St Francis Q&A

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost - homily

“You can’t handle the truth!” This is the famous line from the movie, “A Few Good Men”. Jack Nicholson says this to Tom Cruise after Cruise says, “I want the truth”. “You can’t handle the truth”. This is basically what Jesus is saying to the Apostles in today’s Gospel (Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15). The Apostles weren’t ready to hear the truth, the fullness of truth. We are all like the Apostles in that way – sometimes we just can’t handle the truth or don’t hear the truth when it is given to us. But, today is the day that the Apostles were ready for the truth. Today, Pentecost, is when the Spirit of truth came down upon them and led them to all truth. May we be open to the Spirit in hearing the truth.

Truth has a face – it is the face of Christ. Christ is the truth. The words that come from his mouth are truth – the beautiful, rich, true, and real words of Christ. When we hear the truth, it changes our lives. Truth demands a response. In “A Few Good Men”, once Jack Nickolson testifies to the truth, there is an immediate reaction by the court and justice is done. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles with the truth, they respond immediately. We’ve been hearing the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter season – stuff has been happening, things have been moving. Truth demands a response.

I have seen many here respond to the truth. For example, many have heard the truth about the Eucharist and responded. One parishioner told me last night that even though she went through 16 years of Catholic education, it wasn’t recently here that she heard the truth about the Eucharist and has responded to it. I’ve worked with others here who have heard the truth about sin. A few years ago, the extent of their examination of conscience was that they hadn’t killed anyone. Now, they’ve learned that other things in their lives are sins – drunkenness, gossip, gluttony, for example – and they have responded by going to Confession and going regularly. Nationally, we saw the recent results of a poll that show that most Americans are now pro-life. They have seen and heard the truth about abortion and have responded. Again in our parish, the hope is that our young people are searching for the truth about their vocation and that when they learn the truth, they will respond generously.

Truth demands a response. There are two ways we can respond when we hear the truth. One option is that we can hear the truth and dismiss it. Many will say, “that is your truth but it is not the truth for me”. Folks, there is one truth! There aren’t several truths. Either something is the truth or it is not. Like, in math, two plus two is four…it’s not three or five or whatever you want it to be. It’s four. That’s the truth.

Can a Catholic dismiss the truth that the Church teaches? Not regarding doctrine. Not regarding teachings of faith and morals. The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of Christ. It is the truth. The second option when we hear the truth is to follow it. It means hearing Christ and following him. May we all hear the truth of Christ and follow it.

Finally, for those Catholics who are like Tom Cruise and say, “I want the truth!”, where do they find the truth? There are many resources in our Church, but the best one is the Catechism. It’s a big, fat book that can be overwhelming, but it has the truth that the Church teaches. We can go to someone we know who knows how to use the Catechism or go to a priest to help us find the truth that our Church teaches. When we find the truth, we find Christ because Christ is the truth. Where there is truth, there is love. May each of us find the fullness of truth, and may the truth set us free.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Is the Eucharist necessary for salvation?

1) Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
2)DC ‘Hood at Holy Redeemer, Kensington, tonight, 6 pm. Go ‘Hood!!
In my Easter Sunday homily, I mentioned the role of the Eucharist in the life of a Catholic. I said, “Jesus tells me that I need to receive the Eucharist if I want to get to Heaven”. One blogger said that he/she had never heard this before and another said that he/she was confused on what I meant (i.e., receiving the Eucharist was a requirement for getting to Heaven). Also, Cynthia quoted St. Thomas Aquinas who argued that the Eucharist is not necessary for salvation. It seems as though one comment from a homily has caused some thought, reflection, and research which is a good thing! Please let me clarify my comment.

First of all, please keep in mind that I was speaking to mostly Catholics, some of whom come to Church only on Easter and Christmas. In a nutshell, I was trying to get their attention about the paramount importance that Jesus places on receiving the Eucharist in John 6:53-54: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day”. I have found that many Catholics are not familiar with John 6, especially verses 53 and 54. It is my duty as a priest to teach them the doctrines of the Church and the Eucharist is among the most important doctrines. As you have noticed, I use creative ways to teach the doctrines. Maybe I used a little too much creative license to make my point, but the point was heard and has been heard by many Catholics who otherwise would not have heard it.

Secondly, it is a debatable point in the Church – some say that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation and others say not. For example, Fr. John Hardon was a well-known and well-respected Jesuit who taught that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. He said:

Like Baptism, the Eucharist is necessary for salvation to be received either sacramentally or in desire. Christ's words, "if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you" (John 6:53), means that Holy Communion is necessary to sustain the life of grace in a person who has reached the age of reason. Those who, through no fault of their own, do not realize this can receive the necessary grace to remain in God's friendship through other means. This is similar to what happens with the baptism of desire to first receive the state of grace.

Also, there is this from

The doctrine of the Church is that Holy Communion is morally necessary for salvation, that is to say, without the graces of this sacrament it would be very difficult to resist grave temptations and avoid grievous sin. Moreover, there is according to theologians a Divine precept by which all are bound to receive communion at least some times during life. How often this precept urges outside the danger of death it is not easy to say, but many hold that the Church has practically determined the Divine precept by the law of the Fourth Council of Lateran (c.xxi) confirmed by Trent, which obliges the faithful to receive Communion once each year within Paschal Time.

The main reason that I would use to argue that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation is because Grace is necessary for salvation, and in the Eucharist there is Grace. That’s what Jesus is really saying in John 6 – that if we don’t receive the Eucharist, we will not have Grace within us. We first receive Sanctifying Grace at Baptism and it is nourished and nurtured by the Eucharist. The Eucharist builds up Grace (“eternal life”) within us and gives us strength to avoid serious sin, as the above article states. If serious sin is accompanied by the knowledge and consent that make it mortal, then the state of grace is lost and “you have no life within you”. Catholics know they need to be at Mass every Sunday and I don’t want them to fall into mortal sin. So, I emphasize receiving the Eucharist so that Catholics will come to Mass and keep holy the Sabbath each week.

Finally, I hope that all those who enter into this discussion are receiving the Eucharist in the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church. St. Thomas Aquinas might have argued against the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation (and that was probably regarding those who are ignorant about the Eucharist), but he loved the Eucharist dearly and regularly received the Blessed Sacrament. His exquisite and rich writings on the Eucharist are some of the best in the Church and should lead all who read them to not only need the Eucharist but hunger for it. I hope that all those who take his side in this debate follow his example.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Let me get through today"

It has been a while since we’ve had a post about a saint, so here is a short bio from on the saint the Church celebrates today: St. Philip Neri (1515-1595). St. Philip’s quote is especially apt for us.

Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise.

At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate.

As the Council of Trent was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome.

At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way.

Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services.

The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory.)
Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.

Many people wrongly feel that such an attractive and jocular personality as Philip’s cannot be combined with an intense spirituality. Philip’s life melts our rigid, narrow views of piety. His approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh. Philip always wanted his followers to become not less but more human through their striving for holiness.

Philip Neri prayed, "Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ascension of the Lord - homily

One day Jesus walking through the streets of Jerusalem when he decided that he needed a new robe. After looking around for a while, he saw a sign for Finkelstein, the Tailor. He walked in and was fitted by Finkelstein for a new robe. A few days later, he came back to try it on and it was a perfect fit! Jesus asked how much he owed, and Finkelstein said, “Oh, no, no charge for the Son of God. But, Jesus, when you give your sermons, please mention that your new robe was made by Finkelstein the Tailor”. Jesus said, “sure”. So, Jesus did exactly that – he finished his sermons by mentioning that Finkelstein the Tailor had made his beautiful new robe.

Months later, Jesus was walking through the streets of Jerusalem again and saw a huge line outside the door of Finkelstein’s shop. He made his way through the crowd and found Finkelstein who said, “Jesus, look at what you’ve done for my business! This is wonderful. Would you consider a partnership?” Jesus said, “Certainly. Jesus and Finkelstein it is”. But, Finkelstein said, “Oh, no, no. Finkelstein and Jesus it is. After all, I am the craftsman”. The two of them went back and forth and had a spirited debate over the name of their shop. Finally, they came to an agreement and a sign went up a week later over the shop: LORD AND TAYLOR

Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. As we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven (into glory), I ask you to go back a little over forty days ago to Good Friday. Jesus is really down: fallen, wounded, hurt, stripped, ridiculed. It was a really dark time for him. He is carrying his cross, he is on the cross. It’s really bad. Who could ever have thought it would get better for him? Who would have seen this day coming after seeing Good Friday? Who could have thought that he would be glorified after being humbled so much? And, how could it happen?

After a little over forty days, Jesus’ situation got a whole lot better. He went from being greatly humbled to being glorified. This all came about through the power of God. God raised Jesus from death and then raised him to glory. Now, we might not be that surprised about this. After all, this is God’s son! And, we know the story well. But, the story of Christ is our story, too: through the power of God, we will ascend into glory.

Each of us will go through Good Friday at some point in our lives. We will be beaten down, fallen, wounded, hurt, stripped, ridiculed. We all have our dark times. We are all probably carrying a cross right now. It’s really tough and doesn’t seem that it will get any better. It doesn’t seem that we will get any better. And yet, if we bring ourselves and our situation to the power of God, we will rise. If we carry our cross in union with Christ, we will ascend into glory. It may not be forty days from now, but it will happen someday. God’s power – the “surpassing greatness of his power” as the second reading says – will raise us from this world to a world of glory.

A couple of examples of people who brought their situations to the power of God and have experienced an ascension. A married couple came to see me weeks ago. They were going through a tough stretch and were having problems. They sat down in my office pretty far apart from each other and barely looked at each other. It is interesting to see different couples come in to see me. Engaged couples preparing for marriage sit right next to each other, hold hands, and are all goo-goo for each other. Couples who have been married for some years and are going through some problems sit farther away from each other, rarely hold hands, and sometimes don’t even look at each other. That was the way this couple was acting. There was some loud talk – even yelling – and arguing. As we talked over the course of the hour, they came closer together and spoke more respectfully to each other. By the end, they were holding hands and actually left the rectory in a warm embrace. The wife sent me a letter a few weeks ago, saying that they were doing better. They had brought their very dark situation to the power of God and their marriage has now been raised up.

I am friends with a college student who is not from this parish. She has had a very tough freshman year. She has been extremely sad, especially lately. It got so bad that she said she didn’t see the point in going on, that she didn’t want to live anymore. I asked her to take this to Christ, specifically the Eucharist. She is familiar with Adoration, so I asked her to go to Adoration each day for 30 days. I promised her that Jesus would do something during those 30 days that will tell her that everything will be ok. She agreed, and has started her 30 days. A few days into it, she sent me a text that said she thinks this will get better and everything will be ok. Again, she brought her very dark situation to the power of God and is now being raised up.

We, too, will experience an ascension into glory if we take ourselves and our situations to the power of God. If we live in Christ – if we unite our suffering to his – we will experience what he experienced even though we can’t see how that could possibly happen. We, too, will be raised from this world into a world of glory.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"The Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Anon asked the following: “How does Jesus understand the pain, the inner turmoil we feel (towards ourselves and those we've hurt) as a result of mortal and venial sin(s) we've committed? I grasp the concept that He understands the pain we experience when unexpected and unfair events that we have no control over occur. I grasp the concept that He can forgive our sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but just how does He understand the pain we experience from events that are the result of our poor or wrong choices? He never made poor or wrong choices. He never committed any sins. Even His death was perfect. Can one truly empathize, be sympathetic or understand that which they have never experienced? If so, how? What do they use as a baseline for their understanding if they've never experienced the emotion or feeling?”

These are definitely good questions, Anon. The answers focus on the person of Christ. His Incarnation is itself a mystery, so any specific aspects of his experience is ultimately a mystery. But, the Church helps us to gain some understanding by looking at his person. Because he is fully human and fully divine, Christ’s experience on Earth transcends all things. As a Divine Person with unlimited power, he could enter into the full human experience with one thought and in the blink of an eye. The fact that he chose to experience this himself in his human nature shows us how much he desires to be in union with us.

How does Christ enter into full union with us? How does he experience every human pain due to sin? Scripture helps us to begin to understand: “The Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Is 53:6). Christ had the guilt of our sin on his shoulders on Calvary. He was literally carrying the weight of the world’s sin on his back. He was carrying our suffering. Suffering is the result of the guilt of our sin. The Lord laid upon Christ all of our suffering. It has been said that Christ saw every sin that has been or will be committed from the Cross; we can say that he felt the pain of every sin that has been or will be committed.

The Catechism sheds some great light on Christ’s union with us in paragraph #’s 602 and 603 with some relevant Scripture passages:

Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake."402 Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.403 By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."404 (602)

Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned.405 But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"406 Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son".407 (603).

Also, Pope John Paul II expands upon this in his apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris (1984):

…After the words in Gethsemane come the words uttered on Golgotha, words which bear witness to this depth—unique in the history of the world—of the evil of the suffering experienced. When Christ says: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?", his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many times found expression in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and in particular in that Psalm 22 [21] from which come the words quoted(47). One can say that these words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union of the Son with the Father, and are born because the Father "laid on him the iniquity of us all"(48). They also foreshadow the words of Saint Paul: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin"(49). Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the "entire" evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of his filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. But precisely through this suffering he accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as he breathes his last: "It is finished"(50).

One can also say that the Scripture has been fulfilled, that these words of the Song of the Suffering Servant have been definitively accomplished: "it was the will of the Lord to bruise him"(51). Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its beginning. The Cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living water(52). In it we must also pose anew the question about the meaning of suffering, and read in it, to its very depths, the answer to this question.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can't we just get the truth?

Yesterday’s Gospel (Jn 15:26-16:4a) is a timely passage:

“Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.

I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you."

There were a lot of words spoken on Sunday at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony and the analysis that followed. I watched much of it, but could only take so many “words” (plus, there were sports on TV). To many of us, it was just words. Let’s not forget an important axiom: “Actions speak louder than words”. Our President spoke of reducing the number of abortions, and yet he has worked since the first week of his presidency to increase the number of abortions.

In the Gospel passage above, Jesus is telling his disciples that they will be persecuted for speaking the truth. They will be expelled by people who think they are doing the right thing – “offering worship to God”. I have no doubt that most of the Catholics who cheered and stood for Obama on Sunday (they even cheered his position on embryonic stem-cell research) think they are doing the right thing. They think they are offering worship to God in dismissing the truth about human life. Jesus makes it clear that they don’t know Truth: “they have not known either the Father or me”.

Ultimately, the blame for why “Notre Dame Catholics” are ignorant of Truth falls on those who are the primary teachers of Truth in the Church – bishops, priests, and parents. On one of the news networks yesterday, a priest erroneously presented the teachings of the Church – he suggested that the issue of war had the same moral weight as the issue of abortion. A non-Catholic corrected him! I imagine that many, many Catholics walked away from Sunday’s coverage confused about what the Church’s true position is on all this stuff. Can’t we just get the truth?

The truth is that abortion is evil. Direct abortion is wrong every time. President Obama knows that abortion is evil and concedes this whenever he says that we need to reduce the number of abortions. If he thought there was nothing wrong with abortion, then why would he say that it needs to be reduced?

The truth is that over 3,000 babies are aborted in the United States each day and well over 1,000,000 each year die to abortion. President Obama has aligned himself with the largest provider of abortions in the United States, Planned Parenthood. Is he aware that the vision of the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was to use abortion to eliminate minorities? Almost 70% of abortion centers in the U.S. are in minority neighborhoods. The abortion movement in our country is more about power, money (it is a billion dollar industry), and discrimination than it is about a woman’s right to choose. Abortion is a holocaust and the greatest civil rights issue of our time. Has the truth about abortion reached the ears of Notre Dame Catholics?

Historically, God’s people have not consistently taught their children Truth – Truth about God, life, morals, etc. In the Old Testament, some generations of Israelites were ignorant about faith and morals because their leaders and parents didn’t teach them. We are seeing that today in our Church, especially in the United States. Many, many Catholics are ignorant about the sacraments, moral issues, Church history, the Church, and the Bible. We who are open to the Spirit of truth need to teach Truth more effectively and more boldly. Sunday’s expulsion of Truth at Notre Dame was an historic indication of that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

6th Sunday of Easter

The following is a homily for today from

Homily from Father James Gilhooley 6 Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter - Cycle B - John 15:9-16

In 1941, the German army began to round up Jewish people in Lithuania. Thousands of Jews were murdered. But one German soldier objected to their murder. He was Sergeant Anton Schmid. Through his assistance, at least 250 Jews were spared their lives. He managed to hide them, find food, and supply them with forged papers. Schmid himself was arrested in early 1942 for saving these lives. He was tried and executed in 1942.

It took Germany almost sixty years to honor the memory of this man Schmid. Said Germany's Defense Minister in 2000 in saluting him, "Too many bowed to the threats and temptations of the dictator Hitler, and too few found the strength to resist. But Sergeant Anton Schmid did resist."

Name a person who better obeyed the admonition of the Christ in today's Gospel. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." The hero Schmid went beyond what even Jesus encouraged. He laid down his life for strangers.

What a welcome the court-martialed Anton Schmid must have received from Our Lord when he entered the Kingdom.

Being a Christian requires all the character we can summon up. However, in the face of people such as Sergeant Schmid, we should not grow weary and give up the quest. When our Master returned to His Father, he sent to us the Holy Spirit. It is He who increases the spiritual marrow in our Christian backbones. It is He who empowers us to stand up and be counted as Christ followers. As one pundit says, "What Jesus accomplished for us in His lifetime, the Holy Spirit accomplishes in ours."

With the Spirit, we can face the might of hell and win.

William Barclay suggests the Teacher has chosen each one of us to be advertisements for Himself. Our lives should be billboards for Christ. He is most anxious that we produce abundant good works. The only authentic method of spreading the Gospel message is to be oneself a genuine Christian. History proves we waste our time arguing or forcing other people into becoming Christians. They do not want to hear about Christianity. They want to see it work. Our lives must attract them to the truth of the Gospel.

It was Socrates who told us that the greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.

When the Catholic Al Smith, later four time Governor of New York, was a member of the New York State Assembly in the 1920s, he roomed with a fellow Assemblyman, Robert Wagner, in the state capital. Wagner, who was later to be a distinguished member of the US Senate, became a convert to the Church. He was asked what prompted his conversion. He replied simply, "Watching Al Smith get down on his knees every night to say his prayers."

Like Smith, each of us is an ambassador with portfolio for Christ. Oftentimes, we are completely unaware of the role we are playing. But the non-Christians watching us do not forget that we follow Christ. Frequently we disappoint them. Said one agnostic, "I expected nothing and he did not disappoint me." You have tried many times to be a Christian only to fall on your face. Do not grow tired.

Reflect, as an historian tells us, that the first electric bulb was so faint that a lit candle had to be used along with it. Thirty-two hours were initially required to make the trip by steamboat from Albany to New York - a trip of but 150 miles. The initial flight of the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina lasted but 12 seconds. The top speed of the first car was anywhere from two to four miles each hour. We know what those inventions can do today.

Remember the aphorism that God makes a great finish out of a slow start and nothing can be done until we take the first step. Be patient. It takes an oak fifty years to produce an acorn.Once you have begun to make progress, speak that prayer of the old man: "Lord, I am not yet what I would like to be. But thank you, Lord, because I ain't no longer what I used to be."

Jesus gave up His life for our sins. We must give up ourselves for His service.

Finally one person can make a difference. If you have any doubt on that point, check it out with any of the 250 people whose lives Sergeant Anton Schmid saved.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Christian in the world

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
The following is a brilliant reflection from Wednesday’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. While it is an ancient letter to Diognetus, it applies to all times, especially our modern age as shown by recent events (e.g., Miss California), movies (e.g., “Angels and Demons”), media publications, etc.

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language, or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based on reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

God is good!

Anon asked the following questions: “When it is said that ‘sin separates us from God,’ what does that mean? I’m perplexed with this idea. If I am full of sin, sin not confessed- maybe even sin for which we are unrepentant, does it mean God isn't with us? I don't understand the concept. Please explain.”

Let’s first look at the definition of sin found in the Catechism: “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’” (#1849). Sin and evil are privations of goodness; they are a lack of good. There is no good in sin or evil. When we choose to sin and enter into evil, then, we choose to be where there is no good.

I often like to add an “o” to God’s name: God is good! If we substitute God for good, then we can say that when we choose to sin, we choose to be where there is no God. Our faith tells us this: God exists in all things but sin. He exists is what’s good. Everything that comes from Him is good and everything that is good is from Him. Sin is a lack of good; it is like the hole of a donut. The donut represents “the good”; the hole represents “sin”. The hole exists (i.e., it is real), but there is no donut there. It is a lack of donut. In the same way, sin exists, but there is not good there. It is a lack of good. It is a lack of God.

Now, it is important to make the distinction between mortal sin and venial sin. “Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,(cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17) became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience. Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it” (CCC, #1854-55). So, in this post, our discussion of sin (including the donut analogy) is mainly referring to mortal sin. When we choose to commit mortal sin, we choose to separate ourselves from God.

It might help us to understand all of this better by focusing on love (charity). We see how the Church focuses on charity in presenting the effects of sin: “sin…is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor…mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man”. As Pope Benedict reminded us in his first encyclical, God is love. If we say that when we sin, we separate ourselves from God, then we can also say that when we sin we separate ourselves from love. This will probably make the point as much as anything because we have all had the experience of separating ourselves from those we love when we have offended them. This doesn’t just mean a physical separation, although if it is serious enough, it can bring that. It means a personal separation; a separation of hearts.

In my ministry, I encounter different kinds of personal separation due to sin on a daily basis (except on most Thursdays, my day off, when the usual separation I deal with is my golf ball from the hole…it’s normally a long one). Spouses separate themselves from each other because of anger or lust, siblings separate themselves from each other because of pride, kids separate themselves from parents because of disobedience, friends separate themselves from each other because of gossip, etc. If the initial separation is not repaired through reconciliation, then hearts grow further and further from each other. This is why I am in the “reconciliation business” – to repair the damage that sin does in our relationship with God and others.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

5th Sunday of Easter - homily

I’ve been working with a couple on getting their marriage validated in the Church. I spoke with them the other night about the Church’s beautiful and rich teachings
on marriage which are based on Christ’s teachings on marriage. We talked about the qualities of Christian marriage, the goods of marriage, and the promises that the spouses make - the intense promises to love and serve each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death does us part”. I like to review these promises with all couples who I prepare for marriage because they are so beautiful but also so significant. Do they realize what they will be saying to each other before God and others?

So, the three of us were going over all of this beautiful stuff when the man jumped in with some examples from the news. He pointed to some tough situations where spouses hadn’t lived out their promises, and in fact, lived out the opposite of what they’re called to do in marriage. He pointed to examples of violence of spouses toward each other or their children, infidelity, etc., and asked why it is some people live out marriage so poorly and others live it out so well. The woman immediately gave an answer which is right on the money. She said, “the difference is Christ”.

“The difference is Christ”. This is such a profound statement about living a fruitful marriage, and about living a fruitful life in general. And, this is the exact point that Jesus is making in today’s Gospel. He says, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing”. It really is put very simply for us: if we want to live good and fruitful lives, then we need to live in Christ. This is really the statement that this couple is making about their marriage: it will be most fruitful if it’s in Christ. It’s the statement that all of us make when we come to the sacraments because it is in the sacraments that we remain in Christ and bear much fruit.

I would like to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of our mothers, and use the example of some mothers to see how the difference is Christ. First, our mothers on earth. When we look at our mothers and how fruitful their lives have been, we see that it’s because they have remained in Christ and Christ in them. We see it in their love, kindness, generosity and all of their virtues. They have remained on the vine which is Christ and their lives have been fruitful.

Next, we look at Mother Church. We learn from Scripture that the Church is the bride of Christ (Book of Revelation) and that Christ and the Church are one (St. Paul). The Church has been so fruitful for 2000 years because she has lived so faithfully in Christ. Christ is the vine and the Church is the branches. Now, some people cynical focus on the barren branches – those in the Church who haven’t remained in Christ and so haven’t been fruitful. But, there are thousands and thousands of examples in the Church of people – the saints - who have lived very fruitful lives on the vine of Christ. I would like to focus on one of those in a moment.

We also look at our mother in Heaven, the Blessed Mother, Mary. She is the most fruitful mother of all time. This is not just because she is the Mother of the Savior, the Mother of God. It is because of her virtue. She lived heroic virtue her whole life. She remained so close to Jesus and always said yes to the Father’s Will. We should constantly look at Mary and see how she lived virtue, especially in the midst of suffering. She is the model for mothers and for all of us.

Finally, the best way for us to remain on the vine which is Christ is in the Eucharist. In fact, when Jesus teaches about the Eucharist in John 6, he uses the exact same language: “whoever remains in me and I in him will live forever”. This is how we remain in Christ and he is us: Holy Communion. The Eucharist is how we grow on the vine and bear fruit in our lives. Another mother, Mother Teresa, teaches us this. She said that she wouldn’t have lasted more than a week serving the poorest of the poor if it weren’t for receiving the Eucharist each morning at Mass. The Eucharist was her secret and the secret of all the saints, especially saintly mothers, in living fruitful lives. Through the Eucharist, may we all be fruitful branches on the vine which is Christ.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Christian dignity and loyalty

1) DC ‘Hood vs. St. Columba’s, Oxon Hill, today, 1 pm. It is our first day game at a school! Go ‘Hood!!
2) Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Anon asked:
1. How does one distinguish between swallowing their pride and setting aside their dignity? Or- is there even a difference?

First, let’s see what the Catechism says about the dignity of the human person:

“The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity” (#1700).

What does all this mean, especially “attain to the perfection of charity?” It means that our dignity is found and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. We lost our dignity through (Original) sin, but Christ restores our dignity when he became one of us. So, in order for us to fulfill our dignity as persons and to attain to the perfection of charity, we must live in Christ and love as he loves. Later in the section on dignity, the Catechism focuses on charity:

“Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own "to the end," he makes manifest the Father's love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (#1823). “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which "binds everything together in perfect harmony” (#1827).

Now, let’s look at the dignity of Christ on the Cross. His unparalleled love and humility is on display. This is the greatest example of “swallowing one’s pride”. Did he lose his dignity? No, because he did the Father’s Will and loved his own “to the end”. Jesus says this is the greatest love. Those who killed him acted against his dignity, but Christ’s dignity is not only preserved, it is fulfilled because he entrusted himself totally to the Father’s will in deep charity and humility.

So, when we live humility (i.e., swallow our pride), we imitate the love of Christ. Not only is our dignity not set aside, it is preserved and actually fulfilled. If we are in situations where we think that living humility compromises or even sets aside our dignity, then we need to look more closely at the Cross of Christ. If the Crucifixion set aside Jesus’ dignity, why would a crucifix hang high in each Catholic Church?

2. What is more correct, to be loyal to another person or to be loyal to a value?

Most correct is to be loyal to Christ. He calls us to be loyal to both persons and values. If someone we know is acting against a value, then we continue to be loyal to them as much as our conscience allows. I’m thinking about the loyalty of the martyrs, particularly St. Thomas More. He was loyal to the Church and to King Henry VIII. When the King’s extramarital affair presented a conflict between his loyalty to the Church and to the King, he remained as loyal to the King as his conscience would allow. This was a tremendous struggle for Thomas. In remaining loyal to his values, Thomas was actually being loyal to Henry! Henry was sinning against himself (his dignity) and God as well as bringing scandal to many others. Thomas remained loyal to both Henry and his values until death. Like all the martyrs and in imitation of Christ, Thomas didn’t choose death; he didn’t stop being loyal to others. Others chose death for him. His loyalty to people and to his values remains in tact to this day.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On board with Christ

The following are two emails from Eric Belin, a SAA parishioner who is aboard the US Navy’s hospital ship, the Comfort, for another heroic humanitarian mission. Eric gave me permission to post these emails. Please pray for him and his shipmates.

Good Morning from Miami,

We got underway from Norfolk Wed, 31 Mar and arrived in Miami thismorning (4.4.09).

Because we have no priest on board, I have been designated as one of two Catholic lay leaders for the ship. As such, I am helping the chaplain plan activities for Catholics, such as praying the rosary, reciting the Stations of the Cross, etc. Last evening, we held Stations and had 6 people show up - better than I was anticipating actually - but ironically enough, there was an added Fifteenth Station: Jesus departs in a rowboat - apparently in an attempt to escape the flooding that is occurring in the officer's staterooms.

For the last two nights, we have been taking on water in our berthing areas. To date, the source of the leak has not been identified; however, what is encouraging is that I can hear a lot of water sloshing behind the walls - at least I have that going for me. The problem was simply made worse this morning as we limped into the port of Miami and the ship was forced to level out -until this morning we were cruising with a planned 5 degree port list in order to avoid flooding the starboard hatch. For a little perspective, go set your treadmill on a 5 degree elevation and go through your day.

Overall, life is good, just a little wet. I hope all is well with you.

Have a fine Navy day!

Eric Belin
USN Dermatologist/Flight Surgeon/Berthing Dehydration Specialist
USNS Comfort

Happy Easter from Haiti,

I have been on the ground in Haiti for two days. Haiti is on the island of Hispaniola, where Columbus first landed, and shares the island with the Dominican Republic (DomRep). Given its location, geographically Haiti should be a lush, tropical island, as DomRep currently is;however, Haiti has been completely deforested and is now very barren.

Haiti is essentially a failed state, administered by the UN, with an 80%unemployment rate. The average Haitian earns less than $500 per year. There is no sewage system, no trash collection - and nearly two million people live in the capital city of Port au Prince where we are. 1 in 5 Haitian children die before the age of 5. Yesterday we saw a 6 pound one year old - 6 pounds is small for a newborn in the US. Towards the end of our clinic yesterday, after the gates were closed and we were not seeing any more patients, the crowd threw an old woman over the fence,which was at least 8 feet high, to essentially force us to see/accept her.

We have had people approach the ship, which is anchored about 1-2 miles offshore, on rafts and small boats and then jump into the waterand feign drowning, forcing our security boat personnel to deal with them. Once rescued, the people request asylum. They are then simply returned to the Haitian Coast Guard.

The point of all this is to simply say, on this Easter Sunday, give thanks not only for the sacrifice that Christ made for our salvation, but also for the sacrifice made by our forefathers to allow us to live in what remains the most blessed nation on Earth. There is a bumper sticker which reads "If you can read this,thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a soldier." I would submit "If you can go to the bathroom, thank God. If you can flush it and wash your hands with potable water when you're done, thank a soldier."

On this Easter Sunday, I wish you and your family the peace and joy of the risen Lord.


Eric Belin
USN Dermatologist/Flight Surgeon
USNS Comfort

Sunday, May 03, 2009

4th Sunday of Easter - homily

I think I told you this before, but I had a t-shirt years ago that had a question on the front of it: “Who is your hero?” There was a list of names of celebrities: movie stars, atheletes, politicians, and musicians. On the back of the shirt were the words, “Would he die for you?” I’d like to use a similar t-shirt and questions with regard to today’s Gospel: “Who do you trust?” Do you trust politicians, athletes, rock stars, actors, or people in the media? And, I would like to ask the same question, “Would he die for you?” This might seem a bit extreme, but it’s one of the very points of today’s Gospel.

Who do you trust? Why do you trust them? We trust people who care for us and who love us. We know them and know that they want what’s best for us. They don’t have any hidden agenda or alterior motive. They just want the best for us. I think a sign that we can trust someone is when we see them sacrifice something for us: they give us their time, effort, or energy.

The greatest sign that we can trust Jesus is the Cross. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us. As the Good Shepherd, he laid down his life for us, his sheep. He gave up everything for us. He wants what’s best for us. We can trust him because we know him and we know that he cares for us.

It’s easy for me to say that we should trust in Christ, it’s hard to live it out. It’s hard for many people to trust in Him. Trusting in God comes up a lot with people I talk to. It’s hard for married persons to trust in Him when it comes to being open to life. When I remind them that they are called to be open to life, they are often scared at the mere possibility of having another child. But, to trust in God is to trust in His Plan. He knows what’s best for us; He knows better than we do. His Plan is what’s best for us even if it doesn’t appear to make sense or be what we had in mind.

It’s hard for parents to trust that sending their kids to Catholic schools is what’s best, especially these days where retirement accounts and education funds are dwindling. It takes a lot of trust that all of the sacrifices you are making for your kids are worth it and that you are doing the right thing. It’s hard for single adults to trust in God’s Plan as they are discerning their vocation. It takes a lot of trust that God has a plan for them and will reveal their vocation to them, showing them their place in the Church. People are often scared to go to Confession. It takes a lot of trust that they will have an experience of mercy there.

It’s probably toughest to trust in Christ in the midst of suffering, of carrying a big cross. It’s tough to trust that Christ is with you and that good will come out of it…that there’s a purpose and meaning…that he knows what he’s doing and has a plan.

I’m sure it was a challenge for Christ in his human nature to trust in the Father as he was on the cross. As he approached death, it took a lot of trust that he would rise from the dead. That’s why the Father loves him: because he trusted that if he lay down his life, he would rise again. He trusted in the Father’s plan that resurrection would follow death.

Christ calls us to enter into this type of trust in the Father’s Plan. If we are there with Christ on the cross, we are called to trust that we, too, will have a resurrection experience. We are to trust in Christ as he trusts in the Father. It’s a whole lot easier to trust in ourselves than to trust in God. But, my brothers and sisters, we are sheep. Christ is the shepherd who is leading us. He knows what’s best for us. He knows better than we do. It’s tough to trust in Him, especially when we his answer to our prayers is not what we wanted or things don’t happen as we think they should. But, He is the Good Shepherd who cares for us and laid down his life for us. He truly knows what’s best for us and only wants what’s good for us.

Finally, when we come to the Eucharist, we trust in what Jesus has said. We trust that “this is my body” means “this is my body”. We trust that the Spirit changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We trust in the whole story: that the Good Shepherd became a sheep. He became a lamb, a sacrificial lamb: the Lamb of God. As we receive the Eucharist today, let us say to Him with our hearts, “Lord Jesus, I trust in you.”

Friday, May 01, 2009

"Abortion is a moral issue"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Mindy wrote, “There is something I don’t understand. There are several Catholic politicians who say that they don’t want to impose their religious beliefs on others- people like Pelosi, Biden and this new cabinet member, Sebelius, have all directly said that. I think, ‘Ok. Don’t impose your “religious” beliefs, but what about moral ones?’ The constitution upholds moral beliefs, doesn’t it? Life and liberty, freedom from enslavement- aren’t those all moral issues? Why is it then, when speaking of any matter of dignity, any matter of rights, ANY matter of morality for the unborn, it becomes something only ‘religious.’ I don’t understand. I also don’t understand the word ‘rebuke’ when used to describe the actions of a bishop or archbishop towards one of these people. What does it mean when one is rebuked by the Catholic hierarchy?”

First, it’s a keen point that some Catholic politicians confuse the terms “religious” and “moral” when it comes to certain issues. Archbishop Chaput of Denver has said, "These are not sectarian issues. We're not saying Catholic legislators ought to promote belief in the Trinity. Abortion is about killing somebody else. It's about human beings. Do you keep quiet if someone's going to kill someone else, or do you speak up?” Abortion is not a religious issue; it is a moral issue.

It was very interesting on Wednesday night to hear President Obama speak about abortion during his press conference. He, too, said that abortion is a moral issue: I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue”. But, then, he started to define the moral issues involved with abortion. "I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they - if they suggest - and I don't want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with," Obama continued.

He might have said this before, but I’ve never heard it. He made the first part of the statement but not the second. He said that abortion is not only about a woman’s right to choose. But, then, he stopped before saying the second point. I presume the second point would have been about aborting a child. He wanted to say, then, that the morality of abortion is not just about a woman’s right to choose but also about whether it’s ethical to abort a child. He stopped himself halfway because he knows that he can’t say the second part. Neither he nor any pro-abortion politician can speak to the real ethics involved with abortion: that is, the killing of a baby in the womb.

Obama is interesting in that, while he doesn’t appear to be conflicted with the abortion issue with all of his consistent, radical pro-abortion legislation and voting records, sometimes when I watch him speak about it, he seems very shaky. In fact, I noticed for the first time the other night, he actually got dry mouth when about to say the words, “pro-life”. I don’t know what to read into it, if anything; it was just interesting. Like the above referenced politicians, though, he does seem to go back and forth on invoking authority on certain moral issues and passing on it on others.

Second, when one is rebuked by Catholic hierarchy, it means that they are being called out publicly for something scandalous. Anthony wrote about this last summer; I’ve included an excerpt of his reflection below. As I understand it, private discussions occur first between the bishop and the person. If the bishop recognizes that the discussion were not fruitful, he might decide to publicly rebuke the person so that the person would change. As is stated below, the bishop might then impose penalties against the person if the private and public rebuke did not “repair the scandal, restore justice, and reform the offender”.

“Thus, a penalty such as excommunication does not cause the excommunication. Rather, it is merely visibly expressing the excommunication that the person has already made public by their sin. But this excommunication is imposed by the Church only in extreme cases. In fact, from Canon Law (# 1341) a bishop ‘is to take care to initiate a judicial or administrative process to impose or declare penalties only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.’ In other words, a bishop is only to impose the penalty of excommunication as a last resort, to prevent scandal, to restore justice, and most importantly, to call the offender to repentance and back to full communion with the Church. This decision is made carefully, but it is always to promote both the common good and the good of the person. This excommunication can apply to all the sacraments (except in cases of death) and to even the holding of any office in the Church.”

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