I went to confession the other day. I try to go once a month and for the most part I make that commitment. For some reason, it was a about 8 weeks since I darkened the confessional. I was leaving that afternoon for my hermitage day (spoken of in another blog post below) and Lent was fast approaching. Going to confession was awkward, lonely, fearful BUT intensely gratifying, freeing, and loving. Facing one’s sinful nature is NEVER easy; it is NEVER anything but a hassle, it is NEVER anything but embarassing but it is the only way I know how to be honest with myself in front of God. As an Opus Dei priest tells me when I see him occasionally for confession: you’ve got sin, I’ve got the grace for you to live … by the ministry of the Church. Of course, this priest is echoing the notion that I am not confessing my sinful self to him personally (I really don’t think he cares one-way-or-another truely in the best sense) but ipse Christus –to Christ Himself. I read the passage noted below from a rather famous spiritual treatise today and the last line from sacred Scripture struck me: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself. Do you have a clear understanding of mortal sin? Have you gone to confession? How is your struggle with sin going in the face of grace?
Only mortal sin is completely opposed to God; this opposition is so great that it separates the soul from God. However, every sin, even venial sin, and every fault and imperfection, is in opposition to God’s infinite holiness. Therefore Jesus offers the perfection of his heavenly Father as a norm for our Christian life, and engages us in an intense struggle against sin in order to destroy in us its deepest roots and even its slightest traces.
This is what Jesus teaches in these few short words: deny yourself. We must deny self with all its imperfect habits and inclinations; and we must do so continually. Such a task is fatiguing and painful, but it is indispensable if we wish to attain sanctity. Jesus says: The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mt. ).
In echo of Jesus, all the masters of the spiritual life insist strongly on detachment and self-renunciation as the indispensable foundation of the spiritual life. St. John of the cross offers a soul who is desirous of attaining union with God the harsh way of the “nothing”.
But first and foremost, it is Jesus, the divine Teacher, who has pointed out to us the absolute necessity of passing through this way: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself (Mt. ).
Today is also the 44th World Communications Day, on feast of the saintly patron is Saint Francis de Sales who tirelessly brought the faith to others in an understandable way. Those claiming to be interested in the New Evangelization, especially seminarians, pay attention to what the Pope is saying! What is your diocese doing to reach out to those not hearing the Gospel on Sunday morning? How does your parish measure up to the Pope’s ideas? Does your seminary promote communication, in its various forms, for the good of teaching the faith? Are you, as a Catholic, prepared to meet the post-modern era? If not, why?
The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word.
The theme of this year’s World Communications Day – The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word – is meant to coincide with the Church’s celebration of the Year for Priests. It focuses attention on the important and sensitive pastoral area of digital communications, in which priests can discover new possibilities for carrying out their ministry to and for the Word of God. Church communities have always used the modern media for fostering communication, engagement with society, and, increasingly, for encouraging dialogue at a wider level. Yet the recent, explosive growth and greater social impact of these media make them all the more important for a fruitful priestly ministry.
All priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, and the communication of his saving grace in the sacraments. Gathered and called by the Word, the Church is the sign and instrument of the communion that God creates with all people, and every priest is called to build up this communion, in Christ and with Christ. Such is the lofty dignity and beauty of the mission of the priest, which responds in a special way to the challenge raised by the Apostle Paul: “The Scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame … everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Rom , 13-15).
Responding adequately to this challenge amid today’s cultural shifts, to which young people are especially sensitive, necessarily involves using new communications technologies. The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16) The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts. Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word.
The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.
Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ. They will best achieve this aim if they learn, from the time of their formation, how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord. Yet priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a “soul” to the fabric of communications that makes up the “Web”.
God’s loving care for all people in Christ must be expressed in the digital world not simply as an artifact from the past, or a learned theory, but as something concrete, present and engaging. Our pastoral presence in that world must thus serve to show our contemporaries, especially the many people in our day who experience uncertainty and confusion, “that God is near; that in Christ we all belong to one another” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2009).
Who better than a priest, as a man of God, can develop and put into practice, by his competence in current digital technology, a pastoral outreach capable of making God concretely present in today’s world and presenting the religious wisdom of the past as a treasure which can inspire our efforts to live in the present with dignity while building a better future? Consecrated men and women working in the media have a special responsibility for opening the door to new forms of encounter, maintaining the quality of human interaction, and showing concern for individuals and their genuine spiritual needs. They can thus help the men and women of our digital age to sense the Lord’s presence, to grow in expectation and hope, and to draw near to the Word of God which offers salvation and fosters an integral human development. In this way the Word can traverse the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different “highways” that form “cyberspace”, and show that God has his rightful place in every age, including our own. Thanks to the new communications media, the Lord can walk the streets of our cities and, stopping before the threshold of our homes and our hearts, say once more: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” ().
In my Message last year, I encouraged leaders in the world of communications to promote a culture of respect for the dignity and value of the human person. This is one of the ways in which the Church is called to exercise a “diaconia of culture” on today’s “digital continent”. With the Gospels in our hands and in our hearts, we must reaffirm the need to continue preparing ways that lead to the Word of God, while being at the same time constantly attentive to those who continue to seek; indeed, we should encourage their seeking as a first step of evangelization. A pastoral presence in the world of digital communications, precisely because it brings us into contact with the followers of other religions, non-believers and people of every culture, requires sensitivity to those who do not believe, the disheartened and those who have a deep, unarticulated desire for enduring truth and the absolute. Just as the prophet Isaiah envisioned a house of prayer for all peoples (cf. Is 56:7), can we not see the web as also offering a space – like the “Court of the Gentiles” of the Temple of Jerusalem – for those who have not yet come to know God?
The development of the new technologies and the larger digital world represents a great resource for humanity as a whole and for every individual, and it can act as a stimulus to encounter and dialogue. But this development likewise represents a great opportunity for believers. No door can or should be closed to those who, in the name of the risen Christ, are committed to drawing near to others. To priests in particular the new media offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities, encouraging them to embody the universality of the Church’s mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today’s world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the eternal Son who came among us for our salvation. At the same time, priests must always bear in mind that the ultimate fruitfulness of their ministry comes from Christ himself, encountered and listened to in prayer; proclaimed in preaching and lived witness; and known, loved and celebrated in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.
To my dear brother priests, then, I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new “agorà” which the current media are opening up.
With this confidence, I invoke upon you the protection of the Mother of God and of the Holy Curè of Ars and, with affection, I impart to each of you my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 24 January 2010, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.
The Holy Father’s annual address to the Roman Curia -the
Cardinals and bishops resident in Rome and other officials of the Roman Curia who assist him in
his governance of the Universal Church– took place yesterday. In it the Pope points to some notable concerns that he thinks that ought to be the concern of all
of us who believe faith is central our lives. Namely, belief and unbelief,
doubt and certainty and freedom with regard to God and humanity’s search for God. In my humble opinion, this papal address should be an essential point in any diocesan, parish or ecclesial movement’s pastoral plan in 2010 and beyond. In part the Holy Father said,
people who describe themselves as agnostics or atheists must be very important
to us as believers. When we talk about a new evangelization, these people may
become afraid. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission, nor
do they want to renounce their freedom of thought or of will. But the question
about God nonetheless remains present for them as well, even if they cannot
believe in the concrete nature of his attention to us.
In Paris, I talked
about the search for God as the fundamental motive from which Western
monasticism was born, and with it, Western culture. As the first step in
evangelization, we must try to keep this search alive; we must take pains that man not set aside the question of God as an essential question of his
existence. Take pains that he accept this question and the longing concealed
Here I am reminded of the words that Jesus quoted from the prophet
Isaiah, that the temple should be a house of prayer for all peoples (cf. Isaiah
56:7; Mark 11:17). He was thinking about what was called the court of the
gentiles, which he cleansed of extraneous business so that it could be the
space available for the gentiles who wanted to pray to the one God there, even
if they could not take part in the mystery, for service of which the interior
of the temple was reserved.
A place of prayer for all peoples: by this was
meant the people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are
dissatisfied with their gods, rites, myths; who desire the Pure and the Great,
even if God remains for them the “unknown God” (cf. Acts 17:23). They
needed to be able to pray to the unknown God, and so be in relation with the
true God, although in the midst of obscurities of various kinds.
I think that
the Church should also open today a sort of “court of the gentiles”
where men can in some manner cling to God, without knowing him and before they
have found the entryway to his mystery, which the interior life of the Church
serves. To the dialogue with the religions it must above all add today a
dialogue with those for whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is
unknown, and who nonetheless would not like simply to remain without God, but
at least to approach him as the Unknown.
In 2008 Georgetown University Philosophy professor Tom L. Beauchamp coauthored Principles of Biomedical Ethics, a widely used book in bioethics courses, in which he sanctions and defends “physician-assisted dying.”
According to a Winter 2008 Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly article by J. Brian Benestad, Beauchamp and his coauthor pronounce unconvincing “some of the arguments against the legalization of ‘physician-assisted dying.'” Throughout the book the authors are redefining terms “that used to have nothing to do with administering death-producing drugs,” explains Benestad. For them, “Lethal pills are called medication; helping suffering patients to kill themselves is called virtuous (beneficent, just, etc.). Not helping these patients is a failure to respect their dignity.” In Principles, the authors state: “We maintain that physician assistance in hastening death is best viewed as part of a continuum of medical care.” Benestad counters the argument, citing “the medical profession’s devotion to heal and refuse to kill – its ethical center – will be permanently destroyed” by such a policy. (courtesy of the Cardinal Newman Society)
So much for professors at so-called Catholic universities either thinking with the Church or at least not publicly contradicting Catholic teaching. Is this beyond the exercise of academic freedom viz. faith and reason? It’s interesting Beauchamp received the Pellegrino Medal in 2004 which honors recipients for contributions made in healthcare ethics following the spirit of the father of the American bioethics movement, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino. Pellegrino is a practicing Catholic and on faculty of Georgetown.
Voters in the State of Washington approved Initiative 1000, the so-called Death with Dignity Act in November. According to the media it’s modeled closely the Oregon law allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients determined to have six months or less to live. Oregon‘s suicide law is now 10 years old and Washington has become the second American state to legalize assisted suicide.
As a result of last year’s state ballot Initiative 2000, terminally ill patients in WashingtonState can now obtain lethal medications from doctors in order to kill themselves. Washington‘s hospitals are now forming a suicide plan to facilitate this newly found “right.”
Suicide is a tragedy. People who elect to do this act are not thinking in a right manner and are looking for a way out of their pain, sometimes they say they want to ease the pain of loved ones who care for them. Whatever the reason for acting this way is, their desperation leads to a permanent self-inflicted act leading to their intended death. Suicide prematurely and violently leaves loved ones to pick up the pieces post-mortem. Many are physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted from their health issues which is understandable: chronic illness can be painful but suicide is an inadequate way to deal with the harsh reality of life.
The Church’s teaching is: “Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God” (Catechism, 2281).
But quoting the Catechism is insufficient in dealing with the issue at hand. Let’s not be confused: we need to know and follow what the Church teaches. Her wisdom is immensely reliable and it ought to form our conscience. Here I want to raise the matter of dealing with the issue pastorally, lovingly with courage and strength. No statement of teaching is going to ease the pain of illness or feelings of desperation. Only the love and mercy of the one who made us can do that. The Lord loves and cherishes each one of us, and He gives the grace to sustain us until the moment of natural death. The Lord knows our pain and our human struggle because He is a man. What the Washington and Oregon state laws do is replace the love the Lord and family offer us with a cold mechanism releasing us from our human need. These laws replace the reality of humanity with a cold, shallow perfunctory “right” that gives a person the possibility of hurting themselves and family and friends deeply not to mention it wounds their relationship with the Lord (whether they know it or not).
Responding to the poignant human need of those who face the hard fact of someone taking their own life, the Catholic Information Service commissioned a booklet dealing with this subject. It was our effort to help those who are looking for truth and love and the assistance of the Church. You can order a copy of Coping with a Suicide: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice by emailing or calling the office (email@example.com or 203.752.4267and tell them you saw the ad here) The feelings of sadness which result from the violence of suicide are never removed from the hearts and minds of the survivors even if they try to believe that Auntie is in a better place (a saccharine nosegay that whitewashes the pain temporarily). While the deceased is in the hands of God and clearly live in His mercy, we can never be presumptuous to believe that it is “alright” because “God will deal with it”: the reality life is far more important than me and my own needs. The act of suicide is an act of desperation; the person who does (or thinks of committing the act) acts from feelings of exhaustion, fear, and a false sense of security. Our human response needs to be love. Our response as Christians needs to be one of faithfulness to the Lord who made us and it is He who will call us home, and it is our responsibility to be agents of reconciliation showing mercy and forgiveness.
Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.