Category Archives: Sacraments

The State is Unnecessary


-“Progress of the State” quadriga at the base of the capitol dome, St Paul, MN.

-by Marc Barnes

The State is unnecessary for the existence of marriage. As that Venerable Badass, Pope Leo XIII, put it in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, “Man is older than the State and he holds the right of providing for the life of his body prior to the formation of any State.” More directly related to marriage, the selfsame Pontifex sayeth: “No human law can abolish the natural and primitive right of marriage, or in anyway limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage, ordained by God’s authority from the beginning. “Increase and multiply.” Thus we have the family; the “society” of a man’s own household; a society limited indeed in numbers, but a true “society,” anterior to every kind of State or nation, with rights and duties of its own, totally independent of the commonwealth.”

This the heart of a radical Catholic politic, the fierce validation of the family as “totally independent of the commonwealth.” People fall in love, marry, and perpetuate the human comedy through the creation of smaller people, all without giving a single damn about the State. This seems self-evident. But this also means that the argument for the preservation of “traditional marriage” as a necessary institution for contributing progeny to the State is, at best, wonky. I suppose one may make a baby with a mind to the maintenance and health of the commonwealth, but this is an unnecessary addition. One may equally, ethically, naturally, and in affectionate accord with the Patriarchs of the Western Church, say “screw the commonwealth, we’re making a person as a distinct locus of value, lovely in itself, apart from any possible ends,” and proceed thereby.

Within its proper limits, the State does no more than regulate “the civil effects of marriage” (Canon 1016). Which leads to the not-so-shocking conclusion that, to the Catholic, there is no such thing as a “civil marriage” at all — there is only the State regulation of the effects of a sacramental or natural marriage on society. At best then, the State can be a help or a hindrance to natural and sacramental marriages. Currently, it is a hindrance.

Marriage, according to the Church, is an institution directed to several ends. Unity and indissolubility (without which a marriage cannot be said to exist), conjugal fidelity and the generation, nourishment and education of offspring (which are the natural ends of marriage), the signification of Christ’s love for his Church and a remedy against sin, and the mutual help of the spouses.

If we briefly compose a tally, we will find that the State is inadequate in regards to every good the Church claims makes marriage marriage. Against the good of indissolubility, civil marriage proposes divorce, remarriage, and pre-nuptial agreements. Against the good of conjugal faithfulness, civil marriage legalizes and decriminalizes adultery. Against the good of offspring and their education, civil marriage permits contraception, sterilization, abortion — and the public school system. And as far as concerns the strictly sacramental effects of marriage, the State ranges from indifferent, as they should be, to ominous, as when we see the religious criminalized for keeping their marriage-related activities strictly within the bounds of nature and the sacrament.

So the question becomes, what is the responsibility of the married Catholic in a State which is antagonistic to every conceivable end of marriage, long before any discussion of gay marriage? Surely the first step is to repudiate the State, and to live intentionally within a marriage “independent of” a crooked commonwealth; to live a marriage which recognizes the State as unnecessary, insufficient, and finally incapable of establishing, legislating, or sustaining it. By seriously downplaying the bloated and self-appointed importance of the State in matters of marriage, remembering that the fullness of marriage resides in nature and the sacrament, and that no marriage in the universe has ever come from the State — only then can we speak seriously about “fixing” it.”


Deal or No Deal – Marriage or No Marriage


“Whatever marriage is said to be contracted, either it is so contracted that it really is a true marriage, in which case it carries with it that enduring bond which by divine right is inherent in every true marriage; or it is thought to be contracted without that perpetual bond, and in that case there is no marriage, but an illicit union opposed of its very nature to the divine law, which therefore cannot be entered into or maintained.” (Pius XI, quoting Pius VI, Casti Connubii, 34)

-by Marc Barnes

“The intention of perpetuity, or no marriage at all. Cold, Pope. Real cold.

But what it means is that, insofar as it is the law of the State to allow divorce, remarriage and pre-nuptial agreements, a civil marriage is no marriage at all. If a couple were to take as their inward intention what the State takes as a possibility — that their marriage could be dissolved, children split between them, and provisions made for this event prior to the marriage itself — then they would not, in the eyes of the Church, be married. They would enjoy the pleasures of an illicit union.

I am not arguing, of course, that the majority or even any non-sacramental marriages are illicit unions. I am arguing that, from the Catholic point of view, a couple is required to spiritually reject the very constitution of a civil marriage, to “fill it up” in their intention what is lacking in its legal structure — by committing to stay together. A State marriage is only a marriage if it is, in intention, anarchic; a rebellion against the dismal, defeatist proposition offered by the State, which, devoid of grace, can only ever plan for the worst in man — the inevitable boredom of his marriage and the dissolution of his promises.

If this is true, then the idea of “protecting State marriage” or “preserving the civil institution of marriage” against being altered in its very meaning by an alteration of definition from husband and wife to a sex-blind affair — it seems paltry. Marriage is already, prior to any concerns over the manner in which the sexes constitute its essence, a rebellion against the State. To “save civil marriage” by maintaining it as “one man, one woman” would be to save an institution that the Christian, and indeed, every human looking to make one life out of two people, is called to reject. Any civil marriage, entered into as such, is an illicit union, no matter how stupendously straight or gloriously gay a couple has the pleasure of being.

This, on its own, should be sufficient to call into question the unfortunate position that Catholics, myself included, often take — that of the guardians of traditional marriage. Far from preserving and guarding an institution of the State, the role of the Catholic is to reject the State, question its foundations, and introduce something entirely new — entirely nontraditional. Indeed, it was precisely in rebellion against the human tradition of divorce and remarriage that that Rabbi, Jesus, said: “What God has joined, let no man tear asunder,” and everywhere Christianity spread, it struggled to break the tradition of polygamy, religious prostitution, divorce and remarriage. Christianity, as we will see, murders the all-too-human tradition of solubility with the frightening call to indissolubility.

Of course, one might argue that in preserving marriage as an institution of husband and wife is the preservation of natural law rather than civil law, but it is doubtful to me whether the violation of natural law is best corrected by the State, or, to say it positively, that “things acting in accord with their nature” is a goal achievable through the State — especially when our State codifies all manners of distortions of the nature of marriage long before any discussion of gay marriage. But we’ll get there: To start, I only want to disrupt the Good Traditional Marriage vs. Bad Gay Marriage narrative, to aim towards the possibility of a creative, fruitful separation of civil and sacramental marriage, or rather, towards the acknowledgment that the Catholic and his State haven’t meant the same thing by the word “marriage” for quite some time. There’s some fresh air in this for the Catholic with the lungs for it. In a worldly city gone soggy with the separation of word from meaning, it is good to remember, in a desert-father fueled spirit of repudiation, that we do not do as the world does.”

2 Cor 4:4


“I don’t get anything out of Mass!” Really?

Maybe I could be accused of waning in my compassion, but there are certain, predictable ones I love.  This is one of them.  My standard response is always, “What did you put into it?”  Red face, flustered, and a good solid, tangible “harumph!!!” is, I suppose, to be expected.

“My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates (the Mass) as if he were engaged in something ordinary.” -St John Mary Vianney

-by Rev. Lawrence Lew, OP

A man in white, the astronaut Yuri Gagarin, reportedly said: “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God”. But had he listened to the two men in white who spoke to the men of Galilee, he could have saved himself the trouble of seeking God up in space. “Why do you stand looking [up] into heaven?” (Acts 1:11). As another man in white said forty days earlier on Easter morning, “he is not here” (Mk 16:6). For neither down in the grave nor up in the skies will we find our God. Where, then, is Jesus? How might Man encounter God?

St Luke says that Jesus was taken “out of [the apostles’] sight” (Acts 1:9), and yet at the same time they are told to be Christ’s “witnesses… to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This seems rather paradoxical since the ordinary sense of witnessing means to see something or someone; it is through our senses that we ordinarily gain a witness’s knowledge. But Christ is taken from their sight, so He cannot be seen. The clouds veil Him, and so, Jesus is said to be beyond the perceptivity of our senses. But this does not mean that God is thus absent or unknowable or even non-existent, as Gagarin erroneously supposed. After all, St Mark says that even after his Ascension “the Lord worked with [the apostles] and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mk 16:20). So, Christ is present and active and He can be known through signs; from these effects we can witness the Cause.

The Sign par excellence by which Christ remains present and active among us, working with his disciples, is the Eucharist. The men in white promise the apostles that Christ “will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11), and we tend to think this is a reference to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. But we need not jump to that conclusion. For just as Christ went invisibly, taken from the apostles’ sight, so He comes to us invisibly. He comes and is present and active among us through the gift of sanctifying grace, through the sacraments, and above all, through the Eucharist. As St Thomas says, “in this sacrament Christ shows us his flesh in an invisible manner”. Therefore, Ratzinger says, “every Eucharist is Parousia, the Lord’s coming” and “the Liturgy is Parousia, a Parousia-like event taking place in our midst”. For through the sacred Liturgy we encounter God, and He makes us “sharers in his divinity” (cf Preface of the Ascension).”

But, how is it that so many can go to liturgies and see the Eucharist, and still say, like Gagarin, “I didn’t encounter God”? Pope Francis speaks of how we all need, every day, at least an “openness to letting [Christ] encounter [us]”: it is the openness that comes through humble faith. Hence St Mark stresses that divine signs will “accompany those who believe” (16:17), for faith is the primary mode by which we can know and encounter God. So St Thomas points out that Man needs faith to “supply for the failure of the senses” to perceive God’s real presence among us. We Christians, therefore, “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7) St Paul says. For although Christ has been taken from our sight we can still come to know and love Him, to believe His word, and to experience His living presence in the Liturgy and in the world through faith. Thus Jesus says to his apostles: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [so that] you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). So, especially in this period before Pentecost, let us pray as the apostles did: “Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5). For it is the Holy Spirit who infuses in each of us the virtues necessary for us to be Christ’s witnesses, beginning with the theological virtue of faith.

A genuine encounter with God in the Liturgy, and His coming to us through sanctifying grace, thus gives rise to what Pope Benedict XVI called “Eucharistic consistency”. The Sign gives rise to signs that the Lord is working with His disciples, alive in His Church. So, as Pope Francis reminded us, “Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead”. In these various visible ways, Christ’s disciples become witnesses, tangibly banishing the demons of our world, confronting deadly things, and bringing healing and new life (cf Mk 16:17f). All who witness these signs can thus know that God is here – neither up, nor down, but here; the “tabernacle of God is among men” (Rev 21:3).”


The Grace of Final Perseverance


A little preamble is in order here.  Protestant understanding of grace and Catholic understanding of grace are very different.  This distinction is often overlooked and generally misunderstood, yet it is perhaps the singularly most significant separating difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Generalizing across Protestant denominations, mea culpa, “sola fides”, or the doctrine of “by faith alone” implies once one is “saved” by turning from sin and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in faith, that is all that is required.  “Once saved, always saved”, as the saying goes.

Martin Luther was a preacher and author of strong hyperbole.  He is often misquoted, or quoted out of context saying “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong”, or “sin all the more” once saved.  Protestant theology is NOT recommending sin here, but rather implying no sin is stronger than the saving power of Christ.  True.

However, Catholics believe the grace of salvation, too, is freely given and unmerited.  However, Catholicism does put a bit more emphasis on free will, and while grace is a free, unmerited gift, through free will we have the power to reject His love subsequent to our initial acceptance and baptism through our actions and choices.

Think of how a human relationship works, which I have ALWAYS found to be an excellent metaphor for relating to God, and you can see more clearly the Catholic perspective.  God loves us too much to rescind the divine authority He has given us in free will.  There is no authentic love, human or divine, without free will, according to Catholicism.  Hence, the need, as Catholicism states, for the “Grace of Final Perseverance”.

“Mortal sin” is called mortal because the sin is so grave and intentional, again through free will, that it “kills”/destroys the life of grace within us.  It is the life of grace within us which is the relationship with God.  God didn’t change His mind.  We did, and proved it through our choices and actions in free will.

“Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee till death…”

-by Nicholas Hardesty, author PHAT Catholic Apologetics

Final perseverance is that last grace which confirms us in the Lord at the moment of death. It is a free gift of God that preserves or maintains the state of grace in our souls so that we can die in that state. You are in a state of grace when your soul is in righteous standing before God. This gift preserves that state by enabling our will to cooperate with the various means of receiving grace, namely prayer and the sacraments.

The grace of final perseverance also implies that death comes when we are in that state of grace, and not in a state of mortal sin. By that I mean, when a person prays for the grace of final perseverance, he is also praying that death will come in a timely manner, when his soul is in righteous standing before God.

According to Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, final perseverance is basically God practicing his stewardship or loving care over our souls. It is, “an ever watchful superintendence of us on the part of our All-Merciful Lord, removing temptations which He sees will be fatal to us, comforting us at those times when we are in particular peril, whether from our negligence or other cause, and ordering the course of our life so that we may die at a time when He sees that we are in the state of grace.”

Final perseverance can be seen as a single gift of grace, or as the body or collection of graces we have received throughout our whole lives, all coming together to affect our final end. As a single gift, we are reminded of the Good Thief crucified alongside Jesus, who, after living a life of sin, was compelled to convert in his final hour after witnessing the example of Jesus. The grace of final perseverance made that possible.

As a body of graces, we think of the life-long Catholic who sticks ever closer to the sacraments and is evermore devoted to prayer as his age advances and his health deteriorates. And then, when death is surely near, he calls upon the priest to make his last Confession, to receive Viaticum, and to be Anointed. In this case, the grace of final perseverance was actually working throughout his whole life, compelling him to perform the various pious practices that brought him now, in his final hour, to death in the state of grace.

What an extraordinary gift this would be to receive! Extraordinary … and necessary, since we cannot go to heaven without dying in a state of grace. What’s more, this gift only comes by way of God’s merciful response to our entreating Him for it in prayer. This is basically what we’re doing when we say in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (cf. CCC nos. 2849, 2854), and in the Hail Mary, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We are praying for the gift of final perseverance.

Scripture mentions final perseverance in several places:

Ezek 18:24-28 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. 25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Wis 4:10-15 There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. 11 He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. 12 For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. 13 Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; 14 for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. 15 Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.

Mt 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Jn 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Rom 11:22-23 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Rom 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

1 Cor 15:1-2 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Phil 1:6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:21-23 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

1 Thes 5:23-24 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

2 Tim 2:12 if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

1 Pet 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.

2 Pet 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

In my mind, any passage that refers to the importance of enduring to the end, continuing in His kindness, standing fast, etc. is also a passage about this grace.”


Mercy…ransomed, redeemed, suddenly debt-free!!!!


Having spent a year in Turkey, without practical access to a Catholic Church, (Ed. reminds me of Mass online in Dammam surreptitiously in my hotel room) the author, a convert to Catholicism, returns to the US and to a VERY expensive reckoning with the AZ DMV in attempt to regain his driving privileges…


-by Max Lindenman

“…on my first Saturday back in the Valley, I decided to get them absolved and receive Communion for the first time in 13 months.

The church had an open confessional, and the priest turned out to be one of the most benevolent-looking men I’d ever laid eyes on…

After breezing through what I considered the small stuff, I recounted the tongue-lashings I’d dealt out while in the grip of my awful temper. Whenever I recalled these moments privately, or for the benefit of friends, I wilted with shame. They seemed to me not only sinful but contemptible, evidence of a low and ill-formed character. The priest gave no sign of holding such an opinion. With no change in his cuddly affect, he offered a few general pieces of advice and absolved me.

“For your penance,” he said. “I give you one Our Father.”

I felt exactly the way all those Bible verses say I should feel: ransomed, redeemed, suddenly debt-free, welcomed back into the bosom of the family. It made me so giddy that I forgot how to begin the Act of Contrition. The priest pointed to an end table between us; taped to its surface was a piece of paper bearing all the words from start to finish. After I got through it, the priest said, “God bless you.”

I offer these two anecdotes side by side not because they’re so wildly different, but because, in nearly every respect, they’re so similar. In each case, an authorized representative of a legitimate power helps a man atone for some past transgression.

Both representatives strive, above all, to be helpful…The only difference is that one form of penance pinched, memorably, whereas the other was memorable for not pinching at all.

From time to time I hear from people who believe that penance should pinch, that redemption dearly bought should also be dearly paid for…

…the near-occasion of my explosiveness is conflict with my fellow humans. I lack the creativity to stick it to them in ways not covered by the Sermon on the Mount. My approach follows the same phases as Field Marshal Haig’s – either cower behind the parapet or charge. It produces more or less the same results his did. In the best of all possible worlds, I’d be a desert hermit. In this one, I’ve got to earn a living, which means seeking terms with all manner of disagreeable people.

There’s an old story about a prudish actress – I forget who – who installed a swearing jar on the set of one of her films. On the first day of shooting, her more spirited co-star – I want to say Ava Gardner, but I could be wrong – took one look at the thing, dropped in a twenty, and extemporized a prose-poem in high modern Billingsgate. Jesus has dropped a twenty in all of our swearing jars, but there’s a catch. When we transgress, we have to pay Him. By holding down the payment to a token, the priest ensured I could afford to go on trying.”

Act of Contrition

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for
having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven,
and the pains of hell;
but most of all because
they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and
deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve,
with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins,
to do penance,
and to amend my life.

Prayer of Absolution (priest)

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of Your Son, You have reconciled the world to Yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mercy, Lord!  Mercy!


Why is Catholic Marriage different?


In my experience trying to understand Catholic teaching on marriage, the language is more like love poetry than a practical, utilitarian assembling of rights and functions.  See Song of Songs.  WIFM = What’s In It For Me? is definitely NOT the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage, quite the contrary, quite;  even though, culturally, we may use the same word to describe a dramatically different understood reality.  If our current crisis causes this greater clarity to come more fully into focus, grace doth abound.  Rom 5:20.

In this season of marriage ceremony, let us pray for those who take on this most solemn vocation.  I have recently begun attending a secular support group to offer support to divorced men and fathers as they bear the cross of divorce and separation from their children and the torture of the family court system, biased against men.  Please pray for all who suffer this most desperate of crosses, regardless of their sins.

-by A. David Anders, PhD

Catholic teaching on marriage elicits more practical opposition and misunderstanding than perhaps any other Catholic doctrine. When I ask people what is keeping them from full communion with the Catholic church, Catholic teaching and the canon law on marriage rank high on the list.

The reason for the opposition is easily understood.  Christ calls married couples to lifelong fidelity, no matter what. A valid sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved for any reason by any power on earth. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) This teaching seems so difficult that the apostles themselves could hardly believe it. “If this is the situation between a husband and wife,” they said, “it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)  Christ himself admitted that the teaching was impossible without grace: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11)

Some Protestant denominations wish to make an exception to this law in cases of adultery or abandonment. They base this exception in the so-called “exception clause” of Matthew 19:9. But St. Paul explains Christ’s teaching very clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:10: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  For this reason, the Church allows for the “separation of bed and board” in cases of abuse and neglect, but in no way countenances the remarriage of those separated while the true spouse is still living.

Why? Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for his Church. (Ephesians 5) It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world. St. John Paul II wrote that “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.” (Familiaris Consortio)

The really glorious news is that God never calls us to a task without giving us the means to accomplish it. For this reason, the sacrament of marriage is accompanied by astonishing graces that are unique to the married state. The Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes) put the matter quite beautifully:

“Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother. For this reason Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.”

To be sure, not all married couples experience or enjoy the full benefit of these graces. The increase of sanctifying grace in the sacraments calls forth our willing cooperation. Pope Pius XI explains: “[since] men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments . . . unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field.” (Casti Connubii)

In order to reap the full benefits of sacramental marriage, one must live a sincere, faithful and generous Catholic life. St. John Paul II explains:  “There is no doubt that these conditions must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life.” (Familiaris Consortio).

Christian marriage is an awesome calling. Like all the sacraments, it is “a mystery,” but a mystery of astonishing fruitfulness. The law on Christian marriage is arduous because the end of Christian marriage is so sublime. Through it we are “caught up into divine love.”  The Council teaches: “Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love.” (Gaudium et Spes)”

“…Thy Kingdom come!  Thy will be done!  On earth, as it is in heaven.”


Holy Thursday – “If it’s a symbol, then the hell with it.” – Flannery O’Connor


I, exquisitely, as a life-long Catholic have the privilege, too, of struggling with the literality of the Lord’s words, “This IS my body.  This IS my blood.”  Imho, I don’t think Jesus meant these specific words to be a “no-brainer”.  I believe He wanted humanity to spend the rest of its existence intently contemplating them, more than anything else He ever said, the centrality of it is such.  Recall the Catholic definition of mystery, infinitely knowable.

One of the most important and soothing, palliative things a Catholic can receive just before death is viaticum in the last rites.  For as much critique as the Church may unjustly endure for not taking the Scriptures more literally, this she takes exquisitely literally.

-by Jennifer Fulwiler is a host on the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, and the author of Something Other than God, a memoir about her journey from atheism to Catholicism. Her website is

“How could a reasonable person living in the 21st century actually believe that at the Catholic Mass, bread and wine are truly (like, not symbolically) changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ?

This was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when considering Catholicism. When I first heard that the Church still believes that the Mass makes Christ’s one sacrifice at Calvary present here and now, that on Holy Thursday the Lord made it possible that bread and wine could be turned into the flesh and blood of God himself, I prayerfully thought: “Are you kidding me?” I’d never heard a bolder, more audacious claim made by a modern religion.

There was a part of me that kept hoping I’d find that it was all a misunderstanding, that Catholics were only required to believe that the consecration of the Eucharist was a really, really, really important symbolic event. I was a lifelong atheist, after all. It was enough of a feat that I even came to believe in God in the first place. It was enough of a leap of faith for me to believe that some miracles might have happened a few times throughout history. But to ask a former militant atheist to believe that a miracle happens at every single Catholic Mass, that bread and wine are actually changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ despite the fact that they look exactly the same… it seemed too much to ask.

It is surprising, then, that when I consider how much my life has changed since my husband and I both became Catholic at Easter Vigil in 2007, I find that there is really only one thing to talk about: the Eucharist.

I could try to pen a great ode proclaiming my joy at having come to know God on a level I never imagined possible for someone like me. I could write about the challenges we’ve faced, and the oasis that our newfound faith provided for us when we felt cast out into the desert. I could talk about the freeing power of Confession. I could say something about how my life is unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago. But when I started to write on each of those topics, I realized that each one of them — everything, really — comes back to the Eucharist.

By the time I received my first Communion I had come to accept that the teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is true. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was willing to accept on faith that it was not false. I was undoubtedly being led to the Catholic Church, and found its defense of this teaching to be compelling, so I trusted that it was true in some mysterious way, even though I didn’t really get it. That was the best I could do, and I never expected to understand it any more than that.

Even as the years have rolled by, after receiving Communion week after week, I still don’t know how it works. I don’t often have a visceral reaction when I first see the consecrated host held above the altar, and don’t think I ever felt the Holy Spirit hit me like a ton of bricks the moment the consecrated host was placed on my tongue. Yet, despite the lack of immediate emotions, despite the fact that I can’t tell you exactly how it all works, I now believe with all my heart that it is true. I know that I eat the flesh and drink the blood of God at the Mass, and that it is the source of my strength.

I know it for the same reason a baby knows that its mother’s milk is the source of its nourishment: the baby can’t tell you how the milk is created by the release of prolactin and the cells in the alveoli. He can’t tell you about the importance of immunoglobulin IgA and fat-to-water ratios. He couldn’t even begin to understand how and why the milk nourishes him if you tried to explain it. He just knows how very much he needs it. He knows that the mysterious substance that his mother gives him is the source of his strength as much as he knows anything at all in his little life. And so it is with the Eucharist and me.

This belief in and love of the Eucharist is one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my dreams would I have thought that I could believe such an outlandish claim. In the first months after my conversion, I would sometimes ask myself if this was all in my head, if perhaps I am eating bread and drinking wine at the Mass, but that its great symbolic value has led me to put myself in a different state of mind. And all I could come up with is this:

If this is a symbol, then I am insane.

It’s not a particularly eloquent defense of the Eucharist, but that’s about the best I can do. The way this Sacrament has slowly transformed my soul and given me a connection to God that I never knew before, the way I could easily move myself to tears at the thought of not being able to receive it, the strength I have drawn from having this direct communion with God – if these things are not real, then nothing is.

As I reflect back on my journey from atheism to Catholicism, the whole story of my life comes together in a very simple way: I realize now that my entire conversion process — really, my entire life — was one long search for the Eucharist.”

Love & Blessed Triduum,

The Act of Dying


I, personally, feel very privileged.  I got to brush the teeth of both my parents prior to their passing.  I was present for my mother’s passing, but not my father’s.  They were in Florida.  By that time, I had had to return to Illinois.  I kissed my father on the forehead, the last time I saw him.  An infection of his prevented the lips, and besides, fathers and their sons never kiss on the lips?  Right, men?  So, the forehead as he lay in his deathbed at the nursing home, seemed most appropriate.  Most.  Still does.  Still does.  His final words to me were, predictably, “Take care of yourself.”  This was not a glib adieu.  When he said these words, then, I knew, they always had profound meaning.  I have learned even more since.

I encountered hospice eight weeks later when my mother passed.  Everything hospice told would happen did.  A peaceful passing requires resolution.  All her children gathered.  Though she could no longer respond, we said prayers around her bed.  We each told her in our turn all was well, and so would we be, and that it was ok, it’s ok to go.  And, she did.  Peacefully.  Praise Him.

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP (Br Thomas received his PhD in Physics from Stanford prior to joining the Order.)

“I had never heard the phrase until I spent some time visiting a hospice center, and it always struck me as incongruous. While everyone in their care was dying from one thing or another, they referred to patients who had shifted from slow and steady decline to the stage where the body starts to shut down as “actively dying.”

Unlike a normal hospital, the hospice rooms had no monitors steadily tolling the patient’s heartbeat or screaming for attention when vital signs change, so the evidence of this new phase varied – perhaps a particular weakening of the breath, a lack of blood flow to extremities, or an inability to keep the patient conscious. This stage could still last for days, and the more I witnessed such a decline the more this “active” part of dying seemed oddly named.

In a certain sense, all death is passive. It comes about when the human body can no longer fulfill its life-sustaining functions because of disease, trauma, or simple weakness. Unlike the acts of speaking or running or jumping, the hospice patient’s “active” dying is something that happens to him, not something he does.

We cannot simply will our body to stop functioning in the way we can will to raise our right hand. The truly human acts related to dying are always indirect. For good or for ill, they are only preparatory for a moment that we never fully control.

This thought struck me profoundly on my last visit to Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. I had visited Fr. Wallace many times over the last four years, but by the time I first met him his Alzheimer’s had limited us to nothing more than a superficial conversation. There was a certain passivity on his part in all of our interactions, usually involving me saying something to get some response from him. Just walking into his room always drew a smile, and I would bring up his time in the Navy, his time as a priest, his teaching, or his work in natural philosophy, hoping to get a look of recognition and a few words, which usually trailed off incomplete. Early on I could ask for his blessing and he would gladly, if haltingly, oblige, but eventually I had to settle for leading him in the Our Father or a part of the Rosary.

A little over a week ago we got the news that he was declining – in hospice terms, actively dying. After compline, about ten of us brothers visited his room as he lay on the bed, eyes closed, breathing slowly, and clutching the rosary that one of the sisters had placed in his hands. He had already received the Anointing of the Sick, so a priest prayed aloud the Commendation for the Dying. He spoke loudly so that Fr. Wallace might still hear him, but I noticed no signs of recognition.

After singing the Salve Regina, we decided to pray a decade of the rosary. None of us who were there could claim to have been his friend, or even to have known him much at all, but I remember thinking that I would like to stay with him overnight, hoping that at least one of his brethren could be with him in case he did not make it until morning. By the end of the decade the slow breathing had stopped. Fr. Wallace had died surrounded by ten of his Dominican brethren praying the Rosary.

Given the passive and reactive nature of our interactions over the years it is hard to imagine that he was actively holding off the physical shutdown of his body for some particular moment like this. It was truly a beautiful moment of Divine Providence. A moment hours, days, even years in the making, most of it out of his or anyone’s control. Still, Fr. Wallace’s decline over the years was simply a longer, drawn out version of what leads up to any death. We can never really be sure when death will come or whether we will truly have the time or the power to prepare ourselves when it becomes unavoidable.

The Church has always encouraged the faithful to reflect on, to pray about, and to prepare for our own death. This is not a morbid and depressing suggestion but a humble recognition that we will all face death and that the way we face it has serious consequences. Further, the Church encourages us not to take on this task alone but to draw on the support of our fellow Christians and, most especially, the saints. They have gone before us through death to eternal life, and we can trust that they will act on our behalf even when we cannot.

The last thing I remember Fr. Wallace doing before he was actively dying was faltering along as we prayed a decade of the Rosary, the same prayer we were praying the moment that he died, insistently calling upon the help of our Blessed Mother: Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”


There are three reasons why St. Joseph is the special patron of the dying:

1) He is the foster father of the Eternal Judge, Who can refuse him no request.

2) He is terrible to the demons; the Church calls him the Terror of demons and Conqueror of Hell.

3) His own death was most beautiful, for he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary; this is the principal reason why he is the patron of a happy death; the death of no other Saint was so happy, so glorious.

St. Francis de Sales was of the opinion that St. Joseph died of the love of God; St. Alphonsus Liguori considered this most reasonable.


O Glorious St. Joseph, behold I choose thee today for my special patron in life and at the hour of my death. Preserve and increase in me the spirit of prayer and fervor in the service of God. Remove far from me every kind of sin; obtain for me that my death may not come upon me unawares, but that I may have time to confess my sins sacramentally and to bewail them with a most perfect understanding and a most sincere and perfect contrition, in order that I may breathe forth my soul into the hands of Jesus and Mary. Amen

O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me all spiritual blessings through your foster Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, so that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer you my thanksgiving and homage.

O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me.  Amen.


“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…” & empty confessionals.


Everyone’s least favorite sacrament, I realize.  Imho, we need to start hearing GOOD homilies that address sin in a healthy, but straightforward way, no canned sermons, no ill-prepared random thoughts, just cause you can.  No more bad liturgy, bad music, bad children’s choirs, as cute as they may be.  Good, edifying liturgy, unsullied by parish politics.  Keeping the peace at the cost of the Good News?  Sin and its deleterious effects, not just “happy, happy, joy, joy”.  No sin, no need for a Savior, right?  Maybe after five decades, of “happy, happy, joy, joy” we no longer are sinners?  That could be the impression.  Works for me, and a lot of others, too, apparently.

Real homilies, GOOD homilies.  We ask clergy to do a LOT!!!  There is a PLETHORA of FUNDRAISING on Sundays, of EVERY flavor.  Give the cows a break, would ya’?  The business NEVER gets neglected.  The Catholic Church NEVER met a dollar or other currency, it didn’t like.  If you want a return to the confessional, the clergy leading by example, as they always should.  And, cool it with the money.  It’s a real turnoff.  Imho.

I’ve thought about the “take it directly to Jesus” approach.  I have.  I need to name my sins, TO ANOTHER PERSON, for me, to make sure I really “own” the responsibility, that I truly am no longer in denial, not a river in Egypt, and face it, directly.  A BIG part of being forgiven, for me.  I need to hear another human being say to me “I (God) absolve you…”  I NEED that.  A nun or two has also heard my confession, as well, informally.  I feel just as absolved.  I do.  Thank you, Fathers & sisters.  Thank you.

Bless Me, Father
May 21, 2007 Issue, America Magazine
-by Rev. James Martin, SJ

“The statistics are alarming. According to the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate, a survey in 2005 showed that 42 percent of Catholic adults, when asked how often they went to confession, answered Never.

Alarming but hardly surprising. Is there any American Catholic who does not know how empty the confessionals are in this country? The days of ritual visits to confession on Saturday afternoons are over for most Catholic families. In that same survey, 32 percent of Catholics said they confess their sins to a priest less than once a year.

More worrisome is the fact that active Catholics, not just lapsed or lukewarm Catholics, avoid the sacrament of reconciliation. Brian Stevens, 35, is a Catholic who is completing a master’s degree in pastoral ministry at St. Thomas University in Miami, and has just accepted a job with Catholic Charities. He does not go to confession. One reason he stopped was that he could not find a parish he liked. Not going to confession goes to the heart of feeling disconnected from the local church, Stevens said. He disagrees with blaming the laity, adding, There’s a reason for the decline; it points to a flaw in the way it’s been presented. It’s not the people’s fault.

Many younger Catholics in particular find the sacrament beside the point. Tom Beaudoin, a theology professor who writes frequently about young adults, notes that for his students at Santa Clara University in California, the sacrament is simply not an issue. I have had students talk to me about baptism, marriage, funerals, but never confession, he said. It hardly registers with them.

What has happened to confession in the U.S. church of the 21st century? Has there been a flaw in its presentation? More important, what can be done to invite Catholics to participate in the sacrament that is at the heart of our experience of the love and mercy of God? In short, how can the sacrament of reconciliation register with people?

What Happened?

Even a short history of the sacrament could fill volumes. Briefly put, the rite of reconciliation developed gradually. It is based on Jesus’ granting to the apostles the power to forgive sins, as recorded in the Gospels (Matt 16:19, John 20:23). During the first and second centuries, Christians debated whether a baptized person who had committed serious sins (for example, murder, adultery or apostasy) could be reconciled to the church. In the third century, Tertullian advanced the idea of penance, which took the form of a public act of penitence. But what most Catholics would call confession did not began in earnest until the late sixth century, when Celtic priests began to incorporate auricular confessions as part of their spiritual counseling. By 1215, theologians at the Lateran Council were reflecting and writing on the practice, which had become more widespread. The Council of Trent also took up the sacrament, laying down clear guidelines for its use.

The Second Vatican Council placed a greater emphasis on sin as an offense against both God and the community. It also declared that the rites of the sacrament were to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of this sacrament. Vatican II defined three forms of the rite, renamed the sacrament of reconciliation: first, for individual penitents; second, for several penitents with individual confession and absolution; third, for several penitents with general confession and absolution. In the wake of Vatican II, Catholics grew accustomed to seeing reconciliation rooms supplementing or replacing the old confessionals.

The sacrament, then, has been developing slowly over centuries. So how did the church in this country move in just a few decades from full to empty confessionals? Most experts point to a confluence of factors.

The first is a profound change in the sense of sin. As John Baldovin, S.J., a liturgical scholar, points out, this is both good news and bad news. On the one hand, we’re not obsessed with sin any longer, he said. On the other hand, people don’t think of themselves as sinners, which is a big problem.

Some observers note factors like an American culture that increasingly stresses victimization, rather than taking full responsibility for one’s sinful actions. Many are not all that open to recognizing personal responsibility, said Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Contemporary Catholics may also feel that the psychologist or spiritual director fills the same needs that the confessors once did.

The second is a shift in emphasis on the presentation of the sacrament. After Vatican II, not only did priests begin to speak more frequently about social sins, like racism and sexism; they also reminded parishioners that the penitential rite at the beginning of the Mass was an important way to reconcile oneself with God and others. Father Baldovin surmised that because of the new three-year cycle of readings, priests were also preaching more homilies about stories of the forgiveness of Jesus, emphasizing God’s mercy more frequently than before. While they heard the good news, this may have relativized their sense of sin, he said. As a result, some Catholics may have become confused about whether or not confession is still necessary.

A few Catholics have told me that the church’s ecumenical stance after Vatican II further influenced their view of confession. Mary Collier, 60, a lifelong Catholic in Peoria, Iowa, said, If God is going to welcome Protestants and non-Christians to a life beyond, and they didn’t go to confession, I highly doubt that I’ll be left out because I’m not going. She almost never participates in the sacrament. I’m part of that 42 percent, she said.

Overall, said Kurt Stasiak, O.S.B., author of the widely used manual A Confessor’s Handbook, Parishioners don’t get a sense that this is an important thing to do.

The third reason behind so many empty confessionals, according to nearly all observers, is the publication of Humanae Vitae, in 1968, the Vatican’s encyclical on birth control, whose teachings on contraception were not only widely rejected by many American Catholics but also, in the eyes of those who disagreed, lessened the credibility of the church’s stance on sexual morality in general. Catholics began to doubt not only the need to confess sexual sins but also the moral authority of the church, whose representatives would absolve them from these sins.

The fourth reason may be the simplest: because of busier lives, American Catholics are not as able to keep the Saturday afternoon ritual of going to confession with their familyif they know about that practice. Very few people under the age of 35 even have the experience of that as a weekly event, said Paula Fitzgerald, a campus minister at John Carroll University in Ohio.

Taken together, these four reasons help to explain why short confession lines are the norm today. According to the CARA survey, only 12 percent of Catholics go to confession more than once a year. Perhaps the more important question is: What can the church do about it?

Old Strategies, New Solutions

While most scholars agree that the sacrament has fallen on hard times, they also agree on steps that can be taken to rejuvenate the sacrament and reintroduce it to the faithful. Father Stasiak, who teaches at St. Meinrad’s School of Theology in Indiana, said that while the sacrament is on the decline, some parishes are attracting many people to confession.

He notes four general strategies, echoed in various ways by other experts, which make for good attendance at confession.

First, priests can encourage their parishioners to participate in the sacrament. Priests can talk from their own experience about the sacrament, not as an obligation but as an opportunity, said Father Stasiak. Bishop John Cummings, the emeritus bishop of Oakland, Calif., agrees. Where there are priests who are cheerful and hopeful about the sacrament,he said, it will work.

The biggest barrier in many Catholic minds to such encouragement is the notion that the sacrament is unnecessary. Monica Andrews, 35, a former campus minister, is a social worker who lives in Seattle with her husband and infant daughter. She hasn’t seen a priest for confession in eight years. I just don’t feel that I need to verbalize my sins, she said. I feel like I can confess to God in prayer. Mary Collier raised a similar objection. Nothing against priests, but why go to a human being to ask for forgiveness if I can go to God?

Pastors are trying a variety of ways to respond to such objections. During this past Lent, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., rolled out an ambitious archdiocese-wide program, The Light Is On for You, designed to attract people back to confession. This is a moment when we need to be aware of how diminished the sacrament is, in terms of its regular use, said the archbishop. When asked about these objections, he responded that Jesus established things in such a way that people could be assured of forgiveness. It’s a human need to hear from the other side, I accept that,’ he said. Jesus built that into the sacrament.

Father Stasiak suggests that the parable of the prodigal son is helpful when responding to such objections. Imagine how different the story would be if, instead of the forgiving father meeting the son with outstretched arms, the younger son had come home and found a note from the father tacked to the door. You need that personal connection, Father Stasiak said.

A second component concerns the priority of scheduling. Today the traditional Saturday afternoon hourlong time slot may be both insufficient and poorly timed, given many families’ busy weekend schedules. The problem is exacerbated in one-priest parishes or when a single priest is asked to care for several parishes. But timing may be everything. A centerpiece of Archbishop Wuerl’s Lenten initiative was asking all the churches in the Washington Archdiocese to remain open from 7 to 8:30 on Wednesday evenings during Lent, as a way of recognizing the timetables of contemporary lives. Why not offer it when people have a chance of being free? the archbishop said. We need to make the sacrament available in a way that people can actually access it.

Creative scheduling of penance services, including seasonal communal gatherings during Advent and Lent, may also encourage Catholics who may feel turned off by the box. And Paula Fitzgerald noted that retreats and spiritual direction at John Carroll have helped young Catholics feel more inclined toward the sacrament. During spring break this year, at the 10 p.m. Mass we had two or three students approach the presider to say, We came from retreat, would you hear my confession?’

Third, the church needs to do a better job in catechesis, say experts. Peter Fink, S.J., editor of The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, who taught the confession practicum at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology for 31 years, put it bluntly: It has been a failure of catechesis. Father Fink, who is now associate pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City, suggested that catechesis should move from focusing on sins that need to be forgiven to forgiveness that heals sinfulness. We have failed to convince people that the sacrament is more about how good God is than how bad we are. Poor education of the faithful in the basics lies at the heart of the decline of participation in the sacrament. Some adult initiation programs, for example, still spend only a few minutes discussing the sacrament.

Ironically, some Catholics who do not go to confession nevertheless show a deep understanding of what the sacrament should be. Brian Stevens said, If it was actually about reconciling oneself to the community it would make more sense. Appealing to some Catholics may be as basic as reminding them that what they are seeking is what the sacrament is already designed to offer.

Archbishop Wuerl responded to the catechetical problem by issuing a lengthy (and highly readable) pastoral letter to his archdiocese, titled God’s Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance, as part of his Lenten renewal program. It covers both the scriptural and more broadly theological bases for the sacrament, and it uses an encouraging tone and basic language that make it easy for most Catholics to hear and understand. The sacrament of reconciliation is the story of God’s love that never turns away from sin, reads the letter. It endures even our shortsightedness and selfishness.

To ensure that the message would be heard, the Archdiocese of Washington distributed 100,000 brochures and launched what The Washington Post called a marketing blitz, buying ad space on buses, billboards and on the radio.

Finally, parishes can provide good confessors. People will be more likely to gravitate to good confessors if they can be assured of compassionate priests, who will, as Father Fink says, speak a word of forgiveness. This is not to say that every priest or bishop can be a Padre Pio or a John Vianney, who were renowned for their skill as confessors. (St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, is said to have spent 16 hours a day in the confessional.) But hearing confessions is an art. Father Stasiak addresses it at length in A Confessor’s Handbook, which includes a helpful list of dos and don’ts, like Do not accuse; do not insult and Don’t get caught up in your own words.

An even more basic idea comes from Father Fink, who said, I used to tell my students simply to imagine what Jesus Christ would say to the person before you.

God’s Mercy

Archbishop Wuerl is hopeful about the long-term results of his Lenten program. So far it has been remarkably successful, with a dramatic increase in people coming to the sacrament, he noted a few weeks after it started. Churches where the sacrament remains a vital part of parish life tend to use a combination of strategies.

Parish priests and pastoral associates must trust that in this sacrament the church is offering something of value even today to a society that minimizes sin, emphasizes victimization over personal responsibility, places enormous demands on people’s time and fosters distrust of institutions. The sacrament of reconciliation offers something everyone desires: God’s mercy. As Father Peter Fink said about his own need for the sacrament, I go to stand before God as a sinner and to hear a word from God that says, Don’t go away. I’m still with you.’”


Sin is communal…only in extreme emergencies, confession.

Reconciliation_Pope-Francis (1)

“If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” -1 Jn 1:10

I had the…displeasure, you might say, of witnessing a communal penance service during a Catholic Mass in my life.  Mass was going on in a large auditorium in the Chicago suburbs.  The celebrant said some prayers, and then asked people to stand up when they felt forgiven.  One-by-one the entire congregation, or the majority, stood.  I did not.  I was in too much shock.  I don’t “think” I’m a wet towel?  I like to think I try to keep it real?  Hip?  As much as I can at 49?  Externally, I was in physical control.  Internally, I needed to be sedated.  I did finish Mass, though.  Yeah.  🙂

I realize Penitential Rite III of Vatican II, in very extreme circumstances, allows something along this vein.  None of these extenuating circumstances were present in this regular Sunday Mass, whatsoever.  I am not the Sunday Mass police, whatsoever, however, as an amateur Catholic wonk, I did drop a dime to the chancery, such was the scandal I personally encountered and felt.  🙁


A Communal confession is valid only for emergency or unusual circumstances such as for those who live in remote areas or in a situation where there are insufficient priests available to hear everyone’s confesssion prior to attendance at the Holy Mass. (We are to be in the “state of grace”, absolved of all guilt due to mortal sin through the Sacrament, right?  Prior to receiving communion?  Remember that part?  I know you do, gentle reader.  I know you do.  I have faith, and trust, and confidence in you.  I do.  Pray for me, when I receive the Sacrament, and my examen is “fuzzy”.  Please, pray for me.  Please.)  Under ordinary circumstances it cannot replace individual confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1483 and Code of Canon Law # 961 and # 962).

However, sin is communal.  No sin is EVER a strictly personal matter.

3/12/2009, -by Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia (retired)

“In a book which he wrote about his famous father, Enrico Caruso, Jr. described the atmosphere in the villa where Caruso lived and worked. The mood of the place was always determined by what the great tenor was doing. If he was sleeping, everyone was quiet. When he awoke, his enthusiasm for life was infectious and everyone seemed to rejoice with him. If his southern personality was expressed in anger, everyone in the villa trembled!

We don’t have to live with Enrico Caruso to know how the mood, words and actions of one person can affect an entire home. This can likewise be true of a place of business. One person can affect the entire atmosphere of a place and either raise it up with joy and enthusiasm or lower it with tension and anger.

This is also true of the community or family which we know as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The actions of one member can either build up the Church of Christ through virtue and fidelity or weaken it by sin. It is mysterious how the actions of a human person can affect Christ’s Mystical Body but such is the power of human freedom that God not only allows us to make free choices but also allows our choices to build up or weaken the Church he has founded. This is why we can say that sin has both a personal and social aspect.

In the Exhortation, which followed the Synod of Bishops that had discussed the Sacrament of Penance, Pope John Paul II wrote: “By virtue of a human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. There is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the ecclesial body and the whole human family. In this sense every sin can be considered a social sin” (Reconciliation and Penance, 2 [December 1984]).

The Sacrament of Penance

The Sacrament of Penance is always a vital part of our Christian lives but we highlight it in a special way during this Lenten season. This great Sacrament of God’s mercy has always manifested both the personal and communal aspects of sin and forgiveness. However, it has done this in different ways down through the centuries.

In the early centuries of the Church, there was a role given to what is called public penance. This was a penance performed in the midst of the community to highlight the truth which we have been discussing, namely the social as well as the personal aspect of sin. Public penance was not imposed upon everyone and it depended on the nature of the sin.

Saint Augustine wrote, concerning public penance: “If the sin is not only grievous in itself but involves scandal given to others, and if the bishop judges that it will be useful to the Church, let not the sinner refuse to do penance in the sight of many or even of the people at large, let the sinner not resist, nor through shame add to the mortal wound a greater evil” (Sermon 151, n. 3).

It was the confessor who would determine the necessity and the extent of the public penance imposed upon a penitent. This was done not to cause shame to the penitent but to highlight the communal nature of sin and the weakening of the Body of Christ caused by it. These periods of public penance often took place during the Lenten season, with the penance beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with a formal ceremony of reconciliation on Holy Thursday. This practice of public penance gradually changed.

Although public penance was once a part of the celebration of the Sacrament, we must not confuse the manner of celebrating the Sacrament of Penance with the Sacrament itself. Penance is the Sacrament which Christ established to bring about the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. The Church is given the power to dispense the mercy of Jesus in this Sacrament. The priest, who acts in the person of Jesus, forgives sins in the name of the Church.

In this way, the public nature of forgiveness continues to be represented when this Sacrament is celebrated. It is the priest who, as the minister of the Sacrament in the name of the Church, also represents the public life of the Church. In this very private and intimate Sacrament, in which individual sin is confessed and forgiven, there is still a public role exercised through the ministry of the priest, who represents the entire Church.

In his Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII beautifully expressed this mystery. He wrote: “As Jesus hung on the Cross, he not only satisfied the justice of the Eternal Father, but he also won for us, his brothers and sisters, an unending flow of graces. It was possible for Him personally, immediately, to impart these graces but He wished to do so only through a visible Church that would be formed by the union of people, and thus, through the Church, every inspanidual would perform a work of collaboration with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. The Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony, He would redeem mankind. In much the same way, throughout the centuries, He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.

“Jesus Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because he is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His unspotted Spouse.

“Dying on the Cross, Christ left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Toward this she contributed nothing. But, when those graces come to be distributed, not only does Christ share this task of sanctification with His Church, but He wants it, in a way, to be due to her action” (Mystici Corporis, 44).

A life beyond

We have all heard the word “supernatural.” This means something which goes beyond or above the natural. In our natural understanding of what is public and what is private or personal, we tend to think in physical or visible terms. If we can see something, it is public. If something is hidden or known to us alone, it is personal. The Christian life, however, is a great reality which is real while not always being physical.

In the Sacrament of Penance, we may see just the priest and the penitent. However, because we are dealing with an action of God’s grace, given through the Church, we are actually dealing with something public and communal.

The sin of the inspanidual, which may be known to that person alone, has an effect on the entire community, thereby giving it a communal aspect. The forgiveness of God transmitted by the priest in Confession is an action involving the Church. It is through the ministry of the Church that the inspanidual sinner is reconciled to God and the family of believers.

Once this reconciliation has taken place, the inspanidual is able to go out once again and fulfill his or her communal role in building up the Church of Christ.

In speaking to the Bishops of the United States on their ad limina visit to the See of Peter, Pope John Paul II described this unity this way: “Only when the faithful recognize sin in their own lives are they ready to understand reconciliation and to open their hearts to penance and personal conversion. Only then are they able to contribute to the renewal of society, since personal conversion is also the only way that leads to the lasting renewal of society. This personal conversion, by spanine precept, is intimately linked to the Sacrament of Penance” (Address, 15 April 1983).

Jesus wishes us to have a relationship with Him which is real and living. He has given us dramatic signs of His love. However, in order to live that life fully, we must go beyond what is natural and visible. We live that life in union with the community of the Church which He founded and which, according to His plan, is the dispenser of that life.

When we sin, we weaken the entire Body of the Church and when we are sorry and ask forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive forgiveness from Christ but through that same Church. This is the wonderful plan that God has designed for our salvation.”

I am not only a teacher of youth, but an activist for their protection.


Legal Pot Is a Public Health Menace

-by William J. Bennett and Robert A. White

“The great irony, or misfortune, of the national debate over marijuana is that while almost all the science and research is going in one direction—pointing out the dangers of marijuana use—public opinion seems to be going in favor of broad legalization.

For example, last week a new study in the journal Current Addiction Reports found that regular pot use (defined as once a week) among teenagers and young adults led to cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ. On Aug. 9, the American Psychological Association reported that at its annual convention the ramifications of marijuana legalization was much discussed, with Krista Lisdahl, director of the imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, saying: “It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth.”

Since few marijuana users limit themselves to use once a week, the actual harm is much worse for developing brains. The APA noted that young people who become addicted to marijuana lose an average of six IQ points by adulthood. A long line of studies have found similar results—in 2012, a decades-long study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders who frequently smoked pot in adolescence pegged the IQ loss at eight points.

Yet in recent weeks and months, much media coverage of the marijuana issue has either tacitly or explicitly supported legalization. A CCN/ORC International survey in January found that a record 55% of Americans support marijuana legalization.

The disconnect between science and public opinion is so great that in a March WSJ/NBC News poll, Americans ranked sugar as more harmful than marijuana. The misinformation campaign appears to be succeeding.

Here’s the truth. The marijuana of today is simply not the same drug it was in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s, much less the 1930s. It is often at least five times stronger, with the levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, averaging about 15% in the marijuana at dispensaries found in the states that have legalized pot for “medicinal” or, in the case of Colorado, recreational use. Often the THC level is 20% or higher.

With increased THC levels come increased health risks. Since Colorado legalized recreational use earlier this year, two deaths in the state have already been linked to marijuana. In both cases it was consumed in edible form, which can result in the user taking in even more THC than when smoking pot. “One man jumped to his death after consuming a large amount of marijuana contained in a cookie,” the Associated Press reported in April, “and in the other case, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy.” Reports are coming out of Colorado in what amounts to a parade of horribles from more intoxicated driving to more emergency hospital admissions due to marijuana exposure and overdose.

Over the past 10 years, study after study has shown the damaging effect of marijuana on the teenage brain. Northwestern School of Medicine researchers reported in the Schizophrenia Bulletin in December that teens who smoked marijuana daily for about three years showed abnormal brain-structure changes. Marijuana use has clearly been linked to teen psychosis as well as decreases in IQ and permanent brain damage.

The response of those who support legalization: Teenagers can be kept away from marijuana. Yet given the dismal record regarding age-restricted use of tobacco and alcohol, success with barring teens from using legalized marijuana would be a first.

The reason such a large number of teens use alcohol and tobacco is precisely because those are legal products. The reason more are now using marijuana is because of its changing legal status—from something that was dangerous and forbidden to a product that is now considered “medicinal,” and in the states of Colorado and Washington recreational. Until recently, the illegality of marijuana, and the stigma of lawbreaking, had kept its use below that of tobacco and alcohol.

Legality is the mother of availability, and availability, as former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. put it in his 2008 book on substance abuse, “High Society,” is the mother of use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, currently 2.7 million Americans age 12 and older meet the clinical criteria for marijuana dependence, or addiction.

Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, has estimated that legalization can be expected to increase marijuana consumption by four to six times. Today’s 2.7 million marijuana dependents (addicts) would thus expand to as many as 16.2 million with nationwide legalization. That should alarm any parent, teacher or policy maker.

There are two conversations about marijuana taking place in this country: One, we fear, is based on an obsolete perception of marijuana as a relatively harmless, low-THC product. The other takes seriously the science of the new marijuana and its effect on teens, whose adulthood will be marred by the irreversible damage to their brains when young.

Supporters of marijuana legalization insist that times are changing and policy should too. But they are the ones stuck in the past—and charting a dangerous future for too many Americans.”

Pray for our young people.  Pray for Mara, please.  They are in such need of our prayers and active protection.  We will be judged by Him on how we defended the most vulnerable, I firmly believe, and the Gospel says.