Archive for the ‘Religious Instruction’ Category

I am slowly deciphering some of the written materials left by the late Msgr. William J. Awalt. For review and comments, they are being posted at my BLOGGER PRIEST site.


Msgr. Awalt was the pastor of St. Ann’s Church in NW Washington , DC for just over 30 years, retiring in the year 2000. I was honored to preach at the Mass celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest in 2007. His pastorate was marked by a deep devotion to the Eucharist and a never-ending preoccupation with preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.

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Recently I entered into a heated discussion with Dennis on an assortment of topics. He is very negative to the Catholic faith. PLEASE NOTE that it is an apologetical dialogue that might make some readers uncomfortable.

To easily follow the discussion, it has been posted to the BLOGGER PRIEST Blog.

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Why Does the Fire Go Out?

People have their reasons, but there is no good reason for leaving the Church.  The majority in the area where I reside are probably Baptist and/or Evangelical.  Some of these communities target Catholics and many Catholics marry non-Catholics.  Not understanding their own tradition, many Catholics are inordinately moved by the music and preaching in Protestant churches.  Catholic reformed rituals might not be regarded as very entertaining.  Much of the music we sing is criticized as trite and unmoving.  When we borrow Protestant hymns or sing Gospel, it is usually a pale imitation of what our separated brethren have to offer.  Music enshrines preaching.  Particularly in the African-American community, services can go hours.  The importance of the minister is measured by his musicality and his effectiveness as a preacher.  Our gravity is upon the formulae of liturgy, not upon preaching. 


Preachers and Priests, No Comparison?

Many priests were trained to keep homilies or sermons to ten minutes or less.  That is about the length of two or three MTV videos.  Time-wise, it cannot compare to the formation of the media or to the teaching sermons of our separated-brethren.  I knew one old man who went to Mass on Saturday night and to his wife’s Baptist church on Sunday.  He told me that he went to Mass for Holy Communion and to the Protestant church for good preaching.  This is a rather sad state of affairs.  Are we fully feeding our people?  Preaching outside the Catholic Church may be dynamic and meaningful; however, it is also fraught with religious error.

Sermons or Homilies?

I recall from preaching seminars that the priest should offer a homily based upon the Scriptures of the day.  This focus was understandable but I found the focus too narrow and absolutist.  The priest or deacon can preach upon the readings, the liturgical prayers themselves, upon the feast or memorial, or upon what his people (at that time and place) need to hear.  I had a vigorous dispute with a liturgist when I suggested catechetical sermons. It was and remains a contention of mine that many people stray to other faith communities because they really do not understand Catholicism and the full significance of the Eucharist.

Can Father Talk Too Long?

How long should the priest or deacon preach?  This depends upon many factors:

1.   What is the type of liturgy?

2.   What has to be said to make the message worthwhile?

3.   What is the capacity in patience and in comprehension of the listeners?

Given that Catholic sermons are usually shorter than Protestant counterparts, the priest might be able to amplify his instruction by linking his sermons from week to week.  He can also use the parish bulletin, special adult education and bible study, and invite people to use the cycle of readings themselves with missals they can take home.  If people look at the readings before Mass, their experience will not be cold when the priest or deacon speaks about them.  Instead of merely thinking about what Protestants have that we don’t, let us utilize our own strengths, the missal and the cycle of predetermined readings. 

Catholics might also do well to getting used to longer liturgies.  Of course, this runs counter to the Roman Rite tradition, known for being curter and more to the point than Eastern Rite liturgies and certain Evangelical Protestant services.  There is a basic dilemma with longer sermons, and that is the balance and rhythm of the Mass.  A long homily and a short Eucharistic prayer seems to switch the gravity away from the sacrament to the Word which is intended to dispose us for the sacrifice and Holy Communion.

I am concerning myself essentially with the Sunday homily.  Given work concerns and strained time issues, weekday Masses would probably have to remain little more than basic exhortations.  Such exhortations are similar to aspirations:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph save souls!  Do good and avoid evil!  Keep faith and hope alive!  Lord, have mercy on us!  God will not abandon you!

Messages Should Comfort and Challenge

Homilies more strictly revolve the Readings; however, sermons can touch upon all sorts of relevant topics.  Sermons might be moral exhortations, catechetical moments, inspiration rhetoric and stories, etc.  However, they should always connect the lesson, whatever the source, to the lives of the people listening.  The congregation should not be passive to the preaching but actively engaged.  A topic is explored, the message is ordered for coherence, examples or illustrations are made, and there is the immediate appliance.

The words used in preaching vary upon the setting.  When the clergyman marries a couple, he speaks about the joy and hopes of the couple.  He might also challenge them to keep the marital act free from the corruption of lust and artificial contraception.  However, many Catholic ministers are afraid to rock the boat.  When a priest or deacon officiates at a funeral, his words emphasize the consolations of faith to those who mourn, the promises of Jesus our gentle shepherd in regard to eternal life, and the need to go on with our lives.  Again, many Catholic ministers are afraid of the conflict that comes with challenging the congregation to see the death as a warning about their own mortality and the need to reform before it is too late.  Even evil men are temporarily canonized and little is said about Purgatory.  A number in the pews no longer even believe in Hell.  Sunday homilies are often pampering and grossly approving because many clergy are afraid of alienating the numbers in the pews and depleting the money gathered into collection baskets. 

Need for Courage and Trusting Providence

I knew a priest in the South who tried to integrate the two churches he pastured, one white and the other black.  White parishioners complained to the bishop and the man found himself stripped of his parish, reprimanded for making trouble, and reassigned to a teaching position in a college far away.  Decades later he was still not allowed to return to parish ministry.  But God writes straight with our crooked lines.  This priest ended up teaching seminarians.  He inspired another generation of men in ministry to struggle for social justice. 

How often have we heard certain priests speak about artificial contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, or even about fornication and cohabitation?  Some men in ministry are afraid.  But what chance do God’s people have when their shepherds are passive and fearful?  The late Pope John Paul II echoed our Lord’s words of wisdom, “Be not afraid.”

It may be that the priest shortage and the clergy scandals have drained the energy resources and joy of our priests.  This needs to be remedied.  The core message of the Gospel is not exhausted or angry.  Priests who show enthusiasm or excitement about the Catholic faith and Gospel are the most effective.  It is also a mentality which breeds vocations.  Young men do not want to join a confraternity of tired old men who only go on because of cold duty and obligation.  We have to be on fire with the faith if we want those in the pews to ignite!  It is very hard for a priest to give what he does not have.  God’s servants should be so in love with God that this love spills over in their service of others.  Preaching should reflect a life of prayer and a drive to save souls!

The preaching should move God’s people to greater faith and acts of service to our Lord and neighbor.  It assists everyone to better understand the Eucharist and disposes us to receive the Blessed Sacrament.  We take what we have been given in Word and sacrament as we go out in mission to the world around us.

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I have long been partial to the analogy of the mind and heart.  God knows himself.  What God knows is infinite and perfect.  While we have fragmented ideas and use many words to express ourselves, God is simple.  God has only one idea or one Word which includes all that is.  He writes his Word upon human flesh.  God becomes Man.  The Father or First Person generates from all eternity the Son or Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  Between the Father and the Son is infinite goodwill or Love.  That which is infinite is by definition divine.  God is Love.  The personified Love generated from all eternity between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit.  God in Jesus Christ becomes a man so that men might share in the divinity, by grace and the restoration of that likeness forfeited by sin.  God invites us to participate in his interior life.  Making us temples of the Holy Spirit and new Christs, we are invited to share in his Love.  The Trinity is our true and final home.  The Trinity is very much heaven.  The children of God will live within the Trinity forever.  I love such reasoning.  It also falls far short.  The mystery remains.  Finite creatures cannot exhaust the truth about an infinite God.  We can only scratch at the surface.  The Trinity remains what it, or rather, he is, regardless of our participation.  God is whole and complete in himself.  He does not need us.  There was no necessity or compulsion to creation.  He did not have to save us.  He does so, anyway.  Why does God reveal himself, by his fingerprints in creation and by his Son who has entered human history as the Trinity?  God wants to establish a relationship with us.  He takes the initiative.  God always takes the first step.  God reveals himself because he wants us to KNOW and to LOVE him.  And, even in this return operation or response we find traces of the Trinity.

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marcielFr. Marcial Maciel Degollado (March 10, 1920 to January 30, 2008) was a Mexican Catholic Priest who founded the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement.

Pope Benedict XVI disciplined him in 2006, inviting him to “a reserved life of prayer and penitence.” This was followed by Maciel’s resignation in January of 2006. He had been charged with incidents of pedophilia which he vehemently denied.

The Legionaries made the statement that he had “accepted the instruction with faith, total calm, with a clear conscience knowing that it is a new cross which God, merciful father, has allowed him to suffer”. The statement compared him to the falsely convicted Christ, and having pled his innocence he resolved himself to follow “the example of Jesus Christ, [and] decided not to defend himself in any way.”

Despite the mounting evidence the Legion and Regnum Christi members remained adament that their founder had been falsely maligned.

But among those charging him were an ex-priest and an active priest. Over a half-dozen men came forward and labeled him an abuser. I am sorry, I thought from the beginning there had to be some substance to their charges. But menton a word about this too his supporters and they were all over you.

Given the many testimonies of abuse and impropriety, even toward those who became priests, I was thankful that Pope Benedict XVI compelled Fr. Maciel to retreat to a life of prayer and penance. The latest news about his out-of-wedlock offspring (hija ilegítima) just compounds the scandal. Previously, there was a resistence among the Legionnaries to accept or even to investigate the charges against their founder. A number of purported victims claimed that this victimized them anew as liars or deviants. Yes, I believe there has to be a reckoning and probably a change from the manner in which the Legion of Christ usually operates. The criticisms of certain bishops and others may now be treated seriously. Among these concerns are the following: a general air of secrecy, a lack of cooperation with local parishes, the clandestine targeting of certain diocesan priests (usually young) for affiliation with them, and an overly rigid formation of seminarians and later priests that causes a dissolution of ties to family and former friends in favor of loyalty to the Legion. It is being argued that this systemic secrecy and control found in the Legionnaries may have found its initial source in the need to protect and enable the secret life of its founder. If that is true, the apple will have to be peeled to its core with the rotten pieces stripped away.

Let us pray for the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi.

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Here is a picture of me and the Knights of Columbus who set up 721 crosses that represent the children lost to abortion in one hour of one work day.  This MEMORIAL OF THE INNOCENTS will remain up at Holy Family Church in Mitchellville until January 17, when it will be transferred to Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, MD.  Together, we wanted to also make it a preparation for the annual march for Life in Washington, DC.  We have received a lot of support although there have been a few complaints.  One lady argued against putting such a thing up at Christmas time.  I explained that Advent and Christmas was the perfect time.  During Advent we recall the Christ-child in the womb and on Christmas he is born.  We are reminded that every child is a reflection of the Christ-child.  Another person argued that it was insensitive as she was a pro-choice Catholic.  I told her that she was deceived.  There is no such thing as a pro-abortion Christian, abortion attacks the central mystery of the Incarnation.  Abortion is murder and as such it is a repudiation of Christ’s Gospel of Life. 

Goodness, I am humbled that someone nominated my Blog for recognition as a PRO-LIFE Blog. I think there are some far better ones, but I am glad that the message here is clearly on the side of human life and the dignity of persons!  Follow this link to see what I mean:



The contest is sponsored by the American Life League, one of the best pro-life organizations around.  They will not compromise the Catholic faith or the pro-life cause for anyone.  God bless them!

One of my favorite memories is working with A.L.L. back in 2005 and the CRUSADERS FOR LIFE.  Here is an abbreviated copy of the post on this Blog:

A.L.L. Crusaders Come to Washington

A dozen young people from colleges across the country walked from Augusta, Maine to Washington, DC in “Defense of the Catholic Church” and to spread the message that you cannot be Catholic and pro-abortion. Nevertheless, while many have applauded young people for taking up the “right to life” cause, this group of remarkable crusaders were banned from speaking in churches by several dioceses like Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Myself, Dr. Grier & a Crusader

The American Life League ran a series of stinging ads challenging the American bishops to enforce canon law and to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege when pro-abortion politicians and others (who have made such “public” stands) take it upon themselves to receive holy communion. The young people have shown no spite or anger, only sadness that the nation’s shepherds have largely chosen to remain on the sidelines. One priest remarked that the ads in protest were so severe that the American Life League owed the leaders of the Church an apology. However, others thought that these good men should at least have shown the same respect and hospitality to the young marchers for life as they have in the past to the high profile anti-life politicians.While they were able to find lodging in the city, Holy Spirit Church had offered them a place to stay if needed, thanks to the generosity of parishioners. They attended 9:00 AM Mass on Friday, July 30 and were invited to say a few words afterwards– an invitation that no other Washington pastor made. (It must be stated, to his credit, that despite the tension with the A.L.L., Cardinal McCarrick did not formally forbid the young people to speak in his churches. Throughout, nothing the young people said violated the archdiocese’s rules against participation in partisan politics– they did not name politicians by name, did not tell people for whom they should vote, and spoke with respect in regard to the Church’s shepherds.) Following the celebration, a reception was held in the Parish House were the young people had a hearty breakfast and got to meet parishioners. Also in attendance was Reginald Grier, a parishioner, a Knight of Columbus at Fletcher Council and volunteer member of the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics. John Stakem, a Knight of Columbus from St. Pius X Council, and past parishioner was present, too. John Stakem and Joseph Markauskas are long-time pro-life volunteers and are involved with the local pregnancy center. Joe and Betty Markauskas had even offered to give the young people housing while in town. We were very pleased that the director for the Forestville Pregnancy Center was present, Chyllene McLaughlin, along with her assistant. We wanted to communicate to these young people that they are not alone. Holy Spirit Parish, the Knights of Columbus, and the Pregnancy Center in the larger pro-life community, was very much behind them.

ALL Crusaders at Holy Spirit Parish

May God bless them for their sacrifices and may their witness bear fruit.

Here are some past links to PRO-LIFE posts on my site during the past year or so:








































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This spiritual decision for Christ cannot be identified with water baptism or with any so-called saving works and certainly there is no foundation for infant baptism.


John 3:3,7: “Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew (again), he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.'”


This spiritual rebirth is intensely important for Catholics. Ours is no juridical imputation of righteousness; rather, we are literally remade into a new creation. Deleted from the pericope by our protagonist is this line, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Faith in Jesus and an abiding trust and obedience to him brings us to the baptismal font.

The Scripture citation here is still incomplete. It also states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:5). The font of life-giving waters is known as the “tomb and womb” of the Church. We die to our old self, to sin; and we are reborn to Christ and the life of grace. We become temples of the Holy Spirit and are configured to Christ’s likeness as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Our rite of initiation is not circumcision, but baptism into the name of the Trinity. Faith and baptism also makes us members of the new People of God, the Church of Christ. This theme of unity has always been important among the faithful. The Scriptures themselves narrate that sometimes whole households were converted to the faith (see Acts 16:15; 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:16).

During this historical period and again with the development of second penance and regular confession, babies were also brought forward for initiation. The bond joining the members of Christ’s body was understood to be so intimate that parents and sponsors could make a profession of faith for a child who had not yet reached the age of reason. Mortality rates being high, this was of crucial emotional importance to parents and had eternal ramifications for the children.

Jesus himself had urged, “Let the children come unto me, and do not hinder them.” Over time, the final anointing of the baptismal ceremony was separated from the first part, often reserved for the visiting bishop. Similarly, first Eucharist was also delayed until the child was older.

When records are not available or when there is some doubt of validity, the Catholic Church will offer a conditional baptism to candidates seeking entry into the believing community. However, if their prior baptism in a Protestant community is deemed authentic, then they make an act of reception and subsequently receive confirmation and holy communion. Baptism is a one-time sacrament which forever configures a person to the Lord.

Technically, we equate the “born again” experience with baptism, although it can be personally affirmed with confirmation and a more full sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We might also experience an exaultation at prayer which might give an emotional high or a special satisfaction to our faith. Christians baptized in the Catholic Church, even as infants, who seek and receive baptism in Protestant churches are in fact disavowing their prior baptism. What they are saying is that our baptism is null-and-void and that Catholics are not Christians nor are they “saved”, to use their language. This is a terrible happenstance. Catholics were the first Christians and Catholicism is the TRUE Church. We love and pray for our Protestant brothers and sisters; we join their chorus in praising God for giving us such a wondrous redeemer as Christ; however, we cannot rejoice in the ignorance of our own or the bigotry which steals them from our ranks.

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collar2Recently someone made much of the apostle Peter being married as a witness against compulsory celibacy for priests. I challenged, show me where in the bible it says that Peter “traveled and preached with his wife”? Maybe I am having a senior moment? I have no recollection of any such passage that suggests he and his wife had a team ministry!

Priests and religious vow celibacy freely, not because marriage is bad, but because it is so good. Celibacy becomes a wonderful gift, freely embraced, as a sacrifice for God and his holy people. Jesus was celibate. St. Paul not only practiced it but encouraged it. The celibate priest becomes a sign of contradiction of the kingdom of Christ to a hedonistic world. It is not a rejection of love, but a selfless abandonment to divine love as manifested in service to God’s people, the Church. It is not a calling for everyone.

I know of no references of Peter traveling and preaching with his wife; the bible does mention Peter’s mother-in-law. While this indicates that he was married, do we ever encounter her? What was her name? Did they have any children? Her absence from these texts might lend one to think that she experienced some mishap and passed away. Be this as it may, the Catholic Church has never hidden the fact that Peter and other religious leaders of the Church were married. Indeed, the Catholic Church had a married clergy all the way up to the 12th century. The Fourth Lateran Council was quite decisive in mandating compulsory celibacy for any who would be priests of the Roman or Western Rite. The Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, to this very day (in Europe and the Far East) have an optional married clergy. These priests are in full union with Rome. Also, in our own nation many Protestant clergy, Lutheran and Episcopal, have entered into the Roman Catholic priesthood, even though they are married and have families. Those who are raised in the Western rite realize that celibacy is a special gift and a particular charism of our priestly experience. It is a sign of a wondrous single-hearted love. One of the fruits of this sacrifice is the availability that a priest can give to his prayers, study, and service.

No one forces a young man to become a priest or brother. There is no coercion for a woman to become a nun. They know that vows of poverty, obedience, and celibacy are part of the package. If God gives a person a vocation in the Catholic Church, we believe that he will give them the graces and gifts to follow this life. The majority of men who leave the priesthood to get married ultimately have failed marriages. Promises are made to be kept. The problem is not the Church or God; the dilemmas are people unwilling to surrender their lives fully to Christ.

The Catholic Church also recognizes the right of people to get married. However, the Church has a right of her own to regulate her ministries. Permanent deacons, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Catechists, Readers and/or Lectors, Acolytes, and Lay Evangelists and Ministers all serve the Church and may be married. Would the critic demand compulsory matrimony? I hope not. Those who opt for priesthood in the Roman Rite also freely embrace celibacy. This is no less than what St. Paul did. After listing all the various rights that a follower in Jesus possesses, he acknowledges that he has chosen not to use these rights for himself.

[After listing the right to marry among many other freedoms, St. Paul says] “Yet we have not used this right. On the contrary, we endure everything, so as not to place an obstacle to the Gospel of Christ. … I have not used any of these rights, …” (1 Corinthians 9:12,15).

[After speaking about marriage] “This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: It is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, …” (1 Corinthians 7:6-8).

[Advice to Virgins and Widows] “Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:25-31).

There is evidence from the early Church that many bishops and priests, although married, practiced perpetual celibacy.

[More on virginity] “So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

[About a widow] “She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40).

[Celibacy is a sign of the kingdom!] “His disciples said to him, ‘If the case of a man with his wife is so, it is not expedient to marry.’ And he said, ‘Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made so by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him accept it who can’” (Matthew 19:10-12).
I believe the celibate priesthood is superior to a married clergy precisely for the reasons that the Church does. If any would challenge this, I would ask, do you think that the Magisterium is capricious in this demand? No, there are good reasons to maintain the tradition.

I will be 50 years old in a few days. I have been a priest for over 22 years. I am a normal heterosexual male. I have always safeguarded my purity. The older I get, the more convinced I become in the teachings and disciplines of the Church. I am convinced that the celibate priesthood is a treasure we must maintain no matter what the critics might say. Most priests I know love their celibacy and would change nothing about it.

Yes, I really believe this and so does the Church. Indeed, the word “vocation” was once reserved to priesthood and religious life precisely because of the celibacy or virginity element. Most people will get married and have sexual relations; those who pursue the evangelical counsels and embrace a single-hearted love of God have been called to something higher, more spiritually perfect.

Despite the rampant criticism of celibate priests, married priests are not morally impeccable either, and I could cite from history all sorts of self-righteousness and hubris on their part, too. Ministers with wives and families in other denominations also have problems. Half of all Lutheran ministers are divorced. We all need humility, lay and clergy alike. We especially need humility in regards to the teachings and disciplines of the Church. Humility would have us submit to her wisdom on such matters. Men who are generally called to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church are given the grace of celibacy as a gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no conflict between the mind of Christ and the use of the keys by his shepherds.

The statistics reveal a high divorce rate for clergy who drop out to marry. One can also look to the rolls of organizations which illicitly employ married priests for ministerial purposes. The rate of failed marriages has varied from 50 plus % (in the 1960’s and 70’s) to 30% (more recent defections). We generally do not share such reports or figures.

A man can have a wife and serve God. No one disputes this. That is why we have thousands of married clergy, deacons in the Catholic Church. All of us are called to serve God. But, no one has a right to priesthood. No one deserves or merits ordination. Priestly vocations are pure gratuities from God but granted and affirmed by the Church. She has every right to specify mandatory celibacy. Why is it that critics cannot appreciate this right of the Church to manage her own ministries? Why is it that people who are not priests want to tell priests that they should be married or have the right to be married? I gave up that option when I answered God’s call. I am happy. Most priests accept it.

Sorry if I sound harsh, but along with most priests I know, we find this subject upsetting. We embraced our celibacy as a gift to the Lord FOR GOD’S PEOPLE, and yet many of them bemoan the fact. If those in the pews (and/or who have stopped going to Mass) cannot be appreciative, why will they not stop being busy-bodies in trying to tell celibate priests how to live and to define their priesthood? The true selfishness is with the apologists for married priests. The cry for married clergy is insulting to every celibate priest. We experience the heights of both divine and “human love” without having to commit ourselves to a single person or to engage in acts of sexual intercourse. The problem here is not the Church’s prohibition against married priests (which) is not absolute; but rather, those who malign as worthless the value of celibate love lived out by priests in imitation of our Lord Jesus and of many of his apostles like St. Paul and St. John!

God keeps his promises and so should we. If a priest is faithful to his prayer life and ministry he can know both happiness and peace. The time of decision is before ordination, not afterwards. We all know times of loneliness, but the “aloneness” of a priest is something entirely different. He is comfortable in his own skin. He needs no other human being to compliment or to perfect himself. He is a priest and priests render sacrifice. He offers the Mass and in his celibacy he offers his own flesh with that of Christ. Daily he says to God, I belong entirely to you. He expresses this devotion and love of God in his service of the flock. People should want such priests and settle for nothing less!

I know the gentleness that should be shown to individuals. But when I speak about the priesthood as a whole, there can be no compromise. Priestly celibacy has a powerful eschatological meaning. It points to the kingdom that is breaking into our world. It best manifests our solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. It is no curse, but can become the engine that fuels the priest’s spiritual life and efforts at service. His focus is narrow and he looks upon his bride, the Church, without distraction. He goes where he is sent. He does what God and his bishop tells him to do.

In one sense it is true that we cannot walk in another man’s shoes; knowing what he feels and the demons that confront him. I would hesitate to publicly judge the souls of priests who leave ministry. Nevertheless, in another sense, every priest wears the shoes of the apostles who were instituted as priests by Christ. Could it be that the priest, who abandons his ministry for marriage and/or cohabitation, opts to walk barefoot and unprotected? The Roman rite insists that a priest is shod (wears shoes or sandals) at Mass. The tradition of Rome is that a working man puts on his working shoes or boots. The work of a priest is the Mass and so he puts on his shoes. When he takes his shoes off, his work is over. Priests who leave ministry for marriage have taken off their shoes. They have walked off the job. Hopefully there will be other priests to take up the work and to care for the people who were abandoned.

Charismata are gifts freely given from God. The charism of celibacy is given to any and all who are called to the priesthood in the Roman rite. Those who would deny this would be at odds with Catholic ecclesiology. God works in tandem with the Church he established. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to the sacraments. Jesus extends his ministry through the shepherds he has appointed. God gives his servants what they need. This interaction is guaranteed by the keys given to St. Peter. Celibacy may be a greater sacrifice for some men than for others; however, God would not give a man such a vocation without also filling his heart and mind with the graces to fulfill it. God is not oblivious to the demand for compulsory celibacy in the West. Indeed, such long-standing traditions are regarded as guided by divine providence. While the requirement for celibacy is technically a discipline of the Church; it has accrued significant doctrinal elements over time— particularly in terms of the identification with Christ and the bridal analogy of the priest at the “marriage” banquet we call the Mass.

If it seems that not all priests are equipped with the charism of celibacy my response would be two-fold. First, while I once thought that a man could be confident in his vocation when he heard the bishop call his name, I am no longer so presumptuous. There was a story from a few years ago about a priest laicized by Rome because he was designated by the Mafia to become a priest so that he could better smuggle drugs in and out of the country. There is a similar dilemma with the priests who are pedophiles and pederasts. They should never have been ordained. Formation and psychological investigations should weed such men out. Child molesters, homosexuals and men lusting uncontrollably for women should not be ordained. Second, God gives his gift of celibacy, but the man must be properly disposed. That means that he is open to the charism, is in a state of grace and he values celibacy. What God gives the man; he must in turn, give back to God as a gift. Celibacy is a real sacrifice that honors God and benefits his people. It is an eschatological sign of the kingdom.

If priests fail in their single-hearted love, the fault is theirs— not God’s and not the Church’s demand for celibacy.

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The Catholic Church wrongly teaches that we can be saved by works and sacraments. Penance and rosaries are of no avail. We can gain no merits by crying to heaven, lengthy prayers, periods of fasting, required church attendance, pilgrimages, the monastic life, or the sacraments. Works are only the fruit of faith. The believer does not work for salvation; it is precisely because he is already saved that he does good works. If he remains in his sins, then there has been no change, and his faith is a pretense.


Romans 3:28: For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Galatians 2:16: . . . yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law shall no one be justified.


Anti-Catholics often purposely quote verses while leaving out adjacent words which might nuance matters more in the favor of Catholicism. Take for example the citation from Romans, we read in Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” It would seem that Hebrew customs and traditions (including the works of the law and the commandments) could very well be a element in their newfound faith in Jesus. The dichotomy is between those who place works over faith, as if the latter is inconsequential. Faith and works are as two sides of a single coin. However, it should be mentioned that the law mentioned here is particularly the Jewish Law; an exact parallel cannot be drawn by works as they emerge under the New Covenant of Christ. Catholics understand works as a participation in Christ’s meritorious or saving activity. Christ lives in the believer through grace and anything the Lord does in us belongs essentially to him. All saving merit belongs to Christ, yes; but greater is he who lives in me than he who lives in the world. Our faith in Christ is necessarily realized and actualized, not only manifested, in the life of charity and obedience. It is not simply a stagnant profession of faith in response to the Word.

The core of his contention is that works possess no saving merit. The Catholic would agree, if such works were separated from our faith in Christ. The Scriptures render a view quite different from what the critic of Catholicism contends:

Matthew 6:4: [Giving alms] “. . . so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6: [Prayer] “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:18: [Fasting] “. . . that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 16:27: [Deeds] “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”

Romans 2:6-10: [Works done] “For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

1 Peter 1:17: [Works done] “And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”

2 Timothy 4:8: [Righteous life] “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

While Catholics follow a contextual approach, we can still quote verses back to those who use Scripture proof texts in a fundamentalist manner. Here are two of my favorites:

“All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:12-13).

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

This second citation so troubled Martin Luther that he extracted the entire book of James from his bible! Later Protestants restored it while ignoring its content.

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EMBRYONIC ADOPTION: Good Intent, No Morally Licit Solution

DIGNITATIS PERSONAE has been released from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and still the status of embryonic adoption is unclear. However, a strict reading of the few words said about the matter would seem to imply that it still falls under the same prohibition as regular IVF. The instruction states:

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of “prenatal adoption”. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above (in regard to IVF).

If these problems are deal-breakers, then I was wrong on the issue, as was Professor May, and Msgr. Smith was right. There is nothing we can do.

Propagation outside of the conjugal act is immoral. The IVF process (the intervention of a technician) and the destruction of excess embryos is immoral. The freezing of embryos is immoral. All this is granted, but where do we go from here? The instruction goes on to say:

All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons”.

I guess that pretty much takes orthodox Catholics out of the embryonic adoption business. The prohibition is not absolute, but it certainly weighs against it.

HURLBUT’S EMBRYO-LIKE CREATION: Moral Status in Doubt, Do No Harm

It appears that the concerns and reservations that a few of us had about Dr. Hurlbut’s ideas have found a hearing at the Vatican. Instead of more “cheerleader” acceptance from many moralists and pro-life researchers, the sobering question of true identity remains. As one moral philosopher wrote regarding the mutated embryo-like creation, “when is an acorn not an acorn?” We read:

The ethical objections raised in many quarters to therapeutic cloning and to the use of human embryos formed in vitro have led some researchers to propose new techniques which are presented as capable of producing stem cells of an embryonic type without implying the destruction of true human embryos. These proposals have been met with questions of both a scientific and an ethical nature regarding above all the ontological status of the “product” obtained in this way.

The case is not closed, but given any ambiguity, one cannot presume to extract stem-cells or experiment upon what might be human beings, no matter how persuasive the developmental trajectory arguments might seem. The instruction tells us:

Until these doubts have been clarified, the statement of the Encyclical EVANGELIUM VITAE needs to be kept in mind: “what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo”.

It should be said that certain recent developments may make Dr. Hurlbut’s strategy unnecessary.

Well, I might have been wrong on embryonic adoption, but it seems I was right about lingering concerns regarding Dr. Hurlbut’s mutant embryonic-like creation.  We probably have not heard the last word about that one, though.  Will there be a Hail Mary play from the other team?

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