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Faith Formation



"Dear Padre" (Feb. 11, 2018)

Why is church often packed on Ash Wednesday, even though it is not a holy day of obligation?

Indeed, pastoral experience corroborates your observation. Holy days of obligation draw well—but it’s standing-room only on Ash Wednesday. There’s something undeniably elemental about the ugly smudge of ashes on the forehead. People wear it without embarrassment or shame. It is as if to
say, “I’m Catholic and proud of it.” Ash Wednesday is unique because it signals the beginning of Lent, the Church’s special time of confession and renewal in preparation for Easter. It is what Christians are all about—people who have died with Christ in the waters of baptism in order to rise with him to a new life. We renew our baptismal commitment to be his people in the world. As we recall and celebrate Christ’s passage through death to life, we renew our own death to old sinful ways to rise and live with recaptured vigor.

The symbols of Ash Wednesday touch us powerfully. When we hear, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return,” we are reminded of our vulnerability and dependence on God. Despite our mechanisms of power, ultimately, like dust in the wind, we can be whisked away in an
instant and brought to our knees.

At the same time, we are called to scale the spiritual heights to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel, affi rming that we are a people with an enduring destiny and a sacred mission in the world. Together we get our ashes and turn back to the Lord.
From Dear Padre: Questions Catholics Ask, © 2003 Liguori Publications


“Catholicism 101…Onto 102”

October 15, 2017


Q. "Anger and Lust"

My thoughts are my worst enemy. Sometimes they turn to lust and anger. When I recognize what I am thinking, I pray to Jesus and Mary, but I still struggle. What else can I do


Dear Struggling,

Bad thoughts, hateful or lustful ideas and images, cross the minds of many, if not most, of us. Unless we want them or deliberately keep them in our consciousness, they are not sins, but temptations. What really matters is not that these thoughts come to us, but what we do about them.

When angry and lustful thoughts enter our consciousness, we should say a prayer and turn our mind to something else. Such thoughts or temptations become sins only when we deliberately encourage them or when we make plans to commit the sin. Again, what counts is what we do after the thought or temptation crosses our mind.
You wrote that when you realize you are thinking the wrong things, you pray to Jesus or Mary. This tells me that you are not choosing sin, because you don’t want the thoughts and you are trying to get rid of them. The thoughts are temptations, not sins. I would recommend that you put your trust in Jesus and Mary, and try to focus on what is good and peaceful. But do so without excessive anxiety or worry.

A good thing to turn your attention to is God’s Word in Scripture. You might want to memorize all or part of the following New Testament verse: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). Peacefully reflect on these words when troubled by temptation.

September 10, 2017


Q. Do the Unbaptized Go to Heaven?

It seems to me that when I was younger, the stance of the Catholic Church was that if you were not baptized, you did not get into heaven. Is this still the case or have the heavenly gates widened a bit?

Baptized and Saved

Dear Baptized and Saved,

The Gospels present to us various passages that, when looked at together, give us a sense of whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. In one passage, Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5). A second passage is Jesus’ words at his Ascension: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned” (MK 16:16). From these two passages we can see that salvation is the combination of baptism and believing. Those who learn of Christ’s gospel and purposely reject it are rejecting eternal life.

In the early Church, some catechumens were martyred before they could be baptized. Others desired baptism but died before they could receive it. Still others sincerely tried to do what is right but had no opportunity to learn about Christ. Salvation is available to these groups. The Church identified these as baptisms of blood, of explicit desire, and implicit desire.

The First Letter of John 4:7 tells us that “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Here the gift of salvation comes to us in loving. Also, in Matthew 25, we have the great scene of the Last Judgment, where people are saved because they ministered to Christ in the poor and hungry, even though they might not even have been aware of Christ’s presence. Salvation here comes because of kind action. It seems, then, that we can say that baptism combined with believing is certainly one of the means to salvation, but not the only means. In God’s goodness, there are other roads that can lead us into the kingdom. God’s mercy and goodness are not limited to the sacrament of baptism. If you wish to read more about this issue of the baptized and the unbaptized, refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1257-1260).

September 3, 2017


Q. “I feel Spiritually Empty”

My wife and I are in our mid-fifties; we are more than comfortable materially, our children are grown and on their own. We enjoy good health. We still have our jobs and our home of many year; we have lots of “toys” that keep us busy. We go to church regularly, pray, and generally consider ourselves good Christians. So what’s wrong? We feel empty, hollow, and strangely unfulfilled.

Searching for More

Dear Searching,

It sounds as is barring any other unnamed problem, you and your wife are at a spiritual crossroad in your life. You have hit a wall. And the choices you make are critical to your future life, fulfillment, and happiness.

The feeling of hollowness comes over adults in midlife or beyond, when they come to the shocking realization that many of their earlier pursuits, goals, values, acquisitions, activities, accomplishments, and relationships, though good, did not (could not) bring genuine, lasting fulfillment or happiness. There is a mysterious longing for more.

An accident, tragedy, or sudden loss can trigger the same result, throwing a placid life into unexpected chaos. All that people work for is gone in a flash, leaving them empty, disillusioned, questioning, and longing for a new meaningful direction in their lives.

I believe you’ve come to the disturbing but provocative realization that Saint Augustine voiced when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord.”

It’s a bold and profound statement about life and the human spirit. It means that nothing will satisfy the human heart except God. It says we are made by God for God, and nothing temporal or time bound will ultimately satisfy.

To seek lasting value from something we do, as creative as it may be, is to court disillusionment and grave disappointment. A stroke of ill luck, an accident, a downturn in business, can suddenly end a career and dash a person to the rocks below. Even a close relationship, as uplifting and life-giving as it is, cannot fulfill all our longings. No one person, loving and trusting through he/she may be, can satisfy the longing of the human heart and spirit for complete meaning. There’s a well deep within us that only God can reach and fill.

At stake here is: What is life really about? Up to this point, like many people, you thought it was about success, money, possessions, good health, a nice home and car, a good job, material prosperity, a grown family, and regular church attendance. But when these prove unable to give lasting happiness, you learn that true meaning must be sought elsewhere. You realize it has to be found in the source of all longing, in God. It is God who subtly but persistently invades our comfort zones. It is God who made us and knows we all find authentic fulfillment and happiness only and exclusively in God. It is no longer a matter of knowing about God, but of connecting with God in close, personal, intimate relationship.

It is time to leave your comfort zone and find a way to attach yourself to God in a deeper and more challenging fashion. You could join a prayer group or work at a soup kitchen. You could learn about meditation practices or help your parish in projects for the poor. You could read more about the saint that you are named after and imitate him or her more fully. You could spend one hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament. 

August 13, 2017

Q. "The Role of Mary"
Recently, there seems to be a lot of discussion concerning Mary and her role in the Church. When Mary appears and reveals different messages, it seems to add more fuel to the question of her position among the angels and saints. What is Mary’s primary role, both in history and now?

Dear Pro,
There is no doubt that Mary’s primary role is that of the mother of Jesus. This allowed the Son of God to enter the world and accomplish our salvation. For this reason, she is called “blessed” through generations.

Everything else about Mary receives its significance from her primary role as Mother of God. She is known as a woman of faith, because she answered “yes” to the angel’s request that she become God’s mother. Her obedience to God’s will becomes a source of inspiration to us, as we try to love God and be obedient to God’s will. Mary’s courageous love for her son at the foot of the cross is a model of us when we must face sorrow over the loss of a loved one. She is with the apostles in the upper room, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit, so we imitate that woman of prayer, particularly in asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Church has taught us that Mary was conceived without original sin, that she remained a virgin throughout her life, and that upon the completion of her earthly pilgrimage, she was assumed into heaven.

Personal experience assures us that we can ask Mary to join us in our prayers. Many who have lost confidence in their own ability to approach God have found an advocate in Mary. She leads them back to their loving, forgiving, and compassionate Father.

The Church has honored Mary under a multitude of titles and through innumerable works of art and song. For some, “Our Mother of Perpetual Help” speaks most warmly to our hearts. For others, the title “Our Lady of Guadalupe” or “Our Lady of Fatima” or “Our Lady of Lourdes” is favored. In every case, it is the same woman we honor.

New apparitions seem to be reported from time to time, and the faithful who have put a great deal of confidence in Mary’s prayers and love for them readily go off to the site of the apparition, hoping to see this woman who is so important to them. Some of the apparitions are not genuine. People who are deluded, or those with less than honorable intentions, may try to take advantage of the people’s love for Mary, but even in those cases, the faithful have a genuine love for the woman they believe is coming to them.

These are a few notions about Mary. They all stem from the primary grace Mary was given in her life: to be the Mother of God. And perhaps, after “Mother of God,” the title Mary most appreciates is that of “Mother of the Church”—mother to each of us who struggles to imitate her, to have faith, and to act on it.

August 6, 2017

Q. Why is Mass so important?
"Why does the Church put so much emphasis on Mass? All I heard while growing up was “Mass on Sunday, Mass on Sunday.” It’s like you’re not Catholic if you don’t go to Mass every Sunday. I’m still Catholic, but I’d like to see what else is out there.”

                                                                                                A Searching College Student

Dear Searching,
Even though being Catholic means much more than going to Mass on Sunday, you are correct in identifying “Catholic” with going to Mass. They are virtually synonymous, since the very roots of Catholicism….can be traced to the early community’s gatherings after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. There is irrefutable evidence that the disciples met regularly to “do this in memory of me” by celebrating the Eucharist.

In Luke’s Gospel we read the touching story of the two crest-fallen disciples, symbolic of the saddened early Church, on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death. They are joined by a mysterious traveler whom they eventually recognize as Jesus in the “breaking of the bread”—the term first used for Eucharist. The story clearly says that Jesus is risen and is alive in the Church, particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist.

Long before the evangelists wrote the gospels in their final form, before the Mass as we know it took stable shape, Christians gathered together on Sunday (the day of the Resurrection) to commemorate in the Eucharist the salvation Jesus won on the cross.

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has placed strong emphasis on the Mass because it considered Mass the ultimate act of worship—the perfect sacrifice. The Church believes that the Mass commemorates and relives the offering of Jesus Christ to God. Through celebration of the Eucharist, not only is Christ’s sacrifice remembered as a historical event of the past, it also comes alive for us in the here and now so that we, centuries removed, can get in touch with it and receive its saving effects. No other event is celebrated in quite the same way. Not only is Christ’s giving of himself recalled, it also is reenacted. God can’t help but be perfectly pleased at the remembrance of this supreme gift—Jesus Christ.

The Mass is critical, too, in that it forms worshippers into God’s people, the living Body of Christ. As liturgists put it, if we keep the liturgy, the liturgy will keep us. By that they mean we are continually being formed and molded into God’s people as we regularly celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The readings, which are an integral part of the Mass, remind us of the wonderful, powerful things the Lord has done and continues to do for us. They exhort us to respond generously with lives of love, justice, peace, honesty, and truth, as we hear over and over what kind of people God wants us to be. In communion with the Lord and one another, we are nourished and strengthen to live Christian lives and to bring God’s kingdom to life wherever we go.

The Mass is the single most powerful force in creating the Church and assuring its growth and vitality. It is the center of Catholic Christian life as well as the highest expression of that life. The whole dynamic of the Church’s life gets its power from the Eucharist. The diversity and unity of the Church are never more graphically and concretely express than when Catholic people gather for their worship.

I would bet that, after your time of experimentation and searching, you’ll get back to the Mass. There’s truly nothing “out there” quite like it.

July 23, 2017

"I have a friend who is suffering greatly. She is very spiritual about her suffering and seems to have founda truly Christian way to embrace it. How can we best understand suffering?"

Mother Teresa tells us this about suffering: Suffering will never be completely absent from our lives. If we accept it with faith, we are given the opportunity to share the passions of Jesus and show him our love. She tells this story: 'One day I went to visit a lady who had terminal cancer. Her pain was tremendous. I told her, "This is nothing but Jesus' kiss, a sign that you are so close to him on the cross that he can kiss  you.' She joined her hands and said, 'Mother, ask Jesus not to stop kissing me.' "

The Book of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures gives us the classic approach to suffering. Job was inflicted with great suffering. He was able to find meaning in his suffering only when he stolled scolding God and complaining to God. Job suddenly started to see the beauty and mystery of all the life that surrounded him. He began to see that every part of God's creation was marvelous. He found that knowing and accepting God was more important than finding the answers to why he suffered. Job testified, "By his light I walked through darkness." (Job 29:3)

Jesus brought a new notion of suffering: for Jesus, suffering is redemptive. When we suffer, we can link our experience with the Lord's. Our sufferings then have a redeeming place in the salvation of the world. They can bring a miraculous presence into the life of another. In times of trial, Jesus is the companion and the guide who can lead us through.

July 16, 2017

“A non-Catholic coworker of mine recently asked me: “Why do you Catholics hold nonscriptural beliefs?” As examples, he pointed to our belief in the papacy as a divinely willed institution and our beliefs about Mary. How can I respond to my Protestant friend?”

When non-Catholics say that a particular belief is “nonscriptural,” they are referring to one that is not explicitly in the Bible. We need to remember that we Catholics look to both Scriptures and Tradition as the source of divine revelation, whereas non-Catholics look only to Scripture. Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) was Martin Luther’s famous phrase.

For a Catholic, Tradition refers to the whole context out of which the written word of God emerged. Tradition includes the liturgical life of the Church, creedal statements of faith, and the faith as lived by Christians from one generation to another. When a written tradition (the books of the Bible) emerged, it was never meant to replace the oral tradition (Jn 21:25). Both were to continue side by side.

A concrete example of this distinction between what is scriptural and what isn’t can be seen in the Catholic belief in the papacy as a divine institution. Protestants do not believe in the papacy because nowhere in Scripture does Jesus state that the successors of Saint Peter as head of the Church. Jesus did appoint Peter as leader of the apostles and head of the early Church. When Peter died in Rome, his series of successors (bishops of Rome) were gradually recognized as head of the whole Church. Catholics see this tradition as the will of Christ. We reason that if Jesus clearly wanted his apostles and first disciples to have a leader, surely he would want his Church in future generations to have a particular leader. So the finger of God is recognized by all Catholics in the tradition of the Bishop of Rome being head of the whole Church.

Tradition involves the Church’s ongoing meditation on the Scriptures. This meditation gradually led the Church to a fuller understanding of truths that are present in the Scriptures in seed form. This process is called “development of doctrine.” Catholic beliefs about Mary, purgatory, the sacraments, and the papacy are implicitly present in the Bible, and, through centuries of meditations, have been drawn forth and expressed. You may recall how Jesus, in his last discourse, told his apostles that there were many things they did not yet understand, but “when the Spirit of truth comes,” [the Spirit] will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13). Obviously, there was more to come!

Source: “Dear Padre: Questions Catholics Ask,” Liguorian Publications, 2003