Beyond the Rhetoric: Why Not Mary?

Most of us who are Catholics eventually get asked, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” More often than not the question is not a real question it is a rhetorical question. For a few of you who might not know what is meant by the expression “rhetorical question,”  it refers to a “question” whose purpose is not to seek an answer, but, rather, to make a (usually hostile) point. For example the expression “Who do you think you are!?” is in the form of a question but it does not seek an answer. Instead it is meant as a rebuke. And so it usually is when we Catholics get asked the “question” Why do you worship Mary?” we’re usually aware that it is not a sincere question seeking a sincere answer. However, for those cases where an answer really is sought I might propose the following approach:

“Well, of course we don’t worship Mary since that would be a terrible sin. Worship belongs to God alone. We DO honor her though. Afterall, she is Jesus’ mother. But let me ask you a question. Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all? Doesn’t scripture say Every generation will call [Mary] blessed because God who is mighty has done great things for [her]? (Luke 1:48-49) It seems to me that we Catholics are fulfilling scripture but that in your denomination you are not fulfilling or following it. So why don’t you honor her at all? Why don’t you call her blessed as the Bible says?”

Now stop there and wait for an answer. Don’t keep going. Just stop and wait.  Have them answer for a change. We Catholics are always on the defensive, always in answer mode. But we ought to ask a few questions too. And try to avoid a merely rhetorical or hostile tone. Try to allow this question to be genuine, respectful, one meant to provoke thought. It is possible that many Protestants have never been asked this question or pondered an answer. Now it is also possible that your interlocutor will try to change the subject or evade an answer by piling on about Catholics but just repeat the question respectfully and ask for an answer. Remember your point is not to argue, be hostile or win an argument. Your point is to provoke thought and get a real answer. And even if the conversation ends badly or with no answer, you’ve planted a seed, a question that they will ponder even if they don’t admit it. Jesus often asked questions to proke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

A final thought on Mary. Another way to explain out devotion and love for Mary is that we are imitating Jesus. We love, honor, respect and entrust ourselves to her care because Jesus did all these things and we want to be just like Jesus. Consider that the very Son of God, dwelled in Mary’s womb, nursed at her breasts, was held in her arms, sat on her lap and entrusted himself to her care. Our Lord could have chosen to enter our world in other ways. Perhaps He could simply have entered the world as a full grown man. The fact is that He freely chose Mary to be his mother and he was truly her Son. As her son he loved and honored her as any good son must and as her son he entrusted himself to her care. All of this serves to highlight Mary’s dignity and to show us how devotion to her is in perfect imitation of Jesus himself.

What more need we say: Jesus our Lord and God honors and loves Mary, and his very scriptures sing her praises; so too His Angel Gabriel and countless saints. When we honor Mary we imitate the very Son of God and fulfill Holy Scripture. Certainly our Lord is pleased that we love and honor his mother.

Here’s a little viseo I recently put together. The Music is from the Daughters of St Paul, “I Am Thine” from the Handmaiden of the Lord Album:

Don’t Agonize! Just Evangelize!

When I was in 10th Grade my hair was long, down on my shoulders, I listened to hard rock, doubted that God existed, and had devilish “blacklight posters” on my wall that frightened my mother. Today I am a priest.

I have no doubt that I emerged from my agnostic, hippie, rebellious stage as the result of prayer. I know my mother prayed for me. I know my Grandmother prayed for me. They are in the 1963 photo at the right in the front row. My mother lived to see my ordination and enjoy the fruits of her prayer. My grandmother lived to see it to but I don’t know how much she understood by then, her dementia was advancing. I remember standing before her shortly after my ordination and she turned to my mother and said, “Nancy, why is Charlie wearing those black clothes?” She did not seem to understand that the fruit of her prayer was standing before her. But that’s OK,   she does now. Both she and my mother have long since died and I have often reminded God of their prayers for me and requested their happy repose.

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them. (Rev 14:13)

You and I have folks that we’re praying for. and it’s easy to despair at time that our prayers are making any difference. But don’t give up. It is my privilege as a priest to receive people at my door who have been away from God for years who are now requesting confession and a return to the Church. Many have been away for decades. But someone prayed for them, witnessed to them, called to them  and didn’t give up. Maybe it took 30 years or more. But now they’re back. Often the person who most prayed for them and desired their return has already died. They had sowed the seeds and I as a priest am reaping the harvest. At moments like these I recall the words of Jesus:

Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”  (John 4:34-38)

Sometimes we sow, sometimes we reap. Sometimes too we have to pull weeds, water and feed. The work of evangelizing and shepherding souls is seldom simple or brief. But don’t give up, don’t be discouraged. You just never know how folks will turn out. Pray, work, witness, and trust. Don’t agonize, evangelize!

The following video is not about religious conversion per se but it depicts “losers” who became winners. It shows those who were rejected, who became great leaders. You just never know.


From a dysfunctional family comes…Saints

monicaToday is the memorial of St. Monica, mother of Saint Augustine. A family who produces two saints must look more like the holy family than your family or my  family, but this family may surprise you. Monica married a man who was an alcoholic and as often happens with alcoholism, violent and abusive. She lived in the home of her mother-in-law, who was also an alcoholic and so it is not hard to imagine how difficult her family life must have been. Monica, however,  had one great defense and that was that she was a woman of great faith and a powerhouse of prayer.

Monica prayed for the conversion of her husband and indeed he did convert at some point in his life.  Monica is an inspiration for all mothers who fervently pray for their children, particularly when all seems hopeless. She felt that way about Augustine, who was smart, talented, successful, but also a self-described lover of wine and women and the good life. He joined, for a time, a crazy religious sect, and he fathered a child with a woman to whom he was not married.  Monica prayed for his conversion, seemingly without ceasing, as St. Paul would say. Augustine, in the true style of an obstinate young man, decided to flee their home in North Africa and go to Italy, in part, to get away from his mother. But Monica was on a mission and not to be deterred, she actually got on the next boat that left after his and followed Augustine to Europe!

The Power of Prayer

Monica is a witness to the strength and fortitude that can come from prayer. She gives all mothers of temperamental teenagers and young adults hope that one day, they will again have a close relationship with their children.

In the spirit of Monica

Today, many mothers are inspired by Monica. I wrote recently about the two planes that crashed over the Hudson. In that story is a subplot which brought the story of Monica and Augustine to mind.  The pilot of the helicopter, though baptized Catholic had stopped practicing the faith. This did not keep his mother and his fiancee from praying for him and his return to the faith. Last Easter he was confirmed. His mother commented at the time of his death, “It was the perfect time.”

Seeking the intercession of Monica

tomb of Saint Monica
tomb of Saint Monica

I have a great love for Monica as she is buried in the church of Saint Augustine in Rome. It was my parish while I was studying at the Angelicum. I would often visit the tomb and ask her intercession for situations that seemed hopeless and for my friends who were struggling with their kids. The stories of the prayer of these two mothers are a reminder to me that God’s time is not always our time and that our prayer is never in vain.

You call that a prayer?

images-4Last year I was teaching a math class at Saint Frances Academy and, as usual, we began the class in prayer. One of my seniors was anxious as she was awaiting word of admission to a fairly competitive college. Her prayer was simple – “Dear God, please get me into this school and get me a scholarship too!” The class erupted into laughter and debate. One of her classmates said, “You call that a prayer?”

Some of the best things that NEVER happened to me.

My student got into the school in question but the scholarship was not as big as she hoped.  Nonetheless, she was determined to enroll.  When she visited the campus shortly thereafter she decided that she actually hated the place.  In her disappointment, she concluded that God wanted her to go elsewhere. When she informed me of her decision I told her, “I am convinced that I will spend half of eternity thanking God for everything he gave me; The other half thanking God for everything he didn’t.” She smiled and agreed.

How to pray.

We spend a great deal of time asking God for what we want. However, the spiritually mature Christian has learned to only hope for what we what.  We should pray for what is best.

When reflecting on some of the greatest disappointments in my life, I realize now that had the decisions gone my way, I would not be nearly as happy as I am now.  Had I gotten the job I wanted out of college, I would have never discovered how much I enjoy teaching at a Catholic high school.  Had I gotten the house that I prayed for, I would not be living in a home that I love with neighbors whom I genuinely like.  Any number of the decisions that I thought were setbacks in my life would have steered me away from a career that I enjoy and a wife that I love very much. In fact, those events were not setbacks at all but rather, course corrections.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom – 1 Cor 1:25

Brothers and sisters, approach God humbly and pray for wisdom above all other things. In other words, try not to tell God how you want something done. Instead, try asking God – “Is this what I really want?”

Why Are You Worrying? Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

We often think that worry and anxiety just happen to us. But the fact is that they result from our thoughts. Thoughts are the source of our worry. If we tend to think negatively, or to catastrophize or to focus on negative things we will grow anxious and sometimes angry. But the Bible says we ought to “dedicate ourselves to thankfulness.” (Colossians 3:21). In other words count your blessings and have an attitude of gratitude. We ought to discipline our minds every day and spend some time thanking God for what went right. As Phillipians 4:8 puts it: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

What you feed grows. Focus on negative things and sure enough anxiety and anger increase and our sense of the negative grows. Focus on positive things and blessings and guess what, we are less anxious overall and our sense of well being grows.

Try it out for 30 Days. Let me know how it goes. The video below features a classic Spiritual: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?  It list the many people God saved of old and then asks, “And why not every man?”  That’s right even you and me. It will be alright.  God may not come when you want him but He’s always right on time.

Being in the Moment


Today, we celebrate St. Martha, one of the figures in Scripture with whom many of us can easily identify. Martha and her sister Mary invited Jesus to dinner and in a scene we can easily imagine—because we’ve been there—Martha points out to Jesus that while she is running around doing all of the work, Mary is just sitting around chatting. Who hasn’t had this experience? A sibling who chats with Aunt Mary, while you clear the table, a co-worker who seems always to disappear when its time for heavy lifting, a spouse who goes for a run, two hours before guests are to arrive. Surprisingly, Jesus who is all about serving, seems to reprimand Martha, saying “ Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things, and only one is necessary, Mary has chosen the better part.”  At first glance, it appears that Jesus is suggesting that the contemplative life is “better” than the active life.  Saint Augustine raises this very question. In Sermon 104 he says if this is what Jesus meant than we ought to stop feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and sit down and take up our prayer books. That however is not the way of the Christian. Augustine points out that Martha’s fault is not her hospitality for that is at the heart of the Christian life, but that she is so distracted by her tasks that she fails to recognize her Lord whom she loves, is here in her midst and she ought not to miss the importance of the moment. Martha is being given a taste of heaven and she’s about to miss it.


To Be or to Do


Augustine points out that heaven is sitting at the feet of the Lord, that all our work in done and our reward is to sit with the Lord and be filled with the grace of his presence. In heaven there will be no more to do, we will just be…. For many of us, this is a scary thought, we who are far more comfortable doing than being. When we try to be still, to pray contemplatively, we get so easily distracted, or we find ourselves saying, I am too busy to pray, I wish I had more time, but…. Jesus gently reminds Martha and us, that it is not good to be so distracted we fail to recognize him in the moment. It’s those moments at Mass, when we realize we are making the grocery list rather than listening to the Gospel, when we intend to leave work a little earlier so that we can get to Adoration or to Confession, but we start one more thing, when we check our blackberry first thing in the morning rather than praying.


Our service will only be as good as our prayer.  It’s not that the contemplative life is better is better than the active life, or that some of us are Martha’s and some are Mary’s but rather we are both. We are active contemplatives who are quick to recognize Jesus in the moment.


Take a moment to be contemplative in front of the screen and look at

Bringing healing after the Metro crash

The Metro crash was really tough on people in DC this week. Archbishop Wuerl led two prayer services – one for employees outside of their headquarters on Tuesday and an interfaith service today at St. Mary, Mother of God church.

News 8 and NBC 4 ran moving stories about today’s interfaith service — attended by about 100 “first responders” from the Metro accident (and the Fire Department Emerald Society bagpipers, who played “Amazing Grace”). It’s a good reminder of how important prayer is for healing – and that we should always keep in our prayers the “first responders” and rescue workers whenever we hear of an accident, fire or tragedy.

View more news videos at:

Rosaries on the Roadway

For the past three years, I’ve been blessed in that my daily commute has not involved driving on I-495, I-395, I-95, I-270 or I-66. However, last night I experienced the pleasure of having an hour commute from University Boulevard on I-495 to Falls Road on I-270 for Catecoffeeism. (The young adult communities of St. Raphael and St. Martin of Tours host this weekly book club which began with a reading and discussion of the United States Catechism for Adults, accompanied by a cup of café. The are now exploring Mere Christianity

While driving 10 miles per hour, I was able to observe the behaviors of the different drivers (a field day for my inner psychologist): Who was listening to the radio and who was talking on the phone? Who had their windows rolled down and who had their AC on? Who seemed grumpy and who seemed content? Who let me into their lane and who didn’t? Who gave me the Thank You Wave and who waved back when I gave them the wave? Who used their blinkers and who just cut in?

But one thing really caught my eye. I was surprised by how many rosaries were hanging from rear view mirrors! Washington is not particularly known for personal displays of religiosity. On the contrary, this is a town where separation of church and state often means that we feel the need to conceal our faith. Seeing these rosaries gave me hope and pride and made me feel part of something larger: our universal Church.

When I owned my last car, I too had a cross hanging from my rear view mirror…and I think I might put it back! “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8:16)

Do you pray the rosary? ?Resas el rosario?