Sunday, December 27, 2009

I will be away the next two weeks.

Feast of the Holy Family - homily

I’ve told the story here before about when in my former parish I explained the famous and controversial (and misunderstood) line from today’s second reading (long form), “wives be subordinate to your husbands”. I gave the explanation to a group mostly of women, saying that another translation is ”wives be submissive to your husbands”. Submissive means to be “under the mission of”. The mission of a husband is to serve his wife as Christ serves the Church: to lay down his life in sacrifice for her. The wife receives her husband’s love and returns her love to him as the Church receives Christ’s love as returns her love to Him. So, wives should let their husband serve them. When the women heard this explanation, they said, “oh, is that what it means? Well, thank you very much. I’ll tell my husband”. After the Mass in which I told this story here, a couple came up to me. The wife was all smiles and thanked me for the story. The husband said sarcastically, “yeah, Father, thanks a lot”.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. While this is a feast of great rejoicing in the Church, I understand that not everyone is filled with gladness and joy, unfortunately. Some here don’t have a positive experience of family. It is so sad because family is the foundation of our society. Some can’t relate at all to the “great anxiety” that Mary and Joseph were filled with when they lost Jesus for three days. One or both of their parents don’t care enough about them to worry about where they are or what they’re doing. Some parents cannot celebrate the “obedience” of Jesus toward his parents because they can’t even get their kids to come to the family dinner each night. To those people, I am truly sorry that you are not having a positive experience with your family and ask that you make the best out of the situation.

But, we need to have a model for the human family. We all need examples. For us as individuals, we hold up the saints as models whom we want to emulate. As families, we look to the Holy Family as the model for our families to imitate. Now, I know that the Holy Family is practically perfect. There is a perfect wife and mother and a perfect son. Poor St. Joseph! He has such little room for error…no wonder he doesn’t get any speaking parts in the Gospel! Seriously, he is a very holy husband and father. We see in them what God intends for the human family: a mutual love and respect between husband and wife. A husband and wife is to have this mutual gift of self… so much love for the other with an openness to life that it creates another person, a child. This child is to grow up respecting and being obedient to his parents. And not just obedient as a young child, but also as an adult child which the first reading tells us: “take care of your father when he is old”.

This is all in imitation of the Most Holy Family: the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father and Son have infinite love for each other. This love overflows – like coffee overflowing a cup – and generates a Third Person, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son just like a child is the love between his parents. The Holy Trinity is a communion of persons…a communion of divine love. We are invited into this love and actually participate in it through the Eucharist and all of the sacraments. We have a share in the divine life, the divine love of the Trinity!

Finally, there were many moments of Grace on my path to the priesthood, but a few stood out. There was one particularly powerful moment of Grace during an Ordination years ago around Christmas time. I was told beforehand that it would be a huge moment of Grace, so I should have an intention at that moment. My intention was for peace and reconciliation in our family because we were going through a tough stretch. When that moment came, it was overwhelming. It was more powerful than I could have imagined. Shortly thereafter, my family experienced profound reconciliation…it was unbelievable. We have been at peace ever since; in fact, this past Christmas was one of the most peaceful ever in my family (extended and all). God’s Grace is powerful stuff. I ask you…I beg you, if you are having a family problem, please bring it to the Lord and let His Grace begin to work on it. With God, all things are possible, even peace and reconciliation in our families.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day - homily

I remember celebrating Christmas as a little boy with my parents, older sister and brother. I remember many good times…a lot of fun, joy, and happiness. I remember a bunch of sports presents – I was kind of a sports nut growing up (and still am) – and the newest, latest toys and gizmos. I remember getting Atari one year – remember Atari? That was way back! I also remember seeing my parents in a different light. I realized at Christmas as a little boy that my parents are…people! They are actually human beings who are cool and normal. Quite a realization!

My parents were good to us all year. They were good and loving. They were strict but each of us knew that our parents loved us. But, at Christmas, I saw them differently, especially my Dad. He would get into celebrating Christmas Eve so much with his side of the family. And then, on Christmas Day, he was…well, cool. I have to admit that it was through the gifts he gave me that I realized, he really loves me! He was into the things I was into – like Atari. He was cool and normal…a real person. So, at Christmas, my Dad became a human being!

At Christmas, God became a human being for all of us! This is not just a new way for us to perceive God as it was for me with my parents growing up. This is a new event in and of itself: God became a human being. St John gives a beautiful and deep description of this in today’s Gospel. He refers to Christ as the Word of God: “in the beginning was the Word”. From all eternity, God has been. “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Think of how big God is and that He is eternal. And, then, He becomes a little baby in a manger. God sends His Son into the world as a gift. It is through His gift that we all see that God loves us!

This baby would grow up and tell us who God is. The Son would reveal God as Father (“Abba”)…God is our loving Father! God loves each of us and sent His Son to reveal that to us. This is one of the primary reasons why Christ was born. Yes, He was sent to bring Grace into the world – the Grace that we need to have life and to have eternal life. Yes, He was sent to save us from our sins (and to forgive our sins). But, one of the main reasons of Christ’s birth is to reveal who God is to us. As today’s readings indicate, Christ reveals God as Father who loves us.

We have little or no problem seeing the love of Christ. We believe that Christ loves us because Christ is Love. Christ is the perfect reflection of the Father; he is the “very imprint of his being”. When we see Christ, we see the Father. Christ reveals to us that God is Father who loves us. If we think about how much God loves us, we can think about our fathers on earth. As much as our earthly fathers love us, their love is only finite. Our heavenly Father’s love is infinite. There is no end to the love God has for us.

Finally, whenever we come to Mass, we have an experience of the Word becoming flesh. Every day is like Christmas in the Catholic Church because we have Mass every day. At every Mass, Christ is born on the altar. The Word becomes flesh under the signs of bread and wine and dwells among us. Then, He dwells in us at Holy Communion! What gifts God gives us! Pope Benedict reminds us that God is love and His love demands a response. The best response we can give is our hearts. The best gift we can give God at Christmas is our love…our hearts…our lives. He calls us into a deep, intense relationship of love with Him and with others.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Church Bulletin Bloopers"

Thanks to Anon for posting the following which I think we've seen here before. After last night's debacle, we Redskins fans could use a good laugh.

An oldie but goodie: Church Bulletin Bloopers.

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.' The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.'
Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care much about you.
Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind.. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. Is done.
The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church.. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: “I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

4th Sunday of Advent - homily

If you could choose one place in the world to visit, what would it be? A week from now with all this snow still around, you’d probably just go for someplace warm! I would choose Israel, the Holy Land. I would want to go where God lived on Earth! I have been blessed to have done some traveling in my life. The weird thing is is that all of the main places I’ve been have started with the letter “I”: Italy, India, Ireland, Idaho (!). And now, I hope to go to Israel. I realized that Israel is where I most wanted to go when I went to Italy, specifically Rome.

Rome is spectacular! The churches and cathedrals are so beautiful, they are overwhelming. My favorite part of Rome was the “Holy Steps”. These are the steps that our Lord used to meet with Pontius Pilate before his death. These are the very steps that God walked on! They were transferred from Jerusalem to Rome in the 4th century by the emperor, Constantine. It was so amazing to ascend these steps; some people were on their knees going up them out of reverence. I realized there that I wanted to be in the places where Jesus walked, was born, and preached…where God was on Earth 2000 years ago.

God on Earth! It’s an amazing reality. It’s what we celebrate this Friday at Christmas. Mary was the first person to receive God on Earth in the flesh. She was also the first person to bring God to the “ends of the earth”. Our first reading says that God “shall bring his greatness to the ends of the earth”. He does this first through Mary. She brings the greatness of God to her family members, Elizabeth and John. They truly have an experience of the greatness of God. They are filled with great joy and peace. We are filled with the greatness of God whenever someone brings God to us. We, too, are filled with great joy and peace.

We are called to imitate Mary in bringing God to the ends of the Earth. For us this Christmas, this means bringing God to the ends of our family. Like Mary, we might have rough terrain to pass through to bring God to our family. From what I understand, Mary traveled over 70 miles of rocky, hill country to see Elizabeth. You all trudged through two feet of snow, ice, and slush to get to Mass today. All of this physical rough terrain symbolizes the rough terrain in our families: resentments, bitterness, hostility, anger, grudges, maybe even hatred. We are called to get through this rough terrain to bring God to ht ends of our family. We are called to bring peace – maybe be a peacemaker in our family – and joy to the ends of our family in imitation of Mary. We mainly do this in our actions and in our presence. Mary doesn’t even say anything in this Gospel and she brings tremendous joy to her family members. May we imitate Mary’s example in bring God to the ends of the earth.

Finally, we don’t need to go to Israel to experience God on Earth. We experience God on Earth at every Mass in the Eucharist. God will be here on this altar just as he was present 2000 years ago on Earth. And, just like Mary, we will have Him inside us in Holy Communion. Let us all be like the Blessed Mother in bringing the Lord to others. Let us imitate her in bringing his peace, joy, and love to the ends of the Earth, to the ends of our family this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"The complementarity of man and woman"

Yesterday, the DC City Council passed a law legalizing same sex marriage in Washington. The following is the statement of the Archdiocese of Washington; I have been posting the Archdiocese’s statements here regarding this legislation since it was first introduced. What is significant about yesterday’s statement is the core reason why the Archdiocese opposes this legislation: “the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the definition of marriage”.

At the heart of this issue is what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Men and women are different; they are made differently. They are made to complement each other, not themselves. How can two people or things with the same composition complement themselves? It’s like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that are identical: they can’t fit together. They aren’t made to fit together or to complement one another. They are made to fit together with and complement other pieces that are different from them.

The current movement toward same sex marriage is attempting to redefine not only marriage but what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. It rejects the view of the Church and of scientific research and of common sense that men and women are made differently. It rejects the notion of masculine or feminine. It aligns itself with modern feminism in believing that men and women are made the same way. This goes against reason, and yet both of these movements have been very successful in changing our culture. This indicates that the emotional aspect of all this has triumphed over the rational. Hopefully, reason will win out sooner than later.

Legalization of Same Sex Marriage in the Nation’s Capital

Archdiocese Remains Committed to Serving Poor

Today the District of Columbia joined a handful of states where legislatures or courts have redefined marriage to include persons of the same sex. Since this legislation was first introduced in October, the Archdiocese of Washington opposed the redefinition of marriage based on the core teaching of the Catholic Church that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the definition of marriage. However, understanding the City Council was committed to legalizing same sex marriages, the archdiocese advocated for a bill that would balance the Council’s interest in redefining marriage with the need to protect religious freedom. Regrettably, the bill did not strike that balance.

The Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are deeply committed to serving those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This commitment is integral to our Catholic faith and will remain unchanged into the future.

Religious organizations have long been eligible to provide social services in our nation’s capital and have not been excluded simply because of their religious character. This is because the choice of provider has focused on the ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently. We are committed to serving the needs of the poor and look forward to working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church.

For more information on marriage, visit

Monday, December 14, 2009

3rd Sunday of Advent - homily

It’s early for this, but on behalf of Meg Miller, I wish you all a merry Christmas! We know you have some work to do before then, and we will be praying especially hard for you this week during finals. But, we hope you have a great Christmas break! You certainly have earned it. I have one bit of advice for you: stay active over break. Definitely get some rest and have fun with family and friends. You want to keep your minds active; we have some pamphlets in the back of Church which you can grab as you leave tonight. Try to do some things around the house and for your family and friends. The saying goes that “idleness is a devil’s workshop”. Breaks can be dangerous because they can lead to so much idleness. So, try to stay active in different ways over break.

Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete comes from the Latin word for “rejoice”. When we rejoice, we are filled with gladness and joy. Christmas is a time for us to rejoice! Two questions for you all tonight: 1) Do you rejoice in God and 2) Does God rejoice in you?

Hopefully, when you think of God, you are filled with gladness and joy. God is all-good and all-love, so we should rejoice whenever we consider who God is. And then, we get to something like Christmas and we see what God has done for us. If you know the story about why Christ was born, then you know it is a source of rejoicing. God sent His Son into the world to save us…to open the gates of Heaven for us. They had been closed since the Original Sin of Adam and Eve; no one B.C. went to Heaven. So many good men and women from the Old Testament couldn’t get there before Christ. But, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection opened the gates of Heaven, giving the men and women from the Old Testament a chance to be saved. Christ gives us a chance to be saved. This is “good news”! The Birth of Christ is a cause for rejoicing! May we all rejoice in God this Christmas.

How do we rejoice in God? Do we do a dance?! Do we sing as one sings at a festival? Sure, we can do that and it’s actually pretty cool to do that. But, rejoicing in God is normally more internal. We rejoice in our hearts and minds. If we know God and our hearts are open to Him, we are filled with gladness and joy. This is a deep and lasting joy. It is deeper and longer lasting than pleasure. It affects our whole being and changes us. It brings us true happiness when we rejoice in God.

Now, does God rejoice in you? Do you fill His heart with gladness and joy? Is He truly happy with you? YES! The first reading tells us that He rejoices in us. Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘God doesn’t rejoice in what I did last night at the Christmas party or what I said about so-and-so last week or that I ate ten chocolate éclairs for breakfast’. Sure, God doesn’t rejoice in your sin, but He rejoices in you! He is filled with gladness and joy at who you are. He created you and “God don’t make junk”. He loves you for who you are. There is no one in the world like you. He is truly happy with you and rejoices in you.

If we are looking for a sign that God rejoices in us, we look at the Birth of Christ. That event is a sign that God rejoices in us even in the midst of our sinfulness. God knows our sinfulness and He still rejoices in us. He sends His Son to show and tell us that He rejoices in us.

Finally, God continues to give us a sign that He rejoices in us: the Eucharist. Even in the midst of our sinfulness, God sends His Son to us in this sacrament to show and tell us that He rejoices in us. He also wants us to be filled with rejoicing. May the Eucharist fill us with the joy and gladness of God. May the Grace of this sacrament help us to know and believe that God rejoices in us. May we all rejoice in God this Christmas and know that He truly rejoices in, is happy with, and loves each and every one of us.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A student teaches a teacher (about homosexuality)

Ice-skating and Christmas party tonight!! Meet at the Newman Center at 4:45 pm and bundle up!
The following is the substance of a letter from a student here who has given me permission to post the letter. It is written to a former high school teacher who has strongly challenged the student’s views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Based on what the student told me, the teacher has personally attacked him or her as being a “bigot” and anyone who is not open to same-sex marriage as being “stupid”. This courageous and thoughtful response from the student is an example of a student teaching a teacher. The student teaches the teacher not only the truth of the issue, but how to teach the truth in love.

I acknowledge your point about homosexuality not being a choice. I don't think it is really possible to make that choice, and there really isn't any incentive to do so.

However, I do not agree that this means that the definition of marriage should be changed to allow for homosexual unions. This belief is not a form of discrimination against homosexual people. Instead, it is a stance against redefining one of the core institutions of human society. Men and women are made for each other, it is a biological fact of nature. The union between a husband and wife is meant to create families, which are the most basic unit of a healthy society. There are many, many things about our culture that have caused severe damage to the family unit in history. Disordered sexuality in all its forms, from unhealthy spousal relationships to incest to pedophilia, is one of many such realities that have damaged the institution of the family. "Disordered" does not mean that people committing sexually disordered acts have any less dignity than any other person. The act is what is wrong. And we can very easily add divorce and the pervasive nature of pornography to the list of things that have damaged healthy views on love and family in our culture.

I have a lot of gay friends here, and I love them. If they are acting on their homosexuality, I cannot love what they do. And because I want them to be truly happy, I stand by that. Just as if I have a straight friend who is having premarital sex, I love them but not what they do because I believe what they do is wrong and antithetical to true, long term happiness.

Not all people are called to be married, and I understand that is an incredible burden for homosexual people to bear. But many people are given incredible difficulties they have to face in life. I have horrible food allergies that only get worse. Doctors can't figure it out, and my immune system is deteriorating. It is not easy for me at all, I am sick very often and have an extremely limited list of foods I can still eat. I am a college student and I cannot drink alcohol. This is a burden I bear. I don't know why I have this condition, but I believe there is a reason and that somehow good will come from me carrying this burden in my life. If I laid this burden down and ate whatever I wanted, I would die. So as hard as it can be for a gay person to accept this, their orientation is in many ways gift in disguise.

True happiness for a gay person will not come from following whatever sexual whim that they feel, just as my true happiness will not come from acting that way. That sort of deep happiness comes from following the laws of nature and only participating in sexual acts that form a true union with the other person while being open to the creation of life. Biologically, no such union or the creation of children is possible for homosexuals.

So, because it is the duty of a society to promote the best possible life for its citizens, homosexual marriage should not be institutionalized. The best possible life for a child is to grow up in a home with a loving mother and father. Though this is a difficult reality to strive for, shooting for anything less would be a failure on the part of that society.

I think the dichotomy you pointed out, between educated and uneducated people, is not the most important one present in this discussion. Instead, it is one between those who love and those who hate homosexual people. Hating a person for any reason is wrong. Hating a homosexual person because of something they cannot control is wrong. But loving a homosexual person and wanting their true happiness is not wrong. And truly loving them means wanting for them what will lead to their truest long-term happiness. So, because I believe that homosexual marriage is counter to that true happiness, I do not support it. Some of the most intelligent and well-educated people in the world hold this view, and it is not because they are bigots in any way. It is because they want what is best for the homosexual person and society as a whole, based on the laws of nature.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is the solemn feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation. Masses at the Newman Center today are at 12 noon and 5:30 pm. Masses at St Stephen's today are 12:10 pm, 5:30 pm, and 7:00 pm. Today's feast celebrates the conception of Mary (not Jesus)!

The following is more info about today's feast as found on

A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It came to the West in the eighth century. In the eleventh century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the eighteenth century it became a feast of the universal Church.

In 1854, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless—either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such champions of Mary as Bernard and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this teaching.

Two Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology. They point out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. Other members of the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus’ work was so powerful as to prevent original sin at the outset.

In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel, speaking on God’s behalf, addresses Mary as “full of grace” (or “highly favored”). In that context this phrase means that Mary is receiving all the special divine help necessary for the task ahead. However, the Church grows in understanding with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led the Church, especially non-theologians, to the insight that Mary had to be the most perfect work of God next to the Incarnation. Or rather, Mary’s intimate association with the Incarnation called for the special involvement of God in Mary’s whole life. The logic of piety helped God’s people to believe that Mary was full of grace and free of sin from the first moment of her existence. Moreover, this great privilege of Mary is the highlight of all that God has done in Jesus. Rightly understood, the incomparable holiness of Mary shows forth the incomparable goodness of God.

“[Mary] gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.

“It is no wonder, then, that the usage prevailed among the holy Fathers whereby they called the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a kind of new substance and new creature. Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the splendors of an entirely unique holiness, the Virgin of Nazareth is, on God’s command, greeted by an angel messenger as ‘full of grace’ (cf. Luke 1:28). To the heavenly messenger she replies: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:38)” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 56).

Monday, December 07, 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent - homily

Tomorrow night (Monday) we will have an Advent Penance Service at 7:30 here at St Stephen’s. Some of you have asked what a Penance Service is. It is a prayer service which celebrates the sacrament of Penance (Confession). I will lead the service along with three other priests. We will have prayers, readings, an examination of conscience all in preparation of individual confessions. At the end of the service, there will be the opportunity for confession. The theme is “Confession before Christmas”. We should all go to Confession before Christmas. If you can’t get here by 7:30, that’s ok…we should be here until at least 8:30 (depending on how many people come). I hope you all can make it.

Right after I was ordained a priest three years ago, I went to Ireland with some buddies of mine, two of whom were priests. We had such a good time! It’s a beautiful country with good and fun people. One day, we went up St. Patrick’s Mountain which is a big one. Halfway up, we stopped to celebrate Mass. It was spectacular! It was really an exquisite setting, and to celebrate Mass at that spot was incredible. A few days later, we were driving through the countryside and tried to find another mountain to celebrate Mass. We saw one off in the distance and took the road that led to it. Yeah, big mistake.

As our car climbed up the mountain, we realized that this may not be the right mountain for us. We were way up there when the car pretty much failed us; the tires couldn’t go any higher on the loose gravel. We almost slid right off the edge! We were definitely sweating it. One of the guys is an expert with driving cars. We all got out while he slowly backed the car down the mountain. It took a long time but we safely got ourselves and the car down to level ground. We laughed for a while and then celebrated Mass at the base of the mountain, thanking God for our safety. It was scary.

In the readings today, we hear much language about nature: mountains, hills, valleys, paths, etc. We should be used to hearing this language during Advent. It might sound to us like nice descriptions about the change that Christ brings to the world. “Every mountain and hill will be made low…every valley will be filled”. It might just sound really nice, that everything will be different with the coming of Christ, even in nature. But, these images in nature refer to us. Things will be different in us with the coming of the Lord. “Prepare the way of the Lord” needs to take place in our hearts. We need to repent…to change…to have a conversion of heart.

For example, the word ‘mountain’ refers to the proud and vain. In other words, Scripture gives to those who are proud and vain the name of mountain. “Every mountain will be made low” means the proud will be humbled. Jesus says in the Gospel, “those who are exalted will be humbled”. If we have a mountain of pride in our hearts, it needs to be lowered in order to see salvation and to receive Christ in our lives. Like that mountain in Ireland, pride can look good but it isn’t. It can be very dangerous. There are many roads on the mountain of pride that lead us away from Christ and into danger.

It can be the road of selfishness that says, “me first”. This is one way to define sin: “me first”.

It can be the road of resentment that leads to holding grudges and not forgiving others because of what they did to ME.

It can be the road of anger that leads to hatred.

It can be the road of self-service which says “I will not do what I God wants, I’ll do what I want. I wll do my will, not God’s will. I won’t serve God”. (By the way, this is the pride of Lucifer who refused to serve God)

It can be the road of intellectual pride that says “I know better than God. I know better than the Church”.

Pride is much more prevalent and dangerous than we might think. I think that pride is the root of all sin. During Advent, if we are looking to focus on one thing to change with the help of God, let it be our pride. Let us ask God to make our mountains of pride low. What will happen is that God will lower our mountain of pride and build a new mountain that is filled with the Grace of Christ. He will build a new mountain in our hearts that is filled with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, based in humility. One of the best ways that God does this is in Confession. It is the best antidote to pride and it is primarily where our mountains of pride are lowered.

Finally, whenever you come to Mass, you make an act of humility, especially in college. It takes humility to come here each week because you might get some comments from friends (or even family): “oh, you go to Church” or “oh, you’re a Church-going person”. Your image is definitely lowered. You see that you need to be here…God has said that you need to be here to see and receive salvation through the Eucharist and you are here. It takes humility to see and follow that and to come here. Again, salvation through humility. God is very pleased whenever you come here. I just want to encourage you in your humility. May God reward you, especially during Advent. For your humility and confidence, may he reward you with an experience of His Love and Mercy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Very impressed with their commitment to Sunday Mass"

1) Advent Penance Service for GW students on Monday (Dec. 7) at 7:30 pm at St Stephen’s. We will have several priests there to offer confessions. As I said in my homily this past weekend, making a good Advent includes going to Confession at least once before Christmas. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God” (2 Cor 5:20).

2) Tuesday, Dec 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a Holy Day of Obligation! Masses at the Newman Center will be at 12:00 pm and 5:30 pm. Masses at St Stephen’s will be at 6:30 am, 12:10 pm, 5:30 pm, and 7:00 pm.
Anon posted the following question: “is missing mass cause of having a college baseball game a sin?”

Thanks for the question, Anon. Let me begin with a story from my days in the seminary. I helped out for a few years with the men’s lacrosse team at Mount St Mary’s (University and Seminary) in Maryland. I was a chaplain for the team; some seminarians were chaplains of the sports' teams. One weekend, I went with the team to their conference tournament in New York. The Mount made it to the championship game on Sunday. The night before, I told the players (most of whom were Catholic) that Mass was early Sunday morning at a Church about 15 minutes away and invited them to join me. Many guys came! I was very impressed with their commitment to Sunday Mass! We took up at least a row in the Church and were acknowledged by the celebrating priest. (Btw, they won the championship later that day)

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Sunday obligation:
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (#2181).

The most relevant word in this paragraph to your question is “deliberately”. For something to be a sin, it has to be chosen….it has to be intentional…it has to be deliberate. Did you deliberately choose to miss Mass on the day of your baseball game? If yes, it is a sin. If no, it is not a sin.

It might not have been possible for you to get to Mass that day. Maybe you were playing in a tournament with games all weekend. Maybe you were playing an away game with no chance of getting to Mass. If it was the case that you did not have the opportunity to get to Mass, God knows this. He knows that you were choosing to honor your commitment to the team, not choosing to miss Mass.

In most cases, though, you should have the opportunity to both play the game and attend Mass. Masses are offered on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday nights in every area of the country. So, I would ask you to plan ahead next time; if you see a conflict with a baseball game or other commitment, plan on attending Mass at another time. A really good resource for this (especially when traveling) is Yes, it involves some planning and inconvenience in order to attend Mass sometimes, but it’s right and it’s worth it. It was right and worth it for the Mount lacrosse players to honor God in an extraordinary way. It is right and worth it for all of us to do the same.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Alternative Spring Break!

Alternative Spring Break Meeting
Wednesday, December 9th at 7:00pm at Newman Center

•Mandatory meeting for those signed up or interested in signing up for the Alternative Spring Break trip to South Carolina (to build/repair homes for families in need), March 13-20, 2010

•We will be discussing fundraising and basic trip information

•Bring your deposit of $250

•If the cost is keeping you from joining us, it shouldn’t…please come talk to Meg or me!

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” -Mt 25:40

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"This is a fear of mine"

Next Monday night (Dec. 7), we will have an Advent Penance Service for GW students at 7:30 pm at St Stephen’s. What is a Penance Service? It is a prayer service which celebrates the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). There are readings, a brief homily, an examination of conscience, and then the opportunity for confession. We will have several priests there to offer confessions. As I said in my homily this past weekend, making a good Advent includes going to Confession at least once before Christmas. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God” (2 Cor 5:20).
An anonymous blogger asked, “What circumstances would a priest not offer the Lord's forgiveness? This is a fear of mine.”

Thank you for your question, Anon. I hope that the following can help to alleviate your fear. Let’s look first at the requirements for receiving absolution from a priest, according to the Church: sorrow for sins and firm purpose of amendment. “In the sacrament of penance the faithful who confess their sins to a legitimate minister, are sorry for them, and intend to reform themselves obtain from God through the absolution imparted by the same minister forgiveness for the sins they have committed after baptism and, at the same time, are reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by sinning” (Canon Law, #959).

What this means is that any Catholic who is sorry for his (or her) sins and intends to change will receive absolution from the priest who is able to give absolution. It doesn’t matter what the sin is or how often it has been committed. If you’re sorry and truly intend to “sin no more”, then you will be absolved. These two conditions make up what is known as proper disposition. Any Catholic who is properly disposed for the sacrament of Penance will receive absolution.

The brief answer to your question, then, is that the only circumstances when a priest would not offer the Lord’s forgiveness to a Catholic penitent is when the penitent is not sorry or does not intend to change.

I found a pretty good online commentary about all of this from a priest, Fr Mark Vickers (Parish Priest of Hatfield South and chaplain to Hertfordshire University):

For those passing through seminary in recent years there often seemed only two absolute rules of confessional practice:

1. Never ask questions; and
2. Never withhold absolution.

The priest is deeply conscious that he too is an unworthy recipient of God’s merciful forgiveness. Is it conceivable then that he, a minister of God’s mercy, should withhold this gift from others?

Any doubts ought to be dispelled by Our Lord’s institution of the sacrament: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:23). Canon Law and the documents of the Magisterium are clear that circumstances exist in which absolution might, indeed should, be withheld. The presumption, of course, is that absolution will be granted: “If the confessor is in no doubt about the penitent’s disposition and the penitent asks for absolution, it is not to be denied or deferred” (CIC, c. 980). However, it is equally clear that the presumption may be rebutted.

In penitential services, especially those held in schools, it is not uncommon to find non-Catholics, even non-Christians, approaching the priest. Not all are aware that they cannot celebrate the sacrament. The priest, perhaps after a welcome, should briefly explain the Church’s teaching and offer to pray with them. Absolution can only be given to non-Catholics if there is a danger of death or, in the Bishop’s judgment, there is “some other grave and pressing need” and on the conditions laid out in c. 844.*

In a number of unlikely pastoral situations the priest is also unable to give absolution. In reserved cases the priest lacks faculties to absolve; these must be referred to the competent authority. A priest may not absolve a partner in a sin against the Sixth Commandment. Nor may he absolve a penitent who has falsely denounced another confessor in the circumstances described in c. 982.

What of other, more common, situations? Faulty catechesis, pressure from family members, habitual custom, may produce penitents, especially prior to Christmas and Easter, who declare they have no sins to confess. Of course, the priest invites them to reflect upon their lives with a view to inducing the correct disposition and the confession of any sins committed since they last approached the sacrament. Canon Law specifically envisages the confessor having to ask questions, but always “with prudence and discretion” (c. 979). Such an approach, used gently but clearly, often leads to the acknowledgment of sin. If the correct disposition is apparent, absolution will certainly be given. Otherwise, the priest explains Church teaching and offers to pray with the penitent, always inviting them to return to the sacrament in the future.

The correct disposition on the part of the penitent is sorrow for their sins and a purpose of amendment (c. 959). Occasionally, a penitent may “confess” their sins, but indicate that they have no regret in respect of them. Rather, they look almost to the Church for ratification of their behaviour. There are those also who mention a sin but leave the confessor in little doubt that there is no intention of future amendment. This is most frequently the case with “states of sin”, e.g. an irregular union or an ongoing adulterous relationship. With sensitivity the priest endeavours to bring the penitent to see the true consequences of their action, which includes the wounding of their relationship with God, the Church and the wider human community. “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). The priest might highlight the providential nature of their act of confession, and encourage consideration of avoiding the occasions of the sin in question.

Often a grudging acknowledgment of sorrow, a hesitant acceptance that they will endeavour to begin to rectify the situation will be elicited. To grant absolution, one is not seeking cast-iron guarantees that the sin will never be committed again, nor demanding perfect contrition. Other things being equal, absolution can be granted if the penitent simply expresses the desire not to sin again, or regrets the consequences of sin.

Yet a few may hold out against any expression of contrition or purpose of amendment. What do we say to them? There is a view that, for “pastoral” motives, everyone who approaches the sacrament should receive absolution. Not only is this theologically incorrect, it also lacks pastoral charity. How is that individual being helped in the process of conversion, to hear Christ’s call to repentance and holiness of life? At best, they are left with a diminished sense of both the seriousness of sin and the sheer beauty of God’s forgiveness; at worst, they may despise a sacrament that appears simply mechanical or even magical. Furthermore the necessary healing of the ecclesial and of the human community is postponed. It also suggests arrogance on the part of the priest. We are ministers, not masters, of the sacrament. We are required “to adhere faithfully to the teaching of the Magisterium” (c. 978, s.2). This, in fact, is the truly pastoral approach as taught by Pope John Paul II: “To acknowledge one’s sins… to recognise one as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God” (Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Penitentia, (1984), n.13). Were it not possible to withhold absolution the very integrity of the act of Christian conversion would be undermined.

Withholding absolution may produce a variety of responses: surprise, dismay, anger – possibly directed against the priest personally. We invite the penitent to continue to reflect upon the truth of the situation, making clear the open invitation to return to us. It may be appropriate for the penitent to be reminded that such withholding of absolution is an act of compassion.

“God… pardons nothing to those who pardon themselves everything,” declared that saintly confessor, the Curé of Ars. Purporting to absolve an unrepentant penitent brings no one to this realisation. The rare necessity of having to withhold absolution may just do so. At least the penitent is given a clear choice: persisting in their sins and remaining unreconciled to God and the Church, or the conversion that leads to salvation. This is the tough love preached by Our Lord. Tough love is required on occasion, but we must be careful not to love to be tough. Withholding absolution is a last resort. We do not seek to break the bruised reed or to quench the wavering fame.

“In hearing confessions the priest is to remember that he is at once both judge and healer, and that he is constituted by God as a minister of both divine justice and divine mercy, so that he may contribute to the honour of God and the salvation of souls” (c. 978, s.1).

* I.e., for most other Christians in this country this means they are unable to approach a minister of their own communion, spontaneously ask for the sacrament, demonstrate they hold the Catholic faith in respect of the sacrament and are properly disposed.