. They come to Confession after 30-40 years and admit, “I haven’t been living my faith”. Or, so many conversations I’ve had with young people over the years – they admit in maybe their first real conversation about faith that they haven’t been using it.

The scary thing for someone who doesn’t use the gift of faith that they received in Baptism is not just that they let it go to waste in their own life, but Christ’s life and death becomes a waste in their lives. It’s like he died in vain; his death and resurrection go to waste. His whole mission is a failure in their lives.

But, for those who do their best to live their faith in Christ, there is victory! St John says in the second reading it is the “victory that conquers the world.” The victory that conquers the world! Christ won victory over sin and death, and all those who show faith in him as the Son of God share in his victory. Whenever we come to Mass or Adoration or go to Confession or pray to Him or pray the rosary or keep the Commandments or pray over Scripture or talk to others about Christ or serve the poor, we live our faith and share in Christ’s victory, the victory that conquers the world.

The best way for us to live out our Baptism, my brothers and sisters, is in the Eucharist. At every baptism, I challenge the parents and godparents to be men and women of the Eucharist, to be good examples to the kid of people who are living their faith. Baptism gives us faith, the Eucharist nourishes our faith. When we come to the Eucharist, we honor Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and share in his victory, the victory that conquers the world.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I am away this week and will resume posting next week.

Feast of the Epiphany - homily

In talking with families in the parish, it sounds like Christmas Day was a day of great joy and excitement. Hearing stories about kids waking up bright and early, can’t wait to get downstairs…reminds me of my childhood. I used to be the first one up on Christmas morning and go to the top of the stairs, waiting for my brother, sister, and parents so that we could go downstairs. I’d be like, “c’mon! Let’s go!” They would finally come down the hallway and we would go downstairs.

We’d head to the crèche scene and celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. Now, I wish that I could say that this was the primary reason that I was so excited and the first one up and at the top of the stairs first. There were several other reasons in the living room – packaged very nicely, some long, some bulky. But, celebrating Jesus’ birth was certainly up there – I did get excited about that. It was a day of great excitement and joy for my family as it is for some many here.

Unfortunately, not everyone rejoices at Christmas, the birth of Christ. We hear in today’s Gospel that King Herod and all of the people of Jerusalem were “greatly troubled” at hearing the news of a newborn king. We can understand why Herod would be troubled. He was a king who had great power and he didn’t want to lose his power. He didn’t want a rival king, and certainly not a Jewish king. He is troubled. He is worried. He is afraid. I was reading a commentary by St. Augustine on this passage. He gave a great quote: “great power is subject to great fear”. He also gives an image of the leaves at the top of a tree. They blow with even the lightest winds. And so, those who are high up with power or authority or sensitive to any rumor. King Herod is troubled by the news he hears about a newborn king.

We can understand why Herod is worried, but why are the people of Jerusalem greatly troubled by hearing the news of a newborn king? After all, they were waiting for a king, for a messiah. I think it speaks of the culture; Jesus was born into a wicked culture. Another saint wrote, “the wicked can never rejoice in the coming of the just”. It was a wicked culture then, and it’s a wicked culture now. We see people today who are greatly troubled by Christmas, even in our own town. There was a group who paid for ads on metro buses just before Christmas that said, “why believe in a god? Be good for goodness sake”. Also, out west, two groups demonstrated or made signs next to Nativity scenes which slammed faith in God, particularly Christianity. Our culture is becoming more and more anti-Christian.

Jesus had an uphill battle from the start. Just out of the womb, people were greatly troubled with him. Those who were greatly troubled by his birth were also greatly troubled by his life. This is what ultimately led to his death. Those who are greatly troubled by the life of Christ are also greatly troubled by the life of a Christian who is faithful to Jesus Christ.

Finally, we see some characters in the story who are excited and joyful with the birth of Christ: the three wise men. They are “overjoyed” at the events that unfold in front of them. They are overjoyed at seeing the star and then the baby Jesus. They get on their knees and worship their God. They offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

My brothers and sisters, let us be like the three wise men, especially when we come to Mass. There are some around us who are greatly troubled with coming to Mass. Let us be overjoyed at what happens here – that we see the little Jesus in the form of bread and wine. We get down on our knees and worship our God. And, let us offer him gifts that are more valuable than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let us offer him the gift of our hearts.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God - homily

If you’re like me, you don’t do well with New Year’s resolutions. I think the only resolution I’ve kept is to NOT MAKE resolutions! Maybe some of you get motivated by the change in calendar year to make improvements in your life, and I say, good for you! I get more motivated by seeing an example of someone who has made improvements in their life, making better choices, or has better habits. I get motivated by seeing the example of the saints; Mary is the greatest saint. We can look at one aspect of her life that is a great example to us: her prayer life.

Now, we might think, “well, of course, Mary had a good prayer life. She is the Mother of God, the mother of Jesus, she was immaculately conceived, she was perfect”. Yes, but she is human. She is not divine. She endured stress and busyness like we do. She had a lot going on in her life and she still made time to pray. If we look at the year in which her son was born, we see that she had a lot going on.

First, the scene at the Annunciation. She was like 14 or 15 years old, an angel appears to her and tells her that she is to be the mother of the Son of the Most High. She must have been thinking, ‘what is this all about?’ I’m sure that she reflected on that event throughout her whole life. And, then, the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in her womb. She didn’t stop with that; she went to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth. She had a long journey over rough terrain. There was a lot going on with Elizabeth – she was thought to be too old to have a baby, and she gave birth to John the Baptist. Mary stayed with her for three months; there was a lot there for her to deal with and to process.

And, then, there was a lot for her to go through with the birth of Jesus. She and Joseph were having problems – Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. An angel needed to intervene to tell Joseph not to bolt. Then, they moved around when Jesus was about to be born and Magi and shepherds show up at that scene. Great things were said about her child, things that amazed all who were there.

There was much going on for Mary. There was much busyness and stress. There were huge events. And yet, we hear that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). She found the time to pray. She needed to pray. She needed to take a step back from all of it and to find some peace. She had to reflect on what was happening in the life of her son. She had to take a deep breath and reflect on what was happening in her life. She had to gain some understanding of what God was saying to her through all of this: through the angel Gabriel, through Elizabeth, through Joseph, through the Magi and shepherds. She prayed to know what God was saying through all of this and to see what He wanted from her.

We need to imitate Mary and make time for prayer. We need to take a step back, catch our breath, and reflect on what has been going in these events that we’ve been celebrating for the past week, at least. We need to ask, ‘what is this all about?’ The more I talk with people who have been praying for many years and who say they can’t imagine life without prayer, the more I realize that prayer is a necessity for the Christian life.

We come to Mass, we come to the Eucharist, to imitate Mary and reflect on these things in our hearts. We come to take a step back and catch our breath. We come to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ and our own lives, as Mary did. May each of us find the peace and understanding which God desires for us through prayer and as Mary found. May prayer help us to know God’s Will and to do it this day and throughout our lives.