Friday, December 31, 2010

"Do you trust Jesus?" - Msgr Thomas Wells on youtube

I have spoken and written much about my good friend and spiritual father, Msgr Thomas Wells, who was killed ten years ago.  I came across three videos on youtube with Fr Wells which are below; they are taped one month before he died.  It's a great gift and treat for those of us who knew him to see and hear him again.  For you students, I hope you get some sense (as much as video can provide) of his holiness, brilliance, humor, and love for Jesus and His people.  Btw, if you pay attention to his homily, you will probably notice that he is speaking more to the parents than to the kids...genius.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“How can I be strong in my faith?”

Here are recent questions and comments from anonymous bloggers. I ask our student bloggers who are looking for things to do while they slumber at home (!) to help and answer the third question. C’mon, you all know how to help answer the person’s question, “How can I be strong in my faith?” Please leave your specific suggestions asap.

1)"A question....for the people that have demonic does this happen? I have been told you have to "invite" this to happen. We allow this by participating in various games and movies. So my question does this happen to people.”

The best thing to do, Anon, is to read Fr. Euteneur’s book, “Exorcism and the Church Miitant”. He goes through all of the scenarios on how demonic possession happens to people. Here is a partial answer to your question:

“In general, the devil or any demon has not power to possess or enter a person who lives in a state of grace…Demonic evil can only operate on a person with the consent of the human will. There are two exceptions to this general rule. One is when God in His Providence allows a person in a state of grace to be afflicted by a demon…The other exception to the rule is when an innocent person becomes the victim of a satanic curse or witchcraft of some sort” (pp.36-37).

“Aside from true victimization, the ‘standard’ way the devil possesses people is through a process of subtle and perverse invitations to gain the person’s free consent. There is no inadvertent possession. Demons usually come in through some sort of acquiescence of the human will” (p.42).

“There are three main reasons why someone who confesses the Name of Jesus may have a demon. First, Christians can be slothful in their practice of the faith or vulnerable to demons through unrepentant and unconfessed sin. Christ cannot fully protect even His followers who do not invoke His protection consciously. Second, the Lord allows Christians to suffer in this way to ‘test’ or ‘prove’ them in the fires of adversity. The devil is most effective in offering that kind of spiritual testing, and sometimes it comes as internal obsessions rather than merely external forms of persecution. Third, ‘God wishes to give us a true knowledge and understanding of ourselves’ and show us how impossible it is to advance in His service without the aid of His grace.

“Some have wondered how it is possible for the devil to inhabit a body which St. Paul says is the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.’ It would seem that God and Belial cannot exist in the same place at the same time. But an unclean spirit may enter and inhabit a body in the same way that sin may enter and stain a soul: by the human will, which gives permission for its entrance. Or to use an analogy: a demon may enter a body in the same way a Satanist may enter a church building; either through a deliberate wicked action or a free invitation. The mere fact of God’s Presence in a place does not prohibit the action and activity of human or spiritual evil though a place may be sacred” (pp.108-109).

2) “I think it's SUBconscious, not UNconscious. : )”

This was a comment from my homily on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. I was thinking that, too, Anon, when I read the following line from Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a priest and a psychologist, in his book, Courage to be Chaste: “Dreams are experiences which permit the unconscious to rise to the surface of the mind” (p.94). Webster’s dictionary does say that the unconscious is the “part of the mind containing the psychic material of which the ego is unaware”.

3) “I was away from the Catholic church for about 2-3 years and would like to know how I can be strong in my faith?”

My post, “Five Fundamentals of a Firm Faith” (10/5/10), should help on a general level. And, bloggers will offer specific ways to be strong in your faith…(I hope).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


One of our grad students emailed this to me: "Just discovered that Magnificat is a free app through itunes for your iphone or ipod. Thought you might want to pass that along through your blog. Just found it and recommended it to a friend."

Magnificat is a huge hit at the Newman Center, so this is really good news.  Also, this got me digging into all of the iCatholic stuff out there.  I started this over two hours ago...there is a TON of cool Catholic stuff for iPhones, from iTunes, and including Catholic podcasts.  I have been thinking for a while about the best way to make all of these very helpful and immediate tools available to GW Catholics.  I'll be working with our team of engineers (one of them worked on the last space shuttle joke), but if bloggers have better suggestions, I'm all ears.

Catholic podcasts through iTunes:
Go to the iTunes store.  Search for "catholic".  Scroll down to podcasts, and then click on "see all podcasts".  I just downloaded three excellent ones for free: Scott Hahn's Sunday Bible reflections, Catholic Answers (Radio - one episode of Jimmy Akin), and the SaintCast.  Lots of cool, free stuff there!

Catholic apps through iPhone app store:
Below are some of the best ones that I've seen that GW Catholics would be interested in.  They aren't free but are just a couple of bucks.  Another Catholic blog site said that these are free on iTunes, so check that out.  I could access them on iTunes on my computer, but not on my phone.

Answers 4 Catholics
Catholic Mass Times
iPieta (Catholic Teaching, Calendar, and Prayer)
Catholic TV
iCatholic Radio
Catholic Singles
iConfess (Confession handbook and guide)
Catholic News Feed
The Saint Cast App (Catholic saints on call)
Catholic Handbook
Bible Douay-Rheims
Divine Office
iMissal Catholic (Mass readings, Calendar, Lectionary)

Also, click on today's title for "On the" (College Catholic Podcast) which is an affiliated podcast of (another great site).  I told you, there is a TON of cool iCatholic stuff that is free and easy to access (well, easy for you).

Here's a video that a bit of a spoof but makes the point in a minute that I've spent the last two+ hours trying to make here:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Feast of the Holy Family - homily

I read a story in last week’s sports section about two Washington Redskins getting into a fight after practice. They got into an argument during practice, things escalated, and then fought each other in the weight room later. One of the players said afterwards that he couldn’t remember what started the whole thing on the practice field. This reminded me of a point I make to couples preparing for marriage. It is a teaching point for all of us. The point isn’t just that the Redskins are in total disarray; that’s obvious in so many other ways. The teaching point is to stay away from emotional language when in arguments, especially among married persons. My guess is that these players got into an argument over something insignificant and then said things that that escalated into a fight. The advice I give engaged couples is to stay away from using words like “always” and “never” – “you always do this”…”you never do that” – when in an argument. These are the things that the other remembers – ‘does he really think that?’ You don’t really mean it but get caught up in the emotion of the moment. And, that’s the stuff that really hurts the other. It’s hard to take emotionally charged statements back. So, be cool and rational when getting into disagreements with spouses, family members, and friends.

I doubt that Mary and Joseph ever used emotionally charged language when they got into any kind of disagreements. The reason is because of the profound respect they had for each other. Their respect for the other was passed on to Jesus and it helped to form, shape, and mold him to be the man he would become. Respect in the home is huge! Parents often come to me about a problem with their teenager and how they can’t get their teen to obey them. I tell them that they need to present their position in respect of their teen. If they don’t respect them, they might lose them for good. Kids respond well to respect.

The respect of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is rooted in virtue. It was a home of virtue in which Jesus was raised. The Holy Family lived out the virtues, especially the ones St. Paul writes about in today’s second reading (Col 3) – “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. We might look at the virtue of the Holy Family and see they are way up there while our families are way down here. It might seem unrealistic to think that our families could ever reach their level of virtue. It might be good to take one virtue on which to improve so that we begin to make some progress in imitating Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. One virtue to suggest is humility.

Humility is necessary for all of us Christians to live. It is especially vital in families. Humility is necessary for love. Love means gift of self…to give yourself to others. It takes humility to do this. If we look at the greatest sign of love in the world – Jesus Christ on the Cross – we see the incredible humility he had. He humbled himself in being born as we are celebrating at Christmas and in giving himself fully to us on the Cross. It takes humility to love and to be loved. It takes humility to let others serve us. This is the underpinning for St. Paul’s whole point of being “subordinate”. “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands” means ‘wives, let your husbands serve you!’ Husband, serve your wives! “Children, obey your parents”; let your parents serve you. If people are trying to serve us, then they have our best interests in mind. They want what’s best for us. This is a point I make to kids (even some GW students) when they are upset that their parents are being so strict. They complain about it and then I ask them, “do your parents love you?” They say yes, and I stress that their parents are acting out of love. They might be being a little overbearing, but they truly want what’s best for you.

The point about humility might best be made in talking about our relationship with God. God loves us and wants to serve us. He has told us what’s best for us through His teachings, commandments, etc. If we receive these in humility, then we let God serve us. But, too often pride gets in the way and people say, ‘God, I know that you say this, but I’m doing that….I know you say I need to go to Mass on Sunday, but I’m doing something else’. Or worse, they say, ‘God, I know better than you’. ..’Mom and Dad, I know better than you’…’Honey, I know better than you’. Pride is very dangerous. Humility is necessary in order for those in the family to serve each other. Humility is necessary for love and forgiveness to exist in families.

Finally, brothers and sisters, there is one guarantee about how to keep our families together. If families come here to Mass every Sunday, they will stay together. If they come here to pray together, hear the Word of God together, receive the Eucharist together, then they will stay together. Parents ask me how to get their kids to Mass. I tell them to talk to their kids about the Eucharist. Tell them that Jesus says they need the Eucharist to have life and to get the Heaven. Each of us needs the Eucharist to have life. Immediate families need the Eucharist…our parish family needs the Eucharist….our Church family needs the Eucharist to stay together. “The family that prays together stays together”.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"A Christmas Parable"

Merry Christmas to all GW Catholics and bloggers!!

"A Christmas Parable"
by Louis Cassels

“Once upon a time there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a Scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men. But he didn’t believe all that stuff about Incarnation which churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did. “I am truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer. “But I simply cannot understand this claim that God becomes man. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

On Christmas Eve his wife and children went to church for the midnight service. He declined to accompany them. “I’d feel like a hypocrite,” he explained. “I’d rather stay at home. But I’ll wait up for you.”

Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. “If we must have Christmas,” he thought, “it’s nice to have a white one.” He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another.

He thought that someone must be throwing snowballs at his livingroom window. When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the storm. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window. “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze,” he thought. “But how can I help them?” Then he remembered the barn where the children’s pony was stabled. It would provide a warm shelter.

He put on his coat and galoshes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door wide and turned on a light. But the birds didn’t come in. “Food will lure them in,” he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction - except into the warm lighted barn.

“They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, “and I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety. . . .”

Just at that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood silent for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I do understand,” he whispered. “Now I see why You had to do it.” ”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Ache of Singlehood"

The error that I saw in yesterday's video was that Mary messaged Joseph after the Annunciation, "I'm going to be pregnant".  She became pregnant at the Annunciation, so her message should have said, "I'm pregnant."  Just keeping you theological wizzes sharp!

Here is a video one of our grad students sent me.  It's quite good.  The woman on the video is Jackie Francois who is a speaker, singer, and talented performer.  We might try to get her to come to GW!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The digital story of the Nativity

This is a funny depiction of the Nativity story making its way around the internet, "The Digital Story of the Nativity".  I spotted one theological error in the story which is rather subtle. See if you can find it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

4th Sunday of Advent - homily

I don't know if you get into the meaning of dreams or care to understand and interpret them. Dreams can be fascinating experiences. Psychologists tell us that in dreams the unconscious comes to the surface. Some of us might freak out learning what's in our unconscious after a bizarre dream or two. We see holy men have holy dreams in Sacred Scripture several times. Holiness is in their unconscious. I dream about football; well, I try, at least. You see what's in my unconscious! Lately, I've been watching old videos of the Washington Redskins' Super Bowl years before I go to bed with the hope that I'll dream about at least a winning season. I just can't even imagine it otherwise.

The Church has put a lot of stock in a dream by a pope. Pope Leo XIII had a dream at the end of the nineteenth century that was wild. He dreamt that God and Satan were having a conversation. God offered Satan one century to rule the earth. Satan chose the twentieth century. If we look at what happened during that century, we might think there is something to this. After the dream, Pope Leo was so shaken that he wrote the "Prayer to St. Michael" - "...defend us in our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil..." Many parishes still recite that prayer today.

St. Joseph has a dream in today's Gospel. An angel appears in his dream. Has an angel ever appeared in one of your dreams? Joseph is a holy man. He dreams about Jesus...before Jesus is even born! What was he thinking when he woke up from the dream? Was this real? Was this a message from God? Was this a good angel in his dream? It could have been a bad angel like it was for Adam and Eve.

That discernment is real for each one of us. The image we get from cartoons or media of a good angel on one shoulder and a bad angel on the other is real. I have people coming to me often in spiritual direction, asking if certain messages or experiences are from God or the devil. How did Joseph discern that this was real and it was from God? One of the indicators is that he was "righteous". Joseph was right with God. He was holy and just. That would help him immensely to recognize God and what God is saying to him. Living holiness helps each of us to know what's from God and what is not. If we are "righteous", then we can discern more readily - and oftentimes more quickly- God's Will on a daily basis. With bigger things, we need prayer and spiritual direction to help us. Joseph knew right away (without the help of a spiritual director) that this was from God and he acted accordingly.

It's fitting that the birth of Christ would come about through the message of an Mary and Joseph. The birth of sin came about through the message of an angel - a bad, fallen angel. If we compare Joseph with Adam in their responses to the angelic appearances, we see sharp differences. Joseph received the angel's message in virtue, namely humility; Adam received his in pride. Joseph did the Will of God and "took his wife into his home"; Adam did his own will and he and wife "hid themselves from the Lord". The fruit of Joseph's encounter with the angel was the birth of Christ and eternal life for us; the fruit of Adam's encounter with an angel was the birth of sin and death.

Brothers and sisters, you are like St. Joseph at this Mass. Well, except this is no dream; the Mass is real! You receive God's message -God's Word - in silence. You actually have more speaking parts at Mass than Joseph had in the Gospel (he says no words but his actions speak loudly). If you receive the Lord's message in virtue, then you do as the Lord commanded and take Him into your homes: you take the Eucharist into your bodies and souls.

Finally, this Saturday, we will celebrate the event of a little baby being born in a horse's stall. This baby is said to be the Savior of the world. Is this event for real? Or is it just a dream? The question for each of us is, if this event is real, then what is my response?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Help for addiction and stress

"Holy/Happy Hour" tonight, GW Catholic grad students.  Holy Hour from 7-8 pm, Happy Hour in Foggy Bottom afterwards.  Come join us!
I've been working with a college student (not at GW) for a couple of years who is trying to overcome an addiction to cutting.  This student has struggled mightily to get help, even with a very strong Catholic spiritual life and seeing multiple counselors in a short amount of time.  The student just emailed me this week; hopefully there's been a breakthrough! I post the email anonymously here in case, as the student writes, it might help any of our students with addictions.  There's also a link to the program's website to check out.

"I just wanted to share with you what I'm doing right now. I saw a counselor right before finals week and he recommended that I give a 60-day online program a shot because I don't have time to go to St. Louis to the inpatient hospital for cutters. This program is through Setting Captives Free and it's called "By His Wounds." It's Scripture-based and it's incredible. It's all about changing my perspective on cutting. It's really working. It's REALLY hard, don't get me wrong. It's opened a lot of wounds that haven't healed correctly and it definitely hurts, a lot, but I know that if I get through all 60 days, I won't ever cut again.

I just finished day 12 and it's definitely getting harder as I go, but I'm determined to fix this once and for all. These lessons are completely changing my perspective on cutting. I know my cutting hurt God, but I'm seeing more how it damaged my relationship with Him because I wanted to be in control. It's all that letting go and letting God thing. I know I can't fix this myself. I've tried a billion times, as you know all too well. If I can stop cutting once and for all, I know that whatever I set my heart on, I can do. I really am all in this time. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have started this program and I sure wouldn't have continued doing it. I've only cut twice in the last 5 months, which is a HUGE improvement on what it used to be. I'm still taking life one day at a time.

I quit counting days and I'm just going with the month by month thing. It's making it a little less overwhelming and I don't think everyday about how long it's been. Like I texted you, as miserable as I am right now, something won't let me cut and something won't let me quit all together. So, here I am. I'm taking all my crap and putting it at the foot of the cross because it's too much for a 20-year-old kid to deal with. God's gotta take over.

Here's the link to the site. You should check it out. It might help any of the students you know who are struggling with addictions because there are programs dealing with stuff like sexual impurity to gambling to self-injury.

So if you could pray that I have the strength to get through this program, that'd be awesome."

On a topic that's not unrelated, here's a video about getting help with stress in college.  GW Catholic bloggers, let me know if you want me yo try to get this woman to speak here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas or Xmas?

Is the Abbreviation “Xmas” Really a Secular Slight of Christmas? Or is it Something Else?

By: Msgr. Charles Pope (

Forty years ago, when I was in grammar School, the militant secularism of today was almost unknown. The war on Christmas so common today was lampooned in those days by cartoonish figures like the “Grinch who stole Christmas,” or “Scrooge” in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Back in those days there were laments that Christmas was too focused on toys and Santa and not enough on Jesus. That, however, was an internal Church and family matter. But in the secular world, Christmas was still the common term used everywhere: Christmas trees, Christmas sales, Christmas holiday, Christmas break. It’s Christmastime in the city!

In the public schools I attended we sang Christmas Carols at the annual Christmas concert. And I don’t just mean the secular “Jingle Bells…Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer” variety, but even strongly Christian and religious songs: Joy to the Lord the Lord is is come!…..O Come All Ye Faithful….Come let us Adore him, Christ the Lord!….What Child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping. In High School (in the 1970s) the Choir even sang O Magnum Mysterium by Victoria. Very high church…and all very religious. It was Christmas after all!

The rampant and militant secularism of today which banishes the word “Christmas,” banishes Christmas trees, Santa, and even the word ”holiday” (since it is rooted in Holy day) becomes: Happy Winter Festival to you too! That sort of militant secularism, and triumphalist atheism was unknown forty years ago except in some very limited circles.

And yet during those times there was a common usage of the abbreviation “Xmas” It was common to get a Christmas Card and someone wrote, “Merry Xmas.” I don’t recall any of us thought of it as a secular thing in those days. I remember, as a child, asking my mother where the expression came from. She explained that “X” was the first letter in Greek for “Christ” and she promised to show me the symbol next Sunday in Church. Sure enough the next Sunday she showed it to me on the Church wall. It was really what looked to me like a P and and X. It was the “Chi – Rho” symbol you see at the top right of this post. Chi (X) and Rho (R) being the first two letters for Christ (x= ch in English and what looked like a P to me was really an “r” in Greek).

From Sacred to Secular – So Xmas WAS a Christian abbreviation for Christmas. It hasn’t been until more recent years that I have heard some claim that Xmas is an attempt to “keep Christ out of Christmas.” It is understandable that some would think in this was since, to the uninitiated, it looks like Christ has literally been “X’d out.” It takes a little explaining to recognize Christ in that “X” and, as world becomes more secular, and many Catholics are not taught the meaning of ancient symbols any longer, it certainly does look like Christ is missing from “Xmas.” Historically he is not really missing at all. But this not well understood.

Historical Roots of the “X” – The use of “X” for Christ comes from a time prior to the printing press when books were literally “manuscripts,” that is, “written by hand.” Abbreviations in those times were common. In the ancient manuscripts of Gregorian Chant there are many abbreviations like sclorum = In saecula saeculorum, Dne = Domine, ala = alleluia. In many manuscripts “X” or the “chi rho” symbol were used for Christ. Ink, paper and time were precious and Abbreviations. To some extent these have returned in the text world: LOL, IMHO, CUL8r, etc.

So “Xmas” does not really have secular roots or imply some intentional omission of Christ. It is an ancient abbreviation.

However, many today do take exception to its use and it CAN in fact be an attempt to “X” Christ out of Christmas by some. In virulently secular times where it is considered acceptable to exhibit outright hostility to Christmas and Jesus, it would seem Xmas is problematic. Other things being equal, we want to be as explicit as possible that it is Jesus Christ to whom we refer. We should also be sensitive to the fact that many are bothered by the term Xmas even if we are not.

Advice – Generally speaking I avoid the term today even though, due to my training, it does not bother me. Tactically speaking I also avoid it due to the fact that we need to unambiguously announce Jesus and “X” just doesn’t do that anymore. However, we should also avoid being too easily offended in a matter such as this where usage has recently shifted. We may take offense where none is intended. Thin-skinned Christians are not helpful to turning the tide of anti-Christian fervor today.

So, in the end, perhaps a middle ground regarding the term “Xmas.” Avoid its use for the reasons stated but do not easily take offense regarding it either. There are bigger battles.

This video is from the Merriam Webster site. They have many videos and interesting words studies here:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Pancake dinner tonight!  Mass at 5:30, dinner, and games.  All-night Adoration - a Newman Center tradition during finals - from 9 pm to 9 am.  Come receive the peace of Jesus in the midst of stress and anxiety.

"Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest" - Mt 11:28.
Here's a video to help all of us get into the Christmas spirit:

Monday, December 13, 2010

3rd Sunday of Advent - homily

Today is "Gaudete Sunday". Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice". We rejoice in the Lord and He rejoices in us. I rejoice in all of you. We have had a good semester at the Newman Center, thanks be to God and you. I love you all for who you are. You are children of God and my spiritual kids while you are here. But, my love and admiration for you grows whenever you show that Christ is here. And, this is what you have done this semester as I'll go through in a moment.

Christ is here! This is really the focus of what St. John the Baptist asks Jesus in today's Gospel. He is asking, 'are you the Christ? Is Christ here?' Christ was his hope. He spent his whole life waiting for, preparing for, and hoping for Christ. This is why Jesus says no one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. John's hope is Christ and his hope is realized when he hears that Christ is here. Pope Benedict has told us that Advent is a season of hope; John the Baptist is the embodiment of hope during Advent.

Jesus gives evidence that He is the Christ in answer to John's question. It is the same evidence that the prophet Isaiah wrote about 700 years before it happened; John would have recognized that it's what Isaiah prophesied. It's the same evidence that Christ is here at GW!

"the blind regain their sight"...two students have regained their sight this semester. Not physical sight, but spiritual sight. They were blind in their Catholic faith, but now see everything through the eyes of faith.

"the lame walk" least two times this semester, GW Catholics have helped the lame walk. A few Saturdays, they helped residents at Gift of Peace who can't walk get to lunch or Mass. Recently, one of our students has been hospitalized because of a muscle syndrome. Other students have been visiting her every day to encourage and support her in her therapy as she tries to walk again soon.

"lepers are cleansed".. All diseases in the Gospel represent sin; leprosy might represent serious sin. Serious sin has been cleansed this semester here. I realized the other day that it's been about once a week that a student has come to Confession after 10 years. It’s often been because other students have invited them to go to Confession.

"the deaf here"...probably the most powerful story from this semester comes from a student who works in a university department. One day, she was talking with other students in the department about abortion. She told them that her views on life were at the "core of her being". The core of her being! They had never heard this before - "the deaf hear" - and struggled to find anything in their lives that they believed in so strongly.

"the dead are raised"...there are several examples of students whose faith has been raised to life this semester, mainly through the work of the FOCUS missionaries. Their faith was dead; now it is alive and vibrant.

"the poor have the good news proclaimed to them"... One of the most inspiring things I've seen as chaplain here is students leading other students to live chastity. It's not just been within relationships. For example, guys telling other guys to exercise more to burn off sexual energy or reminding themselves to be a man of love, not lust. And, the advice has helped them get over the hump to live chastity. Amazing! Also, students have been proclaiming the good news to their non-Catholic friends in our Bible studies. One student who lives an exciting life here told me last week the most exciting thing in his life is bringing his Jewish friends to Bible study.

So, Christ is here! The one thing that I'd challenge you on for next semester is this. Certainly, keep up the good work, but bring more Catholics Mass, to the Newman Center, to Bible study. Christ is here and they should be here to experience Him. And, He is especially here at Mass in the Eucharist. He is visibly present in the Eucharist while invisibly present through you in all the ways I've described.

Last thing and the one thing I hope you remember from this semester..deep in your hearts: you are good and you are loved. God created you, so you are good. God don't make junk! You are loved. God loves each and every one of you. I love each and every one of you. You are good and you are loved.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Exorcism" - part III

Ice-skating and Christmas party, tonight.  Meet at Newman Center at 5:30 pm.  Ice-skating at National Gallery of Art, dinner, games, and a movie.

Part III of “Exorcism”…excerpts (pp. 193-197) from the book, “Exorcism and the Church Militant” by Fr. Thomas Euteneuer:

Session Four (October)

After several months, due to a severe family crisis and much prayer, Angie decided to return to the exorcism process because she saw the need for it again. This was a great grace. This session however, proved to be frustrating and inconclusive due to Angie’s ongoing distrust of the process and reluctance to cooperate interiorly with the exorcism…

Session Five (The Following Day)

In this two and a half hour session, the power of prayer was evident… At least three members of the team heard the words, “It is finished,” at the end.

Session Six (Mid-December)

This session lasted three hours and was the most discouraging of the six exorcisms up to this point… It was also the most violent of all the sessions up to that point… In the end there was no expulsion, but the exorcism had at least brought her some peace in her difficult moments.

Seventh and Last Session (February, one year to the day after the first session)

Undoubtedly, this was the most grueling of all seven exorcism sessions. The exorcism lasted four hours and required the full strength of six people to hold Angie down from the violent actions of the final, possessing demon…

Suddenly, at about the two hour mark, Angie had what can only be described as a “vision” in the course of the exorcism. We were not sure if it was from the Lord or from the demon so I rebuked the spirit of deception several times, and the vision continued for another fifteen to twenty minutes. Angie was actually “seeing” as if on a screen in her mind, a clear and shocking picture of all the evil that had been perpetrated on her and had pervaded her life for so many years… In fact she was seeing her life for the first time as the Lord saw it. She said that she now understood “what” exactly happened to cause all this and “how” it happened; she never understood these things so clearly before…

As the exorcism continued, the demon began to react with more violence: continuous attempts at biting us; writhing around, pushing back, jumping up and forward, swinging arms violently… The demon was grabbing and breaking the crucifix; grabbing and crushing the exorcism ritual book… There were also many insolent words from the demon such as his constantly yelling at me, “shut up!” and taunting such as “you can’t do anything” and “I am strong, I can take it,” even in the midst of the worst pain that the ritual was causing her. He even called me “kiddy” and “child” numerous times, to which I always responded “yes, I am a child of God,” to deflect his arrogance.

The final expulsion came when Angie herself made a valiant attempt to forgive her uncle in her heart and also to forgive God for permitting her to go through all this pain and sorrow. That was a crucial moment and sticking point in her faith life. The Satanists had attacked her very relationship with God, and the spiritual abuse was the worst damage of all. She also made an attempt to die to her “old life” and live a new life in Christ in a concrete act of faith. After the third or fourth repetition of this act of faith, Angie “snapped to” instantly and was surprised to see that she was on the floor. She remembered virtually nothing about the exorcism except her vision and the final act of faith that she had made consciously. The violence was over and her peace returned.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Marian Apparition in U.S.!

Marian Apparition in US Declared Worthy of Belief

Our Lady Appeared in 1859 to Belgian Immigrant in Wisconsin

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin, DEC. 8, 2010 ( On today's feast of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States, apparitions of Our Lady in Wisconsin have been given official diocesan approval.

Reading from his decree at a special Mass today at the Champion, Wisconsin, shrine, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay stated, "I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief -- although not obligatory -- by the Christian faithful."

Today’s declaration makes Our Lady of Good Help at Champion the first and only site in the United States of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


The apparitions -- there were three -- occurred in 1859. Our Lady spoke with Adele Brise (1831-1896), a young immigrant from Belgium.

It was early October when Brise saw Our Lady the first time: a lady clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars around her head.

The vision slowly disappeared after several moments, without speaking to Brise.

The following Sunday, Oct. 9, Brise was on her way to Mass when the Lady returned. After Mass, Brise had the chance to ask her confessor about the apparitions, and he told her that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again. He encouraged her to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her.

On the return trip home, Our Lady again appeared and Brise did as her confessor had recommended.

“I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same," the Lady responded to Brise's question. "You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them."

One of the women with Brise asked her with whom she was speaking and why they couldn't see anyone.

“Kneel,” said Brise, “the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.” At this, the Lady looked kindly at Brise's companions and said, "Blessed are they that believe without seeing.”

The Lady continued, “What are you doing here in idleness while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?”

“What more can I do, dear Lady?” Brise asked.

“Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

“But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” Brise replied.

“Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do," the Lady said. "Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

Brise's father built a small chapel on the site and Brise went about fulfilling Our Lady's mandate, a mission she continued until her death in 1896.


Bishop Ricken's approval comes after an almost two-year investigation of the events and their consequences, which he initiated in January 2009.

The Diocese of Green Bay has published information on its Web site regarding apparitions in the Church.

The statements clarify that it is a diocesan bishop and not the Holy See nor the episcopal conference that is responsible for judging the authenticity of apparitions that are said to have occurred in his diocese.

The statements further noted that not all alleged apparitions are given Church approval, and in the United States, for example, supposed apparitions at Necedah, Wisconsin, and Bayside, New York, were examined and declared to be false.

"No one can prove the supernatural," the statement recalled. "The Church judges apparitions on the basis of their consistency with sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition and the teachings of the Church, the subsequent spiritual benefits in the lives of people, and whether there is anything in the life of the seer that detracts from the credibility of the account."

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Come Home for Christmas! Confessions today, Newman Center, top floor, 4-6 pm and 8-10 pm. Invite other GW Catholics to Confession!!

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! Holy Day of Obligation. Mass at 12 noon. There is some confusion about today’s feast. “Catholic Answers” provides some good insights to all of this as well as a useful analogy. Here are some excerpts from one of their online articles:

It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain. The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature. Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings.

When discussing the Immaculate Conception, an implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary.

The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." Mary was indeed a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that (and it never mentions the word for "daughter"). The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence.

Fundamentalists’ chief reason for objecting to the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s consequent sinlessness is that we are told that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23). Besides, they say, Mary said her "spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and only a sinner needs a Savior.

Let’s take the second citation first. Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, she was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of original sin and its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—by anticipation.

Consider an analogy: Suppose a man falls into a deep pit, and someone reaches down to pull him out. The man has been "saved" from the pit. Now imagine a woman walking along, and she too is about to topple into the pit, but at the very moment that she is to fall in, someone holds her back and prevents her. She too has been saved from the pit, but in an even better way: She was not simply taken out of the pit, she was prevented from getting stained by the mud in the first place. This is the illustration Christians have used for a thousand years to explain how Mary was saved by Christ. By receiving Christ’s grace at her conception, she had his grace applied to her before she was able to become mired in original sin and its stain.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"Exorcism" (part II)

Part II of “Exorcism”…excerpts (pp. 188-193) from the book, “Exorcism and the Church Militant” by Fr. Thomas Euteneuer:

History and Symptoms

Angie (not her real name) was a native of another country and had been suffering demonic problems since she was a teenager, due to the wickedness of certain family members who were steeped in the occult. According to her testimony, her aunt dedicated her to Satan at an early age, and her uncle promised the devil that he would deliver the soul of his niece if only Satan would make him rich. When she was a teenager, she unsuspectingly gave them a series of personal items and pictures, which they used in satanic rituals to curse her and send demons into her. She was vulnerable to them because they were family members who, at that time, apparently she still had affection for. She did not know they were taking advantage of her innocence and performing satanic rituals to destroy her life.

When I met her, eighteen years later, she was in a constant state of internal suffering. She daily experienced visions of snakes, owls and wild animals, paranormal experiences of dead relatives and other creatures speaking to her and appearing to her, dreams of being buried alive, physical attacks and blockages, assaults by terrible lascivious images and sensations, evil presences punishing her for various things…Her real suffering can be seen in this paragraph that she wrote at the time of the initial evaluation:

Around July the “devil” came again, stronger this time. This situation is unbelievable. The devil (men and women) are visiting me almost every night, they buried me alive twice, dogs and other monsters are chasing me and arresting me. I lost my job and many more, and everybody walked away from my life again. I cannot describe what is going on right now with words. This may what hell and death feel like. It is like they are reading me. They know my intentions, where I will go and what I will do the next day and they have the ability to stop it. The more I pray the stronger and horrifying their ‘replt’ is. I am even hearing voices at this moment…

Exorcism process

The process of Angie’s exorcism lasted one full year and spanned seven sessions. Due to its convenience, the sessions were conducted in the Protestant church where she was attending the prayer group. Each session included anywhere from two to six helpers, with a mixed team of Protestants and Catholics, but the rite was authorized by the local Catholic bishop, and I was the authorized exorcist. It was a full, solemn Catholic exorcism. During all seven sessions, Angie remembers nothing at all of the many hours spent on the exorcisms. Her only lucid moments were when we took breaks as well as one final experience of enlightenment in the seventh session described below.

Session one (February)

This session lasted nine hours, but this was because I was not experienced at that time and did not understand the need to restrict the length of sessions due to people’s natural limitations. It was apparent from the beginning that there was some kind of serpent demon because, when I first placed the crucifix on her head, Angie slid out of the chair onto the floor like a snake. This demon was cast out. A second demon emerged calling himself “Legion” and said that he was 15 demons strong. This “coalition” of demons was not cast out in this session; but at the end of the whole exorcism process, we could account for all 15 demonic entities. In this coalition there were several of the other demons in her who called themselves with the names of the family members who were the victimizers. These were likely the possessing spirits of those family members that they sent into Angie by their curses and satanic acts.

Session Two (mid-March)

…The exorcism prayers and a specific prayer of breaking undid the effects of all the satanic actions, and the exorcism cast out the possessing spirits of the group of magicians (what the demons described the evil spirits of the men who had participated in rituals with the uncle). The possessing spirit of the uncle was stronger, and it did not leave. Nonetheless, Angie felt immense relief after the session…

Session three (late March)

This session lasted three hours and identified two other possessing spirits with family names – i.e., apparently two other family members had also victimized her by occult acts, but up to that point she was unaware that they were involved. These left after some prayer and commanding with the ritual…

Interlude and Crisis Period

After the third session, Angie seemed exhausted by all the spiritual warfare for so many years and the stress of the sessions, and regretfully, she decided to short-circuit the process. It was obvious to the team that the remaining demons were attacking her faith and, despite the overwhelming ‘success’ of the expulsions thus far, she was not convinced this process was really helping her. She wrote:

I am writing to inform you that I do not believe that the Lord really wants to heal or free me. For a reason unknown to me, he is letting me burn in hell…Fr. Tom, please annul any plan for exorcism and/or any other type of deliverance. You cannot pray for someone who does not believe in prayers anymore…I AM GIVING UP. I AM DONE. THAT’S IT FOR ME. IT’S MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE. I tried for almost 20 years. You can’t say that I didn’t try.

…Since no one can be forced to undergo an exorcism, we reluctantly suspended the process and just continued to intercede for her and maintain contact with her…


Monday, December 06, 2010

2nd Sunday of Advent - homily

We have cards for you tonight about a program called, “Come Home for Christmas”. The holidays are a time for being home with family; home is so significant for us. We should also come home to God and the Church through Confession during the holidays, especially those who have been away. I will offer GW students a chance to come home for Christmas this Wednesday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (a holy day of obligation). I will offer confessions from 4-6 pm and 8-10 pm on Wednesday at the Newman Center. Please come by then or other times before you leave and invite other GW Catholics to come home for Christmas.

We hear from St. John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. It always reminds me of a funny story from my home parish years ago. Two of the priests who were stationed there were Father Wells and Father Gonzalez who is now Bishop Gonzalez of Washington. The two of them got along so well – both fun guys! They had fun with each other and enjoyed each other’s company. One time, they were at a parish party talking with a parishioner. The parishioner said to Fr Wells, “Father Wells, you preach like John the Baptist!” Fr. Wells turned to Fr Gonzalez and said with a smile, “hmmmm…John the Baptist!” He began to show some signs of boasting and gloating. Fr Gonzalez then asked the parishioner, “what about me?”, as Fr Wells laughed. The woman said, “oh, Fr Gonzalez, you preach like Jesus!” (Fr Wells went silent).

There is much confusion about Advent. Students have been asking me what this season is all about. Based on what we hear St. John the Baptist preach to the Jews, I can put it in a simple phrase that we have on our Come Home for Christmas cards: “’tis the season for giving and forgiving”. Advent is a season for giving and forgiving.

It is a season for giving…giving our hearts to Christ. This was the message of John the Baptist. He was speaking mainly to Pharisees whose hearts were not in it. If you know anything about the Pharisees, you know that they were all about following the law. But, their hearts were not in it. They were simply going through the motions. They assumed that just because they were Jews who followed the law that they were saved. John the Baptist called them out on it and told them they had to repent! Repentance means to turn away from sin and turn back to God. It means to have a change of heart…a conversion of heart.

He says the same thing to us: repent! Unfortunately, many Catholics are like the Pharisees in that they just go through the motions. Their bodies are here on Sundays, but their hearts are not. Each of us needs to give our heart to Christ this Advent! Folks, this is what it’s all about. It’s all about giving our hearts to Christ. So, get down on your knees before Christmas Day and make a profound prayer in which you say to Jesus, “Lord, I give you my heart”. If you have done this before, renew it. If you haven’t done it, do it for the first time. If you’re like me, you do it every day. I get down on my knees every day and give my heart to Christ because I still haven’t given it fully to Him yet. If every Catholic did this…if every practicing Catholic had a conversion of heart…if they really were engaged with Christ in their hearts…then we priests would be the busiest people on earth: constant confessions, spiritual direction, prayers, blessings, etc. We are busy now, but not as busy as we should be. If every practicing GW Catholic has a conversion of heart, then I wouldn’t have a moment’s peace…kinda what I want!

‘Tis the season for giving and forgiving. If we have experienced a conversion of heart, then there should be some external sign of it. St. John calls the Jews to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance”. For them, it primarily would have been Baptism. For us who have been baptized, it is primarily Confession. Confession is the outward sign of our conversion of heart. Every time someone goes to Confession, they have a conversion of heart! That is why hearing confessions is my favorite part of being a priest. As much as I love celebrating Mass, I only see bodies there; but, in Confession, I encounter souls…hearts that want to turn away from sin and turn back to the Lord. The outward sign of Confession is not external or symbolic; it contains the grace it signifies. This is true of Baptism and all of the sacraments. This is the grace that saves us.

Finally, at this and every Mass, we remember that Christ gave his heart to us on the Cross. He continues to give his heart to us in the Eucharist. May the Eucharist give us the courage, strength, and faith to give our hearts to Christ in a real way during Advent and receive the forgiveness of God through Confession as evidence of our repentance.

Friday, December 03, 2010

"Exorcism" (part I)

“Jesus and Burritos” tonight, 6 pm, followed by Christmas decorating and raffle for $50-$100 Visa gift cards. Should be fun!

I just finished a fascinating and powerful book by Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, “Exorcism and the Church Militant”. Strap on your salvation gear for this one! It is hard hitting. Fr Euteneuer is very active in pro-life ministry and is also an exorcist. He tells some stories from exorcisms that tell the “real story” as opposed to what Hollywood tries to depict. For some, the real deal is scarier. For all, exorcisms are so intriguing because they are real…evil really exists and Christ’s power over it exists. We will try to get Fr. Euteneuer or some other exorcist to speak here next semester. I would appreciate comments from GW Catholics about the following excerpts from the book:

“Once, in an exorcism, a demon used the person’s actual voice to attempt to throw me off the track. The person said to me in her natural voice, ‘I think he’s gone, Father. No, I am sure he is gone, I feel so much better. ‘ I suspected that it might be the demon speaking, so I commanded the person to recite the Hail Mary, and when the person refused, I knew whose the voice was. There are many other ways demons attempt to deceive the exorcist: half truths, mumbling, vague or symbolic answers, etc. Demons are like the most inveterate criminals under interrogation who will not give information except under the greatest duress.” (p.84)

“In a recent deliverance I conducted, the unclean spirit yelled out, “I hate priests!” but he had no power to harm me or the two other priests in attendance. The devil cannot effectively harm the exorcist who endeavors to live in a state of grace and fortifies himself against the wiles of the devil, as both St. Paul and St. Peter admonish in their writings. A priest can be harmed, however, if he is imprudent or inattentive to his enemy. For example, the first exorcism done on the boy whose case formed the basis of the movie, The Exorcist, was performed by a young priest whose arm was gashed from the shoulder to the wrist by the demon wielding a sharp piece of metal he had pulled out of the bed spring. The wound required more than one hundred stitches. This was the case of an inexperienced priest attempting to exorcise a very powerful demon. The exorcism was unsuccessful, and the priest eventually handed the case on to another priest.” (p.88)

“Pope John Paul II in fact performed three exorcisms during his tenure as pope. The first was in 1978, the second in 1982 and the third one was in September of the year 2000 at the end of a papal audience. Apparently, the latter occurred when a 19-year-old Italian woman who had a history of demonic problems and had had an exorcism the previous day was in the papal audience and began to scream with a demonic voice as the Pope left the audience. The Holy Father prayed over her for half an hour and ordered the devil to leave, unsuccessfully. Another priest spent two more hours with her that day, also unsuccessfully, but of course, as has been noted many times in this book, an exorcism is not an “event” – even if a pope is performing it. It is always a process. Allegedly, the young woman continues under the care of an exorcist in Rome.” (p.90)

“Some years ago I was asked by a particular diocese to investigate the case of a woman who was asking for an exorcism. Hers was a very advanced state of possession when I met her, and this is the story of her exorcism. I used the 1614 Rite of Exorcism in its English translation to conduct the exorcism sessions.” (p.188) …

The incredible, dramatic story to be continued…

Here is Fr Euteneuer on TV years ago performing a spiritual work of mercy (admonishing the sinner). From what I understand, he tried to reach out privately to Mr. Hannity to admonish him before doing it publicly. I don’t know if he handled the whole situation perfectly, but he does an excellent job in articulately and courageously defending the Church in a hostile interview. Go Father!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Abortion: "disappearing issue"?

Anon posted the following comment: “I'd be interested to get bloggers' take on this column published in this week's Washington Post:".

In the column, the author, Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, depicts the Church’s stance against abortion as a “lost cause”. His basic point is that most Catholics no longer listen to the Magisterium when it comes to voting pro-life. He even argues that Vatican II has helped to bring this about. He refers to “a maturation for the Catholic conscience” and that “We have moved beyond a stage where lay Catholics rely on the hierarchy to tell them how to vote…most people-in-the-pews of Catholic America I have interviewed think this is a good turn of events.”

First of all, it depends on which people-in-the-pews are being interviewed. There are parishes within our Archdiocese where many people are pro-choice (pro-abortion), but there are also parishes here where many people are pro-life. My guess is that he just interviewed people from the former parishes, and not the latter ones. It is irresponsible and incorrect to say that most Catholics in Washington are pro-choice. A comment from the Post’s website bears this out:

“Mr Aroyo certainly has never interviewed the people in the pews where I go to Mass or he would have gotten a very different result to his "scientific" poll. The fact is that 70% to 75% of Catholics here will vote pro-life if at all possible. We do not see abortion as a dead political issue. We also do not resent our local Bishop's prolife stand nor his guidance when he reminds us that we must vote for life whenever possible. Unlike some Catholics who are obviously ill informed or just not able to be informed, we here are able to read and understand the writtings of the Vatican and we know that it is never a mistake for our heirarchy to stand for Catholic principles even to command that we vote for those principles no matter which party we have to vote for…”

Secondly, he is even more irresponsible when he suggests that Vatican II made the Magisterium of the Church irrelevant in political matters. He quotes Gaudium et Spes (76): "The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other." This statement is not a benchmark for new Catholic teaching; it is simply the Church’s reiteration of separation of church and state. Vatican II did not remove the Church from guiding Catholics how to vote! If so, why did the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops publish “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” in 2007? In this document, the USCCB wrote the following:

“…the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the United States Constitution protects the rights of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination” (n.11)

“In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (n.13)

“As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support” (n.42)

And, here are some statements from individual bishops (which we need more of…if these had been consistently by bishops, then this article would never had been written):

“Abortion is the issue this year and every year in every campaign. The taking of innocent human life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue. I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but also the entire electorate.” (Bishop James Timlin, “The Ballot and the Right to Life”, Fall 2000).

“As Catholics, we are faced with a number of issues that are of concern and should be addressed, such as immigration reform, healthcare, the economy and its solvency, care and concern for the poor, and the war on terror…But let us be clear: issues of prudential judgment are not morally equivalent to issues involving intrinsic evils. No matter how right a given candidate is on any of these issues, it does not outweigh a candidate’s unacceptable position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion or the protection of ‘abortion rights’” (Bishop Kevin Farrell and Bishop Kevin Vann, 2008).

While it may be true that many Catholics have tuned out the Church when it comes to political issues, it is not true that the Church has told Catholics to tune her out. Overall, abortion is not a dead issue within the hierarchy of the Church or among Catholics. If Mr Stevens-Arroyo still thinks this, he should make a trip downtown on the March for Life in January. There, he can interview tens of thousands of pro-life Catholics – many of whom will be young. He might get a different response. I wander if he would publish that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

1st Sunday of Advent - homily

You all begin to prepare for your final exams. I remember a final in high school that I didn’t prepare well for. It was pre-calculus in second semester of senior year. I slumped all semester (well, really, all year). I had to stay up the night before the exam learning a whole semester of material in one night. And, I needed to do really well on the final just to pass the class and graduate! At about 5 in the morning, I decided to get a little sleep with the hope of reviewing the material in time for the exam at 10:45 am. When I woke up, it was 10:53. D’oh! I freaked out. I threw on some clothes and raced down to school which was 30 minutes away. They wouldn’t let me take the exam because I was too late. The Dean of Students, who I knew well, even said, “I recommend that you fail the class and don’t graduate”. What?! Again, freaking out. I had to pull some serious strings just to take the exam just before graduation. At graduation, when I received my diploma, I actually had to look inside to make sure the diploma was there (instead of a “see you in summer school note”). It was there, so I gave a thumbs-up to my family who probably shook their heads in shame.

Hopefully, our students will be more prepared for their exams than I was for that one. In Advent, all of us are reminded that we are preparing for a BIG final exam. It is the biggest final of our lives: the coming of Christ…Judgment. And, oh yeah, it’s a pop final…a pop quiz. Jesus says it will come at “an hour you do not expect”. So, we always need to be preparing…we always need to be ready. We’re all preparing for a final exam, so we’re all taking a course together. It’s a course that I will call, “Life 101”. The course meets every Sunday here at Mass, as you know. The Teacher has told us we have to be here if we want to pass the course. He says, “Keep holy the Sabbath” and commands us to receive the Eucharist when we do. In John 6, He basically says that if we want to pass the course, we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Our syllabus is big – it is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s probably the biggest syllabus you’ll ever see. Some people have dropped the class (i.e., left the Church) after seeing the syllabus and they are in trouble. Don’t be intimidated by it; if you need help in using it, I am always available. Like any syllabus, it’s a great guide in passing the class. The Teacher has told us that we not only need to know what it is in the syllabus, we need to believe and follow all of the main teachings in it. There is some beautiful stuff in it. Check it out!

Our required text is the Holy Bible. It is a unique “textbook” in that you can communicate with the Teacher when you read it. The students who do the best in the class are those who pray over Scripture. They talk to by opening the Bible and listen to Him in His Word. This leads them to do the lab work which is required. There is a lot of lab work to pass the class. In fact, most of the class is work done in the laboratory of the world. Lab work is described in the required reading as well as the syllabus and includes living out the traditions and devotions of our faith, receiving the sacraments, living the virtues, evangelizing, caring for the poor and those in need, doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy, etc. It’s a big part of our grade!

We also have some supplemental readings – handouts, articles, etc. These would include writings of the saints, the Fathers of the Church, as well as modern theologians writing on modern issues. We have a bunch of handouts at the back of Church as you leave tonight ranging from contraception to living simply. Again, some great stuff. Check it out.

Now, some people are not preparing for our final because they think that the Teacher is such an easy grader. They think that, because He is all merciful and all-loving, everyone passes Life 101. Well, He is all merciful and all-loving, but He just told us in today’s Gospel that 50% of the people fail the class! “One will be taken, one will be left. Therefore, stay awake!”, He says. We need to prepare well. Others are preparing for Judgment, but are not preparing well. They only do the bare minimum and simply just want to pass the final exam. Kinda like me with my pre-calculus final. Do not be like me and do not be like them! Prepare for Life 101’s exam in the same way that you prepare for your exams in the university. At GW, you do not just do the minimum in hopes of merely passing. You do your absolute best and try to get the best grade you can. You try to excel!

Some of you are doing this with Life 101. You are doing more than the bare minimum. You are digging in and trying to excel. For example, some of you are digging in with tonight’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. You are trying to throw off the works of darkness – lust, promiscuity, drunkenness, etc. – and making nor provisions for the desires of the flesh. You are trying to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and live chastity. You are coming to see the Teacher in his office hours by going to Confession and spiritual direction. You are doing your best in preparing for the biggest final of your life, the Coming of Jesus Christ. This is the model for all of us in Life 101 and in Advent.

Finally, the questions for each one of us is, in the class of Life 101, what grade are you aiming for? Are you aiming just for a passing grade or do you want to get the best grade you can? What kind of Advent are you aiming for? Will you do the bare minimum or try to excel? Suggestions on how to make a good Advent include reading some of the syllabus (we can help you buy one if you don’t have one), praying over the required text (maybe you can read one of the Gospels during Advent), taking and perusing the handouts at the back of Church, and seeing the Teacher in his office hours by going to Confession. With God’s help, if we excel in Advent and we excel in Life 101, then we will hear the words of the Lord at Christmas and at Judgment, “well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy”.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"World's Toughest Catholic Quiz"

DC 'Hood vs. St Andrew Apostle, tonight, 7:30, at E Brooke Lee middle school, Silver Spring. Go 'Hood!

Here is another quiz for bloggers. It is tough!  The author of the quiz writes that there aren't any trick questions; but, some of the answers are tricky! If you don't do well, don't're not alone. I scored an "average" 13 (don't tell Cardinal Wuerl). I want some of my answers back!  Still a little bit of yesterday's turkey on the brain, I guess...  It might actually live up to its name as the "World's Toughest Catholic Quiz". It's an old quiz (1993) but still pertinent and fun. To view the answers, click on today's title.

The World's Toughest Catholic Quiz
By Karl Keating

Some call it "the pop quiz from hell." Others call it things we can't print in a family magazine. You are about to find out if you know as much about your faith as you claim to know. Take it from me: Your ego will suffer. But don't fall into despair. Most Catholics (some priests included, alas) will answer most of these questions incorrectly. When I sprang this quiz on an audience of well-informed Catholic business leaders and their spouses, few got more than half the questions right, and that was with some sub rosa "sharing" by test takers. The high score was seventeen right out of twenty, and that was a very good score indeed. Some people got only a third right.

To save you acute embarrassment, this quiz will not be turned in. It is for your enlightenment (and amusement) only. In fact, I suggest you take the quiz in private so no one else will know the truth about the state of your Catholic knowledge. (If you happen to do well, you can brag later.)

For each question, circle the one answer which you think is most fully correct. There are no trick questions, but you must read very carefully. Terms are used in their precise meanings; don't be fooled into selecting a wrong answer by thinking in loose or colloquial terms. Each question has only one correct answer, but it might be "None of the above."

At the end of this article I explain why each possible answer is right or wrong. You can score yourself and see how you rate as an apologist. (Sorry, no prizes will be awarded to anyone for anything.)

All set? Here we go:


1. In the Mass
a. Jesus is symbolized by the bread and wine from the moment of consecration onward.

b. Jesus is spiritually present when the community gathers in prayer under the leadership of the priest and ceases to be spiritually present when the priest leaves the sanctuary.

c. Jesus is physically present along with the bread and wine once the consecration has occurred.

d. Jesus is present, and the bread and wine are not present, after the consecration.

e. None of the above.

2. After the consecration
a. The host on the paten is Jesus' body, and the contents of the chalice are Jesus' blood.

b. The host symbolizes Jesus' body, and the wine symbolizes Jesus' blood.

c. The host is both Jesus' body and blood, and the wine is both Jesus' body and blood.

d. Jesus' body and blood are really present with the bread and the wine, and this is called the Real Presence.

e. None of the above.

3. The consecration of the Eucharist
a. Can be performed by a Catholic priest or by a priest of an Eastern Orthodox church.

b. Can be performed by a Catholic priest only if he celebrates Mass with at least two witnesses.

c. Can be performed by Catholic priests and Anglican priests so long as they have the proper intention and pronounce the correct words of consecration.

d. Can be performed by deacons and specially-commissioned lay persons in emergency situations.

e. None of the above.

4. A Mass is invalid
a. If fewer than half the people present hold hands during the Our Father.

b. If the priest omits the opening sign of the cross and the Nicene Creed.

c. If the priest celebrates Mass while he is in the state of mortal sin.

d. If the priest ad libs any part of the canon.

e. None of the above.

5. Holy Communion may be taken by
a. Anyone at all, so long as his conscience tells him it is the right thing to do.

b. Any Christian who wishes to manifest the unity which Christ willed for his Church.

c. Catholics in the state of grace, but not by Protestants even if they are in the state of grace.

d. Catholics who have committed mortal sins and are sorry for them, even if they have not confessed them yet in confession.

e. None of the above.

6. The doctrine of the Trinity means
a. There is one God who manifests himself in the three distinct roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

b. Since the Resurrection there have been four persons in the Trinity, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ the God-Man.

c. In the Godhead there is only one divine person, and he takes on different.aspects according to his actions as Creator, Redeemer, or Sanctifier.

d. There are three Gods who work so closely together that it is proper to call them one God.

e. None of the above.

7. A deacon is
a. A priest who does not have permission to celebrate Mass until after his wife dies.

b. A layman who may distribute Communion, marry people, baptize babies, and wear vestments.

c. A man who has received the first level of holy orders and is neither a priest nor a layman.

d. Forbidden to hear confessions and give absolution except in emergency situations and in the absence of a priest.

e. None of the above.

8. A sister is
a. Neither a lay person nor a cleric.

b. A cleric, but no longer a lay person.

c. May be installed as a chaplain of a hospital.

d. Is the female equivalent of a deacon.

e. None of the above.

9. An archbishop
a. Is always an older bishop and, by canon law, must be at least 55 years of age.

b. Has jurisdiction over all the bishops within his metropolitan area, and he may overrule their decisions.

c. Assists the pope by voting on prospective cardinals.

d. Is a regular bishop who has been given the honorary title of archbishop by leading bishops in his national bishops' conference.

e. None of the above.

10. Which of the following is a defined Catholic dogma?
a. Limbo

b. Purgatory

c. Both limbo and purgatory.

d. Priestly celibacy.

e. None of the above.

11. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception means
a. Mary conceived Jesus immaculately in her womb, without the aid of a human father.

b. Mary conceived Jesus immaculately in her womb, and he remained without sin.

c. Mary was conceived immaculately in her mother's womb, without the aid of a human father.

d. Mary was conceived immaculately in her mother's womb and was preserved from sin.

e. None of the above.

12. Papal infallibility means
a. The pope is preserved by the Holy Spirit from committing mortal sins.

b. Anything the pope teaches is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit to be true.

c. The pope's teachings must be obeyed because he is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and thus speaks for the Holy Spirit, who cannot err.

d. The pope is incapable of teaching erroneously on matters of faith and morals when he teaches publicly and officially a doctrine for all Christians, not just Catholics, to hold.

e. None of the above.

13. Contraception is
a. Permissible only to married couples with the permission of their parish priest and under extenuating circumstances.

b. Never permissible, no matter what the circumstances.

c. Permissible if the husband and wife, after honest prayer, conclude it is right for them and do not use it selfishly.

d. Permissible only if the wife's health would be in danger or if the husband is unable to support a large family.

e. None of the above.

14. The sacrament of confession
a. Must be received before receiving Communion by anyone guilty of a mortal sin since his last confession.

b. Is entirely superfluous if you privately and sincerely confess your sins to God.

c. Must be received by all Catholic adults at least once a year. (This is one of the six precepts of the Church.)

d. Was done away with by Vatican II, except in cases of the three sins which "cry out to God for vengeance": murder, adultery, and sexism.

e. None of the above.

15. At the Crucifixion
a. Jesus' human nature died on the cross.

b. Only the human person of Jesus, not the divine person of Jesus, died on the cross.

c. God died on the cross.

d. Jesus' human and divine natures both died on the cross, but the universe was kept going by the Father and the Holy Spirit until Jesus' Resurrection.

e. None of the above.

16. Purgatory is
a. A state of natural happiness where souls of unbaptized infants and morally good non-Christians will wait until they are judged on the Last Day.

b. A state of mild punishment for people who were not bad enough to go to hell and who were not good enough to go to heaven.

c. A state of purification for people who die in the state of grace but who do not die with complete love for God.

d. A temporary state where sincere people who do not die in the state of grace get a second chance to do good and thus avoid going to hell.

e. None of the above.

17. An annulment is
a. The canon law equivalent of a divorce under the civil law.

b. A Church-authorized dissolution of a marriage which has failed through the infidelity of one of the spouses.

c. A declaration that no valid marriage existed in the first place, even if there are children born during the relationship.

d. A declaration that children born in a failed marriage are not illegitimate.

e. None of the above.

18. Parish councils
a. Were set up by Vatican II to oversee the work of parish priests.

b. Prevail against the opinions of pastors if at least two-thirds of the council members agree on an issue.

c. Advise the pastor and relieve him of administrative duties, but have no authority over him.

d. Were instituted by Vatican II because the Church is now a democracy, not a monarchy.

e. None of the above.

19. Mortal sin
a. Is nowhere mentioned in Scripture.

b. Is a theological construct from the Church of the Middle Ages, and since Vatican II we recognize that there are only two kinds of sins, venial and serious.

c. Is the same as serious sin; only the words are different.

d. Makes it impossible for you ever to get to heaven, no matter what you do.

e. None of the above.

20. Apologetics means
a. Never having to say you're sorry.

b. The art of apologizing for being a Catholic.

c. A course which seminarians used to have to take but which they now are exempted from by canon law.

d. Giving reasoned explanations and defenses for the faith.

e. None of the above.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pope's interviewer: "ridiculous"

Seewald's Take: Benedict XVI Misunderstood by Many

Author Tells What It's Like to Interview the Pope

By Anita S. Bourdin

ROME, NOV. 23, 2010 ( The author of the new book-interview with Benedict XVI showed visible disappointment that the text has been reduced by the media to a misrepresentation of a few statements on condoms.

What the Pope's talking about in the interview is the "future of the planet," Peter Seewald said, discussing "Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times," available today from Ignatius Press.

The German author decried a "crisis of journalism" when he presented the book today at the Vatican.

He referred to the media flurry spinning through the world since Saturday, when L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, published several excerpts from the interview. One of the texts released was from the end of the 10th chapter, when Seewald asked the Pontiff two questions on the fight against AIDS and the use of condoms. Those statements have been taken out of context or falsely presented in headlines around the world.

"Our book," the author said today at the presentation, "speaks to the survival of [our] planet that is threatened; the Pope appeals to humanity -- our world is in the process of collapse, and half the journalists are only interested in the issue of condoms."

Seewald insisted that the Pope was promoting a "humanization of sexuality" and posed the deeper question: "Does sexuality have something to do with love?"

For the Bavarian writer, excessive concentration on the issue of condoms is "ridiculous." Meanwhile, he reflected, the issue of transforming the world that the Pope proposes is forgotten.

Seewald affirmed that the Holy Father presented a wide-ranging panorama in the six hours of interviews conducted last July at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

But he urged getting to what's important in a book such as this: discovering what the Pope does and says. That is the "gift" of this book, the author suggested: being able to "hear his voice," see the way he interprets his pontificate, "to live" beside him in a very personal way.

Giant among men

Benedict XVI might be placed in the category of the "small popes" when compared to the "great popes" like John Paul II, the author reflected. However Seewald does not hesitate to speak of him as a "giant" -- because of his ideas, his authenticity and capacity for dialogue.

The German author -- who rediscovered his Catholic faith in dialogue with Cardinal Ratzinger in the '90s -- explained that he worked without any censorship from the Pope, who allowed him to write freely and only offered "clarifications."

The journalist expressed his admiration for the Holy Father, with his "elevated point of view" as a "brilliant intellectual," and his "spiritual strength," as well as his "simplicity."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Conversion, not condoms"

I’ve already been peppered with questions about the Holy Father’s recent comments about condoms and AIDS. When we see what the Pope actually said, we realize that it’s not as alarming as advertized. First of all, he is speculating, not pontificating. He is speaking about conversion of heart, not about the morality of condoms. Second, what he said is not contrary to anything Catholic. He reaffirms the Church’s position that the use of condoms is not a “real or moral solution”. So, in the interview, he said that condoms are immoral!

The biggest point that the Holy Father is making (which, of course, is lost in the media’s coverage of this interview) is the move toward “a humanization of sexuality”. The use of a condom in a certain situation (e.g., by a male prostitute as mentioned in the statement below) CAN be a first step in humanizing sexuality for some people. He is speaking more about the process of conversion than about the use of condoms. I know it can be confusing and certain headlines add to the confusion, but the Pope’s statements are much more about the internal than the external. Hopefully, the following helps to clarify things.

DETROIT, ( - A book-length interview with Benedict XVI, due to be released on Tuesday, is already causing controversy in the public spotlight due to the Pope's comments on the use of condoms. Some quotes from the book, "Light of the World" (Ignatius Press), were published ahead of the release date, prompting media opinions and a statement of clarification by Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office.

Janet Smith, a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and has published extensively on the topics of sexuality and bioethics, explained in this interview the source of the controversy and what the Pope is really saying. She noted that in the book (p.119), to the charge that "It is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms," Pope Benedict replied (This paragraph is at the end of an extended answer on the help the Church is giving the AIDS victims and the need to fight the banalization of sexuality.):

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality."

The interviewer asked the Pontiff, "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?" The Holy Father replied, "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Smith explains in the following interview, which she sent to ZENIT, how Benedict XVI was advocating conversion, not condoms, in the striving for moral behavior.

Q: What is Pope Benedict saying?

Smith: We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.

He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.

The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves "humanizing sexuality." Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a "first step" in moral growth.

The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.

Q: So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms?

Smith: The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV. The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action. We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.

In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted. But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms. The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility.

In "Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World)," John Paul II spoke of the need for conversion, which often proceeds by gradual steps: "To the injustice originating from sin ... we must all set ourselves in opposition through a conversion of mind and heart, following Christ Crucified by denying our own selfishness: such a conversion cannot fail to have a beneficial and renewing influence even on the structures of society.

"What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. (9)"

Christ himself, of course, called for a turning away from sin. That is what the Holy Father is advocating here; not a turn towards condoms. Conversion, not condoms!

Q: Would it be proper to conclude that the Holy Father would support the distribution of condoms to male prostitutes?

Smith: Nothing he says here indicates that he would. Public programs of distribution of condoms run the risk of conveying approval for homosexual sexual acts. The task of the Church is to call individuals to conversion and to moral behavior; it is to help them understand the meaning and purpose of sexuality and to help them come to know Christ, who will provide the healing and graces that enable us to live in accord with the meaning and purpose of sexuality.

Q: Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms?

Smith: No. In his second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a "real or moral solution." That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV. As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity.

The Holy Father, again, is saying that the intention to reduce the transmission of any infection is a "first step" in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality. That more human way would be to do nothing that threatens to harm one's sexual partner, who should be one's beloved spouse. For an individual with HIV to have sexual intercourse with or without a condom is to risk transmitting a lethal disease.

An analogy: If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets.

Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an element of moral responsibility that could be a step towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Feast of Christ the King - homily

Last year, I was called to visit a man at GW hospital who was dying of cancer. He was actually in good spirits when I talked with him, ripping some jokes and one-liners. Then, he asked for confession. He started off by telling me it had been fifty years. Fifty years. He was very worried that God would not forgive him because it had been so long and he had so many sins. I told him the story that we just heard in the Gospel – the thief next to Jesus on the Cross. He acknowledged Jesus as King and was essentially asking for mercy. Jesus responded with, “today you will be with me in paradise”. I told the man that Jesus says the same thing to him. He began to cry…tears of joy. He said, “I know God will forgive me”. He died two days peace and joy.

“Today you will be with me in paradise”. What an awesome promise! How sweet must that have been for the criminal to hear in the last hour of his life. He proclaimed Jesus as king when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus rewards him with a promise that he gives to no one else in the Gospel…not even his mother or any of the Apostles. Will He give us the same promise when we die? I know you all are young and you’re thinking this is a long ways off, but you never know. None of us knows when we will die. We always have to be ready. Christ certainly wills to give each of us the promise when it happens. Scripture says that “God wills all men to be saved”. He wants to give us the promise of eternal life. It’s up to us and how live in this life. We can either choose Heaven or Hell with the way we live. As one preacher put it, it’s either “non-smoking or smoking for all eternity”.

What does it mean to choose Heaven? It means to live as the criminal died: proclaiming Jesus as King. It means living in close friendship with Christ…living a life of grace. Sanctifying Grace is what we need to get to Heaven. We first receive this grace when we are baptized. This grace is given to us at Baptism, sealed at Confirmation, and nourished by the Eucharist. Jesus even says in John 6, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. We received more grace to live out our vocations through the sacraments of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders. When we get sick or approach death, we are strengthened by the grace of Anointing of the Sick. This is the life of grace that gets us to Heaven. If we die in a state of grace, we will go to Heaven.

Chances are, though, we won’t go straight to Heaven Martyrs are the only ones who go straight to Heaven when they die; they are perfectly purified by their baptism by blood. The rest of us – even yours saintly grandmothers, the Pope, Mother Teres, etc. – need to be perfected before they enter the Kingdom of Heaven for all eternity. In Heaven, everything is perfect. Scripture says that we need to be free of any “stain or wrinkle”; we need to be perfect. Purgatory is what perfects us to get to Heaven. It will be painful to go through Purgatory but it will be good, ultimately. Painful because we will see how our sins hurt people. Let’s say someone struggled with drunkenness in this life. They might have been forgiven for it at the time of their death, but still weren’t perfect with regard to temperance. Purgatory helps them to see how much their drinking hurt their parents, friends, etc. Basically, people see their lives as God sees them. It will be painful, but good because everyone in Purgatory goes to Heaven. Souls in Purgatory are filled with joy because they know they are going to the Big Dance forever. I will be psyched to make it to Purgatory even though I am expecting a long stay!

Not everyone goes to Purgatory, though. Some people choose Hell. We know because Jesus tells us. They choose Hell. This is a big point to make: Hell is chosen. God wills all men to be saved. Pope John Paul II put it very well. “Hell is not a punishment imposed by God; it is the consequence of an unrepentant sinner’s choice against God”. The person chooses to reject God in a major way and knows full well that he is doing it. It’s called mortal sin. Mortal sin is a serious sin – such as skipping Mass on Sunday, getting drunk, committing sexual sins outside of marriage – that the person knows is seriously wrong and freely chooses to do it. It has to be chosen to be a sin, so if someone is home sick on a Sunday, that it not a mortal sin.

Now, if someone commits a mortal sin, they leave the state of grace and break their relationship with God. God is so merciful to someone who does this to Him. He doesn’t say “screw you” and leave us to go to Hell. He gives us another sacrament that forgives our awful mortal sins. He has given us Confession primarily to forgive mortal sins…primarily to keep us out of Hell. I offer you all confession so much mainly for the salvation of your souls. I am not saying that you are in mortal sin…but, just in case you are, the offer is always there for confession. My m.o. with you is to save your souls, first and foremost. Many Catholics go to Confession before they travel, especially when they fly. Come see me tonight, Monday, or Tuesday before you leave and we’ll take care of business in just a few minutes.

Finally, the criminal on the cross proclaims Christ as King and receives the promise of paradise. Christ has the authority to promise this. He has given this authority to his priests. When the man in the hospital went to confession, he basically heard the same promise from me. May each of us hear this promise soon in confession. May each of us hear this awesome promise when we die: “today you will be with me in paradise”.