70 x 7 = ?

During the last few months we have been bombarded with all kinds of news about people’s personal sins, much of which is none of our business.  We have also seen an increase of attacks on the Holy Father, mostly by Catholics, to our shame.  He is attacked becafingerpointinguse he was not clear on “this” or because he does not say “that”, which we believe, he should say.  Some people have gone as far as to declare that his soul is lost and needs to be saved by “us”.  We make all kinds of statements about the sins of others.  Rarely do we blog or post about our own sins.

Where am I going with this?  It’s very simple.  When we are baptized our parents and sponsors are asked to respond on our behalf, “Do you believe what the Catholic Church teaches?”  We renew this profession several times during the year during different liturgical celebrations

As I was growing up, one of the beliefs that I was taught was very Catholic was God’s forgiveness and mercy.  God forgives and once he absolves, he does not hold on to the memory of our sins.

“Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever,” (Is 64:9).  The prophet reminds us that God DOES NOT remember our sins forever.  In plain English, He doesn’t hold a grudge against sinners.

This begs the question, why can’t Catholics “Be perfect, therefore, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48).

How many times do we whine, complain and criticize another person for being a sinner, before we realize that it’s time to drop it and move on?  Maybe we need a clicker to help us remember the number of times that we must forgive those who trespass as we want to be forgiven when we trespass the Law of God.

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” (Matt 18: 21-22)


Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 5:57 PM  Leave a Comment  

Celibacy: a Jewel of Great Price

The question has often been raised by parents and friends. “Why would a ‘normal’ healtFrancis_and_Pietro_Bernardonehy man choose celibacy and chastity over a woman?” Another popular question, “How can you live without a woman?”
There are people who believe that such men do harm to themselves and eventually to others by engaging in gay sex or pedophilia. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There are married men who engage in both behaviors. Neither promiscuity nor marriage are “cures” for gay sex or pedophilia. In fact, these two behaviors do not belong in the same sentence, because they are not related.

To understand celibate chastity one has to understand love, marriage, and covenant. The man who chooses a celibate chaste life is not running away from marriage, love, and commitment. He is turning to something that he has found, that being the jewel of great price. He is overwhelmed by the love of God.

HeFrancis_leper can love another person and be intimate. However, when he experiences the love of God, he is filled with peace, interior silence, joy, and courage that he has never experienced. His life is different and he wants more. He cannot turn back to the love and intimacy of human romance, not because human romance is bad, but because he has found something even better than good. He has found Him who is the perfect lover: God.

When he compares his current state with his previous life, he discovers new things about himself. The first thing he discovers is that he has a courage that he never knew he had. He can stand up to those who try to control him. He is no longer afraid of bullies. And he makes choices and takes risks that he never took before.
Secondly, he finds that those romantic feelings he once had were truly beautiful and profound shadows of what consecrated life would later offer. Those experiences foreshadowed his romance with God.

Francis_blessingHow does he know this? He no longer question himself or his relationship. He is truly loved by God and he freely returns that love. He no longer wonders whether his beloved will change his mind. His relationship is no longer about liking what he feels or what the other feels for him.

His relationship with God is dynamic, because it is about surprises. God surprises him by filling his time, so that time seems to stand still God also surprises him when he looks back on his life and sees how much he has grown and how far he has moved from where he was.

Former relationships are now the old school where he learned the joys and sorrows of love. Now he feels ready and willing to live with the joys and tears that are part of loving God and being intimately loved by Him. Those old relationships were a training ground for what was to come.

One does not choose chastity and celibacy because he failed at romance, though it may have felt that way in the past. In hindsight, we realize that the past taught us that we could experience the joys and tears of love and continue loving and giving ourselves by the grace of the Beloved with whom we finally settle down.


Experiencing the Proximity of God


All too often we go looking for God only to experience frustration at not finding Him. Hence the temptation to think that “God has more important concerns than me” begins to grab hold of us. We begin to believe that the habitual sins that torture us will always be our masters, because “God does not care. God is angry at me or I’m a lost cause”.

The real problem is that we go looking for that which is right next to us.lighthouses-lighthouse-looking-wide-open-sea-horizon-cloud

Imagine the man who tells you that he has lost his mind. Have you ever considered how ridiculous this expression sounds if it’s taken literally? In order to make such a statement as “I’ve lost my mind” one must make use of the very thing that he believes has been lost.

The proximity of God is very similar.

Man cannot look for that of which he has no idea what it is and no experience. If we are looking for God, it’s because we have a sense of His existence. We can’t have a sense of His existence without knowledge. Finding God is not about feeling His presence. Sensual perceptions of God are gifts for a select few who can handle them. Finding God is about knowledge. Only the man who knows that God is closer to him than his own mind can find God, because he knows that God never lost sight of him.


Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 12:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

Atonement or chocolate?

Lent is about to begin and many of us are thinking about what we want to give up. Here is the irony of it all. Some people give up chocolate. In fact, chocolate is the most common Lenten sacrifice, followed by dessert.

Let’s take this in baby steps. The whole idea of Lent is that it is a time of atonement. Now let’s get this straight. We sin against purity, honesty, loyalty, charity, faith, justice, detachment and many other things and virtues. Then we try to atone for all of this by giving up Hershey’s Kisses or ice-cream and apple pie? Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether our Lenten sacrifices are somewhat presumptuous. We hope to atone for a multitude of sins with a few candy bars and some dessert; if we remember, we abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.


“My merit is God’s mercy.” -St. Bernard

Fortunately for us, God’s mercy far exceeds our foolishness. We often forget that Lent is a time of penance. Penance means atonement and conversion of manners.

We can never atone for our sins on our own. For this reason Lent culminates in Passion week, when Christ enters Jerusalem to be executed for our sins. Only the perfect man can offer the perfect act of atonement.

Our Lenten sacrifices must be offered with the ultimate sacrifice that Christ offered. During Lent we must be able to answer several questions with honesty.

1. Whether I am giving up chocolate or something else that I like, am I aware that I must also give up a specific sin? The external sacrifice is only a reminder of what we have to change. It does little good to give up a goody that we like while continuing to fall into the same sin.

2. If I add extra prayer or an extra mass to my weekly schedule do I take the time to meditate on the sin that I am trying to atone? Or do I offer the mass and prayers without much thought to what I have to change? The purpose of the extra mass and prayers is to bring us closer to God and draw us farther away from sin.

3. Finally, do I remember that Lent is to the Church what novitiate is to religious formation? During Lent I take a closer look at what needs improvement in my life and I work toward a conversion of manners. That is, a change in how I live my life with God and neighbor.

One cannot enter Lent with heart and soul without acknowledging one’s sins and the Passion of Christ, which restored to man the necessary graces to change and become like Adam before the Fall. If we ignore sin and the fact that we are sinners, Lent becomes just another tradition that leads nowhere. If we recognize sin, the Cross, and our need for a conversion of manners, Lent becomes a season of extraordinary grace.


The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis

Moral Reasoning Through the Complexity of Homosexuality

This is a very complex issue. It’s not as simple as people on both sides of the aisle want to make it. There are some basic principles that do help us understand what is right and wrong. Many people are not educated in these principles.

First: God reveals himself. He discloses himself to man through Sacred Scripture, also through sacred tradition, the baseball_throwingMagisterium of the Church, natural law, and logic.

We can’t just throw a bible verse at something and pretend we have it all figured out. All of these pieces must work together. They are all good, because they all come from the same divine origin.

Second: Faith enlightens reason. We must reason through these questions and let our faith inform us whether or not our reasoning is consistent with what God has revealed about his nature and the nature of man.

Third: People have to distinguish between the action and the person. They are not the same. When a five-year old kills his little brother with his father’s gun during a game of “cops and comicrobbers,” the action is contrary to the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” However, the five-year old is not a murderer, because he neither intended to actually kill his sibling, nor is he knowledgeable of the commandment. The action remains evil; but the child is not culpable. We can condemn behaviors, but we have to be very careful not to judge people. That would be playing God.

Fourth: Juangel_appears_to_st_josephdging another person involves walking through his or her mind and conscience. One’s thoughts on any issue and one’s moral conscience are part of what is known as the “internal forum”. This is an area of human existence that no human being may trespass or attempt to read without an invitation from the individual who is the lawful guardian of his mind and conscience. We can explain why a certain action or behavior is wrong, but we may not pass judgment on the individual’s moral reasoning unless that person invites us to examine it with him, thus inviting us into the internal forum.

Fifth: There is a big difference between homosexual acts and homosexuality. A person with same sex attraction does not wake up one morning and decide to be gay. As he develops and goes through different life experiences, he becomes aware of his feelings in this area. On the other hand, people freely choose to engage in sexual behavior with a person of the same sex. Choosing to be attracted to the same sex is very rare. That which man does not choose can be neither a sin nor a virtue.


Sixth: Homosexual acts, like heterosexual acts, are freely chosen by the parties involved (except in cases of violent force). The person(s) must use reason to determine whether an act is right or wrong. If the person is a man or woman of faith, that faith should confirm the correctness of his conclusion or point to its moral error.

right and wrongSeventh: Acting on faith and basing our actions on what God has disclosed to us about him, about us and about the relationship between the divine and the human is not the same as playing God. It is using that which makes us in the image and likeness of God to make right choices, that being knowledge of right and wrong.

Eighth: Standing in judgment of an action does not constitute godliness. It’s part of human reason and part of living in society. On the other hand, standing in judgment of the person involved in the action that we reject, IS playing God. No one has the right to judge the conscience of another human being, unless the other person opens up his heart and shares what is on his conscience.

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St. Pius X – our “Brother Giuseppe”

We are celebrating today the feast of a Franciscan saint, Pope Pius X. Born Giuseppe Sarto, he entered seminary at 15, was ordained at 23 and became pastor of Salzano (province of Venice) at age 32, where he remained for the following eight years.


It is during his residence in Salzano where he became a professed member of the “Ordo Franciscanum Saecularis”. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, this was the third order founded by St. Francis after that of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares). It welcomed those who wished to follow the life of the Gospel but could not join the “regular” orders – this included married men and women, diocesan clergy, and also those who were single but discerning the call to marriage.

“Brother Giuseppe” was known for his kindness to the poor. He restored the Church of Salzano, enlarged the hospital, and was known during his years as bishop of Mantua to give copies of texts of dogmatic and moral theology to poor seminarians.

Upon election as bishop of Rome, with the name of Pius X, he followed his spiritual father St. Francis in promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, even when this meant breaking with long-established customs in the Latin Church.

He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion daily in a time in which frequent communion was far from being the customary practice. He also dispensed the sick from the pre-communion fast, which at the time was due from midnight of the previous day. Furthermore, he strongly promoted giving First Communion to children as soon as they manifested sufficient discretion, lowering the “age of reason” from 12 to 7 years old. Finally, he urged the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily receive Holy Communion.

Intending to “restore everything in Christ”, he began a series of extensive reforms of the liturgy.


The Porziuncula, a simple church where the first Franciscans praised and glorified God

The first step he took in this direction was to affirm the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Latin churches, but not for the reasons that some today wish to attribute it… He did so because it represented a much simpler musical style than the theatrical style that was predominant at the time, namely Classical and Baroque compositions. His intent was all-encompassing: by restoring the chanting by the people, he wished to restore the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. In this he would be echoed by his successor to the Chair of Peter, who insisted that chant had to be restored to the use of the people since “it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers“.

Insisting in the importance of the participation of the lay faithful in the life of the Church, St. Pius mandated that catechism classes be established in every parish in the world, and redacted a Catechism known for its “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”, which found its worthy successor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not StPiusXatDeskaimed to the use of the clergy but to the entire People of God.
His most encompassing reforms were of the Code of Canon Law and of the Divine Office. The former received a universal structure. The latter was a major revision: he abolished and forbade the Breviary established by St. Pius V, promulgating a revision that rearranged the psalms, dividing them when too long, and significantly reducing the individual Hours. The changes also made necessary a reform of the Roman Missal, which was completed in the 1920 typical edition by his successor to the Apostolic See. This was the fourth revision of the so-called “Tridentine Mass” since the day that St. Pius V established it as the norm for most diocesan clergy of the Latin Rite.

During his pontificate, St Pius X was very close to the people in times of natural disasters – we recall the earthquake of Calabria and the eruption of Mount Vesuvio – and showed his paternal care towards the Secular Franciscan Order by asking the Franciscan friars to take spiritual care of them (see the Latin document here). The Franciscan spirit which permeated his life and pontificate could be summarized by his words concerning the Catholic attitude towards the Holy Father:

“How must the Pope be loved? Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. When a person is loved, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to execute his will, to interpret his desires. When we love the Pope, we make no arguments around what he disposes or demands, or about how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough…we do not place his orders in doubt…we do not limit the scope in which he can and should exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other people no matter how learned who dissent from the Pope, who may be learned but are not holy, because he who is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a hurting heart, that with deep bitterness I express, not for your sake, beloved brothers, but with you in order to deplore the conduct of many priests, who not only dare to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not ashamed to reach impudent and shameless disobedience, with much scandal for the good and with so much ruin of souls. (Discorso 18-XI-1912)”

In this he echoes the words of the Seraphic Father who writes:

“Brother Francis, and whoever may be at the head of this religion, promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Innocent and to his successors. And the other brothers shall be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. […] Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church. (Rule)

The Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters.”  (Testament)

St Pius was known to have said: “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Falling ill on the feast of the Assumption, also weighed down by the distress of the First World War that he had tried so difficultly to prevent, he expressively prohibited the embalming of his remains and was buried in a simple, unadorned tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.


To him the Lord entrusted the Church at a very difficult time – when the world was transitioning into the Great Wars that would forever change its face and usher a new era for civilization in terms of destruction and reconstruction. We are all indebted to him for the courage and simplicity with which he embraced the task of laying the foundations for a comprehensive renewal of the Church.

For those who wish to read some of his writings, you may visit the page dedicated to him on the website of the Holy See, here.



“To be held as precious”

Today the Latin Church celebrates the solemnity of Corpus Christi to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.


Although the Seraphic Father never experienced this feast, he and his brothers certainly had a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist during his lifetime. In fact, St. Francis focused his first Admonition on the Holy Eucharist, professing that

the Sacrament of the Body of Christ which is sanctified by the word of the Lord upon the altar by the hands of the priest in the form of bread and wine […] is really the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Francis emphasized that the Holy Eucharist shows the Lord’s great humility and simplicity, the same that He showed in the Incarnation:

Behold daily He humbles Himself as when from His “royal throne” He came into the womb of the Virgin; daily He Himself comes to us with like humility; daily He descends from the bosom of His Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest.

eucharist in creche

The awe inspired by the great love of the Word made Flesh, united to the awareness that in this world we can see nothing corporally of Christ except the Holy Eucharist (Testament) moves us to revere the Real Presence and, by association to show respect for “the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice“. These, Francis reminds, us, must be held as precious (Letter to all the Custodes).

In the Latin Church, such reverence was expressed in ways that were typically European, according to the circumstances. Customary gestures arose, some of which acquired meaning, and others to which meaning began to be attributed.

The latter revealed a weakness: the meaning of reverence appeared from the outside in. One had to ask “Why?” in order to be told “it is a sign of reverence“.

Other customary gestures, however, allowed the action to speak for itself. Consider for instance the elevation after the consecration, a late medieval introduction intended to show the consecrated host to the people. When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, prior to her conversion from Anglicanism, witnessed this for the first time, she was well aware of what was being done (since it existed in the Anglican rite), but the awe that accompanied it was what she perceived, an awe sparked by the Catholic belief in the Real Presence. This, and not the gesture per se, would eventually lead her to the Eucharist. Reverence, then, can be experienced or defined.


The Church, rather than rigidly defining reverence, mediates its experience by pointing to the value of that which is sacred. This she does in a twofold manner: expressing dismay when that which is sacred is treated carelessly, and showing forth the different degrees of reverence due to the sacred.

As an example of the former, the Church states that “sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing…are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use” (CIC 1171), and that they be made of materials “truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, [being] reprobated…any practice of using…common vessels…or which are mere containers” (RS 117).

As an example of showing the different degrees of reverence that are due, consider the chalice. The minor clerics handled the empty chalice. The subdeacon handed the filled chalice to the deacon before consecration. The priest handled the consecrated chalice.

When for practical reasons laymen replaced the ministry of the minor orders and subdiaconate, the lay ministers handled the empty chalice, the deacon poured wine into the chalice and handed it to the priest, and the priest consecrated.

When order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

If, however, we do not let reverence speak for itself, but rather focus on rigidly defining it, we risk embracing two imperfect mindsets.

In the first of these, we may apply gestures that express reverence in situations that do not call for it, which leads to an over-generalization or over-use of such gestures, so that eventually they lose their reverent meaning and become “common”.

An example of this is the practice of genuflection. In the Latin Church, genuflection became a common sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually, genuflections became common throughout the liturgy even when the Blessed Sacrament is neither present on the altar, nor reserved in the Tabernacle. This begs the question: “Why genuflect?” To which the answer comes: “As a sign of reverence“. This led to confusion, as the distinction between reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament and respect due to a sacred object (namely, the altar) became unclear. This of course can lead to such gestures being eventually discarded because they are no longer associated with the original context and thus  perceived as superfluous repetition.

The second of these mindsets, one may begin to perceive the absence of certain gestures as a “lack of reverence”, or the presence of certain gestures as a “need”, given our sinfulness or even “uncleanliness”.

Consider, for instance, the usage of gloves by altar servers. When the law of the Latin Church reserved, so to speak, the handling of the sacred vessels to the minor clerics, this came neither from divine revelation nor because of an intrinsic spiritual meaning. Certainly it was not the Church’s mindset that the laity was “unworthy because unholy”. It was done for very practical reasons. Furthermore, laymen and religious often functioned as sacristan. At times they handled the vessels with a piece of cloth, because it was fairly easy to transfer grease and dirt from their hands to the vessels.


Yet by the 19th Century we read that if the sacristan is a layman rather than a minor cleric, “it is at least becoming that a veil be used in handling the chalice and the paten” (Collectio Rerum Liturgicarum). Statements such as these were understood in the negative, as implying that the gesture of a lay man or woman handling the chalice with bare hands is a lack of reverence, because the laity are somewhat “unclean”, hence the need to “restrict” them outside of the sacristy and to grant clerics alone the “privilege”of handling the sacred vessels. This, of course, confuses the way the Church intended to bring order and distorts the meaning of reverence. Even the previous Code of Canon Law stated that the sacred vessels could be handled by either the clerics or those who had their custody, including laity and religious (CIC/1917 1306), where the word “laity” made no distinction between male and female .


St. Therese of Lisieux as sacristan

As for the honor due to the clergy, the Seraphic Father reminds us that it is “on account of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sacrifice on the altar and receive and administer to others” (Letter to all the Faithful). That is to say: we honor them because they are the ministers of the Eucharist; they are not the ministers of the Eucharist because of their holiness.

In brief: this mindset, which focuses on our sinfulness alone, fails to acknowledge the Incarnation. Yet, it can still be found today, even when minor orders are no longer present in the Latin Church (with a few exceptions) and their functions are performed by the laity.

To avoid the two slippery slopes that we have described, we should bear in mind that the Church does not rigidly define reverence, but rather orders roles and gestures according to the need. Again, when order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

Consequently, the focus shifts from our sinfulness and unworthiness to the Incarnation. At that moment, the Word becomes Flesh and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumes our nature, breaking into human history and beginning the journey towards our redemption.

True reverence has its roots in the Incarnation and naturally returns to it. We reverence Our Lord Jesus Christ when we acknowledge Him as true God and true man, hence becoming aware of who He is, our very brother, and of who we are in relationship to Him, children of the Most High.



Br. Bernardo di Carmine

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Parents and God: friends or foes?

This week, I’ve had the privilege of working with many parents and their children.  When you work in the field of evangelization, you get to meet many families.  I consider it pretty special.  I always walk away feeling that I have exchanged gifts.  It can be an individual member of a family or an entire family who gives me a gift and to whom I give a gift.

For the sake of privacy and because it would be silly to give so many details, I’m going to combine all of my families into three groups.


I received a letter from someone whom I do not know.  I have never met this person or any member of her family.  It was a lovely letter.

Brother JR, I just wanted to thank you – you were so instrumental in our family’s conversion five years ago. I spent many long hours reading your articles, which were always gentle and full of the beauty of the faith. For that, for helping us know the beauty of the Catholic Church, I am forever grateful.

God bless you, and please know you’re in my prayers.

This letter moved me a great deal.  The Holy Spirit can use anything and anyone to save.  The key is to be aware of that one is an instrument, not the solution to a problem and certainly not God.  Messages like this help us.

My articles are not written with children in mind.  They’re written for adults.  This means that an adult in the family read the articles and shared it with spouse and children.  This is a parent who has found a means to evangelize the family, a means that works for that family.  This is the duty of parents, to bring their families to the faith.


The other case is also a letter representative of how other parents think.  I have the honor of helping some men and women discern their vocation.  I like to think of it as walking alongside them.  At the end of the day, God does the calling and they respond.  I’m just there to make sure that the person is paying attention.

In vocation discernment, I not only walk with the inquirer, but I often walk with the parents, if they allow it.

During the walk, I have received many positive and holy reactions from parents, especially those parents who have given God a hearing.  I call it a hearing, because they have sought me out or invited me to their home so as to understand what it is that God is asking of them and their sons.  I’m not God and I’m not the son.  I’m the middleman.  I get the opportunity to have some wonderful conversations with parents about consecrated life, marriage, Holy Orders, and parenting.   I received a letter from a parent that really speaks for the several parents with whom I’ve spoken and edited it for privacy and brevity.

Dear Br. Jay,

God’s greatest gifts to a couple are their children.  It is with great joy and love for God that we support our son’s aspiration to become a religious brother or any other vocation he chooses.  Our son . . . and our family are blessed to have you in our lives.  May our God of love and peace keep you healthy to continue to serve Him.

With much love and admiration,

I had to share this message, because I’ve heard this from other parents.  They understand that their children are a gift.  They understand that giving their son or daughter license to respond to God’s plan for his or her life is an act of love for God and the child.  They understand that having a guide is a blessing that God gives to the family, to the son or daughter and to the guide.  We’re all blessed that God has called us to cooperate with Him in His plan for the salvation of this soul.  They have understood the most important part of all.  God has a plan for every human being who is conceived.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jer 1:5

One’s vocation in life has already been written in God’s heart before one ever existed.  All one has to do is follow what God puts before you in the present moment.  He takes care of the rest.


I also have had experience with a third group of families who struggle with the idea of a vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life.  The reasons for their struggles can be many.  I believe that the bottom line is that they are worried about their children’s happiness.  But here is where faith should enter the picture.

One’s happiness is not dependent on the parent.  A man’s happiness is dependent on the choices he makes.  If he chooses to cooperate with God’s plan for his life, he will be happy.  If he chooses some other plan (no matter how noble), he may as well sign his own death sentence.  There is no happiness outside of God’s plan for you.

In these families, parents want to take charge and direct the son or daughter in whatever direction they believes is best for the adult child.  There can be validity to this.  If my son or daughter were dating someone with a criminal background and were talking marriage, I have a duty to warn my child.  At the end of the day, it is my child who consents to the marriage or not.  It is not I who consent.  My duty before God and child is to guide.  Guidance is not the same as control, manipulation, placing temptations before our children to get them to change their minds (See Thomas Aquinas), nor is it the same as commanding, threatening or using guilt.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that children living at home have to submit to their parents, meaning to their rules, because it’s the parents’ home.  They do not have to submit to that which is not beneficial to their soul.

As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them. This respect has its roots in the fear of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2217).

Our faith also tells us that

“Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law,(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2222)

And finally, our faith tells us,

“Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations. They should remember and teach that the first calling of the Christian is to follow Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2253).

Occasionally, the adult child is up against a parent that seems to have forgotten this.  If I could send a message to parents it would be very simple.

Man was created to cooperate with God, not compete with Him.  To compete with God is to place oneself and one’s child on a slippery slope.  Don’t do it.  You may regret it.  You never know the long-term damage that you may do to your child’s soul.

Some important points to remember.

First, for the parent, competing with God is contrary to the vocation of parenting.  It raises the question, where is God in this picture?

Therefore, life must be treated with the greatest reverence.  Creating obstacles that interfere with the development of a person’s life according to God’s plan runs the risk of violating the sanctity of that person’s life.

I encourage all parents on this slope to step back.  We don’t have to agree with our children’s choices of a vocation.  Our daughter can bring home the last man on earth whom we would pick for her husband; but if there is no moral impediment and he makes her happy, I have to trust that God loves me and loves my child.

Second, for the child, one may never yield to the will of another, when that will is in conflict with God’s plan.  

This includes other people as well, not just parents.  It’s not a license to rebel against parents and follow others down the wrong path.

God makes His plans pretty clear through people, prayer, scripture, sacraments, and events in our lives.  Love of parents is binding until death; but love of God is the first and greatest commandment and it does not end at death.  We are called to love God for eternity.

We too must trust that even if our vocational choice causes our parents some grief, God loves our parents more than we do.  He will give them what they need.  We can never give our parents what God can give them.  We need to move on and give to God what He asks and take what He gives.  Sometimes, the grief is part of God’s plan.  There is such a thing as redemptive suffering.

Father Mitch Pacwa tells the story of how his father swore that he would never speak to him again and would disown him if he joined the Jesuits.  Mother Angelica told the story of how she had to run away from home to join the Poor Clares, because her mother would not hear of it.  I know that Mother Angelica’s mother eventually softened and actually entered the community.  I don’t know if Mr. Pacwa ever made peace with his son.  These two people are examples of a man and a woman who would not stand on the slippery slope with their parents, no matter how much they loved them.  Regardless of how much or how little they understood God’s plan for their lives, they knew that they had to follow the lead that God was giving them.  God would unwrap the rest with time.

If you keep another person company on a slippery slope, because it will make them happy, you may want to ask yourself the question that Christ asked St. Francis.  “Is it better to serve the Master or the servant?”

We must love and assist our parents in every way we can.  But we must always serve the Master first.  When we do, He will give us the means to honor our father and mother.  Was Mary abandoned by Christ?  Yet Christ said,

“Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:49-50)

God is both merciful and just.  He will have mercy on those who live according to His plan.  Beware of God’s justice.  It is not God who punishes.  God’s justice is an act of love.  He allows us to live and die with the consequences of our choices.

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. (Mark 10:29-30)

God created families, parents and children.  When he did so, he had a plan for each member of the family.  None of us can presume to love our parents, spouses, or children more than God loves them.  All of us must see our families as a gift that is part a plan in the mind of God.  We have to allow God to unfold that plan little by little.  As He unfolds it, He also gives us the resources to love each family member even more than we do  now.  In the meantime, we follow the lead that he places before us.  If parents and children make an honest mistake, God will help us find our way.

St. John XXIII said, “Follow the signs of the times.”


What’s the IQ required to enter heaven?

The great feast of All Saints is just around the corner. I use to think that All Saints was a catch all day that the Church created to cover herself in case those non-canonized saints got upset.  I don’t know at what point in time it dawned on me that the Feast of All Saints is really not about the saints themselves, but about the universal call to sanctity.Francis and lepers

There are only 365 days in a calendar year.  There is no way that we can venerate every canonized saint in one year’s time, much less learn very much about all of them.  But then again, it about more than veneration.  It’s about imitation.  Over the centuries thousands of men and women have lived lives of heroic virtue.  They have gone over and beyond what is usual and customary in the spiritual life.  We’re talking about the practice of charity, prayer, penance, humility, docility to the Holy Spirit, desire for God, detachment from the things of this world, service to voiceless, forgiveness, purity and many other virtues that I can’t list here, because we just don’t have the luxury to do so.  But you get the picture.

Last Monday, I was leading the discussion at our weekly formation class.   I mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas grappled with the Immaculate Conception.  One of our brothers had a knee-jerk reaction.  “How could a saint grapple with a dogma?  Especially Aquinas?”

It’s impoHow-The-Human-Nervous-System-Worksrtant to remember that the saints grapple with the same questions about human existence, the meaning of life and the nature of God as the rest of us.  For some of them, these become lifelong areas of study and reflection, such as Aquinas and Bonaventure.  Others don’t even know the question, much less the answer and they’re not particularly interested.  They know God is very real and that their vocation is to reach out to Him through the practice of virtue, someone like Mother Teresa.

In fact, the Feast of All Saints should help us to see the simplicity of God and God’s love for us.  Among the saints we find geniuses and fools, very charismaticMother Teresa people and others who were more distant, some very blunt and some very diplomatic, some clowns and others who were almost too intense.  It was how they used the few or the many gifts that they had to practice perfect charity that got them to heaven.  Genius is not a prerequisite for heaven.  If that were the case, Peter would never have become Prince of the Apostles and would still be sitting on some dock on the Sea of Galilee.

As much as some people want to admire St. Paul for being a no-nonsense preacher and teacher, I’m not so sure that he was as harsh as people paint him out to be.  He may have been a straight shooter.  We see this in his exchange with Peter, but he was also a respectful marksman.  During his entire discourse he refers to Peter as Cephas (Rock).  He never fails to acknowledge Simon’s office in the College of the Apostles.  This is not so typical of one who is allegedly a tough guy.  The tough guy as we understand it is the one who is in your face.  That certainly was not Paul.  He was frank, but he sincerely loved Peter and respected him.  What we see in the story is an event about love, not rebellion.  Love is the highest of the virtues.  Paul love Peter, love the Gentiles and loved the universal Church.  He sets out to protect what he loves by pointing to what he sees as wrong.  But he does so with great respect.

The febaby dohast of all Saints calls us to remember that we have been created for love, nothing more is needed.  You can convert a wise man into a saint and you may never convert a saint into a wise man.  But that’s OK.  The vocation to sanctity is a call to the perfection of love.  That’s what we celebrate November 1.  The God who created us out of love, calls us to share in His love for all eternity.  We can begin today.  You don’t need a high IQ to love.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 12:39 AM  Leave a Comment  

I’m over here . . .

Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrates Mass for Nascent LifeThere are many things about my life, apostolate and role in my community that I love.  But I believe the one thing that I love the most is the many interesting questions that people ask me, not to mention the fact that the people are equally interesting.

In discussing life’s choices with people, I often hear the word “hurt”.  Many conscientious people are fearful of hurting others by their choices, especially their parents and siblings.  This is laudable.  We must always avoid intentionally doing something that will harm another person, be it a parent or a stranger. However, we must be very careful here.

There are two key words there, “intentional” and “harm”.  When harm is intentional, a person knows that this particular evil choice will do harm to another person and he goes forward with it.  This does not mean that good choices never cause pain.  They often do.  But the choice remains good.  One has a moral duty to choose the good and avoid evil.  When there are two goods to be chosen, one has a moral duty to choose the higher good, if there is freedom to do so.

Let’s apply this to vocation.  A vocation is a call from God to man.  God calls man to one of several states in life:  marriage, holy orders, or some form of consecrated life.  These are all good, because they are all from God and lead back to God.  However, they don’t lead  everyone back to God.  If someone forces himself into a marriage to please another person, it is very difficult to find a path to God in a marriage where one is responding to the wishes of another and not to a call from God.

The same holds true the other way around.  One may walk away from a call from God to please another person, because we don’t want to cause pain.  Let’s assume that all things point to the consecrated life or to Holy Orders.  One’s heart is already there.  Along come a parent or sibling, and one holds back from responding to God’s call so as not to cause this other person pain.  What has one done?

In effect, one has inverted the order of love.  The Commandment is very clear.  “Love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.”  In choosing to avoid the higher good so as not to hurt the other person, we have placed that person above God and brought God down to our level.  We have no problems sacrificing neither ourselves, nor God in this case.  We just don’t want to sacrifice the other.  We have assigned the highest place to the neighbor and the second place to God alongside ourselves. 

No human being has the right to claim God’s place in our hearts and in our choices.  Nor do we have the right to assign God’s place to another, no matter how much we love that person.  There are some things that God wants us to do for others and some things that He reserves for Himself as the Lord and Giver of life.

Let’s remember, when discerning God’s will for our lives, the answer is always in the order of love.  The first place belongs to God.  We respond by doing that which pleases God first and neighbor second. It always pleases God that we make every attempt to serve and please our  neighbor, but never at His expense.  To do so would be a sin against justice.  God does have rights.  Therefore, he has first claim on our lives, whether we’re speaking about parents and children, husbands and wives, or brothers and sisters.  None of these have rights that trump God’s right to our love and surrender.  If anyone of them claim what is rightfully God’s, it is rightful to resist.

We may never do anyone intentional harm.  Intentional harm is an avoidable act that will hurt the other person .  Following God’s will is never to be avoided.  How do we know when we’re following God’s will?

First, there is knowledge.  We know that something is good and pleasing to God.  Our faith enlightens our knowledge.

Second, there is peace.  Even though we know that some tears will be shed, we know that we can place the situation in God’s hands and that in His eternal time, He will comfort those who mourn and reward the generous.

Third, we know that those who truly love us will not grieve forever.  As they realize that we are happy and that we are where we belong, they will be happy.

You cannot love another person and not be happy when he’s happy.  That’s not love.  It’s selfishness.  To cave into selfishness is to cave to sin.  Be it our selfishness or the selfishness of another, selfishness has no place in true love.  True love gives even if it hurts.  Look at St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gianna Molla, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Our Lady . . . were they wrong to love God more than they loved their family and friends?

This praiseworthy fidelity, while not seeking any other approval than that of the Lord, “also becomes a living memorial of Jesus’ way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren” (St. John Paul II).