Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween: "holy evening"

"All Saints" party tomorrow night at the Newman Center, 7–10 pm. Best saint costumes win $25-$75 gift cards to Outback, Kohl’s and Under Armour.
With tomorrow night being Halloween (all Hallow's Eve), I thought it would be good to present a brief history of Halloween, particularly with its Christian connection. The following article from might surprise some of you, mainly the fact that tomorrow night is supposed to be a "holy evening". Because Halloween has become a secular celebration, we won't see much tomorrow night that points to what is "holy". The saddest part is that we will see many costumes and customs that point to the "unholy" on Halloween (e.g., GWU included condoms among its Halloween giveaways to students in a freshman dorm this week).

When you think of Halloween, what comes to mind? For a lot of people, Halloween has become synonymous with candy, costumes, scary stuff, witches, ghosts and pumpkins. But do you know the Christian connection to the holiday?

The true origins of Halloween lie with the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts, November 1 marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead—including ghosts, goblins and witches—returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider—traditions which may sound familiar to you. But where does the Christian aspect of the holiday come into play? In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow’s Even or “holy evening.” Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day.

The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that through the communion of saints “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things” (#1475).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bible Study help

Alternative Spring Break 2010
(yes, it's time to sign up)

Where: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

When: March 13-20

What: We will be working with the United Methodist Relief Center to help build and repair homes for low-income individuals.

Logistics: We have room for 25 students to attend. The cost is $250 per person.

Due Date: This trip fills up very quickly and is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Contacts: For more information email Meg Miller at
We began our Bible Study here earlier this month, meeting on Monday nights from 7-8 pm. The discussions have been quite good. They might be on a bit of a deeper level than I expected because those who have been coming seem to have participated in a Bible Study before. There are some students who came the first night but haven't returned, maybe because the comments and questions of the participants were more advanced or academic than they were looking for. I enjoy the current Bible Study but am wondering if there is something else we can offer.

I know that GW students want to understand the Bible better. I know that there is interest in a Bible Study. When I was here before as a seminarian, I led a Bible Study with the same format (discussing the Sunday readings) which was well attended regularly by students. So, if the desire to learn Scripture is there, can you help me to understand why only a few students are coming out on Monday nights?

Do we need to plug it more at Mass (which we have done several times) or advertize it better? Do we need to have it elsewhere on campus, away from the Newman Center (which might scare off some students who would otherwise come)? Do we need to provide a more focused Bible Study (e.g., studying the Gospel of John)?

In other words, what can we do to build up a Catholic Bible Study at GW? When that happens, God willing, more students will know Scripture better and, thus, know Christ better. "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ" -St. Jerome.

We appreciate your thoughts and suggestions.

Monday, October 26, 2009

30th Sunday - homily

I am going to do something now that is risky. It is risky because it could lead you to fall asleep during my homily (heaven forbid!) I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes. Please shut your eyes and don’t open them until I tell you. What I want you to do – other than staying awake – is just to observe the darkness you are in. Now, I know we do this each night when we try to fall asleep. But, imagine that you spent each day like this. Imagine that this is all you saw all the time. Imagine that you walked through this world in darkness. Imagine that your world was in darkness. There would be only one thing that you would want: to see. You would want the “on” switch to be turned on. I will turn your switch on now by asking you to open your eyes. Those who still have their eyes shut, well, we’ll see them back with us in a few minutes!

That is a good exercise for us to do. It is good for us to be in union with those who are blind….those who are poor…those who are suffering… even for just a few moments. It helps us to be union with someone like Bartimaeus, a man who suffered from physical blindness. Like you all a moment ago, he just wanted to see. That is the one thing that he asked Jesus to do for him: to help him to see. His world was in darkness all the time; Christ brought him into the light. One thing to point out about his disease and all the diseases that Jesus cured in the Gospels: disease in Scripture represents sin. We all suffer from the disease of sin and Jesus can cure our disease. He had the power to drive out Bartimaeus’ blindness; He has the power to drive out our sin.

A couple of things about Bartimaeus that we can all emulate. First, he had faith in Christ. He believed in Jesus. And, he wasn’t afraid to show that faith in public. He was in the midst of a huge crowd – maybe some of his close friends were there – and he is calling out to Jesus for help. They “rebuked” him. Basically, they told him to shut up. They probably even made fun of him. He didn’t care. He didn’t care if people told him to shut up or if they mocked him. He didn’t care about his image. He just wanted to see! He believed that Jesus would help him and wasn’t afraid to put his faith in him. He was rewarded for his courageous faith as Jesus said, “your faith has saved you”.

Second, Bartimaeus was a man of prayer. One way to define prayer is that it is simply a conversation with God. Bartimaeus seeks out Christ and starts a conversation with Him. He cries out to Him more than once. Jesus responds to Him by saying, “what do you want me to do for you?” Wow, what a line to hear! Imagine if God said that to us: ”what do you want me to do for you?” Some might say, “I’ll take an A in political science, a date with that girl from economics class…” Actually, that sounds like my former prayer life. In all seriousness, Jesus is saying this to each one of us: “what do you want me to do for you?” He is saying, ‘come talk to me. I will give you whatever you ask for. Just let me know what it is you want’. Obviously, he knew what Bartimaeus wanted. He knows what we want. He wants us to bring it to Him. He wants to hear it from us. He wants a conversation with each of us. Like Bartimaeus, we shouldn’t be afraid to pray to Christ even if people are going to rebuke us for it.

Finally, we have the same opportunity as Bartimaeus. First, we can take our blindness (our sin) to Christ and ask Him to drive it out. This happens in Confession. Confession takes us from darkness to light. Second, we have the chance to speak with Christ every day. It’s the same Christ with whom Bartimaeus spoke. Ok, He looks a little different, but it’s same Christ in the Eucharist. It’s really Him that we see and receive at Mass. It’s really Him who dwells in the tabernacle at every Catholic Church and chapel. It’s really Him who dwells on the campus at GW…at the Newman Center chapel. It’s really Him who you can visit and talk to there any day. It’s really Him.

I challenge you all to come to the Newman Center chapel this week for at least 5 minutes of prayer with Christ. The best day is Wednesday between 12:30 pm and 10 pm when the Eucharist is exposed and there are many students coming in and out. It is awesome! It is so peaceful. Come on by for a few minutes. Christ wants to have conversation with you. He wants to be a part of your life and He wants you to be a part of His life. He wants to tell how pleased He is with you and how much he loves you. He wants you to go to Him in the Eucharist.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"What do you want me to do for you?"

1) Farewell Mass and party for Fr. Peter this Sunday! My predecessor, Fr. Peter Giovanoni, will celebrate the 7:30 pm Mass. We'll have pizza and cake in the Parish Hall after Mass. Come join us in saying goodbye to Fr Peter!

2) Blob’s Park
Come for a night of fun at Blob’s Park Bier Garten in Jessup, Maryland, on Fri, October 30. Must be 21 to attend. Cost is $10. Bring additional cash for dinner + drinks. RSVP to Meg Miller by Thurs, Oct 29.

3) All Saints PartySat, Oct 31, 7-10 pm, Newman Center. Best saints’ costumes win $25-$75 gift cards to Outback, Kohl’s, and Under Armour.
This Sunday's Gospel(Mk 10:46-52) is a powerful story for many reasons. It is the story of a blind man, Bartimaeus, who cries out to Jesus for healing. There are so many directions that a homilist can take this; I have struggled all week to pick one! So, I wanted to lay out a few of them here.

Bartimaeus was in the midst of a "sizable crowd". He was calling out for help. Did anyone help him? No. In fact, people "rebuked him". They basically told him to shut up and keep quiet. He cried out "all the more". The only person in that crowd who helped him was the Lord. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah from the first reading (Jer 31:7-9): "(The Lord) will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst". Christ treats him with great respect and compassion and calls us to have the same respect and compassion for those who are in need.

This encounter with Christ for Bartimaeus is very much like Confession. He is afflicted with the disease of blindness; his disease (like all the diseases in the Gospel which Jesus cures) represents sin. He takes his disease to Jesus who is the high priest, as the second reading (Heb 5:1-6) reminds us. He specifically asks, not once but twice, for mercy: "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me". He then confesses specifically what he wants from the Lord: "I want to see". He wants his disease to be removed. He wants to leave the darkness and live in light. The Lord delivers him from darkness by removing his blindness and says, "your faith has saved you".

We do the same thing when we go to Confession. We approach the priest with our disease: sin. We want to be freed from the disease. We want to be freed from sin. We confess in specific ways about our sin and ask the priest to take us out of the darkness of sin. We ask him to have mercy on us in specific ways. Like Christ (and in the person of Christ), he has mercy on us and absolves the sins we have confessed. He delivers us from spiritual darkness and brings us into the light (of Christ's Grace). We leave the confessional in very similar ways to Bartimaeus leaving his encounter with Christ: we are free!

Bartimaeus is told by the people, "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you". It takes courage to go before the Lord. It takes courage to go to Confession. It takes courage to follow the Lord, especially in the midst of a big crowd of people. It takes courage to live a moral life. It takes courage to pursue and live out a vocation. It takes courage to trust in God. It takes courage to be a man or woman of faith. Take courage, GW students, as disciples of Christ!

Much of my attention on this Gospel has been about Bartimaeus as a man of prayer. A key point in this story is that he seeks out Jesus. The first step in prayer is seeking out the Lord. It is especially difficult for Bartimaeus to pray because he is told to stop praying by the huge crowd! How many people tell us in different ways not to pray? How many people are afraid to pray or follow Christ for fear of being "rebuked" by their friends or families? Bartimaeus is not deterred, and neither should we be deterred. He is rewarded for his faith and trust in the Lord, not just with physical sight but with personal healing. The Lord offers each of us his healing power. It is through prayer that we experience healing that only Christ can give.

Finally, when Bartimaeus approaches Jesus, the Lord asks him, "what do you want me to do for you?" He asks each of us this same question when we go to Hin prayer. So, He is waiting for each of you and is ready to ask you the same question: "what do you want me to do for you?"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

GW room blessings

As many of you know, I have offered to bless dorm rooms of students. Almost 20 students have taken me up on the offer so far. I did these room blessings last week. It was a really cool experience for me and the GW seminarian who came with me. Hopefully, it was a positive experience for the students, too! At least one student asked, "what does the blessing do?" Simply put, it brings Grace to a place. The blessing of a priest and sprinkling of holy water brings God's grace to people and their rooms or homes in an actual way. It is so significant to bring Grace to any place, but especially on a college campus where sin runs rampant. As St Paul writes, "however much sin increased, grace was always greater" (Rom 5:20).

One of the things that that means is that no matter what happened in your room before you began living there, grace now dwells there as a result of a room blessing. It's certainly scary to think of what might have happened in your room in the past several years before you got there - blasphemy against God or the Church, things of the occult (witchcraft, wicca, ouija boards, tarot cards, etc.), alcohol or drug abuse, impure sexual activity, pornography, contraception, self-injury (cutting), inappropriate language or jokes, pirating of materials (videos, music, software), gossip, etc. These sins aren't exclusive to college dorm rooms, of course; Catholics everywhere should have their homes and apartments blessed. But, everyone here knows that sin is all around us...and, serious sin at that. So, the prudent and practical GW Catholic student approaches his or her room as being a place where serious sin might have happened, and so he or she wants to eradicate all of that with a blessing by a priest.

I've been at another university where students asked in huge numbers for room blessings. Many of them were not even Catholic. Well, one of the main reasons for this is basically the same reason I mentioned above: there was a huge fear throughout the campus that many of the rooms were possessed by evil spirits. There were so many rumored stories of noises and sightings of strange creatures, so the students were spooked every year.

Now, I'm not saying that GW rooms are possessed by the Devil and his legion of demons...I haven't heard of any external evidence of that. Demonic possession in college dorm rooms is rare; demonic temptation is much more common, especially in rooms where sin has abounded. Where there has been much sin, there will be more temptation (evil invites more evil spirits).

What I am saying to you students is that if you are living in a room where there has been much sin, then you are most likely going to be subject to more temptation in your room. Evil would dwell there and come to you in the form of temptation. Now, you have the opportunity to change all of that with a room blessing. Instead of evil dwelling in a place, the Grace of God can live there! No matter how long sin has been increasing, the grace of a room blessing by a priest is always greater. It's kind of like Confession: years and years of sin can be wiped out by the Grace of Christ.

Now, on top of all this serious stuff, the room blessings were a lot of fun! I met many students (roommates, friends, guests) which is one of the indirect fruits of room blessings. I probably had a little too much fun with the sprinkling of the holy water (as usual), often getting students and their guests pretty much soaked in the head. Hey, it's Holy's all good!

One highlight from the room blessings happened when we went to a freshmen dorm. Security is tight there and I had forgotten my ID. I had to walk back to the Newman Center to get it. About two blocks from the dorm, a student approached me on the sidewalk and asked if I'm the Catholic chaplain. He then asked when he could come by for Confession and that it's been a long time. Hopefully, he'll come by the Center soon!

Another highlight was a comment I received from one of the students whose room I blessed. She had a friend from home visiting her when I stopped by (she was also someone who got wet during the Holy Water soaking, I mean, sprinkling). The student wrote: "thanks again for coming to bless my room. I knew it would mean a lot to me but my friend from home commented that she thought it was really nice too which was nice to hear. I always love when people learn my faith isn't this weird thing but something that actually means something to me and enriches my life." Cool!

Finally, if any GW student would like to have your room blessed, email me or leave a comment here with your address and phone # (I will NOT publish your comment and info on this site).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

29th Sunday - homily

I first entered the seminary right out of college…literally the next day. I finished my summer classes at the University of Maryland and then drove up to the seminary. Not long after I arrived, the rector of the seminary welcomed me. He said, “Greg, you are the last man to arrive this year. We have a tradition that the last man to arrive is the cantor at the Opening Mass”. I replied, “Um, Monsignor, I can’t sing”. He told me not to worry. He said even more emphatically, “Monsignor, I can’t sing. This is going to be really bad”. He said that everyone knows the tradition and I shouldn’t sweat it. But, I did sweat it. A lot. I didn’t sleep that first night in the seminary..not worried about being with 150 holy men after working in a bar…not worried about preparing to be a priest…but about singing in front of a crowd of people at Mass. I walked back into the rector’s office the next day. There were several other seminarians there. I made my point one final time: “Monsignor, please don’t make me sing. I didn’t sleep last night. I can’t sing!” He started laughing; so did the other guys. He then said, “gotcha!” When I realized it was all a joke, I said to myself, “Oh, thank God!” After that, I was totally relaxed being there. ‘Celibacy? No problem! I don’t have to sing at the Opening Mass.’

I was ordained a priest in 2006 and have been the GW Newman Center chaplain since July. It has been a busy three and a half months! We fixed up the Newman Center in July and August, giving it a facelift with new exterior paint, flagstone, and landscaping. Our hope was to make the Center more attractive and inviting to the students. It appears that that has happened because we have had more students come through our doors this year, thanks be to God. But, with more students coming to our social and spiritual events, our costs are going up. We need your help. We need your “timely help”, as today’s second reading says. The second collection is for the Newman Center; please help us out. Your contributions will help us pay for social events like Tuesday dinners, spiritual programs like retreats, and our rising monthly bills. On behalf of the students, I am grateful for your generous and timely help.

Speaking of the students, your sons and daughters, they are great! I know that word is overused, but it totally fits in the context of today’s Gospel. Jesus says that whoever wants to be great will be a servant. Your kids are great because they serve. This is true of many GW students, but especially those at the Newman Center. This past summer, some of them helped me just about every day in fixing up the Newman Center. Then, at the Opening BBQ, you should have seen them: greeting and welcoming the 300 students who attended…for 4 straight hours! They did it with a smile the whole time. Every Tuesday, they cook for about 75 students. They help out at local food kitchens. They gave up a weekend in September to lead the Freshmen Retreat. They serve regularly as liturgical ministers at Mass. They are all over the place serving others. They are great!

Yes, students, you are great, but please remember that your parents are the greatest. They are the greatest among us. They have served you since day one. They have given up so much for you. They have sacrificed their time, effort, energy, and money to give you so much. Everything you have has come about through your parents. They have served you and taught you to serve others. Love means sacrifice; they have loved you from day one.

Finally, whenever we come to Mass, whenever we come to the Eucharist, we remember all that Christ sacrificed for us. He is the Greatest of all because He is the servant of all. He came down from His throne in Heaven for this (pointing to the Crucifix). He sacrificed everything for you and for me. Before we leave Church today, let each one of us say from our hearts, “thank you, Jesus”. Hopefully we will pray this during Holy Communion. Something like, “thank you, Lord, for giving me your life. Help me to give you mine”. Before your parents go home today, students, please say, “thank you, Mom and Dad”. They have shown you and taught you so much about love…and about God’s love. Every week I tell you that God loves each and every one of you. As much as your parents love you and serve you, God loves you even more! He has infinite love for you. May you and all of us here know the intense love God has for us in our lives.

Friday, October 16, 2009

If we disagree with the Church, we disagree with Christ

Parents Weekend events:
1) Newman Center Open House, tomorrow (10/17), 12 noon- 4 pm
2) Sunday Mass (10/18), 11 am, St Stephen's Church (25th and Penn. Ave)
Recently, I have had separate conversations with two students who said the same thing: "there are some teachings of the Church that I disagree with". Each of them came to talk to me for reasons other than these teachings and each meeting was really beautiful. Obviously, their matching statement didn't surprise me because it's a prevalent point among many Catholics. The openness that each of them showed when I talked to them about the Church and her teachings was a pleasant and refreshing surprise. Each of them boldly revealed that that was the first time they had really heard the truth about the Church and her teachings. Thanks be to God, each of them is much more on board with the Church now.

So, based on these conversations and on my experience in general, here are some key points for GW Catholics to consider:

1) The teachings of the Catholic Church are from the Holy Spirit.
Neither student knew the answer to this question: "when did the Catholic Church begin?" The answer is 33 A.D. The Church began at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles. The Lord promised to send the Spirit, "the Spirit of truth" who "will guide you to all truth" (Jn 16:13). The Spirit of truth has been guiding the Church for 2000 years. This guarantees us that what the Church teaches us is Truth. All of her teachings in faith and morals are free from error. They are the Truth!

2) The teachings of the Church are the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord gives the authority to the Apostles to continue his teach in his name and in the name of Heaven. He does this first with Peter (the first pope): "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19). He gives the same authority to the other Apostles (the first bishops) in Matthew 18:18. They have passed down this authority to their successors (popes and bishops) for 2000 years...this is know as Apostolic Tradition. This unbroken tradition guarantees us that what the current pope and bishops teach is from Christ himself.

3) Christ and the Church are one.
Jesus makes this clear in the Gospel (e.g., "I am the vine, you are branches" - Jn 15:5). This point is also made by St Paul throughout his letters (e.g., "Christ is the head of the body, the church" - Col 1:18). Christ is the head, the Church is the body. Because Christ and the Church are one, what we say about the Church is what we say about Christ. If we disagree with the Church, we disagree with Christ. But, the more we are with the Church in mind and heart, the more we are in union with Christ.

Finally, a spiritual point about the Church and Christ that is also practical in our modern world. Think about what got Christ killed. Why was he crucified? What did he do wrong? He didn't do anything wrong. All he did was speak the truth. People either weren't ready for it or they didn't want to hear it. So, they killed him for it. He was hated and crucified by the world because he spoke Truth. The same has happened to his body, the Church. The Church is hated and crucified every day by the world because she speaks the truth. Many people still don't want to hear the truth even though "the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). Knowing that this would bring about his death, Jesus spoke the truth in love. The Church continues to do this in the modern world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?"

1)Tuesday dinner tonight, 6 pm, preceded by 5:30 Mass in the Newman Center chapel. All GW students are invited!!

2)Parents’ Weekend events:
- Open House, Sat, Oct 17, 12-4 pm, Newman Center
- Holy Mass, Sun, Oct 18, 11 am, St Stephen’s (25th and Penn. Ave)+ coffee and donuts after Mass in Parish Hall
Anon posted the following question: "Did Adam and Eve have a belly button?"

Apparently, this has been a subject of much debate for a long time. It might appear like a frivolous question, but it leads to some significant points and questions (e.g., ‘where did Adam and Eve come from?’). The short answer is that we don’t know for sure if they had belly buttons, but it’s quite reasonable to think that they did not. Belly buttons are scars which form on people after their umbilical cords are cut from their mothers' wombs at birth. As the Book of Genesis reveals, Adam and Eve were each created outside of a womb, so they did not have umbilical cords or the scars (belly buttons) that result from them. An article from lays this and other historical information about the debate out in the following:

This will help answer the question. "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (soul)" (Gen. 2:7). Woman had not even been created at this point in time, so it is obvious that Adam did not come from the womb of one. "For man does not originate from woman" (1 Cor. 11:8). This being true, then how could Adam have had an umbilicus (belly button)?! The even greater question, of course, is this: would not the presence of an umbilicus be a visible testimony to a falsehood?! Such a physical mark would be a visible sign that Adam came through natural childbirth from a woman, when in fact he did NOT. Thus, if God had chosen to place such a distinguishing mark on Adam, it would have been a false witness, a testimony to a LIE. The apostle Paul wrote, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead" (1 Cor. 15:14-15). If testimony is made about something that did not occur, then that is "false witness." If testimony is made that Adam and Eve experienced a natural childbirth (evidenced by the presence of an umbilicus), and this couple did NOT originate via natural means, but rather supernatural means, then the testimony of the umbilicus is "false testimony," and the one proclaiming such (in this case God) would be a liar.

The same problem exists for Eve. "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man'" (Gen. 2:21-23). Eve also did not experience a natural birth, but rather a supernatural creation! Thus, for her to have been given an umbilicus would likewise be a false testimony. It would, by its presence upon her body, declare she was formed by natural generation, rather than by supernatural creation, and would forever be a visible statement of contradiction to the reality of her creation by the Creator.

Lest one think this is all rather frivolous and trivial, and that nobody really ever gave this matter much serious thought, and that Al Maxey is getting desperate for topics for his Reflections articles, it should be noted that the question as to whether Adam and Eve ever possessed such a distinguishing mark has not only generated debate in the religious world for centuries, but has even reached into our own United States Congress! In 1944, a subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives Military Committee (chaired by Congressman Durham of the state of North Carolina) refused to authorize a little 30-page booklet titled "Races of Man," that was to be handed out to our soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting in World War II, because this little booklet had a drawing that depicted Adam and Eve with belly buttons! The members of this subcommittee ruled that showing Adam and Eve with navels "would be misleading to gullible American soldiers."

Some of the world's great artists also wrestled with this problem, as did the Roman Catholic Church. In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne, a doctor and philosopher from Norwich, published a work titled "Pseudodoxia Epidemica" in which he sought to expose some of the "vulgar errors" then present in society. He devoted an entire chapter to "Pictures of Adam and Eve with Navels." He points out that even such notables as Raphael and Michelangelo were guilty of such "vulgar errors." He declared that to paint Adam and Eve with belly buttons would be to suggest that "the Creator affected superfluities, or ordained parts without use or office." The Catholic Church, as a rule, seemed to be against artists depicting Adam and Eve with navels in their paintings, so this posed quite a problem for a number of these artists who didn't want to antagonize the church. A good many of them, therefore, chose to take the "safe path" and simply painted the couple with strategically placed foliage, long hair, or forearms blocking the abdomen. And yet Michelangelo dared to paint Adam with a navel, and to place it right there on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for which he was accused of heresy by some theologians of his day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

28th Sunday - homily

Our high school youth group in the parish met every Sunday night, and we’d have Ledo’s pizza every other week (which the kids really liked). It worked out well because the delivery man was always on time…7:00 on the dot just about every time. Well, one night we had a big group of kids show up for a discussion about being ready for Heaven. The pizza guy was late. The hungry kids were getting restless, but really didn’t complain. At about 7:15, we called Ledo’s and asked where the delivery man was. They said he had left a while ago; the place was only 5 minutes from us. So, we decided to begin the discussion and just eat afterwards.

In our discussion, we talked about always being ready to go to Heaven because you never know when your time will come. We brought up examples like 9/11 which remind us that our time can come at any time. Towards the end of the meeting, the pizza arrived…finally! But, it was a different delivery man. We asked him what happened to the first guy. He told us that he got into a serious car accident on the way to our place (again, only 5 minutes away). He was in very bad shape and his car was totaled. I told the teens what happened and we all gathered in a circle and prayed hard for him. A few minutes later, someone said, “this is exactly what we were talking about. You never know”. It was a very powerful moment. The man recovered and came back to see us some time later. But, the point was made to sll of us that night and we got it.

So, if we always need to be ready for Heaven, how do we get ready? The young man in tonight’s Gospel essentially asks Jesus this question in tonight’s Gospel when he says: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Like, ‘what do I need to do to get to Heaven?’ Jesus’ answer is to live a moral life…to keep the Commandments. This isn’t the total answer because elsewhere in the Gospel, our Lord says that we need to be baptized to be saved, we need to receive the Eucharist to have eternal life, and we need to take care of the poor to get to Heaven. But, here, He focuses on keeping the commandments in order to receive eternal life.

Jesus is not just talking about how to get to Heaven when we die. Heaven is not just a future event. It can also occur in the present. We can inherit eternal life here on Earth. We call it happiness. Jesus wants us all to be happy in this life and forever. He is telling the young man and us that we will only be truly happy if we keep the commandments…if we choose the good…if we live as the people we are meant to be. Sin doesn’t make us happy. It might give us pleasure, but it doesn’t bring happiness. I have learned this is in my own life and after hearing a few thousand confessions. Sin doesn’t make us happy; choosing what is good makes us happy.

If you want to move away from sin and inherit eternal life, I offer you the sacrament of Confession…the sacrament of Mercy. Now, I know, just the very mention of Confession makes you nervous. I understand. It is hard to confess. Let me make it a bit easier for you by saying: I don’t care. If you come to me for Confession, I don’t care about: what sins you have committed, how many times you have committed them, how long it’s been since your last confession, or if you’ve forgotten how to go to Confession. What I do care about is your happiness. Confession will help you to be happy; it removes the huge weight of sin that drags us all down and makes us miserable. And, Confession reconnects us with Christ; we are happiest when we are with Him.

We have copies of a Guide to Confession in the back of Church that will help you to prepare for Confession along with little cards that have the act of contrition. They are for you to take. You know that I offer confession after Mass; if you are not ready to go tonight, call me or email me during the week. I am open 24/7 for Confession. As a minister of mercy, I am always available to offer you the mercy of Christ….not anger, not judgement, not condemnation…but mercy.

Finally, you hear me say at Communion every time, “let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord”. What this really means is that Communion is reserved for Catholics who are in a state of Grace. If you have stepped out of the state of Grace through mortal sin (serious sin that you knew was wrong and freely chose to do it), then please just come up for a blessing. It is bad news to receive the Eucharist unworthily, as St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11. He says that anyone who does this brings judgment on himself for the death of Christ. I don’t want anyone here to do that. If you’re worried about what people will think if you don’t receive, forget them. They shouldn’t be judging you anyway. I would worry about what the Lord thinks. Please, have respect for the Eucharist. Just come up for a blessing and then hit Confession as soon as possible. In this way, you will please the Lord who loves you so much and wants you to happy. May you know his love and may you find happiness in this life and forever.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Open 24/7 for Confession

Upcoming Newman Center events:
-Sunday night Masses (7:30 and 10 pm), St Stephen’s
-Oct 17: Open House / Parents Weekend, 12-4 pm
-Oct 24: Harper’s Ferry day trip (please email Meg at for more info or to sign up)
-Oct 30: Blob’s Park Bier Garten trip (please email Meg)
‘Anon’ wrote the following about Confession: “The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful, albeit difficult Sacrament. After soul searching and true ownership of sin(s), a wonderful sense of cleanliness and hope ensues. With this being said, and with such importance placed on our state of Grace when receiving the Eucharist, why is Confession's availability so coveted? It would seem to me that if the Church wants its members to participate and take advantage of this beautiful Sacrament, it should be a little easier to access. I'd imagine Confessions would increase if it was offered more frequently. Thoughts anyone - or am I just lazy and accustomed to our 7-11 culture? - fast, easy and on my schedule.”

Great points and profound question. My Confession schedule does fit into the 7-11 mentality, I have to admit. Well, only in the sense that I am open 24/7 for Confession...!

GW students might have heard or will hear that and might be confused about what “open 24/7 for confession” means. ‘Does it mean that we can call you in the middle of the night?’ (as some of my wise-cracking friends have threatened to do!) Well, I guess if it’s an emergency, yes that’s what it means. I have received legitimate calls in the middle of the night and have responded. But confession can usually wait until morning (and should wait if the person is just coming back from the bars!).

While I don’t intend the focus of my 24/7 policy to be on the wee hours of the morning, I do want people to know my hours of availability. I want people to know on a practical level that the “confessional” is open throughout the day and night, every day. Several students have taken me up on the offer and come for confession during the week. They make an appointment with me or just stop by as if they were going to see one of their professors. So, I guess my “office hours” are 24/7 (well, really 24/6 because I’m not here on Thursdays, but still available in emergency). It’s not just after Masses on Sundays or during the week that I’m available to hear your confession; it’s whenever you want to be cleansed of your sins. This is what priests have done for me over the years, so this is what I want to do for you while I am here.

Beyond the practical understanding of 24/7, I want to close with some of the deeper meanings behind it.

“Open 24/7 for Confession” means:
-I am always available to offer you mercy
-I am always available to reconcile you with God and the Church
-Christ’s mercy is infinite; my offer of His mercy is unlimited
-Sin happens every hour of every day, mercy can happen 24/7.
-Confess serious sin ASAP!
-Get the huge weight of sin off your heart and mind…today!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


"Theology2b" posted the following:

"Fr. I have a question for you, I have gotten answers 2 ways to this so I am asking for a 3rd opinion. A person goes to confession and forgets a particular mortal sin are they obliged to bring it up the next time they go to confession? I have been told yes they have to because it is a mortal sin. But I have also been told no they don't because they forgot not held back... help?"

Thanks for the question! First of all, let's be clear on one thing: if someone forgets to confess a sin, then that sin is still absolved in Confession. Like any sin that has been confessed, it has been forgiven and forgotten by Almighty God through his priest. That goes for any sin - venial or mortal. This is different from the sin that a person intentionally does not confess, or as you say, "hold back". If a person purposefully does not confess a sin in Confession, not only is that sin not absolved, none of their confessed sins is forgiven. A point from one of the paragraphs below from the Catechism (#1456) helps to clarify this: "when Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember..." (emphasis added).

So, with the understanding that a forgotten sin is forgiven in Confession, what would the obligation be to which you refer? It's not a moral obligation because they have already made satisfaction (abolution + penance, given that they did the penance the priest gave them) for their sins through the Grace of God. The obligation, if any, would be a personal obligation. By this I mean that it would be best for them personally to confess the mortal sin that they had forgotten for their own healing.

There is just something so helpful and healing about confessing our sins to actually vocalize what we've specifically done wrong to the person to whom we've done it. This is true in Confession and in general. When we sin against someone we love, it pains us and them and puts a real strain on the relationship. The sin creates a wedge between us; if we are the cause of the wedge, then we need to remove it. We need to remove the wedge and be healed of the pain it caused. Confession does that, in the Sacrament and in general. We say what we did wrong and ask for forgiveness. We have shown our true sorrow by courageously naming the offense even if it's very hard to do so. Then, when we hear from the other that we are forgiven, reconcilation occurs, the wedge is removed and the healing begins. For the person's own healing, then, they are strongly encouraged to confess a mortal sin that they had previously forgotten to confess.

Here are some passages (# 1455-1458) from the Catechism about confession to a priest:

The confession of sins

1455 The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.

1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly."54

When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know."55

1457 According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year."56 Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession.57 Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.58

1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.59 Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful:60

Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. . . . When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.61

Monday, October 05, 2009

27th Sunday - homily

With the emphasis on marriage in today’s readings, I have a question for you: who are your favorite married couples (after your parents, of course!)? It might be other family members, friends, or parents of friends. Or, maybe even celebrity couples – Jay Z and Beyonce, Brad and Angelina, Barack and Michelle. I was looking at a celebrity couples’ website the other day – some of it was actually inspiring (seeing that some Hollywood couples have been married for many years) and some of it was not. One couple who has been together for three years said that they don’t need to be married to show their commitment. Hmmm…but, marriage is the commitment.

One of my favorite married couples is the first couple I prepared for marriage. They came to me through a friend and I was the third priest they contacted. The other two priests wouldn’t marry them because they were living together (I don’t know how many priests are like that). I told them I would work with them if they worked with me. They agreed. Now, my marriage prep is pretty thorough. I meet with the couples six times. This is the rest of their lives! I have great respect for marriage and for couples preparing for marriage, so I want to prepare them as much as possible for what they’re getting into.

The first two meetings are devoted to their relationship. They take a survey which reveals their compatibility. They see where they each stand of issues of communication, faith, raising children, finances, etc. The couples normally are very into this. Then, in the other meetings, I talk to them about marriage as a sacrament, the importance of prayer and communication in marriage, whether this is God’s Will for them to be married, etc. So, about halfway through the process with my first couple, I discussed the issue of cohabitation. They were like, “so, what’s the big deal if we’re living together?”

I began with a government study that says it’s a big deal. This study from a few years ago found that 78% of couples who lived together before marriage got divorced. So, their chances of staying together were not very good. This got their attention. Then, I explained that the big deal is that cohabitation leads to fornication which has been condemned by God. God makes it clear in the Book of Genesis (and again in today’s Gospel) that sex is for the union between a husband and wife and for procreation. It is a sacred act that is reserved for married couples which they weren’t yet.

I asked them if they could make some alternative living arrangement before their wedding day. They were trying to work with me, but said honestly that they couldn’t, for one reason or another. So, I said that if they couldn’t separate, then they needed to live as brother and sister until they were married. They looked at me like I had three heads (a look I often get!)…but said they would try. Well, they did it. They told me the night before their wedding that they had been living chastity since our big talk (about 4-5 months). They were so glad that they waited, and you could see it in their eyes. They were so happy! And, they said that it helped their relationship so much because they grew much closer as a couple. They had so much more joy and peace on their wedding day…and I’m sure on their wedding night! They are doing great now; I will be baptizing their first child this Saturday. It’s all good!

Most of you are called to be married. So, most of you have already begun your marriage preparation… even if you haven’t met your future spouse yet. I ask you to do what I asked this couple to do: wait. It’s actually three things you should be doing now to prepare for marriage: waiting, saving, and praying for your future spouse. Wait until your wedding night to give yourself fully to another; don’t give your love totally to just anyone. The old saying that “you shouldn’t date someone you wouldn’t marry” should enter into your dating scene. Save yourself and the great treasure of your sexuality for your future spouse. As with the couple I married, it will be so much more meaningful and fruitful if you do. And, pray for your future spouse. Pray that he or she is doing the same: waiting and saving themselves for you.

Finally, in a few minutes God will give us a great treasure in the Eucharist; it is the greatest treasure on Earth! When I was in the seminary, I wanted to celebrate the Eucharist…I wanted to celebrate the Mass. But, that is a sacred act that is reserved for ordained priests. So, I had to wait. Well, it was well worth the wait, and has made celebrating all of the sacraments so much sweeter. The same is true for sex: it is a sacred act that is reserved for married couples. You, too, have to wait. And, I promise you, it will be so much sweeter if you do! It will be like opening a great treasure on your wedding day…a treasure that God has given you. When you open the treasure, you will find happiness and love. He wants each and every one of you to be happy and has a plan for you to get there. He wants you to know his deep love for you. May you know His love in your lives.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Redskins practice was delayed 2 hours after a player reported finding a white powdery substance on the field. Coach Jim Zorn immediately suspended practice and called the police and the FBI. After a complete analysis, FBI experts determined that the substance unknown to the players was the GOAL LINE. Practice resumed after special agents decided the team was unlikely to encounter the substance again this season.

Friday, October 02, 2009

"Holy, Happy, & Successful" in college

Busy Friday at the Newman Center!
1) Rosary for life at local abortion center, 3 pm
2) Martha's Table, 4:45-6:45 pm
3) First Friday Eucharistic Adoration, 6-7 pm; Chipotle dinner to follow
A friend of mine sent me this cool and informative list of ways for Catholic college students to be "Holy, Happy & Successful", especially in the first year in college:

1. Decide the kind of person you want to be before you go, and stick to it. You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. Of course you need to go with an open mind and be willing to learn and try new things, but do it without compromising your ethics, morals, or your dignity. Remember, if you aren’t shaping the world, it’s shaping you.

2. Make friends that have the same values as you do, even if that means not settling for the first group of friends you meet. In new situations, we often cling to the first group of people that notice us – don’t. Get to know people that are different than you, but make sure the people you build friendships with are people who share your values and will make you a better person.

3. Schedule your classes early. Or at least have something in the morning that you need to be awake for most days of the week. Otherwise, it is likely that you will be up late every night wasting time – or finding trouble. Don’t spend these valuable years of your life sleeping in. There’s nothing wrong with staying up late every once in awhile and hanging out with friends, but have a routine that gets you up in the morning to take on the new day!

4. Get regularly involved with at least one, good Catholic organization. It is very beneficial to have an activity during the week – besides mass on Sundays – where we interact with other Catholics. It keeps us grounded in our faith, gives us an automatic support group of people with the same values, and motivates us to learn or think about our faith in a new way during the week.

5. Don’t believe that everyone has pre-marital sex and that it’s no big deal as long as you’re a “good” person. It still is a big deal, contrary to popular opinion. There has been no repeal on this commandment from God – it is a very serious sin. What has happened is that we are a weak culture who has enabled each other to believe that it is “OK.” That’s not an excuse. Trust God. And if you are struggling with this, learn more about your faith, and check out John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” It will really open your eyes and give you a better understanding and strength to persevere.

6. Get involved. Join a club and run for an office. If there isn’t a club you are interested in, start one of your own! This is a very unique time in your life to take on new challenges, meet new people, and better yourself. Once you graduate, opportunities like that get more difficult because our focus becomes our work, family and children (depending on your vocation of course). Take advantage of this time. It also helps build character and other skills you’ll use after you graduate.

7. Call your parents and your best friend at least once a week – if not more.. It’s easy for the whole “out of sight, out of mind” thing to kick in when you get busy and caught up in your new life in college. Don’t forget about your family. They are an important foundation in every stage of life. Keep them updated with all of the things you are involved with and include them as much as possible – even if you don’t feel like it sometimes.

8. You can’t party ALL the time and get good grades. And you especially can’t do so and keep your spiritual life in good shape. It may seem like there are people that can stay out late every night of the week partying and still get good grades – they can’t. And the evidence will surface after the first semester or two when they go on probation or they get sent back home. Don’t fall for that trap.

9. People around you are looking for a leader – be one, and be a good one. A lot of people around you are looking for somebody to follow, and not necessarily in big ways, but mostly in little ways. When they aren’t sure if they should study or party, they will look to a leader to see what the popular choice will be. When they aren’t sure about whether or not they should pray before a meal or not, they will look at everybody else. When they aren’t sure about whether or not they should get up early on Sunday and go to mass, they will look at what everyone else is doing. Don’t be one of these followers. The “right” thing to do is not determined by “what everyone else is doing.” Be a leader and do the right thing despite what everyone else is doing. You’ll be surprised how many people will follow you – and thank you for it later.

10. Go to adoration at least one hour every week. This is the perfect time to simply “Be still, and know that [he] is God” (Psalms 45:11). In the bustle of the everyday college routine it can be a challenge to find time during the week to stop, be still, and re-orient ourselves. Committing to a regular adoration time is a great way to schedule this into your routine – and of course, to spend some valuable time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

11. Do at least one volunteer service project and attend one good Catholic retreat each year. Service projects can be found at lots of places including your local Catholic parish and many other student organizations. And hopefully, your Catholic parish puts on a good Catholic student retreat, but if not, find one in a near by city. A retreat is a great place to set aside time for yourself and God – forcing us to leave our studies, clubs, friends, and other obligations behind to reflect on our lives and how God is fitting in.

12. Don’t forget to appreciate the beauty of the world around you every single day. Make sure and “hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of [your] life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” And don’t forget to close the laptop, put down the iPod, and turn off the TV so you can fully appreciate the real live human beings sitting right next to you.

13. Go to confession regularly. As a college student, going to confession at least once a month is probably a good idea. Even if you are living a very holy life, we are usually surrounded by many temptations and confession is a unique way to flush out our systems and get special graces to deal with a lot of it.

14. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Start your day with the sign of the cross and end it the same way. Read scripture and/or some other great Catholic spiritual reading everyday for at least 20 minutes before you go to bed, in between classes, riding a bus, or when you get a few extra minutes. Pray a rosary while walking to class. Pray for the people that walk by you on the sidewalk. Pray for your professors, your classmates, for anything you are struggling with. And then (and this is important) listen. Too often when we pray we do all the talking and none of the listening. This is one reason why meditative prayer like the rosary is so powerful. It gives us a chance to listen to God and what he might be saying to us. And keep in mind that “praying without ceasing” doesn’t mean you are not supposed to laugh, be silly and have fun as you live a prayerful life. The love and joy of Christ should always show through us in all that we do.