Previous month:
September 2012
Next month:
November 2012

October 2012

Adult Faith Formation Wednesday Night for The Year of Faith

A reminder that at 7:00 PM this Wednesday evening there will be a discussion session on the meaning of "faith" especially as it relates to the pope's call for the Year of Faith.

Questions 11 - 19 in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be discussed, along with an exploration of faith vs. reason.

St. Michael's Media Room    7:00 PM    October 17th.

(Awesomely enough, attendance at three of these session along with fulfillment of the other conditions necessary merits a plenary indulgence during The Year of Faith ! )

Year of Faith Logo
The Year of Faith logo has interesting symbolism.

The ship on the sea represents the Church, the Barque of Peter. Reminding us not only of Noah's ark, but especially of the boat in which the disciples were tossed on the Sea of Galilee until Jesus calmed the storm.

It is bounded by a square, its four sides symbolizing the four ends of the earth, the whole world.

The mast resembles a crucifix, and the billowing sails are the familiar IHS initials for Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.

The sun behind the sails represents not only the Risen Christ, the Son of God, but is meant to remind us of the Eucharist.

Wow, US Catholic Bishops Fact Check Vice-President Biden

The USCCB today issued a statement correcting the Vice-President's erroneous assertion that Catholic organizations and institutions will not be forced to provide coverage for morally unacceptable drugs and procedures in its healhcare coverage policies.

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement, October 12. Full text follows:

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact."

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain "religious employers." That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to "Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital," or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

HHS has proposed an additional "accommodation" for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as "non-exempt." That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation "to pay for contraception" and "to be a vehicle to get contraception." They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.


Catholics are free to believe the Vice President's debate statement that all is well for Catholic institutions under the mandate from the Obama administration's HHS directive. Nevertheless, the bishops have spoken quickly and forcefully to correct his statement. Smiling, pointing and repeating something to be a fact over and over doesn't necessarily make it true.

Three Day Eucharistic Congress to Begin Tomorrow at PNC Center


EC-Monstrance-41-280x190The Diocese of Trenton's Eucharistic Congress will begin tomorrow at the PNC Center. The three day event is packed with inspiring, prayerful and entertaining events for Catholics of all ages.

The first day of the Congress is dedicated to youth and a contingent of students from our school and Religious Education programs are planning to spend the day.

Check the schedule of events and partiticpate somehow in this history making event.

Diocese of Trenton's Eucharistic Congress


Homily on Respect Life Sunday


Last Friday during my weekly visit to the 8th grade religion class, I was peppered with questions. I love to hear what is on the students’ minds. “Do you support President Obama?” was paraphrased into “Who will you vote for in this presidential election?” when I refused to answer the first one. When I hesitated again, they quickly checked with me whether priests could vote, and then changed the question again, asking whether I was registered as a Republican or a Democrat. I told them I changed my registration to Independent to avoid any public endorsement of either political party.

The Catholic Church stays out of official politics, but cannot abdicate its responsibility to preach and teach about the moral issues which confront us today. Hostility toward the infant church during the Roman persecutions, prejudice against Catholics in most of the American colonies, bigotry of the Know Nothings and the KKK in later American history – all are part of our past. As Catholics have become assimilated into American culture, overt discrimination against the Catholic church has been less…until recently.

While I suppose it’s no big deal whether restaurants offer fish specials on Friday, or the malls are open on Sunday, the recent assaults on our core beliefs are alarming.

1)      The mandate from the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services that Catholic institutions which provide health care coverage must include coverage for medications and procedures the Catholic church finds morally objectionable has not been withdrawn. The issue is wending its way through the courts. This alarming intrusion into the life of Catholic institutions has no recent precedent.

2)      A bill to place Physician Assisted Suicide on the NJ ballot is before the State Assembly. This unnecessary measure is colossally bad public policy, even with the many safeguards the bill puts in place to ensure that physician assisted suicide is applied “correctly.”

3)       A sociology professor who published a peer-reviewed article showing evidence that children raised by same-sex couples might suffer psychological disadvantages received death threats and his University was confronted with demands that he be fired. No one should condone polemic rhetoric, but even temperate explanations of the Catholic teachings on the sanctity of marriage and human sexuality have been branded “hate speech.”

It is crucial that Catholics read and study the many issues which confront our nation. The USCCB is a good source of authoritative guidance for Catholics seeking to inform their consciences. Our bishops are the authentic teachers of Catholic doctrine, not Catholic politicians.

Most important of all, we should pray for our nation and the world on Respect Life Sunday. Only through prayer will we be able to vote not simply for our own self-interests, but for the good of all human life.

Nobel Prize for Stem Cell Research

220px-Nobel_PrizePerhaps you read with interest this year's Nobel Prize Award for Medicine. The honor this year is shared by two scientists whose experiments complemented each other, even though they are 50 years apart. 

In 1962, Professor John Gurdon demonstrated that the nucleus of mature frog cells still contain all the DNA necessary for a complete organism by transplanting a nucleus from a mature frog cell into an enucleated frog egg which developed into tadpoles. Until then, some scientists speculated that the DNA contained in each type of mature cell might not contain all the DNA present at conception. 

In 2006 and 2007, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka developed a relatively easy way to turn skin cells from both mice and humans into stem cells. This rich resource of potential stem cells is being used in research labs around the world and offers the hope that someday our own skin cells may help grow tissues or proteins to help cure disease. 

The Nobel Committee's recognition will highlight the importance of this field in stem cell research. No embryos are created or destroyed using these techniques. 

The First Precept of the Church

Mass Attendance

You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.  First Precept of the Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church

The issue of mass attendance and our attempts to encourage it by using stickers imprinted with images from each week’s gospel has been percolating a bit lately, especially as we begin a new school year with a new principal, so let me share with you some thoughts as pastor.

Family attending mass The importance of weekly worship as a community and the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist cannot be overstated. This is especially true in a parish community with a school. Parents, parishioners and parish staff make incredible sacrifices to ensure that our students are well formed in the practice of the faith – not simply the knowledge of the faith, but its practice. A parish’s religious education program is also an indication of how dearly the parish esteems the Eucharist and the liturgy. Our CCD program has evolved over the last few years to include an important emphasis on the gospel of the week and the importance of attending mass. The classroom teaching component is not the only, nor in my view, the most important part of faith formation. It is crucial that our young people understand that Catholics go to mass.

Surveys indicate this is not the typical practice among American Catholics, even though mass Empty-church-pewsattendance is higher in the United State than in many European countries. Our children are in a formative period of their faith and it is incumbent upon us to see that they are given the best opportunity to integrate the practice of their faith into their daily lives from the youngest age.

 It is quite sad to see so many funerals at Holy Cross for the most ardent, faith-filled Catholics whose children have been assimilated not to Christianity, but into a kind of religiously indifferent American multi-culturalism. What can we expect if they are not taught the vital practice of attending mass, receiving the Eucharist and nurturing their ties with the local Catholic parish? It is irresponsible to accept the premise that most children attending Catholic school do not attend mass.


Report CardIt was quite possible to read, study and achieve good grades in religion without ever having heard the gospel for Sundays. Families accepted completing homework, service projects and passing tests as an expected component of religious formation. Trouble is, sometimes it became emphasized as the only component of faith formation for our children, and many schools and Religious education programs lost sight of the ideal of weekly mass attendance.


Here at Holy Cross, our school students were invited to daily mass, began to experience prayer at Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and helped create Stations of the Cross during Lent. Weekly reflections on the gospel were introduced into the classrooms. The parish prints stickers with clipart from each Sunday’s gospel to serve as the nucleus of discussion, even for children who cannot read. Students keep a reflection journal into which the sticker may be placed along with a one or two sentence summary of that week’s gospel in their own words, or their own drawings.

PewAfter the parish community and the teachers in both our school and volunteer Religious education teachers became empowered to discuss our obligation to attend weekly mass, mass attendance was eventually taken in Religion class and CCD. The old copper cross which stood atop Holy Rosary Church for so many years has been refurbished and is awarded weekly to the class with the highest mass attendance and the class with the most improved mass attendance.

 Mass attendance at Holy Cross among our school children and religious education families has more than doubled…for some months it has tripled. Occasionally one class can proudly and rightfully boast of 100% attendance. The expectation that we should attend mass is no longer a well-kept secret and is spoken about openly and frequently. The obligation as parents, parishioners and catechists to insist that our children participate fully in their faith formation by attending mass is gradually becoming better understood.


 The stickers still truly annoy some parents, obviously those whose children rarely if ever attend mass, but interestingly, some of those who do. While I’m not sure surrendering our responsibility to assess how our school and parish is doing with one of its primary missions should exactly be called “the honor system,” I get the point. Are we to abolish attendance taking in the classroom for religion class and Religious education classes, homework, quizzes and projects for religious formation as part of the honor system as well? What about tracking student tardiness for class, grades and exams in all subjects, extracurricular activities and requirements for participation in sports teams? Strident conscientious-objection to mass stickers or gospel journaling by mass-going families seems to miss the point, or at least underestimate the need to ensure our children attend mass. After all, we never see the children who aren't here, except perhaps on Christmas.  The stickers aren’t the point, are they?

Crowded church

Adult Faith Formation Sessions for the Year of Faith

These are the discussion topics and reading material for the Adult Formation Sessions for the Year of Faith. The numbers in the second column refer to the question numbers in the Compendium: Catechism of the Catholic Church. The parish office has a supply of these books on hand for a requested donation of $15.

St. Michael Media Room, 7:00 PM Compendium: Catechism of the Catholic Church
Question Numbers: (not page numbers)
Oct. 17th-Year of Faith # 11-19; p. 191 Act of Faith
Nov. 14th-Trinity 19-23
Dec. 12th-Jesus Christ, True God and True Man Chapter 2; 79-135
Jan. 16th-Baptism of the Lord… Church 147-193
Feb. 13th-Reconciliation 295-320
Mar. 13th-Sacraments/Sacramentality Section 1
Apr. 17th-Real Presence 271-294
May 15th-Divine Revelation as Scripture & Tradition 11-24
June 12th-Morality, Sin and Conscience 357-376;73-78;392-400
July 17th-Social Teachings/Social Justice 509-520
Aug. 14th-Mary and the Communion of Saints 194-199
Sept. 11-The Mass 271-294
Oct. 16th-Grace and Virtue 422-433;377-390
Nov. 13th-Death and Eternal Life 202-217

Physician Assisted Suicide: The Time Should Never Come

Physician Assisted Suicide : The Time Should Never Come

DPhysician Assisted Suicideemocratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli has introduced the “New Jersey Death with Dignity Act” which if approved would place the following on the NJ ballot:


Do you approve allowing an adult who is able to make health care decisions and has a terminal disease that will cause death within six months to use a prescribed drug to end his life in a humane and dignified way?

The bill authorizes safeguards to ensure that the decision by the individual requesting the life-ending overdose is freely made and the drug is self-administered. While I am sure there are many specifics in the bill to be critiqued by attorneys, the issue of physician-assisted suicide merits discussion on its own moral footing.


The Catholic Church has consistently spoken out against physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and its cousin, euthanasia. The arguments against legalizing PAS range from the secular to the sacred:

1) Physician assisted suicide is a contradiction in terms. Physicians are obliged to cure and ameliorate disease when possible and in the context of hospice care, to always ease suffering. There is an intrinsic code of medical ethics against ending life which cannot be violated, or permitted even with the patient’s request. In our day of individual empowerment, this assertion is not warmly received. Our culture rejects any absolute moral norms. Patient autonomy, one of the cornerstones of medical ethics in this country, can be wrongly taken to mean blindly conforming to the patient’s wishes as long as consent is informed and freely given.

2) Legalized physician assisted suicide is bad public policy. Economic factors weigh heavily on all modern medical decisions and the pressure on the terminally ill to end their lives is not alleviated by simply declaring that physician assisted death is entirely voluntary. Our lives should not be expendable once a physician determines it might only last six more months. The evidence from Washington state that highly educated, white citizens are primarily the ones choosing physician assisted suicide only strengthens the argument that the most vulnerable in society distrust the potential abuse to which it might be put.

3) Having complete control over one’s life is a modern illusion which death itself destroys. The Catholic Church teaches that our lives come from God and we are stewards, but not ultimate masters of our human existence. When physician-assisted suicide was first approved in Oregon, fear of unremitting pain and of being kept alive involuntarily by extraordinary means motivated some to approve its legalization. Hospice care, advance directives and health care proxy have alleviated some of that anxiety. Patient’s requesting physician assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington cite “having control” over their deaths as the primary reason for making the request.


2012 Bishop's Annual Appeal


Thank you to all who viewed the Bishop's Appeal video this weekend and responded so generously. We are now at approximately 80% of our goal.

Please remember to return your pledge cards if you did not fill them out during mass and encourage those parishioners you know to support the appeal.

Acheiving the parish goal will serve not only those worthy causes supported by the Bishop's Appeal, but our own social charity giving. When we reach our goal, the rebate will also support our parishes expenses.

Contributions can also be made online at the Diocesan website: 2012 Bishop's Annual Appeal


Conscience in the Roman Catholic Teaching and the New England Journal of Medicine

Conscience formation

Lisa Harris, MD, PhD (Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Department of Women's Studies, the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, and the Program for Sexual Rights and Reproductive Justice, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) has written an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in which she asserts that both the refusal to perform abortions and the insistence to provide them are both matters of conscience. Those who refuse to perform or provide abortions cannot therefore, claim a moral high ground, since those who provide them may be doing so because of deeply held moral beliefs.

Dr. Harris uses "conscientious" and "conscience" almost interchangeably throughout the article and appears to take the definition of either to mean a deeply held, core belief. She does note that our culture does not have an agreed upon understanding of just what exactly conscience means. It is not surprising then, that there is much confusion about it in the law. 

While I suppose some of those who trafficked in human slavery might have been violating their own core beliefs about the sanctity of life for economic gain or fear of social disapproval, it is safe to assume that others had strong, "conscientious" feelings about slavery on both sides. Slavery, however, was legal in many countries for many years.  Were slave owners and abolitionists each entitled to their views "in conscience?" Was it simply a political decision to define a slave as someone's property? 

Buying and selling human persons cannot be excused because someone feels strongly that it is morally right, even strongly enough to risk imprisonment or execution. While it was legal, it was morally wrong and persons who made a concientious decision that it was permitted made a mistake in conscience.

That's the important point for modern persons: our consciences can be wrong. They can be wrong if we are ill informed about an issue, illogical, acting out of selfish motives, or fail to take adequate time, prayer and moral advice before forming them. Catholic conscience formation relies heavily on incorporating the moral teaching authority of the Church's tradition and natural law. In Catholic teaching it is said that our conscience is inviolable, but not inerrant. We must follow our well-formed conscience, but admit that a decision made in conscience might be in error.

 While it is politically acceptable to argue for abortion as a legal extension of a woman's right to control her own body, it is hard to understand how a strongly held belief that a woman should control her own body extends to killing outright any child born alive from an abortion procedure. Surely there could have been moral agreement about that. Insistence that the child be dead, not adopted or otherwise cared for, even at public expense, defies logic.

Dr. Harris doesn't mention conscientious objection relative to involuntary conscription, military service or killing in wars, remarking instead that conscientious objection and the anti-abortion movement grew up together. Dr. Harris is surely correct that there is no agreement as to what "conscience" means in our culture, but neither is there consensus on "personhood," "marriage," or a host of other moral issues today. If the concept of natural law is rejected there is little hope there will be such consensus soon.


Recognizing Conscience in Abortion Provision in the New England Journal of Medicine