Confession at the Shrine

I’m standing in line for confession at the Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia. John Neumann was Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852-1860 and is the first American Bishop to be canonized (1977).

As I prepare for my first confession in five weeks I sense the need for the graces I will receive through this sacrament. I am thankful that I can leave my sins in the confessional and receive the absolution from the priest in persona Christi.

At the beginning of 2019 I feel like I am carrying not only the weight of my own sins, but of those who seem to be struggling to offer the faithful guidance we need in a time unlike any we have ever lived. It’s easy for me to cry “foul” as I observe key church leaders, but fail to hold myself accountable for my failure to love and live in truth.

The priest heard my confession, absolved my sins in the person of Christ, and for my penance told me to reflect on Psalm 51.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:15, 17 RSV).

Prayer to Saint John Neumann:

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I will offer my services to my sisters and brothers. Every time I meet one of them I will treat as I would the Lord Himself! St. John Neumann, help me to see my need for conversion all the days of my life, through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.

Confession at the Shrine

Sitting in the Philadelphia Airport

I’m on my way to Lexington, Kentucky, to meet my new grandson Peregrine Sage Haas. So far I have only seen pictures, videos and a couple of live snoozes on FaceTime. He’s cute! He’s the fourth of four brothers, the ninth of nine grandchildren, and the eighth of eight grandsons. I am indeed a blessed man! My grand quiver is full of arrows!

I got to the airport by Uber. The driver Shawn congratulated me when I told him the purpose of my trip, then proceeded to tell me that his first grandchild had been born the day before mine and on his birthday! What a special gift to receive. Our 20-minute trip was a joyful conversation between two proud grandfathers.

We marveled over the gift of life and how much richer Christmas would be because of these two babies.

This morning’s Gospel reading references two baby boys and their mothers:

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:39-45 NABRE)

Those two babies forever changed the world, accomplishing the purpose for which they were born. I pray that Shawn’s granddaughter and my grandson will accomplish the purpose for which they were born: To know and love God and serve Him forever!

Sitting in the Philadelphia Airport

Hell? Yes!

On a quiet Thursday morning (today) in a 6:45 a.m. Mass in a small town (Merchantville, New Jersey), at a Roman Catholic parish (St. Peter’s), with small group of people (maybe 60) a parish priest (Fr. Tim Byerley), gave a homily on the feast day of St. Albert the Great.

The Gospel reading for St. Albert’s feast was from St. Matthew 13. I will highlight the first part of the passage and the portion from which Fr. Tim took his four-minute homily:

Jesus said to the disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Matthew 13:47–50, Saint Paul Daily Missal 

What impressed me this morning is that our pastor did not waste words in getting to the point, nor did he avoid the importance of the message on a very early Mass audience. In a nutshell, Fr. Tim spoke about the subject that Jesus focuses on here and in many of his teachings: the reality of the final judgment and the possibility that due to our actions hell is one destination that could be reached.

Hell is not a popular topic as I have mentioned here before. Not only is it not popular, but it is also hardly mentioned, despite the fact that Jesus talked about it a great deal. Think back to the last time you actually heard hell mentioned in a sermon or homily. I’m thinking many of you dear readers under the age of 40 may never have unless you took part in a series on the “Four Last Things”—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Fr. Tim so rightly pointed out that when final judgment, including the possibility of going to hell by the choices we have made, is excluded from our teaching and practice, then Christianity becomes just another philosophy that you try to live by, but in so doing, you choose what you want and what you don’t want. Since converting nearly three years ago I’ve learned there is a phrase for that: “Cafeteria Catholic.” Honestly, I believe there are not only “cafeteria Catholics,” but cafeteria “Christians” of all stripes.

Is it any wonder then, when the possibility of spending eternity in hell is removed from our hearts and minds, our lives and our practice, our homilies and our catechism, that we begin to live like the Israelites in the book of Judges: “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 RSV). The story of humanity is littered, maybe I should say “trashed”, with our rationale, excuses and defenses for why we do what we do. We alter our vocabulary to fit our chosen lifestyle and then we ask God to bless us and what we do. This can be anything from “blessing” an abortion clinic or seeking to redefine the timeless teaching of the Church in Sacred Scripture and Tradition regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. Once we throw out the doctrine of the possibility of our choices leading to eternal damnation, then the “sky is the limit” as to what we will adopt in our depravity.

Jesus makes it very clear: “Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” I would rather put my faith and confidence in him than in any “theologian” or “church leader” who teaches otherwise with an agenda.

On the Feast of All Saints, St. Albert the Great preached a sermon from Revelation 7:17

After portraying their beatitude, St. Albert explains this passage of the Apocalypse: “The Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life” (vii. 17). 

“In God’s kingdom, there are five fountains, to which the Lamb will lead His elect. The first is the source of consolation; there the Lord shall wipe away their tears. The second is the fountain of repose; for after having dried up their tears, the Spirit, that is the Holy Trinity, will say: ‘Henceforth they shall rest from their labours.’ The third is the source of refreshment; for they who are at rest shall be refreshed and inebriated with the superabundance of God’s house. The fourth is the source of joy. The elect, by reason of the heavenly consolations, the sweets of repose and the most agreeable refreshment, shall be in jubilation. They shall sing their salutations with gladness in the courts of the predestined. The fifth is the fountain of love. How ardently will they not love Him, Who consoles them, Who gives them rest and loads them with every good? Isaias, speaking of this fountain, says: ‘You shall draw water with joy from the fountain of the Lord.'”

“On the other hand, in hell there are, five fountains, to which the infernal dragon thrusts the souls of the reprobate, that they may drink thereof. The first is called Styx. When souls drink of those waters, they conceive a mutual hatred of each other. The second is named Phlegethon. The property of its waters is to enkindle the rage of the damned, first against themselves, then against those through whose fault they are lost. The name of the third is Lethe: scarcely have the reprobate tasted of it than they lose the knowledge and recollection of past joys and pleasures. The fourth is Acheron. The damned on applying their lips to it immediately sink into indescribable sadness. The fifth bears the name of Gocytus. The effects of those waters are such that they who drink of them weep without ever experiencing the least consolation.”

St. Albert the Great, pray for us!

Hell? Yes!

Che cosa?

Pope Francis gestures at the end of the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

With all due respect, I want to ask Pope Francis, “Che cosa?” or as we would say here in America, “Say what?”, in response to his order to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops not to vote on two proposed measures that would have begun to show a modicum of movement to deal with the latest and greatest sexual abuse scandals in our beloved Church.

This scandal is really a continuation of the revelations of 2002, that erupted once again in June like the famous Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The concerns of the Catholic faithful that the Church continues to lose ground in our secularized, humanistic culture were magnified as we realized that too many of our leaders were “in bed” with the permissiveness and promiscuity of mainstream practice.

It’s hard to offer an alternative to a culture that has lost its way, particularly when it seems that many of our leaders are on the same road to perdition. And then our spiritual hopes for purification, reparation and renewal are dashed, or maybe delayed, when our Holy Father, who offered great hopes of reform, has either hoodwinked us or is just as complicit as the rest. His rhetoric toward those who care about this downward spiral in the Church is disturbing at least, and unconscionable at best: “Be careful around those who are rigid. Be careful around Christians – be they laity, priests, bishops – who present themselves as so ‘perfect,’ rigid. Be careful. There’s no Spirit of God there. They lack the ‘spirit of liberty’.”

You and I must continue to pray for our Holy Father, for our cardinals and bishops here in the U.S., and especially for our priests who lead us on the parish level. This isn’t just about the Catholic Church regaining its reputation. This is about the salvation of souls in our nation! This is Jesus’ concern—why He came and died on the cross and rose again—establishing His Church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 RSV).

[Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters]

Che cosa?

An Object in Motion…

SEPTemberdaysPriestly Fraternity of St. Peter

There seems to be a spiritual application to Newton’s First Law of Motion. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

I see personal application to this in my own spiritual journey. I have known times in my life that there was little discipline to get up on time, and what I read was the news or sports stories or social media, and while I may have filled my mind with current events and other facts, it didn’t do anything to move me closer to God. So in this case my body at “rest” stayed at “rest” and the “rest” was not good for my soul. I can look back to those times and lament how much time I wasted being passive in my spiritual life.

Conversely, when I am actively engaged in my spiritual devotion, my spiritual life and fervor stays in motion and is fueled by the motion to continue to be in motion. For example, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and getting right into spiritual disciplines, followed by 6:45 a.m. Mass, praying the Rosary on my way to work, and sprinkling prayer throughout the day keeps me connected to the Source of my spiritual life. Motion begets motion and generates a daily commitment to stay in motion.

The turning point that changed the direction of my life was when I became structured and disciplined in my spiritual practices. I wasn’t Catholic yet, but I can’t help but believe that it was one of the portals God used to lead me to the Church. As I stated in an earlier blog it was a commitment to daily lectionary readings that gave me a foothold in the spiritual disciplines.

I share all of this to draw an analogy. As I have delved deeper into Catholic spirituality I am discovering that there are many practices and disciplines that once were commonly practiced among Catholics. For example, there were more holy days of obligation, fasts, Rogation Days, Ember Days, etc., and many of these things including the changes in the Mass go back to the years following Vatican II. For some reason, in the United States especially, the tendency was to deemphasize certain disciplines and decrease the frequency of others. My wife’s experience pre-Vatican II was going to confession every Saturday before Mass on Sunday. “But now only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University—and three-quarters of them never go, or go less than once a year.” And now some are putting it as low as 25 percent!

In 1955, 75 percent of Catholics attended weekly Mass. That number has dropped to 39 percent in the period between 2014-2017. Why are we surprised that there is little distinction between Catholics and the general population when it comes to marriage and divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality and conduct in general? We also shouldn’t be surprised at the current state of affairs in the Church relating to sexual behavior in the clergy and the laity.

The theory of expecting less from the faithful and hopefully opening the door to those who were outside the Church was ill-conceived and now seems to be an idea hatched in hell. Thousand and thousands of people have left the Church, given up on the Church or never entered in because they were not challenged with a life-changing message and something worth giving up their lives for. Inside or outside, it pretty much seemed the same.

Thank God for faithful bishops, priests, religious, deacons and laity who over the past 50 years have carried the torch of spiritual life and discipline for the rest of us. May their number increase! May we take our place alongside of them! What can we do?

Pray the Rosary daily. Find an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel and spend time there. Make a commitment to go to daily Mass as often as possible. Read the Sacred Scriptures. Pray. Fast. Go to confession at least once a month or even twice a month. Observe Ember Days.

Okay! What are Ember Days? Check the link above. The September Ember Days are Wednesday, September 19, Thursday, September 20, and Saturday, September 22. These are ideal days to abstain from food, not a full fast, and pray for our Mother Church and our Holy Priests. And pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Let’s turn the tide. Let’s be “objects in motion” that will remain in motion for the glory of God. Amen.

An Object in Motion…

Prayers for Our Pope

Now more than ever we need to be in prayer for Pope Francis. Let us lift him in prayer especially this week as he seeks the Holy Spirit’s direction.

O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Francis, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy on Your servant Francis, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Your loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Your help he may ever desire that which is pleasing to You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus, shelter our Holy Father the Pope under the protection of Your Sacred Heart. Be his light, his strength and his consolation.

Prayers taken from “Our Catholic Prayers

Prayers for Our Pope

Faithful Shepherds

Faithful Shepherds

These are challenging times in the lives of the faithful in the Catholic Church. What we once thought was behind us after the uncovering of the sex abuse scandals in 2002, has now flared into white-hot reality with the ex-Cardinal McCarrick revelations, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the uncertainties swirling around Cardinal Wuerl, and the eleven-page testimony from Archibishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Now the president of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) Cardinal DiNardo and team have visited with Pope Francis, and just yesterday Bishop Michael Bransfield of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (WVA) has retired under the shadow of sexual harassment of adults. You may be scratching your head along with me wondering what is coming next. You may be asking if there is a side you should take, or if it’s worth soldiering on.

If you have followed along with me on this blog you know that I have asked some of these questions. I go back and forth thinking I should address the whole “enchilada” to trying to keep a local or even diocesan focus. I have written my bishop asking for clarification. I’ve heard from him, but many questions still remain. A few nights ago we had a group of friends over to watch our story on “The Journey Home” and after answering a few of their questions about our personal journey into the Church, the conversation inevitably turned to the crisis that we are living.

What does a faithful Catholic do? Of course, we know the first answer is to pray. Pray for the Church at large, pray for your bishop, and pray for your priest. If you sense there is not a commitment to purification and restoration of the Church, pray into that and let your voice be heard on the local and diocesan levels.

Recently I came across a website called “Faithful Shepherds.” You can do a search of your diocese or of your bishop, even auxiliary bishops and find where they stand on the following issues that are related to the issues that we face in the Church today:

  • Viganò Testimony
  • Amoris Laetitia
  • Pro-Life Leadership
  • Homosexuality
  • Abortion Politics
  • Contraception
  • “LGBT” Ideology
  • Liturgy
  • Marriage and Family Life
  • Education

While some bishops have spoken clearly one way or another, many bishops have not addressed any of these topics. You have the right to ask your bishop where he stands on issues that are very important to faithful Catholics. Check it out and prayerfully consider how you can take a stand for Christ and His Church in this challenging time.

O Virgin Mother of God, most august Mother of the Church, we commend the whole Church to you. You bear the sweet name of “Help of Bishops”; keep the bishops in your care, and be at their side and at the side of the priests, religious, and laity who offer them help in sustaining the difficult work of the pastoral office.

Faithful Shepherds