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Colman McCarthy Misinformed about Excommunication

Letter to the Editor

(Please note this letter appeared in THE CATHOLIC STANDARD dated July 19, 1990.)

Maybe the taking of human life in abortion is a kind of poker for Colman McCarthy (WASHINGTON POST, July 8, “Calling the Cardinal’s Bluff”), but for others, it is a deadly serious matter.

Looking at the secular newspapers, most reporters who write about religion do not have an informed understanding of the Catholic faith and, in Colman’s case,  what excommunication means.

Playing the minor theme of anti-life people, “Personally I am opposed, but…” and the failed Nuremberg defense, “My boss made me do it– I didn’t want to” (read “constituents” for “boss”), Colman says he is against violently taking human life, but he is in favor of keeping it quiet.  In other words, do not disturb the people, just the babies.

To understand a little of what excommunication is, one has to understand what the Church is.  It is not a building or a club or an agreed-upon philosophy or just a listing of tenets.  It is a union with Christ, and not just Christ the individual, but Christ the community.

St. Paul has beautiful references to Christ being the Head and we His members.  We are personally in relationship with Christ but also incorporated into the whole Christ, the Church.

The reading on Sunday, July 8, 1990 says that the Spirit of God lives in you.  Excommunication has as its purpose both healing and remedy.  What the Church is saying is perhaps you do not realize how far you have strayed from the Spirit of Christ.  How can you live in Christ and Christ in you if you advocate killing His children?  “Let the children come unto me.”

Excommunication is instructive.  What it says is that God cannot possibly live in you if you advocate the killing of His little ones.  Those who do so, in effect, excommunicate themselves.  They walk away (by their own choice) from the community, which is Christ.

A bishop has the responsibility to instruct.  Through his predecessors he was instructed by Christ to  “teach all I have commanded you,” especially if we do not realize how far we have strayed.  If we are to be our brother’s keeper, if we are to practice fraternal correction (Matthew 19:15-18), how much more responsibility has our father in faith, the bishop, as he lets his children know how far they have strayed by their own choice and conduct from Christ (the Church).  Of course, if you do not have the gift of faith, you won’t understand that at all.

As far as being harsh, I would accept the bishop’s warning as gentler and kinder than those of Scripture.  “You are whited sepulchres, attractive on the outside but inwardly full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27).  Because you “are neither hot nor cold… I begin to spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15).

Thank you, bishop, for taking on the added burden and criticism for cautioning your faithful as to just how far they have strayed from home.

Msgr. William J. Awalt
Pastor, St. Ann Parish
Washington, DC

Something about Candles

Notes from the Pastor [5]

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

Perhaps the most familiar object in our worship is the candle.  It is a visual illustration of that familiar phrase from the Canon of the Mass, “All creation gives you praise,”  The humble but hardworking bee contributes the wax.  The wax is also the work of human hands as it is given wick and shape.  The candle plays an important part early in our lives with the baptism of children.  Once lit, it is presented to our godparents and through them to us as we are admonished to keep the Faith burning as the flame of the candle.  Thus we become a reflection of the one who is the Light of the World.  At the Eucharist we find candles near or on the altar.   Long ago it was a practical necessity so that we could see.  Now with electricity, it is essentially symbolic.  The candle is consumed while giving off light.  This action is analogous to ourselves being expended in the work of Christ.

The lighted vigil candle marks the real presence in our church where it is positioned near the tabernacle as a silent witness.

The candle dispels the darkness as it is greeted at the Easter Vigil services as the risen Christ, the Light of the World.  All light their individual candles and spread the light, candle to candle, indicating that we are to transmit or share the Word of God.  The Easter (Paschal) Candle is greeted in song as it enters the church.  It symbolizes the risen Christ.  It bears signs of the wounds from the crucified and risen Christ.

William J. Awalt

Returning to Sacrament of Penance Begins with First Step

Guest Opinion in the Catholic Standard (Sept. 6, 1990)

Msgr. William J. Awalt (Special to the Standard)

I have been encouraged to suggest a few more thoughts regarding the recent survey on the frequency, or rather, the infrequency of reception of the Sacrament of Penance, also called Reconciliation or Confession.

From letters and comments based on the first reflection (Catholic Standard, July 26), I would like to investigate those hesitantly expressed to me.

If a long period of time has passed since a person’s last confession, or if some hidden sin of which he or she is downright ashamed has occurred, then the penitent might ask, “How do I start?”  Furthermore, he or she would question, “How do I proceed to make my confession?”

First of all, prayer is an absolute necessity.  As we have no doubt all heard, the shortest prayer is “Help!”  Afterwards, a simple announcement of our problem would be in order.  “How do I begin, Father?”  “Would you help me?”  “I forget, I don’t know my prayers….”  “I don’t know what to say or how to say it.”

From a long and privileged ministry of offering the sacrament, I can say that these are most consoling and gratifying words for any confessor to hear.  Why?  Listening to these or similar words, the confessor discerns from the penitent both a real need, perhaps urgent, and a genuine contrition.

The priest is overjoyed to assist with what might be called a non-routine confession.  (I say this reverently.)  Because of the possible gravity of the penitent’s sins and their long hungering for God’s healing grace, the priest knows that these confessions may be far more imperative and important than the usual or more routine confessions.

As a petition, we all need to pray, “Help!” of God and to ask the confessor’s assistance.

Harking back to the first set of reflections on confession, we have to realize that Christ is the one present.  He is listening and saying, as He did in the first reading of the 18th Sunday of the liturgical year, “Come… Come… Come.”

Similarly, there is the quotation from the Gospel.  “Come to me you who labor and are burdened and I will refresh you.”  No matter how we ultimately get ro confession, it is always at God’s invitation.  It is not so much our idea as our response to the God who calls us.

I would ask readers to strengthen their faith in the presence of Christ in the sacrament; He is the one who is receiving, healing and forgiving us.  It may happen that penitents consider a priest too young or another too old.  But age or personality should not be the determining factors in going to confession.

The sacrament is more than the reception of some profound, hopefully competent, advice.  And even a young priest is going to be hard to shock, especially if he reads the newspapers.  We are not so much seeking him as we are coming to Christ.

From the confessor’s point of view, Paul’s words to Timothy are apropos, “Let no one look down on you because of your youth” (1 Timothy 4-12).  Of course, if a confessor is older, it is true that he understands the full weight of life’s trials.

If we need complicated advice, then it is best that we schedule an appointment for counseling outside confession.  In the sacrament, any priest, by virtue of his ordination, can make the healing, forgiveness, and comfort of Christ present to us in the Sacrament of Penance.  I suppose that all of us at some time or another have experienced a fear or at least an uneasiness going to confession.  Perhaps this has arisen from an unfortunate past experience.

One element of this anxiety or hesitancy can be attributed to the concern, “What is my confessor going to think?”  Sound familiar?  “All this time I have been away, I have done such and such.  I have been a good parishioner; what if he recognizes who I am?  I am so ashamed.

One of the best solutions I know to this dilemma came my way several decades ago.  It is in the form of a short piece on what a soldier’s confessor thinks of him.  I re-examine it from time to time when I wonder what my confessor thinks of me or when I want to comfort a penitent.

WHAT A SOLDIER’S CONFESSOR THINKS

“What will the priest think when he hears the load that I have to tell?”

“He’ll think how unworthy I am of such a privilege as this.  To be able to send this man out walking on air, forever freed of this burden that he’s been carrying.

“He’ll think what a time this lad must have had getting up the courage to come to confession.  What a grand, strong faith he’s got or he wouldn’t be here.

“He’ll think would I have had the guts to go to confession if I were in his shoes.

“He’ll think I’ll bet it’s his mother’s prayer that obtained the grace for him.  She’s probably been making novenas for this  for months.

“He’ll think this should call for celebration.  Didn’t Christ say, “There will be more joy in in heaven over one sinner who does penance than over the ninety-nine who need not repent?

“He’ll think that for the chance to hear this confession  I would wait a lifetime.  Thanks be to God.”

The Mingling of Water & Wine

Notes from the Pastor [4]

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

Let us consider a drop of water.  I have already mentioned blessing yourself with water as you enter the church.  Sometimes the Penitential Rite is conducted with the sprinkling of water upon the congregation, again reminding them of both baptism and as we beseech God for mercy and forgiveness.  Mercy does not mean just forgiveness; rather is is also asking for God’s help and presence in our lives– in living out the vocation He has given us.

While many drops are scattered in the sprinkling, there is a single drop of water placed into the wine of the chalice just prior to the offertory prayer.  The drop of water in the wine along with the bread will be consecrated into the body and blood of Christ.  The drop of water is symbolic of our union with the person of Jesus (His presence) at Mass as we go to the Father.  The prayer used at the mingling of water and wine is pregnant with meaning:  “Through the mystery of this water and wine may we share in the divinity of Christ who humbles himself to share in our humanity.”

What an incredible journey for this little drop of water… what a journey for us as we approach the Father through Christ!

William J. Awalt

The Use of Incense

Notes from the Pastor [3]

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

Incense is composed of granules that when ignited by fire from burning charcoal give off a pleasant odor, along with smoke.  The prayer that is said when it is used on solemn occasions gives insight into why it is used.  “May our prayer arise to you (God) with a pleasing fragrance.”  Our prayer comes from lifting up our minds and hearts to God.  The rising smoke reminds us of this.  The sweet fragrance tells us of God’s and the acceptance of our prayers.  The use of incense has taken on the added sign of honor for what and who is incensed.  It may be the corpse at funerals, the Gospel book at Mass, the host in the Blessed Sacrament, or the people at Mass.  Incensing reminds us of the honor and dignity of those who are incensed.  “You are a chosen race, a people set part, a royal priesthood.”  Incense reminds us of who we are– the delight we give the Lord with our prayer rising to His throne.

William J. Awalt

 

The Signing Before the Gospel

Notes from the Pastor [2]

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

A visitor to a Catholic church recently asked about the gesture made by the congregation and the celebrant prior to the proclamation of the Gospel.  What is it?  The gesture is the sign of the cross made with the thumb on the forehead, the lips and the heart.  Following the Gospel announcement, it is preceded by the people’s response:  “Glory to You, O Lord.”  It recognizes God’s presence in the reading of Scripture.  Made thoughtfully upon the forehead, the gesture means that we want to know the Word of God.  When made on the lips, we indicate that we will proclaim the Word of God.  Finally gestured over our hearts, it means that we will love the Word of God.  The cross reminds us that sometimes to know. to proclaim and to love what we believe will entail a cost.  It entails the Cross.  The Cross also reminds us of the ultimate and enduring triumph of Christ.  (It would help for us to look over the readings prior to Mass, and of course, to be on time to listen so that we can truly know, proclaim and love what we hear.)

William J. Awalt

Washington Suffers Blunt of the Scandal

1280px-2013_cathedral_of_st._matthew_the_apostleAlthough the recent disclosures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have fanned the flames of controversy about abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church, it must be admitted that the Archdiocese of Washington has suffered the most serious blunt of the scandal.  One of our cardinals faces censure under a Vatican investigation and the other stepped down after criticism of his efforts to stem abuse were judged insufficient and as lacking transparency.  Given the situation, Washington may be the one “hot potato” local church that no bishop will want.  Unlike other archdioceses, our numbers are modest and the prominence of the church here is due to the status as the nation’s capital.  There are also particular problems with this jurisdiction given that many politicians from other states and dioceses live and work here.  Can the ordinary of Washington establish censures or regulations over parishioners that conflict with the rules held by their proper bishops?  This is one of the reasons acknowledged why pro-abortion politicians are not refused Holy Communion in Washington.  Some national bishops refuse to take such measures and others have dictated this policy to their priests.  Of course, it can be argued that there is no middle-ground because a lack of a prohibition already takes sides.  Cardinal McCarrick often spoke about this, saying that he did not want to force confrontations at the altar.  However, matters were exasperated when he befriended the late Senator Ted Kennedy over protests from organizations like the American Life League.  When challenged about it, he argued that the archdiocese and “the Church” needed these politicians to support us on other issues.  While only a parish priest, my objection was that if a child is destroyed, for that human person there are no more issues.  It also seemed to stand in stark contrast from the guidance given by Cardinal Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI.    Under Cardinal Wuerl, the policy of not withholding Holy Communion became official.  The only possible exception would be when the communicant was deliberately inciting a controversial confrontation, as with wearing pro-abortion shirts and hats in church.

It must be said that with speeches and rallies, both cardinals were on the record as pro-life and as opposed to abortion.  The issue was about tactics or measures.  Why would I mention this in a post that centers on the abuse scandal?  The reason is this— abortion is the ultimate form of child abuse.  Those that lament and parade the sins of churchmen are duplicitous and silent when it comes to the torture and murder of millions of children in the womb.  Along with the eroticism that saturates contemporary society, the issue of child abuse is exasperated by a culture of hedonism and death.

This past Tuesday, Cardinal Wuerl apologized for a “lapse in memory” about allegations of abuse against Cardinal McCarrick.  My heart sank when I read his letter to the priests.  At a time when people have little or no trust in the Church, we did not need this.  Cardinal Wuerl was regarded as the most proactive in removing credibly charged clergy from ministry.  He is not just one bishop among many.

The upset can be summarized as having a two-fold source:

  1. The acts of abuse perpetrated by clergy; and
  2. Efforts to deny and/or to conceal these criminal acts.

Cardinal McCarrick has been ordered by Pope Francis to pursue “a life of prayer and penance.”  I suspect that many Catholics want more than this.  Many want an explanation and an end to deflection and excuses.  What have we gotten instead?  Despite evidence and multiple charges and victims (adults and youth), Cardinal McCarrick has denied the allegations.

The problem cannot be resolved until the homosexual underpinnings are acknowledged.  Falsehood cannot be remedied by silence or even just by penance; it requires a cleansing in the waters of truth.  How could a man unfaithful to his promise of celibacy find himself promoted to the cardinal’s hat— which is the shortlist for papal candidates?  People want explanations and solutions.  They want transparency in the present and reliable assurances about the future.  They want their clergy to be holy men who seek not to harm or to exploit but to bring healing and mercy.  They do not want princes but servants.