Concerning the obsession for photos at Liturgies – A Consideration of a Liturgical and Pastoral Problem

Consider the scene. The Bishop has taken his place at the entrance to the sanctuary. He is prepared to confirm some twenty children. It is a sacred moment, a Sacrament is to be conferred. The parents are in deep prayer thanking the Holy Spirit who is about to confirm their children for mission….. Oops, they are not!

Actually, they are fumbling with their cell phone cameras. Some are scrambling up the side aisle to “get the shot.” Others are holding the “phone” up in the air to get the blurry, crooked shot. The tussling continues in the side aisle as parents muscle to get in place for “the shot.” If “the shot” is gotten, success! If not, “woe is me.” Never mind that a sacrament has actually been offered and received, the point was “the shot,” the “photo-op.”

Consider another scene. It is First Holy Communion. Again, the children are assembled.  This time the parents have been informed that a single parishioner has been engaged to take shots and could they please refrain from amateur photography. This is to little avail, “Who does that deacon think he is telling me to refrain, denying me the shot!?” The cell phones still stick up in the air. Even worse, the parish photographer sends quick word via the altar server, “Could Father please slow down a bit in giving the children communion? It is difficult to get a good shot at the current (normal) pace.” After the Mass the photographer has two children along side, could Father perhaps “re-stage” the communion moment for these two since, in the quick (normal) pace of giving Communion, their shot was bad, as the autofocus was not able to keep up…”Look how blurry it is Father.”

It would seem the picture is the point.

I have seen it with tourists as well. I live just up the street from the US Capitol and it is fascinating to watch the tourists go by on the buses. Many of them are so busy taking a picture of the Capitol (a picture they could get in a book, or find on the Internet), that I wonder if they ever see the Capitol with their own eyes.

The picture is the point.

Actually I would propose, it is NOT the point. Real life and actual experience are the point. Further, in the Liturgy, the worship and praise of God, the experience of his love, and attentiveness to his Word is the point. Cameras, more often than not, cause us to miss the point. We get the shot but miss the experience. Almost total loss if you ask me.

At weddings in this parish we speak to the congregation at the start and urge them to put away all cameras. We assure the worried crowd that John and Mary have engaged the services of a capable professional photographer who will be able to record the moment quite well. “What John and Mary could use most from you now are your prayers for them and expressed gratitude to God who is the author and perfecter of this moment.” Yes, we assure them, now is the time for prayer, for worship and for joyful awareness of what God is doing.

Most professional photographers are in fact professional and respectful and know how to stay back and not become a part of the ceremony but to discretely record it. It is rare that I have trouble with them. Videographers still have a way to go as a group, but there are many who I would say are indeed professional.

Pastorally it would seem appropriate to accept that photos are important to people to make reasonable accommodations for photos. For major events  such as weddings, confirmations, First Communions and Easter Vigils, it seems right that we should insist that if photos are desired, a professional be hired. This will help keep things discrete, and permit family and others to more prayerfully experience the sacred moments. Infant Baptisms are a little more “homespun” and it would seem that the pastor should speak with family members about limiting the number of amateur photographers, and be clear about where they should stand.

That said, I have no photos of my Baptism, First Communion or Confirmation. I have survived this (terrible) lack of “the shot” quite well. Frankly, in the days I received these sacraments, photos of the individual moment were simply not done in the parishes I attended. Some parishes did have provisions for pictures in those days. The photo at upper right is of Cardinal O’Boyle at St. Cyprian’s in Washington DC in 1957. But as for me, I do have a photo of me taken on my way to Church for First Communion, but there is no photo of me kneeling at the rail. I am alive and well. There are surely photos of my ordination. But I will add, the Basilica and the Archdiocese were very clear as to the parameters. Only two professional photographers were allowed, (My Uncle was one of them them) and the place where they worked was carefully delineated.

Hence, pastoral provisions are likely necessary in these “visual times”  which allow some photos. Yet as St. Paul says regarding the Liturgy: But let all things be done decently, and according to order (1 Cor 14:40).

A final reiteration: Remember the photo is not the moment. The moment is the moment and the experience is the experience. A photo is just a bunch of pixels, lots of 0’s and 1’s, recorded by a mindless machine and printed or displayed by a mindless machine. A picture is no substitute for the actual experience, the actual prayer, the actual worship that can and should take place at every sacred moment and it every sacred liturgy.

And here is some very rare footage of a nuptial mass. It is of my parents in May 1959. What makes it rare is that it is film, not mere pictures and that it is filmed from the sacristy. My parents told me years ago that they presumed it was filmed by a priest who alone in those years could get access to the sacristies and other back areas.

On the Giving and Receiving of Holy Communion: Some norms to recall.

Recently here in the Archdiocese of Washington there was an issue regarding the denial of Holy Communion to a certain individual, which caused no little debate among the faithful. I am NOT going to reopen that case here, and ask all readers to please recall that, no matter what you may think, you do not have all the facts, and I do not wish to rehearse the (partial) specifics of the whole affair.

That said, a number of us priests asked for a review of the norms of the policies of the Church and the Archdiocese in these sorts of situations, and the Archdiocese responded at a convocation of the all the priests, which discussed many matters, this one among it. (At the same convocation we also discussed the specifics of the lawsuit initiated by the Archdiocese and other Catholic groups and diocese against the Administration).

I am grateful that the Cardinal and his senior staff responded in a concise and clear manner. For, it is a fact that these sorts of situations, wherein, Communion must be withheld, are both delicate and complicated. It is always helpful to know the norms, and review them frequently since there are times when a priest must deal quickly with situations that arise, and having command of the norms is immensely helpful.

Frankly, we do not always get every situation right. Being human, our judgment is sometimes flawed. But to the degree that we have reviewed and pondered the collected wisdom of the Church, and have a grasp of the basic policies, we stand the chance of avoiding mistakes either of excess or defect.

All that said, here are some norms and policies that were presented to us from a variety of sources.

From the Sacramental Norms of the Archdiocese (promulgated 1/25/2010; 6.41.1-6.41.6) (I have included a few remarks of my own in red) :

  1. Any baptized person, not prohibited by law, can and must be admitted to Holy Communion (cf Canon # 912).
  2. Full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful receive Holy Communion. Yet care must be taken, lest they conclude that the mere fact of being present during the liturgy gives them a right or obligation to receive Communion. Even when it is not possible to receive Communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. (cf Pope Benedict Sacramentum Caritatis # 55)
  3. A person who is to receive Holy Eucharist, is to abstain for at least one hour before Holy Communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine (cf Canon 919.1)

From the USCCB Guidelines (also referenced in ADW Liturgical norms and policies):

  1. Those who receive Holy Communion should not be conscious of grave sin.
  2. Should have fasted for one hour.
  3. And, if there is no reasonable opportunity for confession, the person should make and act of perfect contrition, which thereby includes the intention of confessing to the priest as soon as possible. (For it sometimes happens that, in current circumstances where most receive Holy Communion, that to abstain would raise difficult questions and possibly result in a person announcing publicly that they are in mortal sin. To avoid this, the Church does allow this act of perfect contrition, which obviously includes the intent to seek the Sacrament of Confession to be valid).

The recipient of Holy Communion also makes declarations by presenting himself for Holy Communion:

  1. That he or she is a Catholic.
  2. That he or she accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church in toto and is not consciously or intentional dissenting from known doctrines or dogmas, from whatever the Church professes and believes to be revealed by God. (For Communion means cum (with) + unio (union), and thereby is more than a “me and Jesus” thing, it involves a union with the Church his Body and Bride. Dissenters and those in schism who cannot make this declaration of union, thus should not claim communion when there is a significant lack of union either by dissent or schism).
  3. That he or she is not conscious or gave or serious sin.

Therefore a strong responsibility falls on the one coming forward to receive Holy Communion. Since priests and deacons cannot know the state of each person in most circumstances, the fundamental responsibility is on the one who comes forward to receive. For, as St Paul says, Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29). Note that Paul and Scripture place the responsibility primarily on the communicant, rather than an (non-omniscient) clergy.

Therefore, the minister of Holy Communion is to:

  1. Presume the integrity of the persons presenting themselves for Holy Communion.
  2. Trust in this fact is to be presumed unless proven clearly, otherwise.
  3. It may be the case that one, whom the Minister (priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister), sees come forward has in fact been to confession, and/or renounced previous sinful practices. I was once told of a situation wherein a person who had been in an invalid marriage, in fact, had the marriage validated. Yet, on coming forward was told by the priest to stand aside. Though the couple was reconciled to the Church, the minister of Communion presumed their incapacity and dismissed them. This caused embarrassment and anger.  When in doubtful situations, however, the priest ought to give Communion and perhaps seek counsel, and to counsel the person later.

On the prohibition of Holy Communion to Public Sinners.

  1. Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted, after the imposition or declaration of the penalty, and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion (Canon # 915).
  2. Thus, if a person has been publicly excommunicated (rare today!) They are to be denied Holy Communion if they come forward. There are other forms of excommunication (often called Latae Sententiae (or automatic) excommunications) that are more secret and unknown to the general public. For example, if one procures abortion they are automatically excommunicated. But such an excommunication is usually not publicly known and the Minister who may know of this, third hand or simply in a counseling situation, ought not deny Communion only based on that. For confidentiality is to be preserved even if it is outside the Seal of Confession (which can never be violated). In cases such as this, where an excommunication is not publicly declared, the Minster of Communion, ought not publicly deny Communion, but speak privately to the person to ensure that the Latae Sententiae excommunication is, or has been, lifted in the Confessional setting.
  3. But if one is clearly and publicly been excommunicated they should be publicly refused Holy Communion. (Rare today!)
  4. Further, if a person publicly attempts to use Holy Communion for purposes beyond the Spiritual intent, they can be denied. (For example, a troublesome group known as “Act-up” has sometimes disrupted Catholic Masses, coming forward in public ways, often wearing symbolic insignia or “stoles” and demanded Holy Communion. They are rightly refused Holy Communion for they deny its significance by their action, and politicize the reception of Communion, calling it a right rather than a privilege, and a confession of the true faith. Thereby they publicly forfeit the presumption that they approach communion worthily or with proper disposition of faith).

Canon 915:

  1. Prohibits the reception of Holy Communion to those who are excommunicated.
  2. Permits the public denial of Holy Communion to those whose sin is grave, and manifest, and in which they are obstinately persevering in the sinful state.
  3. Therefore note, as others have, three criteria must be met. For a person may be in grave sin, and the priest must  know this outside the confessional. But unless the sin is manifest, i.e. a sin the priest knows, and one which is clearly known by most of the congregants, and unless he is sure they have not repented and received absolution prior to this Holy Communion, he ought not publicly deny the Sacrament. He may wish to confer with the person discretely and confidentially later to give further counsel, but he ought not otherwise deny the Sacrament unless he is sure their sin is grave, manifest and unrepented.

As I hope you can see, the primary burden of discernment in these matters falls in the recipient of Holy Communion. As Scripture says, Let a man examine himself…..

Those looking for showdowns at the altar rail or communion station ought to realize that Church law and policies, as well as prudential judgments, frown on such things. Priests and other ministers of Holy Communion need to remember they are not omniscient, and may authentically be mistaken in their assessment of those who approach the Sacrament.

Hence, doubts are to be resolved in favor of the communicant. Where there are concerns on the part of the minister of Holy Communion (i.e. a priest or deacon), he ought to approach the communicant privately and discretely and either give counsel, or clarify the facts. If an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion has doubts they should consult with the priest or pastor. Confrontations and showdowns at the moment of Communion should be avoided, and should be very rare, if the norms are proclaimed and followed.

There are some who may wish to applaud if Communion is denied to certain people in a public way. But confrontations “at the rail” usually flow from  a failure of catechesis, and/or a failure to follow policy in more remote and discrete settings such as the confessional, the pulpit and the catechetical setting . Denials and showdowns are to be lamented not celebrated. And thought they do rarely happen, the goal is to avoid them altogether.

These norms  along with a wider appreciation of their purpose may help in avoiding errors either by the clergy or by the faithful. Ultimately the norms for the worthy reception of Holy Communion and all the Sacraments , flow from a reverence that God is Holy, that He and his Sacraments are neither to be mocked, nor to be necessarily withheld from the faithful who desperately need them.

Perhaps it is well to end with a passage from St. Paul about Holy Communion:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions (1 Cor 11:27-35)

OK, comments are open. But let me be clear, we are not going to rehash the whole affair of a certain priest here in the Archdiocese who was in the news two months back. Let me clear that comments are not open to bishop-bashing and to pontificating about an event wherein not all the facts are even public. If you choose to mention the case too specifically I reserve my right to edit, or to refuse the comment altogether. This post is about catechesis, especially as we move forward toward the Feast of Corpus Christi. Let’s look ahead, not back.

Not Mindless Magic, but Mindful Mystery: On the Fruitful Reception of the Sacraments

A fundamental principle of the seven Sacraments is that they have a reality that exists apart from the priest’s holiness or worthiness. They work ex opere operato (ie.. they are worked from the very fact of the work). One need not doubt therefore that a sacrament is in fact given just because a bishop, priest or deacon seems less than holy or worthy. Neither can the disposition of the recipient un-work the work. For example, Holy Communion does not cease to be the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ merely because the one who steps forward is unworthy or even an unbeliever. The Sacrament has a reality in itself that transcends the worthiness of the celebrant or recipient.

However, sacraments are not magic in the sense that they work effects in us in a manner independent of our disposition or will. Sacraments, though actually conferred by the fact that they are given, have a varying fruitfulness dependant upon the disposition, worthiness and openness of the recipient. One may receive a sacrament to great effect or lesser effect depending on how well disposed they are to those effects. This is referred to as the fruitfulness of the sacraments.

To illustrate fruitfulness let’s take a non sacramental example. Imagine two men in the Fine Arts Museum and lets us also imagine that they are looking at a Rembrandt painting: Apostle Peter Kneeling of 1631 (See photo at right). Now one man is a trained artist. He knows and understands the use of shadow and light. He can observe and see the techniques of brush strokes. He knows of Rembrandt and his life and times. He also knows the Bible and a good bit about hagiography. He knows about St. Peter, the significance of the keys, of Peter’s penitence and how he finally died. The second man knows none of this and is actually rather annoyed to be in the “boring” museum. All he thinks is, “Who is that guy and why is he sitting on the floor?….Why don’t we get out of here, go to a sports bar and hook a few brews or something more interesting?”

Now, both men are actually standing before a Rembrandt painting. It has a reality in itself apart from what either man thinks. It is, in fact, what it is. But the experience of beholding the painting is a far more fruitful experience for the first man than for the second. The first man gains a lot from the experience, the other gains little and may in fact have an experience that is adverse or repelling.

It is like this with the sacraments. They have a reality in themselves that is objective and real and they actually extend the graces they announce. But how fruitfully a person receives them is quite dependent on the openness and disposition of the recipient. Sacraments are not magic as though they zap us and change us independently of our disposition.

Consider some examples:

  1. Two people come forward to receive Holy Communion. One comes forward with great piety and mindfulness to what and Who she is to receive. She has recently made a good confession and is in a state of grace. She prayerfully, mindfully and devoutly receives the sacred host and returns to her pew to pray. The second person comes forward inattentively. Instead of thinking of what she is about to do she is irritated at the priest for going long in the homily and distractedly considering what she is going to do when she leaves here. She has not been to confession in many years and may in fact be in mortal sin. She receives the Sacred Host with little thought or devotion and heads for the nearest door. Both in fact receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. Objectively the sacrament is conferred. But one receives fruitfully and the other has little or no fruitfulness. In fact, if she is in state of mortal sin, not only did she not fruitfully receive a blessing but she may have brought a condemnation upon herself (cf 1 Cor 11: 29). So the sacrament is not magic and does not zap the second woman into holiness. A sacrament worthily received in a mindful manner to a person well disposed can have great effects, but proper and open disposition including faith-filled and worthy reception are essential. The more open and disposed one is, the more fruitful the reception.
  2. Two people go to confession. One carefully prepares by examining his conscience and has a true contrition (sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of amendment). In examining his conscience he does not merely consider his external behaviors but looks to the internal and deeper drives of sin within him. He seeks to reflect on his motivations, priorities, resentments and the like. He goes to confession once a month. Once in the confessional he makes a good confession and listens carefully to what the priest says and accepts his penance with gratitude to God. The second man makes little preparation only coming up with a few vague sins on his way from the car. He comes yearly to confession to make his Easter duty and after a year can only figure he has said a few bad things and been a little grouchy, and looked at a few dirty pictures. In the confessional he mentions his sins only in a perfunctory way and pays little attention to the exhortation of the priest. Now both men receive absolution but one receives the sacrament for more fruitfully than the other. The first man will likely experience growth in holiness and spiritual progress if he routinely approaches the sacrament in this manner. The other will probably be back next year with the same list or with worse things.
  3. Marriage is a sacrament received once. As such it’s graces are received at once but unfold throughout married life. Hence, two are made one on the day of marriage but the couple’s experience of this may vary and hopefully grow as time goes on. Through daily prayer, weekly communion, personal growth in holiness of the spouses, consistent work at their relationship, the graces of marriage will be experienced more fruitfully as time goes on. But it is also possible to stunt or hinder the fruitfulness of graces of marriage through neglect of prayer, sacraments, interpersonal growth and communication.

Sacraments therefore are not magic acts. They convey a reality, but internal disposition, worthy, mindful reception and faith are all essential factors for the sacraments to be received more and more fruitfully. Perfunctory and mindless reception yields little fruit. Devout, mindful and worthy reception yields increasing fruit. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold (Mark 4:20).

More can be said on this topic and I invite your comments and questions to fill in the details.

In this video clip Fr. Francis Martin discusses the depth of the word “mystery” which is an essential component of all the Sacraments. In fact many of the Eastern Churches call the sacraments the “Mysteries” for in every sacrament there is dimension far deeper than what is merely seen or sensed. Enjoy this brief and profound explanation.

Clarifying Certain Misunderstandings About Confirmation

Yesterday we discussed a bit about baptism and some of the pastoral practices surrounding it. Today in a kind of companion piece I’d like to address some of the distortions and confusion that often surround the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Some one once said that Confirmation is the Sacrament in search of a theology. While not true, the statement does capture that there is a lot of incorrect and sometimes silly teaching about this sacrament to young people. And since it is the season for Confirmations, it may be helpful to explore what the Catechism teaches about the sacrament.

It will also help to exclude certain common, but incorrect notions about Confirmation.

1. Confirmation is not a Sacrament of Maturity – Canon Law (891) states that Confirmation is generally to be administered at about the age of discretion, which age is understood to be seven (Canon 97.2). It may be administered earlier if there is “danger of death” or for another “grave cause.” The same Canon allows the conference of bishops to determine another age for reception of the sacrament. While one may argue that a later date for the Sacrament is pastorally advisable, (e.g. to keep young people engaged in catechetical instruction) one simply cannot argue that it is a “Sacrament of maturity” when Church law generally presupposes its celebration at the age of seven. This is made clearer by the fact that most Eastern Churches, and the Orthodox confirm infants.

2. Confirmation is not “becoming an adult in the Church.” – This is just plain silly. I was taught this as a mere seventh grader, and found it laughable even then. Seventh graders are not adults. They are children and remain so even after Confirmation.

3. Confirmation is not a sacrament where one claims or affirms the faith for himself – Baptism confers faith. To claim that Confirmation “allows me to speak for myself” is to imply that this is how faith comes about. It is to imply that baptism somehow did not actually give real faith, or at least gave inadequate faith,  and now I am getting it by “speaking for myself.” No, Faith is a gift, it is not something I cause by speaking for myself, it is something I receive as an unmerited and free gift of God. It is true that the grace of faith mysteriously interacts with our freedom. But faith is received at baptism. Confirmation strengthens faith that is already there, but it does not cause it. Further it is a bit of a stretch to say that seventh or eighth graders really “speak for themselves.”

4. Confirmation does not “complete Christian initiation” and “make me a full Catholic.” – One of the problems with delaying Confirmation is that the three Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated out of proper order. The proper order of celebration is: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Hence it is Holy Communion that completes initiation, not Confirmation. That we celebrate it out of order creates a lot of confusion and makes initiation a little murky. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults observes the proper order. Some diocese in this country have returned to this for children as well. In a couple of diocese of which I am aware, the bishop comes to the parish and confirms the seven year old children and then, at the same Mass, gives them First Holy Communion. While this preserves the order of Initiation, and there are pastoral advantages in this regard, it  must be clear that each Bishop is able to set the policy that makes most sense for his diocese. He will obviously weigh a number of pastoral concerns in making his decision.

So what is Confirmation?

1. Confirmation is the Christian’s Personal Pentecost – The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, The sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (# 1302) Before Pentecost, the Apostles were fearful, confused and secretive, gathering only behind locked doors.

But, Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise, like a strong driving wind which was heard all through the house where they were seated. Tongues as of fire appeared which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to..make bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them. (Acts 2:1-4)

Consider the change in these men! They had been fearful and confused. Now they are courageous, boldly proclaiming Christ, with insight and an effectiveness so great, that three thousand were added that very day to their number. This is what can happen when we really yield to the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is in the Sacrament of Confirmation that we called to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for our mission of spreading and defending our faith. The very word, Confirmation comes from the Latin word Confirma, meaning to strengthen.

2. Confirmation strengthens and quickens our faith for witness and mission – The essential grace (or gift) of the Sacrament of Confirmation is that we should be strengthened equipped for mission. And what is that mission? Again the Catechism teaches, Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness (CCC # 1304). The Catechism also teaches how the sacrament accomplishes this great strengthening within us: Confirmation…is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds (CCC # 1316).

See too how this sacrament is given to us not only for our own sakes but also for the world: …enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit…the [confirmed] are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith…( # 1285) Further, A candidate for Confirmation…[must] be prepared to assume the role of disciple and witness to Christ, both within the ecclesial community and in temporal affairs [i.e. “the world”] (CCC # 1319).

3. The Biblical roots of the Sacrament – Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit. For example He said,

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you….I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:7ff).

He also told them, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8) And yet again, Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high. (Lk 24:49)

Within days, while they were gathered in prayer, the Holy Spirit descended on them like tongues of fire (See Acts 2:1-4 recounted earlier). The Apostles began to boldly proclaim the gospel from that day on.

Those who believed in the apostolic preaching were baptized. But in addition to baptism these Apostles also laid hands on the faithful that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Sometimes this was done at the time of baptism and sometimes it was done later. Consider for example these two texts.

When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down to these people and prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. It had not as yet come down upon them any of them since they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The pair, upon arriving imposed hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:15-19)

This text shows some separation between the time of baptism and the time of confirmation (the “receiving of the Spirit). The text also explains our Catholic tradition of generally reserving the sacrament for the bishop to celebrate since, in the early Church, the Apostles made it part of their mission to impose hands for the outpouring of the Spirit. Phillip the Deacon had performed the baptisms in Samaria but he waited for the apostles to confirm them in the Spirit.

This next text shows the Apostle Paul baptizing. Because he, an apostle is present, there is no delay in confirming the newly baptized in the Spirit

“When they heard this, [Paul’s preaching] they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. As Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came down upon them and they began to speak in tongues and utter prophecies.” (Acts 19:5-6)

Thus we see the Biblical roots of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Jesus promised the Spirit and did in fact send Him on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles understood that they were not to keep this experience to themselves. So, as the catechism teaches, From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism….The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church. (CCC # 1288)

4. The Importance of our Confirmation – More than ever, we need to take the power of God given in this sacrament seriously. All too frequently many Catholics are hindered by fear and confusion from proclaiming the Gospel to the world. This need not be so. There is just too much that needs to be done in proclaiming the Kingdom. We must speak boldly for Christ and announce his salvation day after day. [F]or God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord..! (2 Tim 1:7-8) And this gift is not just for some; every member of the faithful is called to receive a special out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.

We have a mission to spread the Gospel in union with the Church by what we say and what we do. It is tragic indeed that so many have seen fit to leave this essential task to others. There is a saying that is sadly true: “Evil triumphs when the good remain silent.” Is this not what has happened in our day? How could a nation with so many Christians living in its midst have so many confused and lost sheep?

If the Apostles could be so changed for their mission by the Holy Spirit, so can we. We are called to spread that faith handed down from the Apostles to our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. And we must do so in season and out of season. In our Confirmation Christ unites us more firmly to himself and his Church, increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us and gives us special strength to live holy lives and to spread and defend the faith (cf CCC # 1303).

It is in Confirmation especially that Christ lays his hands upon us to strengthen us for this mission of evangelization. The task may seem daunting but this is exactly why Christ himself strengthens us so that we can truly say I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

This Blog Post is available as a PDF Document here: The Sacrament of Confirmation

Here’s a little video I put together for the youth on Confirmation. The Song says, “You should be a witness. Why don’t you testify? Stand up and be a witness for the Lord! Don’t be afraid to be a witness!”

Parents: Don’t Delay Baptism for your Infants!

There is a trend that has set up for years now, and that is that Catholics are waiting many months to get their children baptized. I suspect that what we have here is a combination of a much lower infant mortality rate and, also, a less fervent practice of the faith by many. Further, there seems little sense among the faithful today that an unbaptized infant would be excluded from heaven.

As regards the last point, I think it is pastorally sound to trust in God’s mercy for infants who die before baptism. However, I do not think it follows that we ought to disregard or substantially delay a sacrament which Jesus commands, and which the Church indicates ought not to be delayed. The Code of Canon Law says the following:

Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay. Can. 867 §1,§2

The Catechism also states: The Church and parents deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250) So it seems clear that a higher priority should be given to scheduling the baptism of babies within the first few weeks after birth.

Protestant practice departs from the received Tradition – Another factor for American Catholics is that many are influenced by the Protestants. Protestants, (though not all of them) disagree with our Catholic practice of baptizing infants. They usually wait until a child is between 8 and 12 to baptize,  reasoning that the child will know and understand what is happening and be able to claim Christ for themselves.

But, I hope you see the supreme irony of this in the fact that the Protestants, who so emphasize that salvation does not come from works, delay baptism on the grounds that the infant has not achieved (i.e. worked up to) the proper level of maturity. To know, requires one to learn, which is a work. And we Catholics, who supposedly teach salvation through works (we do not), baptize infants who can work no work.

Novelty – Indeed, the Protestant denominations (mostly Baptists (another irony), Pentecostals, Fundamentalist and Evangelicals) who refuse baptism to infants, engage in a novelty unknown to the Church until recent times.

It is a simple historical fact that the Church has always baptized infants. Even our earliest documents speak of the practice. For example the Apostolic Tradition written about 215 A.D. has this to say:

The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. (Apostolic Tradition # 21)

Scripture too confirms that infants should be baptized if you do the math. For example

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 18:15-17 NIV)

So the Kingdom of God belongs to the little children (in Greek βρέφη (brephe) indicating infants and little children still held in the arms, babes).

And yet elsewhere Jesus also reminds that it is necessary to be baptized in order to enter the Kingdom of God: Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV)

If the Kingdom of God belongs to little children, and we are taught that we cannot inherit it without baptism, then it follows that baptizing infants is necessary, and that to fail to do so, is a hindering of the little children which Jesus forbade his apostles to do. So both Tradition and Scripture affirm the practice of baptizing infants.

Many of the Protestants who do refuse infant baptism also water down (pardon the pun!) the fuller meaning of baptism, no longer seeing it as washing away sins and conferring righteousness per se, but more as a symbol of faith that they claim to have already received when they said the “sinners prayer” and accepted Christ as their savior. But what a tragic loss for them, since baptism and particularly the baptism of infants, says some very wonderful things about the complete gratuity of salvation and the goodness of God. Consider these points:

1. The baptism of infants is a powerful testimony to the absolute gratuity (gift) of salvation. Infants have achieved nothing, have not worked, have not done anything to “merit” salvation. The Catechism puts it this way: The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant baptism. (CCC # 1250) The Church is clear, salvation cannot be earned or merited and infant baptism teaches that most clearly. Salvation is pure gift. How strange and ironic that some of the very denominations which claim that Catholics teach salvation by works (we do not) also refuse, themselves, to baptize infants. They claim that a certain age of maturity is required so that the person understands what they are doing. But this sounds like achievement to me. That the child must meet some requirement, seems like a work, or the attainment of some meritorious status wherein one is now old enough to “qualify” for baptism and salvation. “Qualifications….Achievement (of age)….Requirements….it all sounds like what they accuse us of: namely works and merit. To be clear then, the Catholic understanding of the gratuity of salvation is far more radical than many non-Catholics understand. We baptize infants who are not capable of meriting, attaining or earning.

2. The Baptism of infants also powerfully attests to the fact that the beauty of holiness and righteousness is available to everyone regardless of age. To be baptized means to be washed. Washed of what? Original Sin. At first this seems like a downer, “Are you saying my baby has sin?” Yep. All of us inherit Original Sin from Adam and Eve. We are born into a state of alienation from God that is caused by sin. The Scriptures are clear: [S]in entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12). So even infants are in need of the saving touch of God. Now why would we wish to delay this salvation and resulting holiness for 7 to 12 years? The Catechism says this,

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by Original Sin, children also have need of new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and be brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God….The Church and parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250).

St. Cyprian Bishop of Carthage in the 3rd Century was asked if it was OK to wait to the 8th day to baptize since baptism had replaced circumcision. He respond with a strong no:

But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day We [the bishops] all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. (Epist# 58).

So then here is the beauty, that infants are summoned to receive the precious gift of holiness and righteousness and that they are summoned to a right relationship with God by having their sin purged and holiness infused. Infants are called to this dignity and should not be denied it. With this done, some of the holiest and most innocent days of our lives may well be our first years. Then, as the will begins to manifest, and reason begins to dawn, the grace of holiness gives us extra strength to fight against the sinful world that looms.

3. The Baptism of Infants also attests to the fact that faith is gift for every stage of development– To be baptized is to receive the gift of faith. It is baptism that gives the true faith. Even with adults, true faith does not come until baptism. Prior to that there is a kind of prevenient faith, but it is not the Theological Virtue of Faith.

Now faith is not only an intellectual assent to revealed doctrine. It is that, but it is more. To have faith is also be be in a righteous and trusting relationship with God. An infant relates to his parents long before he speaks or his rational mind is fully formed. He trusts his parents and depends on them. It is the same with God. Thus the infant can well trust and depend on God and be in a right relationship with God, in an age appropriate way.

With his parents, his or her relationship of trust with parents, leads the infant to begin to speak and understand as he or she grows. It is the same with God. As the infant’s mind awakens, the infant’s faith grows. It will continue to grow until the day he or she dies (hopefully) as an old man or woman.

That faith accompanies us through every stage of our life, and develops as we do, is essential to its nature. An infant needs faith no less than an old man. An infant benefits from faith no less than a teenager or an adult. To argue, as some Protestants do, that you have to be a certain age before faith can exist, hardly seems to respect the progressive nature of faith which is able to bless EVERY stage of our human journey.

I have some very vivid memories of my experience of God prior to seven years of age and I will say that God was very powerfully present to me in my early years, in many ways even more so than now, when my mind sometimes “gets in the way.”

Too many Catholics are waiting months, even years to have their children baptized. Precious time is lost by this delay. Infant Baptism speaks powerfully of the love that God has for everyone he has created and of his desire to have everyone in a right and saving relationship with Him. Surely baptism alone isn’t enough. The child must be raised in the faith. It is the nature of faith that it grows by hearing and seeing. Children must have faith given at baptism but that faith must be explained and unwrapped like a precious gift for them.

Don’t delay. Get started early and teach your child the faith they have received every day.

What are they thinking?

On Easter Sunday I had the privilege of serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at the 9:00 am Mass.  By the time Mass began it was standing room only in the church. This was not a surprise. I bet it was the same at your parish. When it came time to distribute Communion, another person and I were asked to go to a station at the rear of the church. A line formed among those standing. At a certain point, I wondered why the line did not seem to get shorter and I realized that people were coming through the doors of the church and getting in line for Communion. After Mass, I learned that indeed people were standing three deep on the sidewalk during Mass. Because it was such a beautiful day, the doors were wide open and the music could surely be heard, but how much of the readings and homily and Eucharistic prayer did people hear?

I’ve been wondering what made them stay and what makes our brother and sister Catholics who don’t come to Mass often and maybe only at Christmas and Easter come on these feasts. On the one hand, if recent studies are correct and a majority of Catholics consider themselves as “active” if they go to Mass once a month on average, then making sure you plan to go on Christmas and Easter is a no-brainer. But for those who come infrequently, why stand on the sidewalk? Reverend Andrew Greeley, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a sociologist talks about the “sacramental imagination” that is nurtured in the Catholic mind and that like Baptism seems to leave and indelible mark and so even for the Catholic who is not practicing the faith, his world view is a Catholic worldview.  Another priest pondered that maybe if a person calls themselves Christian, then at the very least they see a need to come to church on Easter to “represent” so to speak!

Always welcomed

Don’t get me wrong, I love that the congregation overflowed onto the sidewalk on Capitol Hill. What a witness to the truth that the Easter story has real meaning and continues to capture people’s imagination. When I ask “what are they thinking,” I really want to know, because if we who are serious about the New Evangelization can better understand what the pull is to come to church once or twice a year than we can use that as a starting point for helping them look more deeply at their own experience. We can better able in our preaching and teaching and conversation make a more convincing argument for how active participation in life of the church will make a real difference in every part of one’s life. Fr. Bill Byrne, the pastor, in his homily said that the story of the Resurrection does not just have meaning for a moment but rather calls for a commitment. If you believe the story, you need to make a commitment—to discipleship, to Mass, to service. How did people hear that? Are they still thinking about it today?

He knows as all of us know that it won’t be standing room only next week. When we better understand the impulse to come to church once, twice, a few times a year, we can better help our brother and sisters move from impulse to commitment. Any insights you can share with me?

The Story of a Misunderstood Maritial Vow. A Necessary Rebuttal to a Washington Post Story

Playing on the heart-strings does not always (or even usually) produce a good or proper melody. Such is the case of a recently published Washington Post Article entitled: A Family Learns the True Meaning of the Vow: ‘In Sickness and in Health.’ Actually, they do not. In fact they demonstrate the exact antithesis of what that vow means.

I want to be careful here, since this is a story about real human beings who have lived through a tragic situation. And while they have made decisions that I think are wrong from a biblical and faith perspective, I do not lack sympathy for them. There’s is a human struggle here and not all of us hold up perfectly in such struggles.

Yet, they themselves have decided to go public, in a national newspaper about their decision and, as a pastor of many, I  am thus compelled to speak in a public way as well, lest others be misguided as to what a true Catholic and biblical response to this tragedy is.

The article and story is a very lengthy one. The full article is available above by click there in the title. I have also produced a summary here: A Story of Misguided Marital Vows. But the basic facts are these:

  1. Robert and Page Melton were married in 1995 and had two children.
  2. In 2003 Robert had a severe heart attack that left him with brain injuries. His motor skills were unimpaired but his memory was devastated. He remembered nothing of his wife and children and almost nothing of his earlier life.
  3. His behavior was also child-like and erratic which meant he needed to live in a nursing care facility.
  4. His wife visited him several times weekly and they developed a new sort of relationship. Though he came to know that he was her husband and the father of their daughters, he was not able to resume this role in any sort of substantial way.
  5. His wife Page was resigned to this, and still loved and cared for him as best as she was able.
  6. But then Page met an old friend, Allan who was divorced, and they fell in love.
  7. Allan also befriended Robert even as he was romancing Robert’s wife.
  8. Allan proposed marriage to Page.
  9. Page felt guilty, but wanted this new life. So she asked Robert.
  10. Robert said she should marry Allan, but wondered what would happen to himself.
  11. Page promised to continuing caring for Robert, but divorced him and married Allan.
  12. Robert continues today in her care and she is his legal guardian, but no longer his wife.
  13. The Post article assures us that everyone is blissfully happy, and will live happily ever after.

OK, a heart-wrencher to be sure. And the article is surely written to obtain our heartfelt consent by tugging at our heart-strings.

But be careful here, emotionally based reasoning is usually very blurry, and often quite wrong. And this is no exception. Lets look at some of the issues.

1. To begin with , there is the terrible title of the Post article: “A Family Learns the True Meaning of the Vow ‘In Sickness and In Health.'” Actually they do not. In fact they “learn” precisely the opposite of what this vow means. The vow does NOT mean that if one of the spouses gets sick, the other is free to leave the marriage and find love in the arms of another. It does not simply mean, as their “minister” falsely said to Page, that “so long as you make sure the other is cared for you have fulfilled this vow.”

Rather, the vow says that I will be true to our marriage even if you are sick and not able to live in a state that I would prefer. Sickness might mean that a spouse is no longer able to provide mutual support and companionship. It might mean that they are no longer able to be sexually intimate. It might mean that they can no longer provide financially or help in the raising of the children. There are any number of scenarios that the vow covers. It is open ended, and intentionally so.

In this case Robert was severely impaired from meeting most of his marital duties. Though he was not unconscious, his personality changed, he became more childlike and somewhat erratic. His memories were gone and, as the article implies, he was no longer interested in sexual intimacies.

Tragically this sometimes happens in marriages. But this is precisely why vows are made. And this leads us to a second point.

2. We do not make vows because life is going to be peachy and easy. Vows are not necessary to cover joyful and attractive things. Vows are necessary to cover less appealing scenarios, scenarios that are hard, and often unpleasant. And because they are such, we “vow” to remain true in spite of them.

Too many people today claim that vows are unreasonable when tough things come up. “Well if I had known that this would happen I would not have married.” But in fact this is the very reason you made vows, to cover the tough stuff. You did “know” in a general way, that difficult and painful things are possible and do occur. And this precise knowledge is why you made the vow: I take you to be my husband/wife, from this day forward, for better OR WORSE, for richer OR POORER, in SICKNESS and in health, till death do us part.

Nothing could be more clear, the vow says, “I will be at your side as your spouse no matter what.

This is the “true meaning” of the vow “in sickness and in health” no matter what the Washington Post says. Page, the wife, though sorely distressed and understandably desirous of an ordinary marriage, and “adult male compansionship” (as the article describes), has made a vow to her first husband that she must honor. That is the true meaning. A vow is a vow, a promise to act accordingly when the conditions are tough and warrant it.

3. But Father, but Father, she asked Robert and he said it was OK for here to marry Allan! Two responses must be made here.

First, as the article indicates, Robert has been affected mentally in a severe and substantial way. He is child-like in his reasoning, and not able to act on his own accord. He is in no position to be asked for a divorce or legally to grant one. The article indicates that Page was his legal guardian and, in order to procure the divorce, had to get Robert’s brother to act as his legal guardian.  Even secular law accepts that Robert could not simply answer for himself in his condition. Hence his “consent” to the legal divorce is not valid from an interpersonal point of view.

Secondly, and more importantly there is the standpoint of biblical and sacramental marriage. Jesus says, They are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one divide (Mark 10:9; Matt 19:5 inter al).  The “no one” here includes the spouses themselves. Thus, even if Robert was mentally competent and  strangely happy that his wife was dating another man and wanted to marry that man, Robert could not give this consent for divorce from the perspective of faith. Perhaps the civil authorities could accept this, but no one who holds to biblical and sacramental marriage could.

4. There is a notion today that everyone is entitled to be happy and that we should gleefully accept whatever they do to find that happiness. Well, happiness is not promised here in the valley of tears. And life has a way of dishing out both its pleasures and sorrows. True and lasting happiness must wait for the heavenly realms.

Jesus spoke very clearly of the need to accept and carry the cross in this life if we would be truly his disciples.

Page, in this story, received a difficult cross, one that was unexpected (they usually are) and long lasting. We cannot glibly dismiss her struggle, but neither can we exempt her from what God has permitted and gives her the grace to accept. Life is not always what we wish, but God can grant us a serenity and a courage to face life’s trials with faith and fidelity to the vows and commitments we have made.

I know many spouses who have cared for years for an incapacitated or difficult spouse. They are heroic in their virtue and steadfast to their vows. My own father stood faithfully by my mother in her 15 year decline into alcoholism, just she had stood by him in his earlier struggle with the same. It wasn’t easy but it made them both holy. In the cross is our salvation.

And this leads to the final point.

5. Too many Christians are ashamed of the cross. Scripture says was are to glory in the cross (cf Gal 6:14 inter al) and proclaim its magnificent, though often painful power.

Many are able to glory in the cross when it is an abstraction. But when the cross gets real, many Christians collapse and seek a way out. Sometimes it is a way out for themselves, sometimes it is for others.

And the world of course sees the cross as an absurdity and will often call the Church and true Christians harsh, unloving and uncaring, for our insistence that, only by the way of the Cross, will we reach our heavenly goal. To the world’s strident and rhetorical questions, (meant to illustrate the absurdity of the cross) we must often answer a simple yes:

  1. Are you saying that people who are suffering at the the end of life cannot be put out of their misery by euthanasia?! – Yes
  2. Are you saying that two loving homosexuals cannot marry and must live celibacy?! – Yes
  3. Are you saying that people who are unhappy in a marriage  should not be able to divorce?!? – Yes
  4. Are you saying that Page, who finally found love, after her years of suffering, cannot realize that love in a new marriage?!  –  Yes.

Sometimes the answer has to simply be yes and we cannot be ashamed to hold up the Cross of Christ who said, Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matt 10:38). And again, If anyone is ashamed of me and my teaching in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mk 8:38), And yet again, In this world you will have tribulation. But take courage! I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33).

Yes, this world will often rail against the Cross and call Christians who point to its demands hateful, inseneitive, heartless and so forth. Scripture says, For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil 3:18). And to a world that often regards the Cross with sneering indignation, we must insistently hold it up, for it alone, by God’s grace, is our salvation.

In this tragic story of a family, our hearts may well go out and understand the difficulties faced by Page. But that cannot make what she did right. I do not hold that she is per se, an enemy of the Cross of Christ. She obviously received bad advice from her “minister” and lives in a world wherein the Cross makes no sense.

But in this sad and poignant story is a lesson for us all and a reminder that vows really do matter, even when “stuff” happens later, that the Cross is not just and abstraction that we sings hymns about, it is about real difficulties that we are asked to face with courage and faith; faith in the utter and absolute power of the Cross of Christ to save us.

Here’s a Video of a happier outcome rooted in the Cross and vows:

You’ve Got it Bad and that Ain’t Good – But the Doctor is In

Alright, I got some news for you. It’s difficult news, but I’m sure you can take it! Here it is: your condition is grave, so is mine. We’ve got some serious stuff wrong with us! You might say we’ve got a few issues!

Yes, I’ve got your spiritual “medical chart” and mine open too, and I’m looking at the test results and the numbers don’t look good. We’ve tested positive for a number of things:

  1. It says we tend toward being dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, immature, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, judgmental, inpatient, and shallow.
  2. It looks like we’ve tested positive for being inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, and just plain sinful.
  3. Further tests indicate the presence of fear, indifference, contempt, impurity, hatred, laziness, cowardice, and anger.
  4. Likewise, poor test results indicate the presence of greed, jealousy, revenge fullness, disobedience, hardheartedness, pride, envy, stinginess, selfishness, pettiness, spite, self-indulgence, lust, careless neglect, and prejudice.
  5. Our “spiritual” medical history indicates that we have sinned against justice, modesty, purity, and the truth. We have committed sins against the human person, the children and the young, innocent and the trusting, the frail and elderly, the unborn in infants, weak and powerless, immigrants and strangers, and those who are disadvantaged.
  6. A set of further test results indicates the absence of important key indicators, for we have failed to give witness to Christ, we have failed to join our will to God or give good example to others. We have failed to seek God above all things, to act justly you show mercy, and to repent of our sins. We’ve failed to obey the commandments and curb our earthly desires. We have failed to lead a holy life and to speak the truth. We have failed to pray for others and assist those in need; neither have we consoled the grieving.

Well, you can see that we’re kind of in bad shape. And though you might say that I’m exaggerating,  yet I suspect, if you’re honest, that you have committed many of these sins if not most of them.

Without a lot of grace and mercy, we are in very bad shape! Indeed, I will say more simply that we are doomed!

But here’s the good news: the doctor is in! Jesus! Likewise, the doctor has a cure:

  1. Daily Prayer
  2. Daily reading of scripture
  3. Holy Communion EVERY Sunday
  4. Frequent Confession, at least 4 times a year, more if mortal sin is a problem!
  5. Frequent doses of the Catechism, the lives of the saints and devotions such as the rosary, and novenas.
  6. Good company
  7. And custody of the eyes and ears.

Yes, we need help; we’ve got some stuff going on that will kill us eternally. But Jesus has a hospital: the Church, and Medicine: the Sacraments. Likewise there is spiritual “medical” advice available, the Word of God, sermons, the teachings of the Church and the presence of encouraging doctors and nurses such as the priests, religious, and fellow Catholics.

Whether you and like to admit it or not we need regular check-ups and serious medicine. And Jesus is guiding his Church to give skillful advice and distribute powerful medicine.

Do you think of the sacraments as medicine? Many simply think of them as rituals.  But the truth is they are powerful medicine. I’m a witness. After more than twenty-five years of seeing the doctor, Jesus, and letting him minister to me through Sacraments, the Word, and his Church, a wonderful change has come over me. I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be.

We got it bad and that ain’t good. But the doctor is in and you know you need him! Reach out for him, what ever your struggles. He’s waiting to minister to you especially in the liturgy and the sacraments. You can’t do it alone. Join us every Sunday at the “holy hospital”, the Church. The Doctor is in!

Here’s a little video humor I put together indicating that sometimes Jesus the Doctor gives a diagnosis that may surprise us. For it is often the case that we say everyone else has a problem, but in fact, the problem is inside us, and so is the solution. Please pardon my video, I have a face for radio.