Friday, October 29, 2010

"Halloween" comes from Catholic tradition

Msgr Pope has written a helpful commentary for Catholics regarding Halloween. It is below. Also, you can check out my post, "All Hallow's Eve", in our "Archives" section from October 11, 2006.

How should we as Catholics and Christians respond to Halloween? In recent decades there seems to have been the emergence of two camps. One sees Halloween is generally harmless fun. The other sees Halloween as a dangerous dalliance with the occult, the demonic and evil. While it is true that there are some excesses evident in current Halloween celebrations, I would largely find myself in the “harmless fun” category especially if we allow Halloween to be a Teachable moment from the Christian perspective.

Part of the reason that I see it as harmless fun is rooted in my experience. Back when I was a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s we would often dress in ghoulish costumes and attempt to look as frightening as possible. One year I went about as a skeleton. My grandfather, who was a doctor had an plastic skeleton of a hand that was very realistic. I would hold it in my hand and pull my shirt over my real hand. It was so real looking that people often wondered if my hand was horribly injured for real. Another year I was a zombie. Another year a ruthless pirate. There were a few years where I dressed more mildly as an astronaut and a Navy officer. But it was all good fun. Even in the ghoulish years it never occurred to me that the “dark side” was attractive or that devil worship was in my future.

In a way, what was more evident to me was that we were mocking evil, death and the occult. All this dressing up stuff was not in admiration of bad stuff it was about being goofy and making all the devilish stuff seem silly.

There are surely some concerns today about Halloween. One is that it has gone too far. Some adult costumes at adult parties in Georgetown and other places are downright immoral. Let’s be clear that this is wrong and is excluded from the more benign posture I am suggesting here. It is also true that there are some who take all this evil stuff seriously. There probably is a rise in Satanism today but I can guarantee there is a lot more than Halloween at work there. But for the vast majority of kids and young people I think it is still safe to conclude that Halloween is just good fun like it always has been.

As Christians we might help by putting a bit of perspective on the day. It is a sort of teaching moment for us all. Here are a few teaching moments we might ponder.

1. The word “Halloween” is derived from Catholic tradition. All Saints Day which occurs the next day (Nov 1) was called in older English “All Hallows Day” The evening before was called the “een of All Hallows.” It was eventually shortened to Halloween. The Church put the feast of All Saints in place to answer a pagan custom that feared that the dead walked the earth on the last day of October. The Church’s answer was that the dead were not all ghouls and zombies. Among the dead were also the saints who were glorious and holy. And although the scary traditions continued the Church largely succeeded in pushing back the fears about the dead. Now the celebrations on All Hallows Eve were more about fun than fear.

2. Scripturally we might highlight a couple of texts that point to our truest attitudes about death and demonic realities. As regards death, we ought not fear it for Scripture says, Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:54-56). So, in a certain sense we mock death and dismiss its power to trouble us. The graveyards, corpses, blood, skeletons, and coffins of Halloween allow us, on a yearly basis, to confront our mortality and confront our often repressed fear of death and Christ victory actually gives us a basis to do this.

3. Regarding the evil spirits and demons another scripture comes to mind.  And having disarmed the powers and principalities [of evil], Christ made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15) And so again it is possible for us to see all the Halloween display of the evil and demonic not as a celebration but a mockery. Like Christ and because of his triumph we can make a spectacle of them. And here too we confront some of our natural fears about evil and things related to it: monsters, bats, owls, ghosts and goblins. The world can be a scary place, strange and mysterious place, and we tend to fill its dark corners with “monsters.” Halloween, allows us (especially children) to roam a night filled with frightening things but in fact to find only friends and neighbors and candy! Again, vague fears are collectively confronted and processed and we can additionally find courage in the fact that Christ has conquered.

I know what I have said may be controversial to some of you. But I might humbly suggest that trying to suppress a strong cultural tradition by “demonizing it” (pardon the pun) usually backfires and only makes it more appealing to those who love to tweak us with their extremes. Maybe a better strategy is to emphasize a more benign and scriptural interpretation and to claim what is truly ours as Christians on the strange little night we call Halloween.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New seminary in Washington!

1) DC ‘Hood vs. The Heights (faculty), Fri, Oct 29, 7 pm, at the The Heights gym. Go ‘Hood!

2) “Something outrageous” - If there are at least 300 students at this Sunday’s 7:30 Mass, I will…moonwalk to “Billie Jean”. Also, Chipotle after Mass in the Parish Hall and a costume contest. Best saint’s costume wins $500 Redstar gift card for sunglasses.

Very good news from the Archdiocesan website:

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl announced today (10/19) that the Archdiocese of Washington will open a new seminary in August 2011 for men preparing to become priests. The seminary, for men in college and pre-theology studies, will be located near The Catholic University of America at 145 Taylor Street, NE, Washington, DC.

“At a time when the teachings of the Catholic faith seem counter-cultural, we are seeing an increased interest in the priesthood, particularly among younger men who want to be a part of a new evangelization in society. Until now, most of our new seminarians, especially those in college, have had to leave the area for their studies. Now, the men will begin their formation here and be an integral part of the local Catholic community from the beginning,” said Archbishop Wuerl.

Sixty-seven men are studying for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Washington, including 29 in college and pre-theology studies. In the 2001-02 academic year, 11 of 44 seminarians were in college or pre-theology programs.

Monsignor Robert Panke, archdiocesan director of priest vocations and formation for the archdiocese and president of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors, is overseeing the development of the new seminary. He calls it “a real boost” to vocations efforts and notes that the archdiocese has accepted 9 to 15 men into formation annually in recent years. He attributes the numbers to efforts to encourage young men in high school and college to consider the priesthood.

Initially, the seminary will have space for 30 men who will attend The Catholic University of America while receiving their priestly formation at the seminary. Before ordination, they will complete an additional four years of theology studies at seminaries such as Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD; Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy; and Theological College in Washington, DC.

Beginning stages in the renovation of the building are already underway and the work is being paid for by private donations. Constructed originally as a residence for a men’s religious order, the building currently houses archdiocesan offices and space for a few members of a religious community.

This will be the second seminary operated by the Archdiocese of Washington. The first, Archdiocesan Seminary Redemptoris Mater in Hyattsville, MD, opened in 2001 to prepare men from around the world to be archdiocesan missionary priests. Once ordained, they serve in the Archdiocese of Washington and missions worldwide.

Last year, 1,443 men were in college seminaries in the United States, and 3,483 in pre-theology or theology, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. After three decades of decline, seminary enrollment in the United States has stabilized over the past 15 years.

These additional rays of hope via by Thomas Peters on 9/7/10

St. Paul Seminary – Bursting at the Seams! [Update includes photos + stats]

St. Paul Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota is enjoying its best enrollment since 1981!

The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity has its largest enrollment of aspiring Catholic priests for the new school year since 1981.

The seminary on the University of St. Thomas campus is welcoming 33 new seminarians this fall. That will bring the total number of men studying for the priesthood there to 92, putting its residence hall at full capacity. (Star Tribune)

When I was studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit I remember it also enjoying high enrollment numbers. Across the country, young men are hearing the call of the Lord and seeking to serve His Church. Let’s continue to encourage young men to consider active discernment!

How is your local seminary doing? Are there more young men studying for the priesthood now than, say, 10 or 15 years ago?

update – Seminarian Paul, one of the “first years” at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg MD, sent me these exclusive photos of his class:

And from the comments, more good news from papist readers across the country:

• My seminary, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD has the second largest enrollment in the country with 166 men attending. My class of first years is the biggest it’s been in years, with 66 new men! We’re operating at higher than capacity levels… St. John Vianney in Denver is also bursting at the seams. – Paul

• Immaculate Conception in Newark is nearly full with 74 men total (22 New Men). – “Charles”

• Kenrick-Glennon (a major and minor seminary) has a combined enrollment of about 130 men this year. The school is embarking on a major renovation at the end of this academic year in part to deal with increased numbers of students. – “BRK”

• I attended Bishop White Seminary on the campus of Gonzaga University for 2 years. They recently built a brand new seminary, and its already approaching or at capacity. – Everett

• My alma mater, St. Meinrad, is also over capacity. I think it’s now at 120+ seminarians, and the seminarian is having to go into its last standing building (Bede) Hall to house the men. – Rev. David

• Theological College at CUA has only a few open rooms, and that is mostly rooms for guys who never arrived, or rooms that are used for storage or guests beyond the capacity of the normal guest rooms. – Brian

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Prayer for humility

The following is the prayer for humility that was mentioned during the talk about Mother Teresa.  It is a powerful prayer, one that I have prayed every night for some time.  What is interesting is that this prayer was talked about last night at our grad student Bible Study by someone who was not at the Tuesday discussion last week.  Also, she made the exact same comment that two other people have made here about this prayer - that their favorite line of the prayer is "Jesus, grant me the grace to desire...that others be holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should". 

This is the prayer that Mother Teresa urged others to pray every day:

Prayer for Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart,
make my heart like onto thine.
From the desire to be esteemed,
Deliver Me.

From the desire to be honored... Deliver me
From the desire to be praised...Deliver me

From fear of being humiliated...
From fear of being held in contempt...
From fear of suffering rebukes...
From fear of being slandered...
From fear of being ignored...
From fear of being insulted...
From fear of being wronged...

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire...
that others be admired more than I;
that other be praised and I unnoticed;
that others be preferred to me in everything;
that others be holier than I, provided I
become as holy as I should;
that I might imitate the patience and
obedience of Your mother, Mary. 

Based on a prayer by Cardinal Merry del Val.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

30th Sunday - homily

As many of you know, I am a big sports fan. I really like watching the NFL – yeah, Washington Redskins! As much as I enjoy football, I really can’t stand all of the celebrations done by the players. If you’ve watched football at all the past few years, then you know what I’m talking about. They celebrate after every play! These are grown men getting paid millions of dollars and they celebrate after making a tackle. They get up and flex or chest pump each other, all this nonsense. Can you imagine if I did this after a homily? I’d go back to my seat with one finger in the air and be like, “yeah, that’s what I’m talkin bout!”, and chest pump the servers. That would be so arrogant. It’s really arrogance in style. We see it, too, with the way people dress sometimes. They exalt themselves and bring all kinds of attention to what they’re wearing. It’s really kind of sad to see people on TV or even on our campus who show arrogance in style. I understand it – arrogance sells. It sells more tickets to football games, merchandise in the stores, TV ratings, and members of the opposite sex.

We see arrogance in spirit in today’s Gospel parable. The Pharisee has an arrogant spirit. He says a prayer, but the Gospel says it’s to himself. He says, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity --greedy, dishonest, adulterous”. We wonder how a religious man can be this arrogant. He is exalting himself – kind of like the NFL player’s “look at me”. Look at how good I am compared to others. As Jesus says, he is convinced of his own righteousness. We look down on this, but we have to be careful not to do it ourselves. How many times have I heard people say, “I am a good person. I haven’t killed anyone or robbed a bank or anything”. This is arrogance. This is being convinced of one’s own righteousness. It’s just like saying “I’m not like those people – murderers or bank robbers”. Part of this is because people think these are the only big sins. But, it’s an arrogant spirit. They are exalting themselves. Like the Pharisee, there is no real prayer to God. They are not asking for anything from God. There is no opening to God. They are merely exalting themselves.

Arrogance sells, humility saves. The tax collector is humble. He does say a prayer to God. It’s a beautiful prayer. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” If you all ever forget the Act of Contrition in Confession, you can use this. The tax collector is humble; humility means honesty. He is humbly acknowledging the truth that he is a sinner. We are all sinners! He acknowledges the truth and ask God her help. He asks God for mercy. God can work with this. He can work with people who are open to Him. God can’t work with a closed heart.

We hear in the first reading all the people that God can work with - the lowly, the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan. These are the people who express a real need for God. They are humble enough to be open to God and to ask Him for help. The psalm says that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor”. It doesn’t say, “the Lord hears the cry of the arrogant”. Those who are humble acknowledge that they are poor and are in need. The tax collector recognizes how poor and lowly he is, and Jesus says he is the one who goes home justified. He is the one who goes home saved. He is the one who goes home to Heaven. Arrogance sells, humility saves. Humility is not as flashy or sexy or appealing as arrogance, but it saves. The humble, the poor, the weak, the oppressed – they will be exalted. The arrogant and the exalted will be humbled.

Finally, when we come to the Eucharist, we remember how Jesus humbled himself. He became among those who are lowly and oppressed and weak….even to death on a Cross. Christ was humble and now He is exalted. Through the Eucharist, may we imitate the humility of Christ. May we acknowledge that we are poor and weak and lowly and in need of God. May we live humility because humility saves. May we be exalted with Christ. And, may we say throughout our lives, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Memories and Insights about Mother Teresa

Cardinal-elect Wuerl! Archbishop Wuerl has been named to the College of Cardinals. Cardinals serve as advisors to the Pope and can vote in a Papal election until they are 80. Cardinals are elevated bishops, kind of like monsignors are elevated priests. This is a nice anniversary gift for Archbishop Wuerl, 69, who will celebrate 25 years as a bishop in early 2011. He will be elevated formally in a consistory at the Vatican on November 20. Cardinal-designate Wuerl said, “This truly is an honor for the Archdiocese of Washington, the Church in the nation’s capital, and for all of the clergy, religious and parishioners of this local Church who every day live out their faith in commitment and deep love for Christ. I am humbled by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s trust in me as shepherd of this flock and pledge to him my renewed fidelity, affection and loyalty.”

Last night my friend, Sandy McMurtrie, spoke to our students about her unique friendship with Mother Teresa. The room was packed with students who were eager to learn more about one of their favorite saints. Sandy told stories about Mother Teresa which included meeting with Fidel Castro who was totally enamored by Mother, bringing about a cease-fire in Lebanon, speaking boldly about abortion at the United Nations and when she won the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother's great sense of humor, their first meeting in 1981 that changed Sandy's life, and how Mother died. She said that the greatest thing she learned from Mother was her humility. She said a prayer for humility every day which I will post later. Even with all of her fame and notoriety, Mother didn’t change. Mother was the same way with the President of the United States as she was with the residents of Gift of Peace, for example.

Sandy addressed Mother’s “dark night” which came as a total surprise to everyone years ago. Many saints have experienced “the dark night of the soul” which means prayer brought darkness and silence from God. It is a great mystery to us that someone like Mother Teresa could have no experience of God’s presence in her prayer for about 40 years. Sandy depicted the situation in a very powerful way. She told the story of how Mother received a private revelation from God to start the Missionaries of Charity as a young religious sister. Once she did that, God went quiet the rest of Mother’s life. And yet, she still prayed every day. One student brilliantly surmised that one reason for this was for Mother’s humility. I have struggled to work with many people who go through the dark night, and now this insight about humility equips me better to help people understand the reason for it.

Sandy finished with a touching story about Mother’s death. Even though she was very close to Mother Teresa, she didn’t get a chance to tell her at the end that she loved her. She asked the Missionaries to tell her but didn’t know if that message got through. Then, after the funeral, Sandy’s father told her about a picture in a Chicago newspaper. It was a picture of Sandy (labeled as "an unidentified woman") at Mother’s casket. This brought Sandy great comfort; it was the sign that Mother knew that Sandy loved her.

Several students have commented that they really enjoyed Sandy’s talk. Many came up to her afterwards to thank her and to ask me about going to the Missionaries of Charity (which we do once a month). We all walked away with Mother’s business cards, miraculous medals, and a prayer card as well as very intimate memories and insights about a modern saint, thanks to Sandy McMurtrie.

Finally, my cousin, Mary, sent me the following joke which made me laugh out loud:

Mother Teresa died and went to heaven.

God greets her at the Pearly Gates."Are you hungry, Mother Teresa?" says God.

"I could eat," Mother Teresa replies.

So God opens a can of tuna and reaches for a chunk of rye bread and they share it.

While eating this humble meal, Mother Teresa looks down into Hell and sees the inhabitants devouring huge steaks, lobsters, pheasants, pastries and wines. Curious, but deeply trusting, she remains quiet.

The next day God again invites her to join Him for a meal.

Again, it is tuna and rye bread.

Once again, Mother Teresa can see the denizens of Hell enjoying caviar, champagne, lamb, truffles and chocolates.

Still she says nothing.

The following day, mealtime arrives and another can of tuna is opened.

She can't contain herself any longer. Meekly, she says: "God, I am grateful to be in heaven with You as a reward for the pious, obedient life I led. But here in heaven all I get to eat is tuna and a piece of rye bread, and in the Other Place they eat like emperors and kings! I just don't understand."

God sighs. "Let's be honest," He says. "For just two people, does it pay to cook?"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Attitudes Toward Premarital Sex in the Church

"Life with Mother Teresa"  - tonight, 6:45 pm.  Sandy McMurtrie, whose son, Billy, was a year ahead of my in high school, will speak about her close friendship with Mother Teresa and their amazing experiences together.  Sandy is an saintly woman in her own right. I like to say that she was Mother Teresa’s “right hand man” in the United States. She helped her so much with her time, resources, and talents which means she helped the poorest of the poor in the United States in those ways. This will be very good!
The following is a post from last week by from Msgr Charles Pope (ADW blog):

I have already mentioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that collects and reports a good deal of data about the Church. Combing through the data I came across a surprising report on the attitudes of Catholics regarding premarital sex. I knew we had a lot of re-catechizing and re-evangelizing to do on this topic but until now I didn’t have a lot of clear numbers on Catholic attitudes about pre-marital sex (fornication). But this study from CARA ( provides some pretty basic and startling numbers that show just how much work we have to do. Let’s look at the data.

The Table above depicts Responses over the years to the following question: “If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong?” You can click on the chart to make it bigger and clearer. Now it can be seen by the trend lines that the numbers are going in the undesirable direction. In 1972, 39% of adult Catholics responded that premarital sex was “always wrong.” Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 54% responded as such that year. In the most recent survey, conducted in 2008, only 14% of Catholics responded that premarital sex is “always wrong.” Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 30% responded as such.

In other words, more than 70% of Church-going Catholics do not hold or agree to the teaching the Church and Scripture that premarital sex (fornication) is always wrong. Among Catholics who do not go to Mass the number is even higher at 86%.

I knew it was bad, I did not know it was this bad. We have a lot of work to do.

But here is what is even more surprising. The Protestant numbers are much higher than the Catholic ones. Again, lets look at the data. The table at the right depicts the Protestant answers to the same question: “If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong?” You can click on the chart to make it bigger and clearer. For Church-going Protestants, the number of those who agree with the Biblical teaching on premarital sex is between 53 and 62%. For non-Church going Protestants the numbers are between 30 and 40%. You will note too that the trend lines on this graph are going in the right direction, upward toward greater Biblical fidelity. I suspect that the polling was done more heavily in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist segments of Protestantism since I doubt the numbers would be as high in the liberal or mainline Protestant branches.

So it is clear that we have a lot of work to do in our Catholic parishes to re-evangelize the faithful on this important moral topic. It is important not only because sexuality is important, but it is also important because many young people make important and life-changing decisions around this matter. Sexually transmitted diseases are spread and many of them are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Surprise pregnancies often lead to abortion. And college and career can be adversely affected by those who, thankfully, do not abort. Hence this is an important topic to teach and to insist upon.

I know by personal experience that we have done a minimal and poor job of teaching on this matter in the Church. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s we got little or nothing in Sunday School in terms of instruction about sexual morality Most of us had some awareness that there were teachings against premarital sex but why it was considered wrong was vague to us. We just sort of figured the Church had “hang-ups” and was in general “hopelessly out of date.” Our parents too were from a different, more repressed time, so what did they really know? Or so we thought. The generation of the 1960s just before us had blown the roof off everything. They were hip and free. Most of us took our clues from them. After all, when you’re a teenager, you usually look for the more permissive opinions.

Through most of the sexual revolution the Church, at least at the the parish level, was silent. I really regret that no one ever took the Scriptures and read me what God had written. I figured there was nothing wrong with premarital sex since God had only said not to commit adultery. I wasn’t married and so couldn’t break that rule, or so I wrongly thought. I just figured the prohibitions against premarital sex were hang ups of adults and clergy. But that God had something to say directly to me was never shown me. I think it would have made a real difference in my attitude had I seen premarital sex forbidden by God, right there in black and white, in the Bible. But it was not until years later, in the seminary, that I was finally shown such texts.

I would like to exhort teenagers and young adults to be familiar with what God teaches about pre-marital sex(or fornication, as the Bible calls it). I would also like to admonish adults who are parents to be sure to teach their children what the Scriptures say about sex and sexuality. To that end, I have a attached a PDF document (see below) which summarizes about a dozen New Testament texts wherein God speaks clearly to the questions of sexual morality, in particular pre-marital sex. As I have noted, the Biblical word “fornication” is the word that corresponds to what we call today “premarital sex.” Hence, “Fornicator” means one one engages in premarital sex. There are a very few places in the Scriptures where the word fornication (in Greek Porneia) is understood to mean sexual misconduct in general. But usually fornication simply means premarital sex since there are other terms for adultery (moichao); and homosexual acts (arsenkoites). The passages in the PDF document all treat of fornication (premarital sex) and in each case God spells out very clearly that God it is wrong and a serious sin. Please share these texts:


We can turn the poor numbers back, I am convinced, if we teach right out of God’s Word. I suspect this is why the Protestant numbers are better than our. Please review and share these texts.

Monday, October 18, 2010

29th Sunday - homily

I welcome everyone here, especially the parents of GW students. There are three words to sum up the first two months at the Newman Center this year: it’s all good. It’s all good! Your sons and daughters are good, we’ve been having a good time, and good things are happening. At our Opening BBQ, we had about 500 students come by. Free Chipotle will do that. A few weeks into the semester, Archbishop Wuerl celebrated Mass with us which was very well attended by students. Many of them stayed for pizza after Mass and met the Archbishop. He was so impressed with the students that he has talked about them several times publicly since then. He also tells people what I said to him that night: “Archbishop, they’re not just here for you, they’re here for the free pizza”. We specialize in free food! Our Tuesday dinners and discussions have been very well attended. We have been discussing topics that are very pertinent to the students: the hook-up culture, party scene, dating, etc. Many of our students are in FOCUS Bible studies and they are loving them. It’s all good! You really have great sons and daughters. They are amazing and you have done an excellent job in raising them. I’m not just saying that because we will take up a collection for the Newman Center today and I ask you to be generous…! They are really that good.

It is all good, but it’s not all easy. To use the language of the first reading, we are in a battle. We are fighting for your kids’ lives…fighting for their souls. I am like Joshua who defended God’s children (the Israelites) against the Amalekites. I am defending your children. October is Respect Life Month in which we are reminded to respect and defend life from conception to natural death. At the Newman Center, we are defending the lives of your kids. They are in a battle with the culture that surrounds them on this campus. Every day, they are confronted every day with the party scene, the hook-up culture, secularism, relativism, atheism, and so forth. I see conflict in many of our students. They are trying to fit in at college and want to be liked by their peers. But, this often conflicts with their faith. They want to live in and for Christ and to be the people you raised them to be. It can definitely be a battle for them.

We fight for them with the sword as Joshua did. Our sword is the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We are presenting Christ to them in new and exciting ways and they are responding. But, just as Joshua needed the help of Moses’ prayers, I need your help. Pray for your sons and daughters and for us at the Newman Center. Your prayers are so powerful. They can be as powerful as Moses’, even more powerful

It was because of Moses’ prayers that the children of God won the battle. When Moses had his hands raised in prayer, Israel had the better of the fight. Even though he got tired, he continued to raise his arms and Israel prevailed. He was basically raising his arms, saying to God, “Lord, I give you all I have. They are in your hands. Protect them. Save them”. Moses didn’t stop praying and God rewarded him and his children for it.

Jesus teaches us the value of persistent and powerful prayer in the Gospel through a parable. The widow doesn’t relent in her pleading to the unjust judge. She bugs him, annoys him, and pesters him until he finally gives her a just decision. The Lord wants us to do the same with Almighty God, the just judge. We should constantly go to God with our prayers. Be totally honest with Him and bug Him. Even if it doesn’t appear that God answers our prayers, He does. A wise priest once said that God always answers our prayers. The answer is either “yes”, “not right now”, or “I have something better in mind”. It takes a lot of faith to be persistent in praying to God, especially when the answer isn’t what we were hoping for. Sometimes it’s tough to pray for your kids. As much as I love them and respect them, they make it challenging to pray for them sometimes. You know what I mean. You see them getting into stuff they shouldn’t be or making choices that will hurt them, and you get frustrated. I get frustrated. I hear “no” from them a whole lot more than I hear “yes”. Again, they are in a battle. It’s especially because of this that I pray for them every day. Pray for them every day. Your prayers are the keys to victory!

Finally, we have come to the Mass which is the greatest prayer. We have come to the Eucharist which reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice and prayer on the Cross. We remember that He raised His arms on a Cross and won victory for us in the ultimate battle. Students, when you come to Mass, thank Jesus for His sacrifice. Also, thank your parents for all of their sacrifices. They have helped you get where you are. Parents, when you come to Mass, pray for your kids. This prayer will be even more powerful than Moses’. I beg you, I beg you, I beg you to get on your knees every day and pray to Almighty God for your sons and daughters.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Natural disasters - from God or because of us?

1) Parents’ weekend (Oct 15-17)
Saturday: Open House at Newman Center, 12 noon – 3 pm
Sunday: 11 am Mass (St Stephen’s) – juice and donuts after Mass

2) “Life with Mother Teresa” – talk by Sandy McMurtrie after Tuesday dinner (10/19)
In response to my post, “Why does God allow evil?” (11/6/09), “Mamamia” wrote: “Hi Father Greg, I'm not a GW student, but was searching the web for the answer to the this question to see what I would find. I fully agree with and understand your explanation, but I was wondering about natural disasters... hurricanes and volcanos and tsunamis and such that destroy so many lives and cause so much suffering to both good and bad alike... Does God will that suffering on us in order to make us stronger as some say? Or are natural disasters simply a result of Original Sin? Or are they just scientifically necessary in order to keep creation in balance and sometimes we just get in the way? Thank you so much!!”

Mamamia, thanks for your questions. They are tough ones! I have always understood that natural disasters (natural evil) are the results of Original Sin. The Catechism (#400) teaches that one of the results of man’s first sin is that “Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation is hostile to man. (cf. Gen 3:17, 19). Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay’ (Rom 8:21)”. In other words, the harmony and order of creation has become discord and disorder because of Original Sin.

St Paul also writes that “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23). This point is elicited in the following column from the USCCB site by Bishop Wenski. It is the best online article I could find related to your questions. First, he opines that natural disasters “can suggest that our planet itself is ‘in rebellion’ against the original order of a loving Creator God” which adds clarity to their genesis (man, not God). Then, he makes St. Paul’s point from Romans 8:22-23 - the connection between evil in the world and evil in the heart of man: “And that rebellion seen in nature – from the perspective of faith – can be said to mirror the rebellion of the human heart”.

Bishop Wenski's Column
September 2005

Hurricane Katrina wrought unprecedented physical devastation and human misery. The storm and its aftermath have created a world of pain on our nation’s gulf coast in an area larger than Great Britain . Those of us that suffered the three storms that crisscrossed our communities last year can easily empathize with the victims of this year’s storms. We will, with the rest of the nation, reach out in solidarity to those tried so sorely by the worst natural disaster in our country’s history to meet both their immediate needs and to help them rebuild. And we pray for the survivors – and for those who did not.

When faced with our misfortunes or those of others, we can be tempted to ask ourselves: what did we do or what did these people do to deserve this? Once in His ministry Jesus spoke of the Galileans whom Pilate had executed. And He spoke of those killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed. (Luke 13: 1-9) Jesus warns us not to see these events as somehow the wrath of an angry God. Evil came into the world not by God’s willing it; but through the devil and human sin. Jesus says in the Gospel: Don’t think that those Galileans were the biggest sinners around. Don’t think that those who died in the tower were guiltier than any one else.

The tragedies that Jesus spoke about – whether man made or acts of nature – are as contemporary as our morning newspaper. Each day, we read about victims of war or poverty. Each day, we can see on our T.V. screens those displaced by natural disasters – whether these disasters occurred just up the road like Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina or in far away lands like the Tsunami last year.

Today – and, indeed, from the beginning of our exile from Eden , - we experience this world as a “valley of tears.” We live in a fallen and thus imperfect world. And oftentimes the forces of nature – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters – can suggest that our planet itself is “in rebellion” against the original order of a loving Creator God. And that rebellion seen in nature – from the perspective of faith – can be said to mirror the rebellion of the human heart.

Of course, many times, we do suffer because of our bad choices. The scriptures do say: the wages of sin is death. And, in one way, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who lost for themselves and for us the original blessings of Paradise, we experience that rebellion of nature because of their bad choice – their original sin of turning away from God which made all of creation “subject to futility” (Romans 8:20).

But as followers of Jesus we cannot rush to blame victims for the evil visited upon them – nor can we blame God, whom Scripture reveals as all loving and all merciful. That doesn’t mean we will come to an easy understanding of why bad things happen to good people – most times we will have to wait with the patience of a Job to learn the answers to those questions – which God will tell us surely; but not necessarily on this side of heaven.

Jesus however does give us an insight on how God deals with the tragedies that afflict us. God does not remain remote from or indifferent to the plight of his fallen creation. In Christ, the Word became Flesh. God became man. Rather than distancing Himself from people and their tragedies, He draws close to them. From the Cross, He stands in solidarity with all the pain experience by us in our fallenness. Despair, destruction, death will not have the last word: rather the transformative power of his resurrection will define the human project anchored in hope.

One of the most compelling scenes of the Gospel is that of Jesus being awaken in the boat by his frightened apostles in the midst of a storm (Matthew 8: 23-27). Jesus calms the storm by rebuking the rain and the wind; but, He also rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith.

Two months remain of this year’s hurricane season. For these two months and certainly for years to come, we will be understandably more anxious every time a new tropical depression forms off the West African coast. Like the apostles, in our fear we cry out: “Save us, Lord.”

Yes, we rightly pray that God may spare us from nature’s fury. But, in the face of trial and tribulation, we also ask God to strengthen our faith by calming the storms of anxiety and fear that rage within our hearts. We know that God can bring good out of evil. Indeed, the many acts of solidarity – of neighbor helping neighbor – are eloquent witness to what God’s Providence inspires in the hearts of men and women of good will. Strengthened in faith, we will not be overcome by any adversity but will overcome evil – whether physical or moral – with good.

Here's a related video (yes, a video on this blog!) from Fr. Barron as found on YouTube:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Take the quiz!

GW students are in the midst of mid-term exams.  The last thing they want is another test or quiz.  For the rest of us, though, it's quiz time!

A friend sent me a survey by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life.  It's a 15-question quiz to see how much knowledge Americans have about religion.  The survey was conducted earlier this year with over 3,000 adults.  See how you do in comparison to those who took the survey and if you can beat my score of 12.

To take the quiz, please click on today's title.  Do well!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Something outrageous - any ideas?

I have offered to do something outrageous (within reason) if there are 300 students at the 7:30 pm Mass on Halloween.  The top ideas are: shave my head, get a mohawk, shave one eyebrow.  Any ideas from bloggers?

"Where are the other nine? A question YOU must answer"

Here's Monday's post on the Archdiocesan blog (  by Msgr Charles Pope:

"Where are the other nine? A question YOU must answer"

In the Gospel for yesterday (Sunday’s) Mass the Lord Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one of them returned to thank him. And Jesus asked the following question:

Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? (Luke 17:17)

We have discussed before (HERE) that, when Jesus asks a question, you’re supposed to answer it yourself. Do not wait for some one else to answer it. Don’t just wait and see how someone in the Biblical story answered it. YOU answer it, for yourself.

So Jesus just asked us a question: Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine? OK, so where are they? “Who?”, you might ask. Well, think in terms of evangelization. Do you not know at least nine other people who need to return to God, to the Church and to the sacraments? The Lord is asking you (not the person next to you), “Where are the other nine?”

Now the question has a rhetorical quality to it. The Lord is not merely curious as to the physcial whereabouts of unchurched loved ones and friends. It would seem He also wants to know why they are not “here,” close to him in the sacraments. We saw in yesterday’s blog post (HERE) that the gospel is really in the form of a Mass and the leper kneeling before him to give thanks has a Eucharistic meaning. So, in this sense, the Lord wants to know why the missing “nine” are not kneeling before God in the great thanksgiving we call the Eucharist (a Greek word which means to give thanks) to render thanks and receive further blessings.

So where are the other nine?

1.Where is your spouse who fell away from the faith years ago?

2.Where is your son or daughter who stopped going to church in college?

3.Where is your brother?

4.Where is your co-worker who “used to be Catholic”?

5.And to the priest and parish leaders:

6.Where is that parishioner who used to be so dedicated and hasn’t been seen in months?

7.Where is the choir member who once sang all those solos?

8.Where is the parish secretary who got ill and had to retire but you haven’t contacted since?

9.Ten were made whole, were they not? Where are the other nine?

Why me? It is a true fact that we cannot be personally and primarily responsible for every one’s whereabouts and falling away from Mass. But neither can we be wholly detached from this matter. One day God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” And Cain replied with a question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Now, of course, Cain had other issues going on. (!) But aside from those, his question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is demonstrably shallow. The fact is, we are our brother’s “keeper” in the sense that their whereabouts and well-being should be important to us. It should grieve us if they have drifted from God and the sacraments. Perhaps they did this because they were hurt, or are sick. Or perhaps they have grown lukewarm or have drifted into serious sin. Yes, “Where is your brother?”

And so, the question, “Where are the other nine?” is a question we must answer. And if that means that we must go and seek the other nine and find the answer, then we ought to get about doing it. We don’t need to start with lectures. Simple heart-felt questions can often be the best beginning:

1.How have you been?

2.I haven’t seen you in Church recently. Are you OK?

3.Did someone hurt you?

4.Has your health been poor?

5.What keeps you from coming?

6.Can I help?

7.How do you experience God in your life?

8.Do you know we miss you?

9.Do you know we need you?

10.Do you know the Lord wants to feed you?

11.Come with me back to Mass this Sunday.

The Archbishop in his recent letter on Evangelization (Disciples of the Lord) says,

This is our mandate: to witness to others so that they reawaken to and rediscover the vital and inexhaustible friendship of Jesus Christ. Sisters and brothers, our eagerness and zeal for the task can be both the invitation and support for those who take their first steps back to the community of faith, as the ever deepening life within the seed is drawn to the light. At the individual level this action may be through a deepening of our own personal faith as well as outreach to others: a direct conversation about Catholicism, extending an invitation to Mass, or providing simple witnesses such as blessing ourselves before a meal in a restaurant, offering to pray for someone in need, keeping a devotional item on our desk at work or wearing a crucifix for others to see. (Disciples of the Lord, P. 13)

Our archdiocesan efforts to share the good news and invite others into the joy of new life in Christ are not simply a new program — one among many. I hope all of us will see the New Evangelization as a lens through which we see everything that we are doing but now in the light of our understanding of how important it is for each of us to tell the story, share the excitement and be that leaven where the faith has gone flat and that salt where the faith has lost its zest….We cannot simply invite from a distance. Instead, we search actively and carefully for our sisters and brothers who are away from the practice of their faith. (P. 15)

The Lord was surely glad to see that Leper come back and he is surely glad to see us at Mass on Sunday. Praise God! But he does have a heartfelt question for you and me, and for the Church. It is an evangelical question, and and a question that touches on the most fundamental mission we have. It is a question that we cannot utlimately ignore if we want to call ourselves the Lord’s disciples. It is a question you must answer: “Where are the other nine?” Where?

Monday, October 11, 2010

28th Sunday - homily

I’ve told you all before that I went to Mass every Sunday with my family growing up. Well, this past week in thinking about it, I remembered some Sundays with my brother that we, uh, went to “Church”. We did make it to the Church, but it was only to pick up a bulletin. We grabbed a bulletin and then went across the street to McDonald’s or a nearby basketball court for an hour. Oops. When we got home, I clearly displayed the bulletin to my parents. , I placed it on the table and then walked away, usually out of trouble. One time, my parents asked a follow-up question that I wasn’t ready for. “Who said the Mass?”, they inquired. “Um, it was, uh…you did see the bulletin, right?” Totally choked and totally busted.

Now, I’m not giving you all any ideas! You can’t do that anyway because there isn’t a McDonald’s or basketball court nearby. You all probably have a better understanding of the Sunday obligation than my brother and I did at that time. I didn’t know it was a mortal sin to skip Mass on Sundays. I really had no clue about mortal sin in general. In college, I fell in love with the Mass…through daily Mass. I realized that what happens at Mass is real, especially that the bread and wine really become the Body and Blood of Christ. It rocked my world! I learned about the beauty and richness of the Mass – how all of the things we do here have purpose and meaning and that the Mass has a tradition that goes back thousands of years, even to Jewish rituals. The Mass is awesome!

I would like to go through the parts of the Mass briefly here. In general, there are two main parts to the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We need to be here for both parts on Sunday to fulfill our obligation. If we arrive after the Gospel, then we have missed the Liturgy of the Word…we have missed Mass and need to go to another Mass.

There are specific parts of the Mass that we actually see found in today’s Gospel; it’s like Jesus celebrates Mass with the lepers. First, we hear that the “ten lepers met him”. They gathered to meet Jesus. This is what we do when we come to Mass. We gather with all of our own leprosies (sin) and problems. We come from all different locations and situations to be with the Lord. Right away, we acknowledge who we are in the presence of God: we are sinners. We say to the Lord in the Penitential Rite, “Lord, have mercy”, similar to the lepers saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” We confess that we have sinned – in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do – and ask the Lord for His Mercy.

Then, we have the Liturgy of the Word. The book that contains the readings is called the lectionary. The Sunday lectionary is on a three year cycle. So, we hear the same readings every three years. The Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has put these readings together for a reason. The first reading is normally from the Old Testament, the second reading is usually a New Testament letter, and the third reading is always from one of the Gospels. We see connections or themes within the readings, especially with the first and third readings (the second reading is often a continuous reading that isn’t always related to the other two). When we hear the Word proclaimed to us, our job is to find at least one thing that God is saying to us today. Also, we should try to figure out the themes or connections in the readings.

The Liturgy of the Word to the lepers is very short. Jesus says to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests”. Some people wish that the Liturgy of the Word was this short normally; well, at least that the homily was this short. The homily is supposed to explain the readings and is the bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

We move on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word, eukaristeion (sp?) which means “thanksgiving”. We come every time to Mass primarily to give thanks to God for all His blessings. This is what one of the lepers does after he is healed. Only one of ten lepers comes back to thank God; only one of ten GW Catholics come to Mass each Sunday to give thanks to God. Our thanksgiving at Mass is the fulfillment of the Passover when the Jews gave thanks to God for all of His blessings. We do it in the context of a sacrifice, much like Naaman in the first reading. We are most thankful for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and for the gift of Himself in the Eucharist. The saints got it about the enormity of all that happens here; they would often stay around for a few minutes after Mass to make a prayer of thanksgiving. They thanked God for the incredible gift of the Mass!

Finally, the Mass ends with a “send”. We hear, “the Mass is ended, go in peace”. The leper hears from the Lord, “stand up and go”. That would be a different dismissal: “the Mass is ended. Go!” The send doesn’t just mean ‘it’s time for all of us to leave’. It means to that we are sent out as disciples of the Lord. We are sent to live and proclaim what we have heard and received here. We are sent to witness to the saving power of God that we have encountered here. Through the grace of the Eucharist, may each one of us live and proclaim the awesome gifts we have received here to all those we meet.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

"Why does Jesus call us evil?"

Here'sThursday's post from the Archdiocesan blog by Msgr Pope:

The Gospel for today’s (10/7) Mass records Jesus as saying the following:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Lk 11:13)

I received an e-mail today regarding this verse:

This line bugs me. I think I know the larger point that Jesus makes here, and/or perhaps it’s poorly translated, but it seems a bit harsh for Jesus to refer to mankind as “evil”. Evil? That’s tough stuff! But perhaps, to Jesus, we are evil. I don’t know. Bring on the redemption Lord!!!

So what is going on here? Why does Jesus call us evil?

Let’s check first and make the translation is good. The Greek expression πονηροὶ ὑπάρχοντες (poneroi hyparchontes). Now poneroi is defined in the Greek lexicon as “bad, of a bad nature or condition.” But it is also defined as “full of labors, annoyances, hardships.” And hyparchontes is translated as “from the very beginning” or “being inherently.”

Thus the translation “you who are evil” is likely accurate. It might be more precisely translated as “If you then, being inherently bad (or evil).” Or perhaps also it could be rendered as “If you then, being evil from the beginning….”

But it also seems, if we take the second meaning of poneroi it could be rendered: “If then you, being full of labors (or hardships)…” However, I checked over a dozen translations over at and none of them render it in this secondary way. All of them simply say, “If then, you who are evil….”

So it seems the bottom line analysis of the text in Greek is that we’re stuck with the fact that the Lord is calling us “evil.”

What do the Commentaries say? It is interesting that in the seven modern commentaries I consulted, none of them make any mention of this expression. However some of the ancient Fathers make mention of the phrase:

1. Cyril of Alexandria says, When he says, “You who are evil” he means, “You whose mind is capable of being influenced by evil and not uniformly inclined to good like the God of all. (Commentary on Luke, Homily 79)

2. Bede interprets the phrase to mean, Any human mortal, weak and still burdened with sinful flesh, does not refuse to give the good things which he possesses, although they are earthly and weak, to the children whom he loves. (Homilies on the Gospel 2.14)

3. Bede also says elsewhere: He calls the lovers of the world evil, who give those things which they judge good according to their sense, which are also good in their nature, and are useful to aid imperfect life. Hence he adds, “[They] know how to give good gifts to [their] children.” The Apostles even, who by the merit of their election had exceeded the goodness of mankind in general, are said to be evil in comparison with Divine goodness, since nothing is of itself good but God alone (Quoted in the Catena Aurea at Lk 11:13)

4. Athanasius Says: Now unless the Holy Spirit were of the substance of God, Who alone is good, He would by no means be called good, since our Lord [Jesus] refused to be called good, inasmuch as He was made man. (Quoted in the Catena Aurea at Luke 11:13)

Therefore if I can be so bold to enter the company of these Ancient and approved Fathers of the Church I would like to draw a conclusion from our consideration of what the Lord means by calling us evil.

1. Jesus, it would seem, is speaking by comparison or degree here. He may not mean that we are evil in an absolute sense, rather, that we are evil in comparison to God who is absolute good. The Hebrew and Aramaic languages tend to lack comparative words and this means that ancient Jews would often use absolute categories to set forth comparison or degree. For example elsewhere Jesus tells us that we must hate our father, mother, children even our very self and that we must love him (e.g. Luke 14:26). This does not mean we are to literally despise our family and others. It means we are to love Jesus more than them. Ancient Jews spoke this way and used a lot of what we consider to be hyperbole (exaggeration) due to the lack of comparative words in Hebrew and Aramaic. Hence in calling us “evil” that Lord may not mean it in an absolute sense but is setting forth a comparison in a Jewish sort of way. Hence in modern English we might tend to say, “If you then, who are not nearly as holy as God and are prone to sin, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God, who is absolutely good and not prone to sin give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

2. However, we ought to be careful here as well not simply to discount Jewish hyperbole and simply re-write it as I have done. The point of the hyperbole cannot be missed or set aside. Created things may share in God’s goodness, but God ALONE is absolutely good. So good is He, in fact, that everything else is practically evil in comparison to him. The hyperbole places the emphasis of God’s absolute goodness. We have no goodness apart from God’s goodness. And, if we do share in God’s goodness, it is infinitesimal in comparison to God. Hence, as Bede says above: The Apostles even, who by the merit of their election had exceeded the goodness of mankind in general, are said to be evil in comparison with Divine goodness, since nothing is of itself good but God alone.

3. As an illustration, some decades and many pounds ago, I ran track. We would sometimes josh a runner who had lost a race by saying, “That guy ran past you so fast you looked like you were standing still!” It was hyperbole (and a cruel one at that). However, the exaggeration was meant to make a real point: he out-classed you, he whooped you. And so it is that, even if Jesus is using hyperbole and absolute categories, we cannot miss the point: whatever goodness we have is really a participation in God’s goodness. God is so great that our goodness can barely be seen as goodness.

4. Even Jesus refused the title “good” for himself in terms of his humanity. In the Gospel of Mark we have the following dialogue: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good — except God alone. (Mk 10:17-18). Now, as God, Jesus is good. One would also argue that in his sinless humanity Jesus was also good. But, presuming the man merely regarded him as ordinarily human, Jesus rebukes him and declares that God alone is good.

5. So, in the end, it’s time for some humble pie. Jesus probably does not mean we are absolutely evil and with nothing good in us. But God ALONE is absolutely good. And he is so good that we can barely be thought of as anything but evil in the face of his immense goodness. Humble pie doesn’t have much sugar in it, does it?

Friday, October 08, 2010

The "nucleus is the Eucharist" - Go PB XVI!

Pope: The Eucharist Is Nucleus of the Mission

Says Church Exists to Bring Gospel to All

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 2010 ( Benedict XVI is pointing to the Eucharist as the seed, nucleus and nourishment of missionary activity.

The Pope stated this Monday in an audience with Brazilian bishops in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

"The disappearance of the missionary spirit perhaps is not due so much to limitations and deficiencies in the external forms of the traditional missionary action but to forgetting that the mission must be nourished by a more profound nucleus," the Pontiff said. "This nucleus is the Eucharist."

"For the Continental Mission to be really effective, it must begin from the Eucharist and lead to the Eucharist," he added, referring to the mission called for by Latin American and Caribbean bishops who gathered with Benedict XVI in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The Holy Father noted that Jesus came "to show us, with his words and his life, the ordinary ways of salvation, and he ordered us to transmit this revelation to others with his own authority."

He continued, "This being so, we cannot elude this thought: Men might be saved by other ways, thanks to God's mercy, if the Gospel is not proclaimed to them, but can I be saved if through negligence, fear, shame or because of following false ideas, I fail to proclaim it?"


Benedict XVI pointed out that "the call to the mission is not something destined exclusively to a restricted group of members of the Church, but an imperative addressed to every baptized person, an essential element of his vocation."

"In fact," he said, "the mission is the overflowing of the flame of love that inflames in the heart of the human being, which, on opening to the truth of the Gospel and allowing himself to be transformed by it, begins to live his life."

The Pope noted that "the challenges of the present context could lead to a reductionist view of the concept of mission."

He stated that this concept "cannot be limited to a simple search for new techniques and ways that make the Church more attractive and capable of overcoming the competition with other religious groups or relativist ideologies."

The Pontiff continued: "The Church does not work for itself: It is at the service of Jesus Christ; it exists to make the Good News accessible to all people.

"The Church is catholic precisely because it invites every human being to experience the new existence in Christ.

"Hence, the mission is no more than the natural consequence of the very essence of the Church, a service of the ministry of the union that Christ willed to carry out in his crucified body."...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Coming soon to GW?

Here's an article from the Catholic Herald which is the newspaper for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.  To view the pic which goes with the article and shows the huge dinner crowd, please click on today's title.  With the help of God and through FOCUS, might this be coming soon to GW????

‘Exponential growth’ at Mason

The Catholic community at the Fairfax university is outgrowing St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel.

Kevin Loker
For the Catholic Herald


More than 180 students crowded the meeting hall of St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel at George Mason University in Fairfax to hear Father James Searby speak during the Catholic Campus Ministry’s (CCM) first Thursday Night Supper this fall.

The seating capacity for the basement hall? About 150.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” said Father Peter Nassetta, chaplain.

According to Father Nassetta, the Catholic community at Mason is growing beyond the chapel’s physical limits. “Come to a Thursday Night Supper this year, and, well, it’s obvious. For several years now I’ve said that we’re growing faster than the university, I just didn’t expect to grow this much faster.”

More chairs were brought in and dining tables were taken out in order to accommodate the crowd in Father Bob Cilinski Hall. The food line was moved outdoors to the parking lot in order to allow more seating space for students. About a third of attendees still stood to eat their meal.

The annual luau — an event held at the chapel that serves as a welcome to new students and a kick-off for the new school year — also demonstrates God’s hand at work at Mason, said Father Nassetta. At the first luau in 2006, there were 115 students. This fall, the attendance skyrocketed to more than 1,000.

“We expected regular growth this year,” said Father Nassetta. “What we’re getting is exponential growth.”

But the growth goes beyond the parties and social gatherings. In addition to the students who attend the other weekend Masses, more than 270 students attended the first 10 p.m. student Mass of the fall semester — filling the pews and leaving standing-room only. “We actually had to ask students to scoot in toward the center of the pews,” said Catherine Horan, associate campus minister. “We’ve never had to do that before for the student Mass.”

CCM has six missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) working with the staff, and the number of their student-led Bible studies has more than doubled since 2006, growing from 14 to more than 30. Next weekend CCM will hold its annual beach retreat and at least 100 students are expected to attend.

Junior Alex Crockett, a student disciple in FOCUS, said the climbing numbers are a testament of “the fire” growing on campus.

“You know it’s funny because one of CCM’s alum, Thomas Gallagher, got us all using that phrase two years ago,” said Crockett. “More and more, people on our campus are looking for real friendships, real relationships — and CCM can provide that in a meaningful context. Real friendships and real relationships are Christ-centered. There’s a ‘fire,’ I think, because people are beginning to really recognize that.”

"You will never, ever, ever... regret doing what is right"

Late-Night Catechism” – Monday nights at the Newman Center, 8:30-9:30, starting on October 11. Deacon Mike Lee, a seminarian preparing for the priesthood, will lead discussions on basic Catholic teaching for GW Catholics. Email me at if you are interested or have questions.
Last night, we had quite a lively, entertaining, and fruitful discussion on “Dating”. Fr Bill Byrne spoke to about 30 students here (which is our largest turnout for a Tuesday discussion since I’ve been here). He was and is amazing! He is so much fun and so brilliant. He weaved in stories and anecdotes with really solid Catholic teaching. There were thunderous laughs throughout Father Byrne’s talk because of his hilarious comments and analogies. He presented such an objective view to living Christian love in general, especially in romantic relationships.

He brings such common sense and sage advice that when you hear it, you that what he says is true. He speaks with authority and objectivity. It’s a challenge to anyone who might be smitten in a relationship: am I doing this the right way (God’s way) or my way?

He reminded us all to approach relationships based on certain fundamental, common sense principles that make so much sense. Here are some of his brilliant “rules” and insights when it comes to dating. I didn’t take notes during the talk and I’m relying on memory (yikes!). His principles are listed below. My notes or description is mostly paraphrasing what he said. If there are bloggers who were at the talk and can clarify or add to my notes, please feel free.

1) You will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, (and one more) ever regret doing what is right.

He said this in relation to chastity and to virtue in general. When he said this, I saw people reaching for their pens and paper in order to take notes. What a strong opening line!

2) Before there’s a “we”, there must be two “I”s.

People, especially in college, need to establish and find themselves before they can be with another. The old saying is that you can’t love someone if you don’t love yourself. College is a time to experience life and to see all kinds of stuff. Someone who becomes a “we” with another in college misses out on becoming the true “I” they are meant to be. College is a time for expansion, not constriction. Fr Byrne said that he saw many people at the University of Maryland (he was chaplain there for many years) constrict their world to the other person only. They should be expanding their world to all kinds of people, places, and things.

Along these lines, he also talked about have our inner selves and outer selves become one. College is a time to unite these two selves…to be the people on the outside that we truly are on the inside.

3) The ring and license don’t change people.

If someone is a drunk before getting married, they will be a drunk in marriage. If someone is violent or abusive before marriage, they will be violent and abusive in marriage. And so forth. Fr Byrne addressed these as “dealbreakers” – once someone sees a dealbreaker, they should get out of the relationship.

Other “dealbreakers” – consistent disrespect from the other, no chance of sharing Catholic faith fully

4) Partner should respect what is most important to the other (even if they don’t fully understand or agree with it)

This was in response to a question on chastity. He used the analogy of someone preparing for MSATs (Medical School exam) to answer. The MSAT’s partner needs to respect his/her need to study and prepare for the MSATs and not interfere the night before, for example, by trying to take them away from studying. If chastity is important to one, the other needs to respect and support that.

5) ‘How far is too far’ (when it comes to physical activity with another outside of marriage)? Don’t touch a body part that you don’t have

And the crowd went wild!

6) People can be living together without sharing the same place.

Fr Byrne said that we all know what this means (fornication). He talked about the dangers of this in relation to marriage and how living together (whether it means sharing the same place or not) very often leads to divorce. It was either here or under other “rules” that Fr Byrne made one of his main points crystal clear: people in college shouldn’t be in a rush to get married.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"Five Fundamentals of a Firm Faith"

Last week I was on retreat with priests from Washington.  The retreat was led by one of our brother priests, Msgr. Charles Pope.  He is a modern day prophet!  He's a brilliant pastor and speaker with a great passion for and insight into Sacred Scripture.  He has deep love for Christ and His people. 

Msgr Pope runs the Archdiocesan blog, "Maybe It's God".  Here's his post from Monday,  "Five Fundamentals of a Firm Faith - A Meditation on the Readings for the 27th Sunday of the Year".  Great stuff!

The readings for today’s Mass provide a rich fare in describing some essential qualities of faith. Each of these amounts to a fundamental for firm faith. There are five fundamentals that can be seen:

1. Want The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5-6). There’s an old saying, “What you want, you get.” It is true that many doubt this and think that they have wanted many things that they did not get. But it is likely they didn’t want it enough. Precluding physical impossibilities and other impossible things, when we really want something enough we usually get it. That’s because we work at it and have a passion for it.

Many people who say they cannot find time to pray or go to Church still find time to golf, watch TV and eat. They find the time because they want to do these things. They do not find time to pray or go to Mass because they do not want to do these things enough.

Hence, the apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. In effect they ask for a deeper desire to know the Lord. Too often we miss a step in our prayer. We might ask the Lord to help us to pray when what we really should ask for is that the Lord give us a desire to pray. For, when we want to pray, we will pray. When we want to be holy, we will naturally strive for holy practices. It is about what we desire, what we want. Ask the Lord to help you want Him and his kingdom. Ask the Lord for a new heart that has proper wants and desires. Ask the Lord for a new mind that has proper priorities and that prefers to think on what is good, true and beautiful. What you want, you get.

2. Wait –How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity(Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4) –

Waiting is one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. Why God often makes us wait is not always clear. Perhaps He is trying to strengthen our faith. Perhaps he is helping us clarify or confirm our desires. But, truth be told, waiting on the Lord has a lot of mystery about it. Nevertheless it is consistently told us in scripture that we must learn to wait on the Lord and that there are blessings for those who do. For example:

1. Ps 37:8 Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil….those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.

2. Is 49:23 those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.

3. Lam 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

4. Is 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

And so, waiting is a fundamental of firm faith. Gospel music is replete with waiting themes. One song says , You can’t Hurry God, you just have to wait, trust and never doubt him, no matter how long it takes. He may not come when you want him but he’s always right on time. Another song says, Weeping may endure for a night but joy will come with the morning light. Other songs counsel that we must hold on and hold out:

1. I promised the Lord that I would hold out, he said he’d meet me in Galilee

2. Hold on just a little while longer, every thing’s gonna be alright

3. Keep your hand on the plow…Hold on

4. Lord help me to hold out, until my change comes!

The reading from Habakkuk above warns that the rash man has no integrity. That is another way of saying that waiting is integral to the Christian life. It is a fundamental of faith. To have integrity means to have all the necessary pieces and parts which make up the whole. To lack patience then is to lack integrity, to lack an essential fundamental of the Christian faith.

3. Withstand – God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim 1:6-8) This quote from today’s second reading tells us that life has its difficulties and challenges. Things do not always get easier by becoming a Christian. In fact, they often get harder since we must endure the hatred and ridicule of the world. Thus a fundamental of the Christian Faith is that we be able to withstand such things with courage.

Notice that this courage, power and love come from God, not from us. Hence it is grace that is being described here. This is not a moralism or a slogan. Withstanding means that God is “standing with” us, and we with God. Such withstanding is only possible by the relationship with God that comes by faith. In this way we discover the power, the capacity to withstand, to courageously live the Christian faith in a hostile world.

4. Work - Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.‘” (Luke 17:6-10) This saying of the Lord in today’s Gospel can tend to irritate us and even seem hurtful if we misunderstand grace and seek to understand this text by the flesh. Our flesh is self-centered and thinks we deserve praise and good things from God for the good things we do. The flesh expects, it demands, rewards. But the fact is that we can never have God in debt to us, never. If we have good works, they are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us.

All our works of charity and faith which our flesh wants credit for, they are all God’s work and God’s gift. The letter to the Ephesians makes this clear:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)

Hence if I think that I did something deserving of praise and reward I am thinking in terms of the flesh not the spirit. All I can really say to God is “Thank You” when I have done something good like caring for the poor or keeping the commandments. His grace alone permitted me to work them. God may speak elsewhere of rewarding us but that is His business. He is not in debt to us in anyway. When we have done everything we ought our one disposition should be gratitude. We are useless servants in the sense that we can do nothing without God’s grace. We can only do what we are told and what He enables us to do.

That said, it is clear, work is a pillar of faith. The text from today’s gospel and the text from Ephesians just above both make clear that work is something God has for us. James 2:17 says, So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Likewise, Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me. It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last”(Jn 15:16) Work is a fundamental of faith.

5. Win - For the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint. It will surely come, it will not be late.(Hab 2:3) Yes, it is true that we must want, wait, withstand and work. But we do not do this to no purpose. We have a cross to carry. But if we carry it with the Lord, we carry it to glory. The end of today’s first reading makes this clear. There is an old Gospel song that says,

Harder yet may be the fight, Right may often yield to might, Wickedness awhile may reign, Satan’s cause may seem to gain, There is a God that rules above, With hand of power and heart of love, If I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace some day. I do not know how long ’twill be, Nor what the future holds for me, But this I know, if Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day.

This is what Habakkuk describes, that we will win with Jesus. He describes a victory that is

1. Future – the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment

2. Fantastic – and it will not disappoint

3. Firm – It will surely come

4. Fixed – it will not be late

For all those who walk with Jesus on the way of the Cross, there is victory up ahead. Even here we already enjoy the fruits of crosses past. Our withstanding of the past has given us strength for today. Our waitings of the past have had their fulfillment and are the hope that our current waiting too will have its fruit. Our work by God’s grace has already granted benefits to ourselves and others.

But these are but a small foretaste of a greater glory to come, which waits for us in heaven. Yes, if we want, and wait, withstand and work, we will win! I promise it to you in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Refrain of this song says, I do not know how long t’will be nor what the future holds for me. But this I know, If Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day.

Monday, October 04, 2010

27th Sunday - homily

Years ago, a GW student approached the chaplain with a question: “Father, how can I be a better Catholic?” One of the chaplain’s suggestions was to start attending daily Mass. The student did this and in that experience found his vocation to the priesthood. Now, he is a happy priest. A student came to me a few weeks ago and said that while she goes to Mass every Sunday, she was looking for something more. In our conversation, she realized she needed to increase the knowledge of her faith which she has been doing ever since. Last year, two students came to me in back-to-back weeks asking to have their faith in Christ restored. They had strong faith in high school but lost it when they came to GW. I met with them individually and did the same thing both times: Confession, Adoration, and Benediction. It was a powerful experience for each of them; they have been strong in the faith ever since.

The GW students in each of these examples are like the Apostles in today’s Gospel (Lk 17:5-10) asking the Lord, “increase our faith”. The Apostles give the Lord a command, but it is actually done with humility. They say this after Jesus teaches them to forgive in radical ways. They realize they aren’t there yet, and ask Him for help. They recognize they don’t have the power to increase their own faith. They recognize that faith is a gift given by God. They are asking the Lord to increase the gift…to crank up the power…to give them more juice.

The Lord responds by saying that, “ If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Is he implying they have no faith? I doubt it. He is using a little Jewish hyperbole to teach them and us. The point he is making is that even the smallest faith – and the mustard seed is the tiniest seed – brings great power. Every single one of us received faith the size of a mustard seed at our Baptism. That is when God gave us the gift of faith. At our Baptism, then, we received great power. It is not our own power; it is the power of God coming through the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul writes in today’s second reading (2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14), it is a spirit of “power”, not a “spirit of cowardice”.

You and I have great power because of our faith in Christ! As believers, we should expect powerful things to happen in our prayers and experiences. Expect miracles every day! You have told me of the power you have and the miracles that have taken place through your faith. One of you told me last week that you have praying for pregnant mothers to choose life. Then, you found out that a family friend is pregnant and is choosing life – an answer to your prayers! Another one of you has been praying for your sister to become Catholic for a long time. Last summer, out of the blue, she asked you how she can become Catholic! One of the most powerful examples came last year. A student came to see me about his family. He was very worried about going home for Christmas because there was so much tension in the family…so much anger…so much hatred. I told him to pray every day for reconciliation and healing in his family. He came back after Christmas break to tell me that there had been major reconciliation in his family over Christmas. Powerful stuff. Expect miracles!

It’s powerful stuff in your prayer and also in your experiences. It takes the spirit of power to come here every Sunday. It’s the spirit of cowardice that keeps people away from Mass. Some would say it’s a miracle that you’re at Mass in college. I’m looking at dozens of miracles right now. And, it’s a miracle when you bring someone else to Mass in college. It takes great power to live chastity in college. It takes great power to live self-control. It takes great power to live the virtue of temperance in college.

And yet, when all of this stuff happens, we shouldn’t be that surprised. It’s the power of God! In the second part of the Gospel, Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t look for pats on the back, get a big head, or take credit for what God does in our lives. This stuff is really par for the course in the lives of true believers. We are simply doing what He commanded. He says in Mark 11: “Have faith in God. All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours”.

Finally, you might be sitting here tonight thinking, ’I don’t have any faith right now’. If your faith is dead due to serious sin, please consider going to Confession. Confession resurrects faith that is dead. If you’re thinking that your faith is very small right now – like the size of a mustard seed – I would recommend going to the Eucharist. The Eucharist nourishes our faith. It’s the greatest nutrient to help mustard seed-size faith. Start hitting the 12 o’clock daily Mass at the Newman Center. I promise you this: if you start going to daily Mass in the state of Grace, your faith will increase! If you’re sitting here thinking that you want your faith to increase but have no clue of what to do, please come and see me. I can offer suggestions based on your situation. May each one of you realize the power you have in your faith in Jesus Christ. May you continue to imitate the Apostles. May each of you say to the Lord every day of your lives, “increase our faith”.