Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We have a new bishop!

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

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

Here is the explanation from yesterday’s program:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feast of the Holy Family - homily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas homily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What would you say in a Christmas homily?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

4th Sunday of Advent - homily excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Our spiritual GPS"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we have all that -- don't we? We do have "someone" just like that. (And just like my TomTom, you knew where I was heading in this homily!) John the Baptist echoes Isaiah today when he says, "Make a straight highway for the Lord." Clear the roadway! Follow the directions! Life is too great a journey to undertake if you don't know where you're going - or how to get there. Our problem is often that we're foolish enough to think that we know the way, the road, better than God does.

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Penance Service tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus gives his power of forgiving sins to the Apostles (the first priests)
“’As the Father sent me, so I am sending you’. After saying this, he
breathed on them and said: ‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive
anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are
retained’”. – Jn 20:21-23

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

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

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

- but, forgiveness of mortal sins is reserved for Confession

Sunday, December 14, 2008

3rd Sunday of Advent - homily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

"On Certain Bioethical Questions"

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

1. What kind of document is this?

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

2. What does its title mean?

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

3. Does it have precedent in other Church documents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

DC bus ads: our Opponent strikes again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The I Believe Too web site is located at http://www.ibelievetoo.org

Sunday, December 07, 2008

2nd Sunday of Advent - homily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

"Holiness does not go out of fashion"

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

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

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

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

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

Come, Lord
Remembering the invocation of the early Christian community, "Come Lord Jesus," Benedict XVI exhorted his audience to make it "also our constant aspiration, the aspiration of the Church of every age, which longs and prepares for the encounter with its Lord."

The Holy Father recalled the first reading from Isaiah, with the image of "a tender and merciful Father, who takes care of us in every circumstance because we are the work of his hands." This Father took the initiative to send his son to redeem us, added the Pontiff. "Before so great a mystery of love, may our gratitude rise spontaneously and our invocation be more confident."

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The story of salvation

Anon wrote the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

1st Sunday of Advent - homily

We begin the season of Advent which is a season of preparation for the Lord’s Coming. The word ‘advent’ literally means ‘coming to’. We remember Jesus’s 1st Coming into the world when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). But. the Church also has us prepare for Christ’s Second Coming. We hear into today’s Gospel to “be watchful…be alert”. We are used to hearing this, though – “Jesus is coming!” It’s even become a joke that we might see on t-shirts or bumper stickers: “Jesus is coming. Look busy!”

This is basically the message of today’s Gospel, but Jesus is a bit more serious about it. He says, “Be watchful. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come”. It could be today. It could be in the next hour. We don’t know. We always have to be ready. Jesus then tells a brief parable about a man who leaves home and places his servants in charge “each with his own work”. As servants of Jesus, what is our work? Does each of us know how to prepare for Christ’s return like the servants knew how to prepare for the man’s return in the Gospel?

We know how to prepare for other things in life. Students know how to prepare for tests in school. Workers or employees know how to prepare for meetings or presentations at work. Athletes know how to prepare for games or races in sports. They know what their work is. They know what is expected of them. They know how to prepare. But, as Catholic Christians, do we know how to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ? Do we know what our work is?

“Each with his own work”. I think the Church describes what this means in one of its teachings from Vatican II: the universal call to holiness. In the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, the Church says that all are called to holiness. All are called to be saints. It doesn’t matter our age, background, or situation in life. We are called to be holy, to live the perfection of love. The work for each of us, then, is holiness – to live for God and others. The Church says that holiness is expressed in many ways. How can we live holiness here at St. Andrew’s, especially during Advent? Let me give some suggestions, beginning with our relationship with Christ and then our relationship with others.

Our relationship with Christ begins with the Eucharist. We come to the Eucharist every Sunday for Mass during Advent; that is non-negotiable. But, maybe we can hit a daily Mass at least once during Advent. Or, we can come to Adoration once on a Friday night between 7-8 pm, even for just a few minutes. It is a powerful encounter that we have with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Confession. Hopefully, each of us will go to Confession at least once during Advent. If we haven’t been living holiness – if we’ve been living for ourselves – then Confession is a way to get rid of all that and to start over. Confession is a great way to always be ready for the Second Coming of Christ! We will have a Parish Penance Service on Tuesday, December 16th.

Praying the rosary. Hopefully, each of us prays the rosary every day. It’s a great way to stay close to Jesus and Mary. Maybe your family can pray the rosary together at least once during Advent.

Stations of the Cross. We see them on the walls of our Church. This is another beautiful devotion. We are used to hearing about this during Advent, but it would be an excellent preparation during Advent to do the Stations of the Cross once.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are beginning our new offertory program on the 1st Sunday of Advent. Giving fairly and generously back to God what He has given us is another great act of holiness.

Now, for specific persons – spouses can do an extra act of kindness for the other during Advent. Parents can spend an extra amount of time with one of your kids’ activities. Kids can do an extra act of generosity around the house – maybe a chore that you don’t get paid for. Young adults and teens can pray for their future spouse, whoever that might be.

In all acts of holiness, it is really God’s work coming through us. The first reading reminds us of this – He is the potter, we are the clay. “We are the work of his hands”. It’s really God’s holiness coming through us if we are open.

I’d like to close with an example of holiness that is inspiring and dramatic. You might have read about an 11 year old boy named Brendan Foster who died recently of leukemia. When Brendan was told that he had two weeks to live, his dying wish was to feed the hungry and care for the homeless. He was physically unable to do it, so his friends made about 200 sandwiches for those in need. The story spread nationally and internationally. There was a huge response! People filled food banks and had food drives. One person described it as “an avalanche of love and support”. Brendan was able to see this response before he died.

11 years old and staring death in the face. He wasn’t afraid. He didn’t focus on himself. He was thinking about others. That is good clay. That is the work of God’s hands. That, my brothers and sisters, is holiness.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gratitude leads to joy and happiness

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving Day yesterday, enjoying the cornucopia of food and drink that reminds us that when God gives He gives in abundance. We have so much for which to be thankful, and so many who came to Mass yesterday expressed those things for which they are thankful.

I ask bloggers to do the same here; please post up to three things for which you are thankful. I am thankful for the Eucharist, for being assigned to St. Andrew’s, and for beating the Cowboys in Dallas (!).

The retreat master of my Fall retreat, Msgr. Steve Rossetti, gave a talk entitled, “Becoming a Eucharistic People”. He focused on the many benefits of giving thanks regularly. The overall point was that gratitude leads to joy and happiness. We should give thanks EVERY DAY for the sake of gratitude, but also because it brings us more health and happiness. Msgr. Rosetti offered evidence to the latter point, referring to results of a Gratitude Study done years ago that was published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology (2002):

- daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy

- gratitude group (those who gave thanks regularly) exercised more regularly, had fewer physical symptoms, and quality and duration of sleep was better

- gratitude group experienced less depression and stress (!). They experienced higher levels of optimism & life satisfaction without denying negative aspects of life

- gratitude group were more likely to feel loved and to help others, i.e., helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support

- gratitude group more empathic and rated as more generous and helpful by others

- grateful people were less envious of others

- they were less materialistic and more religious or spiritual (attend services or engage in religious activities)

“I think it is impossible for anyone to be simultaneously grateful and unhappy. So the solution to much of the unhappiness that humans experience is a reawakening in the human heart of the idea of gratitude. That's why I think it is a great idea for non-believers to celebrate Thanksgiving. Let anyone start expressing and experiencing gratitude--if not vertically toward God, at least horizontally toward others in the human community--and you'll find that person holding a new lease on happiness.” - Rev. William J. Bryon, S.J.

In all circumstances give thanks” (1 Thess 5:16-18)

Eucharistia: Greek – thanksgiving

“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ it will suffice”. – Meister Eckhard

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christmas Ice Skating Benefit

The following is an invitation from my friends at Life Force, Inc. about an ice skating event on Sat., Dec 6 from 6:45 - 9 pm at the Rockville Ice Arena (50 Southlawn Ct., Rockville, MD 20850):

Bring the whole family to the 4th Annual Christmas Ice Skating Benefit. If you can't make it, send the kids. There are car pools forming and there is no charge for admission. We will have a whole rink to ourselves. Feel free to come at the last minute! This is a SAME LOCATION as last year (www.rockvilleicearena.com). Non-skaters are welcome! There is a full service restaurant/snack bar, The Village Grill. It will be open and is in the arena. They also serve Starbucks! Santa will also be making a visit (but maybe not on skates)! This event will bring new meaning to our rallying cry, Skate for your life!

ANY monetary donations will be accepted with ALL proceeds going to our local St. Catherine Laboure Gabriel Project (www.gpscl.org, Wheaton, MD, 301-946-4815 ) and local Birthright (www.birthright.org, birthrightmc@verizon.net Wheaton, MD, 301-946-3339) and Project Rachel (projectrachel@adw.org , 301-982-2008) organizations.

Gabriel Project assists women and familes facing crisis pregnancies by providing practical, emotional and spiritual support. After the baby is born, they continue to help as long as there is a need and stay in touch their mothers indefinitely.

Birthright is an inter-denominational crisis pregnancy center. They give free pregnancy tests, plus non-judgmental and confidential guidance to woman. After a pregnancy test, they do as much follow up, to include material aids, with the woman as she desires.

Project Rachel is a post-abortion healing ministry that offers compassionate help to men and women who have experienced emotional and or spiritual pain after abortion. This is available regardless of his or her faith background.

Please make your checks payable as follows: Life Force Inc. c/o Mary Sloan 2307 Pondside Ter Silver Spring, MD 20906* Note "Christmas Ice Skating Benefit" in the Memo field. For your convenience, you can also donate online using Paypal. Please put "Christmas Ice Skating Benefit" in the Subject/Note field.

Bring your own skates if you have them. Otherwise, skates can be rented at the rink. Please respond by November 30th (301.438.8447) with number of skaters in your family or extended family so we can get a head count. Ice skate rentals and number of skaters on the ice are limited so please respond and get there on time. Last year, we did max out with the number of skaters on the ice. Feel free to send this invite to other friends and family. Our goal is to have as many families as possible.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Indulgences: antiquated or helpful?

I recently got together with a young man who is a good friend of mine. He has had a rough year. He is still recovering from a serious brain injury he suffered after being attacked in Adams Morgan one night out with friends. Not too long after he got out of the hospital, he learned that one of his best friends who was living in the South had died suddenly. My buddy, who is a man of faith, expressed his serious sadness over these events, especially the loss of his good friend. He felt so badly that he couldn’t be there for his friend because of his own hospitalization; mainly, he has had great remorse that he didn’t do anything to help him.

Thanks be to God and His Spirit, the discussion took a tremendous turn (one that I didn’t initially anticipate) toward what he could do now to help him. We talked about praying for the dead and what we can do as Catholics for those who have died. I mentioned about having Masses said his friend which is the greatest prayer he can offer for him. Then, we discussed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the powerful prayer of intercession for the souls of those who are “most in need of God’s Mercy”. I also suggested the practice of gaining a plenary indulgence for his buddy and gave him a brief explanation of and theological basis for indulgences. By the end of the conversation, my friend’s discouragement had become encouragement; his despair had become hope. He could do something now to help his friend!

Here are some more questions from anonymous bloggers about indulgences:

1) “When I asked why, if they have the power to eliminate temporal punishment, why doesn’t the Church eliminate it for everyone who died in a state of grace? It was explained to me that temporary suffering is part of God’s plan for us. I can understand and accept that. So, if God’s plan is for us to experience temporal punishment, then why would the church offer something that would eliminate it?”

Just like any suffering, God doesn’t actively will temporal punishment; He allows it. Like any evil, it is part of His passive will. It is a result of sin, so it is an evil. God does bring good out of it as He does with all evil.

We might ask a similar question regarding a natural evil like poverty, “why does the Church offer ways to reduce or even eliminate poverty?” God brings good out of poverty (and even extols the poor), but it is still an evil that the Church works to eliminate.

2) “Can a plenary indulgence be gained and given to any soul in purgatory? Do you have to have a certain person in mind?”

A plenary indulgence should be done with a particular person in mind. Partial indulgences might be offered up for souls in general; for example, “all the souls in Purgatory”.

When I pray my daily rosary, I include prayers for the Holy Father (Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be) knowing that it gains at least a partial indulgence. In my mind, I offer the indulgence for “the souls in Purgatory”, confident that God will know how and to whom to disperse the benefits of the indulgence. Whether an indulgence is plenary or partial, though, I wouldn’t worry too much if you offer it up for souls in general; God knows what to do with it (better than we do!).

3) “Can a plenary indulgence be applied to a non-Christian loved one?” Yes.

4) “Who decided that a person can free someone from purgatory with a plenary indulgence? What is the source of it? I have a hard time believing in it because it sets out a very mechanical list of things to do in order to accomplish something so profound as sending someone to heaven. It reads like a "to do" list that you might stick on your fridge. Isn't it a little antiquated?”

For my friend, gaining an indulgence for his buddy doesn’t seem antiquated at all; it is the source of hope and encouragement that he is actively helping him now get to Heaven.

Tom answered Anon’s question:

“Indulgences are acquired ‘through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the Saints’ (quoting the 1968 Manual of Indulgences).

Nothing antiquated about that.

I'd say the to-do list impression comes from the fact that a plenary indulgence is the kind of request that will only be heard from someone who is in a state of grace and in close communion with Christ's Church (freedom from attachment to sin and reception of the sacraments ensure personal sanctity, and the prayer for the Pope signifies union with the Church).Partial indulgences are granted, more or less straightforwardly, for all sorts of things. All you have to do is ask.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Solemnity of Christ the King - homily

One of my favorite groups in the parish is the RCIA group which is made up of adults who are in the process of becoming Catholic. They are filled with great interest and passion about the Catholic faith. It is always so inspiring to be around people who have zeal for living the Catholic faith. A couple of weeks ago, I posed a question to the group which is pertinent to today’s feast of Christ the King. I asked, “if Jesus is a king, why didn’t He live as a king on earth, with a royal throne and power and riches?”

The group responded with some interesting and insightful answers. They said that if Jesus lived as a king with a royal throne that that would contradict so much of his message which is caring for and being in union with the poor. So much of what they said was right on the money, but I was looking for a more general answer. I think the answer has to do with faith. If Jesus lived as a king in glory in this life, then we would see him as king. It wouldn’t take faith to believe in Him if we could see him in all his glory in this life. As Christians, we walk by faith, not by sight.

Jesus doesn’t fully reveal himself to us in this life but he does give us enough reason to believe in him. The main evidence that Christ is King is the resurrection. In fact, he reveals himself as king in the resurrection. Today’s second reading is focused on the point that Christ reigns over all things, even death. His reign as king begins with the resurrection.

Christ himself says that “my kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18). His kingdom is in the next life, and it will last forever. He makes this clear in today’s Gospel when he speaks of his reign in the future: “when the Son of Man comes…he will sit upon his glorious throne”. He is not a worldly king; he is a king who comes into the world. He does not appear to be a king to the world – his throne is a cross, his crown is made of thorns, and his army is twelve men! In the least, Jesus is a mystery to the world. But, more than that, the world sees him as crazy…extreme…offensive. The things he said – like calling God “Father” – and the things he did – like forgiving sins. He may not have had the power of an earthly king, but he was a threat. He was – and continues to be - a threat to the world. That’s why the world killed him.

As followers of Christ the King, our kingdom is not in this world. He live in the world, but not of the world. If we are living our faith in Christ, then we have an experience similar to that of Jesus. In the least, we are a mystery to the world. But, more than that, the world sees us as crazy…extreme…offensive. The things we say – like when we defend life or marriage or faith – and the things we do – like going to Confession for the forgiveness of sins. If we don’t appear to the world at least as a mystery, then we aren’t being faithful to Christ the King. We walk by faith and not by sight; the world walks by sight and not by faith.

Finally, all of this comes together when we get to the Eucharist. It may be the greatest example of the world seeing us as crazy…worshiping what looks like a piece of bread! But, we believe our King when he says, “this is my body”. We believe that our king is present in the Eucharist. His kingdom, the kingdom of Heaven, is present on earth in the Eucharist. It is a preview to the eternal kingdom we will share in forever. We will not experience glory in this life, but in the life to come. We will reign with Christ our king in the eternal kingdom for ever.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pro-life conversion of "champion of abortion"

1) Eucharistic Adoration, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!

2)DC ‘Hood vs. St Andrew + St John the Baptist, 7:30 pm, Wheaton HS. If you’re not able to attend the game, please say a prayer for vocations today.

3) Youth Group fundraiser. Our Youth Group will be raking leaves tomorrow, Nov. 22, from 9 am – 12 noon for donations. If you know of anyone – particularly those who are elderly - who needs their yard raked, please call me today (301.649.3700 ext. 314).
Today is the memorial of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. We regularly see evidence of Mary’s powerful intercession in our world, especially with regards to the pro-life movement (e.g., conversion stories, abortion centers being closed). Most likely, the following story from Catholic News Agency is another example of this evidence.

Madrid Nov 12, 2008 / 09:21 pm (CNA).- The Spanish daily “La Razon” has published an article on the pro-life conversion of a former “champion of abortion.” Stojan Adasevic, who performed 48,000 abortions, sometimes up to 35 per day, is now the most important pro-life leader in Serbia, after 26 years as the most renowned abortion doctor in the country.

“The medical textbooks of the Communist regime said abortion was simply the removal of a blob of tissue,” the newspaper reported. “Ultrasounds allowing the fetus to be seen did not arrive until the 80s, but they did not change his opinion. Nevertheless, he began to have nightmares.”

In describing his conversion, Adasevic “dreamed about a beautiful field full of children and young people who were playing and laughing, from 4 to 24 years of age, but who ran away from him in fear. A man dressed in a black and white habit stared at him in silence. The dream was repeated each night and he would wake up in a cold sweat. One night he asked the man in black and white who he was. ‘My name is Thomas Aquinas,’ the man in his dream responded. Adasevic, educated in communist schools, had never heard of the Dominican genius saint. He didn’t recognize the name”

“Why don’t you ask me who these children are?” St. Thomas asked Adasevic in his dream.

“They are the ones you killed with your abortions,’ St. Thomas told him.

“Adasevic awoke in amazement and decided not to perform any more abortions,” the article stated.

“That same day a cousin came to the hospital with his four months-pregnant girlfriend, who wanted to get her ninth abortion—something quite frequent in the countries of the Soviet bloc.

The doctor agreed. Instead of removing the fetus piece by piece, he decided to chop it up and remove it as a mass. However, the baby’s heart came out still beating. Adasevic realized then that he had killed a human being,”

After this experience, Adasevic “told the hospital he would no longer perform abortions. Never before had a doctor in Communist Yugoslavia refused to do so. They cut his salary in half, fired his daughter from her job, and did not allow his son to enter the university.”

After years of pressure and on the verge of giving up, he had another dream about St. Thomas.
“You are my good friend, keep going,’ the man in black and white told him. Adasevic became involved in the pro-life movement and was able to get Yugoslav television to air the film ‘The Silent Scream,’ by Doctor Bernard Nathanson, two times.”

Adasevic has told his story in magazines and newspapers throughout Eastern Europe. He has returned to the Orthodox faith of his childhood and has studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“Influenced by Aristotle, Thomas wrote that human life begins forty days after fertilization,” Adasevic wrote in one article. La Razon commented that Adasevic “suggests that perhaps the saint wanted to make amends for that error.” Today the Serbian doctor continues to fight for the lives of the unborn.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why do we need to be at Mass every Sunday?

DC ‘Hood vs. St Andrew’s & St John the Baptist, Friday night, 7:30 pm, Wheaton High School gym. Go ‘Hood!
Anon wrote, “I was wondering if there are any prayers that one can say in the case that mass is not accessible or if you will be arriving late to mass and you feel that it is pointless to go to mass when you are so late. Last year I was volunteering in China and mass was inaccessible. I asked a father at my parish whether it was a mortal sin and he said it was. Are there any exceptions to missing mass and if I miss mass what prayers can I say?”

Anon, you can certainly say prayers when Mass is not accessible but they don’t substitute for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is the greatest prayer. In other words, they don’t satisfy the Sunday obligation which is Holy Mass. I don’t think there are too many places in the world where Mass is not generally accessible, although in some places where parishes have been closed – even in our own country – getting to Mass might be less accessible.

Without knowing the particular factors involved in your situation in China, I cannot say whether or not it was a mortal sin. But, if we were talking about it, I would ask you some questions to help determine if it was. Did you freely choose to be in an area where there was no opportunity to get to Sunday Mass? Did you fully know that this is a grave sin? If so, then it would be a mortal sin because you freely and knowingly made the choice to miss Sunday Mass which is a grave sin (even if it was to do voluntary acts of charity; love of God before love of neighbor). However, if it was through no fault of your own (e.g., you tried to find transportation but couldn’t), then it wasn’t a mortal sin because you didn’t choose it. We have to choose sin for it to be a sin.

The example of not being able to find transportation is fairly common among Catholic youth. Mass is inaccessible for them because their parents won’t drive them. I remind them that that is not their sin; it is the sin of their parents. I ask them to tell their parents that they really want to get to Mass every Sunday. In that way, they are doing all that they can to get to Sunday Mass. To me, that is the key in any of these situations where Mass is “inaccessible” – are you doing everything you can to get to Mass?

My mother and step-father went on vacation to one of the Islands a few years ago. When they were planning their trip, they called ahead to find out about when Mass would be offered on the weekend. They were told that the only Mass on the island all weekend was at 7:30 on Saturday night. They went to the Church at 7:30 to find that Mass was halfway over – it had started at 7:00! It was not a mortal sin because it was through no fault of their own that Mass was “inaccessible”. They had done all they could to get to Mass where they were going and were simply given the wrong information about the Mass time.

The most common situation of Mass being inaccessible involves people who are physically unable to attend Mass, mainly due to illness. For people who find themselves in this situation, the Sunday obligation is removed. Again, it is through no fault of their own. Many people who are sick or homebound on Sundays watch the “Mass for Shut-Ins” on TV. Others will read and meditate on that Sunday’s readings (via www.usccb.org/nab). Hopefully, they all have asked their local parish to bring Holy Communion to them on Sunday or some time during the week.

Finally, people might wander, what is this all about? Why do we need to get to Mass each and every Sunday? I often ask people, “what is the primary reason we have to be at Mass every Sunday?” While few have gotten the answer correct, they have offered many interesting and meaningful responses. I pose this question to all bloggers to get your thoughts. I will answer it in the near future (hint, the answer is “C.O.O.L.”).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

33rd Sunday - Gospel commentary

Gospel Commentary for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, NOV. 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).- This Sunday's Gospel is the parable of the talents. Unfortunately, in the past the meaning of this parable has been habitually distorted, or at least very much reduced.

Hearing talk of talents we immediately think of natural gifts of intelligence, beauty, strength, artistic abilities. The metaphor is used to speak about actors, singers, comedians, etc. The usage is not completely mistaken, but it is secondary. Jesus did not intend to speak of the obligation of developing one's natural gifts, but of developing the gifts given by him. On the contrary, sometimes it is necessary to curb this tendency to focus on one's own talents because this can easily become careerism, a mania of imposing oneself on others.

The talents that Jesus is speaking about are the Word of God and faith: in a word, the kingdom proclaimed by him. In this sense the parable of the talents stands alongside that of the sower. The different outcomes of the talents given correspond to the different fates of the seeds cast on the ground by the sower -- some produce 60%, some are buried beneath thorns or eaten by birds.

Today faith and the sacraments are the talents that we Christians have received. The parable thus obliges us to examine our conscience: What use are we making of these talents? Are we either like the servant who made them bear fruit or like the one who buried them? I would compare it to a Christmas present that one has forgotten and left unopened in a corner.

The fruits of natural talents become irrelevant to us when we die or, at best, pass on to those who come after us; the fruits of spiritual talents follow us into eternal life and one day will gain us the approval of the divine Judge: "Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you have been faithful in small things I will give you authority over greater things. Enter into the joy of your master."

Our human and Christian duty is not only to develop our own natural and spiritual talents, but also to help others develop theirs. In the contemporary world there are people whose job it is to be "talent scouts." They are people who can pick out hidden talents -- in painting, singing, acting, sports and so on. They help those with the talents to cultivate them and find them sponsors. They do not do this for free or for the love of art, but to get a percentage of the earnings of the talented people they discovered, once they succeed.

The Gospel invites us all to be talent scouts, not for the love of gain but to help those who are unable to begin developing their talents on their own. Humanity owes some of its geniuses and best artists to the altruism of the friends of these people, who believed in them and encouraged them when no one else did. One exemplary case that comes to mind is Theo Van Gogh, who supported his brother Vincent financially and morally his whole life, when no one believed in him and he was unable to sell any of his paintings. They exchanged more than 600 letters, documents of great humanity and spirituality. Without Theo Van Gogh, we would not have the many paintings of his brother that everyone loves and admires.

The first reading invites us to reflect on a particular talent that is both natural and spiritual: the talent of femininity, the talent of being a woman. This reading contains the famous praise of women that begins with the words: "A perfect woman, who can find her?" This praise, which is so beautiful, has one defect, which does not come from the inspiration but from the epoch in which it was written and the culture that it reflects. If we pay attention, we see that the praise has entirely to do with what the woman does for the man. Its implicit conclusion: Blessed is the man who has such a woman. She makes him nice clothes, brings honor to his house, allows him to hold his head high among his friends. I do not think women today would be enthusiastic about this laud.

Putting this limitation aside, I would like to underscore the relevance of this praise of women. Everywhere there is the demand to make more room for women, to value the feminine genius. We do not believe that "the eternal feminine will save us." Daily experience shows that women can lift themselves up, but also that they can let themselves down. They also need Christ's salvation. But it is certain that, once she is redeemed and "liberated" by him, on the human level, from ancient subjections, she can help to save our society from some inveterate evils that threaten it: violence, will to power, spiritual aridity, scorn for life, etc.

After so many ages that took their name from man -- from the ages of "homo erectus" and "homo faber," to the age of "homo sapiens" today, we might hope that there will finally come, for humanity, the age of woman: the age of the heart, of tenderness, of compassion. It was devotion to the Virgin that, in past centuries, inspired respect for women and their idealization in literature and art. The woman of today, too, can look to her as a model, friend and ally in defending the dignity and the talent of being a woman.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Frozen embryos: Children on Hold"

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

DC ‘Hood vs. St Andrew's and St. John the Baptist next Friday, November 21st at 7:30 pm at Wheaton High School. Go ‘Hood!
Anon wrote the following: “The subject of IVF was brought up among a group friends, and a moral question on bioethics emerged. What does the Church say we should do with all the frozen embryos already in existence?”

Here is an article written in 2001 by Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. As the Archbishop points out, the Church had not made an authoritative statement about the issue of frozen embryos as of ’01; as far as I know, that is still the case. If any bloggers have seen such a statement, please let me know. To view the Archbishop’s letter in full, please click on today’s title.

FROZEN EMBRYOS: Children on Hold

During the already cited congressional hearings concerning stem-cell research, John Borden stood before the panel with both his sons in his arms and asked, “Which one of my children would you kill?” John and his wife, Lucinda, unable to have children of their own adopted frozen embryos that were “left over” from in vitro fertilization. Their striking testimony demonstrated that embryos are human beings in an early stage of development and therefore should not be sacrificed for embryonic stem-cell research.

The action of this couple and many others raises the question, “What should be done with the frozen embryos?” Dr. Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center published a fine article recently: “On the Disposition of Frozen Embryos.” The Church has not taken an official stand on what should be done. It is clear that in vitro fertilization is not an ethical practice. Nevertheless, the children born of this process are human beings, with the full rights and dignity of all members of the human family, and the frozen embryos produced are human and need to be respected as such.

The most acceptable solution for the disposition of these embryos is that they be implanted in their mother’s womb and brought to term. This is the best option in a highly ambiguous situation since the embryos should not have been created in the first place.

If the parents of the embryos are unable or unwilling to implant the embryo in the mother’s womb, what can be done with the frozen embryos? Moralists are beginning to debate this question. Theologians of the status of Dr. William May and Dr. Germain Grisey and Dr. John Furton, editor of Ethics & Medics of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, are of the opinion that it is preferable to place the frozen embryos up for adoption rather than to let them perish in a frozen gulag. Other moralists hesitate to countenance this approach because of the problem of surrogate motherhood. Nevertheless, we agonize over the predicament of these embryos. It is similar to the Church’s pastoral response to children born out of wedlock. While the Church cannot approve the circumstance of their birth since the children have already come into being, the Church must be concerned about their spiritual and material welfare.

No one wants to encourage in vitro fertilization in any way; yet, there is a desire to rescue these innocent human beings that are in the words of Donum Vitae: “exposed to an absurd fate, with no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival that can be licitly pursued” (D.V. I.5). We are hopeful that in the near future the Holy See will offer some authoritative pronouncements on this very complicated issue…

The Church’s teaching on in vitro fertilization is very clear and quite consistent with the Church’s teachings on marriage, on the dignity of the human person, and on the life ethic. A lack of knowledge about the ethical implications of this procedure has resulted in many couples having recourse to in vitro fertilization and has given further impetus to public support for embryonic stem-cell research.

St. Paul once commented that people will not respond to an uncertain trumpet blast. I assure you there is nothing uncertain about the Church’s teaching on in vitro fertilization. We have only to turn up the volume of the trumpet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Take action!

Following are two comments from bloggers that should motivate us to take action as well as suggestions from the USCCB (via nhcla.org) on how to take action:

Katherine: “One thing I noticed is that a lot of people complain about Obama being President, but no one's doing anything about it. What I mean is, if people don't like the fact that he's pro-choice, then why not write a letter or something explaining the pro-life views and how being pro-choice is not defending human life?”

Fran: “Senator Obama said it (signing the Freedom of Choice Act) was the FIRST THING he would do as president! Not the 2nd, not the 20th, but THE FIRST THING! That is astounding! A vote for Senator Obama is in fact a vote for the Freedom of Choice Act.”
Recommended Actions: Contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators by FAX letter, e-mail, or phone. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202.224.3121; or call Members’ local offices. Full contact info can be found on Members of Congress’s web sites, at: www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.

Message to all Members: “Please pledge now to oppose FOCA.” Those Members of Congress who have signed on as cosponsors of FOCA should be asked to remove their names from the bill. To check the list of current cosponsors, see: nchla.org/docdisplay.asp?ID=191.

Other Actions:
1. Arrange a formal meeting with your Representative and two Senators.

2. Communicate with your Representative and two Senators at town meetings.

3. Place an ad opposing FOCA in your local Catholic paper or other publication or insert educational materials in church bulletins. For an ad presentation designed for grassroots use, see: www.usccb.org/prolife/media/docs/foca.pdf. For bulletin inserts in black and white or color, see: www.nchla.org/docdisplay.asp?ID=201.

4. Write letters to the editor or express your views on call in radio talk shows.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dedication of Lateran Basilica - homily

As many of you know, Fr. Mike is in Rome with the choir. He has been away for about a week now. So, the nights at the rectory have been craz…quiet! I’ve been good – no parties (yet). I’ve been blessed to have gone to Rome twice. It is as they say it is – the cathedrals are overwhelming. There are so many of them and they are so grand and ornate. The first time, it was really too much to take in; the second time was a little better. My favorite church was St. John Lateran which is the cathedral of Rome. Today’s feast celebrates the anniversary of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica as the mother church of all Christianity which took place almost 1700 years ago.

Over the years, many people have asked me why churches are so ornate. I don’t usually give them a litany of reasons, but I thought it would be good to go over some of the reasons here. First, a church is so highly adorned because it is the House of God, a place of worship. This is sacred space. We perform sacred actions here, we hear heavenly speech and heavenly hymns, so it is fitting that we should see heavenly images. We should see images that help us to enter into the sacred.

Also, it is for the glory of God. We spare no expense to give glory to God who has given everything to us. One saint who was very much in union with the poor and lived radical poverty said, “poverty ends at the church’s doors”. We spare no expense when it comes to glorifying God in His House. He is worth it.

We also see in the Old Testament the amount of great detail that God goes into when it comes to building a temple. Just about every imaginable part of the temple is mentioned and every elaborate material is described. It really is incredible! Also, we see in the early Christian writings, there is a keen insight about the symbolism of the visible church. The visible church is to symbolize the invisible church: each one of us. Today’s second reading say that each one of us is a temple of God. So, the visible church structure is to symbolize the beauty and splendor of each one of us – our body, our soul. The visible symbolizes the invisible.

We hear in the Gospel another reason why churches are to be treated with great respect: Jesus had great love and passion for the House of God. The disciples are reminded of one of the psalms, “zeal for your house will consume me” during this Gospel scene. He had great zeal for the temple which was to be made with beauty and treated with respect.

We then see a switch that Jesus presents with regards to the temple. This probably represents the most important reason why churches are so ornate: the presence of God. The temple was where the Jews experienced the presence of God in a spiritual way. Jesus teaches that he is the new temple. He is the presence of God on earth in a real way. One scriptural scholar said, “the glorious presence of God – once confined to the temple – has been made flesh in Jesus”. He is the new temple. He is the presence of God on earth.

So, the most important reason why Catholic churches are so ornate is because they contain the real presence of God. In fact, if we look at the most elaborate item in this Church, we see that it is the tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Real Presence. We are not just speaking symbolically when we say that God is present in the Church. He is truly and really present here; the candle next to the tabernacle indicated that Jesus is truly present here in the Eucharist. We genuflect to indicate that He dwells in the tabernacle – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Let us all have great zeal for the House of God, this place of worship and prayer. For it is here that we truly experience His Real Presence.