Friday, September 29, 2006

Feast of the archangels

Adoration, tonight (9/29), 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are welcome!!
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. They are the greatest angels because they have been entrusted the greatest tasks as God's messengers. Michael (which means "Who is like God?") is the archangel who battled Satan and drove him and his angels out of Heaven. We implore his intercession in the battle against evil spirits. At the end of the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII had a vision of Hell that was so alarming that he initiated a prayer* to St. Michael that we say today.

Gabriel ("the strength of God") announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and the birth of Jesus to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We turn to him to help us know the Will of God in our own lives. Raphael ("the healer of God") helped Tobit be healed of his blindness. Raphael is a powerful intercessor, invoking the healing power of Christ for those who ask him for it.

Sacred Scripture gives us many images of angels. Jesus describes "angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (Jn 1:51) in today's Gospel. Elsewhere, Christ points out that each one of us has an angel assigned to us who we refer to as our guardian angel. Angels serve Christ in Heaven and on Earth, mainly by protecting us. They are great helpers and guardians, and we should pray to them regularly for their assistance.

We also know from Scripture, mainly in the Book of Revelation, that angels worship the Lamb of God in the heavenly feast. We have a preview of that feast in the Eucharistic celebration, Holy Mass. The Eucharist is where Heaven and Earth meet. In the Eucharist, there is Christ. Where there is the Son, there is the Father, Holy Spirit, and all the saints and angels. So, whenever we come to Mass, we are in the presence of all the angels, even though we can't see them. We have our guardian angel with us always, but when we enter a chamber of Heaven at Mass, we have the entire heavenly court of angels and archangels with us.
* St. Michael the archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dark night of the soul

Recently, a blogger wrote, "Is faith really available to everyone? I have a long history of psychological problems, including chronic depression and and very disrupted thinking. I try to make myself open to God and the development of faith in a Catholic environment. I participate in the sacraments, go to Mass, and pray. But I'm left empty and I feel ultimately that my emotional problems make connecting with this impossible. There are tons of people with problems like mine, and much worse. How do we get in?"

Thanks, Anon, for your personal and inspiring post. It is inspiring because despite all of the difficulties you've experienced in trying to follow Christ, you are still following Him. On behalf of Him and His Church, thank you for being a witness of faith, hope, and love in the midst of trials. I'm very sorry that you've had to endure all of this, and I appreciate the fact that you have brought your situation to our forum.

There is an aspect of the spiritual life that speaks to your experience. While its causes are not normally psychological, its effects are similar to what you are describing. It is called the "dark night of the soul". This is where the soul feels tremendous emptiness and dryness in the spiritual life even though it is reaching out to God in great ways. Some of the greatest saints have experienced this; Mother Teresa, for example, spent years with serious doubts about God's very existence!

Another saint who endured the dark night was St. Teresa of Avila. She was very honest with our Lord about the serious struggles she had in following Him. Her famous quote is, "Lord, seeing how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few of them". As ironic as it sounds, the dark night is a sign that you are a great friend of God's. He doesn't let just anyone go through the darkness and pain that his own Son experienced on the Cross: "my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

So, you are definitely in (the spiritual life); in fact, you are way in. I would suggest that you do two things: 1) be honest with God on a regular basis, and 2) remain faithful. As long as you remain faithful to Christ in prayer and in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), you will get through to the other side of this, and it will be amazing! Just as Christ had to go through Calvary to get to Paradise, so you (and any other saint) have to go through your own darkness to reach the light. It will be the light of joy, peace, happiness, and life that you have never known! It will be the light of Christ.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chaste celibacy is possible

An anonymous blogger wrote the following: "...aren't all single Christians called to be celibate? As someone wrote in another post, living as a celibate single seems like an oddity today. It seems like most unmarrieds live together. My own parents (who were married in the Catholic Church), civilly divorced, and my father lived with his girlfriend and thought nothing of it.Most people complain that celibacy is impossible. NO way. Anything is possible when you live in God's Grace. Amen, Father Greg!" Amen, Anon! Thanks for your insights and enthusiasm.

It's important to make the distinction between celibacy and chastity. Celibacy refers to the state of being unmarried. All unmarried Christians are, by definition, celibates. Chastity refers to sexual purity. All Christians -single, married, religious - are called to chastity. So, with regards to your question about what single Christians are called to, we say that they are all called to live chaste celibacy. For most of them, it is not a permanent calling; it lasts as long as they are unmarried.

There's no doubt that the number of single Christians who live chaste celibacy has decreased in recent years. For many reasons, fornication (any sexual activity outside of marriage) and cohabitation (when an unmarried couple lives together) have unfortunately become much more common occurrences among couples. We live in a culture that not only condones such grave sins but actively promotes them. To find evidence of this, just watch a few of today's sitcoms on television at night.

Chastity is an unfamiliar concept to those in our culture, and probably even to many Christians. People may not know exactly what chastity means, but they do know (at least on a basic level) what it represents. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the Church to "teach all nations" (Mt 28) what Jesus taught, especially in the area of chastity. It is the responsibility of parents (first and foremost), priests, teachers, etc. to teach the Gospel values of chastity and purity. This includes not only defining and explaining what they mean, but how to live them.

I will witness my first full wedding as a priest very soon. Meeting and working with this fine, young couple has been one of the greatest gifts of my young priesthood. When I first met them last year, they were very much in the dark about their Catholic faith, especially in regards to their call to chaste celibacy. They have shown a tremendous openness to God's Grace and experienced a real conversion! It has been awesome to watch them live out chaste celibacy with God's help. They would be the first to tell you that if they can do it, anyone can. For God, all things are possible!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Humanae Vitae

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here are excerpts from Pope Paul VI's encyclical on the regulation of birth, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), 1968. In particular, I have included the paragraph where the former Pope presents the "consequences of artificial methods" (contraception). Please go to the address at the bottom of this post for the full text.

7. The question of human procreation, like every other question which touches human life, involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects. And since in the attempt to justify artificial methods of birth control many appeal to the demands of married love or of responsible parenthood, these two important realities of married life must be accurately defined and analyzed...

10... With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time...

16. If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained...

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection...

20. The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God Himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe. Now it is true that like all good things which are outstanding for their nobility and for the benefits which they confer on men, so this law demands from individual men and women, from families and from human society, a resolute purpose and great endurance. Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened. But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man's dignity and confers benefits on human society...

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Is birth control really a bad idea?"

An anonymous blogger has asked, "Is birth control really a bad idea? Not everyone can afford raising a lot of kids". Thanks, Anon, for your question which I assume pertains to the use of artificial contraceptives by married couples. There are many factors involved - moral, spiritual, physical, personal, and psychological - that make birth control a bad idea for couples. God understands that 'not everyone can afford raising a lot of kids', and has given couples a natural way to do family planning.

Artificial contraceptives were invented by man, and are against God's Plan for couples. God's Plan for couples is that "the two of them become one body" and that they "be fertile and multiply" (Gen 2:24; 1:28). Contraception interferes with both of those parts of His Plan because it prevents the union between husband and wife and blocks any chance of procreation. The word contraception (which literally means "against the beginning of life") shows us that it is opposed to God because God is life, and contraception is anti-life.

We have seen the use of contraception grow exponentially in the past forty or fifty years, especially in the U.S. It is no coincidence that while the use of artificial contraception has become widespread, so also has divorce, adultery, abortion, fornication, murder, pornography, domestic violence, etc. risen dramatically. This was predicted by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968. He predicted that at least two things would happen if contraception became widespread: 1)that there would be a vast moral decline in society, and 2)that men would treat women with much less respect and objectify them. He is a prophet on both accounts, unfortunately.

Physically, birth control pills can be very harmful to a woman's body, whether she knows it or not; please check out the article* from the web site below which has more information. Personally, the couple that contracepts communicates less and prays together less than couples who don't, on average as shown by statistics. These same statistics show that the overwhelming majority of couples who get divorced used contraception. Finally, the psychological approach of "I want this (sex) but I don't want that (kids)" is very damaging: it basically says 'I can get what I want with no consequences'. This is one of the reasons why there has been such a moral decline in our society since contraception became widespread.

God has given to couples a natural way to plan as parents. It's called Natural Family Planning (NFP), and it is very easy to use. People in third-world countries have had much success in learning to use it effectively. The couple who has discerned in prayer and in their own conversations that God is not calling them at that time to have a child abstains from sex during the fertile part of a woman's cycle, which is only about 3-4 days out of the month. NFP allows for an openness to God's Plan which contraception does not. God does not will every couple to have several babies, but He does call each of them to be open to life in a pure, natural, and loving way.
* "Contraception: Why Not?" by Dr. Janet Smith, 1994.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

25th Sunday - Homily

Six years ago, I spent a few weeks in Calcutta, India, working with the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters). I worked at the home for the dying called Kaligat; Kaligat was a very tough place to work. The men and women who lived there were in their forties and fifties, and they each weighed about forty or fifty pounds. Their families had left them in train stations…to die. The sisters went every morning to the train stations to pick these people up, and care for them at Kaligat. The sisters don’t have degrees in medicine or nursing; they only have degrees in love. They served these men and women with great love and care in their final days.

I have a friend from Baltimore whose name is Amber. When Amber was nine years old, she was driving through the streets of Baltimore with her Mom and asked her why so many people were on the streets. Her Mom told her that that’s where they lived. Amber felt so badly for them that she started making sandwiches for the homeless at nine years old. Nine years old! She has done it every weekend since then; even while she’s at college, many of her friends serve hundreds of homeless men and women in Baltimore every weekend.

Probably the greatest example of love in marriage that I’ve ever seen was my Uncle Mike. His wife, my Aunt Mary, suffered a stroke in 1994; she was bedridden the last five years of her life. Every morning and evening, there was my Uncle Mike, catering to her every need. He truly lived out what he promised on their wedding day: he loved and honored her, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel that the greatest people among us are the ones who serve the rest. These are examples are some of the greatest people on Earth! In general, those who serve are parents and good friends. Also, many people spend their lives in service to others as priests, nuns, teachers, policemen, nurses, firemen, coaches, etc. These are all the greatest people among us! They get it that it’s all about service to others. They are first in the Kingdom of God because they are the last and the servants of all.

What Jesus says doesn’t make sense, though: to be first you must be last. It is so counter-cultural; our culture and society say that to be first, you have to be number one. You have to put yourself out there and make a name for yourself. You have to make the most money, have the most power, and achieve the most successes. Even the Apostles fell into this mindset; they were arguing about who was the greatest. Who knows what they were saying – maybe who had made the most converts or something. But, Jesus basically says to them, ‘you guys don’t get it. To be great in the Kingdom of God you must be the servant of all’.

This is big talk from Christ. He not talks the talk, he walks the walk. The whole reason he came into the world was to serve us. His mission finds its fulfillment on the Cross which is the greatest sign of service in the world. He gave his very life for us! Any time we serve others, we imitate Jesus. It doesn’t have to be something big like in Calcutta, it can be right here at home, serving a friend in need. We follow Jesus’ words to put others first and serve them, not ourselves. It means being selfless, not selfish. It means imitating Him who is the greatest of all, and the servant of all.

Christian service starts right here. It starts here with Christ…it starts here with the Eucharist. Someone asked Mother Teresa how she could serve the poorest people in the world every day. She said that it was because of the Eucharist. Without an hour in Adoration of the Eucharist and receiving Christ every morning at Mass, she said she would not have made it more than a week. She knew it was the Grace of this sacrament that made her service possible. For her and for any of us, it is Christ who gives us the strength and courage to go out to others in need. It is really Him serving others through us. With His help, we bring the Father’s love to those we meet…the great love He has for each and every one of us. May you know His love this day.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Faith and works

Steve (SJB) recently posted the following comments and questions:
"I'd love to see you address the faith/works issue (for lack of a better word), as it pertains to salvation. That is, if you already haven't given it a full post (and if there is interest from others).Isn't it true that the Catholic teaching is that faith is the one pathway to salvation, and that good works are a manifestation of that faith? To take an example--Wouldn't it be the case that Mother Teresa is it the Lord's side today because of her faith (devotion to the Eucharist, etc.)? Her good works were born of that faith, but are not why she has entered into eternal salvation. I probably have this all knotted up! Disentangle it for me!"

Thanks for your post, Steve. One of the first places I go on this issue is James 2:14-26. Particularly, "demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works" (v.18). This is what you mean when you say that good works are a manifestation of faith. St. James is saying that faith without works is 'dead', and asks, "Can that faith save (a person)" (v.14)?

The Church teaches that "salvation comes from God alone" and that "our justification comes from the grace of God"(CCC, # 169, 1996). It is through and in Christ Jesus that man receives God's grace, which is the means of his salvation. Specifically, it is Christ's death and resurrection (the Paschal mystery) that is our salvation. Anyone who wishes to be saved must not only have faith in Christ, but must actually do something: participate in the Paschal mystery.

Initially, for us, that comes in the form of Baptism; Christ says that Baptism is necessary for salvation (see Jn 3:5). This is where we receive the gift of Faith. We live out our Baptism (and participate in the Paschal Mystery) by receiving the Grace of the other sacraments. I would consider these "works" that are necessary for salvation. Christ says that we must receive the Eucharist in order to receive eternal life (see Jn 6:54). The sacraments are the works of Christ, but we actually share in them for ourselves.

Beyond these primary ways to receive salvation, Christ makes it clear that there are other "works" (based in faith in Christ and from his Grace) that are necessary for us to get to Heaven. In Matthew 25, he says that we will be judged on how we treated the poor. Those who did good "works" with the poor will go to Heaven; those who did not "will go off to eternal punishment" (v.46). Faith in Christ demands the response of works of charity. We are not saved by faith or works alone. We are saved by the Grace of Christ which gives us faith and is manifested through good works.

For more reading about faith / works, check out this site:

Friday, September 22, 2006

Can abortion be forgiven?

Adoration tonight, 7 pm, SAA Church. All are invited to adore Jesus in the Eucharist, even for just a few minutes.
An anonymous blogger recently asked*, "What does mortal sin (from not going to Mass to having an abortion) do to a person's soul? It seems that this creates a HUGE seperation from God so Satan must kick in and the sould MUST be affected some how. I am asking this because someone very close to me had an abortion and she will not confess it to a priest. She is tormented over it. I told her that I would ask you on this site if it is a sin which can be forgiven. She does not believe it can be forgiven. Thank you."

Anon, thank you very much for your extremely important question and comments. First and foremost, the sin of abortion can be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Church has made it much more expedient in recent years for women like your friend to receive absolution and begin the healing process. It used to be that the bishop was the only one who could absolve an abortion; now, priests like me have the faculty to forgive and absolve that sin.

Next, I would ask you to pass on a very significant passage from the Gospel to your friend: "Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin" (Mk 3:28-29). Your friend should take consolation with this statement of all Lord that all sins can be forgiven.

But, she also needs to be careful with what He says next about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit occurs with "anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit" (Catechism, #1864). Basically, this is when someone either doesn't believe a) that God will forgive him/her or b) that He has the power to forgive certain sins.

I don't write this to make her feel any more guilty than she already does; that is the last thing I would want with her or anyone. My intention is to answer your question, but also to strongly encourage her to trust in the Mercy of Christ. He will forgive her of her sin just like he forgave the woman caught in adultery (see Jn 8). It is only in Christ that your friend's healing can take place. He has ordained men like me to be ministers of His Mercy. If she comes to Christ through a priest like me, she will receive the mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness of her Heavenly Father.
* Mortal sin "destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God" (CCC, #1855). The soul in mortal sin is in total darkness, and experiences death. It has no life within it (see Jn 6:53). The word mortal means deadly; "there is such a thing as deadly sin" (1 Jn 5:16).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Speaking about the devil

DC ‘Hood vs. St. Martin's tomorrow night Friday, Sept 22, at 7 pm in the gym at Gaithersburg High School (314 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877). Please support vocations, and come root for us men in black!
"There are movies and books about Satan possessing people. What causes this? I know in the case of the Exorcist it was because someone was using a Ouija board. I know the closer we try to come to Christ Satan does his best to interfere with our spiritual lives. But the whole idea of demon possession is so creepy! Are the newly ordained priests taught to exercise demons?" Here is an article I found online article which helps to answer this blogger's question. Btw, newly ordained priests are not taught to exorcise demons.
"The Church must speak about the devil. Though he sinned, the fallen angel has not lost all the power he had, according to God's plan, in the governance of the world. Now he uses this power for evil. John's Gospel calls him "the prince of this world" (John 12:31) and also in the First Letter of John one reads: "the whole world is in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Paul speaks of our battle against spiritual powers (cf. Ephesians 6:10-17). We can also refer to Revelation.

We must fight not only against the human but the superhuman forces of evil in their origin and inspiration: Suffice it to think of Auschwitz, of the massacres of entire peoples, of all the horrendous crimes that are committed, of the scandals of which little ones and the innocent are victims, of the success of the ideologies of death, etc.

It is appropriate to recall some principles. The evil of sin is done by a free will. Only God can penetrate the depth of a person's heart; the devil does not have the power to enter that sanctuary. He acts only on the exterior, on the imagination and on feelings of a sentient origin. Moreover his action is limited by the permission of Almighty God.

The devil generally acts through temptation and deceit; he is a liar (cf. John 8,44). He can deceive, induce to error, cause illusion and, probably more than arouse vices, he can support the vices and the origins of the vices that are in us.

In the Synoptic Gospels, the first apparition of the devil is the temptation in the desert, when he subjects Jesus to several incursions (cf. Matthew 4:11 and Luke 4:1-13). This event is of great importance.

Jesus cured sicknesses and pathologies. Altogether, they refer to the devil, because all disorders afflicting humanity are reducible to sin, of which the devil is instigator. Among Jesus' miracles are liberation of diabolical possessions, in the precise sense.

We see in particular in Saint Luke that Jesus orders the devils who recognize him as Messiah.

The devil is much more dangerous as tempter than through extraordinary signs or astonishing external manifestations, because the gravest evil is sin. It is no accident that we ask in the Lord's prayer: Lead us not into temptation. Against sin the Christian can fight victoriously with prayer, prudence, in humility knowing the fragility of human freedom, with recourse to the sacraments, above all Reconciliation and the Eucharist. He must also ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment, knowing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are received with the grace of Baptism.

Saint Thomas and Saint John of the Cross affirm that we have three tempters: the devil, the world (we certainly recognize this in our society) and ourselves, that is, self-love. Saint John of the Cross maintains that the most dangerous tempter is we ourselves because we alone deceive ourselves.

In the face of deceit, it is desirable that Catholic faithful have an ever more profound knowledge of Christian doctrine. The apostolate must be promoted for the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of extraordinary usefulness to combat ignorance. The devil perhaps is instigator of this ignorance: He distracts man from God, and it is a great loss that can be contained by promoting an adequate apostolate in the media, in particular television, considering the amount of time that many people spend watching television programs, often with contents that are culturally inconsistent and immoral.

The action of the devil is also unleashed against the men of the Church: in 1972 the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI spoke of the "smoke of Satan that has entered the temple of God," alluding to the sins of Christians, to the devaluation of the morality of customs and to decadences (let us consider the history of the religious Orders and Congregations, in which the need has always been noted of reforms to react to the decadence), to yielding to the temptations in the pursuit of a career, of money and of wealth in which the members of the clergy themselves can incur, committing sins that cause scandal.

The exorcist can be a Good Samaritan -- but he is not the Good Samaritan -- as sin is a graver reality. A sinner who remains set in his sin is more wretched that one who is possessed. The conversion of heart is the most beautiful victory over the influence of Satan, against which the Sacrament of Reconciliation has an absolutely central importance, because in the mystery of the Redemption God has liberated us from sin, and gives us, when we have fallen, the restoration of his friendship.

The Sacraments have in truth a priority over the sacramentals, a category in which exorcisms are included, which are requested by the Church but not as a priority. If this approach is not considered, the risk exists of disturbing the faithful. Exorcism cannot be considered as the only defense against the action of the devil, but as a necessary spiritual means where the existence of specific cases of diabolic possession have been confirmed.

It seems that the possessed are more numerous in pagan countries, where the Gospel has not been disseminated and where magic practices are more widespread. In other places a cultural element endures where Christians conserve an indulgent tendency in regard to ancient forms of superstition. Moreover it must be considered that alleged cases of possession can be explained by present-day medicine and psychiatry, and that the solution to certain phenomena may consist in good psychiatric treatment. When a difficult case is manifested in practice it is necessary to get in contact with a psychologist and an exorcist; it is advisable to make use of psychiatrists of Catholic formation.

A course on these topics has recently been instituted in the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. It also seems opportune to include such formation in seminaries, in a balanced and wise dimension, avoiding excesses and constrictions."

Cardinal Georges Cottier, O.P., Pro-theologian of the Pontifical Household

[Translation by ZENIT]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Confession is real

This blog site and the internet in general can be good tools of communication, but they aren't the best. Nothing beats good old fashioned conversation in person for ideas to be communicated and received. On the topic of Confession, I think back to several conversations with people on different occasions when I was a seminarian. On most of these occasions when I explained that Confession is mainly for the forgiveness of MORTAL sins and that anyone who dies in mortal sin goes to Hell, the reaction has been, 'I need to get to Confession asap'.

I have presented the same points a few times in my posts and answers to people's questions, but it seems that they haven't registered in the same way. Now, in fairness, maybe some bloggers haven't read my posts on Confession or Judgement (notes on Heaven, Hell, Purgatory) or have never had the benefit of a personal explanation of Reconciliation. The main point, though, is that Hell is real and Confession keeps us from going there.

Recently, a blogger suggested that the absolution given in Confession is temporary, and asked, "Doesn't God judge us when we die, then what is the point of going to confession if in the end God decides what is to become of us?" I appreciate the question, but not quite sure from where it comes. Nowhere in the Bible, Catechism, or Magisterial documents is temporary forgiveness and absolution mentioned. When God absolves sins, they are gone forever.

Jesus gives the Apostles the power to forgive sins in John 20:20-23. "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained". He doesn't say, 'whose sins you forgive temporarily are forgiven them temporarily'. When Christ forgives and absolves (primarily mortal) sins through his priests in Confession, it is forever. Those sins no longer exist in God's eyes; they have disappeared for all eternity. We still need to serve out a punishment for the sins (which comes in the form of Penance in this life and Purgatory in the next), but we are forgiven, and back in a state of God's Grace.

WE NEED TO BE IN A STATE OF GRACE WHEN WE DIE IN ORDER TO GO TO HEAVEN. This is really the main point of all of this, and one of the biggest points that I need to get across to folks as a priest. If a person hasn't been absolved of mortal sin (which takes us out of the state of Grace) before going in front of the Judgement Seat of God, then he/she receives the awful and eternal punishment of Hell. "God predestines no one to go to Hell" (CCC, #1037), and He has given us Confession as a primary way to avoid going there.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Building community

Washington has a basketball team of priests and seminarians! “DC ‘Hood” is playing a game against parishioners from St. Martin's in Gaithersburg on Friday, Sept 22, at 7 pm in the gym at Gaithersburg High School (314 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877). Please support vocations, and come root for us men in black!
Someone approached me recently after a Sunday Mass, commenting on the ad I had placed in the bulletin for our Bible study. He was complimentary about it because he felt that it fostered community-building. Bible study is one of the programs we have recently begun that help build community within our parish. Thanks be to God, we are off to a good start in each of them.

On September 10, the new 6 pm Sunday night Mass began, and it was well received. It is open to all parishioners, but is especially geared toward youth. Many of our junior high and senior high teens were there, many with their families. Thanks be to God, we have assembled an excellent music ministry which is introducing a new type of musical worship to many in the (fairly large) congregation. While it has taken a little prodding, there has actually been some singing (and clapping, at appropriate times, of course)!

For the past two weeks, our high school teens have been invited to come to our new youth group after the 6 pm Mass on Sundays. We had our Kickoff party on the 10th which many of our fun, enthusiastic teens attended. This past Sunday, we played "Fear Factor" where the teens were asked to overcome their fears in different ways. Among the challenges were pulling out pennies from buckets filled with worms, and moving "cuisine items" (sardines, anchovies, octopus, cows eyes, fish heads) from one dish to another with their mouths (ewww!). The response has been very positive so far, and everyone has enjoyed themselves.

Bible study and RCIA have been two other sources of building community here. Many adults have come out for Bible study the past two Mondays to discuss the readings from Sunday Mass. It is really a gift for this young priest to hear the insights that parishioners have about Sacred Scripture. Also, we have a large group (of mostly non-Catholic Christians) which has begun our RCIA program. They are some of my favorite people because they have a fire for Christ. For different reasons, they have felt the call to go deeper in their relationship with Him; hopefully, it will be to experience the fullness of His love in the Catholic Church.

Clearly, it is the Spirit of Christ at work whenever communities are formed in His name. I truly believe that that is what is going on here through us. The Spirit employs us as workers in Christ's vineyard, and entrusts much labor to us. We are all called to work for Christ as He builds His Kingdom in our community. All of these programs and so many others here truly are experiences of the Kingdom of God.

"Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there" (Mt 18:20).

Monday, September 18, 2006


Whoa, what a bummer last night's Redskins game was! They will eventually turn things around, but it may be too late in the season to matter. Oh well! As a result of our loss, I have to wear a Cowboys jersey of one of the SAA students for a day. Ewww!

And if last night wasn't bad enough, I woke up at 8:27 to say the 8:30 Mass this morning!! Doh! (thanks to the angels for finally waking me up; my alarm is fired). I ran over to Mass which the 3rd graders were attending. I began my homily by saying, "As you can probably tell by now, Fr. Greg, it will be a short homily!"
Yesterday, I took off the comments section of the SAA site. They are now hidden, not deleted. I will put them back up within the next week or so. The reason for all of this is because some bloggers who leave comments have links to their profiles / blog sites. A few parents of students at our school have asked to remove all links to sites that their kids shouldn't be seeing.

Even if the blog sites of our bloggers do not contain inappropriate material, they all contain buttons / links to sites that may be inapppropriate. For example, at the top part of each blog site, there is a button that says "next blog". It randomly pulls up a blog site which could be anything (terrorist, e.g.). We don't want our kids viewing sites they shouldn't see, and certainly shouldn't do anything that would promote that.

The blog sites and comments have been very good for so many of us, thanks be to God. We will continue to use these great tools to grow in our faith as communities. I don't enjoy for one second having to edit or censor them at all (nor do I have the time). But, first and foremost, they have to be safe havens for all of our viewers to go on the potent and dangerous internet, especially our young people.

So, for all future comments, I ask that bloggers remove their profiles and links to their sites. This week, I will try to contact those of you who have done this and ask for your cooperation. I am not placing blame on anyone because I think these were unintentional and unknowing mistakes. We are all still learning how to use these sites in the best way.

I hope that the parents of our school children express their appreciation for your cooperation.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Who do you say that I am?"

This is from my reflection at Friday Night Adoration:

In this Sunday's Gospel, we will hear Jesus ask the Apostles, "who do people say that I am?"...and then, "who do you say that I am?" I like to transfer this question to the Eucharist. As we gaze upon our Lord tonight, we hear his words, "who do people say that I am?" Some say you are a symbol only, Lord, others say a representation, and still other say you are just a wafer. "Who do you say that I am?" We say to the Eucharist what Peter said to him at Caesari Phillippi: "you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God".

You are the Christ, Jesus. You are our God. We come here tonight to gaze upon you, under the sign of bread. When we think about what and who it is our eyes are seeing tonight, it is truly an awesome gift. For thousands of years, people have longed to see God with their own eyes. To hear his voice with their own ears. To taste his sweetness with their lips. This focus on experiencing God through our senses is drawn out in St Paul when he talks about what Heaven will be like: "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him".

But, God is so awesome and glorious that we cannot bear to see Him in all of his glory just yet. So he comes to us now with a veil. We see him in the Eucharist in the forms of bread and wine. The Apostles saw him in the form of a man. It is the same Christ. If we think about all of the things that our eyes look at during the course of our day or week, and then compare them to the Eucharist...there is no comparison.

You are our Peace, Jesus. We come here tonight to be in your presence, in the presence of Peace. There is nothing in our lives that can bring us the peace that Christ brings us. We all have different things that are stressful in our lives, no matter our age or situation. The Eucharist is our great stress release. We should come here and give all of our trials, tribulations, sufferings, stress, and problems to Him. We should just come here, and (exhale deeply) "whewww". Give everything to Him.

You are our Love, Jesus. When we gaze upon the Cross, we see the great love you have for us and all those in the world. You showed us the greatest love by laying down your life for us. You continue to give your life to us in the Eucharist. We come here tonight to see what Love looks like. We want to make Love the center of our lives. We want to make this Eucharist the center of our lives.

Jesus, you are our life. You are our love.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Questions about Protestant beliefs

I HAVE A FRIEND WHO HAS ALMOST THOUGHT ABOUT JOINING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. BUT SHE THINKS PURGATORY "IS NOT IN THE BIBLE" THEREFORE MADE UP BY CATHOLICS. WELL, IT IS NOT IN HER BIBLE BECAUSE SHE IS READING A PROTESTANT BIBLE OF COURSE. mEANWHILE THIS IS BRICK WALL FOR OUR CONVERSATION BECAUSE SHE CAN'T FIND IN THE BIBLE!... ANY IDEAS ON WHAT TO SAY TO HER?” If you refer her to the biblical references I provided in my post on August 29 as well as the ones that Ty Roach added, she should find some of them, at least. She is right, though, the word “purgatory” is not in the Bible. Neither is “salvation by Scripture alone” (a main credo of Protestantism). Ask her where it says in the Bible to “only believe what is in the Bible”?

My problem is when I talk with my Protestant friends, they said that Mary had other children beside Jesus, according to Mat. 13:55-57. Please explain.” One blogger answered this well:
“Matthew 13:55-57: the primary language of Jesus' time was ARAMAIC. Aramaic was a very simplistic languange in which one word like "brothers" could mean cousins, aunts, grandmas and so on. In the Greek translation of the bible, the aramaic word for "extended family" became brothers. If we go back to what Jesus' to the fact that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the aramaic term in this situation simply meant extended family”. I agree with this answer, and the Church interprets "brother" primarily to mean "cousin" from this passage in Matthew. As far as I know, this translation was not questioned for the first 1500 years of Christianity. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that this passage and so many others from Sacred Scripture were either seriously questioned or changed altogether by those who formulated new theologies in "protest" to the Church.

“What I don't understand is that if the protestant credo of 'once saved, always saved' is true, would that mean that after one is 'saved' one could theoretically convert to Islam or Hinduism or something really radical like Catholicism and still be saved?” I don’t understand it either! Yes, you are right, that would be the logical conclusion. Also, the “saved” person could theoretically do whatever he wanted – break commandments, ignore the poor, reject the Gospel entirely – he still is saved. I exaggerate to make the point that “once saved, always saved” denies free will and all of Christ’s teachings about actions required to get to Heaven – e.g., taking care of the poor in Mt 25. “Once saved, always saved” is another example of faith with no reason.

Protestants seem to say the Christians are saved at a moment in time - like when they say a certain prayer proclaiming CHrist as their Lord and Savior. A lot of them think, once saved, always saved. My understanding is that Catholics believe we are only saved because of Christ's death on the Christ and that we are in a constant state of conversion if we are following the faith. So we are not ‘earning’ it, but we know that we can lose salvation by mortal sins(out of a state of grace). Is this right?” We are saved by the Grace of Christ, yes. But, our participation is necessary. In other words, I have to freely choose to receive Christ and His Sanctifying Grace (mainly through the sacraments He has instituted). I truly am free to choose to accept Christ or reject Him. To choose Heaven or Hell. A choice for Heaven is the person’s free will and the Grace of God. A choice for Hell is the person’s free will only. What that means is that every good choice I make is God and me; I can only take credit for being open to His Grace. Every bad choice is all me; I have freely chosen to reject God and His Grace.

Friday, September 15, 2006

We are called to be saints

Adoration, tonight (9/15), 7 pm, SAA Church. All are invited! Please join us, even if for just a few minutes.
"How does the church determine who is a saint? I heard it takes a long time after a saint's passing. Also I hear people say we should strive to be saints. Does that mean try to be perfect? Or what else-what kinds of things help a person to strive to be like saints. know the obvious.....sacraments, service and prayer." This blogger's question about how the Church determines someone to be a saint refers to the canonization of a saint.

The general tag here is that whenever the Church canonizes someone a saint, it means that the Church is (morally) certain that the person is in Heaven. So, the canonization process, which is extremely thorough and detailed, involves collecting evidence and testimony that would show beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she has entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

It's usually not until after fifty years since the person has died that their cause for canonization opens, if it is opened (there are exceptions- like Mother Teresa whose cause was begun shortly after she died - if it's obvious that the person lived a saintly life and/or died a martyr's death). For a cause to be opened, it has to be presented to the Church by others (religious community, family members, etc.) who pay for the (high) costs involved. The Church then begins the cause, collecting tons of information about the person from the ones who knew him/her best.

The main thing for which the Church is looking in investigating the life of the person is evidence of heroic virtue. This would be consistent, extraordinary examples of faith, hope, charity, humility, chastity, patience, etc. in which the person was truly Christ-like. It doesn't mean that the person was perfect, but that they strove for perfection in the virtuous life, availing themselves to God's Grace regularly.

The Church also requires evidence of miracles that are attributed to the intercession of the person. One miracle is required for beatification (the first declaration of the Church that the person is to be highly honored), and one is required for canonization. These normally come in the form of healings or cures of physical diseases or ailments in which there is no natural or medical explanation possible. It becomes clear that a supernatural event has taken place: God has worked a miracle through the intercession of a brother or sister of ours who is with Him in Heaven. It becomes a message from Heaven that the person is there with God and all the saints and angels, sharing in the Resurrection of Christ.

Finally, we should all strive to be saints. This doesn't mean that our goal is canonization. It means that our goal is to get to Heaven. The way we get to Heaven is to live and die in a state of Grace (if we die in a state of Grace, we will be a saint in Heaven). There are many practices, devotions, and disciplines that help us to live a life of Grace, but there are two that stand out in the life of every saint: devotion to 1) the Eucharist, and 2) to the Blessed Mother. While all of the saints have different stories, personalities, and backgrounds, they all have had a great love for Jesus in the Eucharist and for His Mother.
For more info about canonizations, please check out this site:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The joy of priestly celibacy (cont.)

Adoration, 7-8 pm, this Friday (9/15), SAA Church. All are invited, if even for a few minutes. It is awesome!!
Continuing my post from yesterday about the gift of priestly celibacy, I left off with the idea that celibacy allows me as a priest to give all of my time, effort, and energy to doing what I love: serving God and His people. So, it begs the question (which I have been asked by several of our school kids already), 'what do you do all day as a priest?' I usually make some joke to the kids like, "I just pray all know, I just sit in the rectory, and go (with my eyes closed, hands open, and pretending to speak in tongues), 'lalalalalalala'".

They laugh because it is a pretty goofy gesture, but this is probably not too far from what they (and so many others) might think priests do during the week. Then, I get serious, and tell them that I help people all day. I try to be Jesus and do his work all day. In order for that to ever happen, I need to be with Jesus first. I spend an hour in Church, in the Presence of Christ, early each morning. After that, Fr. Mike and I say morning prayer together in the rectory, and then I greet the students as they arrive at the school.

Then, the best part of my day: offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After that amazing experience, I sit in the Confessional, offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to anyone who is interested. Hearing Confessions is probably my most enjoyable part of priesthood so far! I return to the rectory, and my work day begins. What occurs between mid-morning and late at night is the work of God. In my opinion, it is the most compelling practical argument for priestly celibacy. In other words, celibacy frees me up so that I am able to do the following on a daily / weekly basis:

-writing my posts for the blog site, meeting with couples preparing for Marriage or Baptism for their children, counseling couples, planning youth group meetings, appointments for spiritual direction/counseling, visiting the sick in nursing homes/hospitals/homes, anointing the sick, celebrating Mass with the students in the school, celebrating funerals, talking to classes in the school, leading Bible Study, leading RCIA, attending various parish and school meetings, emails, phone calls, planning vocations events, attending sports practices, planning retreats, giving spiritual talks, playing with the students at recess and after school, etc., and somehow, working in prayer during the day, evening, and night as well as physical exercise (the playgorund works for me). This is a typical to-do list for a priest who lives out his celibacy in the Grace of God. This is what priests do all day!

Obviously, if I were married with children, I might be able to do only half of this. In fact, I would say that I would probably be able to give about 50% of the time, effort, and energy I am giving now. Another point to consider is that a priest is to love as God loves: love everyone in the same way. A married man loves no one on Earth the way he loves his wife and children. So, a married priest couldn't fully love as God loves because he couldn't love everyone in the same way.

Finally, the problem is not with priestly celibacy, but with living it out. We have seen too many examples of priests who don't live out their calling to celibate love (for example, the mass exodus of priests in the 60s and 70s, as someone mentioned). Just like the institution of marriage is not to blame for the high divorce rate, it is not the institution of celibacy that is to blame for the shortage of priests. It is about commitment to the life to which God is calling us, no matter what our vocation is. If we center our lives on Jesus in the Eucharist, we will live out our commitment, and with great joy and peace.

"I really believe that if we are a people who are centered on the Eucharistic sacrifice, there will be no shortage of those willing to give their lives to the Church". - Msgr. Thomas Wells

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The joy of priestly celibacy

We have had many bloggers commenting recently about celibacy for priests, and I appreciate them all. When we dive into the topic of priestly celibacy, we need to keep in mind that this is not a doctrine of the Church; it is a discipline. Doctrine cannot change because it is the Truth as revealed by God. Disciplines can change; celibacy was not a requirement for Roman Catholic priests until about the 11th century. Guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the Church deemed that celibacy was necessary for Her priests to live as "other Christs" in the world.

Now, people can look at the lower number of priests today and point to the celibacy requirement as the main reason. I'm sure there are many men who say they would be priests if celibacy was not a requirement; I have worked with dozens of them over the years, from teenagers to young adults. So, it would seem that there is a large amount of laborers ready to work in the vineyard, if only the rules for being a laborer would change.

I take a different view. I have thought for many years now that if Catholic priests could get married, I wouldn't want to be a priest. I have been very attracted to the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy since I was in my early twenties. Why? Because it calls for a 100% commitment. The celibate priest is called to give himself completely to God's people. In this way, he imitates Christ (who himself was celibate). "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

People are correct when they say that celibacy is not natural; it is a supernatural gift. God calls some men to the life of priestly celibacy and gives them the Grace to live it out. The man who lives as a celibate priest in God's Grace is a man who has found his fulfillment and joy in life. He is truly satisfied in giving his life to the Church, the people of God. He is at peace, knowing that his sacrifices (of marriage, family, career, etc.) represent the greatest love of "laying down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

Someone wrote about my own struggles with answering the call to priestly celibacy. Yes, it did take me many years to fully understand and appreciate that celibacy is a gift, and that God is offering it to me. But, since that epiphany, my heart has grown in peace and joy every single day. I cannot describe how happy I am to be a celibate priest! Marriage would have been great; but, priesthood fulfills me. On top of that, I get to spend all of my time, efforts, and energy doing what I love: serving God and His people....

(to be continued)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Answers to recent questions

Here are some interesting questions and comments that bloggers have posted recently:

"One thing I have to say is I know the Catholic faith says that animals don't have souls. I really have a hard time believing that as I feel as animals are living creatures and they too should have souls." Actually, Catholic theologians have disagreed about whether animals have souls. One of the greatest theologians that the Church has ever seen, St. Thomas Aquinas, believed that animals have souls because animals have life. To him, soul meant "life". And, there are some theologians who believe that there are animals in Heaven. It's an interesting question...

"There are so many miracle occuring in Medjugorje, why doesn't the church recognize that place as it has with Fatima and Lourdes?" As far as I know, it has been under investigation by the Church for some time now. I can't exactly say why it hasn't been approved (as an Apparition) because I don't know what the investigation has produced. But, I can say this: the Church is so thorough and strict with Her investigations of apparitions that we can truly trust that She will reveal to us the truth about different sites.

"I just don't see Jesus doing that giving people to torturers unless some major sin has been commited. For little things I honestly believe He will excuse it." Yes, I am with you on that. But, please keep in mind that it's all about the Grace of Christ as far as being admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven. We need to be in a state of Grace in order to enter the Kingdom. Venial sin does not take us out of the state of Grace, but mortal sin does. If we die in a state of mortal sin, we have no Grace within us as we go before the Judgement Seat of God, and thus cannot enter the Kingdom.

"Protestants don't believe in Purgatory do they believe that unless you have saintly traits you automatically go to Hell?" Well, there are almost 30,000 different Protestant denominations, so there are almost 30,000 different theologies concerning your question. In general terms, Protestantism doesn't accept the Church's teachings on Purgatory, saints, or Hell. It proposes "salvation by faith alone", "salvation by Scripture alone", and "predestination" (God predestines some to Heaven and some to Hell). By and large, it rejects 'saintly traits' as a way for someone to be saved.

"I also heard that the water represents the humanity of Christ and the wine, the divinity of Christ. Is that true?" Yes, that is one understanding. The prayer that the priest says while pouring the wine and water into the chalice reflects that: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity".

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 - Homily

Mass in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11/01: tonight, SAA Church, 7:30. All are encouraged to attend.
Here is the homily (more or less) I gave at Mass this morning (yes, we have Mass during the week - every day!!):

Last night was a great night here. A great night! We had our first Sunday night Mass, and it was very well attended. Then, our youth group Kick-Off party was excellent; it, too, was very well attended. It was a very festive night, as we worshipped together, open to the Spirit. The teens that came to the party had a lot of fun! I thank you all for your prayers for our youth, and ask you to continue to pray for our youth ministry program.

The Pharisees liked to walk some fine lines. We especially see in today’s Gospel (Lk 6:6-11) that they walk the fine line of having faith without reason. They appear to be men of faith; they believe in God and want to follow Him. But, they don’t appear to have much sense in living out God’s Law. Jesus corrects them yet again, this time on the issue of healing a man with a withered hand on the sabbath: “is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” He is pointing out to them and to us that it would make no sense not to heal this man just because it is the sabbath. Of course Christ should heal this man, and he does. Of course we should help someone who is in need whenever we can. That is God’s Law; it involves faith and reason.

Hearing the Gospel with faith and reason means that we believe in what God has revealed to us, and our minds can make some kind of sense of it. It is the Truth, and the Truth makes sense! It appeals to both faith and reason. We are very blessed in our Catholic faith to approach Divine Revelation in that way. There is really no other religion on Earth that proposes both faith and reason the way the Church does.

One of the priests from my seminary gave a great homily just after 9/11 five years ago. He pointed out how the terrorist attacks are examples of faith without reason. These men truly believed they were doing the Will of God that day. They were men of great faith in their God. But, they applied no reason to their faith. It makes no sense to believe that God willed them to fly airplanes into buildings. God would never actively will someone to harm or kill innocent persons.

As we approach this Eucharist this morning, we remember those who were killed in those heinous and evil crimes. We take comfort in our hope that they are among the Communion of Saints. If they are, they will be with us in a few minutes. In the Eucharist, Heaven and Earth meet. The saints are present at every Mass, even though we can’t see them. We pray that the victims of 9/11 are among the Communion of Saints, and that they will join us in a few minutes in this Chamber of Heaven.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

23rd Sunday - Homily

I have to confess that, while I don’t watch much television, I’ve gotten hooked on a couple of the “reality” shows, from time to time. They say reality shows, and they are real people and real experiences, but they are definitely “made for television”. I used to watch “Fear Factor”, where contestants would do all kinds of stuff for money. It is amazing what people will do for money! On this show, they would eat gross stuff (like animal parts!), and do all kinds of crazy challenges and dares for a big prize of money. The show did give the lesson of overcoming fear, and would say to each winner, “fear is not a factor for you”.

One of the slogans of our culture is “no fear”. We see it on bumper stickers, cars, t-shirts, etc. But, God said it first! We hear in our first reading from Isaiah 35, “be strong, fear not”. God does not want us to live in fear. Fear is doubt or a lack of trust in ourselves, others, and God. Fear is the opposite of faith. With fear, we doubt God and his power; maybe we even doubt if He is there. We might hear this story from the Gospel where Jesus shows his healing power with the man who is deaf and mute, and still doubt that he can do the same for us, even though we are all in need of healing.

Let’s take the example of going to Confession. Many, many people are afraid to go to Confession. Now, I understand it is hard to go to the priest who is representing God, and admit all that we have done wrong. It is very humbling to say, ‘I’m sorry, God, please forgive me’. It is very hard to reveal our deepest, darkest faults. But, it is a sacrament of mercy! It is one of the main reasons I became a priest: to be a minister of mercy.

On the back of my ordination card (which are available in the rear of Church), it says that I’m “open for Confessions 24/7”. (Some of my friends have threatened to call at 3 am!) What that means is that I am always available to offer you God’s mercy in this sacrament…not condemnation…not judgement…not anger. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or what the sins are, if you are truly sorry, you will receive Mercy.

But, we come up with excuses for not going because of our fear. “I don’t need to go to Confession; I just go to God directly for forgiveness”. For venial sin, yes, but not for mortal sins. We need the Grace of Confession to be absolved of mortal sins, if we have any. “I am afraid that the priest will tell my sins to others”. If a priest reveals anything from Confession, he is automatically excommunicated and kicked out of the priesthood. “I’m a good person, it’s not like I’ve killed anybody. As long as my sin doesn’t hurt anyone else”. From the very beginning, we have understood that sin affects all of us (St. Paul taught this). It’s like my little pinky finger. When I injure it, I think, ‘oh, this won’t bother me at all.’ But, then I go to use my hand, and the whole hand is affected. All sin, no matter how big or small, affects all of us.

Whenever we go to Confession, we show great faith. We show faith that:
A) Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Not everyone has believed that, especially many people back in his day.
B) He gives this power to his priests. He does this in John 20 (v. 20-23). He gave the power to the first priests, and they passed it on…to where now Fr. Mike and I have the power to forgive sins.
C) It is really Christ in the Confessional. Every time a priest celebrates a sacrament, he acts in the person of Christ. It is Christ who celebrates the Eucharist, saying “this is my body”. It is really Christ in the Confessional, hearing our sins and giving us absolution. We see and hear the priest, but it is really Christ.

Whenever we go to Confession, then, we show faith.

Having said all of this, there is fear that is good: fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is awe or respect for God. We show this when we come to Mass – dressed well, on time (!), staying to the end (!), and bowing humbly before the Eucharist. We show our belief in and respect for this Eucharist. It takes great faith to believe in the Real Presence! It looks like bread and wine, but we believe that it is the Body and Blood of Christ. Once we approach this with faith, it changes everything. Faith in the Eucharist changes lives…changes marriages…changes families. It is really Him! It is His life, His peace, His joy that we receive. It is His love - the great love that He has for each and every one of us.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Someone recently asked, "What are some penance we can do to get us closer to God?" The general recommendations of the Church in the penitential season of Lent to pray, fast, and give alms are good starting points. Penances can be spiritual or physical works that show a desire to grow closer to God, and the types of penances we can do are unlimited. Some examples* would include: praying in the Real Presence of Christ for one hour, fasting in-between meals, or helping out at a soup kitchen. Whatever penances we do, we should do them in a spirit of conversion where we turn our hearts towards God and away from sin, with His Grace.

The practice of fasting is an aspect of the Christian life that most people do not consider very often, even practicing Catholics. In a world that preaches instant gratification and excess in pleasures, fasting and mortifications seem like outdated, foreign concepts. My good friend, Fr. Wells, once wrote that the spell-check on his computer did not recognize the word "mortification"! But, we see in Scripture, Tradition, and the lives of the saints that there is great value and power in the practice of fasting.

Rev. Michael Giesler wrote about mortifications last year in Crisis magazine. Here are some excerpts**:

"The word 'mortification' comes from the Latin words mortem facere, meaning 'to produce death.' A person who is mortified has accomplished a kind of death in himself to those obstacles separating him from God, and therefore genuine happiness. These barriers include pride, the excessive emphasis on the self or one’s own feelings or ideas; laziness, the tendency to do the minimum; and sensuality, the excessive attachment to bodily pleasures, whether food, or drink, or sex. Mortification is the process of 'putting to death' these lower desires and appetites so that the purified man might live...

"The ultimate strength and effectiveness of all Christian mortification lies, of course, in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. 'And I, if I be lifted from the earth, I will draw all things to myself,' He said. Uniting themselves to His pain and blood, the saints—and those earnestly trying to become saints—have always recognized that they had to die to themselves, sometimes in very dramatic and painful ways, in order to gain eternal life. They did not perform painful sacrifices because they thought the body was evil. This would be the heresy of Manicheism, long condemned by the Church. Matter and the human body are not evil in themselves, but because of the body’s substantial unity with the soul, it’s often the staging ground for a person’s inordinate desires. As a result, the saints knew that their unruly tendencies needed to be corrected and purified...

But let’s go even further. It’s clear that simply being a good person requires some kind of mortification. If a man doesn’t control his anger or resentment, he’ll be impossible to live with, and may even end up a murderer. Furthermore, if a person doesn’t know how to deny his excessive desire for alcohol, he’ll become useless to himself and others. The child who wants to pass his exam must say no to, or at least postpone, his desire to watch television or play computer games. There is enduring human and divine wisdom in Christ’s powerful words: 'For unless the grain of wheat die to itself, it shall not produce fruit.'"

As we said recently on this site, true love means sacrifice. Fasting and mortifications are small or big sacrifices that we make for Christ in order to imitate Him and His love. There is real power and Grace in doing penance, for ourselves and others. The phrase "offer it up" has real effects; when we offer up a sacrifice on behalf of someone else (living or dead), the graces of that offering really do help that person. It becomes an act of sacrificial love, no matter how small, that participates in the work of Salvation that Christ began on the Cross.
*You should consult a priest/ spiritual director who can help you to know what types of penances would be best for you, at this stage in your spiritual life.

**To see this article in its entirety, click on:

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mary!

All are welcome to join us for:
1) Adoration tonight (9/8), 7 pm, SAA Church.
2) New 6 pm Sunday night Mass, starting this Sunday (9/10).
Today is the feast day of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. Happy Birthday, Mary! It's cool to see the way the Roman calendar is laid out: September 8 is exactly nine months after December 8 which is the feast of Mary's conception (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates Mary's Conception). Here is some excerpts from a good write-up online about today's feast day. (To see the full text, go to:

"On Our Lady's birthday the Church celebrates the first dawning of redemption with the appearance in the world of the Savior's mother, Mary. The Blessed Virgin occupies a unique place in the history of salvation, and she has the highest mission ever commended to any creature. We rejoice that the Mother of God is our Mother, too. Let us often call upon the Blessed Virgin as "Cause of our joy", one of the most beautiful titles in her litany...

"Mary was born to be the mother of the Savior of the world, the spiritual mother of all men, and the holiest of God's creatures. Because of her Son's infinite merits, she was conceived and born immaculate and full of grace. Through her, Queen of heaven and of earth, all grace is given to men. Through her, by the will of the Trinity, the unbelieving receive the gift of faith; the afflicted are tendered the works of mercy; and the members of Christ grow in likeness of their Head...

"In Mary all human nature is exalted. We rejoice in her birthday, as the Church has done from the earliest times. This is one of the three birthdays in the Church Calendar — the Birth of Jesus (December 25), the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24) and the Birthday of Mary. All three were born without original sin, although Mary and Jesus were conceived without sin, and St. John was cleansed of original sin while in the womb at the Visitation of Mary...

"Since September 8 marks the end of summer and beginning of fall, this day has many thanksgiving celebrations and customs attached to it. In the Old Roman Ritual there is a blessing of the summer harvest and fall planting seeds for this day. The winegrowers in France called this feast "Our Lady of the Grape Harvest". The best grapes are brought to the local church to be blessed and then some bunches are attached to hands of the statue of Mary. A festive meal which includes the new grapes is part of this day.

"In the Alps section of Austria this day is "Drive-Down Day" during which the cattle and sheep are led from their summer pastures in the slopes and brought to their winter quarters in the valleys. This was usually a large caravan, with all the finery, decorations, and festivity. In some parts of Austria, milk from this day and all the leftover food are given to the poor in honor of Our Lady’s Nativity."

Thursday, September 07, 2006


"What do you feel about the evolution theory? The theory of creation seems a bit too simplistic to me. Also if Adam and Eve were the only people and they had kids and their kids married one another to fill the earth.....". An anonymous blogger posed this question and comments, although they didn't finish their last thought (I guess it was up to us to finish the sentence). It's a good question, and one that the Church is not afraid to address.

Evolution and creationism are not necessarily conflicting theories. The former is generally focused on how the different species on Earth have developed, while the latter is concerned with how they came to be in the first place. The question of the "Big-Bang" theory versus the creation theory is more of an apples-to-apples question, in my opinion. I understand that most evolution theories are based on the Big Bang hypothesis, but they are not necessarily conjoined.

Nevertheless, it seems that the blogger's question is directly challenging the traditional view of creationism that the vast majority of human beings have always accepted. Only in the modern age of science has the "Big Bang" theory been developed. It asserts that a big explosion of a mass of hydrogen atoms occurred in the universe (millions of) years ago, and that's what set everything in motion. My basic reply is that someone had to create the atoms and make it go 'bang'. The Big Bang theory is a modern, secular viewpoint that presents the world as physical only (removing any spiritual dimension). It is directly opposed to creationism, Sacred Scripture, and Christian Tradition.

Now, regarding my view of evolution; I take the position of John Paul II*, who said that an evolution theory based in creationism is not at odds with Christianity. Christian doctrine is based in the Truth that God reveals in the Book of Genesis: He creates every man and woman in His own image and likeness. Scientific theories about how human beings have evolved that are rooted in the Truth and that can be verified by actual data and facts tell the truth. On the other hand, evolution theories that are not compatible with Truth are to be kept in the theoretical realm only; they do not tell the truth, and mislead us from the truth.
*Here's are some excerpts from John Paul II's "Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences" (1996). Check out the full text at:

"In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points... The Church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God".

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lost sheep

All are invited to:
1. Adoration this Friday, 7-8 pm, SAA Church.
2. The new 6 pm Sunday night Mass, starting this Sunday, Sept. 10.
Recently, Kiwi Nomad wrote the following:
"I am not from your parish but I am a bit of a stray sheep in catholic terms. But over the past year or so I have been going to Mass a bit and trying to pray. Over the last five months I have been backpacking in Europe. I cycled for five weeks in the Loire and it seemed like the history of Christianity was in the landscape almost. I also surprised myself by spending sx days at Lourdes in May. But I have still not got to the stage of going to Confession or Communion. I am nearly ready to head home and don't know what I am going to do re faith. I tried to have a talk to the local priest before I left. I think he is a very holy and good man, but he didn't seem to be able to understand that I was struggling with a faith that to him there is no doubt about. Yet I feel there are issues I want to talk about. Not sure what I am going to do about it."

Kiwi, thanks very much for what you wrote; I truly hope that you find your way. I don't know where your home is, but you're always welcome to come here. I would be happy to sit down with you, and discuss your issues. One of the most attractive parts of priesthood for me has always been the outreach to "lost sheep". Having been a lost sheep myself, I feel a special connection and identification with those who have strayed from Christ.

Also, I look back on the time when I met Christ for the first time. I was raised Catholic and went to Church on Sundays, but never really knew Christ until I was about 21. That is when I met Happiness! I had looked far and wide for it (for Him), and have completely treasured it ever since. Jesus talks about the joy that comes with finding that which has been lost in Luke 15. He speaks of great "rejoicing" in the return of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of my favorites, and one that the Church uses predominantly in welcoming back those who have strayed (particularly with Confession). The son left his father and squandered his inheritance on a "life of dissipation". He realized how much he had messed up, and went back to his father, asking for forgiveness. As the son got near his home, "his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion" (v.20). He said, "let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found" (v.23-24).

Kiwi, I will offer the same compassion and joy to you or any prodigal sons or daughters who come back to the Father through me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

True love means sacrifice

We've had many recent comments about vocations, mostly concerning religious vocations. My favorite one is, "Sorry to have to tell you this but there is already major shortage of the priesthood and even worse the nunhood (is that a word?)". I hear this kind of comment every so often (by the way, sisterhood is a word, nunhood is not). I hope that the anonymous blogger who wrote this is doing his/her part to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life through prayer and fasting.

While it is true that there is a shortage of priests and nuns in the United States, it is also true that there is a lack of commitment in the other two vocations: married and single. The unfortunate and sad statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce in this country is a major indication of that. Also, very, very few people seriously consider a permanent commitment to the single life. It's a vocations crisis across the board; a crisis in commitment.

Every one of us has a vocation. When God created the world, He had each one of us in mind. He has a Plan for all of humanity, and each one of us plays an important role in living out His Plan and doing His Will. Our job is to figure out to which vocation He is calling us: married, religious, or single. Most people are called to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, thanks be to God (we need to survive as a race!). Some are called to serve as priests or religious brothers and sisters, and some are called to give their lives in service to the Church as single men or women.

The obvious and earliest Scriptural basis for marriage as a calling from God is the Book of Genesis. God establishes the institution of marriage right away: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body" (2:24). In Matthew 19, Jesus reaffirms Genesis and presents marriage as a vocation: "what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (v.6). A few lines later, Christ indicates that celibacy is God's Plan for some people: "Some are incapable of marriage...because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (v.12).

As I told the junior high students in the school last week, Christ is to be the center of every vocation. If we center our lives on Jesus Christ, especially in the Eucharist, we will know our vocations and live them out. He is Love; Love is to be the center of every marriage, every priesthood, every religious life, and every single life. True love means sacrifice. But, if we are committed to Christ and His Eucharistic Sacrifice, then we will be committed to our vocations and lay down our lives for others.

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day reflection

No matter what we have on our plates or where we work, oftentimes we say to ourselves, 'if I can just get through this day, (or this week...or this month) then I'll be happy'. We always seem to have stressful work to worry about, and to just 'get through'. But, Christ says in today's Gospel that we shouldn't be consumed with worry about the future; we should focus on today's work. And, if we see that the work we have today is a real gift, then we can actually appreciate it.

God himself worked for six days creating the world. He created man to continue his work on Earth. We hear in the Book of Genesis that God "settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it" (2:15). God created the world, and then entrusted man to cultivate and care for the world He created. Human labor, then, continues God's work of creation. Whether it's the most meaningless task or the most significant, our work imitates God our Creator, continues his work of creation, and glorifies Him.

Christ himself was a worker; he worked as a laborer in carpentry. His masterpiece, however, was the work of Redemption. His work reached its climax on the Cross. Just like with the work of creation, Christ entrusts the work of Redemption to continue with us. Whenever we do something for someone else, no matter how small or big, we continue Christ's work of Redemption.

So, as we receive this Eucharist, we thank God for the work he has given us. We thank Him for the gift of being able to imitate and glorify Him through our labor. We ask Him to give us the Grace to continue His work on Earth, the work of creation and the work of Redemption.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

22nd Sunday - Homily

We had a great first week of school last week. It was a lot of fun meeting so many of the kids - greeting them in the morning as they arrived, being with them on the playground mid-day, and saying goodbye to them at dismissal. I think they did some learning or something in between those times! This will be a good year.

I had the great opportunity to speak with most of the junior high students in their religion class on Wednesday. One of the stories I told them was about St. Maria Goretti who lived in Italy about a hundred years ago. I told them that Maria gave her life to Jesus when she was 11 years old. 11! Maria’s treasure was her purity – she guarded it with her life. One day, a boy who was about 19 came around her way, threatening her purity. She told him, “I rather die clean for Jesus than live one day unclean for him”. So….the boy took her life. Purity and chastity were so important to Maria because she understood they are so important to Christ. And, our kids got it; they are about the same age as she was. They understood that these two virtues are very important at any age.

I often point to this Gospel, Mark chapter seven, to show how important chastity is to Christ. He lists unchastity with the most serious sins; it is right there with murder and adultery! He calls each one of us to chastity, which is purity. Whether we are 11, 31, or 61, whether we are married, priest, nun, or single…we are called to live a clean and pure life in Christ. And, Jesus says it starts with the heart. He says that if our hearts are clean, then it doesn’t matter what the world throws at us, we will live a clean and good life.

The world throws a TON of stuff at us every day, threatening our purity…threatening our chastity. We are bombarded with physical images – especially on TV, in videos and movies. If our hearts are clean, we will employ the use of proper tools to guard our purity. We will have custody of our eyes so that we will have control of what images we look at and take in. If we see things that are impure and not good for us, we look away to something else. We will also have custody of our thoughts; any impure thoughts that enter, we let them go as quickly as they came in. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to be “unstained by the world”, as St. James says in the second reading.

It is a lot of work to live in our world with a pure heart, but Jesus promises a great reward. Of all the beatitudes, there is only one that promises the Beatific Vision, something towards which we are all working. Christ says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God”. They will see God in all of his glory in the Kingdom.

On our own, chastity is impossible. It is the Grace of Christ that makes it (and all things) possible. It is especially the Grace of the Eucharist that helps us to live chastity. We need to make sure that we are not unclean when receiving the Eucharist, as St. Paul tells us. Then, when we receive Him, his Grace changes our hearts so that we will be clean and pure, as his heart is clean and pure. We live according to God’s commandments, and not the world’s commandments.

In time, it becomes Christ who lives purity and chastity through us. It was Him living through St. Maria, it will be Him living through our kids, and through us. We actually share in his purity. We share in his life. We share in his joy. We share in his love. What an awesome invitation that God gives to each one of us: to share in his infinite, unending and pure love.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


When people ask me about the doctrine of indulgences, I remind them of the scenes in Matthew's Gospel where Christ gives Peter (16:19) and the rest of the Apostles (18:18) the "keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". Christ himself gives the Church the authority to handle God's treasury on Earth: to teach Truth (in faith and morals), forgive sins, impose punishments, etc.

It is also the authority for the Church to be the treasurer of God's generosity for man, which Christ has merited for us; granting indulgences is part of this authority. Indulgences tap into the infinite riches of God's generosity and mercy that our finite minds cannot grasp. The parable of the workers in the vinyeard (Mt 20) shows us that God's generosity is beyond human understanding.

We have to understand sin in order to understand indulgences. The Catechism (#1471-1479) explains: "sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the 'eternal punishment' of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.

"This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints....An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin... The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead."

In our society, true justice calls for punishments to fit the crimes. It is the same with moral crimes (sins). While God forgives us of our sins in his Mercy, He calls us to make satisfaction for our offenses for the sake of Justice. One way is to serve a temporal ("in time") punishment in Purgatory. Another way to make satisfaction is by performing certain works of devotion, penance, and charity on Earth done in union with the Bride of Christ, the Church, in which we can gain indulgences. These are not ways to "buy" or "merit" salvation; they are experiences of the Grace of Christ. We experience for ourselves (and possibly for others) not only a true conversion of heart, but also the vast richness of God's mercy.
Check out this site for some "myths" about indulgences:

Friday, September 01, 2006

Christian vocabulary

Anon, I appreciate your comment about my use of the word “instrument” from Wednesday's post. It is interesting, as one blogger pointed out, that you focused on how this term is demeaning to women and didn’t mention anything about men, even though I had referred to Moses and Aaron as “instruments”. Nevertheless, I have realized that I need to be careful with what words I use because there are many people who aren’t familiar with the spiritual vocabulary of Christians.

But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” (1 Cor 4:7). The notes from NAB (New American Bible) for this verse read as follows: ‘this treasure: the glory that he preaches and into which they are being transformed. In earthen vessels: the instruments God uses are human and fragile; some imagine small terracotta lamps in which light is carried’. As early as 57 A.D., then, the word ‘vessels’ or ‘instruments’ were employed to describe human beings in relation to God.

St. Paul is probably focusing on the body (natural) more than the soul (supernatural) when he talks about ‘earthen vessels’, but the point is still there. Everything is about the Grace of God coming through us who are living in the natural world. Either we are open to His Grace or we are not. God is calling us to be open vessels of his life. To say ‘yes’ to God is to open ourselves to Him; Mary did this every minute of her life. His Grace does the rest. We cooperate WITH Grace when we are open to it; then the Grace of God comes THROUGH us to others.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life “in earthen vessels,” and it remains “hidden with Christ in God”. We are still in our “earthly tent,” subject to suffering, illness, and death. This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin” (# 1420). Terms like ‘tent’, ‘vessel’, and ‘instrument’ are descriptive terms; the Church uses them so that we can understand the Gospel better. They are not to be taken literally only; they have spiritual meanings that transcend gender, race, nationality, etc.

Finally, two more side notes: 1) I have found it interesting that the Church is constantly accused of ‘worshiping Mary’ while, at the same time, accused of being ‘sexist’ and ‘anti-woman’. 2) Here are some of the titles the Church uses for the Blessed Virgin Mary which I hope you (and others) don’t find offensive: Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Spiritual vessel, Vessel of Honor, Mystical Rose, Tower of David, Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star.