All Saints’ Trick or Treat

Let’s see who knows their patron saints. Who is the patron saint of…

All of the Americas? Our Lady! Of Guadalupe.

How about the patron of shepherds? St. Bernadette. Engineers? St. Patrick. Florists, aviators, and missionaries? St. Therese. Funeral directors? St. Joseph of Arimathea. Accountants, bankers, customs agents, and security guards? St. Matthew. Bricklayers, cabinetmakers, deacons, and altar servers? St. Stephen. What about the patron saint of grooms? St. Nicholas. And, guess what? he’s also the patron saint of brewers and lawyers in Paris, not to mention pawnbrokers.

How about the patron saint of environmentalists? St. Kateri Tekawitha. Surgeons and barbers? St. Cosmas. How about dentists? St. Apollonia. Doctors, artists, and notaries? St. Luke. And lawyers everywhere except Paris? St. Thomas More. What if you have an earache? Pray to St. Polycarp. Or if you can’t see? St. Lucy. Stomach problems? St. Timothy.

Who’s the patron saint of all Catholic schools? St. Thomas Aquinas. And the patron saint of teachers? St. Gregory the Great. Teenagers? St. Maria Goretti. (And she’s also the patron saint of grandparents.)

St. Vitus
St. Vitus
Who’s the patron saint of priests? St. John Vianney. How about soldiers, paramedics, and paratroopers? St. Michael the Archangel. How about of popes, bakers, butchers, blacksmiths, and cloth makers? St. Peter. And his brother–the patron of fisherman, fish markets, and one of our beloved Roanoke parishes? St. Andrew.

How about the patron saints of babies? The Holy Innocents. And the patron saint of your savings account? St. Anthony Claret. Waiters and waitresses? St. Martha!

Ok. How about the patroness of immigrants and hospital administrators? St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. What about immigrants from Mexico? San Toribio! Lighthouse keepers? St. Dunstan. Athletes? St. Sebastian. Pyrotechnicians, chimney sweeps, and women in labor? St. Elmo. Diplomats, mailmen, 9-1-1 call centers, and radio and tv personalities? St. Gabriel the Archangel. Architects? St. Thomas the Apostle. Beekeepers? St. Ambrose. Difficult marriages? St. Rita of Cascia.

How about the patron saint of dancers and comedians? St. Vitus. Police officers and impossible causes? St. Jude. Anesthesiologists? St. Rene Goupil. The patron saint of bad students? St. Joseph of Cupertino. Equestrians, homemakers, and sailors? St. Ann. Domestic animals and grave-digging? St. Anthony. Fire prevention? St. Catharine of Siena. Hairdressers? St. Martin de Porres. What if you’re going on retreat? St. Ignatius Loyola.

How about poets? King David. Skiers? St. Bernard. Throats? St. Blase. Journalists and writers? St. Francis de Sales. Boy Scouts? St. George. Carpenters? St. Joseph, of course! How about the patron saint of computers? St. Isidore of Seville.

Last for now, but not least, another patron of a beloved Roanoke parish, the patron saint of good confessions, of all people falsely accused of anything, and of expectant mothers: St. Gerard.

St Luke
St Luke
I think we see why we need to keep a Solemnity of “All Saints.”

By the time we reached the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, during the fourth century AD, we already had many more holy martyrs to commemorate than there are days in a year. One November First, the pope dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s basilica in honor of a large number of saints and martyrs. That’s how November 1st became All Saints Day.

Which means that’s how Halloween began, too. Since “Halloween” means, of course, the ‘e’en’ before the day hallowed by all the saints.

Do we think they have candy in heaven? Or some pretty good costumes, like Darth Vader? I guess Darth Vader couldn’t be in heaven, since he’s a bad guy. Except, wait a minute—didn’t he repent, in the end?

The Four Last Things. 1. Death. 2. Heaven. 3. The other place that starts with an h. What about #4? Does everyone go straight either to heaven or to hell, when they die?

Purgatory! Purification, where we make up for all our sins during our lives on earth.

We begin the month of November with a solemnity on All Saints’ Day; we eat candy; we get an extra hour’s sleep!

Then we spend the rest of November praying for all the souls in…. purgatory. Because we can help them. We can pray. We can have Masses said for them. We can make sacrifices, and ask the Lord to count our sacrifices for them—so they can get to heaven sooner.

We Catholic Christians can have a good time on Halloween and on All Saints Day. We can have a good time even when the days get short and cold. Why? Because we need not fear death.

Christ our Lord has conquered death. He has conquered all the demons and ghouls and evil spirits. He has gone down among the skeletons, and He has touched their dry bones with His life.

Christ has unlocked the door to heaven. We can knock on that door, and say “Trick or treat!” And He will answer, “Give Me a good pilgrim life on earth, dear child. Then you will receive a treat more wonderful than you could ever imagine. A million Snickers bars would not hold a candle to the treat you will get. Give Me a good pilgrim life, and you can look forward to joining all the saints forever.”

“Apostolic,” Leaven, Synod Aftermath

We keep the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude Thaddeus. Saints Simon and Jude ventured into what is now Iran. They taught the Zoroastrians about Christ. And about the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. “Apostolic” means three things at once:

El Greco St. Jude
El Greco St. Jude

1. We believe that Jesus Himself founded our Church by choosing the Twelve Apostles.

2. We believe that the Holy Spirit infallibly guides the Church to keep and hand on the original teaching that Jesus gave the Apostles.

We have a New Testament, the 27 documents we read over and over, precisely because of this work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles, and men the apostles knew, wrote the New Testament.

That is, God wrote the New Testament, through the authorship of some of the original members of our Church.

3. We believe that the ministry of the apostles continues to this day, and will continue until the end of time, because the apostles’ successors in office continue to exercise the same ministry. The Pope and bishops, assisted by priests and deacons, continue the work of the original Apostles.

In other words: Baptism into Christ, Confirmation, the ministry of Jesus’ Body and Blood at the holy altar, the power to forgive confessed sins: none of these are abstract things. They involve particular people—divine gifts being bestowed on particular people. The Apostles and their successors form the trunk and branches of our Catholic family tree. As Pope Francis put it: “a Christian without the Church is incomprehensible.”

Thank you, Lord, for making us a part of this family that hopes for eternal life!

Here’s a word about the parable of the leaven, which we read at Holy Mass yesterday:

The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened. (Luke 13:21)

The mustard seed growing into a big tree: visible. But the leaven that gets worked through the dough, starting a hidden chemical process: invisible—at least until the end of the process, when the bread comes out of the oven.

Unleavened bread can be good, no doubt. Who doesn’t like Middle-Eastern food? But when you’re really hungry… When the house gets filled with the aroma of bread baking in the oven… I mean, yeah.

But the yeast of the kingdom lies hidden until the end of the process. Inside us: the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the mildness, mercifulness, and zeal of the Beatitudes, the endurance of faith, the sweetness of hope for the fulfillment of all things—helping other souls by our trying to give good example: That will make the whole house of God smell good.

Meanwhile, things have gotten genuinely fun in the world of Synod-of-Bishops aftermath.

My man Ross Douthat publicly scolded. The bar scene from “Good Will Hunting” invoked.*

Meanwhile, just came across a letter to the Synod Fathers (other than the one I signed), which I sure wish I had had the chance to sign!

*Warning: A couple bad words.

Back to the Future: Nemo iudex in propria causa

SynodI avoid Church politics whenever I can. But two sentences, written by Ross Douthat, offer too much insight for me to resist. Regarding the Synod on the Family, Douthat wrote:

The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future.

Regarding paragraphs 84-86 of the final Synod report, which outline the so-called “opening” to Holy Communion in second marriages: ambiguity does not help us very much, as the New York Times has somehow managed to point out clearly.

The “internal forum solution” first made an appearance when the “aging progressives” were young. The idea is:

I make a marriage vow. Time does not give it proof. I find myself married to someone else. I conclude in my heart of hearts that my first marriage vow never really bound me.

Instead of petitioning the Church for a declaration of nullity (a declaration based on objective evidence and the testimony of witnesses), I effectively grant myself an annulment internally, in the confessional, and the priest accepts my judgment.

marriage_sacramentI don’t mean to offend anyone by lampooning this. Many people have endured much pain, and no one should make light of it.

But the internal-forum approach smacks of danger: the danger of rationalization, in the service of self-justification.

In fact, the supreme authority of the Church has rejected the “internal-forum solution.” In 1994. (Re-iterated in 1998.)

And rejected not with simply an authoritarian ‘non placet.’ Rejected with what appear to me to be unassailable arguments:

1. Marriage is not a private business, but a public one.

2. The legal procedure for petitioning for an annulment provides the fair opportunity for expressing one’s conviction that a prior vow does not bind, according to objective criteria. Other parties to the matter get their chance to speak, too.

3. Nemo iudex in propria causa: No one can objectively judge his own case.

My question is: With clear guidance from the Apostolic See having already been given, what priest in good conscience could change anything at this point? Advise someone to approach Holy Communion, or even remain silent when the matter is laid before you, without first exhorting the penitent to avoid what is unlawful in the current relationship and practice chastity as friends in the Lord instead? Like the NYT says, ambiguity doesn’t really do anyone any good here.

Of course, we await any further guidance the chief shepherds decide to give. And, let’s remember, no one I know makes a habit of refusing Holy Communion to people who appear to know how to receive. In the end, this whole business really is a matter of conscience, since there are no Holy-Communion Police.

But I can’t see how a priest who tries to follow the rules could regard #Synod15 as a mandate to change anything.

Bartimaeus Saw

The merciful Lord did not mind that Bartimaeus called Him “Son of David.” Bartimaeus could have said, “Son of God,” of course. But, by calling Christ “Son of David,” Bartimaeus hailed Him as the long-awaited Messiah, since “Son of David” was a title of the Savior Israel expected.

Whatever Bartimaeus meant by his salutation, the blind man certainly called out with real faith in his heart. Bartimaeus believed that he was speaking to the divine man. Bartimaeus believed Jesus could work a miracle. “Have pity on me, Son of David! I want to see.” And Bartimaeus must have called out eagerly, insistently–maybe even impertinently–since many rebuked him, telling him to zip it.

Cam Newton PanthersWhy does St. Mark call Bartimaeus by name? Probably because some among Mark’s original readership knew who Bartimaeus was. People knew Bartimaeus’ background. And they knew the transformation he had undergone, when he met Christ. Bartimaeus had sat by the roadside begging, probably for years, eking out a wretched existence. Then this particular day came…

Most of us have eyes that work decently well. Mine struggle along with the help of the Coke bottles I wear on the bridge of my nose. But: isn’t it the case that we do not see the things we most want to see? What, after all, do we not see? Here’s a short list.

1) We do not see a united human race. We see a human race very much at odds with itself. We see a world where people kill each other, or ignore each other, or treat each other as cogs in an inhuman machine.

2) We do not see a leader we can really trust. We do not see anyone whose words communicate pure, unadulterated truth, and whose example follows his words in every way.

3) Above all: We see a world weighed-down by a long history of human sin, and we do not see a way out. Cam Newton has turned into a seriously good NFL quarterback. But can Cam Newton atone for all the centuries of human sin that have preceded us?

Before that particular day, Bartimaeus had languished in a blind rut. Each passing day meant another desperate struggle for survival, encountering unhappy people wandering aimlessly through life. Bartimaeus begged coins from them to keep from starving to death. We can only imagine that he endured this miserable existence for many long years.

If we ourselves consider solely the external appearances of this world, using these eyes we have, which for the most part work pretty well—if we walk solely by sight, in other words—we will find ourselves in every bit as much of a blind rut as Bartimaeus was, before that day when he met Christ. We can see a few things. But we cannot see what we most truly want to see. If we suffered as long as Bartimaeus, we might give up all hope.

But this earnest man Bartimaeus, blind though he was, recognized a new day when it came. He had languished long. But he heard that Jesus was coming, and the beggar knew: today is different. Today things could change for the better. He hollered “Son of David! Have pity on me. O divine Messiah! Have pity on me.”

billie-jean-jacksonNow, when the preacher says, “We’re all blind like Bartimaeus, unless we walk by faith in Jesus!” that sounds like kind of a cliché, a bromide. But, you know what? It’s true anyway.

Where is the Messiah? Where can we find the one who can unite all people, all the races and nations, in a bond of love? Without ancient hatreds and mistrust, without language barriers and mutual incomprehension, without alienation and hopeless anger?

Where can we find a leader whose word is truth and whose life unfolds with absolute honesty?

Where is our divine Lamb Whose blood can wash the world clean as new?

Where is the Messiah?

In faith, we cry: “Son of David! Have pity one us. We want to see.”

Jesus gave Bartimaeus his sight, because Bartimaeus believed. Bartimaeus believed in the Incarnation, believed that God stood there with him. And, can we not imagine that, when his eyes were opened, Bartimaeus saw the one thing he really wanted to see? He opened his eyes and saw the one thing that all of us truly long to see.

Bartimaeus, after all, never wound up watching a football game or going to a movie. He ever laid eyes on the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. He never watched Michael Jackson do a moonwalk.

But he saw the divine man. He saw the Creator with his own eyes. And Bartimaeus proceeded to follow Christ. Because he realized that there is actually only one cure for blindness. Not just ‘seeing.’ The cure for our human blindness is seeing the Messiah.

Lord, we believe! We believe You are God! Lord Jesus, we want to see You!

Suing for Peace

If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. (Luke 12:58-59)

“Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Lord seems to indicate that Judgment Day will come with great severity. We rightly tremble at the prospect of strictness at that crucial moment.

white flagAfter all, we may try to do good and avoid evil. But we do not always succeed. If we had to atone for everything selfish, sensual, or proud we ever did; for every errant word; for every failure of devotion to our Creator and Father? We would hardly have a hope.

But we can negotiate this. We can wheel and deal here—provided we’re not too proud to admit we need some assistance. We can stave off the inevitable condemnation and punishment that would come if we just sat on our own meager laurels.

We can sue for peace. Peace with the Judge Himself, and peace with those we have wronged. We can be the kind of peacemakers who say:

“Lord, look upon the perfect justice and holiness of Your Son! Count me among those redeemed by His Precious Blood!” (That is actually precisely what we do say whenever we assist at Holy Mass.)

Then we can be the kind of peacemakers who say to each other whenever we can: “I know I have wronged a million people in a million ways that I am too obtuse even to know. I would like to make up to you any wrong I have done you. And I would be glad for you to teach me how to be a better person. Let’s be friends.”

The Synod of Tweets

Whenever an October Synod of Bishops meets, I try to pay even more attention than usual to the MLB playoffs.

Leo made a great Gatsby
I’m for the Mets, since their home field sits right where the Eckleburg sign once glowered over the Long-Island highway, in F. Scott Fitzgerarld’s imagination.

Anyway…Ever visited Rome? To visit the churches of Rome means entering into a living memory that extends back two millennia.

I think we can justifiably say that the most memorable thing that has happened in Rome so far in the 21st century was the funeral of St. John Paul II. In the 20th century, Vatican II. On second thought, Pope Pius XII rushing across town to comfort the people in the bombed neighborhoods during WWII–pretty memorable also.

The nineteenth century saw the burning and reconstruction of the Basilica over St. Paul’s tomb. The sixteenth: St. Ignatius Loyola, Michelangelo. Before that, the return of the papacy to Rome and the Lateran Councils. Going back even further: the papacies of Gregory and Leo the Greats. And, even further back, the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul, and countless other heroes who died at the hands of merciless pagans.

The authority of the Roman pontiff comes from God Himself, in the Person of Christ, establishing the office. For most of the history of the Apostolic See, that authority has been exercised primarily by settling disputed cases and questions.

A visitor to the Vatican Museums can admire paintings of some of the great gatherings of bishops that have left their mark on posterity–by clarifying things: the Council at Nicaea, the Council at Ephesus, and at Trent.

During the fifty years since Pope Paul VI erected the current Synod-of-Bishops routine, the Synod has met many times. One of those meetings involved a discussion which led to a thoroughly memorable enterprise: the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The 2015 Synod of Tweets? History will be the judge. My money is on the World Series this year being considerably more memorable.

…Supposedly, one Synod bishop said that, in our contemporary world, two perennial pastoral axioms no longer apply. If that were really true, I would find myself quite at a loss. Because they are two of the basic rules I try to live by:

1. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

2. A priest should be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.

Ambition and Death

You do not know what you are asking. (Mark 10:38)

Lord Jesus told James and John that they did not know what they were asking, when they requested thrones adjacent to His at the coming of the kingdom.

The two Apostles did not know what they were asking. Probably the greatest understatement ever. After all, as we confess in our Creed, Christ, risen from the dead, sits at the right hand of the Father. To sit at Christ’s left, then, would mean taking the place of the heavenly Father Himself. Even a zealous and holy Apostle cannot possibly do that.

But the Lord did not despise His friends’ request. He recognized their love for Him, the love that moved them to want to sit close. If it’s wrong to want to be close to Christ for all eternity, then we’re in big trouble.

participant trophyNo, the Lord did not despise James and John for their ill-informed request. Nor did Jesus pedantically point out that He had put St. Peter in charge, not them.

No, in responding to James and John, Jesus did not get into the matter of hierarchy at all. Rather, He said: Yes, you will share my baptism and drink my chalice.

The Church has her hierarchy, just as the world has hers. We all have our particular lot in life. Envying someone else’s position never really did anyone any good. But, by the same token, ambition for success is hardly a sin in and of itself. Like the football dad in the Kia ad who changes his son’s trophy to ‘champs’ instead of ‘participant,’ because the boy’s team won every game. “Are we gonna end football games with hugs? No. No. No.”

It’s no sin in and of itself to have ambition. It’s no sin in and of itself to want to compete. But the Lord has provided a great leveler, when it comes to success in this world. Almighty God drives a kind of existential bulldozer, which always moves towards us, drawing closer with every passing day. Someday this great leveling bulldozer will knock down all the hierarchies of this world. Right now, the angels see the heavenly hierarchy; they can see the holiness of people’s souls. Someday the hierarchy of holiness will be the only pecking order left, because the great bulldozer will have plowed us all into the grave.

One of Christ’s shortest parables: A man grew rich and planned to expand his barns to hold all his vast treasure. That night, he died. And the Lord had only two words for the smug, successful entrepreneur, who had been on top of the world: “You fool.”

Even after Jesus told James and John that they would share His baptism and drink His chalice, the brothers still did not fully grasp what the Teacher meant. After all, the Jewish rituals of that period involved a lot of ‘baptisms’–ritual cleansings prior to religious observances. And the Passover Seder involved the drinking of multiple ceremonial chalices.

speed bump reaperJames and John did not grasp that Christ’s “Baptism” was not a ritual ablution. The Lord meant His entire Paschal Mystery. Christ’s ‘chalice’ was the shedding of His Blood during His bitter Passion and death.

To try to understand what Jesus meant when He said that James and John would indeed share His baptism and His chalice, we ourselves have to grasp that the word “Passover” does not fundamentally mean a ritual meal involving unleavened bread. No. The word “Passover” means: Christ passing over from mortal life to immortal glory. The true Passover is made through the door of death. None of our self-importance in this world ever fits through that door.

“You do not know what you are asking.” Quite the understatement, because: We do not know the glory that has been prepared for us. We do not know the joy and peace that even the lowest place in heaven affords. We do not know what resting for good really means–what it means to cease from striving, from struggling, from competing. We do not know what it means simply to flower fully forever. Heaven lies beyond our knowledge.

But not completely. Because Jesus has revealed heaven to us. We cannot see heaven from the inside, so to speak, but we can see it from the outside. Because Christ’s Sacred Heart is full of heaven. In Christ, we see what heaven does to the human soul. The Lord’s Jesus’ heavenly interior life made Him mild, humble, ready to serve. It made Him love others. It moved Him to give His life for the ones He loves.

It’s not that Christ didn’t fight during His pilgrim life; it’s not that He had no ambition. To the contrary, at crucial moments in His journey, we see His stern determination. He just doesn’t fight for low stakes. He doesn’t fight for the silly trophies of this world.

No. Christ’s ambition always was and always will be: life, eternal life. He has fought not for earthly glory, but for the everlasting glory of God. Let’s strive for a share in that glory. We can leave it up to our heavenly Father where exactly we ought to sit.

Law vs. Mercy, Or Not?

As we speak, some of our dear bishops are participating in Part 2 of the great “Synod on the Family” convoked by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We pray that the Lord pour out wisdom, fidelity, and mildness to guide the Synod fathers.

One of the famous distinctions some people like to invoke is: Law, on one hand, and Mercy, on the other.

Pacino Shylock
Pacino Shylock
In certain dramatic instances, this distinction carries powerful meaning. Like in The Merchant of Venice, when the hero owes the villain a pound of flesh—but then the heroine convinces the court that, since the villain won’t be merciful and forgive the debt, then he must take only a pound of flesh, and no more. Not to mention that he has no right to any of the hero’s blood, since that wasn’t in the contract. Very dramatic moment.

Generally speaking, though, I think this constant distinguishing between law and mercy can get pretty obtuse.

After all, “law” does not, in and of itself, mean “rigidity.” I myself understand ‘law’ as the opposite, not of mercy, but of chaos. The idea that we human beings invented law, in some fit of self-destructive self-repression—this idea does not really conform to mankind’s unmediated experience of the cosmos, as communicated so eloquently at the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The cosmos possesses beauty precisely because laws order the elements.

We human beings do have to make laws to govern our lives together, to be sure. But, as Martin Luther King, Jr., put is so well, quoting St. Augustine: Law is only truly law insofar as it is just. And the justice of human law comes from its conformity with God’s design. So law is not fundamentally something we human beings invent; it is something to which we submit, for our own good. Our problem as sinners is when we do not act in accord with God, Who guides all things for the good.

Did the idea of Law, in and of itself, make the Lord Jesus angry? Don’t think so. What made Him mad at the Pharisees was this:

The Pharisees made it their business to preserve ancient Jewish customs, all of which aimed at keeping the pure faith of Abraham alive. Abraham’s faith, in a nutshell, consisted in trusting that God would give the people a future.

But now the future had arrived. Now the Eternal Law had taken flesh and was living a pilgrim life. The day to which Abraham always looked forward: that day had come. The Christ stood before them, inviting them into the kingdom.

But the Pharisees were hypocrites. They preached without practicing. They laid heavy burdens on others which they themselves never carried. It’s not that their doctrine was false; their lives were false. So they could not see the Christ; they would not accept His invitation.

Mercy doesn’t mean “forget the law!” Mercy means what Christ showed us that it means. Let me help you find a happier way of life than the one you’re living in now. None of us can do right alone. We need Christ’s help. And we need to help each other.

Another Exchange of E-Mails

Dear Father,

My name is [name withheld]. I am a life-long Catholic.

For a while now, I’ve been struggling with something. Though I love the Church, I’m really torn because I deeply believe in the right of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Don’t get me wrong: abortion is a tough decision, and can be an even tougher reality to deal with when it’s done. But the challenges women face in this world—many of which men can only hope to understand—the decision to end a pregnancy must, in my opinion, ultimately rest with the woman. I know there are many lay Catholics who are divided on this issue. Some Catholics are “pro-life”, but there are just as many who are “pro-choice” to some extent—including those going to Mass. I know my views put me at odds with Church teaching, and that the bishops have been clear about their “pro-life” stance.

The reason I’m writing is to ask whether I could still take communion if I’m so strongly “pro-choice.”

I appreciate whatever guidance you can provide me on this matter. I’m available at this email address, and would be glad to hear from you at your convenience.

Sincerely, [withheld]


Dear —-,

Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail. It might be best for us to sit down together to discuss your question about receiving Holy Communion. We could set up an appointment.

That said, here’s a short answer. You write that abortion is a “tough decision, and can be an even tougher reality to deal with when it’s done.” You mention that it’s hard for men to understand. I agree.

It is also true that an abortion is an act of violence. It results in the death of an innocent and defenseless human being.

Expectant mothers can face enormous pressures. But the worst pressure of all would be the pressure to have an abortion. As a Church, we stand for the idea that no woman should have to face that particular pressure. There is always a different path, a better path to take.

Being ‘pro-choice’ seems to entail condoning violence against the innocent. I think that would trouble anyone’s conscience and get in the way of receiving Holy Communion in peace.

The Church does not stand for the government, or anyone else, making choices about a woman’s life. We simply insist that the unjust violence of abortion is really no choice at all. As a family of faith, we stand ready to help any mother. After all, none of us can make it through life alone.

Please do write back with any more thoughts you have.

Love, Fr. Mark


I began composing my response without giving a second thought to the idea that the original e-mail comes from a sincere questioner. I still hope and pray that is the case, and I hope to hear back.

As I was writing, though, I began to wonder about the original e-mail. Maybe I am being paranoid, but it seems like almost too-perfect a set-up, as if some organization is trolling for a priest to write something intemperate in response. Then that could be published to embarrass the Church. This internet is such an inhumane place sometimes…

Morality How To’s

I prayed and pleaded, and wisdom came to me. (Wisdom 7:7)

Pope St. John Paul II wrote that Christ invites all of us to follow Him, just as He invited the Rich Young Man: Keep the Commandments. Give what you have to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven. And follow me.

Christ invites all of us to follow Him in this way. And by accepting this invitation, we can find what we call morality. We can live moral lives, upright lives.

john_paul_ii_pencil_drawingLet’s focus on this crucial point. We cannot imagine that we are morally good first–and because we are so good, we get to be Jesus’ friends. No.

The Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—invites us to follow Him, and by following Him, we find out what “being good” actually means. By following Him, by making a purifying pilgrimage in His footsteps, by spending a lifetime studying Christ, so as to know Him, love Him, and imitate Him—in other words, by co-operating with Him, we can find the peace of a clear conscience.

Who doesn’t want to have a peaceful conscience? The kind of conscience that rests, and allows you to delight in simple pleasures, to listen to other people when they talk to you, to sleep well, to enjoy a baseball playoff game. If we really want to come to full-flower as people, we need untroubled consciences.

More than a hamburger, or a Ferrari, or a good-looking boyfriend or girlfriend–what we really want, above all, is the inner peace that comes from honesty and harmony with what is right. The Holy Catholic Church says: We can have this, provided we start by focusing our eyes on Jesus Christ Himself.

Not focusing on the Bible, per se—though of course we can’t focus our eyes on Christ without reading the Scriptures.

Not focusing on ‘moral positions’ in themselves. Though of course the Church takes moral positions, based on the life and teachings of Christ our Lord.

Not even focusing on the Pope or the Church Herself as an institution. After all, what is the first sentence of Pope Francis’ letter about the Joy of the Gospel? It is not, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter me.” No: Pope Francis’ fundamental idea is: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter…

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at VaticanJesus.

So, three steps to morality:

1. Faith and prayer. We encounter Christ by faith, since He no longer dwells visibly on earth. We want peaceful consciences? Then let’s regularly do calisthenics of faith.

–Prayer to Christ first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

–“Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” all day long. Let’s make a resolution to say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” more often than we look at our phones.

2. Receiving the sacraments as acts of Divine Mercy. Don’t get me wrong: A lot goes into having a beautiful, prayerful Mass. I certainly appreciate all the hard work that goes into it. I try myself to work hard to prepare. The Lord smiles on selfless Christians who volunteer to help at church.

But we have to remember always: Fundamentally, the Holy Mass is not us. If the Mass were just us, as Flannery O’Connor put it, “then to hell with it.” The Mass is: Jesus giving us Himself.
Which brings me to: Truly to experience the Holy Mass as an act of Divine Mercy means regularly experiencing the sacrament of Confession as an act of Divine Mercy.

“But, Father. I’m a good person. I don’t need to go to Confession!”


Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been too long since my last Confession. I am one stubborn, proud, ungrateful wretch—who tends to forget how Jesus shed a lot of blood, and endured excruciating agony, and it wasn’t just for all the other people.

3. Which brings us to the final point I would like to try to make. Love. Morality really does fundamentally mean loving—loving God and loving other people. Love really is the law. That particular liberal shibboleth is actually true.

But the love in question, of course, is the love that proceeds from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the love that sees with Christ’s eyes. And we know that Christ hardly looks at sins being committed and says, “That’s fine.”

No. The Lord Jesus knew that the Rich Young Man in the gospel needed to change his life.

Christ saw the sinner, and loved him, and invited him: Come, sinner, follow me. I will teach you how to do good.