Friday, April 30, 2010

From LA millionaire and drug addict to priest

If you haven’t heard the story of Fr. John Corapi, it is powerful stuff. Please click on today’s title to see a short video of his story. Here’s a brief synopsis:

From a Los Angeles millionaire, to drug addicted street person, to a Catholic Priest...Father John Corapi's story is simply amazing. This is a simplified ten minute version of Fr. Corapi's Conversion Story (otherwise known as his Personal Testimony). The statement of this 10 minute video is simple..."God's Name is Mercy!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Praising God is not ordinary"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 8-10 pm. Please join us for a great study break!
Here’s an email a student recently sent me:

“Hey Fr Greg! I had an idea for something you could address at either discussion or in your blog - I have been reading about the new translation of the Mass that is set to come out in various blogs, and most of them are commenting on the people that are criticizing the new translation. I guess I missed all the backstory - why are we getting a new translation? Why is it important/necessary? What changes will be made? Is this going to drastically change the Mass? Why are people attacking the new translation? I just thought it would be helpful to know more of what is happening with this!”

I try to be a generous person, so I gave these questions to another one of our students (one who is applying for seminary this fall) to answer. Ok, the real reason is that I've been too busy to tackle this. I am grateful to our student for his generous time and effort. Here is his excellent and insightful reply:

As many people probably know by now, there will be a new translation of the Mass that will be used starting in Advent 2011. One question is 'why is there a new translation to begin with?' The answer to that is rather straightforward. In 2002, Pope John Paul II approved an updated version of the Roman Missal that was to be used by all of the Church faithful. This 2002 edition of the Mass was an updated version of the Pope Paul VI Roman Missal of 1970. Following Vatican II when there was a little bit of a rush to promulgate a codified English translation of the Mass, the English translation of the Mass was not a very good translation from the Latin as it could have been. The new translation of the Mass coming out in 2011 will be the English translation from the 2002 Missal that was written in Latin. Also, the translation itself will be much more faithful to the actual Latin used.

After the new translation of the Roman Missal was approved by the USCCB last November, the USCCB President, Cardinal Francis George, said:

“The Missale Romanum – the Roman Missal – is a book that not only expresses the faith as the people come to understand it, but constantly challenges people to move that faith into what is the heavenly Liturgy. And it is a book that has been defended by martyrs: the English Martyrs at the time of Elizabeth died for the sake of the Roman Missal and the Mass that was incorporated in it... We have a liturgical tradition that is a necessary part of the Magisterium, of handing on the faith. It is the Missal, along with Scripture, that indeed tells us how God wants to intertwine, inter-work in the affairs of the human race. So there is a tremendous moment of religious renewal that is possible now and that I really hope, with the help of our own Committee [on Divine Worship], we will be able to take advantage of it.”

However, there are some criticisms about the new translation of the Mass. Most common criticisms include arguments such as 'the new language used is too far removed from everyday English or that some new parts do not use proper English grammar.' However, as Cardinal George said- the Mass is meant to bring the faithful closer to God. By using Sacred Language that is not normal English- it shows us that praising God is not ordinary; rather, it is extraordinary. This is one reason why we get dressed up for Mass instead of wearing shorts and flip flops because Mass is not just like a beach party, instead Mass brings us in touch with the glory and mystery of God. It is the Sacrifice of Calvary. We should be as respectful and dignified as possible. One fun fact though is that the hundreds of years ago, the Romans did not consider the Latin the Church uses to be proper Latin. Grammatically, they said, the Latin the Church uses was not the way everyday Romans spoke. But there's an old Church adage that says how we worship reflects what we believe.

The USCCB has set up a website describing some of the changes that will be made. The website is One of the most basic changes to the Missal will be when the priest or celebrant opens Mass with "The Lord be with you" and the congregation will respond with "And with your spirit" instead of "And Also With You." The Latin used is "Et cum spiritu tuo" which means "and with your spirit." As you can tell there is a big difference between 'and also with you' and 'and with your spirit.' Just think about it, when we talk about 'your spirit,' the Church is describing the very soul, being, and essence of ourselves, of our nature. The USCCB felt that to keep 'and also with you' was not only a bad translation from the Latin but also that it was too similar to how we would regularly greet each other and thus not fitting for Sacred Language and Sacred Liturgy.

One of my personal favorite examples of the new translation will be in the preface of the Eucharistic prayer. In it- the priest will say of Mary's delivery of Jesus, "She brought forth ineffably Your incarnate Son." The word ineffable means "so amazing or wonderful as to not be able to describe in words." Talk about getting in touch with the glory and splendor of God. While there are a few more examples of terminology we wouldn't use in everyday speech, the Church uses Sacred Language to show that what we do is not ordinary. It cannot be stressed enough how Mass is supposed to raise us higher to God instead of bringing God down to our level.

Considering that most of the world already employs a translation similar to what we will use with the new translation, Americans and other English speakers have no reason to fear any change in the translation of the Mass. Better yet, as Cardinal George said, there is a tremendous opportunity for religious renewal that is possible with the new translation of the Mass. Hopefully, we will all take advantage of such a grace and raise ourselves higher to God by the way we worship Him.

Monday, April 26, 2010

4th Sunday of Easter - homily

Years ago in the parish, a couple came to talk to me about their teenage daughter. She had been a very happy young girl growing up, full of life and joy. She continued this in her freshman year of high school, but then changed drastically in her sophomore year. The parents explained that it was because of a new group of friends she had made. These new friends were girls who tried very much to change her, especially with regards to her sexuality and faith. The parents noticed these changes in the way she dressed, acted, and spoke to them. She became very hostile to them and to the Church, and said she didn’t want to go to Mass anymore. She was simply passing on to them the anti-Catholic rhetoric her friends were giving her. It was vicious.

They wanted to fight back, especially the father. He wanted to be a “soldier for Christ” and fight her on all that she was saying, most particularly about going to Mass. It was a complex and touchy situation, but I advised them to be more like shepherds: be gentle, tender, compassionate, and loving. Basically, to be there for her and shower her with love. This love, which they had always shown her, would win out. She would see that her parents love her and want what is best for her; if her new friends stood in opposition to that, then they didn’t really love her and didn’t want what is best for her. Within a short period of time, the friends showed their true colors and rejected her. They hurt her really badly. She saw through it all that they were just using her and didn’t want what’s best for her. She came running back to her parents and the Church; she was welcomed back fully with love. By her junior year, she was back to being herself: a devout, Catholic, young woman full of life and joy.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday in which we celebrate Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This story indicates the regular situation that each of us is in: we have shepherds all around us. Some are good, some are bad. The good ones, like this girl’s parents, imitate Jesus the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd knows his sheep and leads them to what is best for them. Jesus knows us better than anyone; He knows us better than our parents…He knows us better than ourselves. He truly wants what’s best for us and leads us there. He says in today’s Gospel that he leads us to “eternal life”. He leads us to happiness in this life and in the next. Hopefully, the good shepherds around us – parents, priests, nuns, professors, coaches, friends – imitate Christ the Good Shepherd in leading us to what is best for us.

Bad shepherds do not know us and do not want what is best for us. They have something else going on. We’ve all encountered them in grade school, high school, college, and beyond. Like the friends of the girl, their motivation in leading us is not based in love. Those girls used and manipulated her to get something from her. There are people around us who are doing the same thing right now.

So, if we are thinking about the different shepherds in our lives, how do we distinguish between good shepherds and bad shepherds? One way to tell is to look at a Crucifix. Ask yourself, ‘would this person die for me? Does he or she sacrifice for me? Do they love me?’ Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel that a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. This is the sign of a good shepherd. He or she loves us and will sacrifice for us. The Cross is the sign that Jesus is our Good Shepherd because He gives up His life for us…for our happiness…for our eternal life. He knows us and knows what will be best for us, and does everything to lead us there.

Finally, the amazing reality when we come to the Eucharist is what we hear in the second reading. The Good Shepherd has become the Lamb! He has become the sacrificial lamb who “will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water” (Rev 7:17). He shepherds us to springs of life-giving water and eternal life. He has brought us here to the Eucharist where we receive eternal life. He always brings us to life…to what is best for us. He knows us best and knows what we need. He truly loves us and is our Good Shepherd.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Eucharist: C.O.O.L.

DC 'Hood vs. St. Jude's, tonight, 7:30 pm, Academy of the Holy Cross gym, Garrett Park. Go 'Hood!!

This is one of my favorite times in the Church year. It is during these Easter days every year that we hear John 6 in its incredible entirety over several daily Masses. It is the best! John 6 is the Bread of Life discourse, where Jesus teaches about the Eucharist. I have written a pamphlet about the Eucharist which is at the Newman Center: "The Eucharist: C.O.O.L." (center of our lives). The following are excerpts from "C.O.O.L.":

"You’ve seen the crowds grow larger by the day, following one man. You’ve seen him heal the blind, the deaf, and the mute. You’ve seen him cure the sick. You’ve heard his great teachings. You’ve seen him walk on water. All of the signs are there: Jesus of Nazareth is the one to follow. You’ve been sure for weeks now. Your heart is pumping. You’re talking about him with everyone. You have been reading the Scriptures more frequently, reviewing what Isaiah and the other prophets wrote about the Messiah.

You haven’t talked with Jesus yet, but you feel a connection there. The words he uses, the way he speaks, the manner in which he conducts himself… he has such a powerful way about him. But, you haven’t been able to put your finger on it just yet. You just know you want to be near him, and learn from him. He is different, a man set apart from the rest. This man has stirred your heart and mind like no other person has ever done.

And, now, he is introducing a brand new teaching. 'The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world' (John 6:51). He is telling everyone that the bread to which he is referring is his flesh. While you begin to process this, those around you quarrel. People are outraged, but are mainly confused. So, Jesus gets more specific and emphatic. 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink' (53, 55). Whoa! Jesus of Nazareth wants to give his flesh and blood as food and drink.

This realization spreads through the crowd. It is such a large gathering, and it takes a while for everyone to hear what’s been said. Slowly, people start to leave. 'This is a hard teaching…who can accept it?' (60) is what you hear some of them say as they turn away from Jesus. And, you agree, this is a hard teaching. But, you haven’t moved, and aren’t planning on leaving just yet.

You look over at Jesus’ closest disciples. You notice a very perplexed Peter. Jesus asks them if they are leaving, too. Peter says, with probably a very dazed and confused look, 'Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life' (68). When you hear these words come from Peter’s lips, your heart skips a beat. You are thinking, ‘Has Jesus just been speaking the words of eternal life? Is this, in fact, a message from heaven? Could this be true? Is he really going to give us his flesh to eat? And, will it get us to heaven? Is this the newest, most radical teaching from God? Do I believe what I am hearing?’ ...

The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Through the eyes of faith, we see Jesus under the signs of bread and wine. It might look like bread and taste like bread, but it isn’t bread. Jesus says at the Last Supper, 'this is my body' (Mt 26:26). He commands the apostles to 'take this, all of you, and eat it' (Mt 26:26). He not only gives his body and blood to his first priests for them to eat and drink, he commands them to 'do this in memory of me' (Mt 26:26). Today, Catholic priests continue to live out this command every time they celebrate the Eucharist (Mass).

The Jews were right about two things with regards to the Eucharist (Bread of life discourse, John 6). They were right to take Jesus literally and that this is a hard teaching.It takes faith to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist even though it seems like foolishness. For those who believe, it is like finding a great treasure (see Mt 13:44). The sweet taste of this treasure is the taste of heaven on earth: 'whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life' (Jn 6:54)."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Be proud that you're a Catholic"

Excerpts of an article written by non-Catholic Sam Miller - a prominent Cleveland Jewish businessman:

"Why would newspapers carry on a vendetta on one of the most important institutions that we have today in the United States , namely the Catholic Church?

Do you know - the Catholic Church educates 2.6 million students everyday at the cost to that Church of 10 billion dollars, and a savings on the other hand to the American taxpayer of 18 billion dollars. The graduates go on to graduate studies at the rate of 92%.

The Church has 230 colleges and universities in the U.S. with an enrollment of 700,000 students.

The Catholic Church has a non-profit hospital system of 637 hospitals, which account for hospital treatment of 1 out of every 5 people - not just Catholics - in the United States today.

But the press is vindictive and trying to totally denigrate in every way the Catholic Church in this country. They have blamed the disease of pedophilia on the Catholic Church, which is as irresponsible as blaming adultery on the institution of marriage!

Let me give you some figures that Catholics should know and remember. For example, 12% of the 300 Protestant clergy surveyed admitted to sexual intercourse with a parishioner; 38% acknowledged other inappropriate sexual contact in a study by the United Methodist Church , 41.8% of clergy women reported unwanted sexual behavior; 17% of laywomen have been sexually harassed.

Meanwhile, 1.7% of the Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia. 10% of the Protestant ministers have been found guilty of pedophilia. This is not a Catholic Problem.

A study of American priests showed that most are happy in the priesthood and find it even better than they had expected, and that most, if given the choice, would choose to be priests a gain in face of all this obnoxious PR the church has been receiving.

The Catholic Church is bleeding from self-inflicted wounds. The agony that Catholics have felt and suffered is not necessarily the fault of the Church. You have been hurt by a small number of wayward priests that have probably been totally weeded out by now.

Walk with your shoulders high and your head higher. Be a proud member of the most important non-governmental agency in the United States . Then remember what Jeremiah said: 'Stand by the roads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it, and find rest for your souls'. Be proud to speak up for your faith with pride and reverence and learn what your Church does for all other religions.

Be proud that you're a Catholic."

Monday, April 19, 2010

3rd Sunday of Easter - homily

I think I’ve told you all this before, but I worked in a bar the last two years in college. It was a popular bar in Bethesda and I was a door man…a big bouncer! It’s a good thing there weren’t fights there; what would I have done if a brawl broke out? Say, “stop…or I’ll say stop again?”? It was a good job and a lot of fun. But, I got carried away on some nights when I drank while I was working and after the bar closed. Why am I telling you all this? Because my drinking got to the point where I realized it was conflicting with my faith which was starting to grow. I had to make a choice. I decided to become sober; thanks be to God, I have stayed sober for 16 years. The only alcohol I drink now is consecrated wine at Mass.

I’m also telling you this as a follow-up to an op-ed piece which was written recently in the Hatchet. It was written by a GW Catholic on being Catholic in college. Overall, it was very good. The student says that he goes to Mass every Sunday which I commend him on. To write about that and about being proud to be Catholic, especially these days, in your college newspaper is very impressive. It was an inspiring piece in many ways. I don’t think that I’ve met the student but would like to. I would especially like to meet him in a few years because there is a general attitude that he presents that I would like to address with you under the heading of spiritual maturity.

He wrote that he can “party as hardy as anyone” and “hook up” and still be a good Catholic. I understand him to mean partying hard with excessive drinking, one-night stands and making out with random people. If so, this is clearly inconsistent with the teachings of the Church and of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. But, it’s the general attitude I want to address which ties in with one of the points of today’s Gospel. It’s the point of spiritual maturity. Jesus says to Peter, “when you were younger, you used to…go where you wanted…but when you grow old”, you will go “where you do not want to go”. Remember when we were kids, we went wherever we wanted and did whatever we wanted. We just wanted to have fun and did what we wanted. As we’ve gotten older, we realized we can’t always do that. We often have to do what we need to do, what we’re supposed to do instead of doing what we want to do. Spiritual maturity leads to do things we should do…what we’re called to do…what God wants us to do.

When we see a conflict in our lives between living according to the world and living according to Christ, we see that we need to make a choice. In the first reading, the Apostles chose to “obey God rather than men”. Spiritual maturity helps us to choose to obey Christ rather than men…rather than peer pressure…rather than the world. We may not want to go there; I didn’t want to got to sobriety at first. But, I am glad I did because it has allowed me to live the life I truly want to live…to be the person I want to be. It has helped me to become a priest and do what God wants.

Now, as Catholics, this doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun. We can have fun and enjoy a good party; Jesus and the Apostle partied on occasion! But, everything in moderation. When we see that we have gone over the line and there is a conflict, we need to make a choice. If we are spiritually mature, we will choose to do what we’re supposed to do and not just what we want to do. Yes, it is tough and yes it means some form of crucifixion; our old self dies. But, it does bring us into the lives we’re supposed to live and into the love God intends for us. Jesus invites Peter to live this love. It’s a deep love that involves spiritual maturity and death to self.

Finally, I have been so impressed with your spiritual maturity in coming here every Sunday. Two thumbs for choosing to attend Mass while in college. Great job! You inspire me, Meg, and the friends of the Newman Center. I do brag about you all to my friends and family. They are amazed at the choices you make for Christ and the Church. One friend said he is “in awe”. He is in awe at the good God is doing in your lives and your openness to Him. I encourage you to keep on inspiring us. Keep on coming here weekly to the Eucharist where you realize that you need to start your week with Him and all of us. Through the Eucharist, may you hear the invitation from Christ that he gave to Peter. May you hear Him invite you to follow Him and not the world…not men…not peer pressure. May you hear him say to you tonight, “Follow me”.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Pope Benedict's Safeguards Against Abuse"

“I think this op-ed is very well written - it addresses the scandal in an appropriate manner highlighting the fact that the church has made many mistakes and needs to both repent and make structural changes; not just blame the media.”

This is a comment made from Wednesday’s post. I appreciate the blogger’s comment and encourage other bloggers to enter into the discussion! Regarding the Church’s structure of how to handle sexual abuse by clergy, the following is a summary and assessment of the Church’s safeguarding against abuse, specifically regarding Pope Benedict XVI. This helpful resource was compiled by one of our students at the Newman Center who researched documents all the way back to 1741…!

While it does show that Church leaders have failed in implementing the safeguards, it clearly indicates that Pope Benedict has not been one of them. In fact, it proves the opposite: he has been an ecclesiastical leader in preventing sexual abuse by clergy. Also, it shows that the Church has had these safeguards in place for over 200 years, not just in recent days or weeks as a result of media scrutiny. Pope Benedict has admitted that the Church has sinned in all of this and is not placing the blame on the media. But, the recent attacks of the media are baseless, as shown by the following:

“Pope Benedict’s Safeguards Against Abuse”


Legal Safeguards

• 1741: Pope Benedict XIV issues Sacramentum Poenitentiae articulating the canonical norms with how to proceed with sexual abuse by clergy.
• 1922: Pope Pius XI issues Crimen Sollicitationis (crime of solicitation) updating Sacramentum Poenitentiae for the Code of Canon Law of 1917.
◦ Laid out the judicial norms for how dioceses and the Congregation of the
Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) were to deal with priests accused of abuseparticularly in the Sacrament of Confession.
• 1962: Pope John XXIII adds an appendix to Crimen Sollicitationis further specifying legal steps to be taken.
• 2001: Pope John Paul II issues Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (The Safeguarding of the Sanctity of the Sacraments) (SST).
◦ Simplified previous legal documents for clergy abuse cases and explicitly granted the CDF, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, authority over cases involving clerical abuse.
• 2002: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger publishes its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
◦ Comprehensive guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of further abuse.
◦ Procedures include adult screening, stricter seminary application testing and formation, background checks, Virtus abuse training, etc.
• Spring 2010: Vatican expected to implement USCCB guidelines for the rest of the world.

Why the Previous Safeguards Failed

• Cultural approach to pedophilia in civil and ecclesiastical authorities was to send offenders to treatment to be "cured." Once the treatment sessions ended, offenders faced no further penalties.
◦ Similar example: until the late 1970s, rape was punished usually with only between 3-5 years in prison; today, one offense is 20 years in prison and convicts register as sexual offenders.
• After Vatican II, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal action to canonically irregular situations on the part of the local ordinaries.
• Inadequate procedures for seminarian applicants and insufficient formation in seminaries and novitiates contributed to abuse. Also, a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal. The result, failure to apply existing canonical penalties.

Actual Extent of Abuse

• In the US- in 2002 the USCCB publishes an independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice examining priestly abuse from 1950-2002.
◦ 149 priests accounted for almost half of the 7,000 allegations of abuse by priests.
◦ Of the 109,604 priests who served during this time, the 149 priests accused of the most heinous accusations account for about 0.001% of priests or 1/1000 of 1%.
• Another example, in Great Britain over the past 40 years less than 0.4% of British priests were accused of abuse.


Documents show that in the 1980s, the CDF, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, was pushing dioceses to take a tougher stand against clergy accused of abuse. One example, in 1995, Cardinal Ratzinger called for a full scale investigation into allegations that the former cardinal of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, abused a boy. However, other Vatican officials persuaded the then Pope John Paul II that the media had exaggerated the case and an inquiry would only create more bad publicity. Secondly, Pope John Paul II's motu proprio SST was the result of intense lobbying by Cardinal Ratzinger, who was distressed by the Roman Rota's (highest canonical appeals court) slowness in dealing with clerical abuse cases. Only with the SST in 2001 did the CDF gain explicit authority over such cases. Almost immediately, Cardinal Ratzinger issued procedures for diocese who have received evidence about child abuse to report that evidence to civil authorities. At the same time, he also established other norms and clarified any jurisdictional confusion between the diocese and the CDF. All of this happened almost a year before the American clerical abuse scandal began in 2002.

Before Cardinal Ratzinger, individual dioceses had to conduct their own investigations separate from civil investigations. While canon law had laid out specific guidelines to follow, jurisdictional questions remained until 2001. Also, it is not surprising that since it was challenging to obtain reliable information, both civil and ecclesial authorities found it difficult to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem. However, Benedict XVI has admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred.

Also, in a culture where pedophilia was not recognized as an inherently disordered and incurable condition, coupled with a desire to avoid public scandal, appropriate canonical laws were not enforced. Had all local ordinaries been enforcing the existing canonical procedures, the extent of the abuse would most likely have been far less than it was.

Despite these unfortunate failures, when Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he made important changes to church law: specifically, the inclusion in canon law of internet offenses against children, the extension of child abuse offenses to include the abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statute of limitation, and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders, among other things.

Opinion: Allegations that Pope Benedict failed the Church are baseless and show that secularists are merely trying to take out the last challenge to their liberal ideology.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Being Catholic in College"

The following is an op-ed piece written recently by a GW Catholic in the school newspaper. It has been a source of discussion among other GW Catholics; let’s bring some comments about it to our blog site. I plan on commenting on it in my homily this Sunday, but ask bloggers to post their thoughts and comments.

Being Catholic in College

“Growing up in the woods of New Hampshire, the thought never crossed my adolescent mind that fasting, constructing advent wreathes from moss and pine trees in my backyard, spending hours in Church, and various other Catholic customs (with a hearty dose of Polish folk customs) were not normal.

That didn't mean I didn't dread sitting through Mass every week. But now that dread is gone and, in the midst of my 20-something partying years, it's very likely you will find me every Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle.
My faith and relationship with the Catholic Church have evolved, been tested and, in the end, been strengthened. Today, I am just as likely to tell people I am Catholic as I am a Polish-American from New Hampshire. I am proud of both my heritage and my faith.

I didn't grow up in the Roman Catholic Church, but rather in a sect of the Old Catholic Church called the Polish National Catholic Church. Despite this, and now in a time during which Roman Catholic Church pews are being deserted, I have found a reawakening of my relationship with God.

Through much of high school I was, religiously, a lamb that had wandered astray from the herd. I challenged my childhood religion. I considered my options, including agnosticism, Islam and other Christian denominations. But I knew something was ultimately missing from my religious and spiritual life. It wasn't until I actually left home and came to D.C. that my faith really felt reaffirmed.

I didn't think my faith would be strengthened in college. When I thought of college, I thought Sunday morning was for nursing headaches, not for Mass. I do not know for certain what changed inside of me. But perhaps it was the everyday freedom that allows for sleeping in and drinking that allowed me to feel on my own, in a no-pressure venue, the comfort of faith. Yeah, I'd like to sleep in sometimes, but I feel better when I act on my faith instead.

I've even found I'm not the only GW student who gets up early on the weekend to spend some time with Jesus Christ. There are a number of fellow Catholics I have come across who are also deeply religious, yet manage to lead normal college lives filled with partying, college hook-ups and hours spent Facebook-stalking instead of deep in prayer.

I found that faith of any kind does not have to be forsaken in college, even in a bastion of liberalism and free thinking that is GW. If anything, being at GW and college in general has taught me that my faith doesn't have to be all or nothing. I can be a Democrat and a Catholic. And I can party as hearty as anyone else and still be Catholic. I can lead a normal life, enjoying the pleasures the world has to offer, while simultaneously fulfilling a spiritual and religious yearning.

It's not an easy time to be a Catholic. The strength of the church has been tested at the same time the strength of my faith has. Back home, the clergy abuse scandal is local and hard-hitting. Many of the early allegations, settlements and incarcerations happened in New England towns not far or different from mine. These unimaginably horrible actions caused many of my hometown friends and their families to vacate the church. I certainly don't blame them. But as an original outsider who came back into the flock, I have looked past these heinous acts and missteps by the church to find comfort and joy.

This disease of abuse by clergy and the subsequent cover-ups has now spread to infect the church's communicants all over the world. But this situation does not spell out the fall of the church. Rather, the church is now forced to seriously, unequivocally and firmly address structural problems. The current tenuous situation can become an opportunity for the church and its leaders to refocus on tending to the herd, so that everyone who wants to can find same comfort that I have found.
Life is full of ups and downs, but that is an integral part of the journey. My questioning of my own faith before and during college has helped to cement my commitment to it. I have faith too that my church will heal and many will once again heed the trumpet call.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Divine Mercy Sunday - homily

I’ve got a sweet deal for you all tonight. Today is a day of much celebration in the Church. It’s the second Sunday of Easter which the Church has been celebrating as Divine Mercy Sunday since 2000. It’s also the eighth day of the Easter octave; we’ve been partying it up celebrating Easter for eight days. As Catholics, we fast well and feast well! In the midst of all of this celebration, God offers us a great deal through the Church. On Divine Mercy Sunday, and Catholic can gain a plenary indulgence.

A plenary indulgence removes all punishment due to sin. Whenever we commit a sin, we need to be forgiven by God but also need to make satisfaction for the sake of justice. Making satisfaction for sin commonly means serving some type of punishment in Purgatory. Let’s use the example of someone committing the serious sin of skipping Mass on Sunday. Let’s say that this sin carries a punishment of 20 days in Purgatory. Now, a “day” in Purgatory might not be 24 hours, but it is some period of time. If someone skips Mass say, 5 times, in college that would be 100 days in Purgatory for that sin alone. (As we think of all the sins we commit, some of us can expect a really long time in Purgatory. But, I will take that because it means that I’m going to Heaven. It’s not a done deal that any of us will go to Purgatory and if we get there, it means we’re going to the Big Party forever).

A plenary indulgence wipes out all that time in Purgatory. It removes ALL temporal punishment due to sin. Sweet deal, huh! One student said that this “seems too easy”. On the one hand, she is right; it is too easy. God’s Mercy in general is too easy for us to obtain. But, that’s what Christ has done for us: He has made God’s Mercy easy for us. On the other hand, it is not that easy. There are three things we need to do to gain the indulgence, and each of the three takes faith in Christ and in the Church. We have one week to do these three things: 1) go to Confession, 2) receive Holy Communion, and 3) pray for the Holy Father. If we gain the indulgence, we can apply it to ourselves or to someone who has died. If we apply it to ourselves, then all of the punishment due to sins we have committed to this point is wiped away. If we apply it to someone else and they are in Purgatory, then they go straight to Heaven. I let a friend of mine from high school whose father just died that I gained a plenary indulgence for his Dad, and he and his family were beside themselves with happiness. The person you gain it for will be eternally psyched and grateful!

Indulgences are one of the many graces that God offers us through the Church. The Church is the treasurer of God’s graces and has given us specific ways to obtain God’s mercy for ourselves or others. The practice of indulgences is rooted in the Jewish custom of praying for the dead. It does take faith to gain an indulgence and that faith is rewarded in profound ways. It takes faith to believe in Confession. We just heard the Scriptural basis for Confession in today’s Gospel. If anyone ever asks you, “why do you Catholics believe in Confession?”, you can say, “John 20:20”. In John 20:20 (to 23), Jesus gives the first priests the power to forgive sins. Was this gift only intended for people who lived 2000 years ago? Of course not! Our Lord intended for people for the rest of time to have their sins forgiven; so the first priests passed down this power to the next priests who passed it down and so forth. My power to forgive your sins comes from the Apostles who receive it from Christ.

It takes faith to believe in Confession, it takes faith to believe in the Eucharist, and it takes faith to believe that the Pope is the leader of the Church that Christ founded. To sweeten the deal, I will give a simple penance for any confession I hear after Mass tonight or this week. My penance will be one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be for Pope Benedict XVI. Aside from the indulgence, I ask each of you to pray for the Holy Father this week. He is under tremendous attack right now from our Opponent through the media. These are vicious and unjustified attacks. He is a deeply holy and loving man who is the Vicar of Christ. He needs your prayers, support, and love.

Finally, all the parts of the deal coincide with what our Lord revealed to St. Faustina in the 1930s. He told her to tell the modern world of his Divine Mercy in specific ways. One quote from His apparition to her is huge for us: “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I myself am waiting there for you”. He says this to each one of us tonight. ‘It is really I myself who am waiting for you in the confessional. It is really I who am waiting for you in the Eucharist. It is really I myself who celebrates the Mass and Confession through Fr Greg and other priests. I offer you my Mercy as I offered it to people 2000 years ago. Come to my Sacred Heart and receive my love and mercy’.

Friday, April 09, 2010

If you're not ready for a baby, then you're not ready for sex

Food after Mass this Sunday. We’ll have pizza in the Parish Hall after the 7:30 student Mass at St Stephen’s.
On Tuesday night, we began our new series of discussions, “Real World: Catholics”. In this new series, I throw out real world situations or issues that we face as Catholics for people to comment on or ask questions. For both of the discussion groups, I presented two situations: 1) the current crisis involving the Church and sex abuse, and 2) couples who prepare for marriage in the Church while cohabitating.

In the first situation, both groups discussed the Church’s role in addressing sex abuse properly, but focused much attention on the less than admirable intentions of the media. Many of them showed awareness of how the media is going after the Church because of its contempt for the Church. I pointed out that the Church is regularly crucified for the same reason Christ was crucified: speaking the Truth and telling people how to live. One of the coolest lines of the night was from a student who told us what he said to his roommate when asked his opinion of the Holy Father: “You mean, the great-great-great-great-great (etc.) successor of St. Peter…he is awesome!”

In the second situation, the groups went on different tangents. The first group focused on the impact that cohabitation before marriage has on the fruitfulness marriage as well as those close to them who know they are cohabitating. The second group immediately went into a discussion on fornication; fornication is the main reason that cohabitation is wrong and dangerous to the fruitfulness of a marriage.

Both discussions were very good and I look forward to continuing the series as we tackle concrete situations for GW Catholics to discuss. The discussion involving fornication, though, was especially profound. Every member of the group spoke honestly about his or her struggle in living chastity in relationships. One member made the point that very well might represent the thoughts of everyone in the group: “I understand the teaching, but how do I live it?” Wow, what a question. I initially answered by saying that discussion groups have been formed to answer that question alone and that we could spend a whole series tackling that.

One of my answers which seemed to help the students involved an analogy to athletics. There are some athletes in the group, so they could relate. I asked them how they have trained for games, matches, competitions. They went through their full routine which included saying no to some pleasures involving food, drink, etc. They said that they stayed away from things they knew would be harmful to their preparation for the athletic event. I asked them how they did it. They answered by saying that they remained focused on the game. They weren’t just focusing on avoiding something bad (e.g., drinking), they were focused on a good (the game). I said it’s the same with sex and marriage; they should be focused on the goal (marriage) and not just on saying no to something bad (premarital sex). They made this connection and it seemed to be helpful. What was most helpful to them was to see other times in their lives which they were able to see how they remained disciplined. I threw in a line from St Paul which sealed the analogy: “Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things”.

Finally, the biggest moment of the night. As we kept discussing the struggle to live chastity in their current or future relationships, I asked them this question: “If there was no such thing as contraception, would it change anything (relating to pre-marital sex)?” As soon as I finished the question, they all said emphatically, “YES!”

That was the most telling moment in any of our discussions this year. I hope it was as telling to them as it was to me (telling not just about their attitude but about people's attitude in general). My basic answer was that if they aren’t ready for that (a baby), they aren’t ready for this (sex). My follow-up point next week will be that if there is no contraception (in their or their peers' relationships), then they probably won't have sex.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"Confronting sexual abuse head-on"

"It is not easy to be a priest today", Archbishop Wuerl writes in his Washington Post op-ed on Easter Sunday which is below. It is not easy to see the new attacks in the papers each day from the media. It is not easy to get blasted by a Catholic at an Easter Vigil reception. It is not easy to get questioned by devout Catholics who want to know what is going on. It is not easy, but it's part of the deal of being a priest. The Church is under attack; some of it is justified, much of it is not. I understand the purpose of the attacks on the Church and who is behind them. I also understand the purpose of the attack on Christ on Good Friday and who was behind that. As His Excellency points out, the Church will rise from this just as Christ rose from the dead.

Resurrection and redemption
By Donald W. Wuerl
Sunday, April 4, 2010; A15

Today, Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Lent is over; Good Friday has passed. To a church that has experienced the deep pain of clergy sexual abuse, these days are a reminder that from pain and sorrow eventually come hope, redemption and new life.

This new life will come only by confronting sexual abuse head-on, taking responsibility for the wrongs of the past and committing to doing all that we can never to allow the tragedy of abuse to happen again. In the United States, we bishops have put in place tough standards for reporting allegations to civil authorities because we recognize that abuse is not only a sin but also a serious crime. In the Archdiocese of Washington and in dioceses nationwide, we mandate child protection training for adults and education for children. Seminarians, clergy, volunteers and employees who work with children must undergo criminal background checks. Independent advisory boards of lay experts guide our work, and, perhaps most important, we continue to reach out to those harmed to help them heal from their pain.

In 2008-09, 6 million children in the United States received lessons on recognizing inappropriate behavior and what to do if someone tries to harm them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Two million adults underwent background checks. Here in Washington, we have had a written child protection policy for nearly 25 years.

This commitment to safety has been done with the support and leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul II were strong voices supporting the American bishops when we asked for changes in canon law and for special norms to expedite the removal of priests involved in sexual abuse of minors in a quick and decisive manner.

Pope Benedict has made pastoral care a priority. Two years ago this month, he stood with us at Mass at Nationals Park and spoke about the sexual abuse of minors: "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church."

One of the most poignant moments of the Holy Father's visit to our city was his private visit with victims of clergy sexual abuse. He spoke with each person, he listened to them, he prayed with them and he heard how devastating the abuse was to their lives.

Clergy sexual abuse, and in fact all sexual abuse, must be addressed wherever it occurs. No child should ever be harmed. But the wrong actions of some do not justify the vilification of all. The priests who harmed children violated the heart of their ministry and have harmed not only our young people and our community of faith but also the vast majority of their brother priests who faithfully live out their promises to serve Christ and his people.

It is not easy to be a priest today. In a culture sometimes overly focused on material goods and getting ahead professionally, it may be hard to understand why someone would voluntarily choose a life of service and a job that is 24-7. Priests are there for others when they are in despair, grieving and destitute. They help people find hope in the darkness, a reason for living and the love of God.

Some of the most significant work of priests is found in what so many take for granted -- directly, quietly, caringly and effectively serving people in parishes. Priests celebrate Mass, baptize children, witness marriages, bring reconciliation through confession, serve the poor, console the sick and bury our loved ones. Their selfless ministry helps hold together the Catholic faith family and the wider community.

Priests don't expect thanks and often don't receive it. They see the priesthood as an opportunity to bring the love of Christ to others and to help them come closer to God. It is in earthen vessels that we carry a magnificent treasure.

As the Catholic Church continues to face the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse, we must pray for the victims, recommit to doing all that we can to keep children safe, and remember and pray for the priests who every day faithfully live out the deep love that Christ has for all of us.

The writer is archbishop of Washington.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter Sunday - homily

They “saw and believed”.

I wish all of you a very blessed Easter! Christ is risen…He is risen indeed! When I was in the parish, a woman who was a friend of a friend came to me for a blessing. She was going into surgery with the hope of removing a brain tumor that gave her constant pain throughout her body and sidelined her from activity with her kids for years. I laid my hands on her and showered her head with Lourdes water (miraculous water from Lourdes, France). When she went in for surgery, the doctors didn’t recognize her…the tumor was gone! For all intents and purposes, it was a miracle. As much physical healing as she experienced, she has had more spiritual and personal healing. She has made a big comeback in her Catholic faith, her marriage is much stronger, and her family is more united. She saw and believed.

A priest many years ago in Europe stopped believing in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He didn’t believe anymore that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. But, he made a prayer to our Lord: ‘Lord, help me in my unbelief’. One day, he offered Mass. At the consecration, he elevated the host…the host began to bleed. Drops of blood came down from the host onto the altar. The Church would declare it a miracle of the Eucharist. The priest believed again. He saw and believed.

In the parish, we had Eucharistic Adoration for an hour every Friday night. People really got into it. Adoration is soooo awesome! Some nights, kids from the school came over with their classes. One night, students from the 3rd and 5th grades were there. They prayed for almost the whole hour! Sure, they ran out a few times for bathroom breaks (actually running through the Church…d’oh!). But, they were into it when there. Afterwards, they made comments that it was “awesome” and “inspiring”. I walked away thinking that they got it. At such a young age, they got it about the Eucharis: that it really is the Body of Christ. Most adult Catholics don’t get it – 70% believe the Eucharist is only a symbol. They get it and they are set for life in terms of their Catholic faith. They saw and believed.

I visited a man in the hospital who was on his death bed. While I was there to anoint him, he asked for Confession. He said it had been 50 years. 50 years. He was worried that God would not forgive him because it had been that long. I told him the story we heard on Good Friday, about the thief next to Jesus on the Cross who asked for mercy in the last hour of his life. Jesus gave him a promise that He gave to no one else in the Gospel: “today you will be with me in paradise”. I said to the man that the Lord gives him the same promise. He got it and tears of joy rolled down his face. He saw and believed.

We just heard the Gospel where Peter and John saw and believed. We normally think of Thomas as being the only Apostle who had to see to believe. But, they all did in one way or another. Peter and John saw the empty tomb, the others saw that , the witness of Peter, John, or Mary Magdelene, or they saw the risen Christ who walked the earth for 40 days. They all saw and believed.

If we have lost our faith, is it possible to see and believe again? Yes. Of course. One of the biggest highlights for me in my first year here has been a discussion group of about 8-10 students. They were “Catholic all-stars” in high school: going to Mass, inviting others to come to Mass and youth group, etc. Then, they came to college and lost their faith which is pretty common. But, through this group they are making a serious comeback in faith. They have seen Christ this semester: hopefully through me, the group leader, the teachings, the Eucharist, Confession, etc. I’ve met with two of them separately in the past two weeks for an hour and a half each time for Confession, Adoration, prayer, etc. They are back and their faith is amazing! They saw and believed again.

The common thread in all of these stories (other than seeing and believing) is that each of these people took action. They didn’t just sit idly by and say, ‘God, give me faith’. They went to where He is. They all did something about it. The woman came to me for a blessing, the priest celebrated Mass, the kids came to Adoration, the man in the hospital asked for a priest, the Apostles went to the tomb, and the students have come to the discussion group every week. They have put themselves in a position to see and believe.

Let us be like them so that we may see and believe. It happens primarily through the Eucharist; it starts with Sunday Mass….EVERY Sunday. Then, if possible, daily Mass which we have at the Newman Center Monday through Friday at noon. It is much more intimate and personal than Sunday Mass (and shorter!). Daily Mass is where so many people see and believe in Christ. Whether it’s through daily Mass, Confession, Adoration, prayer, Scripture, etc., let us see Christ and believe that He is risen…that He is real. Let us join the group of those who have seen and believed.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Seven Last Words of Christ

Confessions today at Newman Center (my office, 2nd floor): 12 noon – 2:45 pm, 4:15-6 pm.

"There was never a preacher like the dying Christ. There was never a congregation like that which gathered about the pulpit of the Cross. There was never a sermon like the Seven Last Words."
- Arch. Fulton Sheen, The Seven Last Words (the following is taken from Sheen's book and was the subject of discussion Tuesday night here)

The Seven Last Words of Christ
1. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"

His executioners expected Him to cry and curse like all those who had been crucified before Him. Instead, He cried out for the Father to forgive those who were executing and mocking Him (soldiers, Pilate, Herod, etc.).

Forgive who? – forgive the soldiers who mocked, scourged, and struck him

Why forgive? Because they know what they do? No, because they know NOT what they do. If they knew what they were doing (killing the Redeemer), they could not be saved. “It is not wisdom that saves; it is ignorance!”

If we knew: how terrible sin is and kept sinning...about the Incarnation and rejected Christ...about Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and didn’t take up our own...about mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and still refused it..about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and didn’t receive...the Truth of the teachings of Christ’s Church and rejected them like other Pilates...”if we knew all of these things and still stayed away from Christ and His Church, we should be lost!”

2. "This day you shall be with me in Paradise"

The thief (Dismas) next to Christ realized he was next to the Redeemer: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

Christ was losing his life and saving a soul

He wouldn’t speak to Herod, wouldn’t respond to those who jeered and mocked, but strained to say the words that will save him: “This day you will be with me in paradise”

"No one before (the thief on the right of Christ) was ever the object of such a promise, not even Moses, nor John, not even Magdelen nor Mary!"

“God is more anxious to save us than we are to save ourselves”...more than anything, God wants us to give Him our sins...Dismas does and he is promised paradise

3. "Woman, behold thy son"

He had already given away everything – his blood to the Church...his garments to the soldiers...paradise to the thief...soon his body to the grave and his soul to the Father

“to whom, then, could he give the two treasures which he loved above all others, Mary and John?” He gave them to one another.

'Thy son' is John, who represents us (the Church). "Woman!" is the 2nd Annunciation; "behold thy son" is the 2nd Nativity. We are born of Mary in the 2nd Nativity of the spirit; Christ is born in the 1st Nativity of the flesh.

It has been said that Jesus never denies His Mother anything. Do I ask my Mother to intercede to her Son for me, my friends and family...she who is the mother of Him who can do all things?

4. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Darkness covered the earth when spoken...the protest of nature to the Crucifixion
Separated from the Father? No, otherwise how could he cry, “My God, my God...”
Pain and desolation of not being able to see the Father’s when it’s cloudy but sun is still there

While He is still in union with the Father, Christ brings atonement to all those who have abandoned God, doubt God's presence in their lives, or are indifferent towards God.

For all Christians who abandon God when they don’t feel His presence...they identify being good with feeling good...for a doubting world that asks, “why...why...?”

For indifference in the world...last 20 centuries of apathy is more torturing and crucifying than the pains of Calvary

Christ reaches out to all those who have been rejected, are lonely, isolated, hurt, etc...He knows what I'm experiencing whenever I've been abandoned, rejected, lonely, hurt or isolated. If he experienced this and rose from it, anyone in union with Him in these ways will rise with Him

5. "I thirst"

Not said to anyone there at Calvary, or even to God. He says to all mankind, "I thirst...for love!"

Suffering of God without man (5th word); suffering of man without God (4th word)
Creator cannot live without creatures; shepherd cannot love without sheep
Christ has done all he can do for us; “it is no wonder that he thirsts for love having poured forth all the waters of his everlasting love on our poor, parched

Christ thirsts for my love; do I give him only vinegar and gall when he asks for a drink? Do I quench Jesus’ thirst with my love or do I leave him parched with my hardness of heart? Do I thirst for Jesus? For love? For Heaven? Do I thirst for others like Jesus does?

6. "It is finished"

Redemption, the Father’s work, is now accomplished; we were bought and paid for
Christ won in a battle with five wounds (hands, feet, side), torn flesh, a cry (‘forgive them’ not ‘crush and kill them’), and dripping blood

Christ triumphantly says this, like an artist who puts the finishing touches on a masterpiece.

Work of acquiring divine life is finished, but not the distribution. Is our work finished? No. He has finished the foundation; we build on it. It depends on us becoming other Christs and to take up our cross and follow Him

His work of Redemption is finished, but not complete (see Col 1:24). As the Mystical Body of Christ, we complete Christ's work of Redemption (by taking up our own Cross).

Do I accept crosses in my life with faith?

7. "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"

Like the Prodigal Son who returns to his father's house...33 years ago, left the Father’s eternal mansion and went off to a foreign country of this world...spent himself and being spent...divine riches of power and wisdom spent on his last hour, he gives to “the last drop” of his precious blood

Now on the road back to the Father’s house...sees the face of the Father and lets out the word, “Father, into...”

Mary at the foot of the Cross with crucified body,,,Bethlehem has come back:
-thorn-crowned head was head at her breast (at Bethlehem)
-faded eyes who glanced at her from the manger
-feet with nail marks were once adored with gold, frankincense, and myrrh
-embrace at the foot of the cross = embrace at the side of the crib

At Bethlehem, Mary gave Jesus to man; at Calvary, sinful man gave him back to Mary

Do we entrust our lives to our Father in Heaven? Do we commend our spirits to God? Do we give Him everything we’ve got- heart, mind, soul, and strength? Do we have our eyes on Heaven...think about it regularly?