Corpus Christi

francis eucharistic adorationI know you’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat.”  Normally it refers to ordinary food.  If you eat healthy food, you’ll be healthy.  If you eat unhealthy food, you’ll be unhealthy.  If you eat too much of anything, it’s not good for you.  Some of us, myself included, struggle with food issues for our whole lives.  Between diabetes and chronic stomach problems, the list of things I’m not supposed to eat is longer than the list of things I should eat.


Without getting into a biology lesson, we know that the food we eat is metabolized by our bodies and gives us energy and nutrients to keep us going, like fuel in a furnace.  If we eat the wrong things, or too much of the right things, and we don’t exercise, what we don’t use is turned into fat.  Burn more calories than you take in and you won’t have a weight problem.  Eat a double cheeseburger then sit on the couch for four hours watching television, that double cheese will go right to your hips.  Eat a salad then go for an hour walk, you’re on the right track.


The funny thing is that I didn’t just make this up.  We all know what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle, but some of us just refuse to do it.  I guess it’s just human nature.  To add to our frustration, there are some people who can eat everything in sight and never gain an ounce.  I REALLY don’t like those people.

But the topic today isn’t ordinary food.  On this feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, I want to talk to you about spiritual food.  Our bad eating habits may stay with us for a lifetime, but our partaking of the Eucharist will lead us to eternal life.  Even skinny people have a place in heaven if they regularly receive Christ’s Body and Blood while they’re in a state of grace.


On March 15, 2011, Archbishop Carlson wrote concerning the Eucharist, and quoting from Blessed John Paul II,

“The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift—however precious—among many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.

 “Keeping in mind that the Eucharist is the heart of our relationship with Jesus Christ, we must never forget that whenever we participate, fully, actively, and consciously in the Eucharist we encounter not merely an article of faith, but rather, the living person of the risen Christ, our Lord.”


I was talking with some people the other evening and we were discussing how much more strict the Church used to be about receiving Christ’s Body and Blood.  Most of us are old enough to remember that we were to fast, beginning at midnight, before receiving Communion.  We can also remember when the first mass on Sunday was at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning.  There were no noon masses because no one wanted to go without food for twelve hours and Saturday afternoon mass was out of the question.  Nowadays we only have to fast for one hour, and there are even exceptions to that short period, mainly for the elderly and the sick.


Blessed John Paul II wrote in “Dominicae Cenae” (1980) of the problem of some people not being properly disposed to receive Holy Communion, even to the point of being in a state of serious mortal sin. He said, “In fact, what one finds most often is not so much a feeling of unworthiness as a certain lack of interior willingness, if one may use this expression, a lack of Eucharistic ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst,’ which is also a sign of lack of adequate sensitivity towards the great sacrament of love and a lack of understanding of its nature.” We must make a good faith effort to prepare ourselves properly to receive the Lord.


Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that He could always be with us, not just spiritually, but also physically.  I’m afraid that sometimes we take this gift for granted.  Think about how you would react if Jesus showed up at your front door.  You would be so humbled and excited that you wouldn’t know how to act.  Of course, you’d invite Him in.  You’d be in awe of his presence.  You’d probably react like either Martha or Mary, either making sure He was comfortable in your home, fixing Him a snack and giving Him something to drink, getting out your finest china and crystal, and fussing over Him.  Or, you’d want to sit with Him and listen to what He had to say.  His physical presence would put you on your best behavior.


In a few minutes, we’re going to have the opportunity to receive Him, not just in your presence, but within your own body.  Just as you wouldn’t ask Him to sit on an uncomfortable chair and offer Him a beer without a glass in your home, we shouldn’t invite Him into our bodies, unless we’ve prepared ourselves to be a vessel for His Body and Blood.


On the other hand, suppose your best friend invited you out to dinner at the finest restaurant in town.  You would put on your best clothes, maybe get a haircut, and be on your best behavior for such a fine meal.  After an hour or two, your dinner would be over and all you’d have left are the memories.  The meal you’re about to receive here today will stay with you forever!


According to the EWTN website, “Each time we receive Holy Communion we should try to be as devout and fervent as if it were the only Communion of our lives.”  I think that’s good advice.  What if we all approached the Altar as if this were the last time we’d ever receive Christ’s Body and Blood?  There are people in Catholic churches all over the world who WILL receive communion today for the last time.  Only God knows the day and time when we’ll be called home.  If we knew that today was our last day on earth, I think we’d all look at things a little differently.


Everything we do at mass leads up to the Eucharist.  All the prayers, and the readings are designed to put us into the proper frame of mind.  We ask God for forgiveness and mercy.  We praise Him in the Gloria.  We learn about Him in the readings and the homily.  Representatives of the community bring the gifts of wine and bread to the altar for Father to consecrate.


Notice that in today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t provide the fish and bread.  He leaves that up to the Apostles.  He didn’t have to do it that way.  God, the Father, made food fall from heaven for the Hebrews in the desert.  Jesus himself made wine out of water.  But Jesus wanted the people to provide the food just like He wants you to bring up the bread and wind.


We don’t use paper plates and styrophoam cups on the altar, we use sacred vessels because Christ’s Body and Blood are holy.  We don’t keep the leftovers in a drawer or cabinet, we reserve them in a tabernacle, a sturdy, locked receptacle in a place of honor in the Church.  If we spill His Sacred Blood, there are procedures that we follow to make sure there’s no desecration.


Throughout the mass we’re reminded that we’re not worthy to receive such a great gift.  “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Each of us knows our own hearts.  We know our sins and our shortcomings.  So does Jesus.  As we prepare to celebrate His great gift, especially on this feast of His Body and Blood, lets all examine our consciences, be aware of our sins, be aware that we’re not worthy, and ask Him for His forgiveness.






40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Excommunication

Note: This series of posts was intended to coincide with Lent. 40 days = 40 myths. Clearly, I didn’t do as well as I might have. Lent is over and I’ve only posted 27 myths. I’m left with two choices; continue the series into the Easter Season or go back and re-title all 27 posts “27 Myths About the Catholic Church”. I hope my loyal readers will recognize my failure to complete my Lenten penance. Feel free to use me as a bad example and to learn from it. Sometimes we set our goals too high and sometimes we just come up short.

Moving on, why does the Church excommunicate people?

To answer this question, first we have to understand exactly what excommunication is, and what it isn’t.  The word itself has two roots:  ex which means out of and communion which means being part of a community.  The excommunicated person is no longer part of the believing community.  The penalty of excommunication does not mean that the person is no longer a Christian.  Christianity is imparted by baptism and that can never be taken away.

The biggest mistake that most people make about this subject is that somehow the Church uses excommunication as a punishment.  With a few exceptions the Church doesn’t excommunicate anyone.  A person separates him or herself from the Church by his or her own actions.  There are countless Catholics who have excommunicated themselves who are never called out by a bishop or pope.  With over a billion Catholics in the world, it’s not surprising that some folks can fall away from the Church and stay under the radar.

If someone decides that they aren’t bound by the teachings of the Church, they have separated themselves from the community.  A good example would be Catholic politicians who support abortion.  Deep down they know that what they’re doing is wrong.  We don’t need a bishop to declare that they’re excommunicated though it would be nice if that happened once in a while.

The Church refers to excommunication as a “medicinal penalty”.  The idea isn’t for the person to be run out of the Church.  The purpose is to show them the error of their ways in hopes that they will repent and come back into full communion.  When a bishop  declares someone excommunicated, he is merely informing the rest of us that the person has fallen away.  The excommunicated person is excluded from all of the sacraments except reconciliation.

One example is a parish here in Saint Louis that refused to follow the Archbishop’s instructions.  The pastor and  the lay members of the parish board were clearly in schism with the Church.  Our Archbishop declared that these people had automatically excommunicated themselves.  The priest was also laicized.  Two of the board members have since reconciled with the Church, which is the preferred result.  The pastor, other board members, and the members of the parish have not reconciled and they and the parish are no longer considered Catholics in good standing.

In the history of the Church, formal excommunication has been pretty rare.

Surprisingly there’s a very good, simple of excommunication at the “For Dummies” website.  They list the following automatic causes:

  • Procuring of abortion
  • Apostasy: The total rejection of the Christian faith.
  • Heresy: The obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth, which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.
  • Schism: The rejection of the authority and jurisdiction of the pope as head of the Church.
  • Desecration of sacred species (Holy Communion)
  • Physical attack on the pope
  • Sacramental absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments
  • Unauthorized episcopal (bishopconsecration
  • Direct violation of confessional seal by confessor

Excommunication can be reversed in most cases simply by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.  In my research for this post I found a surprisingly large number of web sites with advice on how to get excommunicated.  Apparently it’s a popular form of recreation for former Catholics who have decided to become atheists.  You would think that if you don’t believe in the Church, you wouldn’t be too concerned about this, but I guess some people are so mad at the Church that they want to be taken off the mailing list.

There are a number of good references on this subject including the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Code of Canon Law.




40 Myths About the Catholic Church–“Annulments”

“The Church makes such a big deal about marriage, but anyone with enough money can buy an annulment.”

This statement contains two basic errors.  First, let’s start with a fact.  The Church does not have the authority to “cancel” a marriage.  Technically there’s no such thing as an annulment.  That’s why I put the word in quotes in the title.  When the deacon or priest says that what God has joined, man cannot separate, we mean what we say.  Marriage is until death do us part.  What the Church can and does do is issue a declaration of nullity.  What it means is that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.  It’s more than just a matter of semantics.  There’s a BIG difference.

Before we go any further, let’s make a distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage.  They aren’t one and the same though they’re usually performed at the same time.  The civil marriage is a contract.  It gives the parties rights and privileges as defined by law.  (Insurance, joint-ownership of property, etc.)

A sacramental marriage was created by God.  It is a sacrament.  It is permanent.  It makes a material change in the couple.  “The two become one.”  Whether a sacramental marriage is valid or not, any children of the marriage are legitimate.  Having a marriage declared null has no bearing on the kids.  That’s covered under the civil marriage laws.

What does it take to make a valid marriage?  Three things:

  • Capacity
  • Consent
  • Form

This isn’t a technical treatise.  You can find the nuts and bolts elsewhere.  But, it’s not hard to see that if one or both parties doesn’t have the capacity to enter into a lifelong agreement, it can’t be a valid marriage.  For example, an alcoholic isn’t the best candidate for matrimony.  Someone suffering from a mental illness, depending on its severity, might not have the necessary capacity.   I always remind the happy couple that if I detect that they’ve been drinking on the way to church, there will be no marriage that day.

Consent means just what it says.  Both parties have to be willing, of their own free will, to enter into the sacrament.  If Dad’s pointing a shotgun at the potential groom’s head, we may not have valid consent.  There are other more subtle cases where consent might not be freely given.

Finally, there’s form.  This is usually a simple one.  If a baptized Catholic is married in a non-Catholic church without the proper permissions, that’s a defect of form.  If the person performing the ceremony failed to do the proper paperwork, or if it’s a Catholic wedding and the deacon or priest failed to get the proper permissions and dispensations, that’s a defect of form.

If any of the three components of a valid, sacramental marriage is missing, the Church may give a declaration of nullity.  Notice I said “may”, not “will”.  There is a process that must be gone through and sometimes it can be lengthy and complicated.  Every request isn’t granted.  No matter how miserable you may be now, if your marriage was valid then it’s valid now.  No do-overs!  What now?  Am I stuck?  No.  The first thing to consider is counseling.  If all three elements were present on the day of the wedding, there’s no reason to think that the marriage can’t be saved.

iOne thing that people often misunderstand is that it’s not a sin to get a civil divorce.  Divorced Catholics are in full communion with the Church.  It’s when one decides to get married again that we get into difficulties.  What God has joined together, no man may separate.

Now, about the cost.  Yes, a declaration of nullity costs money.  A “defect of form” case costs less than a full-blown investigation.  Somebody has to pay for all that paperwork.  On the other hand, no one may be turned away because they can’t afford the fee.  After all, the Church is all about charity.

But what about rich people like the Kennedys or Frank Sinatra?  I repeat, you can’t buy a declaration of nullity.  That’s what the Church teaches.  Has any individual Bishop ever accepted a “donation” from a rich person and put a little pressure on the marriage tribunal?  I don’t know.  But we’re all human and I suppose anything’s possible.  But look at Henry VIII.  He had boatloads of money and power.  He went straight to Pope Clement VII to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon declared null so he could marry Anne Boleyn in the hopes of having a male child.  The Pope refused and Henry started his own church.  The rest is history.

To sum it up, the Church can’t void a marriage.  She can declare that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.  There is a small cost for the process but paying extra won’t help you get a valid marriage declared null.  Personally, I have no intention of ever getting personally involved in the process, but I do know some of the men on the local tribunal.  I have no doubt that they are sincere and dedicated.  I’m sure that if you tried to bribe them, their reaction would be swift and not pretty.

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40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Bad preaching

“People leave the Catholic Church because the preaching is awful”

OK, I’m going to give partial credit on this one.  Some preaching is awful.  Some priests and deacons either don’t have the right stuff to deliver the message, or they’re not trying hard enough.  I like to think Father Paul and I provide pretty decent homilies at Saint John Nepomuk, (especially Father.  I hope someday to be as good as he is.)  In other churches, maybe not so much.  But, does bad preaching really mean you have to leave the Church?

First of all, are you prepared for mass?  Do you come running in three minutes before mass starts?  Do you arrive early so you can talk to your friends?  Or, do you get to church in time to look over the readings for the day and to pray for insight?  You wouldn’t go to a hockey game without looking at the paper to see the news about your favorite team.  Should you prepare any less for the Holy Sacrifice of the mass?

Let’s say you have done your preparation but the deacon or priest just drones on, not addressing your needs at all.  I offer two alternatives.  First, the homily usually takes from five to ten minutes out of the total forty-five to sixty minute mass.  If the preaching is really that dreadful, tune it out.  Reflect on the readings yourself.  Do your own mental homily.  Again, the homily is just a small percentage of the total mass and the best is yet to come.

Second, most of us live within a few minutes of several Catholic churches.  If you just can’t stand the preaching, go someplace else!  The whole point of going to mass is to praise God, to receive His Body and Blood, and to fortify yourself spiritually for the coming week.  If you’re spending the entire mass being angry at the content and/or delivery of the homily, do yourself a favor and find yourself another parish!  Where you are now isn’t a good fit for you.  There’s a reason why Baskin-Robins has 31 flavors.

I guess there’s a third thing you could do.  Start writing anonymous notes to the deacon or priest.  Tell him what a jerk he is. I can tell you from experience that this won’t work and, by spending mass time engaged in such a negative process, you’ve negated any grace you might receive from attending mass.

Back to the myth.  I think the quality of preaching in the Catholic Church has improved tremendously over the last 45 years that I’ve been a Catholic.  The homiletics courses taught in the seminaries are much better than they were.  Guys are being ordained much better prepared to deliver God’s message.

People who leave the Church usually have two reasons for doing so.  One is the real reason which usually involves them wanting to do something that the Church forbids (like remarrying without the benefit of a declaration of nullity of the first marriage).  The second reason is the one that sounds good.  (Mass is boring.)  If you undertand what’s happening on the altar, you will never be bored.

FYI, there is currently a project underway to develop a video course on the art or preaching using never-before-seen video of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  I hope they get this project off the ground.  The Archbishop was certainly one of the finest homilists of his time.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Church Hates Gays

I know you’ve heard this one many times.  As usual, this is not an in-depth study into the theology of the whole thing but to put it as simply as I can, the Church doesn’t hate anybody.  Here’s the thing.  You’ve probably heard the expression “Hate the sin but love the sinner.”  It definitely applies here. To understand where the Church stands on homosexuality, you have to look at the Church’s position on sexuality in general.  Sexual activity is reserved for men and women who have entered into a sacramental marriage.  For anyone, gay or straight, to engage in sex outside of marriage is a sin.

The Church does not discriminate between sinners based on with whom the sin is committed.  Two men, two women, a man and a sheep, or an unmarried man and unmarried woman (that is, not married to each other)  having sexual intercourse is a mortal sin.  The Church doesn’t hate any of them, she just hates the sin.

“OK, deacon, if that’s the case, why won’t the Church allow gay people to be married.”

The answer is simply that the sacrament of marriage was instituted by God for the creation of families.  In the prenuptial agreement signed by both parties, and in the sacrament itself, the man and the woman promise to be open to God’s gift of children.  That’s what marriage is for!  It’s the same reason she opposes artificial birth control.  We, as human beings, are not allowed to interfere with God’s plan.  “Be fruitful and multiply!”

“But deacon, what if two men or two women love each other?  Isn’t God all about love?”

Yes, Virginia, God is all about love.  In fact, God is love.  But the fact that we love someone doesn’t mean it’s ok to do whatever we want, whenever we want.  There are lots of kinds of love.  I love my wife, I love my kids, I love my grandkids, I love the Saint Louis Cardinals.  Obviously only one person in that list can share my bed.  There are other proper expressions of love that don’t involve sex.  Homosexuals are called to express their love in other ways.  They’re called to celibacy just as priests and religious are called to celibacy.

They’re part of God’s plan just as surely as heterosexual people are.  And God and His Church loves each of us.

Note:  I made a serious typo in this post.  I wrote “Sexual activity is reserved for men and men who have entered into a sacramental marriage.”  Obiously I should have written: “Sexual activity is reserved for men and women who have entered into a sacramental marriage.  Sorry for the typo and thanks to my most loyal reader, my lovely and talented sacramental wife for pointing out the error.

Saturday of the 1st Week of Advent

Here it is, the last day of the first week of Advent 2012.  How’s it going so far?  To paraphrase a question that was often asked during the recent political campaign, are you better off today (spiritually speaking) than you were a week ago?  I hope the answer is “yes.”  The fact that you’re reading this is a good sign that you’re trying to increase your spirituality.  I hope my humble postings help you in some small way.

I did a wedding last night.  I love doing weddings because the bride and groom are so full of hope for the future.  They don’t know what the future holds.  They’re optimistic about their lives together but none of us know what’s going to happen today, let alone in 20, 30, or 40 years from now.  What they know is that they’re in love and that they want to spend the rest of their lives together.  That, and Jesus’ presence in their marriage is all they need.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned.  Sickness and accidents and financial problems can come to any marriage.  Frankly, I feel sorry for couples who don’t have the grace of a sacramental marriage to help then weather the storm.

As we prepare for Jesus’ coming, why not spend a few minutes thinking of all the times Jesus has been there for you (even the times you weren’t aware of) and tell Him thank you.

What do you think?

I posted the following in our church bulletin last weekend:

Abortion, free contraception, and the right to practice our faith are key issues in both the presidential and local elections.  Based on current polls and the results of recent elections, many of us are not practicing our faith in the voting booth. This may well be the most important election in our life times.  Please pray for guidance during the days that remain before November 6.

It seemed like a reasonable statement, in line with what our bishops are telling us.  Following Sunday mass I received an anonymous note threatening to report me to the IRS for telling people who to vote for.  [As a non-profit organization, we are not allowed to endorse specific candidates.  Noncompliance can result in the loss of tax-free status.]

First, anonymous messages go into the trash, where they belong.  Second, I see nothing in my statement that endorses anyone.  My real concern here is that someone spent time during mass writing hate mail when they should have been focusing on what was happening on the altar.

What do you think?  Is this what the Holy Father had in mind when he declared this a Year of Faith?