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God Saves Us in Jesus Christ

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The question is sometimes asked, “Could God have saved us in some other way?”

The consensus of Church teachers is YES, but any deep speculation is probably a waste of time.  God does what God does.  Our focus should be on the actual intervention:  God loved us so much that he sent his only Son into the world as one of us to redeem humanity.  The manner chosen by God shows both the terrible price of sin and the intimacy that God wants with the stewards of creation.  The incarnation changes everything.  The human face of Christ is revelatory of almighty God.  Ours is no longer simply the invisible God.  The body of a man, particularly on the Cross or imaged with the sacred heart, is now a powerful icon for the Lord.  God directly saves us.  Accordingly, now all men and women (who were made in the image of God) with the powers of intellect and will, can be refashioned by grace into the likeness of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the new and perfect Adam.  He heals the rift caused by Original Sin and makes it possible for us to be truly holy and righteous in the eyes of God.

Everything was created by the Father through his Word.  It is in the Word (the Second Person of the Trinity) made man that there shall be a re-creation and the restoration of that which was lost.  There is a mysterious but definite logic to the divine plan.  This Word is also regarded as the Light of the World.  We were blinded by sin but now the dark clouds are parting and we can truly know and love God as we should.  The incarnation of Christ also gives us a perpetual exemplar.  God beckons that we become transformed into Christ.  We must proclaim him to the world and in our lives.  Like our Lord, we must also become prophetic signs of contradiction to the world that shuns the face of God.

The parables proclaim both a new type of kingdom and a new type of king.  The miracles of Christ largely focus on broken bodies and hungry bellies; however, in truth these were signs pointing to a deeper healing and feeding.  The sins of the flesh immediately touch the soul and Jesus came to save souls.  We are reminded that ours is a jealous God and that he would not share us with either the devil or the world.  His values challenge us to think of things in a way that is foreign to the earthly man.  We and our values must be changed so as to reflect a new kingdom breaking into the world.  This kingdom emerges first through the person of Jesus Christ and now through his mystical body, the Church. His sovereignty as divine and suffering servant is absolute.  No one else can make this claim— no angel of any rank and no man of any stature.  The God-Man beckons to us as no one else ever could.

The Word become flesh is the one Son of God but his redemptive work and sacrifice makes possible our spiritual adoption as sons and daughters of the heavenly Father.  This is a crucial point that should never be glossed over.  Just as the promise was preserved in the Old Testament with a family becoming a tribe and a tribe becoming a nation; the New Testament returns to the notion of a family.  It is within this context that Jesus tells his friends that he goes ahead of us to prepare a place (a room) in his house.  Jesus is born into the family of man so that we might be reborn into the family of God.  This is the appreciation of faith and baptism.  The subjects of the kingdom are all members of the royal family of God.  The gift of grace gives us an affinity or likeness to Christ just as members of a natural family often physically resemble each other. Indeed, the theme of family explodes when he shares his relationship with his apostles in teaching them the Lord’s Prayer.  His Father becomes “our” Father.

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Planned Parenthood’s Hitlerish Agenda

Notes from the Pastor [76]

(Please note this is an archival post that is decades old.  Msgr. Awalt passed away a number of years ago.)

Planned Parenthood sounds like a noble program and well-intentioned.  But look at what its founder, Margaret Sanger, states as the purpose in her founding this organization.

“More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief name of birth control.”

Birth control:  to create a race of thoroughbreds.  Sounds Hitlerish, doesn’t it? She sharply criticized philanthropists who provided free maternity care for poor mothers. She often referred to the poor as “human weeds,” targeting minorities such as blacks.  “We do not want the word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” Her compassion  “remember our motto: if we must have welfare, give it to the rich, not to the poor.” We are paying for and even submitting to the dictates of ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.”

Her goal is being reached in 61 countries worldwide where they are failing to replace their population.

Since Roe vs. Wade, yearly 1.5 million unborn babies have been aborted in the U.S. alone.

Why are we so worried about health care for children when we eliminate that need by killing a million and a half a year?

Why worry about social security running out of funds when we kill 1.5 million potential workers and taxpayers every year? Why teh multiplying “help wanted” signs in places of employment when we are reducing the workforce at the rate of 1.5 million a year?

Our tax dollars are supporting this organization both here and abroad. As individuals do we blindly give to this group called “Planned Parenthood?”

Information taken from Sanger “Pivot of Civilization and Father of Modern Science.”

PLEASE PRAY FOR VOCATIONS! Over the past four years, dioceses in the United States have ordained 1,569 priests (one in every 38,000 Catholics). There are 2,000 parishes in the United States without a resident priest.

Msgr. William J. Awalt

Pope John Paul II & Providence

Notes from the Pastor [74]

(Please note this is an archival post that is decades old.  Msgr. Awalt passed away a number of years ago.)

When Pope John Paul II arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal in 1982, there was a phrase he used in his address that certainly seems to pertain to his life as far as we can judge.  He said “in the design of Providence there are no mere coincidences.” All creation obeys God without thought of hesitancy except us humans.  In the case of Pope John Paul II, we can certainly see God’s hand in bringing him to the papacy.  In his youth, he was subject as were his fellow Poles to the invading forces of Germany and Russia.  He took part in resistance movements.  If he were detected, he would have suffered the concentration camp and/or death.  Yet his work was not detected.  As a youth he was struck by a car and left lying in the street until a German soldier (sic) was instrumental in saving his life.  At Fatima, he came to give thanks for being spared when a knife-wielding assassin was apprehended in an attempted attack on his life.  All of us are aware of his being shot in St. Peter’s Square, greeting pilgrims.  Had the shot been a fraction of an inch closer to his vital organs, he would have died.  Had his would-be assassin shot again, he certainly would have died.  Then we see the hand of God in giving us such a leader. His traveling abroad at his age would have been prohibitive to the ordinary man. Yet his physique as a youth from long hours spent hiking and kayaking have given him the strength to bring God’s message to so many lands and peoples in spite of his physical ailments. While others are guessing who will succeed him as Pope, he is still planning at the age of 80, future trips to distant lands to bring the Gospel himself to the people.

Each morning before his Mass, he arrives at 5:30 and spends two hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He often writes his addresses and letters on a small table in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

The secret of his success, the secret of his resiliency seems to be his oft-quoted phrase from his Master, “Be Not Afraid.”

Each time we attend Mass we pray for him in the Canon. May we be thankful to God for giving us such a successor to St. Peter, the Rock, and pray more earnestly for him as he leads us into the new millennium.

Msgr. William J. Awalt

Catholics for Free Choice is a Fake

Notes from the Pastor [75]

(Please note this is an archival post that is decades old.  Msgr. Awalt passed away a number of years ago.)

It is curious how the media seems always to go to dissenters to comment on the Pope John Paul II’s messages and/or the teachings of the Church.

One of the illegitimate commentators on the Faith is “Catholics for Free Choice.” This title exists only on paper.  It has no serious membership other than a few disgruntled pro-abortionists led by a woman named Kissling.  In addition to not having authentic membership, our bishops have expressly denounced it.  “Catholics for Free Choice” is not a legitimate Catholic voice in spite of its title.  Some think it is Catholic because of the title it has assumed.  We know that this group (small as it is) rejects and distorts Catholic preaching especially on life issues (cf. Letter to the Editor, The Washington Post, Saturday, August 5).

The organization is a fraud.  Its purpose is to weaken the moral authority of the Catholic Church.  So when you see interviews of this woman, or a Letter to the Editor from her, try to let the media (papers, TV, radio) know how uninformed they are in their analysis and interpretation of Catholic teaching.

Get behind the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 1011 FIrst Street, NY 10022, to help the group fight bigotry, prejudice and ignorance.

Msgr. William J. Awalt

Two Sides of a Coin: Contraception & Abortion

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Artificial Birth Control and Induced Miscarriage

The attack upon Catholic theology escalates from auto-eroticism or self- stimulation to fornication, cohabitation, adultery. Once these practices involve another person, the issue of artificial birth control and abortion quickly arises.  Today the contraceptive mentality is so ingrained that many churchmen now ignore it as a lost battle.  The practice is found both among the most egregious public sinners and those who regularly attend Sunday Mass and say their prayers.  While the Catholic faith is directly targeted, often the history of the question is ignored.  Virtually all Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic, forbade the use of birth control from the time of Christ until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930.  Technology had advanced, but birth control was even condemned in the early Church when bizarre treatments included the use of crocodile dung.  It was viewed as an attack against the natural order and the fundamental meaning of marriage as the divinely sanctioned institution directed toward the generation of new human life.  The basic definition of marriage was at stake.

Often the revisionists make no distinction between the types of birth control or the abortifacient nature of certain pills and of all IUDs.  There was a logical progression in our society from the use of birth control to the deeper tragedy of abortion.  Sex and the generation of human life were separated.  When contraceptives failed, abortion became the final option.  The Church’s voice suffered from divisiveness within her own ranks.  Not only was the definition of marriage at stake but also about the “incommensurate” value of human life and the precious dignity of all human persons.  Here too there is a peculiar irony in that the same angry voices against rogue priests and child abuse, failed to note the element of abuse toward women in contraception and the death sentence that was imposed upon innocent children in the womb.  Women were increasingly used and devalued.  Their worth was measured in terms of sexual desirability and promiscuity.  Worse yet, women bought the lie that this somehow balanced the playing field between men and women.  It did not.  Many women were robbed of their opportunities for motherhood and family life.  The worse abuse of all against children materialized with the advent of legalized abortion.  Until recently an abortionist in Germantown Maryland was aborting nine-month-old children in the womb— yes, children that were ready to be born.  Abortion at any stage is murder and we suffer this grievous abuse against children as a manufactured right of selfish women and men.

What does the universal catechism offer on the subject of contraception?

[CCC 2366] Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which “is on the side of life” (FC 30) teaches that “each and every marriage act must remain open ‘per se’ to the transmission of life” (HV 11). “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act” (HV 12; cf. Pius XI, encyclical, Casti connubii).

[CCC 2367] Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God (Ephesians 3:14; Matthew 23:9). “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility” (GS 50 # 2).

As for the more pressing issue of abortion, we read:

[CCC 2270] Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life (CDF, Donum vitae I,1).

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15).

[CCC 2271] Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

“You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish” (Didache 2,2:ÆCh 248,148).

“God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (GS 51 § 3).

[CCC 2272] Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” (CIC, can. 1398) “by the very commission of the offense,” (CIC, can. 1314) “and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law” (CIC, cann. 1323-1324). The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

[CCC 2273] The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death” (CDF, Donum vitae III).

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights” (CDF, Donum vitae III).

[CCC 2274] Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safeguarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence” (CDF, Donum vitae I,2).

[CCC 2275] “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival” (CDF, Donum vitae I,3).

“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material” (CDF, Donum vitae I,5).

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity” (CDF, Donum vitae I,6) which are unique and unrepeatable.

[CCC 2368] A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:

When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart (GS 51 # 3).

[CCC 2369] “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man’s exalted vocation to parenthood” (HV 12).

A Priest’s Reflection During a Time of Crisis

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When I was a boy pondering a vocation some forty years ago, I was intrigued by a pamphlet from the Divine Word Missionaries.  It chronicled a lonely priest with his mule carrying his Mass and medical supplies as he journeyed to a remote mountain outpost.  It detailed a religious version of “Indiana Jones,” years before the movie, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.  It grabbed my romantic imagination.  However, my poor mother grieved my leaving home and I settled on becoming an archdiocesan priest.  I do not regret the change in direction, especially now when “everything hurts” but sometimes I do wonder how different my life might have been.

I am amazed these days that we still have young men answering a call.  We have given them few heroes and one scandal after another.  It must surely be the movement of supernatural grace.

As I reflect upon my priesthood, I struggle with what has always been a dark shadow in my ministry.  I have never felt myself worthy.  No matter whether it were true or not, I always considered myself the worst of priests, a poor and weak example among a throng of virtuous saints in the faith.  We have preachers who can readily inspire and move hearts.  We have celebrants who both look the part and conduct the sacraments with great solemnity and seeming ease.  We have men who have apparently brushed aside distractions and are always about prayer and service.  When I look to myself, I see a man who forgets far more than he remembers.  My sermons are mediocre at best and my liturgical abilities come across as clumsy and amateurish.  I do not have much in the way of ambition and my attention easily strays.  I often talk to God not with typical or expected piety but much as one might irreverently talk to a friend sharing a beer.  Indeed, I recall telling God, “All I want to be is a humble priest” and hearing him in my heart respond, “Well you certainly have much about which to be humble.” I often imagine Mary cloaking me with her veil and telling me that she loves me even though I am the least of her sons.

I certainly recognize that sin in the life of any Christian represents a terrible duplicity where we are convicted as hypocrites.  What surprises me is how some of the clergy could have committed sins that literally cry out to heaven.  Self-destruction is truly awful; but hurting and tearing down others compounds the sin in a way that shatters the sacramental signification of the man in holy orders.  It places men into the mold of antichrists.  The current scandal has damaged the ability of bishops to govern the Church and of priests to proclaim the doctrinal and moral teachings which are constitutive of the Gospel.  Any hold we have upon God’s people is purely through their free consent.  There is no Medieval dictatorial religious state that can demand or force one to remain a Catholic or Christian.  Forfeit favor and good will— and churchmen will find themselves abandoned— with empty coffers and pews.  The direst effect may be the loss of souls.  When did we forget that our most pressing obligation is to realize the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls?

The Church is not a company where businessmen might do anything or everything to preserve revenue.  The Church is not a priestly boy’s club where members protect their leadership to the detriment of their flocks.  Our preoccupation should not gravitate to the powerful and the rich, but as in the ministry of Jesus to echo the universal call to salvation, albeit with a preferential option for the poor.  Clergy must also place the teachings of the faith ahead of their own pet ideas.  We are summoned to convert the world to Christ, not to compromise the kerygma of faith to the demands of subjective truth and a hostile secular modernity.  Indeed, our clergy and people alike must allow the courage of Christ to take precedence over their own passivity and fearfulness.  Much of the trouble we are facing is a crisis of holiness and belief.  Why would any churchman allow a known child-rapist an opportunity to bring harm to youth and families?  Why would we allow men who have disordered and perverse desires to minister and to threaten our people?  Fornication is a sin.  Adultery is a sin.  Homosexual acts constitute sin.  Perhaps many of the clergy have become soft upon such mortal sins because they too are perpetrators of such transgressions of the moral law?  There is no denying that there are also thieves, drunkards and gluttons among us.  But the sexual sins are the ones that most draw the ire of God’s people.  Indeed, I suspect the Lord, himself, is most troubled by these sins because they are a direct violation of a priest’s profound promise toward obedience and celibacy.  We are pledged to celibate love.  Do all our priests fully appreciate the meaning of their celibacy or do they simply experience it as a difficult discipline to endure?  It is not merely the avoidance of genital relations.  It is not the same as virginity and chastity.  Christian celibacy is a manner of self-donation and sacrificial loving.  It is the priest’s way of saying he belongs entirely to the Lord.  This love is expressed in worship, prayer, fidelity and service.  It is factored into everything he is about; it is the manner through which the good priest repeatedly says, to the Lord and to his people, “I love you.”  The priest prays his breviary— I love you.  The priest celebrates Mass— I love you.  The priest helps in outreach to the poor— I love you.  The priest preaches and teaches— I love you.  The good priest is consumed within his pledge of celibate love.  It is within this obedient and giving celibacy that the priest finds holiness in Christ.  The current scandals are not the fault of celibacy.  The answer would not be a married clergy.  The solution would be in loving fidelity to the priestly mission and to the truth.  The priest or bishop is not the master of the faith community, but its most profound servant.

Admittedly there are intimate and delicate matters difficult to speak about; so much so that they are often left outside of public deliberations.  Priests are men and they live in a world where the custody of the eyes is very difficult.  Priests need to earnestly defend their celibacy, taking threats seriously. Too many men and women probably excuse the habit of masturbation as part of a false contemporary enlightenment.  It should always be voiced in Confession; indeed, those elements that feed the sin need purification from the lives of God’s people, particularly from those called as priests.  Chief among the sinful contributing factors is the danger of pornography which is easily accessed and has taken upon itself epidemic proportions in modern society. It has even infected marriages where couples commit virtual adultery and then substitute sexual shenanigans other than the prescribed marital act. Pleasure is substituted for true fidelity and companionship with each other in Christ.  It is among the devil’s deceits that such secret sins do no real harm or necessarily contribute to a person’s movement into adulthood. While many contemporary psychologists would disagree, in truth, the man (or woman) in bondage to pornography and masturbation suffer a stunted emotional and spiritual maturation; they are caught within a juvenile self-absorption that inhibits an integrated sexual identity as a person able to fully realize his (or her) capacity to interact with others in love and service.

Turning toward the Lord, the priest must renounce the seductions of the world.  The priest’s hands are made for the chalice and host.  His hands render blessing and absolution.  The priest’s eyes should look at every person as a child of God.  He must never forget his spiritual fatherhood— even toward those who have ruined themselves by lust and exploitation.  The priest’s body is not made for pleasure but for sacerdotal sacrifice.  His association with Christ draws him inevitably toward the passion and crucifixion.

Many priests feel increasing estranged from those they serve.  This does not help matters.  He has sacrificed much to be a priest and it often seems that many if not most people really do not care.  Increasingly, while there is little praise, there is no shortage of rebuke or even mockery.  That is why efforts like those by the Knights of Columbus espousing solidarity with bishops and priests are so very important.  The laity should not be uncritical; they have a right to good and holy priests.  It is in this vein that God’s people should never hesitate to pray for their priests.  We must not allow the scandals and accompanying anger to destroy this important component to the inner life of the Church.  The priest does not pray alone.  According to our station in life, we pray for each other.  We should reject the false demarcations of the People of God as either an institutional Church or the Church in the pews.  The Church is one— she is a family, even if sometimes sinful in her members and dysfunctional in her practical relationships.

154250010567750063The definition of a priest is one who renders sacrifice to his deity.   The Catholic priest makes his oblation as the principal worship of the Lord.  He makes it both for himself and for others. Christ is the great high priest.  Those ordained share in his priesthood where Jesus is both priest and victim.  The priest at the altar is one with Christ (the head of the Church) who dies so that we might live.  He atones for sin and heals the rift between heaven and earth.  Jesus offers his own blood and dies once and for all.  The mystery of his oblation is made present in our liturgy, albeit in a clean or unbloody manner.  The only thing missing from Christ’s historical sacrifice is our participation. The Mass allows us to return to that one-time offering where we (grafted to Christ) can offer ourselves to the heavenly Father as an acceptable oblation.

Just as the gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the risen body and blood of Christ; so too, are we beseeching the Lord to change us ever more and more into the likeness of God’s Son.

The efficacy of the sacraments is assured even if the priest is in mortal sin and a terrible reprobate.   However, this does not mean that the sacraments are still all that they should be.  The movement of grace is damaged by poor witness.  People disillusioned by their ministers can close their hearts and minds to God.  They may even walk away from the sacraments entirely.  The priest stands convicted at the altar of sacrifice.  As with the communicants, we must be properly disposed to what the sacraments entail.  That is why many of us are concerned about inviting everyone to the altar so as to receive the Eucharist.  The sacrament that heals and saves can also bring condemnation to those in mortal sin.

What does it mean to receive the bread of life if one is an active enabler of the culture of death?  Too many feign Catholicity within the church doors and then once outside become the chief advocates in the public forum for the death of unwanted unborn children.

What does it mean to partake from the nuptial banquet table of Christ and his bride the Church when one is living in violation of his or her own marriage vows?  Christ rejects divorce and demands that marriage between men and women reflect fidelity within the Church.  Are we witnesses to his promise or do we substitute our broken promises instead?

Currently there is also a great debate about the status of active homosexuals in the Church.  Nevertheless, priests, bishops and even popes do not stand above Sacred Scripture but rather below as servants of the Word.  What does the Word say?  We read in Paul’s epistle to Timothy:

“We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Along with the concern that many of us have about welcoming pro-abortionists, adulterers and active homosexuals to take Holy Communion; the priest must also focus upon his own status before almighty God.  Is the one offering the sacrament of salvation to others bringing down judgment upon himself by celebrating the Mass unworthily? How is it that we can become comfortable with the prospect of priests standing at our altars while in mortal sin or not truly believing?

Christians in the early days of the faith were warned not to take part in the food offerings from pagan sacrifices.  Unlike the sacrifices of the Jewish temple or that of the Eucharist, these oblations to false gods were deemed as poisoned food given to demons.  It was customary in such sacrifices that a third was burned and given to the so-called deity, a third went to the priests (even the pagan ones) and a third was given to the poor.  Believers were warned against taking this tainted food.

While the Eucharist, by comparison, is all holy since Christ is holy, the liturgy can be polluted or corrupted by priests in mortal sin or who are closet atheists or who fail to give due  diligence about what they celebrate.   It does not matter so much as to what language or anaphora (eucharistic prayer) is used as long as the priest is one with the Church and faithful in the rubrics of the celebration.  He must be attentive to what he is doing and that care begins with himself.  The ordained priest should feel humbled by his role.  His priesthood compliments and makes possible the operation of the laity’s baptismal priesthood.  A basic symbolism of Catholic sacraments, centered upon the paschal mystery, is that we must die with Christ if we hope to live with him.  The priest’s celibate love is subsumed into this profound mystery.  When the priest processes to the altar, he should be fully aware and prepared for both Christ’s sacrifice and his own— he is Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem— he is coming to the altar to die.

Trust the Power of the Mass for Healing

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I was reminded of the “Healing Your Family Tree” phenomenon among certain Charismatics and Exorcists while reading about Msgr. Clement Machado and watching a few of his YouTube EWTN videos.  He claims to have had visions of the Blessed Mother and St. Patrick.  I am skeptical… but who knows?  The Church has many saints and seers.  The children of Fatima were given a vision of hell so as to pray more fervently for souls.

While Catholicism certainly encourages prayers for the souls of the dead, this idea of targeting sins and woundedness in past generations for current problems faced by believers goes back to the ancient Jews.  They believed that punishment for the sins of one’s fathers could be visited upon the children.  Our notion of Original Sin is an extension of this.  However, at least as a routine source of particular ailments, Jesus seems to dismiss this notion.

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (John 9:1-5).

While we would not deny our connection with those who have gone before us, if taken too far, we might fall into superstition or the occult.  The sacrifice of the Mass makes possible atonement but it is a sacrament that conveys grace and mercy.  It is not sorcery or magic.  Further, we cannot purely blame our problems on deceased family members.  We live in a broken world and sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  It may be that certain maladies are placed before us so that we might demonstrate or witness to a courageous faith.  Catholicism does not run away from all sickness and pain but often seeks to transform the dark realities.  They are opportunities for us to take up our crosses in following Jesus. There is already too much of a “victim mentality” inflicting our society— regarding ethnicity, gender, orientation and social status.  I am worried that such ideas as healing the family tree may often be misunderstood in this light.

We are all aware of the excesses of popular Protestant ministers who put on a big show in conducting “purported” healings.  Many pagans and so-called demonologists dangerously tinker with exorcisms.  Returning to the Catholic camp, there is a temptation, especially among the rising celebrity priests, to emphasize what they can do over what Jesus can do.  While the Church needs exorcists, it is best that the ministry be imposed upon the priest rather than enthusiastically embraced outside of an episcopal summons.  Indeed, while any priest can offer absolution and deliverance prayer, full exorcisms require the authorization of the immediate bishop.  (When I think about this issue my mind quickly recalls Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, a wonderful defender of human life who fumbled in this area.)

Sharing information is fine, but sensationalism about the devil, exorcism and obsession can pose a real danger.  After the release of popular horror movies, chanceries are bombarded by phone calls of people who all think they are possessed.  While we battle powers and principalities, much sin finds its origin in the world of men and many who imagine they are spiritually afflicted are in actuality mentally disturbed.

During November there is a special emphasis upon prayers for the dead.  Yes, we can claim spiritual benefits for the dead and the living.  There is a two-fold action— uniting and breaking off.  A funeral Mass offered for the dead brings grace and we commend the deceased, particularly the souls in purgatory, to the mercy of God.  They are sped on their way.  We invoke the purification of God’s love, a fire that heals. Our prayer also joins us to the communion of the saints.  Simultaneously, if there are any negative spiritual elements, as with those who have rejected God’s love, then that bond is severed with the living.  The expression “rest in peace” can apply to the living just as well as to the dead.  But ultimate judgment is left to almighty God.  While there might be little or no fanfare, Catholics need to trust the sacraments, especially the Mass.  We need to encourage the offering of Masses for the dead and for healing in times of trauma.  This is the most effective and resolute manner of healing “the family tree.”

My late father back in the 1950’s spent time as a Trappist monk at Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, VA.  He firmly believed that his life of work and prayer there, combined with the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, facilitated the translation of all our family ancestors from purgatory to heaven.  The emphasis should NOT be upon how links to the dead can plague us.  Rather, recalling that the poor souls are now helpless, we should intercede on their behalf.  As we prepare to celebrate All Souls Day, we should all recommit ourselves to praying for the dead.